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Posting Slowdown

An interruption that can’t be avoided. I never realized that so many non-Centauri Dreams obligations were about to converge this fall, but it’s now clear I won’t be able to keep the site stocked with new stories for the next couple of weeks. I’ll do my best to keep up with comment moderation during this period, though there may be interruptions. See you later in the month when things get a bit more normal.


{ 73 comments… add one }
  • Marc Longoria October 3, 2017, 12:02

    Hi Paul,
    Just want to say I’ve been following you for well over a decade and I think we can all certainly understand not seeing any posts from you for a while. As someone not actually in the industry of space exploration, it is great reading an article from you nearly every weekday in order to fully understand a topic that most other websites or newspapers seem to glance over. Would be interesting to someday get your take on the SpaceX BFR endeavor but maybe for another day. Anyway, thank you so much for all of your contributions on so many different subjects related to space.

  • Paul Gilster October 3, 2017, 20:31

    Very kind of you, Marc. Thanks! Will keep the SpaceX BFR matter in mind as I get back to normal operations in a few weeks.

    • James Stilwell October 4, 2017, 11:07

      The US Marines will pay for BFR…when it’s ready…it must be VTOL…
      Semper Fly: Marines in Space
      A proposed suborbital space transport will put boots on the ground anywhere in the world in two hours or less. But can it overcome huge technological-and political-hurdles?
      By David Axe December 18, 2006

      The Marines have been burned before…They want proof…

      • J. Jason Wentworth October 17, 2017, 1:47

        Are you referring to Philip “Mr. SSTO” Bono’s plug nozzle, VTOVL SSTO spaceships (which could carry even more massive payloads on intercontinental trips)? The book “Frontiers of Space (The Pocket encyclopaedia of spaceflight in colour)” that he and Kenneth Gatland co-authored (see: http://www.google.com/search?source=hp&q=frontiers+of+space+bono&oq=Frontiers+of+Space+b&gs_l=psy-ab.1.1.0j0i22i30k1l3.10221.24292.0.28901.….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..0.21.2094…0i131k1j0i10k1.0.i4P9r7TFz1Y ) covered several of his small and large SSTO designs, one of which was a suborbital troop transport. Regarding the BFR ballistic transport (I wouldn’t get on board one named Spindrift, Anne, or Marintha; any others would be okay :-) ):

        While I have no doubt that such a suborbital passenger and/or cargo rocket ship could be built and would work, I am less sanguine about the capabilities of rockets to function like airliners (with comparably quick turn-arounds for subsequent flights and reliability comparable to that of jetliners, as well as all-trajectory intact abort capability). Most rocket engines are more temperamental than jet engines, and they–as well as the vehicles they power–have narrower safety margins due to the greater temperatures, pressures, and velocities that are involved in rocket flight, not to mention the presence of on-board fuel *and* oxidizer…we’ve seen what happens when Falcon 9 first stages land too hard… But:

        Applied ingenuity could possibly overcome this hazard. For example, some years ago NASA and/or the FAA developed (or was/were developing) a jelled jet fuel, which could be pumped and was liquefied by an ultrasonic carburetor just before it entered the engine, and it would be highly fire-resistant in a crash (for the same reason that hybrid propellant rockets don’t explode; the fuel is solid [usually] and the oxidizer is [usually] the liquid component, which makes intimate mixing of all of both impossible). A BFR or other suborbital rocket transport could also use jelled kerosene (possibly even Jet-A1) fuel and LOX (perhaps even a LOX slurry, if LOX can be slurried as LH2 [liquid hydrogen] can be), and:

        Bono’s SSTO designs used “truncated aerospike” (plug nozzle) rocket engines, which doubled as actively-cooled base-first re-entry heat shields by dumping the “single-pass” cooling fuel overboard through the combustor modules (running such an engine at low throttle during re-entry would achieve the same effect, by pushing the bow shock wave and the incandescent “air cap” farther ahead of the engine nozzle/heat shield). The multiple, select-able combustor modules also enabled deep throttling, which provided excellent “multi-engine-out” (“multiple-combustor-out”) intact abort capability on land or–with inflatable pontoons on its footpads–on water. This deep-throttling capability also enabled the nearly-empty vehicle to descend slowly, hover, and select or correct its landing point (it could also make powered cross-range maneuvers during re-entry). Unlike the Falcon 9, the Bono SSTOs weren’t limited to making one fast, downward momentum-versus-high thrust (greater than the first stage’s nearly-empty mass) ballistic approach and landing. (I’m not criticizing the Falcon 9, but its first stage does–like the Space Shuttle Orbiter and the X-37B space plane–have only *one* chance to make a gentle landing.)

  • Harry R Ray October 4, 2017, 9:42

    Since there is apparently no OT for this post. I will HIGHLIGHT some interesting stuff from arXiv: First planet CONFIRMED orbiting a NON-milisecond pulsar. 1574 day periodicity for transits of Boyajian’s Star. MORE TO COME!

    • ljk October 5, 2017, 8:36

      The transits appear to originate from the star’s habitable zone?


      A 1574-day periodicity of transits orbiting KIC 8462852

      Gary Sacco, Linh Ngo, Julien Modolo

      (Submitted on 3 Oct 2017)

      Observations of the main sequence F3 V star KIC 8462852 (also known as Boyajian’s star) revealed extreme aperiodic dips in flux up to 20% during the four years of the Kepler mission. Smaller dips (< 2%) were also observed with ground-based telescopes between May and September 2017.

