Could It Be Proxima B?


What might 2 years bring? The gringa’s 6th grandchild chattering my ears off? The gringa hitting the half century mark? A new waistline? Fortunately, according to Harvard researcher, much more exciting stuff than that should be happening in just 2 years.  Think Proxima b. That’s an exoplanet about the same size as our own. It is the nearest planet to our solar system that has the potential to be inhabited.  Proxima b is Earth twin candidate number one in what scientists are calling the Pale Red Dot campaign.

The organization heading up this campaign has a singular purpose: To explore a planet in the Proxima Centauri system. It’s only 4 light years away.  How long would it take to travel that far? With current technology, we can already see a 4 light year travel time in action. Space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched in 1977. They are just now exiting our own solar system after about 40 years of travel. Voyager 1 is expected to drift near a star in the Camelopardalis constellation that is 1.6 light years away. Expected arrival time, oh, about 40,000 years.

So if it would take about a million years to even get a probe to Proxima b, why the heck do scientists even care? Well, because we don’t need a probe in order to find out about its atmosphere and whether it could support life as we know it. Clever astrophysicists at Harvard claim that all we need to do is sample the light from the star system. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is scheduled by NASA to launch in only 2 years and it is equipped to do the job.

The gringa is amazed at all the information that could be contained in a light sample. We could find out if the landscape is bare rock. We could learn certain details about the atmospheric gases. We might even be able to determine if there is an ocean on Proxima b.  How can they do this? Just what kind of stuff does infrared light tell us?

  • When a rocky planet is warmed by starlight, it absorbs the sunlight and re-emits it as infrared light. Rocky planets have a certain infrared signature.
  • Infrared light shows up as different colors that indicate different temperatures.
  • Certain color/temperature signatures would be a clue as to an atmosphere that is low-lying and able to redistribute heat during a night cycle.
  • The absence of specific infrared signatures means Proxima b is just a plain, old rock.

And if the Pale Red Dot campaign ends up terribly disappointed with the performance of NASA’s JWST telescope, in about 20-30 years the Breakthrough Starshot project, created by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner & physicist Stephan Hawking, may be able to provide the answers they seek about Proxima b. Breakthrough Starshot plans to launch a laser-propelled nano spacecraft toward the Proxima Centauri star system then. It will provide more than infrared signature details. This craft is equipped with cameras and filters to take an array of images. The gringa is hoping for answers in a couple of years but will be just as excited if the answers come through when I’m tottering about half-senile in 30 more years or so.

Sources:

breakthroughinitiatives.org

earthsky.org

www.businessinsider.com

palereddot.org

Image Credit: technofres.com

 

 

Stars Are Cool. No, Really, They Are


When the gringa’s dear readers think of a star, what do you think of? The Sun? Polaris? Alpha Centauri?  And what do you think would happen if you reached out to touch the Sun? You’d probably get vaporized, right? Well, depending on the star, not necessarily. In fact, if you touched the right star it might be a sensation more like when you roll over in bed and find the cool spot.

Brown dwarfs are cold stars. There are 14 that NASA believes are cool enough to touch. Cool! They are also the oldest stars in the Universe. I guess stars are kind of like people. Old folks with poor circulation are generally cold all the time. Stars get old and cold, too. Out of all the old, cold, brown dwarf stars in the Universe, it’s the Y-dwarfs that are even cooler than the average human’s body temperature. Y, you may ask. Well, the gringa will tell you why the Y is the way that it is.

Not only are they old but they are failures. Poor Y-dwarfs. They must have very low self-esteem. Perhaps that is why they don’t shine as brightly as other stars. They have grown old and are failures as stars. The gringa feels very sorry for the poor, little things.

Because their cores are not very dense they can’t fuse loads of atoms within. That means they don’t burn as hot and brightly as other stars. The gringa finds it very amusing that the denser a star is the brighter it is. It doesn’t seem to work that way in humans.

