Who’s In For A 2-Month Long, Melanoma-Free Day?

As researchers plot their space plans to discover where possibilities lie for a home planet like Earth, that might even be supporting our ancestors, where are they looking? MIT astronomers comprising an international team in Belgium are plotting for a search about 40 light years away. That means if we don’t want a spaceship to arrive with astronauts dead of old age or perhaps affected by age-related dementia, we have to send astronauts in the age group of 20s-40s to manage the forty year flight mission. It may take another decade or two for space agencies to have the ability to travel that far so elementary and middle school children of today are the astronauts of tomorrow that may be slated for just such a mission.

Beyond our solar system is the best bet for finding life like our own, or at least a few planets like ours. An MIT team has discovered three planets that orbit a dwarf star about 40 light years away. Their sizes are about the same as Earth or Venus. The telescope the astronomy used to locate them is the TRAPPIST telescope located in Chile. This telescope is designed to specifically focus on a cluster of dwarf stars, 60 in number.  Belgian scientists created TRAPPIST to study the infrared wavelengths of dwarf stars and the planets surrounding them.

The scientist’s favorite dwarf star is an ultracool (as in thermally ultracool, not socially hip) star about the size of Jupiter and much cooler than our own sun. Beginning a period of observation in September, 2015, the astronomy team observed regular intervals of fading in the infrared signature of the star. They theorized that planets were passing in front of the star causing this to occur.

The team turned their attention to the time to expect a light fade event and discovered that there were, indeed, planets orbiting the star. The two nearest planets were similar in size to our own Earth and Venus. The closest planet that has everyone’s attention is named 2MASS J23062928-0502285, commonly called TRAPPIST-1. The two planets have orbit cycles, respectively, of 1.5 of our own days and 2.4 days. The amount of radiation they absorb from their star is significantly more than what we deal with. The closest one receives about four times the radiation we get and the next one about two times the amount. So, if there is any life there it would have to have evolved with natural radiation tolerance.

The third planet in distance from the star has an unknown orbit cycle. The scientists’ best guess so far is that it could be anywhere from four to 73 days but would receive significantly less radiation. I guess that’s good news. If we need to relocate I suppose we could deal with a four-day long day or even a two-month long day and not have to worry about skin cancer.

When the team analyzes the size of the planets in relation to the star, and take into account their proximity to their sun, they believe that life could be sustainable. They calculate that there could be areas with a temperature range less than 400 kelvins. That converts to about 260 degrees Fahrenheit or 127 degrees Celsius. Not exactly a tropical paradise but conditions where liquid water and organic life could survive.

The next step is to study the atmospheric conditions of the planets to see what their atmospheres are composed of. What kind of gases? Is there breathable oxygen? And they believe that within their own working career’s lifetime they will be able to determine if these planets are inhabited with life of some kind, say the next ten years or so.

This is a breakthrough in science. Traditionally scientists have studied bright solar stars like our own. By taking a risk and searching for a cool dwarf star, this MIT group has hit paydirt with the find of a lifetime. To accomplish their task they had to design a whole new set of instruments specialized to detect the radiation emitted by cold dwarf stars and only visible through an infrared telescope. The whole field of detecting other worlds changed simply by changing the wavelength humans were viewing the galaxy with. Perspective is everything.

Source: news.mit.edu

Image Credit: http://www.storify.com


Operation Highjump – Not The Launch of a Dark Ops Space Program

Certain conspiracy theorists (CTs) have put forth that there is a dark ops space program called Dark Fleet that is an offshoot of technology and goals that originated with secret societies that organized during the heyday of Nazi Germany. The members of these organizations were not so much devoted Nazis but, rather, exploited the resources and power of the Nazi party in order to realize their fantastical dream of reuniting with a superpower, extra-terrestrial, master race.

After the Nazi empire crumbled when they lost World War II, many of the members of the secret societies relocated to other countries and kept their dreams and research alive, supposedly developing advanced weapons and spacecraft technology. As proof, CTs offer up the records of Admiral Byrd’s expeditions to the North and South Poles. The gringa says, “Well, let’s take a look at those records.”

There is a wealth of information about Admiral Byrd but the gringa wants to stick with facts and eyewitness accounts. To begin with, a look at official military records. Is there anything interesting there? Hmmm. Let us see…

From 1946-1947 the U.S. Navy had Operation Highjump underway. This operation was overseen by the U.S. Navy Antarctic Developments Program. Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr. was Officer in Charge, leading Task Force 68, and Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen was commanding officer. When these two admirals put to sea, they were joined by 4,700 seamen and airmen, 13 military ships, and 33 military aircraft. To achieve the goal of establishing a research base, Little America IV, it sounds like an awful lot of firepower was put into play, but, that’s just the gringa’s curious little mind in overdrive. It could have been perfectly normal to pack all that weaponry on an Antarctic excursion.

