You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘space’ tag.

Ultima Thule sounds like a superhero or a metal rock band.  It is heroic, in a way, and it is rock.

To welcome in 2019, just after the Earthly celebrations, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule. Formerly known by the very un-superhero names Kuiper Belt Object an 2014 MU69, Ultima Thule is the farthest object that any craft has ever visited. It is a tiny fragment of the early solar system.

An artistic rendering of New Horizons when it flew by Pluto Image: NASA/APL

New Horizons successfully “phoned home” at 10:28 a.m. EST, letting NASA scientists know all of its systems survived the flyby of Ultima Thule. The first real images will now slowly trickle in over the coming hours and days.

I view this as wonderful an awesome is the true wonder and awe senses of those words.

Maybe even more amazing is that New Horizons will send information back to Earth. I don’t even get a good WiFi signal when I bring my laptop upstairs to the bedroom. The New Horizons exploratory spacecraft is about four billion miles (6.6 billion km) from us. Wow.  It takes about a bit more than six hours for the signals to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network.

On New Year’s Day morning, New Horizons signaled that it had made the flyby unharmed.

Some may dismiss all this about a far-out space rock as trivial. How does it help me in my daily life? I can’t speak intelligently on the scientific data obtained and how it will be used, but I see great value in us pushing further and knowing more about what is “out there” and where it all came from. And if that doesn’t fit into your view of science and religion, I guess we’ll just have to disagree.

Updates on New Horizons at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu and NASA’s mission to Pluto
and the Kuiper Belt from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Want to know where the name Ultima Thule comes from? Check out this post on another one of my blogs.

I love the stories of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft taking their messages from Earth out into universe. Humanity’s farthest and longest-lived spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, achieve 40 years of operation and exploration this August and September. Despite their vast distance, they continue to communicate with NASA daily, still probing the final frontier.

Both Pioneers carry a plaque, but the Voyager spacecrafts carry a “phonograph record.” But I have always wondered what an alien finding it would be able to figure out about us. A lot of thought was given to what was included, but could it be understood? How might it be misunderstood?

Just on the basis of technology, if the Voyager’s “Golden Record” dropped into your backyard, could you “play” it? Chances are that you don’t even have the equipment to play a vinyl record any more.

Of course, we always seem to imagine the aliens as being way more advanced than us, so they could figure it out, right?

Besides a turntable and speakers, this record requires the aliens to have ways to hear and see similar to the ways we do those things. A lot of science-fiction tales have not shown us aliens with our ears and eyes. Can they interpret the record by just using their mind?

The Voyager record has a cover illustration and about 90 minutes of audio on the reverse side.

Looking at the cover illustration image of hydrogen and a pulsar map (the same as found on the Pioneer plaques) and important instructions on how to play them. It tells the aliens how to use the included stylus and what rate of rotation the record must be used and the proper waveform of signals generated by the record. These are similar instructions to those we would need to give to a Generation Z kid confronted with a record player.

Let’s assume they get the record to play and they have ears to hear it. What will they think about us when listening to the 50+ greeting messages in different languages? Again, I think of a Gen Z or almost any Earthling hearing 50+ different messages in different languages. Confusion. They might wonder why we don’t all speak in the same way. Or maybe they think all 50 messages are in the same language but are just different creatures speaking.

Then there is the music. I can’t imagine how they would react to hearing Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Are these dancing aliens?  I would guess that they might deal better with the Beethoven and Stravinsky without lyrics, though it is doubtful that music developed in the same way out there in the universe.

The record also contains 115 images. If they can decode the first ones, they will have technical data for the reader regarding mathematical definitions, scales and sizes, and information about our location and how to find us. There are images of our Sun and some of the planets in our solar system. Some pretty famous scientists have said that we really shouldn’t be telling them that because we don’t want them to find us.. These scientists are believers in the “aliens are evil” school of thought.

The images seem to me to be the part they might understand. Didn’t they tell me in elementary school that math was a universal language?

Will they interpret the medical and scientific diagrams showing the structure of our DNA and detailed images of human anatomy?

I do think they will be confused by some of the others in this Earthing photo album:  people eating, looking through a microscope, on a spacewalk, a string quartet etc. I am actually a bit frightened by how they might interpret a picture of a woman licking an ice cream cone.

Voyager 1 is currently in “Interstellar space” and Voyager 2 is currently in the “Heliosheath” (the outermost layer of the heliosphere).

Keep an eye on the live video from on board and let us know if you spot any aliens.

That Tesla roadster out in space will, like an asteroid, make its first close pass of Earth in 2091. I don’t think I’ll be around for that event, so I’ll post now.

After that pass by Earth, scientists say it has a 50 percent chance of continuing to orbit for a few tens of millions of years. Eventually, it will collide with a planet or fall into the Sun. If it makes it back to Earth, the atmosphere will burn up most of it before it hits the ground.

For now, it is safely on its way out past Mars, playing David Bowie to deaf, airless ears. It also carries on its dashboard screen the always appropriate message to Earthlings and anyone else who might encounter it: Don’t panic.

 

Image via Oliver Jeffers

On this New Year’s Eve, I will look up to the night sky to the brightest star there. That is Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major. You can see it in the evening every year at this time from almost all parts of Earth. Tonight is not only the calendar end of year but, in one of those nice celestial coincidences, it is the midnight culmination of Sirius. That is when it is highest in the sky at midnight, which occurs only once every year.

