September 2012

Lowering Life’s Chances on Super-Earths

September 28, 2012

Super-Earths are exciting finds. The more of them we discover, the more likely it seems that life is abundant in the cosmos. But new work examining the viscosity and melting temperature of mantle rock is casting a different aura over super-Earths. Rather than being planets much like the Earth but simply more massive — worlds […]

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Pluto, Charon and Kepler

September 27, 2012

Our view of Pluto/Charon gets better and better as we prepare for the New Horizons flyby in 2015. It wasn’t so long ago that we had no idea Pluto had a single moon, much less the five we have so far identified. When James Christy (USNO) discovered Charon in 1978, he was looking at photographic […]

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Life-Bearing Rocks in Slow Motion

September 26, 2012

I’ve been fascinated with Edward Belbruno’s work on ‘chaotic orbits’ ever since meeting him at an astrodynamics conference in Princeton some years back. The idea is to develop low-energy routes for spacecraft by analyzing so-called ‘weak stability boundaries,’ regions where motion is highly sensitive and small changes can create gradual orbital change. A low-energy route […]

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The Billion Year Plan

September 25, 2012

At the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houson, I sent out a large number of tweets as @centauri_dreams. That Twitter account is still live, but be aware that my son Miles, who is now working actively with us, has set up a new account solely for the Tau Zero Foundation. You can access @TZFoundation to […]

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To Alpha Centauri via Hawai’i

September 24, 2012

I’m always looking for ways to relate interstellar distances to common objects on Earth, knowing that misunderstandings about the vast scale of the universe are common. Sir John Herschel (1792-1871) talked about dropping a pea off the side of a ship after every mile on an ocean voyage the distance of the nearest star, telling […]

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Keeping the Worldship Alive

September 21, 2012

One of the challenges of explaining why a starship project is worth doing even though its final goal may not be realized for a long time is in showing how this work can have an impact on improving things on Earth. Technological spinoffs have acquired a bad name because of the stigma of Teflon and […]

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A Space Telescope Enmeshed in History

September 20, 2012

It’s been heartening to see renewed interest in the space program’s past. Neil Armstrong’s death surely had something to do with it, for the scattering of his ashes at sea, which occurred while the 100 Year Starship Symposium was in session, was a reminder of the dramatic days when public fascination with space was intense […]

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Wrapping Up the Houston Starship

September 19, 2012

Because I utterly lack their skills, I have huge admiration for practical-minded people who can organize things well. Eric Davis’ work as track chair for the ‘Time and Distance Solutions’ track in Houston is a case in point. The challenge is in coping with a key fact of interstellar studies: We are so early in […]

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A Lab Experiment to Test Spacetime Distortion

September 18, 2012

Sonny White’s work on exotic propulsion has galvanized the press, as witness this story in the Daily Mail, one of many articles in newspapers and online venues. I was fortunate enough to be in the sessions at the 100 Year Starship Symposium where White, an engaging and affable speaker, described what his team at Eagleworks […]

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Saturday at the 100 Year Starship Symposium

September 17, 2012

While I didn’t see too many technical glitches at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston, I ran into plenty of them in my own attempts to cover the event. The banquet hall where the opening ceremonies were held — and where the plenary sessions occurred each day — was impervious to the hotel’s WiFi, […]

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