Space Flight & Fortune Cookies


When I was a young girl Six Flags was the big event once a year. The gringa was a country girl from a small town. I attended a tiny, rural school where the same 20 or so classmates I had were together every year from childhood through our teen years. A single building housed the classrooms for every grade, kindergarten through 12th grade. Once kids entered the 6th grade, officially “Junior High”, you felt as if you had hit the big time. That was the year you got included on the annual school trip to Six Flags, the biggest theme park in our state. It was about a 2 hour drive away to the big city.

My first year to go  was the grand opening of the big, new, rollercoaster attraction, the Shockwave. Two loop-de-loops of spine tingling action. The gringa was too young and naïve to realize that all the boys interested in going on the Spelunker ride with the girls only wanted to steal a kiss in the cool, dark passages. That was the second time in the gringa’s life that she socked a boy in the nose. But I learned quickly and didn’t fall for that trick a second time.

Now what has happened for the gringa to be reminiscing back to rollercoasters and clocking school boys? China. It’s all China’s fault. They have gone and done it this time. The gringa is counting her pennies and wondering just how fast she can afford to go to China. The gringa doesn’t plan on rollercoasters, though. No, now that I’m middle aged and epilepsy has had its toll on certain aspects, rollercoasters are out unless the gringa’s got paramedics lined up and waiting at the end of the ride. For the more sedate lifestyle I live now, the gringa still seeks adventure but with a smoother ride. Hence, China.

Remember when the gringa told you about Virgin Galactic and how you could hitch a ride to the highest heavens for a cool, couple hundred grand? Well, the gringa is certain that China can do it better and cheaper. In fact, considering that China is marketing their new ride as a feature at a theme park, surely tickets prices will be family friendly.

The plan is envisioned by KuangChi Science. The ride will be a balloon launch that will take passengers 15 miles into the atmosphere (24 kilometers).  The projected $1.5 billion project will encapsulate passengers in an airtight cabin beneath the balloon. Dubbed Shenzhou V after China’s first manned space mission in 2003,  the cabin is designed to block dangerous cosmic rays yet provide the comfort of a limousine-style ride. Once reaching top altitude, passengers will enjoy a peaceful cruise lasting a few hours before descent begins.  Although the ticket price hasn’t been announced, the gringa has got her fingers crossed that it may be in the $50 dollar range and include complimentary fortune cookies. Am I expecting too much?

Source: www.kuangchiscience.com

Image Credit: l.yimg.com

 

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Salute Our Space Heroes


Traveling in outer space sounds fun. Being an astronaut seems to be an exciting career. Until the gringa is reminded about space radiation. Those heavy duty marshmallow looking suits astronauts wear are not just to keep them warm, properly pressurized and surrounded by oxygen. They also protect against dangerous space radiation. But is it enough? Are spacecrafts and the International Space Station adequately protected or are our astronauts slowly being radiated to death?

Radiation is an invisible energy form of high-speed particles and electromagnetics. It surrounds humans in everyday artificial light, sunlight, and electronics that produce radio-, television-, and micro- waves. Radiation comes in two forms:

  • Ionized: This is the worst in the form of gamma rays, protons and neutrons. Exposure to ionized radiation results in exposed atoms becoming unstable by an energy powerful enough to remove electrons from their orbit around the atom’s nucleus.
  • Non-ionized: Not powerful enough to destabilize atoms, this is the kind of common radiation produced by microwaves, radio waves and light.

The radiation in space is, unfortunately, comprised of ionized radiation. There are three things that typically create dangerous space radiation:

  • Trapped radiation: The Earth’s core creates a magnetic field that surrounds our planet up to several thousand kilometers from our planet’s surface. Solar wind carries charged particles that slam into our magnetic shield. Some particles manage to pass through. Those that don’t create a shockwave that deflects from Earth’s magnetic field. This creates layers of cavities called the “magnetosphere” that act as shock absorbers to protect Earth further from charged particle bombardment. But some particles get trapped in these cavities and they become radioactive belts surrounding Earth. Astronauts have to pass through these dangerous belts before they reach deeper space.
  • Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR): Outside our solar system ionized atoms traveling at almost light speed pass through space matter, including humans and man-made objects unless they are properly shielded.
  • Solar Particle Events (SPE): Sometimes the Sun flares and ejects copious amounts of highly charged radioactive particles into space. These particles travel so fast they are capable of reaching Earth within ten minutes of a solar or coronal flare event. These are dramatic happenings that temporarily drastically increase radiation exposure.

