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

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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

 

August Astronomy


Space fans should get their binoculars and telescopes dusted off for August. There will be lots to see with the aid of machine or the trusty naked eye. The gringa will share a cosmic calendar for the month ahead so everyone schedule their dinners and bedtimes accordingly if you want to enjoy some breathtaking galactic events rather than hunker down for digital entertainment indoors.

August 2 – New Moon:  Without the interference of moonlight this is the perfect night to explore other galaxies and nearby star clusters who will be shining in all their glory with no competition from our little satellite.

August 11,12 – Perseids Meteor Shower: At its peak, this little baby (pictured above) has the potential to create up to 60 meteors per hour (gives a whole new meaning to MPH). We can all thank comet Swift-Tuttle for this fantastic light show. Discovered in 1862. it has consistently provided entertainment for Earthlings through July and August. The event will peak on these two days in August. The best time to watch is right after the moon sets around midnight. Or, for those early to bed and early to rise, a pre-dawn show is also prime time for Perseids observation.

August 16 – Mercury:  This is the best time to view Mercury as it reaches it greatest eastern elongation from the Sun. Look for it in the evening sky at the highest point of the horizon or at a low point in the western sky just after sunset.

August 18 – Full Moon:  This is the best time to get a great look at our pockmarked neighbor. Full illumination will occur between 9-10pm  UTC. A bit of full Moon trivia: some Native American tribes call the full Moon a Full Sturgeon Moon because these nights are the best times to catch this type of fish that populates the Great Lakes. Other tribes also called the full Moon the Green Corn Moon or the Grain Moon.

August 27 – Venus & Jupiter:  These two planets are going to join together in close proximity for a spectacular opportunity to see them both. Look for them in the western sky soon after sunset.  They will be shining very brightly and close together.

Source: www.seasky.org

Image Credit: nasa.gov

 

The Truth About Tabby


UFO and alien conspiracy theory buffs are going to enjoy this post by the gringa, or not. I guess it depends on if you enjoy a healthy dose of conspiracy debunking or truth. You see, dear readers, there has been a bit of hubbub about an interesting space object that is orbiting a nearby star and was detected by the Kepler telescope late last year.

The SETI Institute (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) calls KIC 8462852 “mysterious”. NASA believes the mystery is resolved with the theory that the strange signals are the result of cosmic dust, probably from multiple impacts of a comet swarm, and causes the star’s light to flicker erratically. Vanderbilt University researchers, who affectionately call the star Tabby, debunk theories by those who believe it to be home of aliens who are very, very busy. The astrophysicist contributors to the respectable Astrophysical Journal agree with Vanderbilt’s point of view while at the same time agreeing with theories from other scientists who propose an extraterrestrial origin theory. So, who’s got it right? Who’s got it wrong? Just what the heck is the truth about Tabby?

Who Is Tabby

Tabby is officially designated star KIC 8462852 and shines brighter than our own Sun about 1400 light years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation. It is a subject of study by NASA’s Kepler space telescope which reveals that from time to time it dims about twenty percent in brightness.

SETI’s Conclusion

The cause of the dimming light could possibly be because of material or objects orbiting the star. SETI researchers believe they have evidence to determine that these objects are not planets. SETI considers the possibility that Tabby could be home to a technologically sophisticated society that has constructed a swarm of solar panels that orbit the star which would account for the light fluctuations.

SETI uses its own Allen Telescope Array to study radio signals that originate from that part of outer space. They attest that these radio signals are of artificial origin, calling them “non-natural”. They search for narrow-band signals and broadband that might possibly be produced by a large and powerful spacecraft. They also search for evidence of laser pulses. SETI’s Panamanian partner, Boquete Optical SETI Observatory, performs the laser pulse research.

Research such as this takes a long time so the gringa will have to practice patience for SETI to conclude their studies and publish their final results. They admit that, historically, cases like this usually result in finding a natural cause for the anomalies but they still must investigate the possibility of it originating from extraterrestrial intelligence. That is, after all, their mission.

NASA’s Conclusion

During four years of observation, the Kepler mission recorded strange happenings in 2011 and 2013 when interesting and dramatic light fluctuations occurred. To help determine what happened, NASA also trained the eye of the Spitzer Space Telescope in Tabby’s direction. Kepler observed the visible light. Spitzer could delve deeper into the invisible infrared light signals and patterns. In November of last year Spitzer paid off with a recording of another light fluctuation.

Although NASA’s theory is that clouds of space dust were formed from a swarm of comets that orbit the star in erratic patterns, Spitzer did not discover evidence to support this theory. This caused NASA to switch to a cold comet theory. One lead comet would be followed by a swarm of smaller comets. If this is true, even if the comets were already out of the telescope’s view as they traveled around Tabby, they should still leave behind a detectable infrared signature. However, this was not the case.

