Super-Size That Telescope Order, Please!


The gringa has previously posted about the significance of the Alpha Centauri system in man’s eternal search for the origins of life, the meaning of life and, perhaps, other life. Europe and Chile are partnering together in an effort to focus their astronomy and scientific efforts to search the planets in this star system to discover any planet’s potential for habitability. 


The Breakthrough Starshot civilian scientist program has modified the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) telescope that is in Chile. Scientists and researchers are setting the stage for Starshot’s probe that will be transmitting images from Alpha Centauri. World renowned Stephen Hawking and billionaire Yuri Milner are the captains at the helm of this ambitious private endeavor. 


Dubbed the “Very Large Telescope” (VLT), the specialized instrument will use infra-red technology to observe planets so incredibly distant the telescope counterparts of ESO’s VLT have only produced very faint depictions in their images of the planets of the Alpha Centauri system. The improvements to the VLT will minimize the interference of surrounding bright starlight that diminishes the clarity of imaging of the planets. Scientists hope that these improvements will make VLT better designed to find and study the Earth-sized planet orbiting in a cosmic sweet spot, the Goldilocks zone, around Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri system. 


An even larger telescope is slated for completion by ESO sometime in the next decade. It’s name, “Extremely Large Telescope” (ELT), may lack imagination, but the gringa doesn’t care so long as it does its job and does it well. This telescope will be committed to gathering data on the other exoplanets in Alpha Centauri. 


Although Chile is a hospitable host to this project, there are more than 16 other countries throughout Europe and South America working together toward ultimate success.  But why are so many observatories located in countries of Earth’s southern hemisphere? Countries like Chile, Puerto Rico, and Peru?


Well, just as Proxima Centauri is a sweet spot for an Earth-like exoplanet, the Southern hemisphere is a sweet spot for observing the heavens. There are many reasons why these locales are considered ideal for astronomy:

  • Remote locations with little industrial and urban development.
  • High mountain ranges.
  • Miles of coastal elevations
  • High altitude deserts with clear, dry air practically year round for clear viewing.

And if you would like to take a peek through Chile’s collection of enormous telescopes, take a trip to the Atacama Desert in the northern part of the country. In addition to the opportunity of a lifetime while gazing into the heavens through a 16 inch telescope, you can tour the Cerro Paranal Observatory and the SPACE Observatory in San Pedro. There are local archaeological sites to explore as well as geographical marvels like a high desert mesa filled with geysers. 

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But if you can’t afford the money or the time for a Chilean astronomy expedition, no worries. There are so many observatories open to the public, surely you will find one near your own hometown. Wikipedia has a rather extensive list so, find your country of choice and see which observatory is nearest you and is open to the public. And, if you have an enjoyable adventure, drop the gringa a line! I’d love to share your experience! 

Image Credit:  Extreme Tech

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 www.timeanddate.com 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.

 

 

Sources:

eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov

www.timeanddate.com

Image Credit: cherokeebillie.files.wordpress.com

 

NASA, Please Explain


Why hasn’t mankind been back to the Moon? Why do humans only travel as far as the International Space Station (ISS) and no further if Russia and the United States have already had successful Moon landing missions? These questions fuel the conspiracy fires that claim the Apollo Moon landing was a staged scene and never really happened. Regardless of a person’s position on this, what of Russia? If they made it to the Moon, why haven’t they been back either?

During the years of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, it was always a game of one-upmanship. Rather than flinging bombs at one another it was a bit of “Whatever you can do I can do better.” The space race was no exception.

In 1961 the Soviet Union took the lead in the space race when Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth and returned home, all in one piece. In response, U.S. President John F. Kennedy did not say, “Well done.” No, instead he threw down the gauntlet and swore that the U.S. would out-do the Soviet’s achievement. He declared that within a decade Americans would have a man on the Moon and back home safe and sound. Eight years later people around the world watched televised broadcasts of Neil Armstrong planting a U.S. flag on the surface of the Moon. Or did he?