Astronauts traveling through space radiation or living in the ISS have to be protected from space radiation. Radiation exposure causes damage to human cells. There is a scientific formula used to calculate how much radiation exposure an astronaut can expect when working on the ISS. It’s a bit too complicated for the gringa to understand. These calculations are the reason ISS missions have a maximum six month cycle and spacewalks are limited. Exposure is increased during a spacewalk to perform repairs and maintenance.

Shielding is preferred to be constructed of materials like polyethylene because it has a high hydrogen content. This kind of material is more effective than metals at reducing the ability of particles to pass through and enter the modules. Astronauts also wear monitors called “dosimeters” that constantly measure the level of radiation damage to the chromosomes in their blood cells.

Every single astronaut is a hero. No matter what the duration of their mission. No matter what the nature of their mission. No matter what it is they did, whether it seemed glamorous or insignificant, these men and women are heroes of science. They are risking their lives every moment they are off the surface of the Earth. Even if they return safely, they have still sacrificed much. From musculo-skeletal issues to organ damage and higher cancer risks, every single astronaut will experience the effects of radiation exposure for a lifetime despite the measures taken to protect them. If you ever meet an astronaut thank them for their invaluable sacrifice and service performing critical scientific endeavors that are helping us understand our origins, learn about climate change conditions and create solutions to save our homeworld.

Sources:

jsc.nasa.gov

spaceflight.nasa.gov

Image source:  antarcticglaciers.org

 

The Hi’s & Lo’s of JAXA


Back in February space agencies around the world were cheering on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as it launched a new space observation satellite that was going to get us all some darn answers about black holes. This joint effort between JAXA and NASA caused a bit of confusion among outsiders because the satellite went by different names depending on if you were an Eastern space enthusiast (Hitomi for you) or a Western space enthusiast (ASTRO-H for you).

The gringa prefers the moniker Hitomi. This Japanese word has several meanings, all of which the gringa likes much better than the anacronym ASTRO-H. Hitomi literally means the “pupil of the eye”. However, when you break the word down into its phonetical language parts “hito” and “mi” it becomes “beautiful history”. As I look into the vastness of space and the stars that are kazillions of years old, the cosmos most certainly is the most beautiful history I have ever beheld.

Unfortunately, however, Hitomi’s story is not so pretty. Launched back in February, space fans everywhere were so excited that soon the satellite would be orbiting about 300 miles above us and collect data on X-rays emitted by black holes as well as galaxy clusters. Scientists have been eager for any means to gather more information since the detection of gravitational waves were announced which are directly related to black holes.

After a successful launch the evening of February 16, JAXA and NASA announced that Hitomi’s solar arrays were operating properly and began anticipating the arrival of data and images. Japan’s sixth satellite for the research of X-ray astronomy, the science community waited with bated breath for what they were certain was going to be groundbreaking information from the latest state of the art space satellite technology.

By March 26, contact with Hitomi was lost. By April the announcement came that finally, all hope was lost as well. Bye-bye Hitomi.

Once Hitomi reached its orbit things began to go wrong. Scientists reported that communication was lost within days and that their only conclusion was that the satellite had most likely disintegrated. A quarter of a billion dollars converted to space junk in a matter of weeks. How terribly disappointing. The director general of JAXA, Saku Tsuneta, officially announced the abandonment of the project with his deepest regrets.

Researchers believe that the solar panels that control the instruments may have broken away from the satellite. This would have basically transformed the satellite into a rudderless ship adrift in space. It will be about twelve more years before anything matching Hitomi’s capabilities will launch when the European Space Agency (ESA) completes a similar project.

On a side note, the gringa is surprised that conspiracy theorists haven’t jumped all over this story. When communication was first lost with the satellite, hope was revived when JAXA detected three signals they believed originated from Hitomi. However, after more scrutiny, it was discovered that the signals were not from the spacecraft. Hmmm. The gringa wonders just where, or whom, those signals came from. Could it have been some very clever and covert space aliens who captured human technology? Only time will tell!

Sources:

www.japantimes.co

www.nasa.gov

phys.org

www.bbc.com

Image Source: i.dailymail.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Asteroids Are A Blast


If you are an amateur stargazer who enjoys viewing interesting cosmic objects through a telescope, there are a few galactic peepshows you want to make sure you execute before the subjects disappear forever. Russia has announced their intention to test their intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by blasting to smithereens certain near-earth objects (NEOs). The spacerocks in their crosshairs range in size from  20-50 meters (65-165 feet). Potential targets are asteroids as well as meteorites that have broken off from asteroids  which orbit the Sun and are capable of surviving the atmospheric burn of falling to Earth, posing the risk of slamming into the surface of our planet. Russia’s target practice could serve to save lives which usually runs counter to the whole point of ICBMs.

