June 2017

Beam-Riding and Sail Stability

June 23, 2017

Breakthrough Starshot, the ambitious 30-year plan for launching small interstellar craft to a nearby star, depends critically on the sails that will ride a laser beam to 20 percent of lightspeed. In the essay below, James Benford takes a hard look at where we are now in the matter of sail stability, a subject he […]

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DSTART: Imagining Interstellar Futures

June 22, 2017

Back in the 1970s, the British Interplanetary Society conceived the idea of designing a starship. The notion grew into Project Daedalus, often discussed in these pages, producing a final report that summed up what was then known about interstellar possibilities, from fusion propulsion to destination stars. Barnard’s Star, 6 light years out, became the target […]

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PLATO: Planet Hunting Mission Officially Adopted

June 21, 2017

The European Space Agency has just announced the official adoption of the PLATO mission. The untangled acronym — PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars — tells us that, like Kepler and CoRoT, this is a planet hunting mission with asteroseismological implications. Photometric monitoring of nearby bright stars for planetary transits and determination of planetary radii […]

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A New Classification Scheme for Kepler Planets

June 20, 2017

As announced yesterday at NASA Ames, the Kepler team has released the final Kepler catalog from the spacecraft’s first four years of data and its deep stare into Cygnus. The numbers still impress me despite our having watched them grow with each new report: We have 4034 planet candidates, of which 2335 have been verified […]

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Pale Red Dot: Campaign 2

June 19, 2017

The Pale Red Dot campaign that discovered Proxima Centauri b produced one of the great results of exoplanet detection. For many of us, the idea that a world of roughly Earth mass might be orbiting in Proxima Centauri’s habitable zone — where liquid water can exist on the surface — was almost too good to […]

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A Fusion Runway to Deep Space?

June 16, 2017

Beamed propulsion concepts are usually conceived in terms of laser or microwave beams pushing a lightsail. But as we’ve seen over the years, there are other ways of thinking about these things. Clifford Singer went to work back in the 1970s on the concept of pellet streams fired by an accelerator, each pellet a few […]

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Do All Stars Form as Binaries?

June 15, 2017

Interesting news this morning that begins with the Very Large Array in New Mexico, which a team of astronomers has been using to look at star formation. Their target: The Perseus molecular cloud, a stellar nursery about 600 light years from Earth. Clouds like this are sufficiently large (this one is about 50 light years […]

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Focus on Interstellar Prebiotic Chemistry

June 14, 2017

400 light years away in a star-forming region called Rho Ophiuchi there is an interesting stellar system in the making. Catalogued as IRAS 16293-2422, what we have here is a triple protostar system — a binary separated by 47 AU and a third star at 750 AU. All three have masses similar to the Sun, […]

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New Looks at Brown Dwarfs

June 13, 2017

Small stars are fascinating because of their sheer ubiquity. Some estimates for the fraction of red dwarfs in the galaxy go as high as 80 percent, meaning the planets around such stars are going to be the most common venues for possible life. For a time, I thought brown dwarfs would be shown to be […]

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Frank Malina: Texas Rocket Grandmaster

June 12, 2017

It’s wonderful to have my friend Al Jackson back at the top of the site with a look at the career and times of JPL’s Frank Malina. Al’s service in the Apollo program came as astronaut trainer on the Lunar Module Simulator; he then spent 40 more years at Johnson Space Center, mostly for Lockheed […]

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