April 2009

A Delay Like No Other

April 20, 2009

Postponements of major science projects are generally dismaying, but sometimes they become so grand they attain a kind of immortality. The latest multi-billion dollar delay boggles the mind: “Delays of this magnitude were once the stuff of science fiction,” Scolese told reporters during a noon press conference Monday that actually started around 3:15 p.m. “But […]

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Server Problems Implode Weekend

April 18, 2009

And I thought I was going to more or less take the weekend off, maybe finishing up a second reading of Rare Earth and enjoying some of the delightful spring weather that has taken hold around here. So much for that. Server issues caused this site to be transferred to a new server, which subsequently […]

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Kepler’s First Light

April 17, 2009

‘First light’ from any new telescope is an exciting moment, but never more so than with the Kepler instrument. Dust cover off, the space-based telescope is now looking at its target, a starfield in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the Milky Way. Kepler’s full field of view covers a 100-degree swath of sky, containing scenery like […]

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New Earths: A Crossroads Moment

April 16, 2009

A symposium called Crossroads: The Future of Human Life in the Universe seems timely about now (the site has been down all morning but should be up soon). With the Kepler mission undergoing calibration and CoRoT actively searching for small extrasolar worlds, we’re probably within a few dozen months of the detection of an Earth-like […]

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Tuning in the Epsilon Eridani Channel

April 15, 2009

Seth Shostak’s recent op-ed in the New York Times offers an unsettling title: ‘Boldly Going Nowhere.’ And Seth, an astronomer at the SETI Institute, gets right to his point: “…we’re not about to breach the final frontier. Piling into a starship and barreling into deep space may long remain — like perfect children or effort-free […]

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An Unseen Nearby Star?

April 14, 2009

It was Percival Lowell who suggested that anomalies in the orbit of Uranus might point to the existence of the body he called ‘Planet X.’ The discovery of Pluto in 1930 gave us confirmation of a planet beyond Neptune (since downgraded, of course), but the idea of other large bodies in the outer Solar System […]

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Theia and the ‘Big Whack’

April 13, 2009

The idea that the Moon was formed through the impact of a Mars-sized object with the early Earth (the ‘big whack’) has gained credibility over the years. Call it ‘Theia,’ a hypothetical planet that may have formed in our system’s earliest era. And place it for argument’s sake at either the L4 or L5 Lagrangian […]

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Closing the Data Gap

April 10, 2009

1951’s The Man from Planet X is a creepy Edgar G. Ulmer film involving an inscrutable alien whose small craft falls to earth in the moors of Scotland. There he is attacked, exploited and ends up being killed in spite of the fact that his real mission was apparently peaceable. The film is noir-like, the […]

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Friedwardt Winterberg on Starship Design

April 9, 2009

Imagine frozen pellets of deuterium and helium-3 being ignited by electron beams to produce fusion, all this occurring in a combustion chamber fully 330 feet in diameter. Such was one early concept for Project Daedalus, the British Interplanetary Society’s starship design that would evolve into a two-stage mission with an engine burn — for each […]

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Life’s Constituents Around M-Dwarfs

April 8, 2009

Kepler’s dust cover has now been jettisoned, meaning the search for extrasolar ‘Earths’ is not long from commencing. The cover stayed in place for so long because the spacecraft’s photometer had to make measurements of electronic noise that will later have to be removed from the science data. Mission engineers will now continue with the […]

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