January 2014

Starships: Sentient Habitats

January 31, 2014

Librarian and futurist Heath Rezabek has become a familiar figure on Centauri Dreams through his writings on existential risk and how our species might counter it through Vessels, installations conveying our planet’s biological and cultural identity. The Vessel concept is far-reaching, and if we build it on Earth, we would likely take it to the […]

Read the full article →

Shaking Up a ‘Snow Globe’ Solar System

January 30, 2014

The same issue of Nature that carried Ian Crossfield’s weather map of Luhman 16B, published yesterday, also featured a paper from Francesca DeMeo on planetary systems in chaos. Specifically, DeMeo (a Hubble postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), looks at main belt asteroids in terms of their composition and history. Her findings reveal […]

Read the full article →

Focus on the Nearest Brown Dwarfs

January 29, 2014

Luhman 16AB (otherwise known as WISE J104915.57-531906) holds out quite an allure for those of us hoping to see future exploratory missions to nearby interstellar space. As recounted here in December (see Possible Planet in Nearby Brown Dwarf System), the European Southern Observatory’s Henri Boffin has found that this brown dwarf pair is likely home […]

Read the full article →

An Intergalactic River of Hydrogen?

January 28, 2014

NGC 6946, the so-called ‘Fireworks Galaxy,’ has caught the eye of many an astronomer, even if its position — close to the plane of the Milky Way and thus partially obscured by gas and dust — makes the observation difficult. At 22 million light years from Earth, this face-on spiral galaxy has been the site […]

Read the full article →

What Makes a Planet ‘Superhabitable’?

January 27, 2014

Friday’s look at habitable zones, and the possibilities of life below the surface or in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, segues naturally into the fascinating notion of ‘superhabitable’ worlds. René Heller (McMaster University) and John Armstrong (Weber State University) ponder the possibilities in a recent paper for Astrobiology. What if, the scientists ask, our notions […]

Read the full article →

Astrobiology Underground

January 24, 2014

I’m a great believer in what I might call the ‘conventional’ habitable zone; i.e., a habitable zone defined by the possibility of liquid water on the surface. The definition is offered not to exclude exotic possibilities like micro-organisms floating in the clouds of Venus or aquatic life deep inside an ice-covered moon like Europa. Rather, […]

Read the full article →

The Plumes of Ceres

January 23, 2014

The MACH-11 program (Measurements of 11 Asteroids and Comets Using Herschel) uses data from the European Space Agency’s space-based Herschel observatory to look at small bodies that are targeted by our spacecraft. With the Dawn mission on its way to Ceres, the Herschel data have now revealed the existence of water vapor on the dwarf […]

Read the full article →

HD 142527: An Unusual Circumstellar Disk

January 22, 2014

Conventional models of planet formation involve core accretion, where dust grains accumulate into protoplanets whose subsequent collisions and interactions produce planets, or gravitational instability, involving a rapid collapse from dense disk debris into a planetary core. But how far from the parent star does planet formation occur? The more we learn about protoplanetary disks, the […]

Read the full article →

A Brown Dwarf Benchmark

January 21, 2014

Couple the Keck I 10-meter telescope on Mauna Kea with HIRES (the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer) and you get extremely high spectral resolution, making the combination a proven champion at finding planets around other stars. But it was when Justin Crepp (University of Notre Dame) and team followed up seventeen years of HIRES measurements with new […]

Read the full article →

Waking Up Rosetta

January 20, 2014

In the first post of 2014, I wrote about what the following year — 2015 — would bring, the New Horizons flyby of Pluto/Charon as well as the arrival of the Dawn spacecraft at Ceres, a fascinating object with a possible internal ocean. But let’s not forget about the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, which […]

Read the full article →