January 2006

Trans-Plutonian News

January 31, 2006

2003 UB313, the ’10th planet’ discovered by Michael Brown (California Institute of Technology), continues to fuel the debate over what constitutes a planet and where the division between planet and Kuiper Belt object should be. A new Hubble photograph shows the object to be slightly larger than Pluto, but nowhere near the 25 to 50 […]

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Hubble, Einstein and a Day to Remember

January 30, 2006

As physicist Clifford Johnson notes in a Cosmic Variance post, Sunday the 29th was the anniversary of a powerfully symbolic event. As Johnson says: “On January 29th 1931, Edwin Hubble took Einstein up Mount Wilson to see the famous 100 inch telescope where Hubble had done at least two revolutionary things (with the aid of […]

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Commercializing VASIMR

January 30, 2006

It’s heartening to see that NASA has inked an agreement with a commercial firm to get its VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket) technology into the private sector. Houston-based Ad Astra Rocket Company is actually located within the Johnson Space Center and, under the direction of president and CEO Franklin Chang-Diaz, focuses on the development […]

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A Black Hole Boost into Intergalactic Space

January 28, 2006

What would fling a star out of the galaxy at over 1 million miles per hour? Warren Brown (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and colleagues have some thoughts on that, based on their own and other studies in Europe that have so far identified five stellar exiles, a group now called ‘hypervelocity stars.’ “These stars literally […]

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The Ultimate SETI Signal

January 27, 2006

Robert Carrigan (Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory) drew quite a bit of attention last summer when he suggested that SETI signals could contain harmful information, perhaps created by a so-called ‘SETI hacker.’ Carrigan’s article has now appeared in Acta Astronautica, and it’s stuffed with beguiling ideas even if you find the premise unlikely. “…will a SETI […]

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Thoughts on Microlensing

January 26, 2006

Some further thoughts on OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, the planet whose discovery portends numerous microlensing breakthroughs to come. Note the distance between the Sun and the red dwarf in question, which is variously reported as between 20,000 and 28,000 light years. The red dwarf is in the constellation Sagittarius and lined up between us and the center of […]

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Rocky World Discovered Through Microlensing

January 25, 2006

The most Earth-like planet yet found has been discovered by a team of astronomers in a collaborative effort that involved 73 scientists in 12 countries. When astronomers use the term ‘Earth-like’ in this context, they’re referring to planets whose mass is closer to Earth’s than previous discoveries. They’re also talking about surface conditions, for OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb […]

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Speaking Across Time and Space

January 24, 2006

Science writer Larry Klaes wrote last November with a thought about New Horizons that I’ve been pondering ever since. Klaes was troubled to learn that the spacecraft — just the fifth mission ever launched that will eventually leave the Solar System — was carrying little that could communicate information about its makers. Its major relic […]

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Solar Sail NEA Missions Proposed

January 23, 2006

If we chose to launch an interstellar probe using near-term technologies, it would almost surely be a solar sail, unfurled on a close approach to the Sun and flung outward at speeds that could get it to Alpha Centauri in perhaps 1000 years. That’s the thinking of Gregory Matloff, author of Deep Space Probes: To […]

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Toward a Self-Healing Spacecraft

January 21, 2006

Self-repair in spacecraft has always been a fascinating subject, one that comes to the fore as we launch missions to the outer Solar System. It’s one thing to send commands to fix a stuck tape recorder, as was done with Galileo on the approach to Jupiter in 1995. In that situation, controllers worked with a […]

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