August 2010

IBEX: From System’s Edge to Nearby Space

August 17, 2010

When the Project Daedalus team went to work to design a starship back in the 1970s, they contemplated using the atmosphere of Jupiter as their source for helium-3, an isotope needed in vast quantity for Daedalus’ fusion engines. More recently, though, attention has turned to the lunar surface as a possible source. Now the IBEX […]

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Thoughts on Brown Dwarfs, Disks and Planets

August 16, 2010

Planetary systems around dim brown dwarfs are a fascinating thing to contemplate, and for a vivid imagining of future human activities on such planets, I’ll send you to Karl Schroeder’s Permanence. The 2002 novel posits ingenious engineering to sustain bases on such worlds, and even comes up with an interstellar propulsion method powered up by […]

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A Continental Shift and Its Implications

August 13, 2010

Although it seems a long way from interstellar space, the early Earth is a fascinating laboratory for life’s development that should yield clues about how life takes hold elsewhere. Thus new work on the movements of the early continents catches the eye. In this case, the Gondwana supercontinent is found to have undergone a 60-degree […]

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A New Neptunian Trojan

August 12, 2010

It’s almost exhilarating to find that the volume of space studied in new work on the Trojan asteroids near Neptune includes an area through which New Horizons will pass on its way to Pluto/Charon. This used to seem like an all but unknowable region until Voyager 2 made its Neptune pass, and although it’s been […]

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Hoop Sails: An Interstellar Possibility?

August 11, 2010

When engineer Carl Wiley brought solar sails to a wide audience in 1951, he envisioned a particular kind of sail. Wiley, who wrote under the byline Russell Saunders, published “Clipper Ships of Space” in the May issue of Astounding Science Fiction that year, seven years before the first technical paper on sails, Richard Garwin’s “Solar […]

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The Perseid Project: Crowd-sourcing the Meteor Stream

August 10, 2010

An individual meteorite can tell us much about the composition of ancient Solar System material, but today I want to mention a project that is taking the aggregate view. Chris Crawford has set up the Perseid Laptop Meteor Observation Project as a way to use ‘crowd-sourcing’ to build up a three-dimensional map of the Perseid […]

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Adaptive Optics and the Giant Magellan Telescope

August 9, 2010

Anything we can do to advance the cause of adaptive optics is all to the good. It’s obvious that a space-based observatory is preferable if we want to get the sharpest look at a distant object, but launch costs are still high and the kind of intricate interferometry missions that will one day let us […]

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Project Argus: Finding a ‘Benford Beacon’

August 6, 2010

It’s heartening to see James and Gregory Benford’s work on extraterrestrial beacons receiving broader coverage. We’ve looked at the relevant papers in these pages [run a search on ‘Benford’ in our database and you’ll pull up articles by and about them], but news features like this one in TIME Magazine are pushing the Benford brothers’ […]

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Pegging the Movements of a Potential Impactor

August 5, 2010

NASA’s workshop on identifying objectives for missions to near-Earth objects will be held next week, August 10-11 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. We can hope that this gathering of NASA leaders, academics, and space experts from across the international community will help keep the public’s attention on the need for such missions. […]

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Solar Sails: Charting an Operational Future

August 4, 2010

Japan’s IKAROS sail has thus far conducted a triumphant mission, demonstrating the principles of sail deployment, solar photon propulsion and attitude control in a functioning space sail. While the solar sail community has never received the press attention I believe this innovative propulsion technology deserves, it’s heartening to realize that a long and sustained effort, […]

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