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.

Source & Image Credit:
Video Credit: United News International

A Wave Making Waves & Suction Storms

(Originally posted 2/3/17 on Read With The Gringa)

An enormous gravity wave is making waves in space exploration circles. The wave of excitement began when Akatsuki, a space probe that is the handiwork of JAXA, Japan’s space agency, observed a 6,000 mile long gravity wave. That’s the longest gravity wave ever recorded by humans in outer space. But why is this a big deal? What does it mean? I mean, after all, gravity waves have been discovered before. Is this just a big deal because this is the largest one scientists have observed?

What a gravity wave does is affect a planet’s atmosphere. It can cause weather disturbances. What kind of weather does Venus have? With an atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide, 3% nigrogen, a tiny speck of water vapor (about .003%), and a density nearly 90 times greater than Earth’s, things could be very interesting on Venus should a storm begin to brew.

Picture peeking out the window of your Venus habitat and seeing golden, yellow clouds billowing that stink of that rotten egg stench of sulfur. Imagine watching as they raced across the sky at more than 200 mph. And consider that you would have to be looking through glass several inches thick to withstand the atmospheric pressure outside. Sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it! But, really, is there more to this excitement than just discovering the longest gravity wave ever?

December, 2015, JAXA’s Akatsuki observed the largest gravity wave ever over one of Venus’ mountain ranges. It looks like a whitish, bow shape in the image below:


When the probe made its journey once again over this region a month later, the wave wasn’t there. The original thought that the wave was stationary had to be discarded. What scientists now theorize is that the gravity wave formed in Venus’ lower atmosphere and was then gradually pulled into the upper atmosphere by the rapid rotation of clouds. Once it reached the upper atmosphere it dissipated. So, on Venus, a storm is really like a great big gravity vacuum rather than wind and rain like Earthlings are accustomed to. Instead of stuff falling down, stuff is sucked up.

For scientists, this gives them more clues to understand what conditions are like on the surface of the planet. Instead of a lower atmosphere that is stable, quiet and boring, scientists are more inclined to believe that life on Venus’ surface could be quite thrilling and dynamic. It also means that any plans for a surface mission would require rovers that could withstand the possibility of a massive gravity suction storm. The gringa envisions the tornado scene that the “Wizard of Oz” opens with. That would be life on Venus if things weren’t “nailed” down really, really well. Or, Venus colonists could all just live in bouncy castles. When a massive gravity suction storm approaches you batten down the hatches, ride out the storm and who knows where you end up! New neighbors and new landscape when it all blows over. How exciting!

Sources: JAXA


Sun Worship

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

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

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

“Here lie the bodies of Ho and Hi,

Whose fate though sad was visible –

Being hanged because they could not spy

Th’ eclipse which was invisible.”

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

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

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

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

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




Image Credit:


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?!


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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.


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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.


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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:

The UK’s Windowless Plane – What’s The Point?

Have the gringa’s dear readers seen the United Kingdom’s announcement of the future of flying? The gringa has and she would just like to know why no one bothered to ask her advice on what should be the new and improved planes of tomorrow. Windows are the least of my worries on board an airplane. Technicon Design engineers, however, seem to think differently. They believe their revolutionary design is just what the world of travel needs for the following reasons:

  • Reduced fuel costs
  • Reduced overall aircraft weight
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Enhanced aesthetics of airplane interior

What passengers will have instead of windows will be LED screens that will display the outside view, movies, or, heaven forbid, presentations (EGAD! Surely not!). Individual LED displays can be used for passenger convenience to place a service order with flight attendants or display personal images of choice.

While the uber-wealthy will get to enjoy this style of travel a decade before the rest of the world’s peons, the gringa is not all that impressed. Please let me complain, er, I mean, explain…

#1. Reduce fuel costs? Big deal. Every single time an airline finds a way to reduce cost, it is only for the benefit of the airline to maximize profit. I have yet to pay a single dime less for any airline ticket I have ever purchased. A roundtrip flight to Peru cost the gringa $600 a decade ago. Today, it’s about $800 on a good day. So, when airlines start saying things like, “This technology will reduce the cost of a ticket,” and it actually happens (because we’ve all heard that one before) the gringa will be sufficiently impressed.

