An Order Of Milky Way Sunny Side Up

What has the gringa shared so far about what she knows regarding dark matter?

“There is no physical evidence that it exists, only a theory based on a mathematical formula to explain phenomena detected by gravitational lensing that suggests that objects with mass exist as determined by gravitational effects on visible celestial bodies yet the matter causing the gravitational effect cannot be seen by the naked eye.”

Until now. Kinda sort of.

Scientists estimate that about 25% of our universe consists of dark matter. That’s quite a bit of stuff out there that we have no idea, really, where it is, what it’s purpose is, what it’s doing, or what it looks like.
Some scientists believe that there are dark matter superstructures that act as connective tissue between galaxies. The gringa wonders if that means that the universe can get arthritis? But I digress. Back to the real stuff. Does this composite image prove the connective tissue theory to be true? Do we now know where dark matter exists and what its purpose is?

Since dark matter is kind of like a space ghost, neither reflecting or absorbing light, it’s impossible to see it. Maybe. Scientists may have devised a means to create an image using the same technology for detecting it: gravitational lensing.

This new discovery may be dark matter’s incognito existence Waterloo, literally. You see, it’s a former grad student from Canada’s University of Waterloo who has developed the technique to create an image of dark matter. As gravitational lensing displays the warping effect of dark matter on distant galaxies, images from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope captures images while it surveys the skies. From these images 23,000 pairs of galaxies were selected to create a composite image of dark matter.

In the feature image you see the white circles that represent two galaxies. You see all that red stuff surrounding them? Yep. That’s the connective tissue of dark matter. So, basically the Milky Way is like an egg yolk with a partner galaxy connected to it by dark matter. Next time you order a breakfast of 2 eggs sunny side up, just think of the great cosmic breakfast entrée where you live.

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Video Credit: United News International


Then BANG… Another Universe!

It’s not uncommon for people to wonder if humanity is alone in the vast Universe. But too often we are thinking of the here and now, wondering if an advanced space alien civilization is making contact with us. Or we are looking forward to a future where we might be able to discover another advanced civilization in the farthest reaches of outer space. But what about eons in the past? Isn’t it a bit egotistical to think that our Universe is the only one that ever existed?

For Americans, this assumption is probably rooted in Judeo-Christian teachings that have long held that mankind is the only creation of their god. But if you take the limitations of religion out of the picture and only consider the Universe from a scientific perspective, the first thing the gringa realizes is that not only could mankind be one of any number of species right now, but there may have been any number of other species’ that have lived before us. New models of the cosmos support that even other universes could have existed before ours.

Scientists estimate our own universe is more than 13 billion years old. They suspect that some amazing energy event created our Universe. It is often referred to as the Big Bang. But it may not have been the first Bang. Modeling a theory of multiple Big Bangs that have produced multiple universes is all based on Einstein’s theory of relativity.

As it goes, in a nutshell, a Big Bang cannot be a singular event. Instead, it is a perpetual cycle of cosmic expansion, collapse into itself, then BANG, a new universe.  Look at it like a Universe growing much the way a pregnant woman’s womb grows. When a universe reaches full growth maturity, it collapses. The energy produced by the collapse then explodes with new life, another Universe. Each Universe is created by the death of the Universe that gave birth to it. The Big Bang is really just cosmic labor that leaves a new Universe an orphan.

What that means for humanity is that our own Universe will give birth one day. Whatever generation is alive when that happens will be the last of mankind before an explosive extinction. That is, unless we can successfully colonize another planet in another Universe. But that would then have to mean that we don’t really live in a Universe, but, rather, a Multiverse.

It would seem that even if we manage to survive the effects of climate change, mankind is still doomed. So, the gringa suggests that we all get this climate change issue resolved so we can focus on an even greater challenge if we want to avoid extinction. We need to find another darn Universe, develop the technology to get there FAST, and start over. And do it right the next time!




