March 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, R.I.P.

March 18, 2008

No time this evening to do anything more than pass along the sad news that we have lost one of our greatest visionaries. The BBC has the story, and the New York Times offers a lengthy obituary.

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If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me

March 18, 2008

The line in the title above is from a Jimmy Buffett song. A friend who knows all Buffett songs line by line uses it on his answering machine, invariably provoking a chuckle when I ponder the implications. If the phone doesn’t ring, just what kind of message is being sent? Or is any message being […]

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Organics, Water in Protoplanetary Disk

March 17, 2008

We have interesting news coming up this week with regard to the first detection of methane in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, of significance because it demonstrates that we can detect organic molecules using spectroscopy in ways that will one day help us study the atmospheres of terrestrial worlds around other stars. More on this […]

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Human Outcomes Among the Stars

March 15, 2008

Does transhumanism have a serious objective? The question resonates oddly yet provocatively given the stakes being considered. Augmenting the human frame potentially expands our powers, while the goal of uploading consciousness seems to offer a kind of immortality. These are surely desirable steps, but some versions of a posthuman future seem to point toward triviality, […]

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Time, Tides and Habitability

March 14, 2008

Keep your eye on Gliese 581. Not that the news is necessarily good for our hopes for habitability around that star — in fact, a recent paper suggests quite the opposite. The red dwarf exploded into the public consciousness with the announcement that one of its planets — Gl 581 c — could conceivably support […]

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Cassini: Close Pass Skirts Enceladus Plumes

March 13, 2008

One question jumps out at me from the blog entries that Cassini team members have been posting on the probe’s dazzling close pass by Enceladus. It’s from deputy project scientist Linda Spilker, who says: “I am thinking about the two Voyager flybys of the Saturn system that took place over 25 years ago. How in […]

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Moving (and Saving) the Planet

March 12, 2008

The ever reliable Dennis Overbye gives us a look at the Earth’s fate in his most recent story for the New York Times. Citing the work of Klaus-Peter Schroeder (University of Guanajuato, Mexico) and Robert Connon Smith (University of Sussex), Overbye describes our planet’s eventual engulfment by a red giant Sun. Earlier studies had questioned […]

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In Praise of Ancient Light

March 11, 2008

How things change over time has never been as strikingly demonstrated as in recent findings. If you go back to the distant era when the universe was only 380,000 years old, you find that neutrinos made up fully ten percent of the universe. Given that these sub-atomic particles moving at nearly the speed of light […]

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TEDI: Looking for Planets Around Small Stars

March 10, 2008

A new observing program designed to study planets around small, cool stars is in the works. TEDI, the TripleSpec – Exoplanet Discovery Instrument, saw first light on the 200-inch Hale Telescope just before Christmas, and is now in its commissioning phase, with an observing program scheduled to begin this spring. And for those who occasionally […]

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Power Shortage in the Outer Solar System?

March 8, 2008

As if we didn’t have enough trouble getting to the outer Solar System, now comes word that the US inventory of plutonium-238 is diminishing. That’s what NASA administrator Mike Griffin told a House appropriations subcommittee this past week, pointing out that after the Mars Science Laboratory launches in 2009, the agency will find itself running […]

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