Category Archives: Space Exploration
As I’m sure you probably know, this is the very day that NASA’s Rosetta spacecraft has landed on a comet to peer into an object that has fascinated and terrified humanity for thousands of years! If you click on the link below, you can see the official NASA page of the mission, with pictures, a timeline, and video coverage of the mission.
In honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve created a short presentation for you about comets. Feel free to use it in class, but please give me credit!
I’ll be writing more later in the week about the significance of this mission, but for now, enjoy this presentation, and enjoy watching this incredible mission online!
That’s right, you heard me. Only a few hours ago, pop star, activist, and all around weirdo performance artist Lady Gaga, confirmed that she will be the first artist to perform IN SPACE, as part of the Virgin Galaxy’s maiden voyage in 2015. This will also mark the first ever commercial flight into space, which is certainly cause for celebration. I for one am enthusiastic about this new artistic presence in space. and glad that they picked someone as out-of this world as Gaga. For one thing, if the ship is commendeered by aliens, she’ll probably speak their langugage 😉
For more info on Gaga’s flight, please click here: http://www.entertainmentwise.com/news/132316/Lady-Gaga-Confirms-She-WILL-Become-First-Artist-To-Perform-In-Space
For more info on the Virgin Galactic Flight Project, click here: http://www.virgingalactic.com/
Well, I’ve been away from my blog and from Primland for a while, but I had a good reason- I got Married! The wedding was beautiful and my new wife and I are very happy. For our honeymoon, we went to Hawaii, which in addition to being gorgeous and a tropical paradise, also has a lot to offer me as a historian and stargazer. I kept hearing stories and facts about Hawaii’s connection to the stars, so to demonstrate what I’ve learned, I’ve decided to devote this week to Hawaiin astronomy and astrology, which includes my trip to the Mauna Kea Observatory, the tallest observatory on Earth!
Stay tuned for new entries each day starting with a new Picture Of the Week!
Happy Stargazing and Aloha!
In addition to running this blog and giving nightly astronomy tours, I am also working on developing a kid’s astronomy program for the resort. In my quest to make astronomy fun, accessible, and interactive for young people, I came across some valuable free resources that I’d like to share with you. Obviously there are hundreds of blogs, podcasts, video channels, and websites out there and I could never share them all, so if you like this post and think something should be added, let me know! I’d be happy to make this a new page on the blog and follow up weekly with new resources.
So here is a short multimedia collection of links that you can show to your young ones to get them excited about space:
Deep Sky Videos– An excellent channel, not only for astronomy, but for science all together. It features great pictures by professional astro-photographers and lots of valuable data.
NASA TV- Here’s NASA’s official YouTube Channel, which provides you with simple, clear explanations of what our space agency is doing. Sometimes they interview astronauts on the International Space Station, and get them to talk about life in space.
NASA JPL Live This is not Youtube, but a live feed from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Whenever there is any kind of live event at NASA, such as the docking of a spacecraft, or live pictures from Mars, you can access it with this link!
Exoplanet- A free app that allows you to keep track of any new planets discovered outside our solar system. You can use your mobile device to find each planet in an interactive map of the galaxy, zooming at warp speed to newly discovered worlds.
Sky Viewer- This app tells you exactly what planets and constellations you are looking at by overlaying names and a connect-the dots pattern over the night sky. A GPS compass keeps track of where you are, and you can see the stars using the display. There is a pay version that also shows you more planets and keeps track of satellites, but the free version is a nice way to learn the constellations and keep track of where you are in the sky.
NASA Space Weather Map (Android App only)
View near real-time images of outer space from current NASA missions. Learn about weather near the Sun, Solar Wind, Magnetosphere, Aurora, and Heliosphere from scientists who study them
I did find some neat pay apps from this website too, just in case you aren’t satisfied with the free stuff:
Astronomy.com– The official website of Astronomy Magazine, loaded with pictures, articles, and tips for amateur astronomers, and yes, there’s a kids’ page.
ISS Tracker- A website that allows you to know where the International Space Station is at all times!
NASA’s JPL Planet Quest- A great interactive site which teaches kids about planets beyond our solar system, by allowing them to create one, studying the ideal conditions for creating life in the universe.
The Curiosity Rover’s Twitter Page- Updates from the mission, written in the first person by the robot.
Kids Needs Science (Tumblr Page)-Full of beautiful pictures of space objects and links to articles.
International Space Station Facebook -Regularly updated with videos, pictures, and news articles.