The first scheduled missile test is slated for 2036. That is when scientists expect asteroid 99942 Apophis to come within a dangerous close proximity to Earth. Although NASA has definitively ruled out the possibility of an impact, it is still expected to be a close enough encounter that Russia believes it will be within missile range. What weapons junkie could resist such an opportunity?

However, these high grade shoot-en-anny toys require upgrades. It takes days to properly prepare the fuel the rockets use. That means that Russia’s current ICBM’s cannot be rapidly deployed to destroy a meteorite that Earthlings may only detect within hours of coming into range, such as the Chelyabinsk meteorite. It will take millions of dollars to make the necessary changes. However, when they are completed Russia’s weapons of war will be converted to defensive weapons keeping the entire world safe. Instead of Russia launching people killers, they will be launching people saving asteroid blasters. Does that mean that by means of defensive measures we all become Russian by proxy? Or perhaps that simply means for a brief moment, we all become one united human race? Either way, the gringa thinks the sentiment is sweet.

Bottom line for backyard stargazers is that if you want to have a chance of seeing Apophis, you will get your last chance in about thirteen years. The asteroid was discovered twelve years ago and is a bit larger than three football fields. A pass of the asteroid is expected in 2029. This may be humanity’s last chance to view it before it’s 2036 pass that could be its final one if Russia gets its proposal approved and succeeds in blasting Apophis to infinity and beyond.

Although the 2036 pass only has a one in a million chance of impacting Earth, it is still an historical event where astronomy is concerned. Apophis will be the largest asteroid that has ever come as close to Earth as it is projected to. It will zoom by almost 19,000 miles over the heads of unsuspecting Earthlings. Although there are other asteroid’s that pass closer, such as 2012 DA14 which does a 17,000 mile altitude flyby, Apophis is much, much larger than the nearer pipsqueaks.

It is amazing how many NEOs travel by our home planet. Astronomy is a career where there is never a dull moment if you are entrusted with the task of tracking NEOs and projecting trajectories.  This is a very important job to determine courses in order to protect all of humanity from the possibility of a collision. For kids intrigued with outer space and who don’t mind the math, astronomy offers the opportunity of a lifetime. To get a taste of the work they do, follow their reports on NASA’s Asteroid Watch program and stay current with updates through Twitter.

Sources: tass.ru

www.nasa.gov

Image Source:  iluminaci.com

 

 

Lost, Squished or Spaghettified By A Black Hole


Imagine you are zipping through the Milky Way in your spaceship, minding your own business, studying the stars, negotiating interplanetary alliances with interesting alien species, when all of a sudden alarms start sounding all over the ship. The helmsman is shouting, “Black hole dead ahead!” Everyone freezes in their tracks as a sense of doom overwhelms even the strongest survival instinct. After all, it’s a black hole, it’s a death sentence. Momentarily the ship will be caught in the great space suck, swirling down a cosmic drain to be crushed into stardust. Or not.

A proximity alert sounding through a spaceship is not the death knell as an iceberg was for the Titanic. New research gives space explorers some hope against the fated doom of a galactic squish. Rather than flat as a pancake, hapless star travelers would become space spaghetti, sucked into the black hole’s infinitely dense center and shredded. So, no, not the doom of a great space suck ultimately ending in pulverization, but a ghastly doom nevertheless. How in the world do scientists consider this good news?

The greatest physicist of all time, Stephen Hawking, has been telling everyone they were all wrong about what would happen if a person got sucked inside a black hole. The gringa is certain he must feel very satisfied to know that the rest of the scientific community has finally caught up with his genius.

And, although spaghettification sounds like a miserable end, scientists say that the good news lies in the fact that little bits of a person may be able to escape a black hole. But, again, this good news really isn’t good news at all. The only way a bit of a human might escape the black hole is if that particular bit of human spaghetti is converted into radiation.

But there’s one more kicker and opportunity for some actual good news. There are two types of black holes, one is stationary and the other spins like a top. In a spaceship trapped by a black hole scenario, hope for the spinning one. You may just be able to survive without becoming a glow-in-the-dark noodle.

