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?!




Image Credit: www.sciencenews.org





The Case Of The Missing Matter

Some time back the gringa wrote about dark matter. This is invisible stuff in the universe that we only knows exists because of its gravitational affect upon other objects in space. Now scientists have a bit of a conundrum. It’s not bad enough that we have to accept the reality of lots of invisible stuff surrounding us but we also have to deal with the mystery that some of this stuff has just disappeared. Scientists want to know just where all this missing matter has got to. This is what they call the “global missing baryon problem”.

The easiest explanation of the “global missing baryon problem” goes something like this:

Baryon – this is a subatomic particle that has a mass equal to or greater than a proton. Despite the fact that the universe is incredibly vast, scientists, through mathematical formulas using their knowledge of how many protons are found in specific types of matter, can actually calculate how many atoms, protons, electrons, neutrons and baryons should be present in a galaxy. It seems that the expected number of baryons is coming up short. The baryon shortfall affects visible matter as well as dark matter.

The gringa would like to know just where the heck these baryons have gotten to and does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? I mean, am I going to wake up tomorrow and discover that half my ear is missing, or my flower pot has disappeared? Dear reader, you understand what I’m talking about. Is this something that we should really be worried about or is it just an enigmatic puzzle for scientists to puzzle over?

Australian astronomers from the Compact Array station claim that they know what has happened to the baryons. They believe that they are part of invisible structures in the Sagittarius constellation of our own Milky Way. And they are whopping big. The swath of space that Earth cuts as it makes a one year transit around the Sun is about the scope of the structures’ expected size. The telescopes used in Australia are radio telescopes so even though these dark matter structures are invisible, the Australian array is able to detect their presence in the Sagittarius constellation by “seeing” the gravitational affect on nearby stars and detecting changes in radio wavelengths within light.

Now, we’re not talking about invisible extra-terrestrial shopping malls. Astronomers are positing that it is more likely that the structures are large clouds of gas. They describe their shape as noodle-like. The gringa thinks maybe these are the spaghettified remains of objects sucked through a black hole. Scientists believe they are hollow. However, there is also the possibility that they are flat and one dimensional, like a bed sheet and they are viewing the edge. The gringa says, “Who the heck knows?! That about sums it up.”

Whatever they are and however they came about are distinct mysteries. All scientists really know is that they exist. The structures were discovered in 2014 when light from quasar PKS 1939-315 passed through the structures and became distorted. The light itself was not distorted but, rather, the radio wavelength band. Because the light intensity was not affected, it is believed that the invisible structures are dark matter that contain no dust. Kind of like light passing through a drinking glass. If the glass is clean, the light passes through just as bright on exit as on entry but still distorted. If the glass is dusty, the brightness of the light passing through dims in addition to the distortion produced by the glass’ matter itself.

These structures are not just sitting there twiddling their thumbs. Scientists have estimated that they are traveling about 30 miles per second (or 50 kilometers per second). Seeing as how they are about 3,000 light years away, the gringa’s not afraid of a surreptitious impact with invisible “stuff”.

But do the scientists know if this missing stuff serves a purpose? It seems that everything else in nature has a purpose, its own vital part in the grand scheme of things. These invisible structures could be very important. The gringa thinks it’s great to study them but we may not want to go messing about and interfering. Who knows what the heck could happen!

It seems that there are multiple theories on what their purpose is. Some scientists believe that the structures don’t behave like un-structured dark matter. Dark matter does not follow rotational and orbit patterns and could serve a purpose like cosmic fibers that hold galaxies together. However, scientists are not so sure that once dark matter forms structures like this their cosmic fiber job is still what they are doing. The gringa wonders if maybe they are just big galactic recycle bins, containing left over bits of matter that are left over from the creation process stars go through.

Basically, scientists only know that they are there. Bing, bang, boom, and that’s it. It’s like saying, “Hey, a giant, invisible elephant lives in your house and we don’t know how he got there or why he stays and if he is doing anything that affects your life. But we just thought you would like to know that he’s there.” Yeah, thanks guys.






Image Source: www.ottawa-rasc.ca





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.







Image credit:  http://www.yumpu.com

Buzzed By Space Junk or ET’s?

In 2017 Earth is expected to be “buzzed” by a mysterious object being tracked by satellites and called “1991 VG” because in 1991 it did its first recorded fly-by of our planet. In December of that year the object, which is about 30 feet (10 meters) across, buzzed past Earth as it continued in its orbit around the Sun (called a heliocentric orbit in fancy Science-speak). Stargazer James Scotti at University of Arizona’s Kitt Peak observatory, using the Spacewatch telescope, spotted VG in November and continued to track it as it passed by.

Observers noted that it shone brightly but this brightness would often go through rapid fluctuations. Scientists argued that this was indicative of it not being an organic object like an asteroid. Could it be a man-made piece of space junk that has been destined to orbiting the Sun until it disintegrates? Well, let’s see just how much space junk is out there in a heliocentric orbit:

American Space Junk

  • Pioneer 4 (1959)
  • Ranger 3 (1961)
  • Mariner 2 (1962)
  • Ranger 5 (1963)
  • Mariner 3 & 4 (1964)
  • Mariner 5 (1967)
  • Pioneer 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9 (1966-1969)
  • S-IVB upper stage panels of Apollo 8 (1968)
  • S-IVB upper stage panels of Apollo 10, 11 & 12, & #10s ascent stage panel LM Snoopy (1969)
  • Mariner 6 & 7 (1969)
  • Mariner 10 & Mercury (1974, 1975)
  • Mars Observer (1992)
  • CONTOUR (2002)
  • Genesis, Spitzer Space Telescope, Kepler Telescope, STEREO-A & STEREO-B

Russian Space Junk

  • Luna 1 (1959)
  • Venera 1 (1961)
  • Mars 1 (1962)
  • Zond 2 (1964)
  • Zond 3 (1965)
  • Venera 2 (1966)
  • Mars 4, 6 & 7 (1974)
  • Venera 11 & 12 cruise stage (1978)
  • Venera 13 & 14 cruise stage (1982)
  • Vega 1 & 2 (1984-1986)
  • Phobos 1 (1988)

European Space Junk

  • Helios 1 (1975)
  • Helios 2 (1976)
  • Giotto (1986)
  • Ulysses (1990)
  • Herschel Space Observatory & Planck Observatory

Japanese Space Junk

  • Sakigake (1985-1999)
  • Suisei (1985-1991)
  • Nozomi (1998-2003)
  • MINERVA mini-lander (2005)
  • DCAM1 & DCAM2 (2010)

Chinese Space Junk

  • Chang’e2

India Space Junk

  • Mangalayaan (2013-2014)

Despite the number of man-made objects orbiting the Sun, there are some space enthusiasts who eagerly await 1991 VG’s arrival, wondering if it might be an alien space probe sent to observe our planet. Scientists don’t know exactly what it is… yet. Here are some of the details they are certain of through telescopic and satellite observations:

  • It has a strange rotation.
  • It has existed a very long time in outer space.
  • It rotates rapidly
  • It has reflective fluctuations

Here are the theories bandied about as to what it could be:

  • Alien space probe
  • Small meteorite
  • Apollo 12 rocket

However, after researching each man-made possibility, they have ruled them all out. So, we are left with the possibilities of a small meteorite or an alien-made object. It’s reflective properties has scientists leaning toward a non-organic object which then leaves only an alien-made object left on the list. However, scientists also do not rule out the possibility of a Russian-made object that the science community is simply unaware of. During the years of the Soviet space program, they were very secretive. Information about failed space missions that resulted in space junk left floating about into infinity and beyond was often suppressed. So, there is the possibility that it is a bit of old, secret Soviet space history.

In tracking the trajectory of the object’s orbit, it can be determined that 1991 was not the first fly-by of VG. It also would have passed near the Earth in March of 1975. Repeat visits are another reason scientists rule out an asteroid or meteor because typically if such an object neared Earth like 1991 VG, it would either be trapped by our planet’s gravitational pull and either burn up in the atmosphere or crash (worst case scenario) or have its own trajectory affected and changed by Earth’s gravity. This object’s trajectory remains unaffected by Earth’s pull.

Because its orbit is very similar to Earth’s path around the Sun, some scientists speculate on the alien observation probe theory. Next summer Earthlings will get another up close opportunity to peek at the object as it skims over the planet’s southern hemisphere.

Edinburgh mathematicians have calculated the very real possibility that extra-terrestrials could be successful at launching observation space probes across vast galactic distances to spy on humans. Their work, published in the Journal of Astrobiology, asserts that by taking advantage of gravitational fields surrounding stars they could achieve the necessary speeds for an observation probe to travel to Earth from the far reaches of space of which humans are completely ignorant of and incapable of exploring. In fact, humans are already using this technology in the Voyager probes zipping about the universe.

