December 2008

Centauri Planets: Year-End Thoughts

December 31, 2008

The title of yesterday’s post — ‘The Odds on Centauri’ — would fit well with today’s musings. Alpha Centauri makes us ponder the odds not just in terms of interstellar bets and future space probes, but also in terms of the likelihood of life around these stars. And after all, 2008 saw significant work on […]

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The Odds on Centauri

December 30, 2008

My friend Tibor Pacher has taken our interstellar bet to a new level, publishing a lengthy letter on the subject in the current Spaceflight, a journal published by the British Interplanetary Society. Tibor, remember, had made a prediction I found outlandish: That “the first true interstellar mission, targeted at the closest star to the Sun […]

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Endurance Under the Ice

December 29, 2008

The Chicago Tribune offered up a Christmas day story on ENDURANCE, the NASA robot recently sent out for a shakedown mission in Lake Bonney, Antarctica. The lake is locked down under fifteen feet of ice, a place that could prefigure what we find under the ice on Europa. ENDURANCE stands for Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic […]

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Carnival Notes: Fusion and Dark Energy

December 27, 2008

Is nuclear fusion easier to exploit in space than on Earth? Surprisingly, harnessing the power that drives the Sun may be a simpler challenge in propulsion terms than creating clean, safe power supplies for our planet. So says Brian Wang, whose NextBigFuture site speculates on fusion development (and, I should add, also hosts this week’s […]

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BBC Audio: Dyson and Clarke

December 26, 2008

Will life spread out from Earth to flourish in the cosmos? Freeman Dyson has always supported the idea, and with great persuasiveness. BBC Four has created an archive of interviews on its Web site, among which is a clip of Dyson discussing life’s variety and the imperative of broadening its range. The theoretical physicist, who […]

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To Another World

December 24, 2008

By Larry Klaes Years after Apollo, I ran into Frank Borman in a pilot’s lounge at a southern airport. I was waiting for a student who wanted to use the lowering weather to practice instrument approaches. Borman was just passing through. Then CEO of Eastern Airlines, he was accompanied by lawyers and was busy signing […]

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A New Read on WASP-10b

December 23, 2008

A new camera called OPTIC (Orthogonal Parallel Transfer Imaging Camera), built at the University of Hawaii, has clarified our view of the distant world known as WASP-10b. Transits are helpful because they allow us to measure the size of the observed planets, and in this case, WASP-10b turns out to be not one of the […]

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Seeing Beyond the Big Bang

December 22, 2008

“It’s no longer completely crazy to ask what happened before the Big Bang,” says Caltech’s Marc Kamionkowski. A good thing, too, for this is an absorbing subject, one I’ve been interested in ever since reading Poul Anderson’s 1971 novel Tau Zero, in which the crew of the runaway starship Leonora Christine punches through into another […]

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Kepler Ready for Florida

December 20, 2008

The Kepler mission launches March 5, a date to circle on your calendar. Kepler may become the first instrument to detect an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of another star, using the transit method to examine 100,000 stars in its 3.5 year mission. The 0.95-meter diameter telescope is now at Ball Aerospace & Technologies […]

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A Disruptive Stellar Nursery

December 19, 2008

Give a young star two or three million years and planets are likely to emerge from the dust and gas surrounding it. But note the wild card shown in the image below, the danger of proximity to more massive stars. In the image, several stars not so different from our Sun at that stage of […]

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