Re-Blog: Plasma Power Is Problematic


(Originally posted 9/7/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

If the gringa’s dear readers are anything like herself, you have spent plenty of time watching shows like Star Trek and reading fantastic science fiction. That means you’ve heard plenty of references to plasma: plasma storms, plasma discharges, plasma cannons, etc. But what the heck is plasma? Is it good for anything? Can we harness its power? Here’s the scoop on plasma.


Plasma is an ionized gas. What that means is that atoms, molecules and all kinds of stuff are constantly being converted into ions. This happens by removing electrons from the affected substance. An ion contains an electrical charge when conversion is complete. That means plasma packs a wallop of a punch. And there is lots of plasma throughout our Universe.


The Sun’s mass makes up nearly the entire mass of our Solar System, 99.85% of it. That mass creates gravity so powerful it squishes things together, like atoms, creating a fusion reaction which makes… wait for it… PLASMA.


99.999% of the Sun is plasma. Scientists estimate that more than 99% of all matter exists in a plasma state. If so much of it is lying about, why aren’t we humans using it for electricity and power and stuff? Why are we still in the Stone Ages with coal and petroleum? Because cosmic plasma is a bit trickier than the plasma we find here on Earth, like lightning. The Sun’s plasma is not just electrified. It also has its own magnetic field. And, boy is it hot!

Because of the magnetics that are part and parcel of the Sun’s plasma, harnessing our nearest star as an energy source would prove to be highly disruptive to communications. Basically, radio frequencies would fry. You see, the Sun is a fusion nuclear reactor way up in the sky. The gringa’s not sure, then, if direct solar power would really be “green” energy.


To harness the power of cosmic plasma for terrestrial use, scientists would have to, theoretically, confine the reactor. Yep, that means putting the Sun in a box, so to speak. Despite years of research, little progress has been made to figure out how to do that and humanity survive in the end. One reason is because scientists have no idea how cosmic plasma and the resulting fusion reaction would affect any barrier they might construct as a containment field. Yeah, those invisible forcefields on Star Trek? Mm hmm. Pure fantasy.


But despite this frustration, scientists remain committed to finding a solution. They are well aware that the current energy sources of Earthlings are finite. One day all the coal will be gone. There will be no more crude to suck from the ground. And even developing more solar and wind energy supplies will only take the entire globe so far. Large industrial areas and densely populated regions will need the power of plasma if they want a constant, reliable power supply.


But why can’t scientists seem to make any progress? In order to test a theory, a scientist must conduct a controlled experiment that re-creates the conditions. Since there is no way to reproduce the 15 million degree Fahrenheit temperature of the Sun, um, yeah, progress is pretty much going nowhere. 


Sure, science has come up with fun gadgets like plasma balls that are basically sold as lighting novelties. But that glass bottle is not anywhere close to being sufficient to bottle a chunk of the Sun. Scientists literally have to find a way to put a sizable piece of the Sun inside of something.


And finding a substance that can withstand temperatures in excess of the 100 million degrees produced by fusion reactions has to do more than not melt. When the plasma comes into contact with the barrier, it must remain pure and clean. 


The gringa can only wonder what the heck might happen should those walls fail. Will half the globe be scorched to infinity in a split second? Will the survivors on the other side of the globe become so radiated they die a slow, agonizing death over the course of the next few weeks or months? Or will a wave of plasma ride the ionosphere to the other side and the survivors know that death is on the way because their blue sky turns blood-red? Or will they basically be cooked alive from a sudden increase in temperature? In other words, will the entire globe become a microwave oven?


Scientists claim that plasma energy will be the cleanest energy ever. Yet, at the same time they are conducting research on the effects of radiation and plasma damage. So, the gringa remains skeptical about the “green” selling points.


Science communities around the world hope to have the first plasma reactor operational by 2018.

Nuclear science professors at MIT explain that the general public shouldn’t expect any real development of commercial plasma fusion reactors for about two more decades. The gringa will be at an age by that time where I might actually appreciate the prospect of a quick and relatively painless death. But, for the sake of my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I suppose I should keep a watchful eye on the developments of this future energy source.


Sources:

Plasma Universe


Science Learn


University of California San Diego


Image Credit: Space.com

Video Credits:

Science Channel


Seeker

Dispelling Some Space Myths


(Originally posted 2/2/17 on Read With The Gringa)

If you are a dear reader of Read With The Gringa, chances are you are also a fan of science fiction. The gringa has seen every episode of her favorite series like the Star Trek franchise, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. If it’s a cheesy, classic or epic sci-fi movie, I’ve seen that, too. What about some of the common themes and aspects of this genre? Is there any kernel of truth to these commonalities or are they just creative license?