What we know now compared to what we knew then may cast great doubt on the legitimacy of the Apollo mission. Accusations that film director Stanley Kubrick prepared a fake production staged with the latest technologies of 70s era filmdon may actually have credibility. Consider the most common criticisms that point to the film being a fake:

  • Wind mysteriously blowing a flag that should be in the vacuum of space.
  • Anomalous shadows cast in different directions which would indicate multiple sources of light.
  • No disturbance of lunar dust or the Moon’s surface from the landing of the space module.
  • What are the strange objects that are reflected at different times in the visors of the astronaut’s space helmet?
  • Where are all the stars that should be in the background?

Skeptics of conspiracy theories can argue away these questions. For years the gringa has been inclined to believe in the Moon landing as an event that really did happen. My reason being that, for one thing, think about how many people would have to be in on such a crazy secret for all of these decades. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but the gringa’s pretty certain that somewhere along the way, throughout all of these years, surely someone would have cracked.

Despite my confidence in NASA, however, the gringa must admit that by becoming informed about the Van Allen radiation belts, I may have to change my position. This may be the smoking gun that exposes how the entire world has been duped. The U.S., desperate to remain relevant and seen as the most powerful nation, outperforming its most aggressive global competitor, may have gone so far as to stage the most incredible hoax of all time.

You see, the Van Allen radiation belts surround the Earth. Consider these belts to be an enormous layered donut and the Earth the donut hole. They radiate outward as far as 36,000 miles depending on whether they are expanding or contracting. The innermost ring generally spans from 400-6,000 miles above the surface of the Earth. The outer belt stretches generally from about 8,400-36,000 miles above Earth. The ISS is safely tucked into orbit at a mere 230 miles from the Earth’s surface in what is called a Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Orbiting between the two belts is a GPS satellite set 12,500 miles away, just inside the innermost rim of the outermost belt, where radiation levels fluctuate according to waxing and waning cycles. Just within the outermost layer of the outermost belt is NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in geosynchronous orbit at 22,000 miles away studying the mess solar radiation makes from time to time.

In addition to the Van Allen radiation belts is the problem of a cloud of cool, charged particles which envelopes most of Earth’s outer atmosphere. Its nearest edge is about 600 miles from the surface of the Earth and extends outward and stops just inside the outermost edge of the furthest Van Allen belt. Scientists call this cloud the plasmasphere. It seems to cause particles in the outer belt to scatter. As the electrons scatter they create a loop which becomes a well defined belt. The plasmasphere is responsible for creating and maintaining the belts. When a powerful solar event occurs, such as a solar flare, some of the belts’ electrons can be forced by these extreme conditions into the space void between the belt layers, thus creating the waxing and waning effect of the belts.

The craziness of this relationship boggles the gringa’s mind. Think about it. The electrons are prevented by Earth’s magnetic field from penetrating all the way to Earth and frying all of us Earthlings. However, they also do not have enough energy to escape and dissipate into outer space. Thus they are trapped in this belt system which results in a protective barrier that traps dangerous radioactive solar radiation so that we don’t all get fried. Without the belts we fry. Without the plasmosphere we fry. Without the magnetosphere we fry. And if we hang out in any of these Earth preserving regions for any length of time we fry. Is that not the most amazing irony? That which preserves us can also kill us.

Considering that the Moon is 238,900 miles from the Earth, these dangerous, radioactive belts must have been navigated safely with the technology available in 1969. The only other option would have been to “thread the needle”, so to speak, by using a trajectory that would have allowed astronauts to travel through a narrow window of space that would have avoided the highest concentrations of radiation within the belts.

If this path had been successfully traveled in 1969, and adequate shielding technology existed, why is the danger posed by the Van Allen belts considered to be the main obstacle and unsolved problem preventing a consecutive Moon landing today? The gringa suspects the answer may lie in the fact that there really was no successful 1969 Moon landing to begin with.

