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.

Sources:

www.yahoo.com

arxiv.org

www.narrabri.atnf.csiro.au

www.iflscience.com

Image Source: www.ottawa-rasc.ca

 

 

 

 

Breaker One-Nine, SOS, FRB’s & ETs


Dot dot dot-dash dash dash-dot dot dot. Dear readers, do you know what that is? It is SOS in Morse Code. All radio operators know this. It is an understood code that crosses all language barriers. The gringa, fascinated with all things space, then has to ask, does this include extra-terrestrials? Well, who knows?!

Now, the SETI Institute (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent Life) doesn’t really make it a practice to emit signals in their search for ETs, rather, they listen to outer space “noise”. NASA’s search for extra-terrestrial life isn’t so much for little green men to have a conversation with, but, rather, the origins of life such as amino acids, ribonucleotides (RNA) and certain gases such as oxygen, methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and, of course, water.

However, Earthlings have been inadvertently sending out all sorts of signals into space for over five decades. As technological devices fill the Earth, transmission signals fill the heavens: radio broadcasts, television signals, radar blips and bleeps, etc. So, why do we not purposely send a message designed to create a favorable first impression rather than let all this mish-mash represent humankind? Does NASA and SETI believe that no one exists, thus no one is listening or do they believe there may be inherent danger in seeking out contact? Evidently the reason is because there is no consensus, yet, within the scientific community. The professionals are ARGUING. Hmph.

Douglas Vakoch, a researcher with SETI, thinks that it may be time to have an international discussion on the subject and let the public’s opinion on the matter be heard. He is on the pro-sending signals side of the argument. He proposes transmitting radio signals to hundreds of stars within eighty-two light years of our home planet. This can be accomplished with the radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking, on the other hand, thinks this is a bad idea. By sending out so many signals to every Tom, Dick and Harry alien out there, we could communicate with the good, the bad and the ugly. He believes we should be much more cautious in our approach.

So, it seems that, although there is no consensus within the scientific community on whether or not we should initiate communication, there is a consensus that somewhere out there is intelligent life that would not only receive the signals, but would be capable of responding, perhaps in person. The gringa says, “Hmmm.”

Now, the telescope at Arecibo has already sent a space message back in 1974. Consisting of an intricate code, it was transmitted to a cluster of stars 25,000 light years away.

The Crimeans sent out four messages to the cosmos from 1999 until 2008. They were transmitted from the Yevpatoria RT-70 radio telescope at Crimea’s Center for Deep Space Communications. Their ET messages were entitled: “Cosmic Call”, “Teen Age Message”, “Cosmic Call 2”, and “A Message From Earth”. The messages were made up of binary code, repeating signals, musical compositions, photographs, whale songs, etc.

Scientists believed that it is important to purposely beam thoughtful messages into deep space rather than let ETs believe all Earthlings are like the Kardashians, or the Zodiac killer, or Archie Bunker. Although Earthlings have been flooding outer space with signals since the beginning of the television era, most of our daily technologies do not have signals that are sufficiently strong enough to be picked up by our nearest living ET neighbors’ light years away. Although, if they are advanced enough, they have probably detected something by now.

So, if SETI and the Crimeans have already sent out some transmissions, the gringa then wonders, “What’s the big deal about sending more?” And, if our own daily barrage of digital signals and radio waves have the possibility of already being detected, what’s the point of “laying low”? If an ET civilization is super advanced to the point they could easily dominate us, yet they haven’t shown up and taken over, why be so worried? It seems they could care less.

The gringa thinks the real reason why the scientists can’t stop arguing and just get to the business at hand is an age old reason. Power struggle. Tsk, tsk. How disappointing. The gringa believed that surely, of all human beings, scientists were above such nonsense. As scientists consider the possibility of the most ground-breaking and historical event EVER playing out, they eye one another suspiciously and wonder just who is going to get the credit. Yes. Exactly who gets to devise the message, approve it and send it as the representative of the entire Earth?!

So, although there are researchers who want to open up the subject to public debate, that also opens it up to the general host of problems that goes along with human nature. Venturing into the area of communicating with an alien race would mean the establishment of protocols. Who gets to decide who we Earthlings talk to and what we talk about?