Spacecraft Explosions: Cosmic space battles between a star ship battle cruiser and a sporty, feisty spacecraft that maneuvers with lightning speed often end up with the absolute destruction of one, maybe even both. But what about those fabulous fireballs and bits and bobs of bulkhead that create an enormous blast radius. Does that really happen?

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NO! Why? Well, think about it. There is no oxygen in space! No oxygen, no fire. The best you could hope for is an insignificant spark that, pfft, quickly goes out. And the boom factor? Nope. You wouldn’t hear anything either. Sound only travels through Earth’s atmosphere because of a complex recipe of certain gases. So, that pfft effect goes for explosive sounds as well.

Human Explosion: Sci-fi takes a reverse course on the pressure effects of deep water on the human. Go deep enough in the ocean without protective gear and  the water pressure will implode you. Not a pretty sight for a human to be crushed like an aluminum soda can. Sci-fi screenwriters like to imagine the vacuum of space would result in the atoms of humans no longer experiencing enough atmospheric pressure to remain cohesive. Thus an explosion of eyeballs and fingernails. A rather gruesome and bloody prospect. Is this accurate? Would astronauts who experience spacesuit failure explode in the vacuum of space?

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First, you would quickly begin to dehydrate as water began evaporating rapidly through your pores. You would also begin to feel the chill of MINUS 455 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, instead of exploding into itty-bitty bits, you would quickly become a human ice cube. About 30 seconds to be exact.

frozen-person

The dark side of the Moon… who could live there? Well, a colony on the “dark side of the Moon” would get just as much sunlight as the “other” side of the Moon. You see, it is only the Earth that the Moon hides its backside from. That’s because of tidal influences between these two planetary objects. The Sun, on the other hand, enjoys seeing every aspect of the Moon.

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What of golden sunsets and sunrises? Are they as beautiful when seen from space? Well, they are definitely as bright but not golden. Stars, which our Sun is, have colors that are determined by their temperature. Our Sun, at about 6,000 degrees Kelvin, is actually white. It only appears yellow to us Earthlings because of how it’s short-wavelenths of blue, green and violet are scattered as they travel through Earth’s atmosphere. And you know those wavy little rays we always draw around our Suns when we are little kids? Yeah, those are all wrong too. The Sun isn’t burning. There are no flames. It is EXPLODING with gases so it’s glowing. Like a light bulb.

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Have you ever seen those crack pilots zipping about in their little shuttles, navigating like aces through the hazards of an asteroid belt? Yeah. That’s not real either. Even in a really, super crowded asteroid belt with millions of space rocks each of these hunks of geological junk are most likely hundreds of thousands of miles apart. How do you think NASA’s probes make it to the farthest reaches of space if there were such dangerous obstacles? Remember, space is really, really, really, big. Plenty of room to navigate.

asteroid_livestream

Could a huge meteor slam into a wilderness area and create a fiery crater? Nope. A crater, yes, but not a fiery one. I know, I know. The dear reader is saying, “Hold on there, gringa! I have actually seen a fiery fireball of a meteor that raced across the sky!” Yes, I am sure that you did. However, it is the outer surface of the meteor that has heated up, liquefied and converted to flaming plasma from the friction of hurtling through Earth’s atmosphere at high-speed. Its core, however, is frozen solid from a lifetime in space where temperatures are hundreds of degrees BELOW freezing. So, you would most likely end up with scattered fires from fiery plasma scattering on impact and then a soggy mess in the crater after the cosmic ice ball melts. Basically, a meteor is like a flaming snowball.

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The gringa’s really sorry if she spoiled things for you. But I must remind you that the most important thing about science-fiction is that it is FICTION. So enjoy it the way it is meant to be enjoyed… an escape from reality into fantasy for pure pleasure. Let it titillate your imagination and inspire you to greater things. But always know the difference between fact and fiction!

Sources:

NASA

David Darling

Geoffrey Landis

Stanford

How Stuff Works

www.space.com

Image Credits: Discovery Channel

Star Trek Desktop Wallpaper

YouTube

Keyword Suggestions

Top Tenz

UK2

Animal New York

Gizmodo

A Year With The Stars


(Originally posted 1/6/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Now that the new year is in full swing, it’s time to mark all the significant events that you don’t want to miss. By now you’ve already missed the first meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, that happened in the wee hours of January 4th. Later that same day Earth arrived in its closest position throughout its annual orbit round the Sun, called Perihelion, despite the fact that it was cold as the dickens with most Earthlings experiencing their winter seasons. But don’t despair if you missed out. There is so much more to come!