Researchers admit that more observations need to be recorded to determine just exactly what is going on. NASA admits that Tabby is strange, indeed. However, they believe that a natural cause is more likely than “little green men”.

Vanderbilt University’s Conclusion

Vanderbilt studies focused on the 100 day period when the most significant light fluctuations occurred. The manner in which they occurred suggested that a large number of “irregularly shaped objects” passed in front of the star causing its light to be blocked temporarily. Working off a report from an astronomer at Louisiana State University who concluded that the star had diminished in brightness by 20 percent over the past century, Vanderbilt finds a natural cause unlikely as an explanation for this. This has become fodder for the theory that a megastructure has been constructed that is absorbing the star’s energy, the solar panel array theory. This is a theory that was reviewed, accepted and published by the Astrophysical Journal.

Vanderbilt, however, did not stop there. They soldiered on. Partnering with amateur German astronomer, Michael Hippke and NASA scientist Daniel Angerhausen, the team began comparing the 20 percent drop in intensity to other stars. They discovered that this is not an unusual phenomenon. In fact, it’s not a star phenomenon at all. It is simply the result of technological changes and advances of human manufactured instrumentation for observance.

The Gringa’s Conclusion

These are all interesting theories but not yet solid answers. So, the gringa will wait and see if, ten or twenty years down the road, we all find out what the actual, final answer is:

  • Comet Swarms

or

  • Extraterrestrial Solar Array

Until then, Tabby will be the most interesting and mysterious star in our night sky.

Sources:

www.seti.org

www.nasa.gov

vanderbilt.edu

Image Credit:  www.centauri-dreams.org

 

HoHoHo – Earth’s Playful Companion


Some astronomy, space and science enthusiasts are claiming that NASA has reported the discovery of a second moon for Earth. Before the gringa’s dear readers get all jittery with excitement and embarrass yourself at a social occasion by repeating this bit of  information that is actually a sensationalized truth, let me set the record straight.

First of all, the cosmic object we are talking about is an asteroid called 2016 HO3 . The gringa affectionately refers to this asteroid as HoHoHo. Although it does, indeed, circle our planet while traveling it’s orbit, it lacks certain criteria that would actually define it as a satellite, or, moon. Consider the official definitions for a natural satellite, quasi-satellite, asteroid and moon:

Asteroid:  A small, rocky body that orbits the sun.

Moon:  (where the Earth is concerned) – the natural satellite of the Earth.

Natural Satellite:  An object that revolves around a planet.

Quasi-Satellite:  A celestial object that seems to revolve around a planet but really doesn’t or only partially revolves around the planet.

The common thread between the three definitions is orbiting a planet or the Sun. HoHoHo only seems to circle the Earth so it is really a quasi-satellite and not a second moon. It’s a planetary companion, a cosmic friend, a galactic fellow traveler who passes by periodically. Earth and HoHoHo both orbit the Sun and HoHoHo has been our planet’s reliable companion for nearly a century.

Earth once had another friend like HoHoHo but that relationship broke up more than a decade ago. Asteroid 2003 YN107 (I call it Whiney), followed us around for a few years but Earth did not have a strong enough influence. I suppose Whiney was a bit strong-willed and broke free from Earth, going its own way.

However, HoHoHo may find Earth irresistible because, not only has it remained a faithful cosmic friend for over a century, astronomers expect the relationship to continue for hundreds of more years. HoHoHo enjoys a good bit of “me” time, though, spending about half of its time closer to the Sun than Earth. HoHoHo also gets a bit unsteady on its feet, bobbing up and down in its orbit path. This happens because, as it lags behind Earth when it gets closer to the Sun, Earth’s gravitational affect on the asteroid changes. This causes HoHoHo to seem to have a playful personality. When astronomers plot the asteroid’s orbit path, speed changes, tilts and bobs, it looks as if it is playing leapfrog with Earth.

HoHoHo was first spotted by stargazers April 27, 2016 by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii. Astronomers estimate that HoHoHo’s size is between 120-300 feet (40-100 meters). Amateur stargazers can visit NASA’s online near-earth-object (NEO) resource, the Center for NEO Studies,  to find a list of dates and times to anticipate an approach by HoHoHo, as well as other cosmic passersby, to plan your own sighting if you have access to a telescope. Backyard astronomers can also stay up-to-date with cosmic objects to watch by following  Asteroid Watch  on Twitter.

So, even though the thought of a second moon is titillating, the real story is just as interesting. Keep looking to the stars. Who knows what might show up next?!

Sources:

www.nasa.gov

www.collective-evolution.com

Image Credit: www.sciencenews.org

 

 

 

 

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