October 2016

Uranus: New Work from Voyager Data

October 31, 2016

The ring system of Uranus was the second to be discovered in our Solar System. You would assume this came about because of Voyager, but the discovery was actually made in 1977 through ground-based observations involving occultations of distant stars. The rings of Uranus are narrow — between 1 and 100 kilometers in width — […]

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New Clue to Gas Giant Formation

October 28, 2016

Just how do gas giant planets form? A team of researchers at ETH Zürich, working with both the University of Zürich and the University of Bern, has developed the most fine-grained and instructive computer simulations yet to help us understand the process. Using the Piz Daint supercomputer at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) in […]

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A Renewed Look at Boyajian’s Star

October 27, 2016

It was inevitable that KIC 8462852 would spawn a nickname, given the public attention given to this mystifying star, whose unusual lightcurves continue to challenge us. ‘Tabby’s Star’ is the moniker I’ve seen most frequently, but we now seem to be settling in on ‘Boyajian’s Star.’ It was Tabetha Boyajian (Louisiana State) whose work with […]

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Are Planets Like Proxima b Water Worlds?

October 26, 2016

Those of us fascinated by dim red stars find these to be exhilarating days indeed. The buzz over Proxima b continues, as well it should, given the fact that this provocative planet orbits the nearest star. We also have detections like the three small planets around TRAPPIST-1, another red dwarf that is just under 40 […]

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A Microlensing Opportunity for Centauri A

October 25, 2016

First light for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) is scheduled for 2024, a useful fact given that a few years later, we may be able to use the instrument in a gravitational lensing opportunity involving Alpha Centauri. Specifically, Centauri A is expected to align with the star 2MASS 14392160-6049528, thought to be a red […]

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Red Dwarfs: Oldest Known Circumstellar Disk

October 24, 2016

Determining the age of a star is not easy, but one way of proceeding with at least some degree of confidence is to identify the star as a member of a stellar association. Here we’re talking about a loose cluster of stars of a common origin. Over time, the stars have begun to separate, but […]

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Titan’s Seasons Studied as Cassini Team Plans ‘Grand Finale’

October 21, 2016

Witnessing Titan’s ever-changing seasons has been a major payoff of the Cassini mission, whose end is now close enough (September, 2017) to cause us to reflect on its accomplishments. We now see winter settling in firmly in the southern hemisphere, along with a strong vortex now developing over the south pole. When Cassini arrived in […]

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New Work on Planet Nine

October 20, 2016

Considering how long we’ve been thinking about a massive planet in the outer Solar System — and I’m going all the way back to Percival Lowell’s Planet X here — the idea that we might find the hypothetical Planet Nine in just three years or so is a bit startling. But Caltech’s Mike Brown and […]

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New Horizons: Looking Further Out

October 19, 2016

We’re getting close on New Horizons data, all of which should be downlinked as of this weekend. Although that’s a welcome marker, it hardly means the end of news from the doughty spacecraft. For one thing, we have years of analysis ahead of us as we bring the abundant data from the spacecraft’s instrument packages […]

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Antimatter Sail: Focus on Storage

October 18, 2016

An antimatter sail, as described yesterday in the work of Gerald Jackson and Steve Howe, is an exciting idea particularly because it relies on only small amounts of antimatter, tapping its energies to create fission in a uranium-enriched sail. Thus the uranium is the fuel and the antimatter, as Jackson says, is the ‘spark plug.’ […]

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