#2.  Reduce overall weight? Again, big deal. The gringa could care less about how much an airplane weighs. They all fall like a rock  to oblivion below if anything goes wrong. When airlines report that they have developed an airplane design that is light as a feather and will float safely and gently to the earth in the event of mechanical difficulties, the gringa will be on board with that development.

#3. Reduce maintenance costs? Why should I care? It still has nothing to do with the price of oranges today. What the gringa really wants to hear is that a smart-plane has been developed that can detect an explosive device within a one mile radius. Aerospace engineers, are you hearing the gringa?

#4.  Enhanced aesthetics of the plane’s interior? Now that’s just a bunch of baloney. I want the dadburn window, okay? I mean a REAL window. Why the heck would a gravity bound Earthling give up the chance to see a REAL LIVE CLOUD close up? Are you out of your mind? If you really want to improve the aesthetics of the interior give us passengers more leg room for crying out loud! Give us a bathroom where we can really sit for awhile and enjoy ourselves. Give me an aisle wide enough that some stranger doesn’t get a face full of patootie as I pass by during a bit of turbulence. Good grief, engineers, where DO you get your inspiration?

So, even if they announce that all of the things they see as benefits will reduce the cost of flying, the gringa wants to know exactly “who” is supposed to enjoy the benefit of those cost reductions. Will it really be the passengers or will it be the stockholders? When the caveman and I can fly south and see his family for as much as we pay for a week’s worth of groceries, THEN and ONLY then, will the gringa be happy about giving up the up close and personal experience of clouds. The dear reader can view a video of the U.K.’s windowless Spike S-512 and decide for themselves.

Source & Image Credit:







Say Hello to R2 aka Hardhat Harry

Robonaut. It sounds like the title of a cheap sci-fi flick or perhaps the name of a second-rate children’s superhero action toy. In reality, Robonaut, Robonaut 2 (R2), to be exact, is a vital part of the crew aboard the International Space Station. He is a humanoid robot the gringa likes to call “Hardhat Harry” because of the types of jobs he performs as well as the future plans NASA is cooking up for him and future Hardhat Harry clones.

Presently Hardhat Harry is going through his paces as NASA engineers study how well he performs at this job. NASA hopes that one day Hardhat Harry will be able to join astronauts in their dangerous and risky spacewalks when they perform the necessary maintenance and repairs required on the outside of the space station.

But Hardhat Harry is more than just a handyman, he is also a scientist. In the Destiny laboratory he takes velocity air measurements. However, he is not above giving handrails a good scrubbing. And, just like the gringa, Hardhat Harry likes to flip switches and push buttons.

Guess how he performs his duties? Does the dear reader envision a programmer sitting in front of a computer screen inputting commands? Perhaps an image flashes through your mind of something like a video game with an engineer using a joystick to maneuver Hardhat Harry through his tasks. Nope, it’s even cooler than that. Crew members on board the ISS get to play a very serious scientific game of virtual reality, donning virtual reality headgear and controlling Hardhat Harry as if he were themselves!

Although Hardhat Harry has plenty of charm, don’t fall in love yet. Don’t get any ideas of thinking you will be able to visit one of the many space centers around the world when he returns from his mission and get his autograph. NASA has no plans for Hardhat Harry to ever return home.

Hardhat Harry will continue to be improved and upgraded as researchers learn how to adapt the technology to perform in the vacuum of space and eventually embark on deep space missions. Fleets of R2 Hardhat Harry clones will become the world’s future hi-tech repairmen, traveling far and wide to repair and upgrade communications and weather satellites. There is also great hope that a Hardhat Harry crew will be developed and shipped off to Mars for a surface mission or mine geological resources from the Moon.

Hardhat Harry and his kin will not replace astronauts, so, dear readers, if you are an astronaut hopeful like the gringa there is no need to despair. R2s are simply going to go first and make the way safer for exploration. And, by performing the boring repair jobs, astronauts can devote more time to discovery.

The next phase of progress is to deliver Hardhat Harry some legs. It may seem kind of silly to have Hardhat Harry up there, trying to get the job done without any legs, but remember, he is working in microgravity. He doesn’t necessarily need legs to move about the ISS. And, the legs they will be sending him don’t even have feet. They have grasping contraptions at the end of his “legs” that will secure him to railings while he works.

