December 2005

A Detailed Look at Sirius B

December 19, 2005

One of the important projects keeping astronomers busy as we wait for the next generation of both ground and space-based telescopes is mapping the local neighborhood. There is much to be learned, for example, in a star like Sirius, one of the Sun’s closest neighbors at 8.6 light years. Since 1862, we’ve known that Sirius […]

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Viewing Alpha Centauri

December 17, 2005

Last Saturday’s image of Proxima Centauri raised questions for several readers, who asked where Centauri A and B were in the photograph. The answer is that they are not in the field of view. To get a broader perspective, let’s step back a bit. In the image below, I’m using a photograph taken by Noël […]

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Possible Formation of Terrestrial Worlds

December 16, 2005

Astronomy can be a time machine, taking us back to the era when the light we are observing left its source. Looking at a galaxy ten billion light years away thus tells us what galaxies looked like in that epoch. But the dizzying number of stars in our galaxy alone also lets us see into […]

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New Ion Drive Passes Initial Tests

December 15, 2005

Ion drives may open up the outer Solar System, but they’re anything but high-thrust. With NASA’s Deep Space 1 mission and the later European Smart 1 moon mission, the idea was to operate for long periods of time with very little kick from the engine. The effect is cumulative, and it works. Japan’s Hayabusa asteroid […]

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Of Fusion and Funding

December 14, 2005

First noted in Star Spangled Cosmos, this article from the Palm Beach Post about fusion research, focusing on recent progress and discussing the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) consortium. The latter group plans to build an experimental fusion reactor in France by 2016. Speaking to Stephen Paul, a senior research physicist at Princeton University’s plasma […]

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An Odd Kuiper Belt Find

December 13, 2005

Finding new objects in the Kuiper Belt is getting to be almost routine. But what makes the latest find intriguing is the shape of its orbit. Designated 2004 XR 190 by the International Astronomical Union and nicknamed ‘Buffy,’ the new object is currently 58 AU from the Sun, about twice the distance to Neptune. But […]

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‘Seeing’ Dark Matter

December 12, 2005

Gravitational lensing is tricky enough to measure, but how can we use it to track down the elusive ‘dark matter’ that constitutes the great bulk of the matter in the universe? Remarkably, researchers at Johns Hopkins, working with the Space Telescope Science Institute, think they have found a way. Using the Hubble telescope, they’ve measured […]

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The Best View of Proxima Centauri

December 10, 2005

Proxima Centauri is not exactly an imposing star. In fact, this tiny M-class red dwarf would not be noticeable even in the skies near Centauri A and B except for its huge parallax, an indication to local sky-watchers that it was in the vicinity and moving fast. Some astronomers have suggested that Alpha Centauri may, […]

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Interstellar Spaceflight Realities

December 9, 2005

In an article on interstellar propulsion options at, writer Chuck Rahls focuses on three technologies that have been proposed to make a trip to Alpha Centauri possible. Of the three, laser-pushed lightsails are indeed in the running, and have been since Robert Forward realized the implication of the laser while working at Hughes Aircraft. […]

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Eyes on the Kuiper Belt

December 8, 2005

With the launch of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, Charon and beyond a scant month away, it’s fitting to acknowledge the 100th birthday of Gerard P. Kuiper, who predicted the existence of the band of debris and minor planets we now call the Kuiper Belt in 1950. It would take forty years for confirmation […]

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