If Y-dwarfs are such failures at being stars, the gringa wonders if they should be considered stars at all. Do we have a Pluto prospect in the future? Just as Pluto got demoted from planet to dwarf planet, Y-dwarf stars may very well face the possibility of being re-classified. In the future scientists may decide they don’t meet all the guidelines of being a star. The gringa thinks this is a wonderful possibility for Y-dwarfs. Whereas poor Pluto suffered a demotion, the Y-dwarf could get better news. They could go from being failures as stars to being over-achievers for whatever it is they may become!

However, it may take astronomers quite some time to collect enough data in their studies. Their failure to shine bright like a diamond in the sky means it is difficult to view and study them. It’s practically impossible to study them at all with a telescope dependent on visible light. To take productive peeks at Y-dwarfs NASA had to construct an infrared telescope and mount it to an orbiting satellite. And that is why the Universe is wiser thanks to these cold, little star failures, because of Wide-field Infrared Survey Explore (WISE) that studies them in the heavens.

Source:  www.nasa.gov

Image Credit:  www.jpl.nasa.gov

 

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

 

The Power of a Few


Often, when the subject of climate change is discussed, people begin to feel highly motivated to take action. However, it is easy to get discouraged when it is soon realized that the change that is necessary to save our planet meets with heavy resistance from large and powerful corporations who are more concerned with profit margins than securing a viable home for future generations. After all, most of these high-salaried executives, board members and executives will be long dead by the time humankind is suffering the worst devastation of climate change. But the gringa says, “Don’t give up. You’re voice does matter.”

Much like how a drop of water slowly becomes, over time, a stalactite or stalagmite, or a river can, over eons, cut a gorge as impressive as the Grand Canyon,  community action, even if it’s only a handful of people, can also build something lasting and impressive. By keeping continued pressure upon the neck of a company, by consistently bringing your cause to their attention, by employing multiple calls to action such as petitions that accumulate the voices of all concerned citizens in the local community, a small collection of individuals who are persistent can either:

  • A. Wear down the opposition in a war of attrition; or
  • B. Eventually create so much local awareness that a company realizes it is in the company’s best interest to respond to their demands if they want to continue to enjoy profiting from the local community’s patronage; or
  • C. The best outcome, the company comes around to the same perspective, seeing the value not in the almighty dollar alone, but actually sees real value in the issue.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the videos below featuring a small group of young people representing the cause “Value the Meal” which is pushing for accountability by community leaders in their local pediatric medical community. Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas specializes in the healthcare of our most vulnerable population, our children. In this place of health and healing is a McDonald’s restaurant which aggressively markets their brand of food which is famous for its low nutrition value.

Linked to chronic health conditions like diabetes and obesity, it is hard to understand why physicians, who are endowed with public trust with regard to health, would be so irresponsible as to seemingly advocate for this kind of food, especially for children who are in recovery and even more vulnerable to a diet that woefully lacks anything that can contribute to strengthening them and improving their healing abilities.

Value the Meal rally at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

“Community health over corporate wealth”. Children’s hospitals shouldn’t have junk food brands like McDonald’s with contracted space in their facilities of health and healing.

No McDonald’s junk food poisoning recovering children patients at Texas Children’s Hospital.

They may not seem very powerful with numbers so small. But that is not where there power lies. There power lies in the “rightness” of their position, the persistence of their action, and the growing community support responding  as they continue to witness this same small group of committed activists maintain a voice and presence on one particular issue.

In your own community, whatever your noble cause, gather together whomever you can trust to remain committed and loyal, even if your numbers happen to be small. Because even one drop of water is powerful and you are much greater than a single drop of water.

Drones, UFOs, and Saving The Planet… They Are ALL Connected


UFO enthusiasts got a thrill recently when news agencies all over the United States were sounding the alarm of a strange light seen hovering, then moving about, near the famous St. Louis Arch. The YouTube video posted below, sourced from streetview citycams, begins by speeding up the video 1000 times so as not to bore the viewer with several minutes of nothingness. Throughout the hi-speed progression lightning can be observed. As viewers watch, they can see the light dim and sometimes disappear because of cloud cover. The video records a strange light approach the Arch from the left side of the screen and do some interesting acrobatics. The gringa has provided a play by play script to refer to as the dear reader views the video.

