April 2010

A Dusty Finish in Glasgow

April 16, 2010

I’m always sorry when a good conference like the Royal Astronomical Society’s 2010 gathering ends, even if I’m attending it ‘virtually’ from the other side of an ocean. But virtuality has its advantages, as I’m reminded by several conference attendees who have struggled with Icelandic volcano ash when trying to book flights out of the […]

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Musings on SETI and Nearby Brown Dwarfs

April 15, 2010

There is enough going on at the Royal Astronomical Society’s 2010 meeting to keep us occupied for some time, but I don’t want to go any farther without circling back to UGPS 0722-05, an unusually cool brown dwarf now thought to be the seventh closest star to the Sun. The parallax measurements of its distance […]

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Do ‘Hot Jupiters’ Rule Out Terrestrial Planets?

April 14, 2010

Meetings like the Royal Astronomical Society’s gathering in Glasgow can be overwhelming, with all kinds of news to track via emails, news releases and Twitter. Yesterday we looked at the possible signature of rocky planets in the atmospheres of white dwarfs. But the unusual orbits of planets newly discovered by the WASP project (and follow-up […]

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White Dwarfs Show Signs of Planetary Debris

April 13, 2010

Kepler, CoRoT and future space missions should give us an estimate of how common small, rocky planets are in the galaxy. But there is much we can do from Earth, as Jay Farihi told the Royal Astronomical Society’s 2010 meeting today. Farihi’s team used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to conclude that rocky […]

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Pondering Life on Titan

April 12, 2010

I love what William Bains (University of Cambridge) has to say about extraterrestrial life and how it might appear to us. “Wouldn’t it be sad if the most alien things we found in the galaxy were just like us, but blue and with tails?” He’s thinking, of course, of some science fiction evocations of aliens […]

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SETI Beacons and Altruistic Aliens

April 12, 2010

by James and Gregory Benford Interstellar beacons continue to draw discussion, and the Benford brothers now return with further thoughts on the matter in response to reader comments here. How to distinguish a beacon from a natural source, and why consider it in terms of cost? The answer is below, as is an interesting twist […]

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Atmospheric Changes Mark Triton Summer

April 9, 2010

A new instrument that lets us look deeper into things almost always changes the game. Such an instrument is CRIRES, the Cryogenic High-Resolution Infrared Echelle Spectrograph. Now operational at the Very Large Telescope, CRIRES has already done yeoman work on Pluto, and has now been used to study the atmosphere of Neptune’s large moon Triton […]

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Notes & Queries 4/8/10

April 8, 2010

Project Ozma’s Anniversary It was just fifty years ago today, April 8, 1960, when Frank Drake launched Project Ozma by turning the Green Bank, WV dish toward Tau Ceti. In a reminiscence of the project written for Cosmic Search magazine, Drake recalls the initial sense of anticipation, followed by examination of the chart recorder, which […]

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Brown Dwarf Companion: Planet or Star?

April 7, 2010

Our knowledge of brown dwarfs is expanding rapidly, and with the help of the WISE mission, we will be able to build a much more complete catalog of such stars in our neighborhood. But look what the Hubble Space Telescope, in conjunction with the Gemini Observatory, has produced: A companion to a brown dwarf that […]

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Analyzing Transients: Pulsars or Beacons?

April 6, 2010

Recently we looked at James and Gregory Benford’s thoughts on interstellar beacons, noting that using cost as a likely constraint allowed the authors to discuss how cost would affect design, and therefore the parameters of any beacon we would be likely to observe. But what is it about interstellar beacons that sets them apart from […]

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