December 2009

A ‘Super-Earth’ with an Atmosphere

December 16, 2009

Picking up on yesterday’s theme of planetary detections from ground-based observatories, we now get word of the detection of a transiting ‘super-Earth’ — one that may well have an atmosphere we can study — with the kind of equipment many amateurs already use to observe the sky. The new world is GJ 1214b, about 6.5 […]

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Planets Around Sun-like Stars

December 15, 2009

What jumps out at the reader when examining yesterday’s exoplanet news is not so much that we’ve found as many as six low-mass planets, but that the two stars involved are both near twins of the Sun. Steven Vogt (UC-Santa Cruz) and Paul Butler (Carnegie Institution of Washington) led this work, and Vogt is quick […]

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Propulsion from the Quantum Vacuum?

December 14, 2009

With WISE now on its way (a spectacular launch in the dark at Vandeberg Air Force Base), we now turn to the realm of exotica. Specifically, can we find ways to exploit the quantum vacuum to produce propulsion? I’ve seldom had such a flurry of interested emails than what followed the appearance of a paper […]

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Iapetus: Coated in Off-world Dust

December 11, 2009

Saturn’s moon Iapetus has always had an unusual aspect, one first noted all the way back in the days of Giovanni Cassini (1625-1712), for whom our Saturn orbiter is named. The moon’s discoverer, Cassini correctly noted that Iapetus had a bright hemisphere and a dark one, each visible (because of tidal lock) on only one […]

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WISE Launch Again Rescheduled

December 10, 2009

Launch of the WISE mission has again been delayed, now scheduled for December 14 with a launch window of 1409 to 1423 UTC (0909-0923 EST). Launch will take place at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with coverage offered on NASA TV. A live feed from the on-board camera will be active here. The Wide-field […]

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Can Kepler Detect Oort Cloud Objects?

December 9, 2009

Although we have no direct observations of objects in the Oort Cloud, we may be able to change that with space missions like Kepler and CoRoT. So argue Eran Ofek (Caltech) and Ehud Nakar (Tel-Aviv University) in a recent paper. If they’re right, we’ll improve our understanding of the Solar System’s planetary accretion disk and […]

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Unusual Variations in Sun-like Stars

December 8, 2009

That ignorance can cause cascading errors is a lesson never better taught than through the experience of George Brown, British foreign secretary in Harold Wilson’s government (this was about forty years ago). One day Brown was in Peru for a reception and, indulging in the local spirits, became thoroughly ripped. Enjoying the music, he was […]

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A Solid Look at Sail Technologies

December 7, 2009

What happens to a solar sail as it flies through space? Made of the most diaphanous materials possible, the sail gradually begins to degrade. Roman Kezerashvili and Gregory Matloff (CUNY) have looked closely at problems like these and have considered everything from sail thickness and performance to the merits of different metallic films. The sail […]

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Possible Planet Around a G-class Star

December 4, 2009

We don’t exactly know what to call GJ 758 B, which may be a brown dwarf or simply a large planet of between ten and forty Jupiter masses. But the detection is being hailed as the first direct observation of a ‘planet-like object’ orbiting a star similar to our own Sun. We have the new […]

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Debra Fischer: Details of the Centauri Hunt

December 3, 2009

You won’t want to miss an interview with Debra Fischer now available on the MarketSaw site. The latter is a blog focused on 3D motion pictures, and thus the interest in Fischer’s work on Alpha Centauri draws from a cinematic base. Specifically, James Cameron’s new movie Avatar depicts a gas giant with a habitable moon […]

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