So there’s a rough start to the vast world of astronomy for kids on the web. Like I said earlier, I’d be happy to post any of your suggestions, or turn this into a regular feature on the blog. Let me know in the comments. In closing, just to show you how far we’ve come with online education, I’d like to post an oldie but a goodie- Bill Nye the Science Guy explores comets and meteors:
Hi everyone, and no, that is not a typo- Today marks not only the celebration of Earth Day on our planet, it also heralds the discovery of not one, not two but THREE Earth-like planets!
Just three days ago, the Kepler Space Telescope, which is designed to look for planets beyond our solar system, discovered a group of planets known as Kepler 62b, 62c, 62d, 62e and 62f. These planets come from two star systems over 1,200 light years away. Although the discovery was a few days ago, we’re celebrating now because it coincides with the celebration of our own planet.
Now, there are over 600 confirmed extra-solar planets in our galaxy and certainly there may be many, many more, but these planets are special because they orbit their respective stars within what’s called the “habitable zone,” that is, a safe distance from the star that keeps the planet from being scorched like Mercury, or frozen like Neptune. Since we can’t actually see the surface of these planets, this is our best guess to determine if a planet is capable of supporting life.
This isn’t the first time scientists have attempted to find inhabited planets in this century. In our tours at Primland, we go into detail about the search for Earth like planets outside our solar system in our presentations, including the search for planets that might be inhabited by intelligent life! Hope you’ll come down and join us soon!
So Happy Earth Day everyone! Also, (as a special bonus), I thought I’d include a video of Earth from space, so that you can see our planet in a new, special light:
That’s right, today is the 23rd anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s year in space. Its mission: observe the furthest objects ever seen in our universe, further beyond any human’s reach. After 1,000,000 peeps through the mighty space telescope, scientists have learned more than ever thought possible about the origins of our universe, the nature of planets beyond the Earth, and our place in the cosmos. Just today, Hubble scientists released a photo of the Horsehead Nebula, which Hubble last photographed in 2001. Using infra-red light, the telescope peered deeper into this mysterious dark cloud, and found the filaments that give it structure. Check it out in the video below!
If you like looking at Hubble photos like I do (and who doesn’t?), check out their facebook page, and their website: http://www.spacetelescope.org/, which also has videos, merchandise, and educational materials for teachers and students.
Well, the Curiosity Rover is still working, though it will be unable to communicate with the Earth for over a month. However, it won’t stop working, using its 10 scientific instruments to peer into the chemical, geological, and atmospheric makeup of Mars. Today I want to give you a general overview of the project, and some of its hopes and dreams; above all, the dream of finding life. Curiosity has the tools to find the building blocks of life, not just water but the chemical compounds that allow us to exist on Earth. If Curiosity can find these on Mars, someday we may be able to sent people to Mars and make it a new home for sustaining Earth plants and animals on another world.
What Is Curiosity?
The Curiosity is a rover, a robot that can roll around the surface of another planet, taking pictures, soil and gas samples and other scientific data back to Earth.
What’s It Up To?
Curiosity’s basic objective is to investigate the presence of water on Mars. As far as we know, water is the essential ingredient of all life. Other NASA missions have found clues that there was water on Mars, but in order to get a better view of Mars, Curiosity is here to use its advanced instruments to find a clear answer. Curiosity also trying to find clues in the Martian atmosphere, to see how different it is from Earth. Just yesterday, after 248 days on Mars, NASA announced that ancient Mars could have supported life:
“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably — if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,” said John Grotzinger, NASA’s chief scientist for the Curiosity Project.
11 Cool Facts About the Curiosity Rover
- The mission cost $2.5 billion!
- The MSL spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral FLA, the same place where in 1971, NASA launched the first ever spacecraft to orbit Mars, (Mariner).
- Around 1,000 people gathered in New York City’s Times Square, to watch NASA’s live broadcast of Curiosity’s landing.
- The landing site of the Curiosity Rover is called the “Bradburry Landing Site,” named in honor of author Ray Bradburry, author of “The Martian Chronicles,” who died just two months after the rover landed.
- The Bradbury landing site rests within a 3.5 billion year old crater that could have actually been formed by wind erosion and water sediment, which is one reason for the trip- to discover whether Mars could potentially support life as we know it, or if it did support life in the past.
