September 2011

Weather Patterns on a Brown Dwarf

September 15, 2011

The largest variations in brightness ever seen on a cool brown dwarf have turned up on the brown dwarf 2MASS 2139 (known as 2MASS J21392676+0220226 to its friends). The findings, reported at the Extreme Solar Systems II conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, show a remarkable 30 percent change in brightness in a period of just […]

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On Planets and What We Can See

September 13, 2011

This is a big week for exoplanet news with the continuing presentations at the Extreme Solar Systems II conference in Wyoming. But I’m going to have to be sporadic with posts this week because of ongoing commitments. The papers for the upcoming 100 Year Starship Symposium are due within days, which is a major driver, […]

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New HARPS Planets at Exoplanet Symposium

September 12, 2011

With the online press conference re new results from the HARPS spectrograph (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) now being discussed, I want to pause for a moment before getting into them to mention the ongoing Extreme Solar Systems II conference, which runs until the 17th at quite a venue, Jackson Lake Lodge in Wyoming. […]

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A Jittery Problem for Kepler

September 9, 2011

We’ve been assuming all along that it would take the Kepler mission three years-plus to detect true Earth analogues, meaning planets orbiting Sun-like stars at about the Earth’s orbital distance. Now it turns out that figure may have to be extended, as this article in Nature makes clear. Author Ron Cowen points out that a […]

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If You’re Going to the Starship Conference…

September 8, 2011

Quite a few people involved with Tau Zero and many of the Project Icarus team are planning to be in Orlando at the end of the month for the 100 Year Starship Symposium. I know about most of these, but if you haven’t already told me that you are planning to attend, please leave me […]

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A New Mechanism for Supernovae

September 8, 2011

Are dozens of Type Ia supernovae waiting to happen within a few thousand light years of the Earth? New research from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggests the answer is yes. Type Ia events are thought to occur when a white dwarf accretes material from a companion star. The idea is that the white dwarf […]

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The Asteroid Deflection Gambit

September 7, 2011

We’ve talked often in these pages about Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and the potential danger posed not just by them but by objects from much further out in the Solar System if they were to take an Earth-crossing trajectory. But it’s also true that NEOs have a certain allure even if they are potentially dangerous. […]

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SETI and the Use of Tools

September 6, 2011

It makes perfect sense to me that we usually think of extraterrestrial intelligence in terms of technology. After all, when we listen to the stars for the whisper of a distant signal, we’re saying that SETI is all about finding something that was produced with tools, like a beacon. Or if we extend the thought […]

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SETI: Let the Search Continue

September 2, 2011

Most people think that SETI is worth doing, whether or not they actually believe there are other technological civilizations in the galaxy. Ben Zuckerman, a professor of astronomy at UCLA, is certainly in the skeptics’ camp, thinking there are no technological ETs in the Milky Way, but he’s quoted in this story from QUEST (KQED […]

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Three Views from Outside

September 1, 2011

The key to a sane life is perspective. Or at least that’s how I feel when I see an image like the famous Apollo 8 shot of a gorgeous blue Earth rising over the barren, cratered Moon. Great images of the kind the space program deals up can change how we see everything — the […]

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