August 2015

A KBO Target for New Horizons

August 31, 2015

What we’ll eventually want is a good name. 2014 MU69 is the current designation for the Kuiper Belt Object now selected as the next destination for New Horizons, one of two identified as possibilities, and the one the New Horizons team itself recommended. Thus we have a target — a billion and a half kilometers […]

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The Prime Directive – A Real World Case

August 28, 2015

Trying to observe but not harm another civilization can be tricky business, as Michael Michaud explains in the article below. While Star Trek gave us a model for non-interference when new cultures are encountered, even its fictional world was rife with departures from its stated principles. We can see the problem in microcosm in ongoing […]

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Back to the Ice Giants?

August 27, 2015

As data return from New Horizons continues, we can hope that an encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object is still in its future. But such an encounter will, like the flyby of Pluto/Charon itself, be a fleeting event past an object at huge distance. Our next chance to study a KBO might take place a […]

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Sharper Views of Ceres

August 26, 2015

The mapping of Ceres continues at a brisk pace. The Dawn spacecraft is now operating at 1470 kilometers from the surface, taking eleven days to capture and return images of the entire surface. As this JPL news release points out, each eleven day cycle consists of fourteen orbits, so we’re accumulating views of this formerly […]

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OSIRIS REx: Asteroid Sample Return

August 25, 2015

Just over a year from now, we’ll be anticipating the launch of the OSIRIS-REx mission, scheduled to rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu in 2018. This will be the first American mission to sample an asteroid, and it’s interesting to note that the materials scientists hope to return will constitute the largest sample from space since […]

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Comet Impacts: Triggers for Life?

August 24, 2015

With Rosetta’s continuing mission at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, now post-perihelion but continuing to gather data, comets and their role in the history of the Solar System stay very much on my mind. Their role as delivery mechanisms for volatiles to an infant Earth is widely investigated, as is the idea that comet impacts may be linked […]

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The Scientific Imperative of Human Spaceflight

August 21, 2015

Interstellar distances seem to cry out for robotics and artificial intelligence. But as Nick Nielsen explains in the essay below, there is a compelling argument that our long-term goal should be human-crewed missions. We might ask whether the ‘overview effect’ that astronauts report from their experience of seeing the Earth from outside would have a […]

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Building the Gas Giants

August 20, 2015

Yesterday’s article on supernovae ‘triggers’ for star and planet formation shed some light on how a shock wave moving through a cloud of gas and dust could not only cause the collapse and contraction of a proto-star but also impart angular momentum to an infant solar system. Today’s essay focuses on a somewhat later phase […]

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A Supernova Trigger for Our Solar System

August 19, 2015

The interactions between supernovae and molecular clouds may have a lot to tell us about the formation of our own Solar System. Alan Boss and Sandra Keiser (Carnegie Institution for Science) have been exploring the possibility that our system was born as a result of a supernova ‘trigger.’ Their new paper follows up on work […]

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Dione: The Last Close Flyby

August 18, 2015

We’re in the immediate aftermath of Cassini’s August 17 flyby of Saturn’s moon Dione. The raw image below gives us not just Dione but a bit of Saturn’s rings in the distance. As always, we’ll have better images than these first, unprocessed arrivals, but let’s use this new one to underscore the fact that this […]

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