- Because of the vast distance between Earth and Mars, it took over 7 minutes to send a message from the Curiosity Rover to the scientists over at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a period which the JPL dubbed, “The Seven Minutes of Terror”
- Just two days ago, (4/9/13) Curiosity found proof that the Martian atmosphere used to be thicker, and more Earth like. Now the atmosphere is mostly full of Greenhouse gases, which suggests that some kind of Global Warming might have happened on Mars
- The Rover is about the size of a small car, and weighs about 2,000 pounds
- Curiosity is powered by a small Nuclear Reactor, called a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
- The Rover actually has a lucky penny! To calibrate its complex cameras, the rover has a 1980 Lincoln penny attached to its Mars Hand Lens Imager
- Curiosity is the only robot in the solar system to have a Twitter Account, which by the way, has been nominated for a Webby Award. If you visit the page and like what you see, you can vote to make Curiosity, a very happy interplanetary robot.
Key moments in the Curiosity Timeline
- November 26, 2011- The MSL spacecraft, containing the Curiosity Rover, launches from Cape Canaveral
- August 6, 2012- The Curiosity Rover lands on Mars, after a journey of 127 million miles.
- August 7th, 2012- First pictures from the surface of Mars. Later photos would also be broadcast in 3D!
- August 22nd- Curiosity Rove tests out its on-board laser, and tests its driving motors around the surface of Mars.
- August 29- Curiosity beams a song from the surface of Mars back to Earth, composed by Will.I.am from the Black Eyed Peas.
- September 27th- The rover discovers the remnants of an ancient river bed on Mars, making a great case for the existence of water.
- October 27th- Curiosity discovers mysterious pockets of Methane gas below the surface of Mars, which might be by-products of microscopic life forms.
- November 24th- Curiosity tracks a dust storm on Mars.
- February 7th- Curiosity starts drilling into the surface of Mars, to find the chemical composition of the soil.
- March 12th- Samples from the drilling uncover evidence of ancient microorganisms, and chemicals that are necessary building blocks for Carbon-based life.
- April 9th- The Curiosity Rover’s atmospheric sensors show the gradual decay of the atmosphere from primarily oxygen and argon rich, to mainly Carbon Dioxide, not unlike the Greenhouse Gasses in our atmosphere.
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this re-cap of Curiosity’s great career so far, and we wish it luck as it wonders on alone, without parental supervision from Earth. If you want to see Mars yourself, you’ll have to wait until its path takes it away from behind the Sun, on June 20th.
Time Magazine: “A Cosmic SUV Blasts Off for Mars” http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2100299,00.html
LA Times: “Signs Of Life On Mars” by Amina Khan http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-signs-of-life-on-mars-live-video-discussion-20130313,0,3183926.story
So, I know I’m really late on this, but I wanted to give a very warm thank you to Dr. Richard Obousy for agreeing to come down to Primland last week, and talk about his company Icarus Interstellar. Here are a few notes I took during his presentation.
Part 1- Background On Dr. Obousy, and the Icarus Project
Dr. Obousy has had a longstanding interest in space travel and physics. He holds a Ph.D in theoretical physics, and worked for the UK Defense Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) as a radar physicist from 1999-2002. He currently works as president of Icarus Interstellar, and Founder and Manager of CitizenShipper LLC. Dr. Obousy has written for over 15 peer-reviewed publications, and appeared on such television and radio programs as the History Channel series “The Universe,”
Icarus Intersellar is nonprofit, 70 volunteer group with the goal of creating spacecraft that can fly beyond our solar system, and reach closest stars by the year 2100. The team comes from all over the world, pooling research over the internet. The group was started in 2009, as an outgrowth of Project Daedalus, a project begun in 1973 by the British Interplanetary Society.
The project is split into 20 modules designed to plan out every stage of development, propulsion, and communication within the 100 year time span. On the project’s website, readers can download a complete report on the project, and learn about updates.
What’s wrong with our current spacecraft technology?
According to Dr. Obousy, the space shuttle can go 6 km per second, which means it could reach Pluto in 23 years, but would take thousands of years to go to our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. This is simply not fast enough to get past our solar system, and begin to actually touch the cosmos. Dr. Obousy, (and the crew at Icarus Interstellar) then touched on some of the potential benefits of superior space travel, such as mining for natural resources, and finding life on Mars, or Jupiter’s moon Europa. He cited the fact that data from the Curiosity and Viking spacecraft about life on these worlds is actually inconclusive! There might actually still be life in our solar system for us to still discover.
Although SETI (the Search For Extra-terrestial Intelligence) is currently scanning the skies for ET, Dr. Obousy feels that the “fleeting epoch of radio telescopes,” is no guarantee of success. Based on the findings from the Kepler Space Telescope, there may be over 400 billion planets in Milky Way, of those there might be as many as 100 billion Earth-like worlds. Dr. Obousy asserts that just because it is very difficult to locate extra-terrestrials, does not mean that they aren’t there.