      We investigated possible correlation between recent dips and the major dips in the last 100 days of the Kepler mission. We compared Kepler light curve data, 2017 data from two observatories (TFN, OGG) which are part of the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) network and Sternberg observatory archival data, and determined that observations are consistent with a 1,572-day (4.31 year) periodicity of a transit (or group of transits) orbiting Boyajian's star within the habitable zone.

      It is unknown if transits that have produced other major dips as observed during the Kepler mission (e.g. D792) share the same orbital period. Nevertheless, the proposed periodicity is a step forward in guiding future observation efforts.

      Subjects: Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

      Cite as: arXiv:1710.01081 [astro-ph.SR]
      (or arXiv:1710.01081v1 [astro-ph.SR] for this version)

      Submission history

      From: Julien Modolo [view email]

      [v1] Tue, 3 Oct 2017 11:26:58 GMT (2172kb,D)


    • ljk October 5, 2017, 8:42

      The experts keep throwing conventional explanations at Tabby’s Star, and Tabby’s Star keeps throwing them right back…


      Quoting from the linked article:

      Last year, Simon and Ben Montet (then at Caltech, now at University of Chicago), who is also a co-author on this current study, found that from 2009 to 2012, KIC 8462852 dimmed by almost 1 percent. Its brightness then dropped by an extraordinary 2 percent over just six months, remaining at about that level for the final six months of Kepler observations.

      But the research team wanted to look at KIC 8462852 over a longer period of time. So, they went back and examined about 11 years of observing data from the All Sky Automated Survey (ASAS) and about two years of more-recent data from the high-precision All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN).

      They found that the star has continued to dim since 2015 and is now 1.5 percent fainter than it was in February of that year. What’s more, they showed that in addition to the dimming the star has experienced from 2009 to 2013 and 2015 to now, it underwent two periods of brightening.

      “Up until this work, we had thought that the star’s changes in brightness were only occurring in one direction—dimming,” Simon explained. “The realization that the star sometimes gets brighter in addition to periods of dimming is incompatible with most hypotheses to explain its weird behavior.”

      Funny how just a few months ago the experts and media were practically crowing that Tabby’s Star was “just” a fleet of giant comets and not advanced aliens doing something on a massive scale around that sun. Now they admit all the new evidence is making conventional explanations rather difficult to match up with the evidence. Yes, it may be dust, but dust produced from what and why so fluxuaty?

      No, it may still not be due to aliens, but the more we learn the stranger things get. Fascinating, as that famous fictional ETI from television might say. TS shows just how much we have to learn about our Universe, even our relatively near neighbors.

      • Harry R Ray October 8, 2017, 13:35

        In my opinion, the Meng paper is FATALLY FLAWED because, in order to work, it invokes a 700 orbital period for the dust clouds. I f this were so. the dust clouds would be well in EXCESS of room temperature, where Spitzer and the most advances ground based telescopes could EASILY obtain DETAILED spectra. The LACK of these spectra supports the 1574 day period(Sacco et al)to 1604 day period(Bruce Gary)RANGE! According to Jose Solarzano(see http://www.reddit.com/r/KIC8462852-Opinions on what’s ruled out)thw only things that are now NOT ruled out are ONE: A fairly advanced ETI that built a handful of megastructures big enough to see(a couple of humungous ones)and has mined its asteroid belt. TWO: Maybe something involving coelescing material, but the orbital configuration is very strange. THREE: ??.

        • hiro October 8, 2017, 16:02

          Are our telescopes powerful enough to observe objects (> 1 km) around 5-20 AU from the star? Any additional info about the red companion?

          2) Some variation of the horseshoe shaped type orbit.

          3) Dust coming from 100 PeV linear muon collider ;)
          I just finished reading the sf novel Pushing Ice hence the brain still fills with some stupid thoughts.

    • Harry R Ray October 19, 2017, 10:35

      And now, Boyajian’s Star seems to gradually be getting BRIGHTER AND BRIGHTER! WEIRD ON STEROIDS!!!

      • ljk October 19, 2017, 13:52

        Please provide the data on this, Harry, or at least links to it, thank you.

        • Harry R Ray October 20, 2017, 9:29

          Where’s The Flux 106/d

        • Harry R Ray October 20, 2017, 9:44

          SORRY, I meant Where’s The Flux 106/n.

  • Tom Mazanec October 4, 2017, 15:26

    Another topic you might like to cover after your hiatus might be optical mining of asteroids, moons and planets:

  • Steve Clark October 5, 2017, 5:06

    Hi Paul
    Just a quick note to say thank you enormously for all your endeavour in producing so many perfectly written and interesting posts. I normally receive your emails, and visited this site solely to let you know how much I appreciate them. If anyone should allow themselves some respite, it’s you!
    Thanks again.
    Kind regards

  • Wojciech J October 5, 2017, 6:15

    Please enjoy your time off. The stream of news regarding space exploration seems to be increasing month by month by the way, very interesting times !

  • ljk October 5, 2017, 13:12

    135 years ago today, the Rocket Age began

    Robert Goddard is as important to rocketry as the Wright Brothers are to powered flight, writes Tim Wallace.

    05 October 2017


    From little liquid-fueled rockets might starships grow.

  • Harry R Ray October 6, 2017, 9:23

    Kepler main mission-like precision photometry from ground based telescopes using “Beam Shaping Difusers”. Could be used to confirm the TRUE PLANETARY NATURE of KOI7923.01, KOI8012.01, and KOI8174.01 with the Magellan telescope in 2024, and provide follow-up observations of PLATO planets starting the same year.