I need to point out that this midnight is mid-night and not the drop-the-ball midnight we will celebrate tonight. What I will call mid-night is the actual middle of the night, which is midway between sunset and sunrise. For my little piece of Paradelle, that will be at 9:18 pm ET.

If you go to http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/mrst.php you can get a quick calculation done for your little place on Earth for the times of the rise, set, and transit for the Sun and all major solar system bodies and selected bright stars.

From the Northern Hemisphere, we will look toward the south to see Sirius shining brightly on a clear night. (From the Southern Hemisphere, look overhead or high in the north.)

Sirius, the Dog Star, gets its name from a romanization of the Greek Seirios, meaning “glowing” or “scorching.” It appears almost twice as bright as the next brightest star (Canopus). Sirius appears bright because of its “intrinsic luminosity” and also because of its proximity to Earth.  It is 2.6 parsecs away. I know that sounds like Star Trek talk, but the Sirius system is one of Earth’s near neighbours. Sirius is gradually moving closer to the Solar System, so it will slightly increase in brightness over the next 60,000 years. After that time, its distance will begin to increase and it will become fainter. But Sirius doesn’t have to worry about losing its brightest star ranking for 210,000 years.

What we see is a bit of an illusion because “Sirius” is a binary star system, consisting of a white main-sequence star, called Sirius A, and a faint white dwarf companion of called Sirius B. Sirius A is about twice as massive as the Sun and 25 times more luminous than the Sun. Sirius B was actually bigger but consumed its resources and became a red giant. Then, it shed its outer layers and collapsed into its current state as a white dwarf. That happened around 120 million years ago.

All this makes me feel both very tiny, and also part of something so large that I cannot really comprehend it all. So, I will simply go out tonight on this very cold night and look up at Sirius with great wonder.

 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”
― Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions

“Bye Bye Moon” is not meant to be a sequel to Goodnight MoonDid you know that the moon’s distance from Earth varies each month? I didn’t know that until this week, even though I know a lot about our Moon and I write about it at least once a month here.

Our Moon has a rather eccentric orbit and it is moving away from us at about one and a half inches per year. Scientists attribute this to tidal friction with the Earth’s oceans which also slows down how fast the Earth rotates, This lengthens our day by about 1 second every 40000 years.

Okay, it is not something we really will notice or need to worry about, but because scientists can do simulations, they can figure out that four and a half billion years ago when the moon was being formed,  it was only about 15,000 miles from Earth. Now, it is about 238, 831 miles from Earth.

Back then, an Earth day might have been only 5 or 6 hours long and there would be 1400 days in one year. More recently, at least relatively, around 900 million years ago there would be 480 days of about 18 hours each in one Earth year. That would certainly give us a very different lifestyle.

And projecting into the future, we would expect longer days but fewer of them in a year.

Even though we can’t observe these changes within a lifetime, it awesome and full of wonder to me that these changes are happening.

mars simulation

Exiting the capsule. Photo: Rae Ellen Bichell/NPR

We have thought about Mars for a long time. Ancient people knew of it, probably first as a bright star and later as a planet. We saw it closer with telescopes, and we imagined Martians lived there. All the 1950s sci-fi books and movies that had aliens from our solar system had them coming from Mars.

Those Martians invading Earth have given way to humans invading Mars.

Is Mars as the next frontier for human exploration? It seems that way. In March, President Trump signed a bill reiterating NASA’s plan to send people to orbit Mars in the 2030s, with a goal of studying the possibility of “living off the land” there.

Movies like The Martian and Interstellar piqué our interest in living off-Earth – and make it seem more possible than it is right now.

As the U.S. in preparation for the Moon landing, we do simulated Mars exercises in the desert. The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), owned and operated by the Mars Society, is such a facility located in Utah. The site’s empty red hills and canyons have been a Mars testing ground for 16 years.

NPR did a story about Crew 177, a team of students and teachers from a Texas community college who had applied to spend a week in a two-story metal cylinder at the MDRS near Hanksville in southern Utah.

The Mars Society

The Mars Society is a nonprofit funded by grants, private donations and membership fees.

They once got donations from the [Elon] Musk Foundation, but he has his own plan to colonize Mars now.

The Society started using the Utah site in 2001. They are not affiliated with NASA who has its own simulation site in Hawaii. NASA runs simulated missions that last as long as a year.

Is this all about Mars exploration for scientific or economic gains? Or both? Or is Mars our Plan B?

Science fiction explored the Plan B idea a long time ago with Mars or other planets being a place to go if – or more likely, when – Earth is no longer habitable.

Joel Achenbach wrote in the Washington Post in 2016 that Mars is not a Plan B, but there are still some serious projects to get there for a variety of reasons.

And don’t we want to get out there before the aliens make their arrival here?

When the mothership lands, know who your friends are.

collecting specimens

An “extravehicular activity,” collecting rock specimens. Photo: Rae Ellen Bichell/NPR

Visitors to Paradelle

  • 395,934

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,304 other followers

Follow Weekends in Paradelle on WordPress.com

Archives

I Recently Tweeted…

Tweets from Poets Online

Recent Photos on Flickr

%d bloggers like this: