February 2009

Imagining Alien Ecospheres

February 28, 2009

A Europan Scenario Between living dirigibles on gas giants and potential organisms under the ice, we’ve had quite a week in terms of exotic life-forms. I didn’t have space in yesterday’s review of Unmasking Europa to talk about the book’s chapter on biology, but here’s an interesting glimpse of a not implausible biosphere on that […]

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Unmasking Europa: Of Ice and Controversy

February 27, 2009

You wouldn’t think the thickness of ice on a distant moon of Jupiter could emerge as something of a political hot-button, but that seems to be what has happened in the ongoing investigation of Europa. Thick ice or thin? The question is more complicated than it looks, because by ‘thin’ ice we don’t mean just […]

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HD 80606b Transit Bagged

February 26, 2009

An email from Greg Laughlin confirms that the planet HD 80606b has indeed been caught in a transit, a roughly 15 percent probability now turned into hard data. Laughlin (UCSC) and team recently wrote up their Spitzer infrared observations of this mutable gas giant, a world with an orbit so eccentric that it almost mimics […]

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Edwin Salpeter and the Gasbags of Jupiter

February 25, 2009

By Larry Klaes ‘The Gasbags of Jupiter’ sounds for all the world like the title of an early 1930s novel that would have run in a venue like Science Wonder Stories. In fact, as Larry Klaes tells us below, the idea grew out of Carl Sagan’s speculations about free-floating life-forms that might populate the atmospheres […]

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Gamma-Ray Burst Exceeds All Others

February 24, 2009

Adam Goldstein must be living right. Here’s a grad student (University of Alabama, Huntsville) who’s on his first day on the job working with the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. He’s given the task of monitoring the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) instrument, which routinely detects bursts, about one a day. This time, though, when the phone […]

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Notes & Queries 2/23/09

February 23, 2009

Prioritizing the Outer System Europa or Titan? Jupiter or Saturn? NASA and the European Space Agency, faced with the dilemma of choosing between competing missions, apparently settled on both, with the Europa Jupiter System Mission likely to be implemented first. Here we’re talking about two robotic orbiters, launched on separate spacecraft in 2020, with arrival […]

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Orion and Digital Science

February 21, 2009

The 91st Carnival of Space offers up Brian Wang’s look at Project Orion, with links to photos and videos relating to nuclear pulse propulsion, one of which I embed here from the This is Rocket Science site. For those who like to take potentially workable ideas up to gigantic scales, Brian discusses the Super-Orion, all […]

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Kepler and the Odds

February 20, 2009

The Kepler launch is coming up on March 5, marking the first time we will have the ability to find a true Earth analogue around another star; i.e., a planet of about Earth’s mass in the habitable zone where water can exist in liquid form on the surface. Which is not to say that COROT […]

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STEREO: Into the Lagrangian Points

February 19, 2009

I love it when we find uses for instruments that they were never intended for. In deep space terms, we can go back to Voyager 2, which carried a plasma wave instrument that was designed to measure the charged particles inside the magnetic fields of the gas giant planets it would pass. Voyager 2 was […]

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Finding ‘Weird Life’ on Earth

February 18, 2009

Just how many forms of life are there? We often speculate here about life on other worlds, but Paul Davies (Arizona State) is currently exploring the question from a different perspective entirely. Davies would like to know whether a ‘second genesis’ might have occurred, producing a fundamentally different form of life that would have evolved […]

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