August 2004

NASA Announces Discovery of New Class of Planets

August 31, 2004

NASA’s early afternoon press conference lived up to expectations, announcing two new planetary discoveries in the Neptune-mass range. The planet detected around the star 55 Cancri is one of four now known to orbit there, making 55 Cancri the most complete extra-solar planetary system we’ve found. Nobody knows whether the new 55 Cancri planet is […]

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More Information on the mu Arae Planetary Discovery

August 30, 2004

Lots of background on mu Arae’s (second) discovered planet in this press release from the European Southern Observatory. The discovery was made possible by the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) spectrograph attached to ESO’s 3.6-meter La Silla telescope in Chile. The planet previously discovered at mu Arae is roughly Jupiter-size and orbits the […]

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Major Planet Discovery Announcement

August 27, 2004

Keep your eyes on NASA next Tuesday. is carrying a NASA press release that says the agency will announce the ‘discovery of a new class of planets’ next Tuesday at 1 PM EDT. The press conference will be carried live on NASA television or you can check the Webcast here. Exactly what this is […]

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Small, Rocky World Discovered by La Silla Observatory

August 27, 2004

A planet fourteen times the size of the Earth may not be all that small, but it’s tiny compared to the bulk of planets discovered around other stars, most of which are so-called ‘hot Jupiters’ — gas giants in tight orbits around their parent star. The European Southern Observatory’s La Silla telescope has now found […]

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New Planet Discovery Using Transit Methods

August 24, 2004

Over 135 planets have now been discovered by studying their effects on the star they orbit, which produce a pronounced wobble. But so far, only a few have been found by using the transit method, detecting the periodic dimming of a star as a planet passes between it and the Earth. Now a planet called […]

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Intelligent Systems for Future Spacecraft

August 21, 2004

Build a model to test out systems on an aircraft and you’ve created what engineers call an ‘iron bird.’ Now, as this press release from NASA explains, the agency is developing a ‘virtual iron bird’ (VIB) that would computerize the process, providing three-dimensional images of of individual systems and parts that engineers or astronauts can […]

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European Space Agency to Create Catalog of Stars

August 19, 2004

Although ESA has cancelled its Eddington mission, which was to have used a precision photometer to record the transit of planets across the disks of distant stars, the agency is pressing ahead with a mission that will compile a catalog of up to a billion stars. As described in the ESA press release, the Gaia […]

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Solar Sail Test by Japan

August 17, 2004

The Japanese Institute of Space Astronautical Science has tested a ‘ reflective polyimide resin only 0.0075 millimetres thick’ in space, deploying two sails at an altitude of 150 kilometers (93 miles) and 170 kilometers (106 miles). This article in New Scientist provides the details, noting that this is the first time a solar sail has […]

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Artificial Intelligence for Future Rover Missions

August 16, 2004

NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers have given us remarkable views of Mars, but the next generation of such vehicles will need greater onboard intelligence. And as we move ever farther away from the Earth, our systems will eventually need to become capable of a great degree of autonomy. Imagine an Alpha Centauri probe 4.3 light […]

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Cosmos 1 Solar Sail Closer to Launch

August 14, 2004

Cosmos 1, the privately-funded solar sail experiment funded largely by Ann Druyan’s Cosmos Studios and run by The Planetary Society, has passed an important milestone. All electronic systems for the spacecraft have been thoroughly tested at the Space Research Institute in Moscow, and have been sent to nearby Lavochkin for assembly in the vehicle. Although […]

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