January 2013

Habitable Zones: A Moving Target

January 31, 2013

Habitable zones are always easy enough to explain when you invoke the ‘Goldilocks’ principle, but every time I talk about these matters there’s always someone who wants to know how we can speak about places being ‘not too hot, not too cold, but just right.’ After all, we’re a sample of one, and why shouldn’t […]

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TW Hydrae: An Infant Planetary System Analyzed

January 30, 2013

You have to like the attitude of Thomas Henning (Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie). The scientist is a member of a team of astronomers whose recent work on planet formation around TW Hydrae was announced this afternoon. Their work used data from ESA’s Herschel space observatory, which has the sensitivity at the needed wavelengths for scanning TW […]

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Explaining Retrograde Orbits

January 29, 2013

While radial velocity and transit methods seem to get most of the headlines in exoplanet work, there are times when direct imaging can clarify things found by the other techniques. A case in point is the HAT-P-7 planetary system some 1000 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. HAT-P-7b was interesting enough to begin […]

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Data Storage: The DNA Option

January 28, 2013

One of the benefits of constantly proliferating information is that we’re getting better and better at storing lots of stuff in small spaces. I love the fact that when I travel, I can carry hundreds of books with me on my Kindle, and to those who say you can only read one book at a […]

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The Velocity of Thought

January 24, 2013

How fast we go affects how we perceive time. That lesson was implicit in the mathematics of Special Relativity, but at the speed most of us live our lives, easily describable in Newtonian terms, we could hardly recognize it. Get going at a substantial percentage of the speed of light, though, and everything changes. The […]

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Talking Back from Alpha Centauri

January 23, 2013

Back when I was working on my Centauri Dreams book, JPL’s James Lesh told me that the right way to do communications from Alpha Centauri was to use a laser. The problem is simple enough: Radio signals fall off in intensity with the square of their distance, so that a spacecraft twice as far from […]

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Deep Space Industries: Mining Near-Earth Asteroids

January 22, 2013

Deep Space Industries is announcing today that it will be engaged in asteroid prospecting through a fleet of small ‘Firefly’ spacecraft based on cubesat technologies, cutting the costs still further by launching in combination with communications satellites. The idea is to explore the small asteroids that come close to Earth, which exist in large numbers […]

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A New Horizons Update

January 21, 2013

I for one am astounded at the fact that it has been seven years since the launch of New Horizons. The craft, now more than halfway between the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, lifted off on January 19, 2006. I remember my frustration at having hundreds of cable channels on my television and not being […]

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The Last Pictures: Contemporary Pessimism and Hope for the Future

January 18, 2013

Sending messages into the galaxy normally goes under the rubric of METI – Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence. In its electromagnetic form, the sending of directed signals to nearby star systems, it has proven more than a little controversial, as the work of Alexander Zaitsev at Evpatoria attests. But sending a message into space in the […]

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Pulsar Navigation: Beacons in the Darkness

January 17, 2013

In a world of search engines, GPS and always-on connectivity, I sometimes wonder what’s happening to serendipity. Over the years, I’ve made some of my best library finds by browsing the stacks, just taking some time off and walking around scanning the book titles. Odd ideas show up, mental connections get forged, and new insights […]

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