And, by having removable legs, Hardhat Harry has the option to rove about planetary surfaces centaur style. NASA is developing a four-wheel vehicle that Hardhat Harry’s torso can attach to as he zips about the Moon or Mars or wherever his adventures take him or NASA needs him.

Fans of R2 (aka Hardhat Harry) can keep up with all his exploits in space via Twitter @AstroRobonaut. So, for all the gringa’s dear readers who love robots and have great big dreams and ambitions with robotic technologies, keep your dreams alive and see if NASA can help you make them come true!

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Cosmic Spas & Outer Space Mineral Mines

Are NASA and other international space agencies interested in creating colonies on the Moon and various other exotic, cosmic locales? Most certainly. However, not for the nefarious purposes of whisking away the highly educated and financial elite in order to preserve the human race from extinction. What they really want to do is exploit the natural resources of these places.

Humans are a hungry species and their appetites include all sorts of stuff from fruits and vegetables to minerals and ores. Many minerals and ores are not only rare, with few deposits in sundry places around the world, but are also finite in their supply. Once diminished, humans will have to find another source. That’s where asteroids and the Moon come into play.

Asteroids are like one of those grab bags you get as a party favor. You never know what’s inside. Although primarily chunks of ice, tar and dust, they also contain scare minerals and metals. For astronaut mining crews, outer space is full of opportunity, kind of like a mechanic entering an auto junkyard the size of Earth. Best estimates to date believe there are hundreds of thousands of asteroids, some nearly five billion years old, of assorted sizes and shapes from the size of a coffee table to hundreds of miles in diameter (Earth, in comparison, is about 8,000 miles in diameter). With such abundance, if humans can overcome the technological and economical obstacles, we may have a seemingly limitless supply of raw materials available.

The gringa wonders what will happen when that occurs? Will space become filled with flag waving asteroids? Considering even a small asteroid could be valued at many millions of dollars in potential minerals, will countries be zipping about space, hither and yon, planting flags on as many asteroids as possible in a territory game of, “Mine! I found it first!”? The gringa is hoping it will be much more civilized than that.

For mining purposes, asteroid’s are classified according to three groups based on light reflection (spectral) analysis. Since mankind cannot yet land on an asteroid and physically take a geological sample or do so with a robotic satellite, scientists evaluate how light reflects off the surface of an asteroid to determine its primary mineral component.

C-type asteroids are dark and carbon based. They are comprised of clay based minerals that have lots of water trapped within the clay. The gringa thinks these could, perhaps become cosmic spas if we could find a way to generate some kind of thermal reaction within the asteroid. Think of it, “Come visit asteroid XP-247 for its relaxing steam baths and mineralized clay body and facial wraps. Just don’t forget your oxygen mask.”

But what about the carbon and other stuff in the clay? Is that any good for anything? Yep. It makes a garden grow lush, thick and plentiful. C-type asteroids rich in carbon, phosphorous and other elements in the fertilizer spectrum could be very valuable as future garden spots. The gringa can now see the cosmic version of the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” where visitors can also get a soak in the hot springs and a beautifying and detoxifying mineral rich clay body wrap.

I mean, really, we have plenty of clay and carbon and water here on Earth but surely there will be an eager entrepreneur who will see the same potential. Or do we really have plenty of clay, minerals and water on Earth?

The water reserves could very well come in handy. The gringa can see it now – a gravity beam lassos a water rich C-type asteroid and hauls it near Earth’s atmosphere. It then uses transporter technology that has finally been perfected to zap it through the atmosphere, avoiding a friction filled entry that would evaporate up all that precious water. Then, as it approaches fatefully close to a desert region, just before impact a precision laser beam goes, “ZIP, ZAP, ZOOM!” and a lovely shower of water rains down upon the desert with all the pulverized clay and carbon providing rich fertilizer. The desert is soon a fertile oasis. Hey, it could happen. Stranger things already have.

But NASA thinks the real value of water rich asteroids is in using the resource in outer space. By finding a way to mine the water in flight, crews could save billions of dollars by not having to pack this life-support necessity. Interestingly enough, the very thing that humans need to survive, consisting of two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen, are the very elements of rocket fuel. (Wow, humans are 60% rocket fuel, or, water, depending on your perspective!). So, astronauts dock their spaceship at a galactic version of Exxon to fill up the tank and top off the water reserves. And while the service station is checking the engine’s oil level and cabin’s air pressure, the crew is freshening up at the nearby spa. Interesting.