Although SETI wants to actively transmit in hopes of communicating with extra-terrestrials, the official policy of the institute is that the final decision belongs to the people of Earth. Such a decision affects all humans. It could be the single-most life affecting decision for mankind. Therefore, it should be left in the hands of all the people and not just a few “experts”.

Many other leaders in the space exploration community are in agreement, such as former Senior Scientist for Astrobiology in NASA’s planetary protection office, John Rummel and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk. Pioneering American astronomer, Geoff Marcy, who has discovered many “extrasolar” planets, believes it is important that every culture, even deep jungle indigenous peoples, upon Earth have the opportunity to have their voices heard in such a decision that will affect every person worldwide.

The discussion on this issue will probably continue to heat up because, recently, some interesting radio signals have been detected by astronomers who have been left scratching their heads and wondering if they could, perhaps, be a signal from intelligent beings, seeing that, like one of our own repeated signal transmissions, this signal also repeated itself.

If a repeating signal has been detected in deep space, could it have other origins than intelligent beings purposely transmitting? Canadian scientist Paul Scholz finds the mystery rather exciting and believes this to be an important discovery and wants to know if the signals originated with living, breathing ETs or if a star just went “kaplooie” and it’s just a “coincidence” that it created a shockwave noise that mimics a man-made (or little green man-made) artificial, repeating signal.

Until the signals began repeating, scientists theorized the rapid bursts of radio signals resulted from a star that went supernova and exploded or, perhaps, a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. But, now that the signals are identical and repeating, the same scientists don’t quite know what to think.

In addition to a repeating pattern, there are other singular differences that set the signals apart from other space “noise”. When studied further, the signals are “brighter” and in a different “spot” on the “spectrum” of other fast radio burst signals (FRBs). These details are all well and good, but all the gringa wants to know is, “Are we alone or not?”

The closest I can get to a straight answer is what a Cornell University astronomy professor has to say. According to Professor James Cordes, whatever charge is powering the signal, it is powerful enough to repeat the signal cycle within minutes. The energy packed behind the transmission must be impressive because they are extraordinarily bright, thus enabling us to see them from very, very, very, very, far away. And, the power source must also be incredibly secure and amazingly strong and durable because it is not destroyed by the transmission of an exploding-star-scale blast and is capable of repeating the exploding-star-scale blast.

To put all of this in a nutshell, five fast radio burst signals were captured by the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia. Rather than just be a single burst of energy, these are double bursts, two bursts separated by 2.4 milliseconds, consistently. They repeated five times. The origins of the signals could be as far away as several billion light years beyond the Milky Way Galaxy, our home turf in the cosmos.

The gringa has no answer and remains intrigued. And my vote is that we send our own signals.

 

 

Sources: http://www.ewao.com, http://www.seti.org, http://www.nasa.gov

Image Source:  www.dailymail.co.uk

 

 

 

 

The Case Of The Hitchhiking Microbe


What, exactly, does NASA hope to accomplish if astronauts really do set their boots on the surface of Mars? One thing they hope to discover are clues to the origins of life on Earth. The gringa asks, “What exactly does that mean?” It means that NASA is considering the theory of “panspermia” and is exploring outer space to see if stellar evidence proves this theory to be true.

Panspermia is nothing new.  As far back as 5BC scientists were considering panspermia as the explanation for how humans came into existence here on Earth. In 1871 it was officially proposed in the scientific community of that day. Panspermia posits that it is possible for life to planet hop, possibly even hop among star systems, and seed the planets it visits with life. In a nutshell, that would mean that the primitive biological material that evolved into the original ancestors of humans was not created here on Earth, but, rather, were alien hitchhikers who made their way here on cosmic fragments.

NASA’s exploration policy is to “follow the water” because it is necessary to produce life as we know it. Water is found throughout the universe, just not in the form we need, liquid. It’s usually frozen. However, wherever there is frozen water, perhaps, in that planet’s history, it was once liquid. And, if so, perhaps that is where human origins can be found if the panspermia theory is true, that life exists in the universe and can travel via meteors to other planets and eventually develop on other worlds where the environment is sufficient to support its development.

