December 2010

A Pioneering Interstellar Text

December 30, 2010

The serious study of flight to the stars is a comparatively recent phenomenon. One of the early papers to take interstellar travel to a new level — and to my knowledge the first technical article on manned interstellar missions — was Leslie Shepherd’s ‘Interstellar Flight,’ which appeared in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society […]

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WISE Studies the Triangulum

December 29, 2010

A new image from WISE is always of interest, given our hopes that the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer will help us understand the distribution of nearby brown dwarfs. This image of the Triangulum Galaxy (M33) is at the other end of WISE’s charter, which covers objects both near and inconceivably remote. But it’s too gorgeous […]

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2008 TC3: A Surprising Mix of Materials

December 28, 2010

The asteroid that crashed into the Nubian desert in the fall of 2008 turns out to be more interesting than we first realized. You’ll recall that the 59-ton object was first detected by the Catalina Sky Survey (another reassuring instance of the CSS doing its job, as discussed in a recent post). That allowed astronomers […]

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A Planetary Greenland: Looking at Risk

December 27, 2010

Although Jane Smiley has made the haunting story of the Viking settlement of Greenland widely known in her novel The Greenlanders (Knopf, 1988), we have few modern accounts that parallel what happened in remote places like Brattahlið and Garðar, where Erik the Red’s settlements, which had lasted for 500 years, eventually fell victim to climate […]

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A Holiday Curiosity

December 24, 2010

I just have time this morning to get off one more post before Christmas, although it’s a close call. I’ve got family coming over at mid-day for the first of two holiday gatherings and, because I’m an inveterate baker, I have sourdough bread to attend to. Sourdough (or as my guru Peter Reinhart likes to […]

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Europa in the High Arctic

December 23, 2010

Yesterday’s post discussed interesting terrain on remote moons, Rhea and Europa among them. But while we can piece together much useful information about a moon’s surface and its history from orbit, some of the most provocative places in the Solar System may well require investigation on the ground. In the case of Europa, that means […]

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New Imagery from Saturn’s Moons

December 22, 2010

Cassini continues to wow us with holiday imagery, not the least of which is this view from the Enceladus encounter on the 20th, with not only the plumes from Enceladus clearly visible but the adjacent image of Mimas stealing the show (credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute). It’s raw imagery, still unprocessed, but it gets across the […]

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Transits Near and Far

December 21, 2010

Last night’s lunar eclipse is the first I’ve seen used as the hook for a story on exoplanets in the popular press, as it was in this Christian Science Monitor story yesterday. Maybe that’s a sign that we’re beginning to relate the familiar things we see in the sky to the distant and less well […]

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The Problem with Speed

December 20, 2010

We spend a lot of time talking about how to get an interstellar probe up to speed. But what happens if we do achieve a cruise speed of 12 percent of the speed of light, as envisioned by the designers who put together Project Daedalus back in the 1970s? Daedalus called for a 3.8-year period […]

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Notes & Queries 12/17/10

December 17, 2010

Our recent discussion of Richard Gott and Robert Vanderbei’s Sizing Up the Universe has me thinking about representing unfathomably huge scenarios in two-dimensional media, as Gott managed to do so brilliantly with his four-page gatefold map of the universe. How to manage such a feat, and the theory behind map-making of all kinds, can be […]

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