September 2005

Finding Planets in the Starshine

September 30, 2005

Finding planets around other stars is hampered by a key fact: the light from the primary star effectively masks the far dimmer reflected light from any planets. But NASA engineers at the Keck Observatory (Mauna Kea, HI) have used the Keck Interferometer in conjunction with a light-blocking device to suppress the starlight around three stars, […]

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Saving the Dark Matter

September 29, 2005

Are elliptical galaxies influenced by a halo of dark matter? The theory has been accepted until recently through observation of the gravitational effects apparently caused by such matter. But 2003 findings (Romanowsky et al., Science 301, pp. 1696-1698) turned up little evidence for dark matter in such galaxies. Now a different explanation for those observations […]

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New Horizons Arrives in Florida

September 29, 2005

The New Horizons spacecraft, slated for a January launch and a decade-long journey to Pluto and Charon, has arrived at Kennedy Space Center for final preparations and testing. This follows a four-month series of tests at Goddard Space Flight Center and the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where the craft was designed and built. […]

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Orbits, Atoms and the Genesis Mission

September 28, 2005

Celestial mechanics seems a long way from atomic physics, but new work by scientists and engineers suggests some remarkable parallels. In fact, the mathematics describing both have provided new designs for space missions, as witness the Genesis spacecraft, which returned particles from the solar wind to Earth. Genesis’ highly unstable orbit was controlled by the […]

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On Don Quijote, ESA’s Asteroid Deflection Mission

September 27, 2005

There aren’t many natural disasters we know how to prevent, as the recent sad events along the Gulf of Mexico demonstrate. But one thing we can manage with today’s technology is to deflect an incoming asteroid so that it doesn’t destroy a large chunk of the Earth. At least, we think we can manage it, […]

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Possible Life Strategies on Titan

September 26, 2005

Centauri Dreams recently looked at Titan as a possible abode for life, energized by a paper given at the Division of Planetary Sciences meeting by David Grinspoon. A researcher at the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, CO), Grinspoon is also an author whose book Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life (New York: Harper, 2004) […]

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Of Cosmology and MP3

September 24, 2005

Does quantum mechanics determine what we see in the large-scale structure of the universe today? Centauri Dreams admits to finding the notion nonsensical until reading Brian Greene’s fine Fabric of the Cosmos (New York: Knopf, 2004), which explained the connection between the very small and what may exist on the macroscopic scale through the mechanism […]

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New Detection Method Could Find Terrestrial Worlds

September 23, 2005

We’ve developed many techniques for planetary detection since the first discovery of a planet orbiting a main sequence star in 1995, but a recent addition to the repetoire is looking in systems already known to have planets. By studying stars that display a transiting planet — a planet moving in front of the star as […]

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Changing Our View of the Solar System

September 22, 2005

As a boy, I recall paging through an old, nine-volume encyclopedia we kept on a livingroom shelf. Published some time in the 1920s, it was hopelessly out of date from a science standpoint, and I remember reading its entry on the planets and feeling, with the smug certainty of youth, that my modern world (this […]

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Man or Machine to the Outer Planets?

September 21, 2005

New technologies, rarely foreseen by ‘futurists,’ often change everything. Just as science fiction could not predict the PC, so visionaries like Arthur C. Clarke could not predict the developments in electronics that would make his idea of geostationary relay satellites practicable. Yes, Clarke dreamed up the idea of such satellites, but he was talking about […]

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