  • Harry R Ray October 11, 2017, 9:29

    Oh, the irony. We now know the planet with the CLOSEST SURFACE PRESSURE to that of the Earth, and, no; it isn’t Mars anymore! It’s the hellhole of a planet, Jantzen, orbiting the star, Copernicus, with a now confirmed* surface pressure of ~1.4 bar(far better known as 55 Cancri e and 55 Cancri, of course). *ANOTHER paper on arXiv makes the case for a somewhat higher surface pressure, but do so ONLY to reconcile their dynamical model with recent observations, but I favor the paper that derives the surface pressure from EMPIRACLE DATA from the SAME observations.

  • ljk October 11, 2017, 14:24

    News | October 11, 2017

    Giant Exoplanet Hunters: Look for Debris Disks


    A new study finds that giant exoplanets that orbit far from their stars are more likely to be found around young stars that have a disk of dust and debris than those without disks. The study, published in The Astronomical Journal, focused on planets more than five times the mass of Jupiter. This study is the largest to date of stars with dusty debris disks, and has found the best evidence yet that giant planets are responsible for keeping that material in check.

    “Our research is important for how future missions will plan which stars to observe,” said Tiffany Meshkat, lead author and assistant research scientist at IPAC/Caltech in Pasadena, California.

    Meshkat worked on this study as a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “Many planets that have been found through direct imaging have been in systems that had debris disks, and now we know the dust could be indicators of undiscovered worlds.”

    Astronomers found the likelihood of finding long-period giant planets is nine times greater for stars with debris disks than stars without disks. Caltech graduate student Marta Bryan performed the statistical analysis that determined this result.

  • ljk October 11, 2017, 14:29

    Haumea, the most peculiar of Pluto companions, has a ring around it

    The trans-neptunian belt contains four dwarf planets, among which Haumea stands out for its extremely elongated shape and rapid rotation. A stellar occultation makes it possible to establish main physical characteristics of heretofore this little known body – among which most surprising was presence of a ring.

    Full article here:


    The title makes one think that one of Pluto’s moons has a ring. Tricky little media types.

  • Harry R Ray October 12, 2017, 9:34

    Haumea is now BY FAR the weirdest object in the solar system! It is MUCH larger than previously thought, with its largest axial diameter just slightly smaller than Pluto’s! This means that it is ALSO much LESS dense than previously thought, too. Haumea is WAY TOO LARGE to be a “rubble pile”, so this can only mean one or two things: Either it is made of PURE WATER(with just a dash of methane)with NO ROCKY COMPOSITION WHATSOEVER, or it is HOLLOW!!! Both of these explanations reake of(DARE I SAY IT)NON-NATURAL intervention. To top it all off, Haumea ALSO has a RING!

    • ljk October 13, 2017, 8:51

      Unfortunately Haumea will not be investigated up close by humanity for decades at the least. I have not even seen plans for sending a mission there. Uranus and Neptune will have orbiters before Haumea gets its own probe. As usual human priorities are out of whack.

      • Paul Gilster October 13, 2017, 9:08

        See “Fast Orbiter to Haumea”

        also “Haumea: Technique and Rationale”

      • ljk October 13, 2017, 9:20

        There actually are a few preliminary mission studies to explore Haumea, but the first two are not easily available and they are nothing more than studies at the moment.

        This is from the Wikipedia entry on Haumea:

        63 ^ McGranaghan, R.; Sagan, B.; Dove, G.; Tullos, A.; Lyne, J. E.; Emery, J. P. (2011). “A Survey of Mission Opportunities to Trans-Neptunian Objects”. Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 64: 296–303. Bibcode:2011JBIS…64..296M.

        64. ^ Jump up to: a b Poncyb, Joel; Fontdecaba Baiga, Jordi; Feresinb, Fred; Martinota, Vincent (2011). “A preliminary assessment of an orbiter in the Haumean system: How quickly can a planetary orbiter reach such a distant target?”. Acta Astronautica. 68 (5-6): 622–628. Bibcode:2011AcAau..68..622P. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2010.04.011.

        65. Jump up ^ Paul Gilster: Fast Orbiter to Haumea. Centauri Dreams—The News of the Tau Zero Foundation. July 14, 2009, retrieved January 15, 2011

  • ljk October 12, 2017, 9:45

    Today in science: Proxima Centauri

    By Deborah Byrd in Space | October 12, 2017

    Astronomers announced the discovery of Proxima Centauri – next-nearest to our sun – on this date in 1915.

    October 12, 1915. On this date, the Scottish-born astronomer Robert Innes, at the Union Observatory in Johannesburg, South Africa announced the discovery of what we now know as the next-nearest star to our sun. That star is Proxima Centauri, one of three known stars in the Alpha Centauri system, with the other two stars being Alpha Centauri A and B. He announced his discovery in a paper dated October 12, 1915 titled A Faint Star of Large Proper Motion.

    Prior to this announcement, astronomers believed that Alpha Centauri was the closest star to our solar system.

    But Proxima – a relatively small red dwarf star – is closer at about 4.24 light-years away.


  • ljk October 12, 2017, 9:47

    Today in science: The Day of 6 Billion

    By Deborah Byrd in Human World | Science Wire | October 12, 2017

    Global population reached 6 billion in 1999 and 7 billion in 2011. Today – October 12, 2017 – it stands at about 7.6 billion, according to United Nations estimates.

    October 12, 1999. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), marked this date as the Day of 6 Billion. That’s because – on October 12, 1999 – the world’s human population was estimated to hit 6 billion, according to the United Nations.