Feb. 10/11 Penumbral Lunar Eclipse:  It may seem like a normal full Moon but it’s not. The Moon will be moving through the outermost part of the Earth’s shadow. Because this part of the shadow is so faint, the Sun’s reflection off the Moon is incredibly striking and bright. As the three celestial bodies align, rather than see the Moon blocked out by the Earth’s shadow, the reverse will happen, it will shine brighter. Look at this image and see the difference between an ordinary full moon and the Moon in penumbral eclipse:

penumbral-lunar-eclipse_CNNPH.png

Feb. 26 Annular Solar Eclipse: If you live in the geographical swath of Earth that stretches across southern and western Africa, most of South America, and the islands dotting that belt in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, or if you happen to be in Antarctica, you will get to see the very best of this event. Some places, like the gringa’s H-town, won’t be able to see it at all. The eclipse will start around 6am Houston time and take about 5 hours to complete its cycle. However, you can’t just gaze up at the sky to see a proverbial “ring of fire” unless you want to come away blind and this be the last thing you ever see. To view a solar eclipse safely, you can always use a homemade pinhole projector, welders’ goggles or special solar filter viewing products. Check out Mr. Eclipse and discover how not to commit optic suicide while viewing a solar eclipse.  Here’s a map so you can see if you will be anywhere where you might get to see it.

path-760-feb26-eclipse

April 22/23 Lyrid Meteor Shower:  This annual celestial event takes place during the time of a waning crescent Moon. That means the setting will be fantastic to watch meteors streak across the sky. Although the Lyrid Meteor Shower season can start lighting up the sky as early as April 16 and last as late as April 25, the 22 & 23 are the days where activity should peak. So, as long as it’s not cloudy or raining, all you have to do is sit outside anytime after nightfall and watch the show until daybreak.

What direction should you look? Well, the event takes its name after constellation Lyra. That’s the direction from which the meteors emerge. Look toward the star Vega, it’s one of the brightest stars in the sky in April. To spot it, look directly overhead for a brilliant star that looks bluish-white. Folks in the Northern Hemisphere have the best seats for this show but just about everyone in the world has a chance at a peek.  Here’s a star map to help you find Vega so you will be looking in the right direction:

vega-lyra_sky-map

May 5/6 Eta Aquarid Meteors: If you didn’t get to see anything exciting with April’s meteor showers, maybe you will see something in May. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower season lasts from April 19 until May 28. However, the time of most activity will be May 5 & 6. Well, more specifically, the week hours on the morning of May 6. These meteors are the product of dust and debris from Halley’s Comet. During this time, Earth is passing through the path this famed comet travels around the Sun. This happens twice every year. The second event occurs in October. It takes the comet about 76 years to complete its orbit around the Sun. So, we are seeing rocks burn up in our atmosphere that have been hanging out on their own for nearly a century, at least. But, that’s just how long the rock has been separated from the comet. As to a meteorite’s true age, there’s really no telling. When you witness a shooting star, you could be watching the end of millions of years of history. To look for these meteors look toward the Aquarius constellation. Eta Aquarii, the namesake of this event, will be the brightest star of Aquarius. Here’s a star map to help you:

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Aug. 7/8 Partial Lunar Eclipse: This will be visible in most of southern/eastern Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. The eclipse will begin around 4pm UTC with maximum effect happening around 6:20pm UTC.

Aug. 12/13 Perseid Meteors:  This is one of the brightest and most active meteor showers throughout the year.  The entire season lasts from July 17 until August 24 but these are the best 2 days to be expected from the peak period of Aug 9-13. If you can, get out of town on a really dark night, settle down on a blanket and wait for the sky to light up right before dawn. These meteors are debris from the Swift-Tuttle Comet and can be viewed by looking toward the Perseus constellation. Folks in the Northern Hemisphere should look at the zenith of the northeastern sky. Here’s an image of the Perseus constellation:

perseus-constellation

Aug 21 The Great American Eclipse: A total solar eclipse will be center attraction across the entire U.S. Refer to Mr. Eclipse listed in the event for Feb. 26 to find out how to watch it safely.

October 8 Draconid Meteor Shower:  The debris left behind by dust from comet 21 P/Giacobini-Zinner makes for a spectacular light show but only for certain lucky people who live in North America, Europe and Asia. The further south you go toward the equator, the less likely it is you will get to see any action. For the best opportunity, look toward the 2 brightest stars of the Draco the Dragon Constellation, Eltanin and Rastaban. If you can find the Little Dipper, Draco is close by. Take a look:

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October 20/21 Orionid Meteors:  Right on the heels of one fantastic meteor shower event is another. The Orionid meteors are blasting away throughout all of October but these two nights are the biggest shows. The best time to start watching is right after midnight. More dust from Halley’s Comet is making an encore appearance. Everyone in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere is invited to watch. It’s as easy as looking right overhead no matter where you are.

Nov 17/18 Leonid Meteor Shower:  If you want to have a chance at seeing light shows from burning space debris created by the Tempel-Tuttle Comet, this show promises about 20 meteors per hour.  People in both hemispheres can view the meteors starting around midnight on Nov. 17. No particular direction is better than another. Just get out of town, away from city lights. Pack a few sleeping bags so you can snuggle down in comfort and warmth, then lie on your back and enjoy the show.