Regardless of whether it’s a big space rock, hunk of junk or extra-terrestrial peeping Tom tool, the gringa has her calendar marked for the Summer of 2017. I expect interesting things to happen.


Sources & Image Credit:




Amazing Italy, From Art to Astronauts

My cosmic sister, Bea, hails from Italy and therefore has a special interest in the Italian Space Agency (ASI, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana). So, the gringa dedicates this post to Bea.

Since its inception in 1988, ASI has consistently made significant contributions to space technology development. ASI is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) and works closely with NASA as well. Italy has been, and will continue to be, a key player in the international space exploration community. Whether it is technology that gets a manned mission to Mars or technology that helps Earth observers intervene to prevent or respond to environmental disasters, the world can all extend a “brava” to Italy.

Italy has three active space centers. Ten kilometers east of Matera is ASI’s “Space Geodesy Center”, which opened for business in 1983. Earth observation and imaging is the primary mission of the programs at work at SGC. The “Luigi Broglio” Space Center, in operation since the 1960’s, is located on the coast of the Indian Ocean near Malindi, Kenya. It has an Earth segment base and an ocean segment base which launch and control satellites. The center that manages and analyzes all collected scientific data (ASDC) can be found at ASI headquarters in Rome. Not only is data analyzed here but mission monitoring is also conducted at this center.

The primary missions Italy’s has high involvement with are:

  • Created Multi-Purpose Logistic Modules (MPLM) Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello for transporting scientific research necessities to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • Space Habitability – March 2001, Italy became the 3rd nation to launch an element integrated into the ISS, the logistics module “Leonardo”
  • Life Sciences – Biotechnology research to improve knowledge of: the aging process and effective countermeasures, immunology, technologies to enable the colonization of space by humans, therapeutic studies for improving the quality of life for all humanity
  • Bioregenerative Environmental Control Project (CAB) – to put it in plain English, gringa language, scientists learn how to recycle and repurpose just about everything into something useful such as: plant based life support system, water purification through transpiration, space greenhouses, etc.
  • Motor and Cardiorespiratory Control Disturbances Project (DCMC) is a program with the goal of improving the quality of life for people who suffer from neuromotor and cardiorespiratory disabilities.
  • Osteoporosis and Muscular Atrophy Project (OSMA) is of particular interest because of how conditions of reduced gravity cause these debilitations, that are typically linked with aging, to affect young, healthy, physically fit astronauts. The research goal is to understand how gravity controls the functions of bone and muscle.
  • Bed-Rest is a study that simulates the effects of zero gravity by having volunteers stay in bed for 7-120 days in a head-down position so that studies of the cardiovascular and renal systems can be conducted.
  • Earth observation and telecommunication with satellites: Miosat, PRISMA, ROSA, COSMO-SkyMed, PRIMI, and COPERNICUS
  • High Energy Astrophysics study is an Italian only programme that conducts research on the most violent space phenomena that occurs throughout the Universe. Satellites involved in this programmed: GLAST/Fermi, SIMBOL-X, SWIFT, PAMELA, INTEGRAL, AMS, AGILE
  • Cosmology and Fundamental Physics programme studies the evolution of the Universe. Satellites involved in the programme: BOOMERANG, GAIA, EUCLID, GALILEO GALILEI, HERSCHEL, LARES, Olimpo, Planck, Plato, Lisa Pathfinder

Lisa Pathfinder is the most recent success of Italy’s space agency that has made worldwide headline news. Lisa’s purpose is to detect gravitational waves in space. Italy designed the overall architecture of Lisa and is managing the project with the cooperation of Italy’s National Institute of Physics as well as ESA partners.

Lisa launched successfully last month and will lock into its final orbit around mid-February. This is phase one of the future construction of a space observatory that will continue studies of gravitational waves. Project completion is expected to be around the end of 2034. Italian scientists are beside themselves with pride that finally, after Einstein published his theory of general relativity over a century ago, the search for gravitational waves has, at last, begun, thanks, in huge part, to Italy.

