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Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration

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Cloud Layers at WASP-127b

A ‘hot Saturn’ with a difference, that’s WASP-127b. Although it’s 525 light years away, we’ve learned a surprising amount about the planet’s atmosphere. Details come via the ongoing Europlanet Science Congress 2021, now being held virtually for pandemic reasons, at which Romain Allart (iREx/Université de Montréal and Université de Genève) spoke this...

Keeping an Eye on Psyche

What makes the asteroid 16 Psyche interesting is that it may well be the exposed core of a planet from the early days of Solar System formation, a nickel-iron conglomeration that normally would lie well below a surface mantle and crust. It’s also an M-class asteroid, a category of which it is the largest known sample. These are mostly made of nickel-iron...

Pondering SETI Strategy

I try to keep my ear to the ground (rather than my eye to the sky) when it comes to SETI. What I mean is that there are enough scientists working SETI issues that it’s a challenge to know who is doing what. I try to track ongoing discussions even when, as at a conference, people keep ducking into and out of audibility. Hence the possibility of overlap...

Tracking Missing Ammonia on the Ice Giants

Something interesting always comes out of the Europlanet Science Congress (probably better known to Centauri Dreams readers under its former name, the European Planetary Science Congress), and this year is no exception. This is the largest planetary science meeting in Europe, normally drawing about 1000 participants, though last year and this year as...

Adjusting the Clock: Hydrogen Burning in White Dwarfs

White dwarfs have turned out to be more interesting than I had imagined. We know how they form: A star like the Sun exhausts the hydrogen in its core and swells into a red giant, a scenario that is a trope in science fiction, as it posits an Earth of the far-future incinerated by its star. Losing its outer layers near the end of nuclear burning, a red...

Predicting a Supernova in 2037

Here’s a story that’s both mind-bending and light-bending. It involves a supernova that, on the one hand, happened 10 billion years ago, and on the other hand, has appeared in our skies not once but three times, with a fourth in the works. In play here is gravitational lensing, in which light from a background galaxy bends around a foreground galactic...

Exomoons: The Binary Star Factor

Centauri Dreams readers will remember Billy Quarles’ name in connection with a 2019 paper on Alpha Centauri A and B, which examined not just those stars but binary systems in general in terms of obliquity — axial tilt — on potential planets as affected by the gravitational effects of their systems. The news for habitability around Centauri B wasn’t...

SETI as a Central Project: An Addendum to Space Development Futures

How does SETI fit into the long-term objectives of a civilization? To a society whose central project is communication, the ‘success’ of the project in detecting intelligence around another star is obviously not assured, but if it does find a signal, would it eventually receive an Encyclopedia Galactica? There is much to ponder here, and Nick Nielsen...

1001 Near Earth Objects for Planetary Radar

A century ago, when American magazine science fiction was developing, the Solar System seemed a relatively tidy place. At least, it did in comparison to today. The first issue of Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories serialized a reprint of Jules Verne’s 1877 novel Off on a Comet and, indeed, in those days comets were the objects most likely to move around...

The Unusual Prescience of Edgar Allen Poe

Writing about Karel Čapek, as Milan Ćirković did in our last entry, spurs me to note that the BBC has an interesting piece out on Čapek called The 100-year-old fiction that predicted today. It’s a fine essay delivered by Dorian Lynskey on both Čapek and the Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, whose influential novel We shared a birth year of 1921 with...

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