Dec 3/4 Supermoon: End the year with a fabulous Supermoon. It will appear about 12-14% larger than normal. Being nearer the Earth will also mean the Moon will have a stronger tidal effect. If you have a chance, get to a beach and view three cool natural events, a Supermoon, amazing high tide and super-low neap tide. As the Supermoon pulls the tide further away from the beach than normal, there’s no telling what kind of treasure might be found!

The gringa hopes you are all excited about an interesting year ahead with cool space stuff to do every single month! Get out and enjoy the stars with someone you love! Pack a midnight picnic, disconnect from devices, lay back, relax and be patient. The show will begin in its own time!

Source:  www.timeanddate.com

Image Credits:  Fine Art America

CNN Philippines

www.timeanddate.com

www.space.com

Fall Of A Thousands Suns

Shmoop

aslc-nm.org

The Politics Of Saving Us


“Extreme space weather”… what the heck does that even mean? The gringa sees that President Obama has demanded that a plan be made in the event of “extreme space weather”. She is hoping this indicates that he takes very seriously the imminent threat that climate change poses. Is that what he’s talking about or is he worried about astronauts getting fried by extreme solar rays or blown to bits with gale force cosmic winds?

Specifically he is addressing the possibility of catastrophic solar flares that could destroy important infrastructure we humans rely on.  He wants a back-up plan for the nation’s electrical power grids, satellites, medical services and aviation industry. But he wants to do more than just protect the Americans he serves as president. He wants America’s plan to benefit the people of every other continent on Earth. And he’s not messing around. His demand was made through an executive order.

That means no messing about with Senate or House approval that could result in lengthy delays as legislators negotiate and jockey with power plays or, quite possibly, strike down any measure altogether. The gringa is perfectly OK with the president circumventing the legislative process with an issue so critical. You see, in this crazy system we call a democratic republic, at this moment in time we have a Democratic party President and a Republican party controlled legislature and we are less than a month away from electing what the gringa hopes will be another Democratic party president.

At a time like now, with climate change disasters real, one would think that everyone would be on board with doing the right thing and creating plans to save us all. Unfortunately, in politics, the number one priority for the Republican party is always power. They are more concerned with political strategies that will help them retain the power they have and create opportunity to gain more. If they allow any measure to pass that ends up being a good thing for the people of our nation, with a Democrat as president, his administration will get all the glory.

That is why practically every single bill that has been presented in Congress for the past four years has been defeated by power hungry Republicans who hold the voting majority. Even if the bill was something our nation desperately needed, Congress didn’t care. They would rather wait, hope for a new Republican president, and then pass all the good stuff so their party can get the pats on the back. But with an executive order President Obama has signaled that the security of humanity is more important than the Republican party’s desire for political gain. Thanks, prez.

His executive order implies cooperation between all government agencies, NASA, the media, academic organizations, and relevant organizations in the private and non-profit sector. As for insurance companies, they are not going to be able to give citizens a hard time if a rash of claims are filed after a solar flare related disaster. President Obama specifically mentioned the insurance industry as well.

We may be in for a wild ride. Who knows? The world hasn’t really seen anything like what happened in 1859 when the Carrington Event happened. The telegraph system of old failed throughout North America and Europe. All communication was temporarily cut off. So homeland security is testing devices and technologies that are hoped to protect the world’s communication systems and satellite networks so we can all encourage one another through a trying time and stay updated with just what the heck is going on.

Sources:

www.whitehouse.gov

www.newsweek.com

www.history.com

Image Credit:  earthsky.org

Stars Are Cool. No, Really, They Are


When the gringa’s dear readers think of a star, what do you think of? The Sun? Polaris? Alpha Centauri?  And what do you think would happen if you reached out to touch the Sun? You’d probably get vaporized, right? Well, depending on the star, not necessarily. In fact, if you touched the right star it might be a sensation more like when you roll over in bed and find the cool spot.

Brown dwarfs are cold stars. There are 14 that NASA believes are cool enough to touch. Cool! They are also the oldest stars in the Universe. I guess stars are kind of like people. Old folks with poor circulation are generally cold all the time. Stars get old and cold, too. Out of all the old, cold, brown dwarf stars in the Universe, it’s the Y-dwarfs that are even cooler than the average human’s body temperature. Y, you may ask. Well, the gringa will tell you why the Y is the way that it is.

Not only are they old but they are failures. Poor Y-dwarfs. They must have very low self-esteem. Perhaps that is why they don’t shine as brightly as other stars. They have grown old and are failures as stars. The gringa feels very sorry for the poor, little things.