Here are the words and quotes NASA uses to describe the Van Allen belts today:

  • 2 donuts of seething radiation.
  • Impenetrable barrier.
  • Wax and wane.
  • Expose satellites in low-Earth orbit to damaging radiation.

So what did NASA do to deal with the dangers of the Van Allen belts? Did they come up with a competent strategy and deliver the real deal with a man on the Moon or did they scam the entire world?

Newly discovered in 1958 by scientist James Van Allen, not much was known about them two years later when the first solution was offered up. In 1960 Robert O. Piland and Stanley C. White told NASA that hoping to shield astronauts effectively from the radiation was impractical. They did believe they could provide moderate protection and a safe enough route that would enable astronauts to not fry as they passed through the outer belt.

NASA got to work with a Group On Trajectory Analysis. Van Allen, himself, suggested that by detonating a nuclear warhead the crew could clear a path of travel. The gringa can only say, “Thank goodness NASA didn’t do that!” However, the defense industry in the US really mucked things up by nuclear testing which only increased the intensity of the radiation levels in the belts.

In 1964 NASA officials were confident that with the right skin on the spacecraft, a layer of protection provided by instrumentation, and the right trajectory, the risk was nominal to the crew. Equipped with dosimeters to record radiation exposure, the gringa is puzzled over the final results as reported by NASA. The agency reports that over the course of all the Lunar missions, astronauts were only exposed to radiation levels that were actually lower than the 5 rem a person working in a nuclear power plant would be exposed to annually. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission claims that the average American is exposed to a radiation dose of about 0.62 rem annually. A full body CAT scan delivers a radiation dose of 1 rem. So any human going through some rather routine medical procedures can easily reach the same radiation exposure levels as what NASA reported in the Apollo Moon landing crew.

ISS astronauts deal with radiation issues daily. It took the gringa quite a bit of head scratching and calculating to discover how ISS astronaut radiation levels compare to the astronauts of the Apollo Moon missions. They use a different measurement, the SI system. Maybe, if there is a conspiracy, this is by design to confuse amateur sleuths like myself. Anyway, I digress.

Basically one mSv is the equivalent dose of radiation an average person would be exposed to on Earth in one year’s time. Astronauts on the ISS are exposed to 1 mSv daily! This exposure takes place well outside the Van Allen belts in a space station constructed with the latest technology in radiation shielding and manned by personnel equipped with the safest space suit equipment available. How, then, could minimally protected astronauts pass through highly radioactive belts not just once, but twice, and not be ravaged with radiation? If ISS astronauts report a daily radiation exposure equivalent to a year’s worth of radiation back home and are not in the belts themselves, how in the world is the public supposed to believe that the Apollo astronauts were only exposed to the amount of radiation a person would absorb if they had 4-5 full-body CAT scans?

The  gringa has become incredibly skeptical. The gringa is going to be hopping mad if she discovers hard evidence that proves we have all been had. NASA, please explain.

Sources:

www.nasa.gov

www.nrc.gov

www.popsci.com

www.mun.ca

www.newscientist.com

www.windows2universe.org

Image Credit: www.wakingtimes.com

The Truth About Tabby


UFO and alien conspiracy theory buffs are going to enjoy this post by the gringa, or not. I guess it depends on if you enjoy a healthy dose of conspiracy debunking or truth. You see, dear readers, there has been a bit of hubbub about an interesting space object that is orbiting a nearby star and was detected by the Kepler telescope late last year.

The SETI Institute (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) calls KIC 8462852 “mysterious”. NASA believes the mystery is resolved with the theory that the strange signals are the result of cosmic dust, probably from multiple impacts of a comet swarm, and causes the star’s light to flicker erratically. Vanderbilt University researchers, who affectionately call the star Tabby, debunk theories by those who believe it to be home of aliens who are very, very busy. The astrophysicist contributors to the respectable Astrophysical Journal agree with Vanderbilt’s point of view while at the same time agreeing with theories from other scientists who propose an extraterrestrial origin theory. So, who’s got it right? Who’s got it wrong? Just what the heck is the truth about Tabby?

