June 2010

Directly Imaged Planet Orbits Sun-like Star

June 30, 2010

Exoplanet hunting takes time, a fact that is well demonstrated in the case of a newly confirmed gas giant. Eight times as massive as Jupiter, it orbits a star much like the Sun but at a distance vast enough (300 AU) to place it well within the Kuiper Belt if it were in our own […]

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IKAROS Powers Up; LightSail-1 Passes Review

June 29, 2010

The solar sail news continues to be positive, a welcome relief after so many years of delay and frustration. Now that we finally have an operational sail in space, it’s worth noting how the Japanese IKAROS sail differs from earlier sail concepts. For IKAROS is designed to use two kinds of power. The first comes […]

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Encouraging News re Red Dwarf Planets

June 28, 2010

Knowing of my fascination with small red stars, a friend recently asked why they seemed such problematic places for life. M-dwarfs are all over the galaxy, apparently accounting for 75 percent or more of all stars (I’m purposely leaving the brown dwarfs out of this, because we’re still learning about how prolific they may be). […]

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Numerous Nearby Brown Dwarfs?

June 25, 2010

The space-based Spitzer telescope has performed a new study of brown dwarfs, concentrating on a region in the constellation Boötes. Fourteen of the objects, with temperatures ranging between 450 and 600 Kelvin, have been found. These are cold objects in stellar terms, and in fact are as cold as some of the planets we’ve found […]

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Terrestrial Planet Hunt: Nulling Out Starlight

June 24, 2010

Combining the assets of multiple telescopes in the technique known as interferometry has a long pedigree. Using a cluster of small telescopes rather than a single gigantic one is a way to achieve high resolution at sharply lower costs. Take a look at this list of astronomical interferometers working from the visible to the infrared […]

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HD 209458b: High Wind Rising

June 23, 2010

HD 209458b is perhaps the most persistently studied exoplanet we have, a transiting ‘hot Jupiter’ that has already revealed a slew of its secrets, including the detection of carbon dioxide, water vapor and methane. I confess that it sometimes seems like black magic to me that we are able to ferret out the signature of […]

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Keeping an Eye on Io

June 22, 2010

Suppose for a moment that you have some novel ideas about astrobiology on Io. The idea seems extreme, but there are scientists who argue for the notion, as we’ll see in a moment. In any case, if you wanted to observe Io, how would you go about it? The best solution is a spacecraft, as […]

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Brown Dwarf Planets and Habitability

June 21, 2010

Are planets common around brown dwarfs? We aren’t yet in a position to say, but the question is intriguing because some models suggest that the number of brown dwarfs is comparable to the number of low-mass main sequence stars. That would mean the objects — ‘failed’ stars whose masses are below the limit needed to […]

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Protecting the Lunar Farside

June 18, 2010

Long-term thinking means planning for the consequences of things that are beyond our current capacity. What happens on the farside of the Moon is a case in point. Getting humans back to the Moon is going to happen sooner or later, and one day we will have bases there, as well as a human or […]

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The Epsilon Eridani Factor

June 17, 2010

When I was a kid, interstellar destinations were sharply defined. It seemed obvious that you didn’t even consider Alpha Centauri, because a double-star primary system surely wouldn’t allow stable planetary orbits. So you looked around for single stars. Moreover, these should be stars a lot like the Sun, so that when Frank Drake began SETI […]

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