    It took hundreds of thousands of years for Earth’s human population to reach 1 billion in 1804. The 3 billion milestone came in 1960. Not quite 40 years later, global population had doubled to 6 billion.

    In 2011, global population reached 7 billion mark. Today – October 12, 2017 – it stands at nearly 7.6 billion.


  • Harry R Ray October 12, 2017, 9:49

    A solar lensing telescope orbiting the Sun at ~550 AU is NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME, A PROPOSED MISSION BY NASA!!!

    • ljk October 13, 2017, 9:27

      Here is one new news item on this subject:


      Quoting from the above linked article:

      “You could see geological features on that planet. I’m pretty sure you could see lakes and oceans, mountain ranges,” Dr. Arora said.

      Now imagine what a more advanced society could do. As for those worried about METI, if an ETI can see real details on Earth even from hundreds of light years away, then stopping radio signals from spreading into the galaxy will be pointless.

  • ljk October 12, 2017, 14:10

    Cradle for Life? Ancient Mars Likely Had Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents

    By Samantha Mathewson, Space.com Contributor | October 11, 2017 07:51 am ET

    Ancient Mars may have harbored deep-sea hydrothermal vents, the same type of environment where many scientists think life on Earth got its start, a recent study suggests.

    Observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) show evidence of ancient sea-floor hydrothermal deposits within the Eridania basin — a region in the southern hemisphere where some of the Red Planet’s most ancient crust is exposed.

    The deposits are believed to have formed due to volcanic activity in the planet’s crust at the bottom of the basin. Study team members therefore think that hot, mineral-laden water pumped directly into the ancient Martian sea, which probably held 10 times more water than all of North America’s Great Lakes combined, NASA officials said.


  • Harry R Ray October 13, 2017, 9:22

    Good news and bad news(I think, but I hope I am wrong)! The good news: The RESULTS of the Red Dots observations of Proxima Centauri, Barnard’s Star, and Ross 152 will be made public in just a few days. BUT, since this is happening SO FAST after the September 30 CUTOFF DATE for observations, I expect NO planet C at Proxima Centauri and NO Earth-mass planets in the habitable zones of Barnard’s Star and Ross 152, because they will PROBABLY just post it on arXive instead of submitting it to a MAJOR journal and be put under embargo, so a bit of bad news there. OTHER NEWS: A new six planet system orbiting the star HD34445.

    • Harry R Ray October 18, 2017, 9:52

      Did somebody just let the cat out of the bag? The ABSTRACT if the new paper: “Obliquity and Eccentricity Constraints for Terrestrial Exoplanets.” by Stephen R Kane and Stephany M Jones contains the following sentence: “We apply these calculations for four known multi-planet systems(GJ 163, K2-3, Kepler 186, and Proxima Centauri)…”. HMMMMMMM.

  • Harry R Ray October 13, 2017, 10:03

    I hope we hit the TRIFECTA sometime soon after Monday with a short-period GRB detected by either Swift or Newton as soon as the co-ordinates for the neutron star binary merger are revealed via the revelation of the optical counterpart to the gravitational wave detection.

    • ljk October 13, 2017, 14:02

      How do you know that Monday’s big news announcement is about a binary neutron star merger? So much for keeping the lid on this event if this is true.

      • Harry R Ray October 16, 2017, 16:59


        • Harry R Ray October 18, 2017, 9:14

          And now, a NEW trifecta! We have observed BOTH black hole mergers AND neutron star mergers. The only thing left to observe for the FIRST TIME is the hybrid black hole-neutron star merger. This is probably BY FAR the LEAST COMMON of the three types of mergers, but it STILL probably won’t be VERY LONG until we observe one of those for the first time, too.

          • ljk October 18, 2017, 12:59

            Was there a GRB too? I thought that was the trifecta you were talking about?

            • Harry R Ray October 19, 2017, 10:12

              Google GRB170817A for full details.

              • ljk October 19, 2017, 13:54


                Afterglows and Macronovae Associated with Nearby Low-Luminosity Short-Duration Gamma-Ray Bursts: Application to GW170817/GRB170817A

                Di Xiao, Liang-Duan Liu, Zi-Gao Dai, Xue-Feng Wu

                (Submitted on 16 Oct 2017 (v1), last revised 18 Oct 2017 (this version, v2))

                A binary neutron star (BNS) merger has been widely argued to be one of the progenitors of a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). Such a central engine can be verified if its gravitational-wave (GW) event is detected simultaneously.

                Very recently, the association of GW170817 with short GRB170817A was reported by the LIGO/Virgo collaboration for the sake of excellent temporal and location coincidence. It is undoubtedly a landmark in multi-messenger astronomy and can greatly enhance our understanding of the BNS merger processes. Multi-wavelength follow-up observations have been carried out soon after the merger and X-ray, optical and radio counterparts have been detected, which are consistent with the predictions of the BNS merger scenario.

                Observationally, GRB170817A falls into the low-luminosity class which has a higher statistical occurrence rate and detection probability than the normal (high-luminosity) class. However, there is a possibility that GRB170817A is intrinsically powerful but we are off-axis and only observe its side emission.

                In this paper, we provide a timely modeling of the afterglow emission from this GRB and the associated macronova signal from the ejecta during a BNS merger, under the assumption of a structured jet, a two-component jet and an intrinsically low-energy quasi-isotropic fireball respectively. Comparing the properties of the afterglow emission with follow-up multi-wavelength observations, we can distinguish between the three models. Furthermore, a few model parameters (e.g., the ejecta mass and velocity) can be constrained.

