Just Say What You Mean, OKAY ALREADY!


One would think that if they heard the words “empty space” that the space mentioned is actually empty. Well, it’s stuff like this that makes science so darn confusing sometimes. You see, empty space is not REALLY empty after all. The gringa really wishes that scientists would just name stuff better, to actually mean what they say. Why couldn’t they just call it “NOT so empty space”?

Research performed by Italian and Polish scientists at the European Southern Observatory has concluded that when light is emitted by a neutron star that is quite dense (kind of like the scientists who create terms like “empty space”) as well as strongly magnetized, strange quantum happenings occur. The light becomes polarized which means that the space around that star is not “empty”. Is it a vacuum? Well, the gringa supposes that’s a misleading term as well because if it really was a vacuum it would be empty, right? Also, if there was nothing there then nothing would be going on. However, there is most CERTAINLY something going on in the not so empty “empty space” surrounding highly magnetized neutron stars. That something is called “vacuum” birefringence.

The gringa’s next question, quite naturally, then, is, “What the heck is vacuum birefringence?” What comes to mind for the gringa’s limited capabilities is the fringe of my rug re-emerging after being sucked up by the vacuum cleaner. Is that what scientists are talking about? Does the neutron star suck up some energy to produce the light then spit it back out into what was once “empty space”? Is vacuum birefringence the “exhaust fumes” of light?

Nope. That’s not at all what happens. Empty space acts more like a prism than a vacuum. The gringa would like to know, then, why the scientists didn’t call this phenomena something like “prismatic filling of otherwise empty space”. Good grief. That would explain everything! Anyway, what actually happens is the not so empty “empty space” surrounding a highly magnetized neutron star actually has all kinds of particles that can appear or disappear as they please. If the neutron star is heavily magnetized, the magnetic effect enhances these particles as the light that passes through them becomes polarized. This means that the light we see coming out of empty space does not look exactly the same as when it was created and emitted by the star.

The gringa’s next question then, quite naturally of course, is, “Is this a big deal? What’s the point? Does this information have any practical purpose for mankind or is it just one of those curious and interesting facts?” Okay, actually the gringa asked 3 questions, but surely, by now, my dear readers will humor my insatiable curiosity and long-windedness.

What it means for the science world is being able to more accurately understand the observations of stars as well as build better long-range telescopes. By understanding neutron stars better, mankind can better understand all laws of nature.

The gringa must then ask another question, “How, specifically, does that help mankind?” Well, mankind’s ancient ancestors often created superstitious or religious explanations for natural laws that they didn’t understand. We can all read historical texts or even current news headlines to realize that superstition and religion can sometimes bring out the worst in mankind. However, as science has exposed certain beliefs to be in error, mankind has been able to advance civilization toward better living conditions and more humane treatment of one another. If studying the not-so-empty space of neutron stars contributes to creating world peace, then the gringas asks one more questions, “Where can I contribute and how much do you need?”

Sources

www.sciencedaily.com

phys.org

plus.maths.org

Image Credit: www.orionsarm.com

 

Launch Your Own Spacecraft


One wouldn’t usually think that a rock-n-roll music producer would be synonymous with space flight, but think again, dear readers. If you haven’t heard of Thirdman Records before, please let the gringa educate you on how this music production company deserves a place at the space traveling table and how you can earn a seat yourself. It’s all because of Icarus.

No, not the imprisoned Icarus of Greek mythology who escaped with his father using wax wings to fly skyward but then plummeted to his death after flying too near the Sun. The Icarus creation of Thirdman Records fared much better in its space travels. Celebrating their 7th Anniversary, the record company made music and space history by launching a specially designed turntable into space that was tethered to a spaceflight worthy balloon. Installed upon the turntable on a play loop was the company’s three millionth record, the recording “A Glorious Dawn” by Carl Sagan from composer John Boswell’s “Cosmos”.

Icarus made a successful journey that reached a peak altitude of nearly 95,000 feet above the earth and traveled for almost an hour and a half. As it reached the pinnacle of its flight the balloon burst and Icarus began its descent, controlled by parachute. The record played faithfully throughout the smooth ascension. Descent triggered Icarus to enter “turbulence mode” which raised the needle from the vinyl but the record continued to spin. When the entire space vehicle was recovered after setting down in a vineyard, the record, amazingly, was still spinning, a testament to sound design.