Who Is Tabby

Tabby is officially designated star KIC 8462852 and shines brighter than our own Sun about 1400 light years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation. It is a subject of study by NASA’s Kepler space telescope which reveals that from time to time it dims about twenty percent in brightness.

SETI’s Conclusion

The cause of the dimming light could possibly be because of material or objects orbiting the star. SETI researchers believe they have evidence to determine that these objects are not planets. SETI considers the possibility that Tabby could be home to a technologically sophisticated society that has constructed a swarm of solar panels that orbit the star which would account for the light fluctuations.

SETI uses its own Allen Telescope Array to study radio signals that originate from that part of outer space. They attest that these radio signals are of artificial origin, calling them “non-natural”. They search for narrow-band signals and broadband that might possibly be produced by a large and powerful spacecraft. They also search for evidence of laser pulses. SETI’s Panamanian partner, Boquete Optical SETI Observatory, performs the laser pulse research.

Research such as this takes a long time so the gringa will have to practice patience for SETI to conclude their studies and publish their final results. They admit that, historically, cases like this usually result in finding a natural cause for the anomalies but they still must investigate the possibility of it originating from extraterrestrial intelligence. That is, after all, their mission.

NASA’s Conclusion

During four years of observation, the Kepler mission recorded strange happenings in 2011 and 2013 when interesting and dramatic light fluctuations occurred. To help determine what happened, NASA also trained the eye of the Spitzer Space Telescope in Tabby’s direction. Kepler observed the visible light. Spitzer could delve deeper into the invisible infrared light signals and patterns. In November of last year Spitzer paid off with a recording of another light fluctuation.

Although NASA’s theory is that clouds of space dust were formed from a swarm of comets that orbit the star in erratic patterns, Spitzer did not discover evidence to support this theory. This caused NASA to switch to a cold comet theory. One lead comet would be followed by a swarm of smaller comets. If this is true, even if the comets were already out of the telescope’s view as they traveled around Tabby, they should still leave behind a detectable infrared signature. However, this was not the case.

Researchers admit that more observations need to be recorded to determine just exactly what is going on. NASA admits that Tabby is strange, indeed. However, they believe that a natural cause is more likely than “little green men”.

Vanderbilt University’s Conclusion

Vanderbilt studies focused on the 100 day period when the most significant light fluctuations occurred. The manner in which they occurred suggested that a large number of “irregularly shaped objects” passed in front of the star causing its light to be blocked temporarily. Working off a report from an astronomer at Louisiana State University who concluded that the star had diminished in brightness by 20 percent over the past century, Vanderbilt finds a natural cause unlikely as an explanation for this. This has become fodder for the theory that a megastructure has been constructed that is absorbing the star’s energy, the solar panel array theory. This is a theory that was reviewed, accepted and published by the Astrophysical Journal.

Vanderbilt, however, did not stop there. They soldiered on. Partnering with amateur German astronomer, Michael Hippke and NASA scientist Daniel Angerhausen, the team began comparing the 20 percent drop in intensity to other stars. They discovered that this is not an unusual phenomenon. In fact, it’s not a star phenomenon at all. It is simply the result of technological changes and advances of human manufactured instrumentation for observance.

The Gringa’s Conclusion

These are all interesting theories but not yet solid answers. So, the gringa will wait and see if, ten or twenty years down the road, we all find out what the actual, final answer is:

  • Comet Swarms

or

  • Extraterrestrial Solar Array

Until then, Tabby will be the most interesting and mysterious star in our night sky.

Sources:

www.seti.org

www.nasa.gov

vanderbilt.edu

Image Credit:  www.centauri-dreams.org

 

Life In A Bubble


There are many different reasons to be interested in the science of climate change. Maybe you are a lover of nature, like the gringa. Maybe you are a doomsday prepper, anticipating worldwide failures of critical natural resources necessary for humanity’s survival. Perhaps you are a problem solver, interested in creating solutions to help us all survive. Or you could be an author of science fiction and fantasy and the realities of climate change provide a plethora of creative resources. Whatever the reason, then you will find the possibility of life in a bio-sphere bubble interesting to ponder.

