November 2012

Images of Exoplanetary Journeys

November 30, 2012

Stretch out your time horizons and interstellar travel gets a bit easier. If 4.3 light years seems too immense a distance to reach Alpha Centauri, we can wait about 28,000 years, when the distance between us will have closed to 3.2 light years. As it turns out, Alpha Centauri is moving in a galactic orbit […]

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Tracking Changes in Titan’s Atmosphere

November 29, 2012

Even as New Horizons continues to push toward Pluto, now just past the halfway point between the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, we’re continuing to get excellent data from the much closer Cassini spacecraft around Saturn. Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) is probing the circulation and chemistry of Titan’s atmosphere, tracking how gases like benzene […]

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On Debris Disks and Super-Earths

November 28, 2012

The red dwarf Gliese 581 continues to draw the eye, whether or not the putative world Gl 581 g is there or not. The latter, whose existence has been the subject of controversy, would occupy a tantalizing place in its star’s habitable zone, though in some models the planet Gl 581 d might also skirt […]

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Life Around Cooling Stars

November 27, 2012

Red dwarfs offer fascinating astrobiological speculation, allowing us to ponder whether flare activity or tidal lock could be the game-changer that prevents life from developing around them. We have much to learn on that score, but new work from Rory Barnes (University of Washington) and René Heller (Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics, Potsdam) looks beyond red […]

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Makemake and the Naming of Names

November 26, 2012

Now that we have vast numbers of Kuiper Belt Objects assumed to be orbiting outside the orbit of Neptune, not to mention possible Oort Cloud interlopers (Sedna may be one of these), the question of names gets ever more interesting. Great entertainment awaits, as witness the KBO known as 2005 FY9. Discovered not long after […]

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Interstellar Propulsion Exotica

November 21, 2012

It was back in 1950 that Arthur C. Clarke looked at electromagnetic methods for getting a payload into space. The concept wasn’t new but Clarke’s paper in JBIS set out to examine what he saw as a practical use of it, an electromagnetic catapult on the lunar surface that could accelerate payloads back to Earth. […]

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More on the Starship ‘Slingshot’ Maneuver

November 20, 2012

Although we ordinarily think of Stanislaw Ulam in connection with pulse propulsion — and in particular with the Orion concept, in which nuclear devices are exploded behind the spacecraft — the scientist was also investigating other propulsion ideas. It puts yesterday’s discussion of Freeman Dyson’s ‘gravitational machines’ into context to realize that Ulam was writing […]

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The Interstellar Gravitational Assist

November 19, 2012

While Rod Hyde, Lowell Wood and John Nuckolls were working on laser-induced fusion to drive a starship back in 1972, the range of options for advanced propulsion continued to grow. One we haven’t talked about much in these pages is the use of gravitational slingshots in exotic settings. We’re used to the concept within the […]

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Conceiving the Laser-Fusion Starship

November 16, 2012

When young Rod Hyde, fresh out of MIT, started working on starship design in mid-1972, there were not many fusion-based precedents for what he was up to. He had taken a summer job that would turn into a career at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, but right off the bat he was involved with Lowell Wood […]

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Starship Design: Rod Hyde, Reykjavik and Chess

November 15, 2012

Growing up in Corvallis, Oregon, math prodigy and future weapons designer Rod Hyde seemed to have two things on his mind: chess and science fiction. Gordon Dickson, Keith Laumer and Robert Heinlein had fed his adolescence with images of man’s future in space, and by the time he was interviewed by the New York Times’ […]

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