                Comments: 13 pages, 6 figures, 2 tables, conclusions unchanged after fitting more observational data, largely expanded version compared with arXiv:1710.00275

                Subjects: High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena (astro-ph.HE)

                Cite as: arXiv:1710.05910 [astro-ph.HE]
                (or arXiv:1710.05910v2 [astro-ph.HE] for this version)

                Submission history

                From: Di Xiao [view email]

                [v1] Mon, 16 Oct 2017 16:58:07 GMT (409kb)

                [v2] Wed, 18 Oct 2017 12:32:35 GMT (339kb)


    • ljk October 16, 2017, 11:20
  • ljk October 13, 2017, 10:51

    It rains methane on Titan, rather heavily and far more frequently than scientists thought:


  • ljk October 13, 2017, 11:12

    Lava tubes on Mars may best protect human colonists:


    As would lunar lava tubes for Luna.

  • ljk October 13, 2017, 11:16

    Using Artificial Intelligence to Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

    G. Adam Cox

    October 11, 2017

    Deep Neural Networks have been trained to classify simulated radio-telescope signals with 95% accuracy.


  • ljk October 13, 2017, 14:11

    The missions proposed for the New Frontiers program

    NASA will select several finalists this fall in the competition for the next New Frontiers medium-class planetary science mission. Van Kane examines what is known about the dozen proposals submitted for missions from the Moon to Saturn.

    Monday, October 9, 2017


    TPS blog has details on the Venus VOX mission plan:


  • ljk October 13, 2017, 14:14

    This excellent tw0-part piece on the Sputnik 1 satellite on the 60th anniversary of its historic launch into Earth orbit shows just how little the West knew about the event that truly made us part of the Cosmos.

    Part 1 here:


    Part 2 here:


  • ljk October 16, 2017, 9:26

    GAO: Even with production resumed, NASA plutonium supply at risk

    by Bart Leahy

    October 15, 2017

    Some of NASA’s most accomplished deep-space missions—including Voyager, Cassini, and Mars Science Laboratory—have relied on radioactive plutonium-238 for onboard power and heat. However, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report states that despite efforts to restart domestic plutonium production, NASA is in danger of not having enough of the radioactive material for future missions by the mid-2020s.


    To quote:

    To address the plutonium problem, in 2011 NASA provided funding to the Department of Energy (DOE) to restart domestic production of the substance. The program is called the Pu-238 Supply Project. So far, the Project has produced ∼3.5 ounces (100 grams) of Pu-238. DOE identified an interim goal of producing 10 to 17.5 ounces (300 to 500 grams) of new Pu-238 per year by 2019. The goal is to produce 1.5 kilograms of new Pu-238 per year—considered full production—by 2023, at the earliest.

    Problems with plutonium production

    GAO is questioning the Supply Project’s ability to meet its goal of producing 1.5 kilograms of new Pu-238 per year by 2026. For one thing, the oversight agency’s interviews with DOE officials revealed that the agency hasn’t perfected the chemical processing required to extract new Pu-238 from irradiated targets to meet production goals.

  • ljk October 16, 2017, 13:34


    The Alien Observatory –“Alien Minds: Artificial Intelligence Is Already Out There, and It’s Billions of Years Old” (WATCH Video)

    October 14, 2017

    Susan Schneider of the University of Connectict and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton is one of the few thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction— that have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons. “I do not believe that most advanced alien civilizations will be biological,” Schneider says. “The most sophisticated civilizations will be postbiological, forms of artificial intelligence or alien superintelligence.”

    Her recent study, Alien Minds, asks “How would intelligent aliens think? Would they have conscious experiences? Would it feel a certain way to be an alien?”

    While we are aware that our culture is anthropomorphizing, Schneider imagines that her suggestion that aliens are supercomputers may strike us as far-fetched. So what is her rationale for the view that most intelligent alien civilizations will have members that are superintelligent AI?

    Schneider offers three observations that together, support her conclusion for the existence of alien superintelligence.

    The first is “the short window observation”: Once a society creates the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, they are only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm from biology to AI. This “short window” makes it more likely that the aliens we encounter would be postbiological.

    The short window observation is supported by human cultural evolution, at least thus far. Our first radio signals date back only about a hundred and twenty years, and space exploration is only about fifty years old, but we are already immersed in digital technology, such as cell-phones and laptop computers.

    Schneider’s second argument is “the greater age of alien civilizations.” Proponents of SETI have often concluded that alien civilizations would be much older than our own “…all lines of evidence converge on the conclusion that the maximum age of extraterrestrial intelligence would be billions of years, specifically [it] ranges from 1.7 billion to 8 billion years.

    If civilizations are millions or billions of years older than us, many would be vastly more intelligent than we are. By our standards, many would be superintelligent. We are galactic babies.

    But would they be forms of AI, as well as forms of superintelligence? Schneider says, yes. Even if they were biological, merely having biological brain enhancements, their superintelligence would be reached by artificial means, and we could regard them as being “artificial intelligence.”

    But she suspects something stronger than this: that they will not be carbon-based. Uploading allows a creature near immortality, enables reboots, and allows it to survive under a variety of conditions that carbon-based life forms cannot. In addition, silicon appears to be a better medium for information processing than the brain itself. Neurons reach a peak speed of about 200 Hz, which is seven orders of magnitude slower than current microprocessors.