And what else does the world have to look forward to from Italy? Of course, the gringa’s favorite space subject, GETTING TO MARS! Italy boasts leadership of both phases of ESA’s two phase EXOMars mission. In 2016 a probe will launch to orbit Mars and study methane and other gases as well as attempt to detect any presence of life. Later, in 2018, a rover will land on Mars and begin analysis of the soil. One more objective is to study any possible risks for future manned missions.

So, Italian suits, Italian shoes, Sophia Loren, Galileo, Michelangelo, and… astronauts, scientists, researchers, technology mavens. THAT IS AMAZING, ITALY!

Source & Photo Credit:  www.asi.it


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


“Back Up Life…”

SpaceX is the private company that is contracted with NASA to supply the space agency with the “Dragon”, a crew transport spacecraft designed for large crew capabilities as well as deep space missions. Elon Musk, the creator of SpaceX, recently gave an interview with GQ magazine. In that interview he voiced his concerns regarding accomplishing the Mars mission in light of the fact that this world’s nations just can’t seem to grow up and stop all of this war mess.

Musk’s big dream is to colonize Mars. Considering his accomplishments, the gringa believes he can achieve his dream. I mean, just think about it: he leads a company that has managed to develop technology that can design and build rockets at a fraction of the cost as NASA. SpaceX is also the first private company, ever, in all of the world, to have launched a spacecraft into orbit and have it successfully return to Earth. SpaceX has impressed NASA so much that it is contracted to manage resupply missions to the International Space Station as well as transport the astronauts between the ISS and Earth.

Musk believes colonizing Mars is more than just a glamorous adventure. He believes this mission is critical to the ultimate survival of the human species. Considering how mankind has been consistently annihilating one another since a caveman first created a club to sock it to his romantic rival, the gringa has no trouble at all believing Musk’s worst-case scenario of a natural or man-made disaster destroying life as we know it on Earth and the survivors starting over somewhere else. Why not Mars? Musk’s philosophy can be summed up in this statement, “You back up your hard drive… Maybe we should back up life, too?”

In addition to reusable rocket technology and personnel space ferries, SpaceX is developing “Mars colonial transport architecture” to further advance toward the ultimate goal. The gringa asks, “What the heck is that?”

A critical piece of this architecture is commonly called the BFR rocket (it has a technical name but Musk and the developers refer to it as BFR). Now, the gringa likes to keep things family friendly on these blog posts, but, just so you know, BFR actually stands for Big F*#@ing Rocket. I MEAN IT! No kidding! I love that! Scientists that have a sense of humor are right up the gringa’s alley.

The BFR is a two part rocket, booster rocket + spaceship. The booster is to break through the gravity and atmosphere of Earth. Once free, the spaceship is designed to travel through deep space to Mars. The gravity of Mars is weaker than Earth’s and also has a thinner atmosphere. Because of this the spaceship does not need a rocket booster to blast off from Mars for a return trip home.

In order for Martian colonists to create a self-sustaining environment on the Red Planet, what must be done? The planet has to be terraformed to create a warmer environment that will lead to ice melts so that it becomes a “watery” planet. Then fauna can be introduced that will help to create a breathable atmosphere. Musk considers Mars to be a “fixer-upper”. The gringa likes that term.

Nuclear energy could be used to help warm the planet. By converting technology that has been used to destroy life, the fusion bomb can be repurposed into technology that creates and sustains life (now, the gringa LOVES that!). As tiny pulsing suns at each Martian pole, this technology would create a warming effect without radiation and fallout. Mars would then experience the same benefits Earth has from its proximity to the Sun.

Now, NASA is devoted not only to preserving life on the planet Earth, but any life that may possibly be present throughout the cosmos. It has a Mars directive in place forbidding any mission landing near any area containing the potential for liquid water. That is because of the possibility of the presence of bio-organisms, life, causing cross-contamination, whether those organisms are of Earth and contaminate Mars or vice versa.

The good news, as far as the colonial mission goes, is that NASA’s research has not detected any life present on Mars, even on the microscopic level. So, if it is eventually determined that no life at all exists on Mars, the moral dilemma of invading, contaminating and/or destroying it is resolved and colonization can get the green light. The only life on Mars that might exist that NASA’s current research methods are unable to detect is subterranean microbial life.

So, who would like to give the pioneering life a shot and actually become a MARTIAN?  The gringa says, “Where’s the sign up sheet?”