The published objectives of the mission were:

  • Personnel training and equipment testing in subzero temperatures
  • Evaluate how to establish, maintain and utilize Antarctic military bases and scout sites
  • Develop techniques for creating, maintaining and using military bases in ice
  • Make new discoveries of the following Antarctic conditions: electromagnetics, geological, geographic, hydrographic, and meteorological

Up until this time it was primarily the British who had spent time exploring Antarctica with eleven expeditions from 1898-1945. Other countries who had explored the earth’s South Pole region: France (2 missions); Germany (3) missions; Belgium, Japan, Norway, and Sweden (all a single mission). Operation High Jump was the second U.S. mission, following the conclusion of Byrd’s initial exploratory expedition four years earlier.

The fleet of ships arrived in the Antarctic December 12, 1946 and immediately set up weather monitoring stations. Within 12 days of arrival aircraft was in the air flying reconnaissance missions. Some of the ships that were in the flotilla:

  • Henderson – Destroyer class, commissioned in 1945 and served with distinction for 35 years receiving (8) battle stars for service in the Korean War and (7) battle stars and a commendation for service in the Vietnam War; armament at the time of Operation Highjump: (6) 5” guns, (12) 40mm anti-aircraft (AA) guns; (11) 20mm AA guns; (10) 21” torpedo tubes
  • Cacapon – Cimarron class fleet oiler; commissioned 1943, decommissioned 1973 and scrapped; armament: (1) 5” gun; (4) 3” guns; (4) twin 40mm AA guns; (4) twin 20mm AA guns
  • Currituck – Currituck class seaplane tender, nicknamed “Wild Goose”; commissioned June 1944, decommissioned October 31 1967, scrapped 1971; armament: (4) 5” guns

Eighteen days after arrival (3) men were killed when their plane crashed during a blizzard. Six crewmen survived the crash and were rescued two weeks later. The remains of the plane and the three lost airmen have never been recovered. The aircraft they were flying was a Martin PBM Mariner. This craft is a patrol bomber flying boat. Standard armament for the Mariners were: (8) 50” machine guns, 2 tons of bombs or depth charges or (2) Mark 13 torpedoes. The gringa can only ask why a bomber would be needed in an exploratory, scientific expedition in Antarctica?

An interesting thing to note is that there was a Navy chaplain serving on the mission. He held a religious service and consecrated Antarctica. The gringa scratches her head and wonders if this is typical or strange? I’m no Catholic so I wouldn’t know.

New Year’s Day, 1947, American dive team began exploring underneath Antarctic ice shelves. The gringa supposes this may have been related to search efforts to locate the downed bomber. No big mystery there.

Two weeks later an airfield was constructed and named “Little America IV”. Within a month, late February, weather conditions worsened and the expedition was terminated. The return trip home would have the expedition making a stop in March along the South American coast. Admiral Byrd gave interviews and a Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio, reported. The most interesting quote the gringa will share is often cited by CTs to prove that something dark was afoot underneath the ice:

“… Byrd warned today that the United States should adopt measures of protection against the possibility of an invasion of the country by hostile planes coming from the polar regions.”

Now, was Byrd’s warning because he thought something sinister was going on secretly at either the North or South Pole? No. That’s not what his warning was about. CTs take that important quote out of context. They don’t usually reveal the rest of the interview which explains Byrd’s reasoning.

He recognized that technology meant the world was shrinking. America was no longer safe from enemy invasion because of isolation and distance. It was well within the capabilities of other nations to fly from one side of the globe, passing over either pole, and reach the U.S. Byrd was not fearful of a threat from an extra-terrestrial master race living within the earth and Antarctica being its headquarters.

So why all the firepower on an exploratory mission? It was right after World War II. The U.S. had already experienced the surprise air assault of Pearl Harbor. The militaries of the Allied Powers knew that Germany had been developing new weapons and technologies. The Navy had no idea what to expect and was taking no chances. The gringa says, “I don’t blame them.” So, no big suspicious, nefarious plot behind packing all the big guns on an expedition to Antarctica.

Just a few of the vessels that comprised the fleet’s complement:

  • Sikorsky R-4 helicopter
  • (2) Coastguard icebreakers
  • US Navy icebreaker
  • (2) Seaplane Tenders
  • (2) Destroyers
  • (2) Tankers
  • Battleship
  • (2) Supply ships
  • Submarine
  • Aircraft carrier (Byrd’s ship)

The gringa thinks that the main reason behind U.S. interest in Antarctica at that time is the same ol’, same ol’ imperialistic territory seeking mentality that has motivated the country’s interest throughout history. Great Britain had spent a lot of time in Antarctica. They also created all sorts of problems over the Falkland Islands. When the U.S. decided to stick their big nose in and establish a military base in Antarctica most of Latin America was none too happy about it.

