January 2011

Inclined Orbits and Their Causes

January 18, 2011

The abundance of giant planets among the more than 500 exoplanets thus far identified is largely the result of our detection methods — we can find larger planets far more readily than smaller ones. But even as we bring our detections down to ever more Earth-sized worlds, we can go to work on the questions […]

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A Renewed Concern: Flares and Astrobiology

January 17, 2011

Before the recent American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle gets too far behind us, I want to be sure to include an interesting story on red dwarfs in the coverage here. The story involves an extrasolar planet survey called SWEEPS — Sagittarius Window Eclipsing Extrasolar Planet Search, which used the Hubble Space Telescope to monitor […]

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Mapping Dark Matter in Ellipticals

January 14, 2011

Next week I’ll be reviewing Richard Panek’s The 4 Percent Universe (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), a penetrating look at our investigations of dark matter and dark energy. But plenty of information has also come out of the American Astronomical Society’s 217th meeting, which ended yesterday. We looked at interesting gravitational lensing results in the previous […]

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A Deep-Sky Look at Lensing

January 13, 2011

As we continue to investigate the parameters of the proposed FOCAL mission to the Sun’s gravitational lens, it’s worth recalling how the idea of lensing has taken hold in recent decades. Einstein noted the possibilities of such lensing as far back as 1936, but it wasn’t until 1964 that Sydney Liebes (Stanford University) worked out […]

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Planck Looks at the Interstellar Medium

January 12, 2011

Yesterday’s news conference on the Planck mission, held at the Millimeter and Submillimeter Sky in the Planck Mission Era conference in Paris, was so absorbing that I abandoned previous plans and stayed glued to the monitor most of the afternoon, replaying particular points from the various presenters (although keeping an eye on AAS happenings via […]

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AAS: Rocky Exoplanet and a ‘Voorwerp’

January 11, 2011

We’re exoplanet-minded around here, and any news from Kepler or CoRoT almost automatically goes to the top of the queue, but there are days when the visuals take precedence. Such was the case yesterday, when even as we learned about a small, rocky planet in Kepler’s view, we also received the image below, released at […]

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Breakthrough Concepts: A Propulsion Overview

January 10, 2011

Speaking at last fall’s International Astronautical Congress in Prague, Tau Zero founder Marc Millis offered a condensed summary of the present state of the art in advanced propulsion physics, summarizing a variety of approaches and next-step questions from the book he co-edited with Eric Davis called Frontiers of Propulsion Science (2009). He’s now written a […]

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Looking Inside Vesta

January 7, 2011

The near-Earth asteroid 1999 AT10 is telling us a greal deal about an object much further away, the main belt asteroid Vesta. And that, in turn, is giving us new information about planet formation more than 4.5 billion years ago, when our Solar System was forming. The recently published paper, which precedes the August arrival […]

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New Views of Andromeda

January 6, 2011

With the American Astronomical Society getting ready to convene its 217th meeting in Seattle on the 9th, it seems fitting to talk about one of the most splendid ‘nearby’ stellar objects, the Andromeda Galaxy, otherwise known as M31. Edwin Hubble was the first astronomer to resolve individual stars in the galaxy, but working with Milton […]

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Sails and Infrastructure: Thinking Big

January 5, 2011

Suppose we have developed an Earth-Moon industrial system, one that lets us use an electric launch system on the Moon to upload mass for chemical processing and the extraction of raw materials. What’s the next step toward extending it to the entire system? One idea, as Joseph Friedlander has been explaining on the NextBigFuture blog, […]

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