April 2014

Night and Day on β Pictoris b

April 30, 2014

Writing yesterday about Kevin Luhman’s discovery of another cold brown dwarf in the stellar neighborhood reminded me of work we discussed earlier this year in which the weather on the surface of Luhman 16 B was mapped. This was done using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (see Focus on the Nearest Brown Dwarfs), […]

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Luhman’s Latest: A New, Nearby Brown Dwarf

April 29, 2014

Kevin Luhman (Pennsylvania State University) has focused much of his research on the formation of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs in star-forming regions near the Sun. This involves working with relatively young stars, but Luhman is also on the alert for older objects, very cool brown dwarfs in the solar neighborhood. Brown dwarfs cool over […]

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Interstellar Conferences for 2014

April 28, 2014

2014 isn’t nearly as top-heavy with interstellar conferences as the year before, but we do have two to discuss this morning, both of them slated for fall in North America. Looking through the preliminary information, I’m remembering how many good sessions grew out of last year’s meetings. For a field that grew up fueled largely […]

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The Infrastructure Problem [1]

April 25, 2014

Nick Nielsen today tackles an issue we’ve often discussed in these pages, the space-based infrastructure many of us assume necessary for deep space exploration. But infrastructures grow in complexity in relation to the demands placed upon them, and a starship would, as Nick notes, be the most complex machine ever constructed by human hands. Are […]

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55 Cancri A: Stable Orbital Solutions

April 24, 2014

We’re developing a model for the fascinating planetary system around the binary star 55 Cancri, a challenging task given the complexity of the inner system in particular. What we have here is a G-class star around which five planets are known to orbit and a distant M-dwarf at over 1000 AU. Have a look at […]

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Envisioning Alien Worlds

April 23, 2014

How we conceive of distant worlds is important. After all, we want to be scientifically accurate even as we deal with subjects that fire the public imagination. Thinking about planets in the habitable zones of other suns invariably makes us think of ‘Earth 2.0’ and the prospect of green and blue planets filled with life. […]

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Enter the ‘Anti-Transit’

April 22, 2014

Gravitational lensing is a technique rich enough to help us study not only distant galaxies but exoplanets around stars in our own Milky Way. As gravity warps space and time, light passing near a massive object takes the shortest route, from our perspective seeming to be bent by the gravitational field. Inside the Milky Way, […]

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Two Takes on Habitability

April 21, 2014

Last week’s announcement about Kepler-186f presented a world that is evidently in the outer reaches of its star’s habitable zone, with the usual caveats that we know all too little about this place to draw any conclusions about what is actually on its surface. Is it rocky, and does it have liquid water? Perhaps, but […]

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An Outward-Looking Grand Strategy

April 18, 2014

We use strategies to weigh the issues around us and maximize our chances for success. Can we create a strategy not just for a specific short-term goal but for the survival and growth of our entire species? In the essay that follows, Michael Michaud looks at the elements of such a vision, one that by […]

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Kepler-186f: Close to Earth Size, in the HZ

April 17, 2014

We have another ‘habitable zone’ planet to talk about today, one not much bigger than the Earth, but it’s probably also time to renew the caveat that using the word ‘habitable’ carries with it no guarantees. The working definition of habitable zone right now is that orbital distance within which liquid water might exist on […]

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