    The Daily Galaxy via Susan Schneider, Alien Minds

  • ljk October 17, 2017, 9:01

    Why should we go? Reevaluating the rationales for human spaceflight in the 21st century

    October 16, 2017

    A perennial struggle for space advocates has been developing rationales for human spaceflight that can be sustained over the long term.

    Cody Knipfer argues that now is the time to reexamine those arguments, particularly given the rise of commercial human spaceflight.


  • ljk October 17, 2017, 9:25

    What Does the Milky Way Look Like? Astronomers Use High-School Math to Find Out

    By Vasudevan Mukunth on 13/10/2017

    We have stunning shots of other galaxies but we don’t exactly know what the Milky Way itself looks like. Large parts of it that lie on the far side from where we are are obscured by thick dust clouds.


  • ljk October 17, 2017, 14:36

    In search of the ninth planet

    October 17, 2017

    Contact Morgan Sherburne

    ANN ARBOR—A University of Michigan doctoral student has logged two pieces of evidence that may support the existence of a planet that could be part of our solar system, beyond Neptune.

    Some astronomers think this alleged planet, called Planet Nine, exists because of the way some objects in space, called “Trans-Neptunian Objects,” or TNOs, behave. These TNOs are rocky objects smaller than Pluto that orbit the sun at a greater average distance than Neptune. But the orbits of the most distant of these TNOs—those whose average distance from the sun is more than 250 times as far as Earth’s distance—seem to point in the same direction. This observation first led astronomers to predict the existence of Planet Nine.


    To quote:

    “The ultimate goal would be to directly see Planet Nine—to take a telescope, point it at the sky, and see reflected light from the sun bouncing off of Planet Nine,” Becker said. “Since we haven’t yet been able to find it, despite many people looking, we’re stuck with these kinds of indirect methods.”

    Astronomers also have another newly discovered TNO to include in their indirect methods of detecting Planet Nine. The Dark Energy Survey collaboration, a large group of scientists including several U-M scientists, has discovered another TNO that has a high orbital inclination compared to the plane of the solar system: it is tilted about 54 degrees relative to the solar system’s plane.

    In an analysis of this new object, Becker and her team have found that this object experiences resonance hopping as well in the presence of Planet Nine, showing that this phenomenon extends to even more unusual orbits.

  • ljk October 17, 2017, 14:43

    Earth’s New Traveling Buddy is Definitely an Asteroid, not Space Junk


  • ljk October 17, 2017, 14:44

    General Atomics ramping cubesat production, muses railgun smallsat launcher


    General Atomics (how cool a name can you get?) also worked on Project Orion, the nuclear bomb-powered space vessel from the 1950s and 1960s, not the current manned NASA project.

  • ljk October 17, 2017, 14:45

    Jane Poynter wants to send you to the edge of space in a very big balloon


  • ljk October 18, 2017, 10:03

    Ithacans Celebrate Sagan’s Achievements at Planet Walk

    By Arnav Ghosh

    October 16, 2017


    For most, travelling to the outer reaches of the solar system is a distant dream. But through the Sagan Planet Walk, organized by the Cornell Society of Physics Students, a tour of all the planets is still possible. The event, attended by over a 100 Ithacans, took place on Saturday.

    The walk follows 11 monolithic pillars placed along a 0.73 mile path, beginning with one depicting the Sun in the center of the Ithaca Commons and ends with Pluto at Ithaca Sciencenter. Each obelisk contains a circular frame with a small hole, the size of which depicts the planet’s size relative to the Sun. The distances between these celestial bodies is scaled to be five billionths of their actual value.

    A key highlight is the obelisk depicting the asteroid belt, at the base of which is the world’s only unguarded meteorite. The exhibition is also the longest in the world, with a pillar depicting the closest star to the Sun, Alpha Centauri, located in Hilo, Hawaii, nearly 5,000 miles away. In 2015, it was decided that the walk would be expanded to include an obelisk depicting the exoplanet Kepler-37d on the moon, nearly 238,900 miles away, though this is yet to be completed.

    Julia Kruk ’18, outreach chair for Cornell SPS, believes that such events are necessary to keep the general public engaged with important advancements in space exploration. She also emphasized that exhibitions like these that take place outside the classroom help motivate children to grow up and contribute to the fields of engineering and astronomy.

    “This event is important to me because I didn’t find my love for physics through academic work. I actually painted for the majority of my life and was an art student in midtown Manhattan. I started developing an interest in physics by visiting museums, science exhibits and through science popularizers like Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson,” Kruk said.

    According to Kruk, the event also brings together those with established backgrounds in astronomy and acts as a forum at which they can informally share ideas.

    “A person came up to us as the event was ending and expressed interest in what we were doing. We discussed everything from atmospheric pressure on Venus to the upcoming announcement from LIGO and he told us that he was actually going back to school to take classes in physics and chemistry because he wanted to know more. He was passionate about it and excited by all the things we discussed. This was exactly what the event was meant to do, inspire, encourage and excite people about science,” Kruk said.

    The walk is also designed to celebrate the contributions of Prof. Carl Sagan, astronomy, who published over 600 papers and was responsible for, among other achievements, assembling the golden records on the voyager probes that contain sounds and images of life on Earth.

    “Carl Sagan was a brilliant astronomer and cosmologist, but what immortalized him in our culture was his ability to explain the brilliant and beautiful aspects of science to people who had no technical experience in it at all,” Kruk said. “He inspired so many to pursue fields in science and mathematics and opened a whole new world of knowledge to hundreds of people who believed it was out of their reach.”

    Kruk also emphasized that the walk was an opportunity to contemplate the future of space exploration.