Since Mars was a warm world with water long ago, the necessary ingredients for life as we know it, it makes it a logical planet to explore for evidence of panspermia. The exploration and data collected so far from the rovers and satellites studying Mars have been limited to studying the surface of the Red Planet. No evidence has been found on the surface. It is possible, however, that important evidence could be buried beyond the reach of the rovers’ digging capabilities or a satellite’s imaging. That is why it is important to get some human explorers out there.

What would the implications be if Earth-like microbes were discovered on Mars? Every human would first want to go have a very long look in the mirror and then a very long look up into the heavens and ponder the concept. NASA, however, would not be surprised. NASA has already conducted studies on over 130 meteorites from Mars and determined that none contained any microbial evidence despite the fact that some claims to the contrary were made. NASA understands the serious repercussions that would occur around the world if such a discovery is made and we can trust them to report the truth without any hype. NASA takes scientific truth seriously.

They even have a program established that studies the effects such discoveries might have throughout the world. They understand that an announcement that extraterrestrial life exists will have serious philosophical, religious, legal, ethical and cultural implications that will impact people all over the world.

Despite NASA’s interest in this theory and their willingness to explore space with the idea in mind to search for supportive evidence, they are also realistic about its probability. They believe that it is probably unlikely that life as we know it on Earth was seeded from Mars origins. However, because science is not about “probably”, they must continue the studies until the theory can be proven or disproven.

There are some scientists who do believe that Mars was an ideal place for life to have existed at some time. They believe that since such life would have existed long before life on Earth ever existed, it is then not unreasonable to consider the possibility that microbes traveled to Earth on a meteorite and introduced life here on the Blue Planet.

One reason some scientists support the idea of panspermia via Mars is because Martian meteorites contain the precursors to RNA, boron and molybdenum. In fact, they contain more of these two elements than what is found in early Earth. And why does that matter? RNA is a molecule that plays a critical role in regulating genes and its presence is necessary for all life forms as we Earthlings know them. So, if an old rock from Mars contains such a molecule, it only stands to reason, at least from an Earthling perspective, that it existed on Mars for the purpose of regulating the genetic codes of some Martian life form.

Another Martian discovery that further supports the belief that life once existed on Mars has to do with phosphates. It has already been established that Mars has provided evidence of the presence of RNA. In order for RNA to form, phosphates must be present. Well, not only does Mars have phosphates, but Martian phosphates dissolve in water much better than Earth’s phosphates. The logic then goes that since life as we know it here on Earth originated in water, Martian conditions were even more friendly to the aspect of life forming than conditions on Earth. So, if it could happen here, it most certainly should have happened on Mars.

So, basically, the theory goes that about 4 billions years ago a comet or meteorite of Martian origins blasted through our galaxy and slammed into Earth. Now this could have been an accident or, according to “directed panspermia” theory, a deliberate action by an intelligent civilization.

Historically panspermia has been considered “fringe” science. However, it is now gaining new consideration in light of the Mars mission. In fact, in 2013 Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of the University of Buckingham claims to have discovered fossilized remains of organisms in meteorites found within Earth’s atmosphere. This proves that it is possible for primitive life forms to survive the intense heat of entry into Earth’s atmosphere and make its way to Earth’s surface. He believes it is possible that the entire Milky Way Galaxy could have been teeming with life at one time long, long ago. He also believes that organic, possibly even living, stellar material is constantly being exchanged throughout the cosmos through meteoric impact.

So, the gringa awaits the exciting mission of boots on the ground on Mars. I eagerly await the drill, baby, drill action that will delve deep below the dusty surface of the Red Planet. I can’t wait to find out what may lie beneath the frozen crust of the vast Martian ocean. Scientists believe the Martian seas are not frozen solid. Could a Martian “Nessie” be swimming about waiting for visitors to come feed her a few breadcrumbs? It very well could be. And, she could be our distant cousin.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

Photo credit: www.groundzeromedia.org

 

Isaac Newton By The Sea


NASA recently reported images of an X-ray tail (or, ribbon) of galactic gas. It has broken cosmic records with the extraordinary length of 250,000 light years. The published images are a composite from combined data that originated from the Chandra orbiting observatory and the Isaac Newton Group (ING) of Telescopes that are located in the Canary Islands of Spain.

