October 2010

Astrobiology and the Kuiper Belt

October 29, 2010

Here’s an interesting bit of news from the New Horizons team. Remember that the spacecraft, having made its pass by the Pluto/Charon system in 2015, will be moving ever deeper into the Kuiper Belt. It’s been the hope of mission planners that a close study of one or more objects there might be possible. Now […]

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Crunching the Numbers on Earth-Size Planets

October 28, 2010

Finding Earth-size planets around other stars is a long-cherished goal, and new results from Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Howard (UC Berkeley) give us reason to think they’re out there in some abundance. As reported in Science, the astronomers have used the 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii to make radial velocity measurements of 166 G and […]

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Ocean Impacts and Their Consequences

October 27, 2010

It’s good to see asteroid deflection occasionally popping up in the news, thanks to the efforts of people like former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, whose efforts as co-chairman of the Task Force on Planetary Defense of the NASA Advisory Council are complemented by his work for non-profits like the B612 Foundation. Schweickart is worried about the […]

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‘Snowball Growth’ and the Centauri Stars

October 26, 2010

With three groups now looking hard at Alpha Centauri for planets, let’s hope our nearest stars don’t do for us what Gliese 581 has. First we had a habitable planet in Gl 581c, then we didn’t. Then Gl 581d looked a bit promising, and may skirt the outer edges of the habitable zone, although the […]

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Planet Formation Around Close Binaries

October 25, 2010

Planets around binary stars fascinate me, doubtless because of Alpha Centauri’s proximity and the question of whether there are planets there. About ten percent of the planets we’ve found around main sequence stars are found in binary systems, and most of these binaries have wide separations, in the range of 100 to 300 AU. But, […]

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Earthly Windows into Dark Energy

October 22, 2010

While lamenting the budgetary problems of space-based missions like SIM — the Space Interferometry Mission — I often find myself noting in the same breath that technological advances have us doing things from the ground we used to think possible only from space. Make no mistake, we need to develop space-based interferometry for future studies […]

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Losing SIM: Thoughts on Exoplanetary Strategy

October 21, 2010

For all the excitement the Kepler mission has generated, we sometimes forget its limitations. Kepler is engaged in a transit hunt for exoplanets that will help us identify not just gas giants but planets the size of our own. But it’s a brute-force method, looking at a huge number of stars to identify the few […]

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Exoplanet Atmospheres: What We Don’t Know

October 20, 2010

What happens in the atmosphere of a tidally locked world in the habitable zone of a red dwarf? We have solid work suggesting through simulations that habitable conditions could exist there, but it’s also true that we’re in the early stages of these investigations and we have no actual examples to work with. Drawing hasty […]

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The Interstellar Tool Builders

October 19, 2010

Long before I knew what ideas for interstellar flight were out there in the literature, I always saw the idea of a trip between the stars in Homeric terms. It would be an epic journey that, like that of Odysseus, would resonate throughout human history and become the stuff of legend, even myth. In back […]

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Exploring Alcubierre’s Ideas in the Lab

October 18, 2010

by Richard Obousy Physicist Richard Obousy has long been fascinated with the Casimir force, dark energy, and the stability of higher dimensions. His dissertation at Baylor University, in fact, focused on the possibility that dark energy could be an artifact of Casimir energy in extra dimensions. Now project leader of Project Icarus, Obousy here takes […]

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