March 2011

Vesta: Closing on a Protoplanet

March 31, 2011

As the Dawn spacecraft continues on its way to Vesta, which it will reach in July, mission controllers have been putting it through its paces with a series of maneuvers that test the vehicle’s capabilities, a rehearsal for the high- and low-altitude mapping orbits it will operate in. It’s interesting to consider Dawn’s ion thrusters, […]

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Under a Sri Lankan Moon

March 30, 2011

Looking to put things into perspective? The recent Kepler illustration of the 1235 candidate planets thus far identified, each shown in transit, is something to revel in. The image, shown below, offers a sweeping look at the range of stellar sizes that accomodate planets, and bear in mind that these are the planets that by […]

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Asteroid Mining: A Marker for SETI?

March 29, 2011

Having just finished Iain Banks’ The Player of Games, I’m thinking about the ‘orbitals’ he describes in his series of novels about the Culture, a vast, star-crossing civilization that can build space habitats in the form of massive rings. Orbitals are smaller than the kind of ‘ringworld’ Larry Niven envisioned, but huge nonetheless, bracelets of […]

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Carnival of Space 190

March 28, 2011

Here’s the latest in the weekly collection of space writing known as the Carnival of Space, in which people with their eyes on the stars go to work to explain the latest findings. Let’s start with the Sun, for even as we push our investigations of distant exoplanets, we have much to learn about the […]

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Philosophy, Breakfast and Life Elsewhere

March 25, 2011

Because I’m immersed in Laura Snyder’s wonderful book The Philosophical Breakfast Club (Broadway Books, 2011), I’ve been thinking lately about William Whewell. Long the master of Trinity College, Cambridge, Whewell helped bring sound, inductive methods to the fore in the science of his day, created models of international cooperation in scientific investigations through his studies […]

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Pedal to the Metal

March 24, 2011

We have a long way to go before we can get a probe to another star in the space of a human lifetime. The figure always cited here is the heliocentric speed of Voyager 1, some 17.05 kilometers per second, which is faster than any of our outward bound spacecraft but would take well over […]

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Brown Dwarfs and Planets: A Blurry Boundary

March 23, 2011

With April approaching, my thoughts turn more and more to the release of the WISE data, which should tell us a great deal about brown dwarfs and other relatively cool objects in our stellar neighborhood. The Wide-Field Infrared Explorer mission hasn’t gained the media attention of a Kepler or a CoRoT because it’s not specifically […]

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Extraterrestrial Life: The Need for an Answer

March 22, 2011

An article in Time Magazine’s latest issue caught my eye as I thumbed through it while waiting in line at the grocery store. The magazine is running a feature called ‘10 Ideas That Will Change the World,’ and they tend toward being optimistic takes on huge problems. Thus the deficit gets an essay about how […]

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Equatorial Rains on Titan

March 21, 2011

Rains have come to the equatorial regions of Titan, a vivid marker of the changing seasons on the distant Saturnian moon. A large storm system appeared in the equatorial regions in late September of last year as spring came to the low latitudes, and extensive clouds followed in October. When they dissipated, the Cassini orbiter […]

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Deadline Reminders: NASA Solicitations

March 21, 2011

Tau Zero practitioners should be aware that deadlines on the following solicitations are approaching quickly: (1) NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) – Early Stage Innovation DEADLINE for Notices of Intent: 29-March-2011 (Just 7 workdays away) DEADLINE for Proposals: 02-May-2011 (2) NASA Broad Agency Announcement (BAA): Technology Demonstration Missions (TDM) DEADLINE for Notices of Intent: 31-March-2011 […]

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