Category Archives: Space History

Historic Comet Landing!

Hi Everyone!

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.

http://rosetta.jpl.nasa.gov/ 

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

Happy Comet-Gazing!

First Artist in Space is… LADY GAGA

Lady Gaga in her flight suit, as part of the announcement that she will become part of the Virgin Galaxy space flight in 2015.

Lady Gaga in her flight suit, as part of the announcement that she will become part of the Virgin Galaxy space flight in 2015.

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/

Happy Stargazing!

 

Announcing Hawaii Week

Hi everyone!

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!

20130728-234325.jpg

Happy Earths Day!

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!

Kepler-62-system

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:

Happy Stargazing!

Mars discoveries, Curious?

The Curiosity Rover in Self-Portrait

The Curiosity Rover in Self-Portrait

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

  1. The mission cost $2.5 billion!
  2. 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).
  3. Around 1,000 people gathered in New York City’s Times Square, to watch NASA’s live broadcast of Curiosity’s landing.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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”
  7. 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
  8. The Rover is about the size of a small car, and weighs about 2,000 pounds
  9. Curiosity is powered by a small Nuclear Reactor, called a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
  10. 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
  11. 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.

Happy Stargazing!

Sources:

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curiosity_rover

Star Master Weekend Recap- Dr. Richard Obousy

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

Richard Obousy, president of Icarus International.

Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar.

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?

The underside of a space shuttle rocket.

The underside of a space shuttle rocket.

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”?

"The Fall Of Icarus," 17th Century engraving by  Musée Antoine Vivenel.

“The Fall Of Icarus,” 17th Century engraving by Musée Antoine Vivenel.

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!

Happy Stargazing!

The Higgs Boson- Angel, or Demon?

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.
 standard model infographic
Source:LiveScience
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.

Sources:

http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/03/14/6-implications-finding-higgs-boson-particle/

http://www.livescience.com/13613-strange-quarks-muons-nature-tiniest-particles-dissected.html

http://www.livescience.com/17433-implications-higgs-boson-discovery-lhc.html

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/higgs-boson-the-socalled-god-particle-could-spell-trouble-for-universe/1079386/0
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57470466/hear-the-higgs-boson-god-particle-set-to-music/

A Leap of… Imprecise Astronomical Calculations

Simulated image of the path of the Sun during the Winter Solstice created by

Simulated image of the path of the Sun during the Winter Solstice created by

February 28th is the last day of the month, which means that this is not a Leap Year. As you probably know, every four years we add an extra day onto February assuming that we didn’t do so in the last 300 years. Since this is a somewhat confusing and imprecise system, I thought I’d devote some time to explaining it here.

The reason we don’t have a precise calendar with a nice round 365 day year is because calendars are based around a rather imprecise clock- The Earth. Because of the Earth’s dizzying running pace of 19 miles per second around the Sun, it actually turns nearly four extra quarter turns on its axis, which adds up to one extra day, and that is why we add an extra day on February 29th. But here’s the catch- it’s not actually a complete day, which means that after a few centuries, the accumulated time we lose by adding a day means that we get off track with the Earth’s cycle around the Sun. This is why we skip a leap year every 400 years. The year 2000 was a leap year, but the year 2100 won’t be.

I found this nifty little algorithm to help you figure out whether or not the current year is a leap year:

Ithe year is divisible by 400 then
it  is a leap_year
If the year is divisible by 100 then
not_leap_year
If the year is divisible by 4 then it is a leap year.

In this video, you can see a fun look about the science and history behind this phenomenon, and how it relates to, -gasp- MY FAVORITE STAR- SIRIUS:

As you can see from the video, the human race has evolved a great deal of calendars over the years to precisely track the motions of the planet around the Sun: the Egyptian, Mayan, the Julian, and Gregorian. Even today, with our cesium laser powered atomic clocks, we still use this system as the basis for how the world tells time; as mammals we still respond to the cycle of our planet, its Sun, and its moon, and we depend on that to keep our lives in sync with the rhythm of the cosmos. Imperfect though it may be, it is what links us with the rest of creation.

So enjoy this non-leap year, and while you do, take a little time to think about how you are part of this great cosmic dance, and how our planet knows the steps even after 4.6 billion years.

Happy Stargazing!

Paul

Updates For This Week 2/18- 2/24

Hi everyone,

I’m playing a little bit of catch up, since I spent yesterday enjoying my birthday, so here’s the topics I’ll be covering for the rest of the week:

Comparison in scale between planets of the solar system, and Kepler 37b (NASA- public domain)

Comparison in scale between planets of the solar system, and Kepler 37b (NASA- public domain)

 

 

 

Today In Space History: Today I’ve posted a brand new discovery of the extrasolar planet Kepler 37b- the smallest planet ever discovered! It’s only about the size of the moon, and orbits its closest star in less than a month.

 

Map of the zodiac constellations with Pisces emphasized.

Map of the zodiac constellations with Pisces emphasized.

 

 

 

This Month In Astrology: Pisces. My birthday, (like Copernicus’) falls on the zodiac sign Pisces, which runs from February 19th-March 20th. Tonight I’ll be writing some interesting details about my own star sign- the placement in the sky, the elements. and the dominant characteristics that a Piscean such as myself is supposed to have. I’ll also be writing a post where I’ll teach you to create your own horoscope!

Image of Taurus the Bull, taken from 15th century Norman astrology book.

Image of Taurus the Bull, taken from 15th century Norman astrology book.

 

 

 

 

Astronomy Myths and Legends: Taurus Right now, the Moon and the planet Jupiter are right in the eye of the constellation Taurus the Bull. I thought I’d give you guys some insight into this zodiac constellation, and the somewhat curious myth that spawned it.

Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, listens during a meeting of the council at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill.

Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, listens during a meeting of the council at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill.

 

 

 

 

Special Post (Today In Space History) Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, one of the greatest astrophysicists of our time, and director of the Heyden Planetarium.

 

 

Asteroid DA 14, which will pass the Earth at a distance of about 17,000 miles February 15th.

Asteroid DA 14, which will pass the Earth at a distance of about 17,000 miles February 15th.

Special Post- How to Survive an Asteroid Impact!

Enjoy all this as the week goes on!

-Paul

Doom From the Skies- week of 2/11-2/17

Greetings readers!

Photo of the meteor that disintegrated over  Russia's Ural mountains on February 15th.

Photo of the meteor that disintegrated over Russia’s Ural mountains on February 15th.

HOOLY COW! What a week it has been- between the asteroids going across the globe, a comet in Australia, meteors in Russia, and lightning strikes in Rome; it seems like the gods of astronomy are working overtime to make this a very fascinating week. I have posted a recap of this week’s events on Today In Astronomy to fill you in on anything you missed, with the best reporting the web can offer!

Enjoy!

-Paul