Because their cores are not very dense they can’t fuse loads of atoms within. That means they don’t burn as hot and brightly as other stars. The gringa finds it very amusing that the denser a star is the brighter it is. It doesn’t seem to work that way in humans.

If Y-dwarfs are such failures at being stars, the gringa wonders if they should be considered stars at all. Do we have a Pluto prospect in the future? Just as Pluto got demoted from planet to dwarf planet, Y-dwarf stars may very well face the possibility of being re-classified. In the future scientists may decide they don’t meet all the guidelines of being a star. The gringa thinks this is a wonderful possibility for Y-dwarfs. Whereas poor Pluto suffered a demotion, the Y-dwarf could get better news. They could go from being failures as stars to being over-achievers for whatever it is they may become!

However, it may take astronomers quite some time to collect enough data in their studies. Their failure to shine bright like a diamond in the sky means it is difficult to view and study them. It’s practically impossible to study them at all with a telescope dependent on visible light. To take productive peeks at Y-dwarfs NASA had to construct an infrared telescope and mount it to an orbiting satellite. And that is why the Universe is wiser thanks to these cold, little star failures, because of Wide-field Infrared Survey Explore (WISE) that studies them in the heavens.

Source:  www.nasa.gov

Image Credit:  www.jpl.nasa.gov

 

Sun Worship


Earlier this month celestial lovers throughout south and central Africa got to enjoy a spectacular solar eclipse that produced a ring of fire as the Moon transversed across the pathway of the Sun. The peculiar occasions when the Earth, Moon and Sun all line up together doesn’t happen too often. Such a rare event has historically been linked with all sorts of predictions and paranormal expectations.

The funniest recording of a solar eclipse is, perhaps, also the earliest record. Occuring in October of the 2137 B.C., two royal astronomers, Ho and Hi, offended the fourth Emperor of China’s Hsia Dynasty,  Chung-K’ang. The eclipse was an unexpected event. The poor astronomers were unprepared to perform the customary rituals that should have taken place. The pair of official stargazers were drunk and failed to launch the traditional arrows and beat out the right rhythm on the gongs and drums so that the Sun could be delivered from the mythical beast that was attempting to devour it.

Convinced that chaos would soon consume the empire, the astronomers were summarily executed as an appeasement sacrifice for their drunken dereliction of duty.  A public record of their death was translated in 1839 by scholars to reveal an amusing verse indicating that, although brutal in enforcing their expectations, the ancient Chinese did have a sense of humor:

“Here lie the bodies of Ho and Hi,

Whose fate though sad was visible –

Being hanged because they could not spy

Th’ eclipse which was invisible.”

In November of the year 569 an eclipse was recorded before the birth of the Prophet Mohammad in 570. There are many religious historians who link this eclipse as the moment of Mohammad’s conception. Interestingly enough Mohammed’s son Ibrahim died at the age of two-years-old during the occurrence of a solar eclipse. Mohammed wrote of this event as a sign sent from his God, Allah, of personal condolences. Muslims today still consider eclipses significant religious events. When the recent eclipse occurred mosques throughout Africa had special calls to prayer for safety and deliverance from harm.

Perhaps the most significant solar eclipse in modern history is the one of May, 1919. Commonly called “Einstein’s Eclipse”, it is considered to be the solar eclipse that changed the universe. For more than 200 years scientists had accepted Isaac Newton’s principle that the space of the Universe was as inflexible as mathematical principles.  Einstein set out to challenge this longheld belief. Einstein believed gravity was curved and flexible, affected by the mass of planetary bodies. He proposed that warping of space allowed planets to remain in their orbital paths, gravity distorted by the mass of a celestial body, the greater the mass, the stronger the force, which would result in more bending of light. This was to become known as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

When the 1919 eclipse occurred, British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington led the charge for an experiment to take advantage of the expected eclipse. Eddington traveled to Principe which is in the Gulf of Guinea off of Africa’s western coastline. A horrible thunderstorm threatened to ruin Eddington’s chances but, fortunately, by afternoon the skies had cleared. Eddington’s celestial photographs and measurements were compared with photos and measurements recorded by Andrew  Crommelin at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The findings were announced by Britain’s Royal Society’s Astronomer Royal Sir Frank Watson Dyson. It was announced in London on November 6, 1919 that Newton’s theory had been disproven by Einstein’s new Theory of Relativity.

To make sure that you are ready for the next opportunity to view a solar eclipse, log on to www.timeanddate.com and keep a watch on the countdown clock for eclipses listed under their Sun & Moon tab. It seems we are only about 5 months away from the next big event.  There is a handy search window everyone can use to see if their city or country is going to be in the most fortunate position of being able to see the eclipse.