If caught in a spinning black hole, also called a Kerr black hole, objects don’t necessarily get smashed to smithereens by gravitational increases. What experts expect happens is that the black hole’s gravity increases to the point of infinity. This happens so fast that the object passing through the black hole’s center remains intact.

So, this is great news. A crew and their ship could just zip right through a Kerr black hole unscathed, perhaps a little dizzy but not smashed or shredded. Then there’s the but. It’s very possible they could come out the other end in another universe altogether, once again doomed to an agonizing slow death of privation.

The gringa can only say, “Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! Please stop getting my hopes up then spaghettifying them with these darn good news/bad news scenarios. Just quit saying ‘good news’ altogether!” Because, guess what? The black hole business only gets scarier!

Scientists don’t know how they form. They are a mystery and can just, POOF, appear. So, even if humans do get some Galaxy class ships airborne, we better make darn sure we have some serious back up supplies on board because they could all get sucked to infinity and beyond no matter how clever we map their routes throughout the cosmos.

Sources:

www.yahoo.com

spacemath.gsfc.nasa.gov

journals.aps.org

www.massachusetts.edu

www.space.com

Image credit:  http://www.yumpu.com

Fun With The Black Knight (No, Not Batman)


“Good grief,” the gringa says. “Not another UFO and secret space mission story to debunk?” Well, dear readers, I’m afraid so. But isn’t it fun to do?! Better yet, during this debunking post the dear reader will learn something very interesting related to the International Space Station which may inspire a space related activity of your own.

The Allegation

UFO and extra-terrestrial fans claim that there is an ET satellite, dubbed the Black Knight, locked in our planet’s orbit and visible from the International Space Station as well as Earth. They believe its purpose is to study mankind and has been present for over 1,300 years. To support this theory, UFO-ologists assert that because the Black Knight follows a polar orbit it is collecting terrestrial data because that is the orbit path used for cartography. UFO-ologists offer for proof a Russian space agency video where it is alleged that the Black Knight can be seen in the background as a Russian supply ship approaches the space station.

The Truth We Know

There is no doubt that unnatural objects are floating about the Earth in an orbital cycle which then makes all of these objects, technically speaking, “satellites”. However, it’s all just man-made space litter, debris from the space station or shuttles or other spacecraft. Some of this debris is electronic in nature, emitting signals captured and disseminated from other radio signals by technicians working for space agencies around the world.

The Black Knight was officially discovered about 60 years and announced in the St. Louis Dispatch and the San Francisco Examiner in March, 1954. Six years later, March, 1960, Time magazine published an article clearing up speculation that the Dark Knight was a Russian spy satellite. It was, after all, the era of the Cold War. The article claimed that the U.S. Department of Defense had announced that it was the U.S. satellite Discoverer and had veered off course, destined to its new trajectory around Earth. It is monitored even today by the United States, Europe, Russia and China.

The Fun We Can Have

The Black Knight is visible to amateur astronomers. As soon as the public became aware of its presence, people began tracking it on their own throughout the 1950s and 1960s. It appears to the naked eye as a red light moving quickly across the sky from East to West. Even today Earthlings can peer up at the night sky at the right time, looking at the correct horizon and track the path of the Black Knight as well as the path of the ISS. Orbiting about 240 miles above us, the ISS will appear like a fast moving airplane. It will be an unblinking white pinpoint of light. It shines so bright even city dwellers can see it. By visiting NASA-Spot The Station you can sign up for text message or e-mail alerts for your own area with a date, time and horizon parameters to spot the station as it passes over.

If a dear reader has access to a telescope, you can take a peek at the Dark Knight as well as the International Space Station. To help locate the station there is an online guide:  NASA Human Space Flight Realtime Data tool. Once you have spotted the station with your eye, you just point the telescope that direction in a forward trajectory. Eventually the ISS will pass through your viewer. It can all happen within seconds. Don’t fret if you fail the first time or two. Keep practicing and sooner or later you will get to see the ISS! Maybe even the Dark Knight! As you gain experience, or, if you have a fancier telescope with automated trajectory tracking, you can follow the ISS’ trajectory, keeping it in sight for much longer viewing.

The gringa’s pretty certain that if space aliens, Earthling governments and space agencies of the world were trying to pull one over on us, hiding a secret ET spy satellite, they are doing a pretty poor job of it since any ol’ soul can see it with or without a telescope!

