Looking at the Sun


It has been a very hot week across the U.S.  To launch summer, the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of stamps with NASA views of the Sun from their Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) which was a spacecraft launched in 2010. It has been collecting science data and its two imaging instruments provide complementary views of the Sun. (If you’re wondering about the colors shown here,  see the video at the bottom.)

More than a decade of SDO observations has provided hundreds of millions of images of our neighboring star as it orbits Earth.

The stamps feature 10 images from SDO and most of these images are in extreme ultraviolet light, which is invisible to human eyes.

Here are a few images in motion that are used on the stamps.

The bright flash on the Sun’s upper right is a powerful solar flare. Solar flares are bursts of light and energy that can disturb the part of Earth’s atmosphere where GPS and radio signals travel.

This golden view of the “active Sun” highlights the many active regions that are areas of intense and complex magnetic fields on the Sun – linked to sunspots – that are prone to erupting with solar flares or explosions of material called coronal mass ejections.

This cool-toned image shows a dark area capping the northern polar region of the Sun. This is a coronal hole, a magnetically open area on the Sun from which high-speed solar wind escapes into space. Such high-speed solar wind streams can spark magnificent auroral displays on Earth when they collide with our planet’s magnetic field.

Stick some Sun on your mail this summer.

Home Is A Pale Blue Dot

pale blue dot
Earth, described by scientist Carl Sagan as a “Pale Blue Dot,” as seen by Voyager 1 from a distance of more than 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers). Do you see us as that dot on the vertical line?

The image above was the inspiration for Carl Sagan‘s 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. In the photograph, Earth’s is less than a pixel. This dot is lost in the vastness of space, highlighted a bit by a band of sunlight reflected by the camera.

Sagan wrote: “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives…  on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Voyager 1 had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System when Sagan requested that NASA turn its camera around and take one last photograph of Earth.

How do you feel when you look at the photo? I am humbled by the vastness of space in a smaller way than when I look up at the night sky on a clear night in a truly dark place and feel like the universe is an endless ocean.

Sagan believed that humans are not as important as they think they are.

In “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake, he writes that “To see a World in a Grain of Sand,” and that is how the photo makes me feel. Very small, but not insignificant.

And I also agree with Blake in that you don’t have to look up. You can see “Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.”

You can see these things, but most people do not see them.

In his book, Sagan begins by examining claims throughout history that Earth and the human species are unique. Later, he argues that in order to save the human race, space colonization and terraforming places such as the Moon and Mars needs to be done.

Carl Sagan’s wife, Ann Druyan, tells readers to pick one of the other planetary “dots” photographed that are in the book and imagine that there are inhabitants on that world who believe that the universe was created solely for themselves.

When NASA Was Fined for Littering

This is a little tale of Man in Space with a funny conclusion. It is a repost from my One Page Schoolhouse blog.

Back in November 1973, NASA launched the fourth and final Skylab mission. This was before the International Space Station and the plan was to see how well humans could live and work in space for extended periods of time.

The actual station was launched on May 14, 1973, and there were four missions. The first was the unmanned launch of the station by a Saturn V rocket. Then different crews were sent up. The first crew spent 28 days aboard Skylab. The next crew did 59 days, and the third and final crew spent 89 days in space.

NASA had originally planned for Skylab to continue orbiting for up to 10 more years while the Space Shuttle was being developed. Unexpectedly, there was high solar activity and that heated the Earth’s atmosphere creating excessive drag on the space station. This caused Skylab to malfunction in 1977.

Two years later, we watched and waited and predicted where and when Skylab would fall back to Earth. Most of it fell in the Shire of Esperance, near Perth in southwestern Australia.

My favorite conclusion to the story of Skylab is that the Shire fined the United States 400 Australian dollars for littering.

Members of the Skylab investigation team visited the Shire to collect the station remnants and were greeted with the ticket for littering. It was meant as a joke and included a mock ceremony in which an officer of the parks service ticketed NASA for littering.

NASA never paid off the $400 gag fine, but in 2009, California radio DJ Scott Barley asked listeners to donate money so they could finally clear NASA’s accounting books. For his efforts, Barley was invited to Esperance and received a key to the city.

NASA learned its lesson and has not littered in the Shire of Esperance since then.

Skylab 1979 monument at Esperance Museum, Esperance, Western Australia

50 Years of Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories

This month had lots of tributes to the 50th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon. It also saw the re-emergence of some of the Moon landing conspiracies that the whole thing was faked –  an elaborate hoax.

It would have been one helluva hoax. It would have involved thousands of people who have miraculous all stuck to their non-disclosure agreements and kept the secret. That alone is enough reason for me to believe it could never have been a hoax.

Of course, there were good reasons to believe that the pressure was on for NASA to get a man on the Moon.  President Kennedy on May 25,1961 had said to Congress

” I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

The decade was running out in 1969, so if NASA wanted to stay with that target it had to get a man on the Moon that year. Some people apparent;y thought we weren’t ready to do it for real, so we would have to fake it. There was also the perceived “space race” we were in with Russia to get there first.

One article that caught my attention this past week was titled “How Stanley Kubrick Staged the Moon Landing.” Despite that title, the article is more about debunking the conspiracy theorists who believed that the Moon landing was a hoax and other theories about that July 20, 1969 event at 3:17 P.M. E.S.T. that was so important in our history

Kubrick had directed 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before. That film was based on Arthur C. Clarke’s writing and the script, book, and film did predict manmade satellites, GPS, maybe even smartphones and tablets, along with a space station.