To view a solar eclipse it is important to wear protective eyewear. A homemade viewbox can also be created called a pinhole camera. All you need is a box with a small hole on one side for light to pass through and project an inverted image of the eclipse on the opposite side.  Below is a video with an example of how to make and use a homemade pinhole camera. One tip: The bigger the box the better the view.

 

 

Sources:

eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov

www.timeanddate.com

Image Credit: cherokeebillie.files.wordpress.com

 

NASA, Please Explain


Why hasn’t mankind been back to the Moon? Why do humans only travel as far as the International Space Station (ISS) and no further if Russia and the United States have already had successful Moon landing missions? These questions fuel the conspiracy fires that claim the Apollo Moon landing was a staged scene and never really happened. Regardless of a person’s position on this, what of Russia? If they made it to the Moon, why haven’t they been back either?

During the years of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, it was always a game of one-upmanship. Rather than flinging bombs at one another it was a bit of “Whatever you can do I can do better.” The space race was no exception.

In 1961 the Soviet Union took the lead in the space race when Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth and returned home, all in one piece. In response, U.S. President John F. Kennedy did not say, “Well done.” No, instead he threw down the gauntlet and swore that the U.S. would out-do the Soviet’s achievement. He declared that within a decade Americans would have a man on the Moon and back home safe and sound. Eight years later people around the world watched televised broadcasts of Neil Armstrong planting a U.S. flag on the surface of the Moon. Or did he?

What we know now compared to what we knew then may cast great doubt on the legitimacy of the Apollo mission. Accusations that film director Stanley Kubrick prepared a fake production staged with the latest technologies of 70s era filmdon may actually have credibility. Consider the most common criticisms that point to the film being a fake:

  • Wind mysteriously blowing a flag that should be in the vacuum of space.
  • Anomalous shadows cast in different directions which would indicate multiple sources of light.
  • No disturbance of lunar dust or the Moon’s surface from the landing of the space module.
  • What are the strange objects that are reflected at different times in the visors of the astronaut’s space helmet?
  • Where are all the stars that should be in the background?

Skeptics of conspiracy theories can argue away these questions. For years the gringa has been inclined to believe in the Moon landing as an event that really did happen. My reason being that, for one thing, think about how many people would have to be in on such a crazy secret for all of these decades. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but the gringa’s pretty certain that somewhere along the way, throughout all of these years, surely someone would have cracked.

Despite my confidence in NASA, however, the gringa must admit that by becoming informed about the Van Allen radiation belts, I may have to change my position. This may be the smoking gun that exposes how the entire world has been duped. The U.S., desperate to remain relevant and seen as the most powerful nation, outperforming its most aggressive global competitor, may have gone so far as to stage the most incredible hoax of all time.

You see, the Van Allen radiation belts surround the Earth. Consider these belts to be an enormous layered donut and the Earth the donut hole. They radiate outward as far as 36,000 miles depending on whether they are expanding or contracting. The innermost ring generally spans from 400-6,000 miles above the surface of the Earth. The outer belt stretches generally from about 8,400-36,000 miles above Earth. The ISS is safely tucked into orbit at a mere 230 miles from the Earth’s surface in what is called a Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Orbiting between the two belts is a GPS satellite set 12,500 miles away, just inside the innermost rim of the outermost belt, where radiation levels fluctuate according to waxing and waning cycles. Just within the outermost layer of the outermost belt is NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in geosynchronous orbit at 22,000 miles away studying the mess solar radiation makes from time to time.

In addition to the Van Allen radiation belts is the problem of a cloud of cool, charged particles which envelopes most of Earth’s outer atmosphere. Its nearest edge is about 600 miles from the surface of the Earth and extends outward and stops just inside the outermost edge of the furthest Van Allen belt. Scientists call this cloud the plasmasphere. It seems to cause particles in the outer belt to scatter. As the electrons scatter they create a loop which becomes a well defined belt. The plasmasphere is responsible for creating and maintaining the belts. When a powerful solar event occurs, such as a solar flare, some of the belts’ electrons can be forced by these extreme conditions into the space void between the belt layers, thus creating the waxing and waning effect of the belts.

The craziness of this relationship boggles the gringa’s mind. Think about it. The electrons are prevented by Earth’s magnetic field from penetrating all the way to Earth and frying all of us Earthlings. However, they also do not have enough energy to escape and dissipate into outer space. Thus they are trapped in this belt system which results in a protective barrier that traps dangerous radioactive solar radiation so that we don’t all get fried. Without the belts we fry. Without the plasmosphere we fry. Without the magnetosphere we fry. And if we hang out in any of these Earth preserving regions for any length of time we fry. Is that not the most amazing irony? That which preserves us can also kill us.

Considering that the Moon is 238,900 miles from the Earth, these dangerous, radioactive belts must have been navigated safely with the technology available in 1969. The only other option would have been to “thread the needle”, so to speak, by using a trajectory that would have allowed astronauts to travel through a narrow window of space that would have avoided the highest concentrations of radiation within the belts.