How Project Icarus is Different From Current Spaceships.
Most of Project Icarus is devoted to using fusion power, rather than chemical energy, which, (if the project can perfect the process), could yield more than 10 million times more energy than the current design.
Why Did they Choose the Name “Icarus”?
For those of you who don’t know Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of the great engineer Daedalus, who created a pair of wax wings to give himself and his son the ability to fly. Unfortunately, the boy was so excited by this new power, and flew too close to the Sun, melting his wings, and sending the boy plummeting to his death. Understandably, this tragic story might seem like an odd source for the name of a company that designs space ships, but Dr. Obousy explains that, despite the outcome, Icarus, “pushed technology to its limits to discover hidden flaws,” which is how the story becomes one of the mantras to inspire the team.
Icarus is hopeful that they may some day create new technology that would allow us to travel at light speed, by dilebrerately warping space and time to travel through space at speeds that are unimaginable right now. Dr. Obousy cited many physicists that back up the idea that space time is not limited by light speed, and that there are natural sources of power such as dark energy and solar photons, that could be harnessed to propel spacecraft, (though at present, the energy required would be considerable to say the least). In the video above, you can get a glimpse of how Dr. Obousy suggested using such phenomena as the Casimir effect, and its ability to control dark energy as a sort of warp drive, using real scientific principles.
The Icarus Program is still fraught with challenges- monetary, resources, time, and of course the seemingly impossible difficulties creating real life interstellar vehicles, but Dr. Obousey and his team from Icarus Interstellar remain hopeful that “If we throw down the gauntlet, (i.e. challenging the members of his group), we will rise to the challenge like we did in the Apollo program,” which would allow us to take another great step in the field of science, and ultimately the human race.
Once again, I have to thank Dr. Obousy for his inspiring talk, and hope that he will visit Primland again soon!
If you’ve ever read the book “Angels And Demons” or saw the movie, you might have noticed the irony that, just like in the film, the discovery of the so-called God Particle happened to co-incide with the investment of a new Pope. In the book and film, these two events herald a new conflict betwene science and religion, but so far no such event has taken place. However, the real discovery of a God Particlle, the Higgs- Boson, has quite a bit of controversy and drama surrounding it. Today I’ll be reporting about this discovery, what it means, and how it could be a belssing or a curse to all mankind.
What is a boson? A boson is the very smallest constituent of matter, that work with other forces like gravity and electromagnetism. The Higgs Boson, ( initially theorized by physicist Peter Higgs), are the particles that give all matter mass, allowing for gravity to do its job, and the laws of physics to govern what we call reality. It’s not always helpful to think of boson as a particle like a proton, which already has mass. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you could think of the Higgs field as like The Force, an energy field that binds all matter togethar and gives it the ability to have mass. The next step for scientists is to figure out why some particles have mass like protons, while others like light, don’t.
Do we know this is really the Higgs? Higgs research has been going on since the 1960s, but only today, scientists at the CERN Very Large Hadron Collider confirm with 99% assurance that this is a genuine Higgs Boson. In order to find the Higgs, researchers smashed matter together at nearly light speeds, in a particle accelerator 27 kilometers long!
Benefits to finding the Higgs
A recent article from Live Science.com lists the potential benefits for finding the elusive Higgs Boson. Most of all, scientists are excited in discovering the particles taht give everything we can touch and feel mass, as well as the potential for understanding some of the laws of nature. However, there is one other interesting and totally unexpected side effect to this new research:
…The Higgs can sing!
What you are hearing is the Higgs particle’s random fluctuations, turned into musical notes. Some physicists theorize that all particles vibrate at differetn frequenceies so maybe there is some kind of cosmic sub-atomic music out there just waiting to be written.
…..Or Spell Our DOOM!
Apparently a scientist at the Fermi Institute has been using the science of Higgs Bosons as a way of figuring out how the universe will end. One of the basic principles of quantum physics is that nothing is really set in stone, so maybe research into the Higgs will actually reveal how long before the fundamental bonds of our universe break down, and we all dissolve into chaos once again. Like “Angels and Demons”, it’s interesting to speculate how they interact with our lives and whether their presence can give us grief or joy. In any case, this discovery could herald a new dawn into our understanding of just about everything, from the stars in the sky, to the very smallest particles imaginable.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this report on the discovery of the Higgs Boson. As a special treat, here’s a video about the science of “Angels and Demons.” It’s a recording of a conference by scientists that work at the Large Hadron Collider, discussing the concept of antimatter, the Hadron Collider, and the Higgs Boson.