Video begins 2:19:49 streetcam time (SCT)/0:00 YouTube Time (YTT).

2:25:13 SCT/0:15 YTT First arrow indicates the appearance of the light in the top middle portion of the screen with light becoming visible at 2:25:19 SCT/0:17 YTT and approaches the Arch.

2:26:20 SCT/0:39 YTT Light appears to hover over the Arch, “wink out” a couple of times only to reappear in relatively the same place, indicating it was hovering the entire time.

2:26:41 SCT/0:46 YTT Light winks out.

2:28:06 SCT/0:52 YTT Light reappears as indicated by arrow and seems to be in same position above the Arch which would make it seem that it was hovering the entire time it was not visible.

2:28:54 SCT/0:56 YTT Light appears to be hovering above the Arch.

2:29:36 SCT/1:00 YTT Light winks out.

2:30:01 SCT/1:02 YTT Arrow directs attention to higher point above the Arch, indicating that the light has climbed higher. However, it is not visible.

2:31:00 SCT/1:08 YTT Another arrow indicates the light to be in the upper left corner of the screen but the gringa does not see it appear.

2:31:18 SCT/1:14 YTT The gringa begins to click through each second at the rate of 2 clicks per second so I get to see half of a second in each frame. I see a flash of the light at a higher point above the arch as I begin my second click of 1:15 YTT, going into my first click of 1:16 YTT. There is no arrow used in the video here to direct you to the flash of light. If you are not prepared you will miss it.

2:32:08 SCT/1:22 YTT Arrow again indicates that the light is seemingly flashing in the top left corner of the screen. Then there is a clear winking on and off of a light in the far left top corner of the screen as the light begins a rapid descent, disappearing behind cloud cover, but can clearly be seen descending.

2:32:25 SCT/1:28 YTT The arrow draws the viewer’s attention to the light whose rapid descent has been abruptly arrested and it once again begins to hover.

2:32:39 SCT/1:33 YTT Light brightly blinks out after a short rapid descent. If you begin once again to click through frames, 2 clicks per second/frame, the light can be seen faintly descending, angling off to the left, then hooking sharply right and descending quickly and can be viewed practically all the way to its landing on the ground in the lower left portion of the screen, its final landing at about 2:32:47 SCT/1:36 YTT.

Summary of the mystery light’s activity:

  • About 45 seconds of hovering above the Arch.
  • For about 1 minute the light continues to climb and hover above the Arch.
  • Within about 50 seconds the light manages to travel the distance in the view screen from seeming to hover above the Arch to the upper left corner of the view screen.
  • Within 30 seconds light makes a rapid descent that includes a brief hover before two radical left/right maneuvers, like a zig-zag, and appears to land on the ground.

So what was it? The gringa believes it was a drone, not an extra-terrestrial vehicle. It is pretty obvious by the final descent and apparent landing on the ground that it is a very small vehicle and very much Earthling technology. The gringa doesn’t know all the details on speed and distance relative to the camera and the Arch, but that doesn’t change my mind that it is a drone. And the gringa warns her dear readers to be on the lookout for many more videos and hoaxes to come with drone technology becoming more and more affordable for technology enthusiasts.

Other than making interesting UFO hoax videos, what are some actual practical uses for drones? Well, for one thing, drones may very well help save the world, and the gringa’s not talking about how military personnel are already putting them to use in battle. Using them to target and kill fellow human beings is not the gringa’s idea of saving the world.

Using them as a research tool to monitor dolphin and whale populations is more what the gringa considers saving the world. And that is just what marine biologists are doing in Hawai’i. Ocean Alliance is taking advantage of how drones can monitor wildlife without intrusion by humans. With drones capable of being equipped with high resolution cameras, researchers can get close up views and real time video of what dolphin pods and whale families are doing. Even if weather is bad and ocean conditions rough, the drones can still go out and do their job when a human outing would otherwise get postponed.