If this path had been successfully traveled in 1969, and adequate shielding technology existed, why is the danger posed by the Van Allen belts considered to be the main obstacle and unsolved problem preventing a consecutive Moon landing today? The gringa suspects the answer may lie in the fact that there really was no successful 1969 Moon landing to begin with.

Here are the words and quotes NASA uses to describe the Van Allen belts today:

  • 2 donuts of seething radiation.
  • Impenetrable barrier.
  • Wax and wane.
  • Expose satellites in low-Earth orbit to damaging radiation.

So what did NASA do to deal with the dangers of the Van Allen belts? Did they come up with a competent strategy and deliver the real deal with a man on the Moon or did they scam the entire world?

Newly discovered in 1958 by scientist James Van Allen, not much was known about them two years later when the first solution was offered up. In 1960 Robert O. Piland and Stanley C. White told NASA that hoping to shield astronauts effectively from the radiation was impractical. They did believe they could provide moderate protection and a safe enough route that would enable astronauts to not fry as they passed through the outer belt.

NASA got to work with a Group On Trajectory Analysis. Van Allen, himself, suggested that by detonating a nuclear warhead the crew could clear a path of travel. The gringa can only say, “Thank goodness NASA didn’t do that!” However, the defense industry in the US really mucked things up by nuclear testing which only increased the intensity of the radiation levels in the belts.

In 1964 NASA officials were confident that with the right skin on the spacecraft, a layer of protection provided by instrumentation, and the right trajectory, the risk was nominal to the crew. Equipped with dosimeters to record radiation exposure, the gringa is puzzled over the final results as reported by NASA. The agency reports that over the course of all the Lunar missions, astronauts were only exposed to radiation levels that were actually lower than the 5 rem a person working in a nuclear power plant would be exposed to annually. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission claims that the average American is exposed to a radiation dose of about 0.62 rem annually. A full body CAT scan delivers a radiation dose of 1 rem. So any human going through some rather routine medical procedures can easily reach the same radiation exposure levels as what NASA reported in the Apollo Moon landing crew.

ISS astronauts deal with radiation issues daily. It took the gringa quite a bit of head scratching and calculating to discover how ISS astronaut radiation levels compare to the astronauts of the Apollo Moon missions. They use a different measurement, the SI system. Maybe, if there is a conspiracy, this is by design to confuse amateur sleuths like myself. Anyway, I digress.

Basically one mSv is the equivalent dose of radiation an average person would be exposed to on Earth in one year’s time. Astronauts on the ISS are exposed to 1 mSv daily! This exposure takes place well outside the Van Allen belts in a space station constructed with the latest technology in radiation shielding and manned by personnel equipped with the safest space suit equipment available. How, then, could minimally protected astronauts pass through highly radioactive belts not just once, but twice, and not be ravaged with radiation? If ISS astronauts report a daily radiation exposure equivalent to a year’s worth of radiation back home and are not in the belts themselves, how in the world is the public supposed to believe that the Apollo astronauts were only exposed to the amount of radiation a person would absorb if they had 4-5 full-body CAT scans?

The  gringa has become incredibly skeptical. The gringa is going to be hopping mad if she discovers hard evidence that proves we have all been had. NASA, please explain.

Sources:

www.nasa.gov

www.nrc.gov

www.popsci.com

www.mun.ca

www.newscientist.com

www.windows2universe.org

Image Credit: www.wakingtimes.com

Launch Your Own Spacecraft


One wouldn’t usually think that a rock-n-roll music producer would be synonymous with space flight, but think again, dear readers. If you haven’t heard of Thirdman Records before, please let the gringa educate you on how this music production company deserves a place at the space traveling table and how you can earn a seat yourself. It’s all because of Icarus.

No, not the imprisoned Icarus of Greek mythology who escaped with his father using wax wings to fly skyward but then plummeted to his death after flying too near the Sun. The Icarus creation of Thirdman Records fared much better in its space travels. Celebrating their 7th Anniversary, the record company made music and space history by launching a specially designed turntable into space that was tethered to a spaceflight worthy balloon. Installed upon the turntable on a play loop was the company’s three millionth record, the recording “A Glorious Dawn” by Carl Sagan from composer John Boswell’s “Cosmos”.

Icarus made a successful journey that reached a peak altitude of nearly 95,000 feet above the earth and traveled for almost an hour and a half. As it reached the pinnacle of its flight the balloon burst and Icarus began its descent, controlled by parachute. The record played faithfully throughout the smooth ascension. Descent triggered Icarus to enter “turbulence mode” which raised the needle from the vinyl but the record continued to spin. When the entire space vehicle was recovered after setting down in a vineyard, the record, amazingly, was still spinning, a testament to sound design.

