January 2010

On Early Death, and Resurgence

January 29, 2010

The New Horizons probe to Pluto/Charon is approaching Uranus’ orbit, prompting the team’s Twitter poster to remember Challenger’s final crew in a tweet late yesterday. Challenger was lost on January 28, 1986, just as Voyager 2 reached Uranus, and thus we had the joy of a new planetary encounter mingling with grief for a fallen […]

Read the full article →

Physics in the LHC Era

January 28, 2010

It was in 1900 that mathematician David Hilbert created a list of the most significant unsolved problems for mathematics at a conference in Paris. The list would eventually be fleshed out to reach a total of 23 problems. Hilbert’s Paris talk, “The Problem of Mathematics,” began this way: Who among us would not be happy […]

Read the full article →

SETI at the Royal Society

January 27, 2010

As I’m just finishing up Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder (Pantheon, 2009), the Royal Society had been on my mind even before the two-day conference on SETI that concluded yesterday made the news. If you haven’t read the Holmes book, by all means do so. It’s a fascinating study of the development of science […]

Read the full article →

New Light on the Outer System

January 26, 2010

Adding punch to the National Research Council’s recent report on detecting near-Earth objects is the first asteroid detection by WISE, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer. We’ve focused in these pages primarily on WISE’s ability to spot nearby brown dwarfs, but the mission is going to map the entire sky in infrared light and its discoveries […]

Read the full article →

MiniSpaceWorld: The Future in Miniature

January 25, 2010

Keeping up with Tibor Pacher isn’t easy. My opponent on a bet about the future of interstellar flight (see the Long Bets site for details), Tibor has many irons in the fire, including what appears to be a labor of love called MiniSpaceWorld (MSW). The exhibit, now in its planning stages, will showcase the state […]

Read the full article →

Defending the Planet: NRC Final Report

January 22, 2010

I’m looking at the National Research Council’s final report on the detection of near-Earth objects, the culmination of the study that produced the NRC’s interim report last year. Let’s recall the context: It was in 2005 that Congress mandated that NASA find 90 percent of NEOs with a diameter of 140 meters or greater, such […]

Read the full article →

Icarus: The Motivations for Fusion

January 21, 2010

If you haven’t read George Dyson’s fascinating history of Project Orion, let me recommend it to you highly. Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship (Henry Holt, 2002) fires the imagination with the audacity of the project, a nuclear pulse rocket that would have exploded atomic bombs behind the vehicle, using the world’s […]

Read the full article →

Emerging Exoplanet Resources

January 20, 2010

The Exoplanetology site is developing a tool for those in need of quick exoplanet information. The Exoplanet Seeker is an interface that will make it easy to query various exoplanet databases, including the Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia, NASA’s PlanetQuest New Worlds Atlas, the Exoplanet.org site and other sources like the Wikipedia and SIMBAD. Each of these […]

Read the full article →

Planetary Prospects Around Centauri B

January 19, 2010

Over twenty percent of the planets we’ve found around other stars inhabit binary systems. It’s intriguing to take a close look at these. Most of the planet-bearing binaries are what is known as ‘wide S-types,’ meaning that the companion star orbits the inner star/planet system at a distance of over 100 AU. But take a […]

Read the full article →

Diamond Oceans on the Outer Planets?

January 18, 2010

What goes on under the clouds of Neptune and Uranus? A new paper reinforces the possibility that there are oceans of liquid diamond in such places, diamond seas with solid diamond icebergs. It’s a notion with a pedigree. I’m looking, for example, at a paper by David Stevenson (Caltech) from the Journal de Physique from […]

Read the full article →