August 2010

HR 8799b: Low Temperatures, Surprising Spectrum

August 31, 2010

Photos of the Earth from a significant distance are always fascinating, dating back to the spectacular shot of the rising Earth over lunar mountains taken by Apollo 8 in December of 1968. The image below, showing Earth and its Moon, comes from the Messenger spacecraft, taken at a distance of some 183 million kilometers. I […]

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Poul Anderson’s Answer to Fermi

August 30, 2010

Enrico Fermi’s paradox has occupied us more than occasionally in these pages, and for good reason. ‘Where are they,’ asked Fermi, acknowledging an obvious fact: Even if it takes one or two million years for a civilization to develop and use interstellar travel, that is but a blip in terms of the 13.7 billion year […]

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SETI and the ‘Long Stare’

August 27, 2010

It’s been a week with an exoplanet focus, what with the interesting Kepler results yesterday and the five, or perhaps seven, planets found around the same star by the HARPS instrument. But I can’t close the week without recourse to Seth Shostak’s recent comments on biological versus machine intelligence. Paul Davies took much the same […]

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New Kepler Planets in Resonance

August 26, 2010

Somewhere around 2000 light years away in the direction of the constellation Lyra is a Sun-like star orbited by at least two Saturn-class planets. What’s interesting about this news, as just discussed in the Kepler press conference I’ve been listening to this afternoon, is that for the first time we’ve detected and confirmed more than […]

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HD 10180: A Planetary Harvest

August 25, 2010

In a sense the planets discovered around the Sun-like star HD 10180 are no surprise. We’ve long assumed that planetary systems with numerous planets were common. We lacked the evidence, it’s true, but that could be put down to the limitations of the commonly used radial velocity method, which favors massive worlds close to their […]

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Twin Suns May Spell Disaster

August 24, 2010

The image of double suns rising over the planet Tatooine from the first Star Wars movie never quite goes away. I remember watching the film in a theater about a week after its release, being dazzled by the visuals but thinking that a planet in an orbit around both stars of a binary would have […]

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Pulsar Timing: An Outer System Tool

August 23, 2010

The ways astronomers find to wrest new findings from raw data never ceases to amaze me. This news release from the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie focuses on a new way to weigh the planets in our Solar System by using signals from pulsars. The method flows out of work on pulsar timing that has been used […]

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A Near-Term Read on Life in the Galaxy

August 20, 2010

Although he doesn’t post nearly as often as some of us would like, Caleb Scharf’s Life, Unbounded site is always worth reading. Scharf, author of the textbook Extrasolar Planets and Astrobiology (University Science Books, 2008) is the director of the Columbia University Astrobiology Center. As such, he’s positioned to offer valuable insights into our investigations […]

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Star Wars? Not at NASA

August 19, 2010

I had started today’s entry — on dark energy — only to be sidetracked by a short piece in Space.com that almost had me spewing my morning coffee all over my keyboard. Here’s a quote from the story, which focuses on a Star Wars convention in Florida held last weekend: “‘Star Wars’ filmmakers and fans […]

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Decadal Survey Pushes WFIRST Telescope

August 18, 2010

What do you get if you combine the insights of nine expert panels, six study groups and a broad survey of the astronomy and astrophysics community? If you’re lucky and have the right committee, you wind up with useful analyses of the readiness and costs of science projects for the future, both major and minor. […]

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