November 2004

The Challenge of Spacecraft Robotics

November 30, 2004

Is any unmanned spacecraft a robotic probe? You might think so, given the tasks the hardware has to perform to accomplish a given scientific mission, but a more precise definition came out of the European Space Agency’s ASTRA 2004 workshop, held in the Netherlands early in November. Says Gianfranco Visentin, head of ESA’s Automation and […]

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Three Space Pioneers Discuss Their Trade

November 29, 2004

I’ve run into a fascinating discussion on American Enterprise Online titled “Look Heavenward?” — it’s a collection of articles whose description on the magazine’s table of contents, “The pros and cons of spending more on manned space exploration,” is wildly insufficient to describe its range. The most interesting of the pieces here consists of three […]

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On Colonizing the Galaxy

November 27, 2004

From the polymath Freeman Dyson, in an essay called “Extraterrestrials,” which appears in his collection Disturbing the Universe (New York: Harper & Row, 1979, pp. 210-211): “Given plenty of time, there are few limits to what a technological society can do. Take first the question of colonization. Interstellar distances look forbiddingly large to human colonists, […]

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Proto-Earths May Be Abundant

November 26, 2004

New infrared studies of the dust around three young stars lend credence to the idea that Earth-like planets may circle other stars. Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), a team of astronomers studied the proto-planetary disks around the stars, homing in on the inner region of the discs. The results: the […]

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Tracking Near-Earth Asteroids

November 25, 2004

An asteroid called 2004 TP1 came within 13 LD of Earth on November 2 — LD stands for ‘lunar distance,’ and is the average distance between the Earth and the Moon (238,855 miles, or 384,401 kilometers). Asteroid 2004 RZ164 will come even closer, at 7 LD on December 8. Both objects are considered Potentially Hazardous […]

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A New Tool for Researchers

November 24, 2004

Searching the Internet has always been dicey, given the wide range of sites you’re likely to pull up on any topic, and the varying degrees of quality each may bring. Google has done good work in restricting Web results — its ‘site-specific search,’ for example, allows you to search within a universe of sites related […]

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An Anomaly from the Edge of the Solar System

November 23, 2004

Those of us with still fresh memories of Voyager 2’s encounter with Neptune in 1989 find it gratifying that both Voyager probes are still returning good science. It’s even more remarkable that the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes are still in the thick of things, but anomalies in their journeys beyond the orbit of Pluto […]

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By the Light of a Passing Star

November 22, 2004

Microlensing Planet Finder is a proposed mission that would use the gravitational lensing effect to achieve extraordinary detection capabilities. As presented in The Microlensing Planet Finder: Completing the Census of Extrasolar Planets in the Milky Way (PDF warning), MPF could find planets down to 0.1 Earth mass, in locations as close as 0.7 AU to […]

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A Quote for the Weekend

November 20, 2004

From the remarkable H. G. Wells, in a 1902 lecture at London’s Royal Institution: “It is conceivable that some great unexpected mass of matter should presently rush upon us out of space, whirl sun and planets aside like dead leaves before the breeze, and collide with and utterly destroy every spark of life upon this […]

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Finding Planets in the Datastream

November 19, 2004

A new project called PlanetQuest will soon offer a way to get involved personally with the hunt for extrasolar planets. The idea is to use the power of distributed computing, as the hugely influential SETI@home project has already done, letting people run data analysis software as a screensaver that operates whenever their computer is idle. […]

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