So, C-type asteroids can either be Desert-to-Eden conversion sources, hot spring spas, water wells, or rocket fuel depots. Or all three at the same time.Take your pick.

S-type asteroids shine a little brighter than dark, carbon based C-types. That’s because they are rich in reflective metals like cobalt, iron and nickel. If a mining crew is really lucky they could find one with deposits of rhodium, platinum or gold. Scientists estimate that an asteroid about the size of an average bedroom could be packed with well over one million pounds of metals, a tiny fraction being the exceedingly valuable rare ones. Even if mining crews could extract just one hundred pounds of platinum, at about $1000 an ounce, a $100,000 load of platinum would just be the gravy on top of the wealth accumulated from the remaining predominant minerals.

But it may be the M-class asteroids that wars end up being fought over. The wars for oil that we have raging now could very well become wars for M-class asteroids in the future. These asteroids are expected to contain at least ten times the mineral content of S-types.

To make space mining a reality, the mission has to be profitable. With current missions costing in the hundreds of millions, some even billions, an asteroid would have to be massively rich in raw materials. The other option is to develop technologies that are more economical.

Before any of that even matters, current asteroid knowledge needs to be vastly broadened and fine-tuned. We need cosmic cartographers to accurately map the hundreds of thousands of asteroids in outer space. The world needs space geologists that have the technology and knowledge to analyze what minerals each asteroid actually contains. Young students now, who have an interest in a cosmic career, could really have a geology or cartography degree pay off by landing them their dream job.

NASA’s first effort to test their scientific mettle for determining present mineral resources within an asteroid lie with their OSIRIS-REx mission. The goal of “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security and Regolith Explorer” is to return with a geological sample from asteroid Bennu. It is set to launch in September and arrive at the asteroid almost two years later. If all goes according to plan, Earthlings can expect an authentic piece of Bennu to arrive on planet Earth around 2020. (Of course, the gringa is reminded of her favorite piece of motherly advice given regularly to her children in efforts to cultivate a more relaxed approach to life, “The plan is that nothing goes according to plan.”)

In addition to geological studies of Bennu’s raw materials, asteroid re-direction technologies will also be studied. The spacecraft is scheduled to perform an interesting experiment. It is going to give Bennu a gentle, solar nudge. Scientists want to know if sunlight can be used to affect the path of travel of asteroids. I guess the reasoning is that asteroids are too valuable to simply blast into oblivion if Earth happens to be in the way. They would rather nudge them aside then attempt to exploit the wealth they contain.

The most important goals of the mission, however, are to further the development of space mining technologies. They plan to scrape together a two ounce and 4.4 pound geological sample. The spacecraft will then use its state-of-the-art instruments to map the surface of Bennu and analyze its composition. These are the on-board technologies and their purposes:

  • OVIRS (OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer) – analyzes visible and near-infrared light to detect minerals, compounds and chemicals within the asteroid.
  • OTES (OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer) – analyzes infrared light to detect surface minerals of Bennu, determine surface temperature and map the location of water-rich clay mineral deposits.
  • REx (Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer) – analyzes X-ray aura of Bennu’s surface in sunlight to calculate amounts and locations of elements like: iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur.

To find out if sunlight can be used as an asteroid diversion technique OVIRS and OTES will combine their abilities to study what is known as the “Yarkovsky effect”. When an asteroid absorbs sunlight much of the heat radiates outward and provides a propelling effect. Observations will be made to see if a “man-made” solar heat saturation could result in changing an asteroid’s trajectory.

Most of what will be recorded by the different spectrometers will only reflect what is on Bennu’s surface and within a shallow depth (about half a millimeter). They are not capable of reaching deep within the asteroid’s core. To get a deeper look the spacecraft has a tool that blows nitrogen gas onto the surface that will force minerals up from a depth of about two inches. Even so, it’s pretty obvious that much about Bennu will remain unknown even if the mission is successful in achieving all of its goals.

But, a successful mission will at least tell the world one thing: can mining asteroid’s work? The gringa believes if great wealth is at stake there will be movers and shakers in this world who will make it work one way or another while pocketing a healthy profit in the process.

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