SOHO, No, Not New York, Outer Space


NASA is celebrating the twenty year anniversary of SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory). Since its launch in 1995 it has provided scientists with data that has generated almost 5,000 papers and reports. Now, the gringa is well aware that this technology costs the U.S. taxpayer a pretty, little penny. Is it worth it? Well, let’s take a look at some of NASA’s reports on the information it has generated and if mankind has benefited.

Discoveries: coronal waves, solar tsunamis, sun quakes, and about 3,000 comets. The gringa says, “Big deal. Show me why that matters.” Well, for one thing, by detecting the activity of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), NASA can warn us Earthlings when there will be a geomagnetic storm caused by these CMEs colliding with Earth’s magnetic field. Such an event can really screw up my GPS, electronic communications, and put a real strain on power grids. I get lost driving around the block and depend HIGHLY on my GPS. Everyone everywhere depends on electronic communication. And, do you really want to be on the operating table and the power grid experience a “blip”. Mm hmm. Thought so. So, yeah,  SOHO is doing a good thing for mankind. Anything else?

SOHO enables scientists to study invisible solar wind. Why does that matter? Well, solar wind can wreak havoc with technology. The astronauts on board the ISS are especially vulnerable to disaster caused by technological failure. The safety of the folks here on the big blue marble is also highly dependent on reliable technology in order to remain safe and sound. Since SOHO can track and study the comets that pass near the sun, by studying the wind-sock effect of their tails in solar winds, they can calculate reliable estimations of turbulence levels of solar wind and determine if any safety measures need to be taken.

NASA has produced an interesting video about how SOHO has discovered thousands of solar comets: “Why are We Seeing So Many Sungrazing Comets?” at this link:  https://youtu.be/2u73bIzg5CU

Of course, with climate change ongoing upon Earth and ozone depletion occurring in Earth’s atmosphere, being well informed on solar radiation measurements is more important than ever. The outermost atmosphere of Earth is illuminated by about 1,400 watts of solar energy. The Earth physically absorbs about seventy percent of this. Weather and sunspot activity affects absorption levels so seventy percent is an average, not a constant. SOHO contributes to NASA’s ongoing efforts to create models of “future Earth” and how it’s relationship with the Sun will affect climate change.

The gringa thinks that, considering SOHO just might help mankind make a plan to save ourselves and this little speck of the universe we shoot through space on, it’s worth every darn nickel and dime we spend on it.

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

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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

 

 

 

A Bit Of Sun & Hope For Humanity


Coming up in December is the one year anniversary of the test flight of the Orion spacecraft that launched from Kennedy Space Center December 5, 2014. The test flight was unmanned. Because of its success, the next time Orion punches through the Earth’s atmosphere, it will deliver astronauts to an asteroid in our Moon’s orbit to rehearse their Red Planet mission. That is the ultimate goal, after all, to have a full astronaut crew heading out to deep space with a final destination of Mars.

The amazing new technologies that will send astronauts farther than they have ever gone before is thanks, in part, to the students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). NASA and Lockheed Martin offered students the opportunity to collaborate in this daring mission with a program called “Exploration Design Challenge”. What problem were these students asked to solve? The students were challenged to solve the most dangerous issue that faces humans in space – exposure to radiation. The gringa is very proud to say that these students rose to the challenge and their very own radiation experiment was on board for Orion’s test flight. If there was ever a reason for parents to encourage their children in STEM curriculum, parents, the time is NOW!

The emerging generation of scientists will inherit a planet that is rapidly changing. NASA needs this young talent more than ever. Researchers will manage the data collected from satellites and airborne missions. Engineers will keep these missions alive with their technological expertise. These are the critical thinkers the world needs to face the future challenges of rising sea levels and extreme weather events due to climate change. The next generation of astronaut explorers will be the ones to aid our planet in finding freshwater resources out in the cosmos to help replenish are own that are rapidly becoming depleted.

In 2014 NASA studies were published and revealed a rapidly melting western sheet of ice in Antarctica. This appears to be irreversible. Later in the same year, NASA, along with researchers at the University of California, Irvine, concluded that the potential threat of groundwater loss to America’s stable water supply may have previously been underestimated and things were worse than scientists thought. In August of 2014, NASA published research based on the discovery of a large amount of a compound creating ozone depletion. This was an unexpected surprise considering that for decades such a compound has been banned worldwide. Our world is in trouble and our best resource to solve these problems is in the minds of our youth.

The gringa is getting depressed with all this bad news so, let’s get back to the good news! The Orion! I simply must know all I can about this spaceship because the gringa is putting in that ship all her hopes that it is going to be the mother ship of a future fleet of ships that’s going to save humanity’s bacon.

The purpose of the test flight was to see if Orion was up to the task of the most dangerous parts of the mission. Those would be lift-off, entry, separations, the jettison of the Launch Abort System, descent and splashdown. However, most important of all was to test the heat shield that needed to be strong enough to protect astronauts, as well as all the technology on board, from 4,000 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and the related radiation. Is the dear reader dying to know Orion’s report card? The gringa is!

At 7:05am at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Orion was prepped to lift off with the help of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Three RS-68 engines created almost two million pounds of thrust which then pushed a 1.63 million pound spacecraft into orbit. After about four minutes the side boosters disengaged and fell away to Earth. The center booster remained with Orion for another ninety seconds. When its fuel was spent, it disengaged and also fell back to Earth. The next thing to release its hold on Orion was the structural supports and the Launch Abort System. Orion was headed out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Seventeen minutes and thirty-nine seconds after lift-off, Orion began its orbit. Two hours into its flight, Orion traveled through the Van Allen radiation belts which are 3,609 miles away. Data recorders provided critical calculations on the doses of radiation within the cabin. This determined if the craft was of sound design and safe to man with a human crew. Three hours and twenty-three minutes into its flight, Orion headed for Earth’s atmosphere where the heat shield withstood the brutal re-entry friction.

What is re-entry like? Orion hit Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph. The gringa can only say, “Incredible!” The spacecraft gets so amazingly hot at that speed, it is eventually enveloped in plasma. Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gases. When plasma is created on Orion upon re-entry, what happens is that the heat and friction become so energized that electrons break free from their nucleus and travel along with them. That’s what the Sun does all the time. It’s just a big, ol’ ball of plasma. Orion creates a little bit of Sun on re-entry. The gringa’s mind is filled with the Beatles refrain, “Here comes the sun, little darlin’. Here comes the sun. And I say it’s alright.” After all, ultimately that IS the plan, RIGHT? Orion is going to help launch the scientific efforts that hopefully will make everything wrong with the environment alright? Or, at least give humanity some viable options and hope?

After picking up Orion as it bobbed amongst the waves of the Pacific of the coast of Baja, California, NASA used the data to make improvements for the upcoming manned mission. Astronauts will continue their own preparations for a mission that is sure to make history in so many ways. If everyone at NASA is excited about the future, then they truly believe in the mission. The gringa will take her cue from them and toss out the doom and gloom and grab hold of hope and positivity. I will hold fast to an exciting future that most certainly is full of change, but change is not necessarily always a bad thing.