ING consists of two telescopes. One is named William Herschel (WMT) and the other is Isaac Newton (INT). They are located on a seaside cliff of La Palma Island and command a breathtaking view of the sea as well as the night sky. Isaac Newton began serving astronomers in 1984 and William Hershel in 1987.

ING is a collaborative effort of scientists representing the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Spain. Their goals in serving the world community of astronomers and space related science is to provide world class telescope operations and programs that aid in research efforts. To encourage innovative methods in science and research, ING welcomes projects that involve novel instruments as “visitors”.  ING is committed to fostering original thinking as well as strongly supporting classical observing.

The Isaac Newton Telescope is open for visiting observers. New instruments are now being enjoyed with funding to provide more. One new instrument, the PAUCam, is a state of the art imaging device that creates prime focus capabilities for the William Hershel Telescope. A wide-field multi-object spectrograph is being developed for William Hershel and expected to become operational in 2017. This instrument will be part of a five year study to help understand how the Milky Way was “assembled”.

WEAVE is the name of the spectrograph developed for William Hershel. WEAVE was designed and built by a consortium of institutes from the UK, the Netherlands, Spain and France. Although visitors will still have access to observe the heavens through William Hershel, much of the telescope’s time will be devoted to the study of three particular projects: 1. The archaeology of the Milky Way; 2. The evolution of the galaxy; 3. Dark energy and its nature. These projects create wonderful opportunities for the UK, the Netherlands and Spain to make important scientific contributions to the world community’s knowledge of outer space.

Resident student programmes are available with ING. Over the past decade, forty students have served in the position of INT support astronomers and have gained valuable hands-on experience and technical skills. In fact, since 2009, 53 PhD theses have been based on ING data. Announcements will be made in March 2016 about the details of the 2016/2017 programme which offers astronomy and astrophysics PhD’s, MSc’s. INT welcomes students who are interested in any field of astronomy or astronomical instrumentation.

Students stay in flats provided by ING and receive a modest monthly stipend. These are cozy abodes within walking distance to the observatories, however, ING also provides transportation back and forth. For one year students will have the opportunity to participate in supportive roles in the work performed by one of the world’s most scientifically productive and versatile telescope groups. They will become part of the professional astronomical family of La Palma.

To qualify for admission to the programme, students must be a European citizen or European student resident. Enrollment in an astronomy PhD or MSc program or in the final year of undergraduate astronomy or physics course is required. English is a must, Spanish is a plus. It is also helpful to have some experience with Linux/UNIX operating systems as well as IRAF astronomical data reduction software. While participating in the program, expect to work 37 hours weekly, day or night, as well as weekends and holidays. A valid driving license is expected as well as being able to pass a medical examination.

Four positions are available. Students report for duty in September. During the one year of service, students have a 25 day leave allowance.

Qualified students who are interested should prepare a cover letter presenting experience along with any other pertinent information to be considered. Two references are required. Applications must be received by May 1 via e-mail or snail-mail. E-mail contact is Ovidiu Vaduvescu, INT studentship program manager, ovidiuv@ing.iac.es. Snail mail contact info:

Studentship Programme Manager

Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes

Apartado de coreos 321, E-38700, Santa Cruz de La Palma, SPAIN

Fax: +34 922 425 401

And, if you are unqualified, like the gringa, but still interested in what goes on at ING, their website has an interesting feature that the gringa really likes. It’s called “Ask an Astronomer!”. You simply fill out the e-mail form and submit. It’s not just any ol’ email form, however. It also has lots of other information to pick and choose from. Click “send” and wait for an amazing scientist to school you on what you want to know.

Source: www.ing.iac.es

Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org

 

 

 

“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

The “Little Green Men” Star


If you happen to be a writer looking for fodder for a great science fiction story, you may want to delve into NASA reports regarding star KIC 8462852. NASA is fascinated by the strange goings on about this star and bears much resemblance to a pulsar named LGM-1 (Little Green Men). This pulsar emitted strange signals that created a stir within NASA and were ultimately determined to be a natural phenomenon. The strange events involving star KIC 8462852 have yet to solved.