    “I believe that the next few decades will change the way we view space from something cold, dark and distant, to something accessible,” Kruk said.

    With organizations like NASA and the European Space Agency taking a step back from manned missions and focussing on perfecting the use of automation, private companies like Deep Blue and SpaceX are stepping in to fill this gap.

    “I can envision a trip beyond the thermosphere, one of the last layers in the atmosphere, to be viewed in much the same way as we view roller coasters now, or plane rides,” Kruk said. “As to whether we’ll be able to go further than the moon in large numbers, I think we still have a long way to go. However, NASA has been developing machines that resemble trailer trucks for the moon for quite some time now, so we might be looking at a research base popping up fairly soon.”

  • ljk October 18, 2017, 10:06

    I want folks to know about this new book, The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale, from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing, by Caleb Scharf and Ron Miller, but the news article itself is lacking and includes comments such as The Powers of Ten from 1977 being outdated, which is bull.


  • ljk October 18, 2017, 12:35

    Potential human habitat located on the moon


    Direct Measurement of Interparticle Forces of Titan Aerosol Analogs (“Tholin”) Using Atomic Force Microscopy


    Mapping Vinyl Cyanide and Other Nitriles in Titan’s Atmosphere Using ALMA


  • ljk October 18, 2017, 12:43

    The Alien Observatory –The Search for Human-like Intelligence: “Extremely Rare or Common in the Milky Way?” (WATCH Video)

    October 17, 2017


    To quote:

    Lineweaver believes that the “Planet of the Apes Hypothesis” -a theory subscribed to by Carl Sagan and scientists involved with the SETI, that human-like intelligence is a convergent feature of evolution -that there is an intelligence niche, into which other species will evolve if the human species goes extinct is based on a flawed notion of evolution, a notion that could have serious implications for our search for intelligent life elsewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy.

    Lineweaver emphasizes that the “Planet of the Apes” hypothesis is that “such a niche exists – that human beings developed a big brain because there was selection pressure to move into this evolutionary niche. Another way of saying it is that smart organisms are better off and more fit than stupider organisms in all kinds of environments, and therefore we should expect any type of critters anywhere in the universe to get smarter like we consider ourselves to be.”

    Carl Sagan called them “functionally equivalent humans.” That’s what the SETI program has been based on. There is a big polarization in science between physical scientists like Paul Davies and Carl Sagan and Frank Drake on the one hand, and biologists like Ernst Mayr and George Gaylord Simpson who say that life is so quirky that human beings would never evolve again. If a species goes extinct, it doesn’t come back. There may be a niche that opens when a species goes extinct, but the same species or even anything similar to it does not re-evolve into that niche.

    If intelligence is good for every environment, we would see a trend in the encephalization quotient among all organisms as a function of time. The data does not show that. The evidence on Earth points to exactly the opposite conclusion. Earth had independent experiments in evolution thanks to continental drift. New Zealand, Madagascar, India, South America… half a dozen experiments over 10, 20, 50, even 100 million years of independent evolution did not produce anything that was more human-like than when it started. So it’s a silly idea to think that species will evolve toward us.”

  • ljk October 18, 2017, 12:45

    Samples brought back from asteroid reveal ‘rubble pile’ had a violent past


  • ljk October 18, 2017, 12:53
  • ljk October 18, 2017, 14:28

    Armagh: A Solar-Powered Asteroid Nursery at the Orbit of Mars

    Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, 18th October 2017:

    The planet Mars shares its orbit with a handful of small asteroids, the so-called Trojans. Among them, one finds a unique group, all moving in very similar orbits, suggesting that they originated from the same object. But the mechanism that produced this “family” has been a mystery. Now, an international team of astronomers believe they have identified the culprit: sunlight. Their findings, which highlight how small asteroids near the Sun may evolve, are to be presented at the annual Meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society at Provo, Utah this week, by Dr. Apostolos Christou, a Research Astronomer at the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom and leader of the research team.

    Trojan asteroids are trapped within gravitational “safe havens” 60 degrees in front of and behind the planet. The point leading the planet is L4; that trailing the planet is L5. Mars is the only terrestrial planet known to have Trojan companions in stable orbits. The first Mars Trojan, discovered over 25 years ago at L5, was named “Eureka” in reference to the famous exclamation by Ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes. The present tally is only ten, but even this relatively meagre sample shows interesting structure not seen elsewhere.

    For starters, all the Trojans, save one, are trailing Mars at its L5 Lagrange point. What’s more, the orbits of all but one of the L5 Trojans form a tight group with 2-km sized Eureka its largest member and including objects as small as a few hundred meters.


  • ljk October 18, 2017, 14:29

    GSFC: NASA Team Finds Noxious Ice Cloud on Saturn’s Moon Titan


  • ljk October 18, 2017, 14:30

    SwRI: Scientists Dig Into the Origin of Organics on Ceres


  • ljk October 19, 2017, 9:48

    Whales and dolphins live ‘human-like’ lives

    By Eleanor Imster in Earth | Human World | October 19, 2017

    They work together, talk to each other and use tools. A new study links the complexity of Cetacean culture and behavior to the size of their brains.


  • ljk October 19, 2017, 10:10

    World’s greatest game-playing computer thrashed by its next-gen

    The program that beat the human champion of the fiendishly difficult game Go has itself been beaten by a machine that taught itself to play. Cathal O’Connell reports.


  • ljk October 19, 2017, 10:14

    The 64 question that’s central to life

    October 19, 2017

    The structure of DNA indicates that every species on Earth is descended from a single common ancestor. But what if there are exceptions?