Drone technology has allowed researchers to compile a more accurate catalog of whale groups and monitor their health conditions with more detailed analysis. Results from boat-based surveys simply do not compare and marine biologists are excited to go even further with drones.

Now, while some people may be excited at the thought of drones delivering pizza or their mail order of retail goods, the gringa is more excited about drone delivery of medicine to hard to reach vulnerable people around the world.

With successful deliveries to earthquake ravaged Haiti in 2012, Doctors Without Borders were inspired to test drone delivery of  a group of dummy TB test samples in remote villages in Papua New Guinea. The Mayo Clinic recently announced that drone medical delivery is poised to take off and revolutionize healthcare for people around the world where access has continued to be a problem.

So what might be the niche technology career of the future for our youth interested in STEM? Development of drone technology and drone piloting. So, don’t get left behind! Get on board to save the world with a joy-stick, a laptop and a map! That’s all you need today to be a superhero!

Sources:

www.whale.org

www.yahoo.com

www.mayoclinic.org

Image Credit: 1.bp.blogspot.com

So Where Are All Those ETs?


Fermi’s Paradox is a theory named after Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) who, during lunch with a fellow scientist, posed a question kind of like this, “Where the heck are the aliens if they are supposed to exist?” The premise of his theory goes something like this:

  • Billions of stars similar to our Sun exist with many of them billions of years older than our own planet.
  • It is highly probable that some of these stars would be orbited by Earth-like planets with conditions that could lead to the development of intelligent life.
  • If intelligent life developed on these older “Earths” their respective civilizations might have developed interstellar travel and have already begun investigating Earth.

Combine all these facts and you come up with the conclusion that Earth should have already been visited by ETs. So, like Fermi said, “Where is everybody?” Despite mankind’s best efforts Fermi could not find any credible evidence of alien visitation. The conclusion then must become that the existence of intelligent life is:

  • Extremely rare, or…
  • Alien intelligent civilizations have not contacted Earth.

In 1961 a scientist by the name of Frank Drake took Fermi’s 1950 theory and applied a mathematical formula to the probabilities. It is called the “Drake Equation”. The formula is expressed as:

N = R* · fp  · ne · fl  · fi  · fc · L

The variables are defined as follows:

N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.

R* = The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.

fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.

ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.

fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.

fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.

fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.

L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

But what does the formula mean to scientists? Well, that depends on who you talk to. Some scientists translate the results to be wildly optimistic that there is, indeed, intelligent life out there. Others feel quite the opposite. When Frank Drake met with Carl Sagan to speculate on the calculations, they estimated the existence of 1,000 (on the low end) to 100 million (on the high end) possible intelligent civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy. To counter their claims, scientists Frank Tipler and John D. Barrow put forth that the average number of intelligent life civilizations in our galaxy would be much less than one. Seeing as how human civilization exists, that would consequently, then, rule out the possibility of any other intelligent civilization existing at the same time.

The Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) sees the Fermi’s paradox and accepts the reality that either interpretation of the possibility of the existence of intelligence life has a chance of being true. Thus, they continue their efforts, erring on the side of optimism. And the gringa likes that. Why not hold out hope? Why not be curious? And why not exercise such curiosity with a healthy dose of skepticism to balance out the equation and prevent a full-scale pre-disposition to crazy alien conspiracy theory by maintaining strict scientific standards?

SETI continues exploration and research as they search for others out there in the galaxy. They believe in the possibility that if a suitable environment was allowed enough time, that it is possible for intelligent life to develop. By using all sorts of science and technology (satellite arrays, chemistry, optical telescopes, and sophisticated radio signaling devices) SETI not only searches for signals from other civilizations but reaches out with messages of our own to anyone who may be listening. And with their Education and Public Outreach program (EPO), humans of all ages and walks of life can be a part of their endeavor. For educators there is nothing more exciting than to introduce to a classroom of elementary and middle school students SETI’s “Life in the Universe” curriculum. So log on and order your first package today and get students engaged with a lesson plan that is certain to pique their curiosity and hopefully inspire them to be the future of our world’s STEM programs, because we need them.