Now, record producers are not necessarily spaceship engineers. To achieve this mission, Thirdman friend and electronics consultant, Kevin Carrico, collaborated with SATINS (Students and Teachers in Near Space). The team needed to create a design that would not only operate successfully in a near space environment, but would also meet government standards established by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and FCC (Federal Communications Commission), whose approval is required in order to launch any space vehicle.

The design had to take into account that rising altitudes, a thinning atmosphere, temperature fluctuations and the vacuum of space would all be variables affecting the integrity of a vinyl record. It can melt or distort if it gets too hot or exposed to the Sun for too long. Temperature fluctuations create expansion and contraction which could render the record unplayable. As Icarus traveled in direct sunlight, the team designed the turntable so that it would cool the record as it played. To prevent distortion due to temperature fluctuations, the grooves of the vinyl were plated with gold.

From the moment the artists of Thirdman Records conceived of this ingenious anniversary event, it took three years of research and development to finally be ready by launch day. Carrico credits the project’s success to his father, Dr. John P. Carrico, PhD., a physicist who worked on NASA’s Mars-Viking missions. The gringa can fully appreciate how a father like that would inspire space dreams of epic proportions.

Anyone with the same kind of dreams can create their own work of art that they can launch into the heavens as a gift to any alien species that might happen upon it. Contact the FAA and FCC about their rules and guidelines regarding unmanned aircraft systems. Design your space vehicle to meet their guidelines then get approval for launch! Don’t forget to let the gringa know your launch date! I already approve!

Sources:

thirdmanrecords.com

www.faa.gov

www.fcc.gov

Image Source:  astrologyking.com

Singing Space Soup


On February 24 the gringa posted “Moon Music – It’s Classified” with an interesting audio recording from the Apollo 10 mission in 1969. Today I would like to share a great video posted by NASA entitled “NASA Space Sounds”. Although there is an eeriness to the multi-planet ensemble, the gringa finds the sounds to have a meditative quality.

Now, the gringa wants to know how music and sound is produced in outer space. Sound is a vibration that travels through air. In order for vibrations to travel through outer space molecules have to exist in outer space. It is the vibrating air molecules that produce the sound. Outer space is a vacuum, meaning that in the area between planets and stars, there are no molecules. So how is this space music produced?

These symphonies are, indeed, vibrating wave patterns. Planets and moons emit electromagnetic pulses that bounce back and forth between surrounding rings and atmospheric barriers that are not visible to the naked eye. The charged particles within these atmospheres, plasma, are the “carriers” of the sound.

To capture these sounds NASA uses space probes equipped with plasma wave antennae. One particular NASA spacecraft featuring a plasma wave antenna is Voyager. This craft also has on board “The Golden Record” which shares images and sounds from Earth. So, Voyager is on an interactive sound mission, capturing and sharing.

Other things Voyager has captured are “tsunami solar waves”. When there is a burst of energy from the sun, a solar flare, a plasma shockwave is created. It takes about one year for the shockwave to reach Voyager and have the sound recorded. NASA has three recordings thus far.

Shock waves from the sun, as well as cosmic rays from other nearby stars within our Milky Way galaxy, are filled with plasma particles. Plasma is dense and creates very rapid oscillations when something causes the particles to vibrate. A plasma “bubble”, also called a “bell”, surrounds stars like our sun. When a solar flare occurs it’s like ringing a bell. A plasma shockwave resonates. March, 2014 was the third recording by Voyager 1 of our singing Sun.

Plasma is very interesting. It is filled with charged particles. It’s kind of like space soup that has the potential to sing. So the Voyager spacecrafts are basically recording singing space soup. Space soup is also called interstellar space. This is the area of space that exists between stars and contains plasma.

The Voyager mission launched in 1977 with two Voyager spacecraft. Voyager 2 launched about two weeks earlier than Voyager 1 and is still on the job making it the longest operating spacecraft in history. Both Voyagers have visited Jupiter and Saturn. #2 did a fly-by of Uranus and Neptune. One thing they have taught us in their travels is that space is a noisy and musical place thanks to plasma.

 

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