Now, it’s pretty clear that Musk is the type of personality that is driven. There is very little that seems to get in his way when he has set a goal. His biggest concern regarding achievement of colonizing Mars is the very real reality of war. The Earth has never seen a single day in modern history where there has not been an active war somewhere. War could be the very thing that prevents progress.

War stood in the way of progress in the early 1900’s. It was supposed to be a golden era with no more war. Then, guess what? BAM! World War I started. Then World War II. Then the Cold War. However, the Cold War eventually led to the space race, so progress did come of that mess.

How possible is it, then, for progress toward colonizing Mars be disrupted? Pretty darn possible. So, the gringa says to all the religious zealots and war profiteering warmongers everywhere, “JUST STOP IT! KNOCK IT OFF! WE ARE SICK OF IT!”

Now, I know you must be itching to see just how much more fantastic Musk’s dream can get. Well, just check out his timetable. He is determined for all of this to be accomplished within his lifetime. If Musk gets his way (and he seems very apt at always getting his way) the world could see the first boots on the ground on Mars within the next ten to fifteen years.

In fact, before the end of 2015, or early in 2016, he plans to make a big announcement regarding his Mars-colonization plan. The gringa cannot wait to hear this crazy plan because I’m a crazy gringa who is his biggest fan!


Source: www.gq.com

Photo Credit: www.joserojas.org

Alice & Albert

Could it really be that it’s been one hundred years since Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity? The science community refers to Albert so often, I often feel as if he graced this earth just yesterday. But, indeed, November is the one hundred year anniversary of his publication of this theory.

Even though the gringa has heard many times someone say “the theory of relativity”, um, what the heck does it really mean? I mean, how the heck can it be used for something useful or even for something interesting or fun?  Well, this is the basis for all the time-warp fodder for great (or even lousy) literary works of science fiction, which the gringa loves, even the “lousy” ones.

The first time Albert’s theory was successfully put to the test in real life was during the observation of a solar eclipse. A prediction was made, based on the theory, of how much “bended” light would be deflected when a particular star passed near the sun. The theory supposed that the sun’s mass would cause the light of the star to bend. And the prediction, based on Albert’s theory, was spot on.

So? Now what? Thus became the  established phenomena that is known as “gravitational lensing”. Astronomers now know that this appearance of bended light is not an optical illusion but something that actually happens. This allows astronomers a method to delve into galaxies that would otherwise be off limits for research even with humanity’s most powerful telescopes.

One such galaxy that fits this description is commonly called the “Cheshire Cat” galaxy because it’s appearance reminds one of that particular elusive character from the “Alice In Wonderland” story.  What exactly causes the smiley face? Well, the theory explains that these are distant galaxies whose light is stretched and then bent by objects of great mass which are most likely made up of dark matter. Why dark matter? Well, since no large mass objects are visible but the evidence of their presence is there in the bent light, the mass must then exist in the form of  invisible dark matter.

Scientists claim that there are six galaxies that make up the outer space smiley face. Each eye and the nose are individual galaxies and there are four other galaxies that create the arcs which are bent light created by gravitational lensing by some mysterious dark matter object with great mass. Scientists view the “Cheshire Cat” through NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The eye galaxies are the brightest and are zipping through space on a collision course with one another at over 300,000 miles per hour. NASA uses the Chandra X-ray Observatory to determine that hot gas, millions of degrees Fahrenheit, is the evidence that these galaxies are indeed colliding. And that’s not all the mayhem that the “Cheshire Cat” is out and about doing. Aside from the bumper car routine,  the cat’s left eye has a very hungry supermassive black hole right at its center which is gobbling up all sorts of things.

Astronomers classify this cluster of galaxies as a fossil group. A fossil group has a dominant elliptical galaxy surrounded by smaller galaxies. Fossil groups are considered to be just one stage that almost all galaxy groups go through as they evolve. Perhaps it’s kind of like the teenage years for galaxies. Horrible driving and collisions and they eat everyone out of house and home.

So, once it grows up a bit, then, what’s the next stage? That would be the Cyclops group, when they merge into one mega-galaxy. Yeah, the gringa thinks that sounds about right. Just like a teenager then develops into  a mature senior who gets a bit fat and needs reading glasses.  But it will probably take a billion years or so. Looks like we will be enjoying the smiley face for a long time to come.

If any of the gringa’s dear readers happen to be passing through Huntsville, Alabama, they can check in at Marshall Space Flight Center. That’s headquarters for the Chandra program that studies the “Cheshire Cat”. Or, even better, if you find yourself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, see if you can take a peek at the cat yourself. That’s where you’ll find The Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory that controls the Chandra program’s science and flight operations.


