June 2012

Titan’s Lakes and the Drive to Explore

June 15, 2012

What is it that makes us want the stars? Surely there are philosophical reasons that push us into the universe, and in his book Quest: The Essence of Humanity (2004), Charles Pasternak delves into ‘questing’ as a drive embedded in the species. But alongside a need to explore I can see two other drivers. One […]

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Small Planets: No Need for High Metallicity?

June 14, 2012

In astronomy, the word ‘metals’ refers to anything heavier than hydrogen and helium. Stars fuse hydrogen into helium and from there work their way into the higher elements until hitting iron, at which point the end quickly comes, with ‘star stuff,’ as Carl Sagan liked to put it, being flung out into the universe. Through […]

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Star Consciousness: An Alternative to Dark Matter

June 13, 2012

by Dr. Gregory L. Matloff Gregory Matloff is a major figure in what might be called the ‘interstellar movement,’ the continuing effort to analyze our prospects for travel to the stars. Greg is Emeritus Associate Professor and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at New York City College of Technology as well as […]

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Exoplanets: Weeding Out False Positives

June 12, 2012

The success of the Kepler mission in sifting through a field of more than 150,000 stars to locate transiting planets is undeniable, and the number of planets thus far discovered has been used to estimate how often planets occur around stars like the Sun. Now comes a paper to remind us that statistical analysis based […]

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Brown Dwarfs Sparser than Expected

June 11, 2012

Nobody has been anticipating the results from WISE — the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer — any more than I have. Speculations about the number of brown dwarfs in the galaxy have been all over the map, with some suggesting they might be as plentiful as M-dwarfs, which make up perhaps 80 percent of the stellar […]

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Science, Fiction and the Sail

June 8, 2012

Thinking about the poem “To Sail Beyond the Sun: A Luminous Collage,” which I published excerpts from yesterday, I was reminded that if Ray Bradbury didn’t spend a lot of time on solar sails, many of his compatriots did. Indeed, the early story of the solar sail is inseparable from science fiction. Astounding Science Fiction’s […]

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On Ray Bradbury

June 7, 2012

Thinking of Ray Bradbury, as I suppose most of us were yesterday after learning of his death, I found my reminiscences of his work mixing with what was to have been today’s topic, solar sails and their beamed sail counterparts. I’ve read almost all of Bradbury’s work up through the 1960s and admittedly little after […]

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Big Sails, Challenging Dreams

June 6, 2012

I’ve been thinking about solar sails these past few days, a topic that inevitably invokes Arthur Holly Compton, who first demonstrated that x-rays have particle-like properties. Compton’s experiments in 1923 produced a body of work for which he would receive the Nobel Prize in Physics later that decade. Thanks to him we learned that while […]

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A Space Telescope on the Cheap

June 5, 2012

Back in 1997, astronaut John Grunsfeld pulled off one of the great radio gags of all time by calling in to National Public Radio’s ‘Car Talk’ program while orbiting the Earth aboard Atlantis in STS-81. He had called to complain about his vehicle’s performance which, as he told the show’s hosts — known as ‘Click […]

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HD 189733b: An Evaporating World?

June 4, 2012

While we wait for the last transit of Venus of the century, it’s worth remembering how tricky transit studies can be when we push them out to exoplanetary distances. You would think that catching a transit of a planet like Venus, closer to us than the Sun, would be simplicity itself, but the orbital planes […]

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