September 2010

Gl 581g: Rocky and Potentially Habitable

September 30, 2010

What exactly does the word ‘habitable’ mean? The question comes to mind because of two things, the first being the media buzz over Gliese 581g, now widely described as the first potentially habitable planet we’ve found. The second is Paul Davies’ presentation yesterday at the International Astronautical Congress in Prague, where Davies was careful to […]

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SETI: The Red Giant Factor

September 29, 2010

The ‘slow boat’ to Centauri concept we’ve discussed before in these pages envisions generation ships, vessels that take thousands of years to cross to their destination. And based on current thinking, that’s about the best we could manage with the propulsion systems currently in our inventory. Specifically, a solar sail making a close solar pass […]

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Project Icarus: Finding the Fuel

September 28, 2010

Project Icarus, introduced to the IAA at last year’s Aosta conference, made quite a splash yesterday at the International Astronautical Congress in Prague, with four presentations by Icarus team members and related work on the FOCAL mission by Claudio Maccone. Icarus is the attempt to re-examine the Project Daedalus starship study of the 1970s in […]

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Early Interstellar Missions and Energy

September 27, 2010

The International Astronautical Congress is in full swing in Prague today, with regular updates flowing over #IAC2010 on Twitter and the first session of interstellar import now in progress as I write this. It’s a session on interstellar precursor missions that includes, in addition to Ralph McNutt (JHU/APL) on the impact of the Voyager and […]

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Interstellar Archaeology on the Galactic Scale

September 24, 2010

The European Planetary Science Congress ends today in Rome even as scientists and engineers on the astronautical side of things head for Prague, where the International Astronautical Congress convenes on Monday. I’ll be keeping an eye on events in Prague and wishing I could join the gathering of Tau Zero practitioners that will be taking […]

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Rosetta: A Southern Hemisphere Landing

September 23, 2010

It’s hard to believe it’s been over six years since the launch of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, now well enroute to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a ten year journey that will be completed in 2014. Upon reaching the comet, Rosetta will begin an extended encounter that includes an orbiter that will circle Churyumov-Gerasimenko for thirteen […]

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Probing Seasonal Change on Titan

September 22, 2010

Imagine being Jean-Pierre Lebreton. The man behind the Huygens probe, Lebreton and the ESA team behind him hold the record for the most distant landfall in history, the 2005 descent onto the surface of Titan. I have no idea what dreams this man might have had in his childhood, but one of mine was descending […]

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Data Clippers: Bringing the Science Home

September 21, 2010

I was fortunate enough to meet Joel Poncy (Thales Alenia Space, France) at last year’s deep space conference in Aosta, where he gave the audience the lowdown on an extraordinary mission concept, an orbiter of the Kuiper Belt object Haumea. Haumea is a tricky target, lacking an atmosphere that would allow aerobraking and pushing all […]

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SETI on the Ecliptic

September 20, 2010

Is anyone out there in the galaxy aware of our presence? If so, it’s most likely through detection of our planetary radars, like those at Arecibo and Evpatoria that are used to detect and study nearby objects like asteroids, and provide a valuable part of our planetary defense. Sure, we’ve been pumping television and radio […]

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Light Off Distant Oceans

September 17, 2010

While we’re this early in the game of detecting life signs from distant planets, it makes sense to focus on surface habitability, which is why oceans are so interesting. Sure, we can imagine potential biospheres under the ice of a Europa or even an Enceladus, but given the state of our instrumentation and the distance […]

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