December 2014

Happy New Year from Centauri Dreams

December 31, 2014

And for those of you who’ve been asking about the videos of presentations at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, they’re now online. 2015, with New Horizons at Pluto/Charon and Dawn at Ceres, is shaping up to be an extraordinary year. Here’s to the continuing effort to advance the human and robotic effort in deep space.

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Dawn: Beginning Approach to Ceres

December 31, 2014

Speaking of spacecraft that do remarkable things, as we did yesterday in looking at the ingenious methods being used to lengthen the Messenger mission, I might also mention what is happening with Dawn. When the probe enters orbit around Ceres — now considered a ‘dwarf planet’ rather than an asteroid — in 2015, it will […]

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Long-Distance Spacecraft Engineering

December 30, 2014

I find few things more fascinating than remote fixes to distant spacecraft. We’ve used them surprisingly often, an outstanding case in point being the Galileo mission to Jupiter, launched in 1989. The failure of the craft’s high-gain antenna demanded that controllers maximize what they had left, using the low-gain antenna along with data compression and […]

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Kepler: Thoughts on K2

December 29, 2014

As we start thinking ahead to the TESS mission (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), currently scheduled for launch in 2017, the exoplanet focus sharpens on stars closer to home. The Kepler mission was designed to look at a whole field of stars, 156,000 of them extending over portions of the constellations Cygnus, Lyra and Draco. Most […]

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Have a Wonderful Holiday

December 24, 2014

I’m cooking all afternoon in anticipation of a family dinner tonight. The first fruits of my labors are in the photo below. I cultivated the sourdough starter I use for this bread three years ago — over the years, it has really developed some punch, and produces a fine, aromatic loaf. My afternoon now turns […]

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An Internal Source for Earth’s Water?

December 23, 2014

The last time we caught up with Wendy Panero’s work, the Ohio State scientist was investigating, with grad student Cayman Unterborn, a possible way to widen the habitable zone. Slow radioactive decay in elements like potassium, uranium and thorium helps to heat planets from within and is perhaps a factor in plate tectonics. In 2012, […]

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Are Europa’s Plumes Really There?

December 22, 2014

A new study of data from the Cassini Saturn orbiter has turned up useful information about, of all places, Europa. Cassini’s 2001 flyby of Jupiter en route to Saturn produced the Europa data that were recently analyzed by members of the probe’s ultraviolet imaging spectrograph (UVIS) team. We learn something striking: Most of the plasma […]

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Interstellar: Herald to the Stars or a Siren’s Song?

December 19, 2014

Not long after I published my thoughts on Chris Nolan’s film Interstellar, Centauri Dreams regular Larry Klaes weighed in with his own take. Views on Interstellar have been all over the map, no surprise given how personal film criticism can be (take a look at the critical reception of Bladerunner over the years). I like […]

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A New Look at High Obliquity Exoplanets

December 18, 2014

Looking forward from winter into spring in North America — unfortunately still a few months out — I can thank Earth’s obliquity for a seasonal change I enjoy more every year. Obliquity is the angle that our planet’s rotational axis makes as it intersects the orbital plane, which in the case of Earth is 23.5°, […]

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Voyager: Shock Waves in Deep Space

December 17, 2014

What exactly is the shock wave that Voyager 1 encountered earlier this year, a wave that is still propagating outward, according to new data from the craft? Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory refer to it as a ‘tsunami wave,’ a simile that reminds us of the devastating effects of roiled water as it encounters […]

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