Now, record producers are not necessarily spaceship engineers. To achieve this mission, Thirdman friend and electronics consultant, Kevin Carrico, collaborated with SATINS (Students and Teachers in Near Space). The team needed to create a design that would not only operate successfully in a near space environment, but would also meet government standards established by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and FCC (Federal Communications Commission), whose approval is required in order to launch any space vehicle.

The design had to take into account that rising altitudes, a thinning atmosphere, temperature fluctuations and the vacuum of space would all be variables affecting the integrity of a vinyl record. It can melt or distort if it gets too hot or exposed to the Sun for too long. Temperature fluctuations create expansion and contraction which could render the record unplayable. As Icarus traveled in direct sunlight, the team designed the turntable so that it would cool the record as it played. To prevent distortion due to temperature fluctuations, the grooves of the vinyl were plated with gold.

From the moment the artists of Thirdman Records conceived of this ingenious anniversary event, it took three years of research and development to finally be ready by launch day. Carrico credits the project’s success to his father, Dr. John P. Carrico, PhD., a physicist who worked on NASA’s Mars-Viking missions. The gringa can fully appreciate how a father like that would inspire space dreams of epic proportions.

Anyone with the same kind of dreams can create their own work of art that they can launch into the heavens as a gift to any alien species that might happen upon it. Contact the FAA and FCC about their rules and guidelines regarding unmanned aircraft systems. Design your space vehicle to meet their guidelines then get approval for launch! Don’t forget to let the gringa know your launch date! I already approve!

Sources:

thirdmanrecords.com

www.faa.gov

www.fcc.gov

Image Source:  astrologyking.com

So Where Are All Those ETs?


Fermi’s Paradox is a theory named after Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) who, during lunch with a fellow scientist, posed a question kind of like this, “Where the heck are the aliens if they are supposed to exist?” The premise of his theory goes something like this:

  • Billions of stars similar to our Sun exist with many of them billions of years older than our own planet.
  • It is highly probable that some of these stars would be orbited by Earth-like planets with conditions that could lead to the development of intelligent life.
  • If intelligent life developed on these older “Earths” their respective civilizations might have developed interstellar travel and have already begun investigating Earth.

Combine all these facts and you come up with the conclusion that Earth should have already been visited by ETs. So, like Fermi said, “Where is everybody?” Despite mankind’s best efforts Fermi could not find any credible evidence of alien visitation. The conclusion then must become that the existence of intelligent life is:

  • Extremely rare, or…
  • Alien intelligent civilizations have not contacted Earth.

In 1961 a scientist by the name of Frank Drake took Fermi’s 1950 theory and applied a mathematical formula to the probabilities. It is called the “Drake Equation”. The formula is expressed as:

N = R* · fp  · ne · fl  · fi  · fc · L

The variables are defined as follows:

N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.

R* = The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.

fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.

ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.

fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.

fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.

fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.

L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

But what does the formula mean to scientists? Well, that depends on who you talk to. Some scientists translate the results to be wildly optimistic that there is, indeed, intelligent life out there. Others feel quite the opposite. When Frank Drake met with Carl Sagan to speculate on the calculations, they estimated the existence of 1,000 (on the low end) to 100 million (on the high end) possible intelligent civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy. To counter their claims, scientists Frank Tipler and John D. Barrow put forth that the average number of intelligent life civilizations in our galaxy would be much less than one. Seeing as how human civilization exists, that would consequently, then, rule out the possibility of any other intelligent civilization existing at the same time.

The Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) sees the Fermi’s paradox and accepts the reality that either interpretation of the possibility of the existence of intelligence life has a chance of being true. Thus, they continue their efforts, erring on the side of optimism. And the gringa likes that. Why not hold out hope? Why not be curious? And why not exercise such curiosity with a healthy dose of skepticism to balance out the equation and prevent a full-scale pre-disposition to crazy alien conspiracy theory by maintaining strict scientific standards?

SETI continues exploration and research as they search for others out there in the galaxy. They believe in the possibility that if a suitable environment was allowed enough time, that it is possible for intelligent life to develop. By using all sorts of science and technology (satellite arrays, chemistry, optical telescopes, and sophisticated radio signaling devices) SETI not only searches for signals from other civilizations but reaches out with messages of our own to anyone who may be listening. And with their Education and Public Outreach program (EPO), humans of all ages and walks of life can be a part of their endeavor. For educators there is nothing more exciting than to introduce to a classroom of elementary and middle school students SETI’s “Life in the Universe” curriculum. So log on and order your first package today and get students engaged with a lesson plan that is certain to pique their curiosity and hopefully inspire them to be the future of our world’s STEM programs, because we need them.

Sources:

www.seti.org

www.yahoo.news

wikipedia.org

Image Credit:  bing.net

 

 

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