Source and Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov

What’s The Matter With Dark Matter?

The first thing that is the matter with dark matter is that it is not “dark” at all. It’s invisible. It neither emits nor absorbs light.

The second thing that is the matter with dark matter is that the fate of mankind depends on something that science only “infers” to exist. This invisible, theoretical, dark matter holds the existence of the universe in its unseen “hands”.  Scientific principles regarding gravity conclude that without this elusive dark matter every star, planet, and all humans as well, would go flying willy-nilly into outer space.

The third thing that is the matter with dark matter is that if it exists, it is then possible that dark matter creates a parallel, invisible world. All the happenings of another civilization could very well be happening right under our very noses and humankind is completely left out of the loop. How utterly curious. Could this parallel world have a cure for cancer? Does cancer even exist there? Are there political factions squabbling for power? Would such a world even need governance? What a fascinating idea.

These matters are why such a hubbub is made within the scientific community about dark matter. The simplest definition of dark matter is that it is nonluminous (dark, invisible) material that is hypothesized (scientifically assumed) to exist in space. It is thought that it can have different forms such as:

  • Cold Dark Matter: particles that are slow moving when compared to the speed of light and interact weakly with ordinary matter and electromagnetic radiation
  • Warm Dark Matter: particles with properties that could possibly be sterile neutrinos and/or gravitinos, and travel faster than cold dark matter but slower than hot dark matter
  • Hot Dark Matter: (no, not an erotic vampire novel) high-energy particles, moving randomly, and do not interact with electromagnetic radiation

Dark matter is theorized to have been created soon after the Big Bang. Therefore understanding dark matter is critical to understanding and supporting the Big Bang theory. Scientists tend to gravitate toward the theory of the creation of the Universe through the building blocks of cold dark matter after the Big Bang. Structures would grow from the bottom up by smaller objects collapsing because of their own gravity. These collapsed structures would then merge and form larger objects with greater mass. Theorizing that the Universe evolved from cold dark matter collapsing and structural fragments merging resolves the questions of how individual galaxies formed.

Warm dark matter and hot dark matter alone could not hold up under scientific scrutiny as to being the original building blocks of the Universe. Although, it may very well have been a mixed bag of all three forms of dark matter creating structures that ultimately resulted in the Universe as we know it today, such a theory, the Mixed Dark Matter theory, is generally rejected.

The universe that is currently known to man consists of about five percent of matter that is classified as “ordinary”. That means that about five percent of the universe consists of matter with mass that is comprised of atoms, or ions, with a nucleus and protons and neutrons. Cosmologists call these “baryons”. This is the matter humans can see.

If ordinary matter only makes up about five percent of the universe, what is the remaining ninety-five percent made up of? About seventy percent is “dark energy”, or, a theoretical energy in the form of a repulsive force counteracting gravity which results in an accelerated expansion of the universe. Dark matter is thought to make up the balance. It sounds like a recipe straight out of Frankenstein’s laboratory: seven cups of dark energy, three cups of dark matter, and a splash of ordinary matter. Voila, Universe!

Detecting dark matter requires a whole new level of thinking. It does not absorb light. It does not emit light. It produces no detectable levels of electromagnetic radiation. If it’s invisible, and cannot be seen with a telescope, how do cosmologists and astronomers know it exists? Scientists infer the existence of dark matter. When astrophysicists measure the mass of large objects in space, such as stars, they discover discrepancies with regard to gravitational effects. When things just don’t add up, the scientists scratch their heads and ask, “Why do these heavenly bodies generate a gravitational effect that should actually be created by an object with greater mass?”

Questions such as these were being asked as early as 1932 when scientist Jan Oort, a Dutch astronomer, suggested dark matter was to blame for the orbital speed of the stars within the Milky Way galaxy. The following year Swiss astronomer, Fritz Zwicky, also believed dark matter was the culprit for the “missing mass” issue. However, it would take another thirty years before compelling evidence could assist the theory of dark matter in gaining ground in the scientific community.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, American astronomer, Vera Rubin, was deeply entrenched in her controversial work on galaxy clusters. Working alongside Kent Ford, an astronomer and instrument maker, the pair used his spectrometer design to view the light spectrums of spiral galaxies. Their discovery is called the Rubin-Ford effect.