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The Secret Success of the Swiss

Although Silicone Valley in the United States gets worldwide accolades as the primary source for innovation, Switzerland may actually have left the gringa’s country in its dust.  In fact, it may have been running circles around every technologically advanced nation since 2008 and no one has been aware of it. The gringa supposes that Switzerland simply prefers a low profile and is loathe to toot its own horn.

To discover just how amazing Swiss minds are, you have to dig into the reports generated by Cornell University, the graduate school INSEAD that has campuses in France, Singapore & Abu Dhabi, as well as reports generated by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  Their collaborative efforts can be seen in an annual report called the Global Innovation Index. There is more to making the list than simply coming up with cool gizmos and devices. To be a winner a country must also lead in areas of: business sophistication, creativity, commitment to knowledge and creativity, infrastructure, and research.  The latest top 10 winners:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Sweden
  3. United Kingdom
  4. United States
  5. Finland
  6. Singapore
  7. Ireland
  8. Denmark
  9. Netherlands
  10. Germany

But why does Switzerland keep winning? It seems that Switzerland consistently delivers with regard to patents, technological inventions and programs that recruit and develop new talent.

Patents:  The European Patent Office  recorded, on average, 873 patent applications for every one million Swiss inhabitants. The Netherlands and Sweden came in second and third. It seems that the current generation of Nords are incredibly creative.

Inventions:  What might some of these patents be for with regard to the latest developments in technology?  The Nords put their money where their reputation is, investing heavily in Swiss entrepreneurs and aspiring inventors who have made their country proud with products like: Mouse Scanner by CES; Doodle -digital scheduling platform serving 20 million people (for a culture linked with precision timekeeping this comes as no surprise to the gringa); CleanSpace One, a robot waste collector for use in ridding the galaxy of space junk developed by Swiss Space Center at Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology.

Recruitment & Development: Switzerland aggressively seed funds entrepreneurs. For example, a student at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Johannes Reck, became CEO of his own start-up while still living in the dorms of Switzerland’s premier technical school of higher learning. He launched GetYourGuide, an online service to help people plan holiday and destination activities. Soon after launch, rather than Reck pitching his idea to investors, a local bank actually approached him and made an offer for seed funding. Within four years Reck’s idea has brought in more than $10 million in revenue to a country that invested $2 million in a Swiss citizen with an idea.

Entrepreneur hopefuls or geeks who have dreams of hitting it big with the next trendy gizmo or gadget, you may want to set your eyes on immigrating to Switzerland. But don’t expect it to be a short, easy road to travel. To become a naturalized Swiss citizen you must:

  • Live in Switzerland for at least 12 years before applying for citizenship.
  • Any years spent living in Switzerland between the ages of 10-20 count as double.
  • In 2017 a new law may come into effect reducing the required number of years to 10.
  • Obey Swiss law and customs.
  • Pose no danger to national security.
  • Meet the additional citizenship requirements of your local municipality.
  • Submit citizenship application & schedule an interview.
  • Pass citizenship test that is either written or verbal.

In addition to the basic requirements, living in Switzerland is not cheap. However, one aspect to a high standard of living is the corresponding quality of life enjoyed. To maintain a competitive edge in a society of high achievers, being multi-lingual is almost a necessity. There are four languages commonly spoken within Switzerland and to succeed in business, entrepreneurs would do well to master all four: English, French, German, and Italian.

One great thing for up and coming innovators in Switzerland is that this tiny country boasts a marvelous business practice. The Swiss regard mentorship very highly. There are frequent events that pair entrepreneurs with mentors as well as investors. These are two key relationships that virtually guarantee success for a bright, ambitious young adult. So, young students and aspiring CEOs, rather than look westward toward the sunken landscape of Silicone Valley, the gringa says lift your eyes upwards toward the heights of the Swiss Alps. That is where success secretly abides.


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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.


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Salute Our Space Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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.


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The Hi’s & Lo’s of JAXA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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