January 2012

Cloud Cover’s Role in Exoplanet Studies

January 31, 2012

I confess it had never occurred to me to consider cloud cover on exoplanets in quite the same light that a new study does. But two Spanish astronomers from the Astrophysical Institute of the Canary Islands (IAC) are taking a look at how clouds operate over different kinds of surfaces, in the process figuring out […]

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Toward a New ‘Prime Directive’

January 30, 2012

The Italian contribution to the interstellar effort has been substantial, and I’m pleased to know three of its principal practitioners: Claudio Maccone, Giancarlo Genta, and Giovanni Vulpetti. It was with great pleasure, then, that I took Roberto Flaibani up on his offer of appearing in his excellent blog Il Tredicesimo Cavaliere (The Thirteenth Knight). Roberto […]

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New Multiple Planet Systems Verified

January 27, 2012

Confirming Kepler’s planet candidates is a crucial part of the process, because no matter how tantalizing a candidate appears to be, its existence needs to be verified. We have more than 60 confirmed Kepler planets and over 2300 candidates, many of which will eventually get confirmed, but it’s interesting to see that the mission’s latest […]

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Project Bifrost: Return to Nuclear Rocketry

January 26, 2012

Back in the days when I was studying Old Icelandic (this was a long time ago, well before Centauri Dreams), I took a bus out of Reykjavik for the short journey to Þingvellir, where the Icelandic parliament was established in the 10th Century. It was an unusually sunny day but that afternoon the storms rolled […]

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The Dunes of Titan

January 25, 2012

The methane/ethane cycle we see on Titan is reminiscent of the water cycle on Earth, which is what people are really talking about when they refer to this frigid place as vaguely ‘Earth-like’ — this is not exactly a temperate climate! But we have a long way to go in understanding just how the cycle […]

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Eternal Monuments Among the Stars

January 24, 2012

Yesterday’s post looked at SETI and its assumptions, using the lens of a new paper on how the discipline might be enlarged. The paper’s authors, Robert Bradbury, Milan Ćirković and George Dvorsky, are not looking to supplant older SETI methods, but rather to broaden their scope by bringing into play what we are learning about […]

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Rethinking SETI’s Targets

January 23, 2012

Have you ever given any thought to intergalactic SETI? On the face of it, the idea seems absurd — we have been doing SETI in one form or another since the days of Project Ozma and without result. If we can’t pick up radio signals from nearby stars that tell us of extraterrestrial civilizations, how […]

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Dawn Explores Vesta’s Chemistry

January 20, 2012

The Dawn spacecraft, orbiting Vesta since July of last year, reached its lowest altitude orbit in December, now averaging 210 kilometers from the asteroid’s surface. Ceres is Dawn’s next stop, but that journey won’t begin until the close-in work at Vesta is complete, with the craft in its low altitude mapping orbit for at least […]

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A Comet Consumed by the Sun

January 19, 2012

Imagine what we could do if we could attain speeds of 640 kilometers per second. That’s the velocity of a comet recently tracked just before passing across the face of the Sun and apparently disintegrating in the low solar corona. I’m just musing here, but it’s always fun to muse about such things. 640 kilometers […]

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NIAC Looking for New Proposals

January 18, 2012

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program has issued a second call for proposals, following the selection of its first round of Phase I concepts in 2011. NIAC (formerly the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts) ran from 1998 to 2007 in the capable hands of Robert Cassanova, who is now external council chair for the new organization. […]

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