March 2012

Starships: The Problem of Arrival

March 16, 2012

You wouldn’t think that slowing down a starship would be the subject of a totally engrossing novel, but that’s the plot device in Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero (1970, though based on a 1967 short story called “To Outlive Eternity”). Anderson’s ramscoop starship, the Leonora Christine, can’t slow down because of damage suffered in mid-cruise. Edging […]

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WISE: Into the Infrared Sky

March 15, 2012

As promised, we now have the infrared sky at a new level of detail thanks to the labors of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, which has now mapped (with a few slight glitches) more than half a billion objects, from galaxies to stars to asteroids and comets. We can now expect a new […]

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Thoughts on Antihydrogen and Propulsion

March 14, 2012

Normally when we talk about interstellar sail concepts, we’re looking at some kind of microwave or laser beaming technologies of the kind Robert Forward wrote about, in which the sail is driven by a beam produced by an installation in the Solar System. Greg and Jim Benford have carried out sail experiments in the laboratory […]

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Looking Into Kepler’s Latest

March 13, 2012

I’ve held off a bit on the latest Kepler data release because I wanted some time to ponder what we’re looking at. The list of candidate planets here is based on data from the first sixteen months of the mission, and at first blush it seems encouraging in terms of our search for Earth-class planets. […]

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Upcoming Interstellar Sessions

March 12, 2012

It’s shaping up to be an interesting week. I want to get to the recent Kepler data release, and also to the antimatter news from CERN, and I also want to talk about everything from decelerating an interstellar craft to models of expansion into the galaxy a la Frank Tipler. [And thanks to Centauri Dreams […]

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Science Fiction and the Probe

March 9, 2012

Physicist Al Jackson, who is the world’s greatest dinner companion, holds that title because amongst his scientific accomplishments, he is also a fountainhead of information about science fiction. No matter which writer you bring up, he knows something you never heard of that illuminates that writer’s work. So it was no surprise that when the […]

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Intelligent Probes: The Spread-Spectrum Challenge

March 8, 2012

Let’s imagine for a moment that John Mathews (Pennsylvania State University) is right in theorizing that space-faring civilizations will use self-reproducing probes to expand into the galaxy. We’ve been kicking the issues around most of this week, but the SETI question continues to hang in the background. For if there really are extraterrestrial civilizations in […]

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SETI and Self-Reproducing Probes

March 7, 2012

It was back in the 1980s when Robert Freitas came up with a self-reproducing probe concept based on the British Interplanetary Society’s Project Daedalus, but extending it in completely new directions. Like Daedalus, Freitas’ REPRO probe would be fusion-based and would mine the atmosphere of Jupiter to acquire the necessary helium-3. Unlike Daedalus, REPRO would […]

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Robotic Networks Among the Stars

March 6, 2012

Imagine a future in which we manage to reach average speeds in the area of one percent of the speed of light. That would make for a 437-year one-way trip to the Alpha Centauri system, too long for anything manned other than generation ships or missions with crews in some kind of suspended animation. Although […]

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Oxygen Detected at Saturn’s Moon Dione

March 5, 2012

We recently looked at biosignatures as part of a discussion about using polarized light to examine exoplanet atmospheres. As if on cue, we now get a reminder of how carefully the biosignature hunt must proceed. It’s not enough, for example, to find one or two interesting gases in a distant atmosphere, for natural processes can […]

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