Apollo 11 training
Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong in NASA’s training mockup of the Moon and lander module. Were the films of the missions made using sets like these?

Actually, the stories of a space hoax predate the Moon landing. There were doubters going back to the first manned launches.

But the big hoax has always been the actual Moon landing. The Knight newspaper company in July 1970 found that 30 percent of Americans believed the Moon landing had been faked. Six years later, a Gallup poll found that 28 percent of Americans believed that the Moon landing had been staged by the U.S. government, and that was pretty consistent throughout the 1970s.

Wikipedia has an article on the Moon landing conspiracy theories, but many of them had their start with Bill Kaysing who wrote We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle . This book started a “the Moon landing  is a hoax” industry in 1970s.

Kaysing got attention because he was the head of the technical presentations unit at the Rocketdyne Propulsion Field Laboratory from 1956 to 1963. when the major planning for the engine and components of the Apollo project was being done. Though Kaysing later admitted that he knew nothing about rockets, he did hold security clearances with the U.S. Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission for his work and that sounded pretty official to many people.  These clearances are fairly common for anyone who works on government and DoD or military contracts.

Kaysing was a technical writer for Rocketdyne, but he was convinced after he left the company that the U.S. was just not capable with our current technology to put a man on the Moon.

There have been 6 successful Apollo manned missions to the Moon, and a dozen men have walked the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972. But it is that first lunar mission that is the focus of the conspiracy theories.

Kaysing’s 1976 self-published book explained his theories. He did believe that he was a whistle-blower letting the public know that there had been a cover-up.

A few of the inconsistencies he stated were easily debunked. He claimed that the American flag the astronauts planted on the moon should have been hanging down since there is no air or wind on the Moon. NASA had thought of that early on and not wanting that floppy effect had put a cross beam on the pole to hold the flag in a windy attitude. When Buzz Aldrin was twisting the pole into the surface it caused the flag to briefly move as if it was flapping in wind.

Another part of the hoax “evidence” is the multiple directions of shadows in photos and on film. Since the only source of light would be the Sun, this was said to prove that multiple movie lights had been used on a set. Actually, there were multiple sources of light during the lunar landings from the Sun, reflected from the Earth and from the lander module and from the astronauts’ space suits and helmets.

Aha, the lunar photos show no stars in the pictures! Where did they go? The moonwalks were made during the lunar morning and just like here on Earth, you don’t see stars when the Sun is out. We don’t even see them at night if we are in a brightly lit area that washes out the sky, such as at a stadium.

Kaysing even questioned how Neil Armstrong’s first steps onto the Moon were filmed if he was the only one there.  Quite simply, a camera had been mounted to the side of the lunar module.

Kaysing didn’t doubt that a rocket blasted off in July of 1969, but claimed that the astronauts had been taken off before takeoff. They were then taken to Nevada which is where the studio set was to fake the landing photography.

The Hollywood film Capricorn One was based on the hoax theories and was about a faked mission to Mars. Some scenes from the faked Mars landing scenes have turned up in Moon landing hoax conspiracy documentaries, such as the TV show Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land On The Moon and the film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon.

America was ripe for conspiracies with the Watergate scandal and Vietnam War revelations in the news showing us that the government was doing a lot of things secretly and hiding the truth from the public.

Which brings me back to Stanley Kubrick. If you had to pick a director to shoot believable Moon landing footage, Kubrick would be a good choice. Kubrick’s astronauts in his 2001 film landing on the Moon look a lot better than the actual lunar landing footage. It would have been easy for him to stage scenes that didn’t have to look as good. From what I have read about Kubrick’s directing style, it would have been a lot harder to get him to shoot the landing without many takes and certainly impossible to get him to do a live shoot. Kubrick shot 2001 without computer graphics, so he would have to use models and actual sets and props such as the space station and a Moon surface with rocks and lunar dust. He had done the research.

I do believe that on July 20, 1969, the lunar module Eagle landed on the surface of the Moon, carrying Neil Armstrong and Edwin A. “Buzz” Aldrin.  I believe that Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the moon and Aldrin was the second human on the Moon while Michael Collins orbited above. They stayed on the Moon for 21 hours and 36 minutes.

Here is some footage that was not seen back in 1969.  I guess Kubrick had outtakes?


Hidden Portals to the City on the Edge of Forever

Ready for some strange exploration?

According to NASA, Jack Scudder—a researcher at the University of Iowa—has found “hidden portals on Earth’s magnetic field that open and close dozens of times each day.”

Some of them are open for long periods of time. Scudder says that these portals “create an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun’s atmosphere 93 million miles away.”

Called X-points or electron diffusion regions, they are located “a few tens of thousands of kilometers from Earth. The portals are created through a process of magnetic reconnection in which lines of magnetic force from both celestial bodies mingle and criss-cross through space. The crisscrossing creates these x-points.

The portals are “invisible, unstable and elusive,” opening and closing without any warning. When they open, however, they are capable of transporting energetic particles at high-speed from the Sun’s atmosphere’s to Earth’s, causing geomagnetic storms.

How can Scudder find them? He uses data by NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft and the ESA’s Cluster probes, following crucial clues found in the data from NASA’s Polar spacecraft, which studied Earth’s magnetosphere in the late 1990s:

NASA will launch a mission in 2014 to observe the portals – just a few decades behind the crew from Star Trek in “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

Watch a NASA video on the Hidden Magnetic Portals  3:54