December 2015

Can Social Insects Have a Civilization?

December 31, 2015

I first encountered Michael Chorost in his fine book World Wide Mind (Free Press, 2011), which looks at the relationship between biology and the machine tools that can enhance it. Mike’s thinking on SETI has already produced rich discussion in these pages (see, for example, SETI: Contact and Enigma). In today’s essay, he’s asking for […]

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‘Time Delays’ and Exploding Stars

December 30, 2015

With our focus on nearby stars for both exoplanet detection and SETI work, I don’t often find the time to talk about cosmology and ‘deep sky’ observations, although galaxy structure and formation are an interest of mine. But today I have a story too good to pass up, involving using gravitational lensing and time delays […]

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Looking Ahead to OSIRIS-REx

December 29, 2015

Back when I was in grade school, we put in several months studying ancient Egyptian culture. I can remember becoming fascinated with the pyramid builders and wanting to immerse myself in the world that produced them. But I don’t think I ever reached the multidisciplinary level of a third-grader named Michael Puzio, who named the […]

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‘Centaurs’ as Potential Impactors

December 28, 2015

An asteroid shaped something like a sweet potato swept by the Earth on December 24, though at a sufficient distance (28 times further away than the Moon) to pose no hazard to our planet. 2003 SD220 was making the first of five predicted encounters within the next twelve years, and the measurements made by the […]

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Voyager to a Star

December 24, 2015

The essay that follows is a much expanded version of a brief post that ran here last April, the idea being to give our Voyager spacecraft one last (symbolic) mission. It will run later this year in a publication called ‘Handbook of the Unknowable,’ produced by Espen Gangvik (Director Trondheim Biennale, Norway) and edited by […]

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Dawn at Ceres: ‘Down Among Them’

December 23, 2015

The new images just in from Dawn at Ceres unexpectedly evoke a much earlier mission, the Apollo 10 precursor to the lunar landing. This was the second manned mission to orbit the Moon, one that saw the lunar module drop to just over 15 kilometers from the surface in a rehearsal for the Apollo 11 […]

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Wolf 1061c: A Nearby Habitable Zone Planet?

December 22, 2015

At no more than 14 light years away, Wolf 1061 gains our attention with the discovery that this small red dwarf hosts three planets, in orbits of 4.9, 17.9 and 67.2 days respectively. Of particular interest is Wolf 1061c, which appears to be within the habitable zone, defined here as the region in which it […]

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Oxygenation: Gradual Process, Profound Results

December 21, 2015

The vast changes our planet has undergone since formation add a real sense of humility to the exoplanet hunt. It’s the humility that comes with exposure to deep time, reminding us that worlds like ours have developed through phases wildly different than the conditions we experience today. As we tune up our techniques for studying […]

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Where Are the Jupiter Analogs?

December 18, 2015

Are Solar Systems like ours commonplace? One way of answering this is to look at the role of planets like Jupiter, which may have helped to determine the habitability of the inner planets. But worlds like Jupiter in orbits around 5 AU do not appear to be the norm, as Andrew LePage points out in […]

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E-22: The Last Hurrah at Enceladus

December 17, 2015

It’s the end of an era. On Saturday December 19, the Cassini Saturn orbiter will make its final close pass by Enceladus. This doesn’t mark the end of Cassini itself, which still has work to do especially with regard to Titan, but it does mean the end, at least for now, of our close-up study […]

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