Tucson, Arizona was recently host to an environmental event sponsored by One Young World, a group of leaders in innovative climate change survival solutions, particularly Biosphere 2 (Earth is #1).  The event featured experts in science, international diplomacy, political science and commercial industry who are all interested in humanity’s need for sustainable sources for food and energy. The speakers whom event attendees were, perhaps, most interested in were probably the former astronaut and individuals who have been living in Biosphere 2.

If a person was to take a tour of Biosphere 2, you might be expecting a sterile, technical, enclosed life support environment like the International Space Station. However, you will probably be pleasantly surprised to find a faux ocean the size of an Olympic swimming pool surrounded by a bamboo forest. As you continue exploration, you will stumble across a desert recreation complete with species of ants and cockroaches.

The Biosphere idea was birthed more than two decades ago. In 1991 the dream was realized when eight individuals, four women and four men, donned their uniforms and entered the three acre terrarium smack dab in the middle of an Arizona desert where they would live confined for twenty-four months.

The habitat was constructed thanks to the generosity of a wealthy Texan who wants a place of safe retreat when the Apocalypse crashes down around our ears. He shelled out about $150 mill to recreate miniaturized versions of South America’s rainforest, the African Savannah, and a single ocean. The Biosphereans worked for two years to determine if this earthly microcosm would interconnect, survive and become a self-sustaining world producing oxygen and food.

Beneath the multiple geodesic domes of steel, glass and plastic transplanted nature began to fail the moments the doors were sealed. Precious oxygen was leaking and making its escape to the outside world. Despite the threat of suffocation, the Biosphereans soldiered on. They planted crops near the ocean. A sophisticated underground bellows system created wind. But small crops of oxygen producing plants and man-made breeze were not enough to make the habitat a survivable, much less pleasant, environment. For the sake of science the Biosphereans persevered through two years of oxygen deprivation yet finally called it quits when survival was only possible by pumping in outside-sourced oxygen.

But was this experiment really a failure? Of course not. It was a very valuable learning experience. Think of all the research that was accomplished on learning how vegetation, geography, water and air movement, and fresh water sources can all be successfully recreated and the knowledge of certain mistakes not to repeat in the process.

The Biosphere 2 is not a total physical loss either. The University of Arizona will continue studies on how to succeed in a biosphere lifestyle. Part of the property will be open to the public and re-christened “Land Evolution Observatory”. The university will launch a project that, over the span of a decade, will attempt to perfect the methods the Biosphereans began. The gringa considers these self-sacrificing and brave Biosphereans to be the pioneers of the Millennia.

The Biosphere story also has a romantic twist. The gringa, madly in love with her caveman, loves a good romance and is happy to learn that two of the individuals fell in love during their confinement together and married as soon as they had regained their freedom to the outside world. The couple, speaking to the Tucson audience, explained how profound their sense of inter-connectedness to their environment became. Daily they tracked carbon and oxygen levels, strongly aware that their survival depended on the right balance.  They felt aware, moment by moment, of each breath they took and each CO2 exhalation they made. The reality of the co-dependence the humans, plants, animals and insects all had with one another was always at the forefront of their mind.

When former astronaut Ron Garan addressed the audience, he discussed his six month stint enclosed in the self-sustained environment of the International Space Station. It was a profound experience that increased his environmental awareness and how tiny, fragile and singular our Earth is. His individual life perspective was completely changed as he worked beside the two Russian cosmonauts he shared duties with. Upon his return to Earth, he dedicated himself to collaboration with projects that will promote the survival of humans and the planet we call home. The only planet, mind you, that we have.