Monitoring this star has been the responsibility of the Kepler mission for the past four years. In 2011, and later in 2013, two significant, and as yet unexplained, events took place. What do scientists really know? They know that the star dimmed because “something” passed in front of it large enough to block its light. The gringa says, “What the heck?”

In September scientists finally reported their theory and findings on what could possibly explain these strange events. They are blaming a “swarm” or “family” of comets. The gringa’s imagination begins whirling and thinks, “Or perhaps a fleet of starships.” Another theory suggests a cluster of planetary fragments and asteroids.

Scientists are using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to probe deeper into this mystery. To learn more, scientists, who first studied the star using observations conducted in visible light, then tried using infrared light. This is because if asteroids were involved and actually impacted the star there will be a whole bunch of infrared light surrounding the star and the dusty old bits of gravel from a pulverized asteroid should be at the perfect temperature to glow like a firefly under infrared wavelengths.  And detecting infrared light is one of things the Spitzer Space Telescope is designed to do.

This year the Spitzer took a gander at star KIC 8462852 while looking at hundreds of thousands of stars in its search for planets. One thing in particular that Spitzer was looking for was infrared emission of space dust that encircled stars. Spitzer didn’t find any of this type of dust around star KIC 8462852 so scientists think the asteroid collision theory can probably be scratched.

So, the gringa wants to know just what their thinking is now. What the scientists seem to be leaning toward is the possibility of a “swarm” of cold comets. For such a theory to work, this cluster of comets would need to have an unusually long orbit around the star. They also call this theoretical comet cluster a “family” because it would require a “pack leader” to explain some of the phenomena. The larger “big daddy” that would be in the lead would have been the one to block the star’s light in 2011. In 2013 the rest of the family would have been passing through in front of the star and blocked the light again in the strange pattern that was recorded.  This would explain why in 2015, when Spitzer observed the star again, there were no infrared signatures. The comet “swarm” was long gone and probably around on the other side of the star in its orbit progression.

The gringa must confess to thinking, “Mm hmm. Scout ship shouts, ‘The coast is clear!’ and the support ships soon set a course for the coordinates.” Oh yes, what an imagination! But please don’t judge the gringa! I just couldn’t help myself when NASA itself goes and names a pulsar something like “Little Green Men-1”.

NASA admits that what is going on with this star is strange and not understood. Their interest is extremely piqued so study and research will continue until the curiosity of these scientists are satisfied. And I ask you, is that not the greatest job ever? For every little kid that has lain on their back in the grass in the dark of the night staring up at the stars and wondering if there really are “little green men” out there, is that not just the coolest job ever to grow up and get to do!

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

Pass The Galaxy Greens, Please


Truly, the gringa enjoys a fresh salad of spinach, arugula, romaine lettuce, with some walnuts tossed in, crumbled feta on top, and any assortment of chunky raw vegetables like zucchini, red bell pepper, asparagus, and onion. As a space gringa could I get my salad fix satisfied? Well, that’s exactly what the NASA engineers and scientists based in Huntsville, Alabama’s Marshall Space Flight Center have been working on for decades.

These galactic gardeners have created a space agricultural system for the International Space Station (ISS). The astronauts on ISS have been testing this technology which will ultimately find its way to Mars where it will create the food of the future. The ISS system is called the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). It features a water recovery system and an oxygen generation system, the two basic necessities not only for human life, but also for plant life.

In order to sustain a long duration mission such as a Mars mission, astronauts will need to be able to supplement the food supplies they transport with them. One experiment called “Lada Validating Vegetable Production Unit” (boy is that a mouthful!) involves using a small greenhouse type contraption that has automated water and light controls. Lada’s goals are: to determine if space greens are safely edible; will space microorganisms grow on the space greens and if so, how can this risk be minimized; how can space greens be safely sanitized after harvest; discover methods for optimal production.