Today In Space History: Special Report- Dr. Richard Obousey
Friday March 15th and Saturday 16th form Primland Resort’s Starmaster Weekend. On these weekends, the astronomy program. invite professional astronomers and scientists to come down and talk about their work with our guests. Our guest is Dr. Richard Obousey, president of Icarus Interstellar. Named after the son of the mythical Greek craftsman who invented special wings to make his boy fly, Icarus International is a private company, committed to developing new spacecraft, capable of traveling to other star systems. The current goal is to create the first interstellar spacecraft within 100 years. What follows is a brief overview of the work Icarus International does, and a little bit about the problems of interstellar space travel, so you’ll know a little about his program, and his work with Icarus Interstellar.
If you go to the Icarus Interstellar website, you can see artists’ design for all kinds of new propulsion systems, including fusion spacecraft, lasers, and even warp drives straight out of science fiction. Icarus is an outgrowth of the Daedalus Project from 50 years ago, and since 2011, with the help of NASA, Icarus has created five interstellar spacecraft projects, mainly focused on fusion propulsion.
Project Hyperion; Launched in December 2011, designed to provide an assessment of the feasibility of manned interstellar flight using current and near-future technoloigies. It also aims to guide future research and technology development plans as well as reasssess the Fermi Paradox. Finally it aims to inform the public about the prospects of manned interstellar flight.
Project Forward; Analyzes and assesses the concept of using laser light and interstellar star sails.
- Project Persephone; Experiment to create possible livable habitats in space.
- Project Bifrost; Launched in December 2011, by Tabitha Smith, The Icarus Interstellar Nuclear Space Technology (NST) and Propulsion Development Program will operate with long-term goals of tangible deliverables in mind, such as (1) Partnership with the US Government and other vital members of the NST community, (2) The Creation of Nuclear Engines (Thermal (NTR) and/or Electric) and (3) Proof of concept for NTR and building the foundation for evolving nuclear propulsion.
- Project Helius; Launched in August 2011 by Richard Osborne and Kelvin Long, Project Helius has the purpose of building prototype pulsed propulsion demonstrators to test elements of the Daedalus (or other) architecture. The main areas of study are currently focussed on the tracking of pellets and the timing of laser devices.
- 100 Year Starship – Funded by DARPA / NASA, a one year project announced in January 2012.
In this video, Dr. Obousey talks about the goals and some of the challenges of Project Icarus. As you can see near the end, Dr. Obousey mentions that one of the major problems with getting to space is monetary- NASA is currently looking for ways to commercialize space in a number of ways. You probably saw the incredibly popular STRATOS YouTube video, which was designed to test spacesuits in the event of a high-altitude ejection. In addition, NASA also gets support from corporations in return for research. They are even lending their research to NASCAR! Sometimes NASA gets funding from unexpected sources, such as Dennis Tito, the multimillionaire who is funding a project to send a married couple to Mars in a privately owned spaceship.
Of course, there are also the incredible technical challenges of traveling from Earth to even it’s closest stars, (the closest of which is still over 12 trillion miles away). Most of Icarus’ efforts have been directed in harnessing the power of nuclear fusion to create more powerful engines that have the energy potential of the Sun itself.
History of Space Exploration
As you might have read from my previous post about animals in space, NASA began sending people into space since the Mercury Project in 1961, and continued through the Gemini and Apollo mission, which sent men to the Moon from 1969-1972. NASA is trying to develop a new manned mission called Orion, set to go to the Moon in 2017. This mission will take humans back to the Moon, and then hopefully to Mars.
Some worry that even if NASA and Icarus develop the technology to get humans to other planets, that the demands of weightlessness on the human body, and the sheer length of the trip places create physical and psychological burdens on the human body. However, as Mary Roach points out in “Packing For Mars,” virtually every space mission has spawned numerous nervous medical theories, (some true and some false). One thing I’m sure Dr. Obousey will agree with me on, is that the prospect of manned spaceflight has been a Holy Grail of space exploration ever since man has first stared up at the stars. It united all of the country, and in a way the whole human race back when Neil Armstrong took that small step on the Moon, and hopefully the same thing can happen again with the help of NASA, Orion, and Icarus.
So, hope you come down to see Dr. Obousey next week. Click here if you want to make a reservation!