The Cold War was getting under way and Russia was perfectly suited to wage war in the bitter conditions of a European winter. Americans? Not so much. So, according to official records the expedition to Antarctica was absolutely about military strategy. Not about little green men living under the ice. But, then, there’s Admiral Byrd’s personal diaries. What do they say? Well, come back and see what the gringa finds out!

Sources: Wikipedia and http://www.navy.mil

Photo credit: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz



Space For Europe IS the ESA

With ESA Astronaut Tim Peake performing a spacewalk this week on the International Space Station, the gringa thinks it’s only fitting to turn the limelight toward Europe’s space agency and their long history of achievement. The European Space Agency (ESA) is to Europe what NASA is to the United States, JAXA is to Japan and Rocosmos is to Russia. ESA is comprised of 22 member states who collaborate with their financial resources and intellectual talents to provide a gateway to the stars for all of Europe. Members are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia all make their own contributions as well through contractual agreements of cooperation.

The goals of the ESA are to discover more about Earth and its surrounding Solar System, as well as the entire Universe. These goals are met while at the same time promoting development of European technologies and sharing these with the world’s other space agencies.

Paris is the location of ESA headquarters. Germany is where ESA’s Astronaut Centre and Space Operations Centre are located. Astronomy Centres are found in Canada and Spain with the Earth Observation centre in Italy. The UK houses the centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications and launch bases are scattered throughout Belgium, the U.S.A., Russia and French Guiana. It can be rather dizzying with all of these operational centres spread all over the world. So, to keep things simple, because the gringa likes simple, for more information about ESA, simply go to their website, www.esa.int, or drop them a line or pick up the phone:

Communication Department
European Space Agency
8-10 rue Mario Nikis
75738 Paris
Cedex 15

Tel: + 33 1 5369 7155
Fax: + 33 1 5369 7690

ESA desires to explore space for peaceful purposes. While doing this it wants Europeans to benefit economic growth from the support services required to travel to the stars. Since its conception over thirty years ago, ESA has focused on long-term goals that are adaptable to a world that changes rapidly. The gringa wishes to highlight just a smattering of successful ESA missions:

  • ESRO-4, 1972: The ESRO-4 (European Space Research Organisation) satellite carried five experiments concentrating on Earth’s ionosphere, atmosphere, radiation belts and penetration of solar particle radiation into the magnetosphere. It was launched on 22 November 1972, on a NASA Scout rocket from the Western Test Range in California, and reentered Earth’s atmosphere after a successful mission on 15 April 1974.
  • 1977-2002 Mission Meteosat: launched multiple weather satellites
  • 1979 Mission Ariane: first launch of commercial launcher to secure Europe’s independent space access
  • 1983 Mission Spacelab: launched laboratory module for NASA’s Space Shuttle
  • 1985 Mission Giotto: intercept of Halley’s Comet and Comet Grigg-Skjellerup
  • 1990 Mission Hubble Space Telescope: ESA contribution of solar arrays and Faint Object Camera for Hubble Space Telescope
  • 1998 Mission ARD: launch of first European experimental re-entry vehicle
  • 2003 Mission Mars Express: launch of Europe’s first Red Planet orbiter
  • 2005 Mission Venus Express: launch of Europe’s first Venus orbiter
  • 2008-2012 Mission ATV: launch space truck for ISS re-supply
  • 2015 Mission Lisa Pathfinder: launch of technology to detect gravitational waves

Which brings the gringa to the current ESA Mission, “Principia”.  This six month mission is named after Isaac Newton’s book on physics, “Naturalis Principia Mathematica”. Peake’s mission objectives are to maintain the weightless research laboratory, conduct over thirty scientific experiments, and perform a spacewalk with fellow crewman Astronaut Tim Kopra, working together to replace a Solar Shunt Unit.

Preparing for the spacewalk involves breathing pure oxygen for two hours (to purge nitrogen) before embarking. Once spacesuits are donned, the astronauts enter an airlock where air pressure is gradually reduced until they can safely exit the ISS.

Upon successful completion of Mission Principia, ESA will then turn its attention and efforts to the next scheduled mission, Mission Exomars. Later on this year ESA will launch a Mars orbiter, rover and surface platform to the Red Planet. The gringa is so excited! To Mars! To Mars!


Source and Photo Credit:  www.esa.int