    Paul Davies is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and best-selling author.


  • ljk October 19, 2017, 10:18

    Discovery of new planet underscores lack of federal funding


    To quote:

    While it is good to have a mix of opinions, we must be reminded about the importance of academic research. Though the existence of Planet Nine has little to no impact on most people’s everyday lives, the development of vaccines and projects looking into safe ways to increase crop production do and the professors who conduct this research are currently in a limbo state where they don’t know if they will have to shut down their labs because of lack of government funding. We should hold research higher in importance because, ultimately, scientific discoveries are what drive us forward.

  • ljk October 19, 2017, 10:32

    Deep Space Communications via Faraway Photons

    A spacecraft destined to explore a unique asteroid will also test new communication hardware that uses lasers instead of radio waves.

    The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package aboard NASA’s Psyche mission utilizes photons — the fundamental particle of visible light — to transmit more data in a given amount of time. The DSOC goal is to increase spacecraft communications performance and efficiency by 10 to 100 times over conventional means, all without increasing the mission burden in mass, volume, power and/or spectrum.

    Tapping the advantages offered by laser communications is expected to revolutionize future space endeavors – a major objective of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).


  • ljk October 19, 2017, 10:36

    The Alien Observatory –Searching for ET Signals in the Milky Way : “May Be Too Advanced For Us to Detect”


    To quote:

    “Every single one of those stars could have a New York City, a Paris, a London, and we would have no idea,” said Nate Tellis of the University of California, Berkeley about the 5,600 stars analyzed in a study released by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii — one of the world’s most powerful telescopes –this past spring, 2017. Tellis, who searches for laser light, powerful pulses of photons that could be as short as a nanosecond, wondered if somewhere buried in that data, could there be a signal from an intelligent civilization trying to reach Earth?

    As astronomers analyze data from Keck and NASA’s Kepler Mission, and they are discovering more and more Earth-like planets orbiting other stars, the odds are growing that that one of them may harbor something of interest.

    Imagine another life-form on a distant world conducting the same kind of search for laser light, said Tellis. “If we had pointed our telescope at Earth at sort of the distance that we’ve been doing here, we wouldn’t have seen us,” he said, “because Earth is not firing a laser beam into the universe as a beacon of its existence. Other worlds may not be, either.”

    “I think when you’re doing a SETI project, it’s very important not to get discouraged by a null detection,” Tellis said. “SETI has been in process for about 60 years, and it’s been non-detection after non-detection after non-detection.

    “If you proposed to do a laser SETI study on Keck with thousands of hours, there’s nobody that will let you do it,” Penn State astronomer Jason Wright said. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of astronomical datasets sitting around, waiting for a second look. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, even in the search for life in the universe. Tellis, Wright said, “was digging through all the trash in case someone threw out a diamond.”

  • ljk October 19, 2017, 10:40

    Metal-Eating Bacteria Could Have Left their “Fingerprints” on Mars, Proving it Once Hosted Life


  • Harry R Ray October 20, 2017, 9:56

    Before it runs out of fuel in late 2018, the Dawn spacecraft MAY try to emulate Cassini with an extremely deep dive bringing it as close to Occator Crater as Cassini’s FINAL deep dive over Enceladus, which was just a few kilometers above the surface.

  • ljk October 20, 2017, 12:05


    The nature of the giant exomoon candidate Kepler-1625 b-i

    René Heller (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany)

    (Submitted on 17 Oct 2017)

    The recent announcement of a Neptune-sized exomoon candidate around the transiting Jupiter-sized object Kepler-1625 b could indicate the presence of a hitherto unknown kind of gas giant moons, if confirmed. Three transits have been observed, allowing radius estimates of both objects.

    Here we investigate possible mass regimes of the transiting system that could produce the observed signatures and study them in the context of moon formation in the solar system, i.e. via impacts, capture, or in-situ accretion.

    The radius of Kepler-1625 b suggests it could be anything from a gas giant planet somewhat more massive than Saturn (0.4 M_Jup) to a brown dwarf (BD) (up to 75 M_Jup) or even a very-low-mass star (VLMS) (112 M_Jup ~ 0.11 M_sun). The proposed companion would certainly have a planetary mass.

    Possible extreme scenarios range from a highly inflated Earth-mass gas satellite to an atmosphere-free water-rock companion of about 180 M_Ear. Furthermore, the planet-moon dynamics during the transits suggest a total system mass of 17.6_{-12.6}^{+19.2} M_Jup.

    A Neptune-mass exomoon around a giant planet or low-mass BD would not be compatible with the common mass scaling relation of the solar system moons about gas giants. The case of a mini-Neptune around a high-mass BD or a VLMS, however, would be located in a similar region of the satellite-to-host mass ratio diagram as Proxima b, the TRAPPIST-1 system, and LHS 1140 b. The capture of a Neptune-mass object around a 10 M_Jup planet during a close binary encounter is possible in principle. The ejected object, however, would have had to be a super-Earth object, raising further questions of how such a system could have formed.

    In summary, this exomoon candidate is barely compatible with established moon formation theories. If it can be validated as orbiting a super-Jovian planet, then it would pose an exquisite riddle for formation theorists to solve.

    Comments: 6 pages, 3 figures (2 col, 1b/w), 1 table, under review at A&A since 11 Aug 2017

    Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

    Cite as: arXiv:1710.06209 [astro-ph.EP]

    (or arXiv:1710.06209v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: René Heller [view email]

    [v1] Tue, 17 Oct 2017 11:12:23 GMT (214kb,D)


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