Sources:

www.seti.org

www.yahoo.news

wikipedia.org

Image Credit:  bing.net

 

 

Salute Our Space Heroes


Traveling in outer space sounds fun. Being an astronaut seems to be an exciting career. Until the gringa is reminded about space radiation. Those heavy duty marshmallow looking suits astronauts wear are not just to keep them warm, properly pressurized and surrounded by oxygen. They also protect against dangerous space radiation. But is it enough? Are spacecrafts and the International Space Station adequately protected or are our astronauts slowly being radiated to death?

Radiation is an invisible energy form of high-speed particles and electromagnetics. It surrounds humans in everyday artificial light, sunlight, and electronics that produce radio-, television-, and micro- waves. Radiation comes in two forms:

  • Ionized: This is the worst in the form of gamma rays, protons and neutrons. Exposure to ionized radiation results in exposed atoms becoming unstable by an energy powerful enough to remove electrons from their orbit around the atom’s nucleus.
  • Non-ionized: Not powerful enough to destabilize atoms, this is the kind of common radiation produced by microwaves, radio waves and light.

The radiation in space is, unfortunately, comprised of ionized radiation. There are three things that typically create dangerous space radiation:

  • Trapped radiation: The Earth’s core creates a magnetic field that surrounds our planet up to several thousand kilometers from our planet’s surface. Solar wind carries charged particles that slam into our magnetic shield. Some particles manage to pass through. Those that don’t create a shockwave that deflects from Earth’s magnetic field. This creates layers of cavities called the “magnetosphere” that act as shock absorbers to protect Earth further from charged particle bombardment. But some particles get trapped in these cavities and they become radioactive belts surrounding Earth. Astronauts have to pass through these dangerous belts before they reach deeper space.
  • Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR): Outside our solar system ionized atoms traveling at almost light speed pass through space matter, including humans and man-made objects unless they are properly shielded.
  • Solar Particle Events (SPE): Sometimes the Sun flares and ejects copious amounts of highly charged radioactive particles into space. These particles travel so fast they are capable of reaching Earth within ten minutes of a solar or coronal flare event. These are dramatic happenings that temporarily drastically increase radiation exposure.

Astronauts traveling through space radiation or living in the ISS have to be protected from space radiation. Radiation exposure causes damage to human cells. There is a scientific formula used to calculate how much radiation exposure an astronaut can expect when working on the ISS. It’s a bit too complicated for the gringa to understand. These calculations are the reason ISS missions have a maximum six month cycle and spacewalks are limited. Exposure is increased during a spacewalk to perform repairs and maintenance.

Shielding is preferred to be constructed of materials like polyethylene because it has a high hydrogen content. This kind of material is more effective than metals at reducing the ability of particles to pass through and enter the modules. Astronauts also wear monitors called “dosimeters” that constantly measure the level of radiation damage to the chromosomes in their blood cells.

Every single astronaut is a hero. No matter what the duration of their mission. No matter what the nature of their mission. No matter what it is they did, whether it seemed glamorous or insignificant, these men and women are heroes of science. They are risking their lives every moment they are off the surface of the Earth. Even if they return safely, they have still sacrificed much. From musculo-skeletal issues to organ damage and higher cancer risks, every single astronaut will experience the effects of radiation exposure for a lifetime despite the measures taken to protect them. If you ever meet an astronaut thank them for their invaluable sacrifice and service performing critical scientific endeavors that are helping us understand our origins, learn about climate change conditions and create solutions to save our homeworld.

Sources:

jsc.nasa.gov

spaceflight.nasa.gov

Image source:  antarcticglaciers.org