Sources:

www.nasa.gov

www.telescopeking.com

www.ewao.com

time.com

Image credit: www.topinfopost.com

 

 

 

Rosetta – On A Mission To Discover ETs


Shall the gringa take the time to debunk an anonymous “whistle-blower” who claims that the European Space Agency is in communication with extra-terrestrials under the guise of a comet-chasing space program? Yes, dear reader, let us please do and do so together. First, a few preliminary facts about the ESA’s comet chaser mission, the Rosetta space probe:

  • 2004 Rosetta space probe launches for a ten year journey through space, chasing down a comet.
  • 2014 Rosetta arrived and locked into a matching orbit with comet 67P, also known as Churyumov-Gerasimenko (which the gringa likes to refer to as Chur-Ger).
  • Philae lander module touches down on the surface of the comet and begins collecting scientific data and transmitting back to Earth.

Allegations by the ESA insider “whistle-blower”, sent anonymously by e-mail to a science blogger:

  • Chur-Ger is not a comet.
  • Chur-Ger is an object that has been sending signals received by NASA for over two decades.
  • Illegally obtained digital images were forwarded alleging that artificial structures exist on the surface of Chur-Ger.
  • Chur-Ger has an unusual movement pattern inconsistent with a trajectory or orbit of a natural celestial body.
  • NASA has records indicating that Chur-Ger has changed its trajectory rather than have another space object causing it.
  • Rosetta is not a comet chasing science mission but a cover-up for a joint NASA/ESA military style reconnaissance mission to discover just what the heck Chur-Ger really is.

Facts gathered from official ESA Rosetta mission reports:

  • November 12, 2014, Philae successfully landed on the comet (a first time ever maneuver).
  • May 27, 2016 the amino acid glycine was detected in the comet’s atmosphere. This amino acid is necessary for the construction of DNA and cell membranes. The building blocks of life were found on the comet which lends credence to the Anthropocene theory of how life began on Earth, life creating substances being delivered to Earth by hitchhiking on a comet or asteroid which collided with our planet.
  • Chur-Ger was not the first comet to have life creating amino acids (re: comet Wild-2 & NASA’s Stardust mission)
  • Glycine does not require water to form, solving the origins of life in outer space theory problem of no liquid water yet found on any celestial object other than Earth.
  • Phosphorus was also detected which is necessary for DNA to form a framework and for cells to transport chemical energy.
  • March 11, 2016 the ESA reports that there is an interesting magnetic-free bubble surrounding Chur-Ger’s nucleus and extending outward about 4,000 km. Basically, the comet is not magnetized. The de-magnetized properties results in the comet’s trajectory being affected in ways that are not typical for celestial objects.
  • April 7, 2016 it was reported that Chur-Ger changed colors. Within the months after Rosetta’s arrival, Chur-Ger was very near the Sun. The heat from the Sun stripped away older surface materials and newer, brighter materials were exposed. Reflective properties changed. Chur-Ger changed from being a dark object to a brighter, bluer object. In all, the comet became about 34% brighter.
  • April 26, 2016 Philae lander awakens and begins data collection but does not begin transmitting data until June 13.
  • July 9, 2015 the Philae lander enters hibernation mode and discontinues data transmission. It is suspected that dust from Chur-Ger may be coating Philae’s solar panels, interfering with their ability to recharge.
  • September 2016, after years of providing scientists with fascinating data about comets, the Rosetta mission comes to an end as the space probe slowly crash-lands onto the comet. (Even in outer space humans are litter bugs.)

One reason that space agencies are willing to spend billions studying comets is that they are the best resources to find the origins of life. They have basically been frozen in time, the same today as they were billions of years ago. They are the perfect reservoirs to contain the primitive biological material that may have resulted in you and I today.

Although the possibility of a secret mission involving communication with extra-terrestrials sounds exciting, the gringa is equally excited over the actual findings of the building blocks of life on a comet. To consider that humans are really the extra-terrestrials after all, that we all originated from somewhere in outer space, is utterly compelling. That means we are all truly the children of stardust or we have a home world somewhere which begs the questions of: A. Is it still inhabited?  B. If not still inhabited, are there ruins and artifacts to be discovered that will shed light on who our ancient ancestors were? C. Have comets deposited life building blocks on other planets that have also evolved into intelligent life?

So, although the whistle-blower suspects humans in communication with ETs on a comet, the gringa believes every human may already be communicating with ETs every day just by talking to each other! So, in essence, the Rosetta mission, in search of the origins of human life in outer space, is also on a search for extra-terrestrials like the whistle-blower claims. It’s really a search for ourselves, because the gringa suspects that we are not really from around here.

Sources:

www.ewao.com

www.sci.esa.int