February 2015

Astrobiology: A Cautionary Tale

February 27, 2015

We’re discovering planets around other stars at such a clip that moving to the next step — studying their atmospheres for markers of life — has become a priority. But what techniques will we use and, more to the point, how certain can we be of their results? Centauri Dreams columnist Andrew LePage has been […]

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A Laser ‘Comb’ for Exoplanet Work

February 25, 2015

It’s been years since I’ve written about laser frequency comb (LFC) technology, and recent work out of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, the Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics and the University Observatory Munich tells me it’s time to revisit the topic. At stake here are ways to fine-tune the spectral analysis of starlight […]

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Soft Robotics for a Europa Rover

February 23, 2015

Approaching problems from new directions can be unusually productive, something I always think of in terms of Mason Peck’s ideas on using Jupiter as a vast accelerator to drive a stream of micro-spacecraft (Sprites) on an interstellar mission. Now Peck, working with Robert Shepherd (both are at Cornell University) is proposing a new kind of […]

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Beta Pictoris: New Analysis of Circumstellar Disk

February 20, 2015

Our discovery of the interesting disk around Beta Pictoris dates back all the way to 1984, marking the first time a star was known to host a circumstellar ring of dust and debris. But it’s interesting how far back thinking on such disks extends. Immanuel Kant’s Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1755) […]

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Scholz’s Star: A Close Flyby

February 19, 2015

The star HIP 85605 until recently seemed more interesting than it may now turn out to be. In a recent paper, Coryn Bailer-Jones (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg) noted that the star in the constellation Hercules had a high probability of coming close enough to our Solar System in the far future (240,000 to […]

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Ceres: Past and Future

February 18, 2015

Now it’s really getting interesting. Here are the two views of Ceres that the Dawn spacecraft acquired on February 12. The distance here is about 83,000 kilometers, the images taken ten hours apart and magnified. As has been true each time we’ve talked about Ceres in recent weeks, these views are the best ever attained, […]

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A Black Hole of Information?

February 17, 2015

A couple of interesting posts to talk about in relation to yesterday’s essay on the Encyclopedia Galactica. At UC-Santa Cruz, Greg Laughlin writes entertainingly about The Machine Epoch, an idea that suggested itself because of the spam his systemic site continually draws from “robots, harvesters, spamdexing scripts, and viral entities,” all of which continually fill […]

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Information and Cosmic Evolution

February 16, 2015

Keeping information viable is something that has to be on the mind of a culture that continually changes its data formats. After all, preserving information is a fundamental part of what we do as a species — it’s what gives us our history. We’ve managed to preserve the accounts of battles and migrations and changes […]

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A Full Day at Pluto/Charon

February 13, 2015

Have a look at the latest imagery from the New Horizons spacecraft to get an idea of how center of mass — barycenter — works in astronomy. When two objects orbit each other, the barycenter is the point where they are in balance. A planet orbiting a star may look as if it orbits without […]

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What Comets Are Made Of

February 12, 2015

When the Rosetta spacecraft’s Philae lander bounced while landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November, it was a reminder that comets have a hard outer shell, a black coating of organic molecules and dust that previous missions, like Deep Impact, have also observed. What we’d like to learn is what that crust is made of, and […]

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