January 2012

Exoplanetary Ring Systems and Their Uses

January 17, 2012

What to say about an extrasolar ring system that has already had its four distinct rings named? Rochester, Sutherland, Campanas and Tololo are the Earth-bound sites where the unusual system was first detected and analyzed, and the international team of researchers involved thought them suitable monickers for the four rings thus far detected. The light […]

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Circumbinary Planets: A New Class of Systems?

January 16, 2012

Last week’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society is still much in the news, and I want to cover several more stories from the Austin conclave this week, starting with yet another circumbinary planetary system, in which a planet orbits two stars. Not long ago we looked at Kepler-16b, a circumbinary planet orbiting two stars […]

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New Exomoon Project Will Use Kepler Data

January 13, 2012

Exomoons are drawing more interest all the time. It may seem fantastic that we should be able to find moons around planets circling other stars, but the methods are under active investigation and may well yield results soon. Now David Kipping (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and colleagues have formed a new project called HEK — […]

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Three Exoplanets Smaller than Earth

January 12, 2012

It’s always gratifying to note the contributions of amateur astronomers to front-line science. In the case of three small planets discovered around the Kepler star KOI-961, the kudos go to Kevin Apps, now a co-author of a paper on the new work. It was Apps who put postdoc Philip Muirhead (Caltech) on to the idea […]

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Planets by the Billions in Milky Way

January 11, 2012

People sometimes ask why we are spending so much time searching for planets that are so far away. The question refers to the Kepler mission and the fact that the distance to its target stars is generally 600 to 3,000 light years. In fact, fewer than one percent of the stars Kepler is examining out […]

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Kepler-16b: Inside a Chilly Habitable Zone?

January 10, 2012

The annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society is now in session in Austin, sure to provide us with interesting fodder for discussion in coming days. Just coming off embargo yesterday was news of further study of the interesting Kepler-16 system. This one made quite a splash last fall when the planet known as Kepler-16b […]

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Innovative Interstellar Explorer: A Response to Questions

January 9, 2012

Ralph McNutt’s recent update on the progress of the Innovative Interstellar Explorer concept elicited plenty of comments, enough that Dr. McNutt wanted to answer them in a new post. Now at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, McNutt is Project Scientist and a Co-Investigator on NASA’s MESSENGER mission to Mercury, Co-Investigator on NASA’s Solar Probe […]

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Our Meaning-Stuffed Dreams

January 6, 2012

Gregory Benford’s work is so widely known that it almost seems absurd to introduce him, but for any Centauri Dreams readers who have somehow missed it, I challenge you to read In the Ocean of Night and not become obsessed with reading this author’s entire output. This week has been a science fictional time for […]

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100 Year Starship Winner Announced

January 6, 2012

These are good times for Icarus Interstellar, which teamed with the Dorothy Jemison Foundation and the Foundation for Enterprise Development to win the 100 Year Starship proposal grant. Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut to fly into space, founded DJF in honor of her late mother. As lead on the proposal, her organization now […]

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Resolving the Mysteries of Titan’s Weather

January 5, 2012

A robust new computer model that couples the atmosphere of Titan to a methane reservoir on the surface goes a long way toward explaining not just how methane is transported on the distant moon, but also why the various anomalies of Titan’s weather operate the way they do. The model comes out of Caltech under […]

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