The most recent space greens to be harvested are a Japanese lettuce variety called “Mizuna”. The shuttle Discovery made a salad delivery to Earth in April. Along with the salad delivery was a report on findings based on the cultivation of the lettuce by two different methods, the “old” method versus the “new improved” method. The funny thing is that a sensor malfunction that went undetected resulted in a higher yield of lettuce. A mistake produced more. So much for the painstaking methods of a science experiment!

What happened after the sensor went on the blink was that the “root” module (no pot of dirt!) received much more water than it was supposed to. When cultivation “on the ground” determined that it would be better to minimize water and salt accumulations on the roots, this was the plan up on ISS. They’ve discovered the “actual” growing of the plant compared to the “land based” simulation did not result in identical scenarios.

It seems by overwatering the roots nutrients moved faster throughout the plant which resulted in faster fertilization release. Considering the plants are moving water and nutrients in micro-gravity, it makes sense to the gringa that more water would then be better. Water is kind of like a “vehicle” which facilitates the transport of the nutrition.

The gringa asks, “What does all this mean? I know that this will help Martian colonists get their fiber, but how does this help the rest of mankind that gets left behind?” Well, as climate change progresses, agriculture will become more of a challenge. We simply cannot continue producing crops according to the same old tried and true methods. Climate controlled greenhouses will need to be advanced to the point of sustaining a world population on the produce and vegetables it produces. The data from these experiments is critical to develop the type of technology that will save the Earth’s population from hunger.

These agricultural experiments have been taking place cooperatively between the United States and Russia for twenty years. Together, the scientists of two nations who have had an often hostile, cold, cantankerous relationship have ignored politics to quietly work together to solve the world’s problems. The gringa really likes that, even more than the space lettuce.

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

Asteroid Ahead! Redirect! Redirect!


I am a sci-fi fan. I love to read science fiction books, watch science fiction movies and even indulge in trolling some of the latest conspiracy theory sites on the future Armageddon triggered by an apocalyptical asteroid-Earth collision event. One thing I have learned throughout my many years of science fiction madness is that there is usually an itsy-bitsy kernel of truth within the fantastical story. The gringa has found such a tidbit of truth within the asteroid-Earth collision story and it comes straight from NASA.

A one of a kind robot mission is being planned at NASA regarding an asteroid near Earth. The robot’s job within the next decade is to gather a mega-ton boulder from an asteroid and redirect it into an orbit around the Moon. This asteroid sample would be explored about five years later and samples returned to Earth from its surface.  This mission, begun in 2013, is called “Asteroid Redirect Mission” (ARM) and is all part of the plan for getting humans to Mars in the 2030’s. This little information nugget is what is fueling the preppers and conspiracists who think all of mankind is doomed sometime this September by an asteroid-Earth catastrophe. As these folks hunker down in their bunkers, the gringa asks the dear reader to simply read on and amuse yourself.

Out of the thousand-plus asteroids astronauts have to select from, they have four that are favorites. A bit more research on their orbit, velocity, spin and size will be conducted for a few more years before a final decision is made. To speed things along, NASA also has created an initiative called the “Asteroid Grand Challenge”. Its purpose is to identify asteroids that pose a potential hazard not just through NASA’s efforts but through collaboration with other cosmic partners. For the astronaut hopeful, physicist, hobbyist astronomer and such in my reading audience, who knows, perhaps you could lend a hand and be a part of something fantastic. Since the plan to launch ARM is scheduled for some time in the 2020 decade, you’ve got plenty of time to get to work.

Now, considering my insatiable curiosity, the gringa has to ask, “Why should we spend so much taxpayer money and risk the lives of astronauts to collect some kazillion years old space rocks?” The answer? Asteroids are considered to be the remnants of the Big Bang. They are the left overs. By having access to an asteroid as near as our Moon, scientists can study more samples than ever before. This helps to satisfy their insatiable curiosity as to how our solar system was formed and life on Earth began. In other words, the discoveries could lead to mankind saving the planet and figuring out how to colonize another planet. There are also possibilities of finding frozen water sources which could hold all sorts of interesting things within to study under a microscope, maybe even a frozen bubble of breathable air. That would indicate the possibility of a sister planet that a human could survive on without a protective suit or artificial environment. And, of course, there are always “those” people who hope to find another energy and fuel source. You know, the ones who don’t look at outer space with curiosity and wonder but with dollar signs in their eyes.