This phenomenon describes the movement of the Milky Way galaxy relative to sample galaxies. Rubin and Ford theorized that the difference in motion of these galaxies, compared to the Milky Way’s motion, was relative to cosmic microwave background radiation. Rubin then focused on studying the rotation curves of galaxies. This led to the discovery of discrepancies between predicted angular motion of galaxies and the actual observed motion of the galaxies.

The gravity of stars within rotating galaxies is what prevents these galaxies from flying apart. Such strong gravitational forces require immense mass. Rubin’s calculations revealed that such galaxies contained much more mass than could be accounted for by the stars they contained. Attempting to explain this discrepancy became known as the “galaxy rotation problem” and led to the conclusion that dark matter must then exist.

One of Rubin’s observations showed that as much as six times more “dark” mass existed in galaxies than ordinary matter. Her work was highly controversial at the time and continued to be studied, tested, debated and discussed. As more astronomers did their own studies with conclusions that supported Rubin’s assertions, it became well established within the scientific community that most galaxies are predominately “dark matter”.

The result of Rubin and Ford’s work has led to innovative methods of observing galaxies. One such method, gravitational lensing, was used to examine background objects within the Bullet Cluster in attempts to identify the presence of dark matter. Light bends as it travels away from the source to the observer. It is the mass of the observed object which causes the light to bend. The greater the mass, the stronger the gravitational field it creates, thus a greater degree of bending of the rays of light. When light is then bent to a degree greater than would be indicated by the known mass of the astronomical object, dark matter is then assumed to be at play to account for this mathematical anomaly.

Scientists have used gravitational microlensing to conduct large searches throughout the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomical evidence indicates that the universe contains much more matter than what is visible to mankind. Some scientists have even speculated that a parallel world is possible that consists of dark matter and can only interact with the universe as we know it through gravity.

When measuring the velocity of rotation as compared to the distance from the center of a spiral galaxy, such as the Milky Way galaxy, the mathematical discrepancy reveals that the cluster’s mass consists of very little of the ordinary matter objects that are visible. Scientists then suggest that dark matter is concentrated in a halo formation surrounding the visible matter. A dark matter parallel world could perhaps be found in the “halos” around astronomical objects. Since dark matter contains no atoms, like ordinary matter, it cannot interact with ordinary matter through electromagnetics. Dark matter contains no electrical charge. Hence, gravity is the only interactive relationship between dark matter and ordinary matter as the theory is understood at this time.

Spiral galaxies are not alone in containing dark matter. Studies conducted with gravitational lensing reveal that dark matter may very well be present in elliptical galaxies. Within dark halos that surround such galaxies, X-ray emissions indicate atmospheric extensions of hot gas which could support the existence of dark matter. Using X-ray emissions to estimate dark matter existence is achieved by measuring the energy and fluctuation of the X-rays. These measurements can be used to estimate the temperature and density of the gas producing the X-rays as well as the pressure of the gas. A profile of mass can be created by assuming that the gas pressure balances with the present gravity. Discrepancies would then be attributed to dark matter.

As with anything, there are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Globular clusters are thought to perhaps contain no dark matter. Cardiff University astronomers discovered galaxy VIRGOHI21 in 2005 and believe it to be made up entirely of dark matter and absent of any visible stars. So, there is diversity and oddities even amongst the stars.

Dark matter within our very own Milky Way galaxy is, apparently, “wimpy”. Every second of every day millions, perhaps even billions, of weakly interacting massive particles, also known as WIMPs, pass through this globe humans call home. Experiments of detection are vigorously underway searching for these invisible invaders. Because WIMPs do not interact with matter, it is thought that they can be detected by measuring energy and momentum discrepancies as they zip about, collide and annihilate each other. This is one of the studies conducted in supercolliders.

What does the discovery of dark matter mean for mankind? For the scientific community, it is simply another wonderful puzzle to be solved. For the regular person moving through life every day, it might mean a new awareness of the possibility of an invisible world right next to you. Average people who simply want to rise from a chair and cross the room may find themselves compelled to politely mutter the words, “Please excuse me.” These words may appear to be uttered to an empty room containing no one who needs their pardon begged. No, these people are not crazy and talking to themselves, they are simply considering that the room could contain invisible, dark matter co-habitants that find it very disturbing when a human walks right through them without even a, “How do you do?”