He recounted one of his most poignant experiences. It was the moment he returned to Earth. He peeked out the window of the capsule, saw a landscape of rocks, flowers and grass. His immediate mental and emotional response was, “I’m home” despite the fact that this American was actually in Kazakhstan. Once you’ve been off world, any square inch at any spot on the globe is home, regardless of politics, religion, nationality or ethnicity. The gringa finds this philosophy beautiful and inspirational. And I hope that we all figure it out together, how to save our home.

Source & Image Credit:  www.newsweek.com

 

 

Buzzed By Space Junk or ET’s?


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

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

American Space Junk

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

Russian Space Junk

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

European Space Junk

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

Japanese Space Junk

  • Sakigake (1985-1999)
  • Suisei (1985-1991)
  • Nozomi (1998-2003)
  • MINERVA mini-lander (2005)
  • DCAM1 & DCAM2 (2010)
  • ARTSAT2:DESPATCH (2014)
  • IKAROS, SHIN-EN, & SHIN-EN2

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:

www.motherboard.vice.com

en.wikipedia.org

www.ewao.com

Who Were Those Ancient Siberians?


An interesting Siberian archaeological site is the tittle-tattle of historians recently, squabbling on what ancient people get credit for the structure sitting on an island in the middle of  a lake. It’s over one thousand years old so Russians, as we know them today, are not the culture responsible for this structure. Who the heck needed a fortress in Siberia 1,300 years ago?

Experts have dated it to about 750AD. Situated in the middle of Lake Tere-Khol in Tuva, this high altitude lake location has some historians believing it could possibly indicate religious, astronomical, or imperial significance. The theories bandied about are that it is possibly a regent’s summer palace, a monastery or, perhaps, an observatory for the heavens.

Finding out what was going on in Siberia in the 700s is not as easy as one might think. A trip to Wikipedia (the source of all online knowledge, right?) reveals that Russia’s historical timeline inconveniently begins in 860AD with a record of the Rus’-Byzantine War. Wikipedia has let the gringa down.

Digging back a bit further, things get vague. One simply has to pick up a bit here and bob over there and put together a picture that, although still a bit hazy, can at least deliver a pretty good idea of who the heck was running the show in Siberia in the 750s.

The first stop on the collection route of ancient Siberian bits and bobs is linguistics. Author Rein Taagepera penned a book entitled “The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State”. There is a single quote that sheds some light on the 750s mystery people of Siberia:

“Samic was previously considered a language with disparate dialects but is now increasingly seen as  a collection of half a dozen related languages that diverged some 1,300 years ago. They are spoken in northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula in the Russian Federation.”

Here, at least, Wikipedia did not let the gringa down. Wikipedia explains that the Samic language is believed to have its roots in ancient Finland dating from 1000BC-700AD. The Finnish-Samic link to this Siberian archaeology site is further strengthened by an observation made by Ludmila Koryakova and Andrej Vladimirovich Epimakhov in their book, “The Urals and Western Siberia in the Bronze and Iron Ages”:

“In the sixth-third centuries BC, their northern trade was oriented to southeastern Europe, but after the second century BC, caravans went to western Siberia, where the Sargat culture constituted the most powerful ethnic and political union.”

So, the gringa believes an actual cultural identity can now be assigned to ancient Finnish ancestors speaking the Samic language who settled in Siberia – the Sargats. Researchers identify evidence of this culture in the forested steppes of southwest Siberia near Russia’s fifth century border with northern Kazakhstan. Archaeological artifacts and burial remains show that the Sargats lived a horse herding lifestyle centered around raising sheep and cattle. A nomadic tradespeople, their wares were typically milk products, meat and textiles. Social structure, determined from burial rituals, reflect that women were regarded equally as men with regard to managing herds and local governance. Warrior status, however, was an elite status reserved for only the most wealthy and powerful males.

DNA evidence of remains also revealed a curious Iranian ancestry link as well. So, the Sargats were probably originally Finnish and eventually intermarried with other tribespeople living in Siberia, coming into contact through trade and war. Ancestry for Siberians can be traced not only to Finland and Iran but also to Turkey, Mongolia and China as well as traces of Viking influences.

