August 2012

Are ‘Waterworlds’ Planets in Transition?

August 17, 2012

Ponder how our planet got its water. The current view is that objects beyond the ‘snow line,’ where water ice is available in the protoplanetary disk, were eventually pushed into highly eccentric orbits by their encounters with massive young planets like Jupiter. Eventually some of these water-bearing objects would have impacted the Earth. The same […]

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Barnard’s Star: No Sign of Planets

August 16, 2012

Barnard’s Star has always gotten its share of attention, and deservedly so. It was in 1916 that this M-class dwarf in Ophiuchus was measured by the American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard, who found its proper motion to be the largest of any star relative to the Sun. That meant the star soon to be named […]

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100 Year Starship Public Symposium

August 15, 2012

“The future never just happened, it was created.” The quote is from Will and Ariel Durant, the husband and wife team who collaborated on an eleven-volume history of civilization that always used to be included in Book of the Month deals, which is how many of us got our copies. I’m glad to see the […]

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Starships: ‘Skylark’ vs. the Long Haul

August 14, 2012

Centauri Dreams readers will remember Adam Frank’s recent op-ed Alone in the Void in the New York Times arguing that given the difficulty involved in traveling to the stars, humans had better get used to living on and improving this planet. ‘We will have no other choice,’ wrote Frank. ‘There will be nowhere else to […]

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Into the Uncanny Valley

August 13, 2012

After our recent exchange of ideas on SETI, Michael Chorost went out and read the Strugatsky brothers’ novel Roadside Picnic, a book I had cited as an example of contact with extraterrestrials that turns out to be enigmatic and far beyond the human understanding. I’ve enjoyed the back and forth with Michael between Centauri Dreams […]

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‘Deep Space Propulsion': A Review

August 10, 2012

What I have in mind today is a book review, but I’ll start with a bit of news. The word from Houston is that Ad Astra Rocket Co., which has been developing the VASIMR concept from its headquarters not far from Johnson Space Center in Texas, has been making progress with its 200-kw plasma rocket […]

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Hit by a Falling Star

August 9, 2012

About a year ago a French couple by the name of Comette returned to their home to find that a meteorite had struck their house while they were away on holiday. It could be said that the Comettes already had a celestial connection — if in name only — but now the heavens impinged upon […]

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SETI: Contact and Enigma

August 8, 2012

I’m not surprised that Michael Chorost continues to stimulate and enliven the SETI discussion. In his most recent book World Wide Mind (Free Press, 2011), Michael looked at the coming interface between humans and machines that will take us into an enriched world, one where implants both biological and digital will enhance our experience of […]

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Voyager Update: Still in Choppy Waters

August 7, 2012

The continued explorations of our two Voyagers have earned these tough spacecraft the right to be considered an interstellar mission, which is how NASA now describes their journeys. Neither will come anywhere near another star for tens of thousands of years, but in this context ‘interstellar’ means putting a payload with data return into true […]

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After Curiosity (whew!), Thoughts on Enceladus

August 6, 2012

At $2.5 billion, NASA’s Curiosity rover didn’t cost quite as much as Cassini ($3 billion), but what a relief to Solar System exploration both near and far to have it safely down at Gale Crater. This Reuters story tells me that 79 different pyrotechnic detonations were needed to release ballast weights, open the parachute, separate […]

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