February 2012

A Haze at Galactic Center

February 15, 2012

The Planck mission continues to peel the layers off the onion as it probes the early universe. Planck is all about the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), that radiation left over from the era of recombination around 380,000 years after the Big Bang. As electrons and protons began to form neutral atoms, light was freed to […]

Read the full article →

KBOs: Surveying the Southern Skies

February 14, 2012

Given yesterday’s post on wandering planets, otherwise known as ‘rogue’ planets or ‘nomads,’ today’s topic falls easily into place. For even as we ponder the possibility of 105 rogue planets at Pluto’s mass or above for every main sequence star in the galaxy, we confront the fact that we still have much to learn about […]

Read the full article →

‘Island-Hopping’ to the Stars

February 13, 2012

We tend to think of interstellar journeys as leaps into the void, leaving the security of one solar system to travel non-stop to another. But a number of alternatives exist, a fact that becomes clear when we ponder that our own cloud of comets — the Oort Cloud — is thought to extend a light […]

Read the full article →

Of Ice and the Planetesimal

February 10, 2012

Mindful of the recent work on axial tilt I’ve reported in these pages, I was interested to learn that Vesta’s axial tilt is just a bit greater than the Earth’s, about 27 degrees. We’ve been pondering the consequences of such obliquity on planets in the habitable zone, but in Vesta’s case, the issue isn’t habitability […]

Read the full article →

A ‘Super-Oort’ Cloud at Galactic Center?

February 9, 2012

Not long ago we looked at comet C/2011 N3 (SOHO), discovered last July just two days before it plunged into the Sun, evaporating some 100,000 kilometers above the solar surface. It was startling to learn that the SOHO observatory is tracking numerous ‘Sun-grazers,’ comets whose fatal encounters with our star are occurring roughly once every […]

Read the full article →

Two Takes on Extraterrestrial Life

February 8, 2012

“With exoplanets we are entering new territory,” says René Heller (Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics, Potsdam), talking about recent studies looking at axial tilt as a parameter for habitability on a planet. Heller is getting at the fact that while we’ve studied the axis of a planet’s spin relative to the plane of its orbit rather […]

Read the full article →

Untangling a Lensed Galaxy

February 7, 2012

Gravitational lensing always gets my attention not only because of its growing use in astronomy but because of its potential for deep space missions like FOCAL, Claudio Maccone’s concept for a deep space probe that would be sent beyond the Sun’s 550 AU gravitational lensing distance to make observations of astronomical targets. FOCAL is an […]

Read the full article →

Targeting Primitive Asteroids

February 6, 2012

I see that there is a symposium on the MarcoPolo-R mission coming up in late March, which reminds me that at a time when asteroid missions are increasingly in the news, I have yet to cover this one. It was about a year ago that the European Space Agency selected MarcoPolo-R as one of four […]

Read the full article →

SETI in the News

February 3, 2012

Let me draw your attention to two interesting stories this morning, one harking back to the night in August of 1977 when the Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University recorded the famous ‘Wow!’ signal. For those unfamiliar with it, the ‘Wow!’ signal gets its name from Big Ear volunteer Jerry Ehman’s annotation (several […]

Read the full article →

‘Super-Earth’ in a Triple Star System

February 2, 2012

GJ 667C is an M-class dwarf, part of a triple star system some 22 light years from Earth. Hearing rumors that a ‘super-Earth’ — and one in the habitable zone to boot — has been detected around a nearby triple star system might cause the pulse to quicken, but this is not Alpha Centauri, about […]

Read the full article →