June 2009

Notes & Queries 6/16/09

June 16, 2009

Life Beneath the Ice Three kilometers down in the Greenland ice sheet is what I call an extreme environment. Even so, Penn State researchers have been able to bring a bacterium called Herminiimonas glaciei back to life after a dormancy of 120,000 years in these conditions. The work involved incubating the samples at 2 degrees […]

Read the full article →

A Longer Life for Earth’s Biosphere?

June 15, 2009

If we can find a way to double the lifespan of Earth’s biosphere, we’ll have changed the odds for finding extraterrestrial civilizations. After all, the amount of time an advanced culture can exist is one of the variables in the famous Drake equation, which estimates how many intelligent civilizations there are in the Milky Way. […]

Read the full article →

Modeling an Interstellar Future

June 13, 2009

The bet between Tibor Pacher and myself continues to draw emails, proving that my friend Tibor was right when he saw an interstellar wager as a teaching opportunity. I still maintain that an interstellar mission will not be launched anywhere near as early as 2025, but Tibor does have his advocates, as you can see […]

Read the full article →

Earthlight’s Bio-signature Measured

June 12, 2009

Among the most interesting of the future missions now being weighed by NASA, TESS (the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) would help scientists using the James Webb Space Telescope know where to look for Earth-like planets around nearby stars. While the invaluable Kepler mission scans 100,000 distant stars, hoping to gain statistics on Earth-sized exoplanets, TESS […]

Read the full article →

A Planetary Detection in Andromeda?

June 11, 2009

Gravitational microlensing has been actively employed in the search for MACHOs (Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Objects) in the galactic halo, although with ambiguous results. The idea here is to find large, dark objects by detecting the microlensing effects they produce on stars behind them. While these dark matter studies have looked toward the Large Magellanic […]

Read the full article →

Planets Forming Around a Close Binary

June 10, 2009

Planets around binary stars continue to be a major interest here, given our fascination with nearby Alpha Centauri. Thus the recent radio interferometry images captured by the Submillimeter Array radio telescope system (Mauna Kea) come right to the top of the queue. We’re looking at a young binary system called V4046 Sagittarii, providing a glimpse […]

Read the full article →

Alpha Centauri Hunt Intensifies

June 9, 2009

I love Greg Laughlin’s remark to the Washington Post‘s Joel Achenbach in last week’s article Astronomers Seek New Home Closer to Home. Having discussed Debra Fischer’s ongoing search for Alpha Centauri planets and his own theories on planet formation around binary stars, Laughlin points out where we stand today: “We have what is to all […]

Read the full article →

Tuning Up the Interstellar Ramjet

June 8, 2009

Catching my eye in the latest Carnival of Space, hosted by Brian Wang at Next Big Future, is Adam Crowl’s write-up of a rethinking of an exotic ramjet technology. Robert Bussard put the interstellar ramjet into the public eye back in 1960 in a paper proposing that a starship moving fast enough would be able […]

Read the full article →

SETA: Finding a ‘Graveyard Civilization’

June 5, 2009

Imagine an extraterrestrial civilization that manages to colonize the entire galaxy. Then imagine the colonizing civilization collapsing so definitively that no trace of its existence has yet been detected, at least from our planet. We can call it, as Jacob Haqq-Misra and Seth Baum (Pennsylvania State University) do in a recently released paper, a ‘graveyard […]

Read the full article →

Slow Weather on Titan

June 4, 2009

With a dense atmosphere of nitrogen and methane, Titan is the only moon in our Solar System that shares Earth-like characteristics in climate. But Titan’s climate, receiving one hundred times less sunlight at ten times Earth’s distance from the Sun, operates at a much slower pace. The seasons on the distant moon last more than […]

Read the full article →