Interestingly enough, the style of the controversial Siberian structure shows Chinese architectural influences. The official name of the site is “Por-Bajin” and is considered a mystery by the experts who have been studying it for decades. The name is derived from the Tuvan language and means “clay house”.  Sitting near the border of Russia and Mongolia, it is then probably no surprise to see a Chinese influence in the design.

Researchers liken the layout to resembling a typical Buddhist temple. This similarity along with its isolated location and the fact that the cultures of this time were nomadic and not organized in such ways as to see an imperial palace as something useful, causes the gringa to consider the monastery theory to be more credible than a fortress type imperial summer palace or astronomical observatory. Like Catholic missionaries who traveled to remote places all over the world and constructed missions and convents, Buddhist monks followed a similar tradition.

Another curiosity is that the structure lacks any evidence of a heating system, even one that would be basic and crude. Surely that, too, would rule out an imperial summer palace. Siberia, even in the hottest period of a summer season, would still be uncomfortably cool without any heat source within a dwelling. To try to survive a winter without heat would be a death sentence. So, even as a monastery, monks could only be in residence during the summer.

The gringa loves a good mystery and will certainly be eagerly awaiting more news and future developments regarding “Por-Bajin”. With the effects of climate change causing permafrost melt resulting in water levels rising in Lake Tere-Khol, the caveman and I better put it on our climate change related priority travel list to see it before the waters swallow it up!

Source & Image Credit:           http://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/features/f0009-who-built-this-siberian-summer-palace-and-why/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_languages

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2010/11/ancient-mtdna-from-sargat-culture.html

 

Calling All Young People! Physics Is Phun!


If kids are finding science studies boring and exhibit no interest in pursuing a career in something like physics, they just haven’t made the right connections! Look, the future of our planet’s survival depends on every generation producing fantastic scientific minds with a passion for discovery. And, trust the gringa, science, especially physics, is anything BUT boring! I mean, just check out this amazing GIF and video that illustrate physics in action. One looks like dots traveling in a straight line but they are actually traveling on curves. The other looks like the dots are traveling in a circular pattern but they are actually traveling in a straight line:

tumblr_o17qz1y1Rf1r2geqjo1_540

Now that the gringa’s got your attention, what exactly can a person do as a physicist? Well, you can create really cool art like this or you could work for other people. If you work for NASA you can follow their astrophysics goal:  “Discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved and search for life on planets and other stars.” To do that involves all sorts of interesting work like:

  • Stargazing through incredible observatories like: Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope
  • Work with teams from all over the world: European Space Agency and Japan’s JAXA space agency
  • Perform all sorts of wacky experiments to test theories about things like: black holes, the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, existence of extra-terrestrial life, suitability of distant planets to support life
  • Design any manner of dangerous stuff mom and dad won’t let you build in the garage: rockets, lasers, rocket fuel, robots, super colliders that annihilate atoms

So kids, get excited about science! If it’s boring in the classroom, search for inspiration. There are folks like physicist Derek Muller who makes science loads of fun. On his blog and YouTube channel, “Veritasium”, you can learn about science in a way that is interesting and also relevant to what the world needs to day. Check out one of the gringa’s favorite videos of Muller’s (grapes + microwave = plasma):

Look, kids, the truth is agencies like NASA needs you. Your mom and dad need you. The entire world needs you. Let’s face it, the world is in need of some major repair. The days of Batman and Flash Gordon are over. The heroes the world needs now are scientists. So, put on your goggles (and a cape if it inspires you) and get crackin’.

 

Sources: www.nasa.govhttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnyfMqiRRG1u-2MsSQLbXA, Tumblr_o17qz1y1Rf1r2geqjo1_540, www.facebook.com/physicsastrophysics

Image Source:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Amazing Italy, From Art to Astronauts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source & Photo Credit:  www.asi.it