April 2016

Spacecoaches and Beamed Power

April 29, 2016

If you’re planning to make it to the International Space Development Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico next month, be advised that Brian McConnell will be there with thoughts on a subject we’ve discussed in several earlier posts: A ‘spacecoach’ that uses water as a propellant and offers a practical way to move large payloads […]

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Light’s Echo: Protoplanetary Disk Examined

April 28, 2016

The star YLW 16B, about 400 light years from the Earth, has roughly the same mass as the Sun. But unlike the Sun, a mature 4.6 billion year old star, YLW 16B is a scant million years old, a variable of the class known as T Tauri stars. Whereas our star is relatively stable in […]

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Beneath a Methane Sea

April 27, 2016

Back when Cassini was approaching Saturn and we all anticipated the arrival of the Huygens payload on the surface, speculation grew that rather than finding a solid surface, Huygens might ‘splash down’ in a hydrocarbon sea. I can remember art to that effect in various Internet venues of the time. In the event, Huygens came […]

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Gravitational Lensing with Planets

April 26, 2016

As we’ve been talking about the Sun’s gravitational focus, it’s interesting to reflect on the history of its study. Albert Einstein’s thinking about gravitational lensing in astronomy was explicitly addressed in a 1936 paper, but it wasn’t until 1964 that Stanford’s Sydney Liebes produced the mathematics behind lensing at the largest scale, working with the […]

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Starshot and the Gravitational Lens

April 25, 2016

Although the idea of a mission to the Sun’s gravitational lens has been in Claudio Maccone’s thinking for a long time, it has never been linked with the financial resources of a concept study like Breakthrough Starshot. The Italian physicist led a conference on mission concepts in the early 1990s and submitted a proposal for […]

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Starshot: Concept and Execution

April 22, 2016

Because I get irritable when I don’t get my walking in every day, I made sure when I arrived in Palo Alto to cram as much as I could into the day before Breakthrough Discuss began. That meant heading out from the hotel just after noon and putting in about five miles. Palo Alto is […]

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Breakthrough Discuss: SETI in the Optical

April 21, 2016

At the Yuri’s Night party on Yuri Milner’s Palo Alto estate, I found myself thinking about a novel, Allen Steele’s Arkwright. Like Breakthrough Starshot, initial work on the starship in the book is funded by a wealthy man who wants to see a human future among the stars. The propulsion method is a beam-driven sail, […]

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Alpha Centauri, SETI and Detectability

April 20, 2016

Heading for the hotel lobby the first night of the Breakthrough Discuss meeting, I thought about a major theme of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative: Making things smaller. Robert Forward wrote about sails hundreds of kilometers in diameter, and vast lenses deep in the Solar System to collimate a laser beam that would drive them. But […]

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Focus on Alpha Centauri

April 19, 2016

At Palo Alto’s superb Amber India, I was thinking about Alpha Centauri. There are several Amber India locations in the Bay area, but the Palo Alto restaurant dishes up, among other delights, a spicy scallop appetizer that is searingly hot and brilliantly spiced. Greg and Jim Benford were at the table, Claudio Maccone and my […]

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Breakthrough Discuss: Initial Thoughts

April 18, 2016

The Breakthrough Initiatives conference I’ve just returned from, called Breakthrough Discuss 2016, had been a bit of a puzzle going in. Still bleary after an early morning arrival in Palo Alto, I was looking forward to getting to the Stanford campus for the first sessions the next day. Breakfasting at a small cafe near the […]

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