May 2005

New Work on ‘Hot Jupiters’

May 17, 2005

The first of the giant, close-in exoplanets (widely known as ‘hot Jupiters’) was discovered a decade ago around 51 Pegasi. Since then, we’ve found numerous other examples of such objects, challenging our theories of planetary formation and revising estimates of how common habitable worlds may be. Now a team of Canadian astronomers using the MOST […]

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Detection of Three Nearby Stars

May 16, 2005

Many stars close to the Sun have familiar names, like the Centauri triple-star system, Barnard’s Star, Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti. But the catalog of nearby stars is by no means complete, as we are reminded periodically by the discovery of stars showing large proper motion as observed from Earth. That motion flags the object […]

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Landfall on Titan: Two Mosaics

May 14, 2005

Huygens’ Descent Imager Spectral Radiometer (DISR) team has now produced mosaic images of the probe’s descent to Titan’s surface. These were created by combining images taken by Huygens as it rotated on its axis, the first image showing the view from approximately 20 kilometers altitude. The photos were taken in groups of three as the […]

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Processes in Titan’s Atmosphere Similar to Earth

May 13, 2005

Titan continues to live up to its billing as a model of the early Earth. Recent observations by Cassini tell us much about the moon’s atmosphere, about 98 percent nitrogen (with most of the remainder being methane), and laden with organic molecules. Sunlight appears to break these molecules apart as they rise in the atmosphere, […]

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Of Robots and Reproduction

May 12, 2005

Even in best-case scenarios, a probe to Alpha Centauri or other nearby stars will take decades to reach its target, perhaps centuries. That puts the premium on spacecraft autonomy, an interesting take on which is the ability of machinery to repair itself. Cornell researchers have just announced a milestone in this regard, the creation of […]

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Plasma Propulsion Under Scrutiny at MSFC

May 11, 2005

A team of NASA and university-based investigators is studying the physics of magnetic nozzles, devices that could be used in plasma-based propulsion systems that would sharply reduce the length of journeys within the Solar System. The project began in April and is led by the University of Texas, with support from Marshall Space Flight Center […]

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Pluto Mission in Flight Simulations

May 10, 2005

The New Horizons mission to Pluto and Charon is on schedule. The spacecraft is now completely assembled and has undergone a comprehensive performance test of its own systems and its seven instruments, according to principal investigator Alan Stern. The first of the major flight mission simulations began at the end of April; this will be […]

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The Roadmap to Epsilon Eridani

May 9, 2005

Sending a probe to another star would be NASA’s greatest adventure, but how do we lay the groundwork for such a mission? The agency likes ‘roadmaps,’ spelling out clear and specific objectives and beginning with missions not so far beyond those we could fly today. NASA’s Interstellar Probe Science and Technology Definition Team (IPSTDT) recently […]

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Why SETI Matters

May 8, 2005

“MacDonald paused outside the long, low concrete building which housed the offices and laboratories and computers. It was twilight. The sun had descended below the green hills, but orange and purpling wisps of cirrus trailed down the western sky. “Between MacDonald and the sky was a giant dish held aloft by skeleton metal fingers — […]

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Saturn Moon a Kuiper Belt Object

May 7, 2005

The Kuiper Belt yields up its secrets grudgingly, but sometimes we get help from objects much closer to the Sun. Cassini’s flyby of Saturn’s moon Phoebe on June 11, 2004 has provided all the information scientists needed to declare the ancient object a relic from the outer Solar System, much like Pluto and other Kuiper […]

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