The mission will develop a planetary defense technique that could be used to deflect an asteroid that posed a dangerous threat to Earth. Now, if you’re already questioning whether it’s even a good idea to nudge an asteroid over to the Moon and ask the sort of questions the gringa asks, like, “Um, guys, could it just be THAT could become the asteroid that ends up threatening all civilization?” Rest assured, NASA has thought of that as well. That is the reason for the studies on size, mass, velocity and speed. They want to capture an asteroid large enough to provide great research opportunity but small enough to burn up in the atmosphere if it did go rogue and plummet towards Earth.

The gringa also considers, “This all sounds fascinating but, exactly how does this get us closer to Mars?” Well, ever since mankind has begun to climb into rockets and physically explore the cosmos, astronauts have been dependent upon supplies and support from Earth. This has limited the amount of time astronauts can remain in space and how far they can travel. Such missions are labeled “Earth Reliant”. The “Proving Ground” of the deep space environment surrounding the moon is closer to what space travelers will experience on a trip to Mars. For example, solar and cosmic radiation is stronger outside low-Earth orbit and closer to the Moon.

Presently, a typical astronaut mission on the International Space Station (ISS) can last up to six months (about 180 days).  A manned mission to Mars could take 500 days or more. Most of that time is simply in transit back and forth (about six months each way). To become completely Earth independent journeys,  new technologies and methods will be tested on the asteroid.

One such technology to test is Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP). This would do away with chemical dependent propulsion allowing larger on-board payloads in place of the weight that would have otherwise been dedicated to fuel. A larger payload means more on board supplies. More on board supplies means a longer mission capability. Solar propulsion also means energy independence. Energy independence means limitless distance capability of travel within our solar system. By having the asteroid, NASA can test the SEP system as a robotic system that can simulate sending cargo to Mars well before habitants arrive.

Once a robotic spacecraft has successfully landed on Mars, the next phase would then be to launch a crew to Mars. This crew will need to have the skills and technology to maneuver and dock with the Martian robotic spacecraft. This can be practiced on the asteroid delivered to Moon orbit.

Now, a trip to Mars is not a hot-shot, non-stop flight. The plan is actually to have a staged journey. Between Earth and Mars would be multiple ports of call similar in nature to the current ISS. The Orion is NASA’s current exploration craft that will be used in future solar system exploration.  All astronauts slated for Martian missions would then need to know how to dock the Orion with these stations.

What about the protective suits astronauts wore on the Moon landing and currently wear when conducting maintenance and repairs in space at  the ISS? Are these suits sufficient for a Mars mission or do astronauts require new technology there as well? Spacesuits, also known as Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs), will need upgrades to the primary life support system (PLSS) due to the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars. Engineers are also working on upgrades that will provide better oxygen regulation and humidity control. The gringa thinks, “Dear God, please have decent humidity control. We don’t want to see leather skinned astronaut faces with crazy, frizzy hair.” The EMUs also have cooling systems and atmospheric pressure regulators that will be upgraded to accommodate holding more fluids for longer periods of time. Durability will also be a factor. Astronauts traveling to Mars will need these babies to last a long time and be easy to maintain and repair. The new designs will be tested on the asteroid missions before actually going to Mars. It would really suck to be 10 days out on a 500 day mission only to find out your spacesuit was not going to be able to hold 17 months worth of pee. At least on the asteroid you can turn around and go home and change your pants.

Within the next five years, the world can expect to see a new object floating around the moon and regular travel back and forth to study, research and rehearse for even greater events in the future. Within the gringa’s lifetime, I may just witness humans arriving on Mars. Who knows, by the time I’m old and ornery enough that my kids and grandkids have stolen my driver’s license, hidden my car keys and put my car up on blocks, I may just buy a damn ticket.

Sources:

http://www.nasa.gov/content/what-is-nasa-s-asteroid-redirect-mission

http://www.nasa.gov/content/how-will-nasas-asteroid-redirect-mission-help-humans-reach-mars

Photo credit: spectrum.mit.edu

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?”