Today the GOCE European Space sattelite came crashing down to the South Atlantic Ocean! Scientists caution that there is a huge garbage dump of sattelites orbiting our planet and that this could happen again at any moment. The lesson here appears to be: “Space to Earth, CLEAN UP YOUR SKY!”
Tonight is the second night of the Harvest Moon, the time when the Moon rises earlier than ever before, right before the Autumnal Equinox.
As I mentioned in “The Tale of the Lucky Red Moon,” Harvest Moons have a profound cultural significance. China has its own Mid Autumn Moon Festival that tries to unite cultures under one Moon. You can read about this in a wonderful article at Earthsky.org
So get out tonight and enjoy this rare Harvest Moon! I plan to take a few pictures with the telescope if it’s not too cloudy here at Primland.
Not only is this the biggest Moon of the year, it’s also one of the most interesting. June 23rd’s full moon is classified as a “Strawberry Moon,” or “Rose Moon” It was called Strawberry by the Algonquin Native Americans because they knew this full moon was an ideal time to gather fruit. To learn more about this particular full moon, I’ve posted a link to a video created by the good folks at “The Farmer’s Almanac”, a trusted astronomy resource for over 100 years.
So I hope to see some of you down at Primland to look at this beautiful full moon. I know I’ll be training the telescope on it!
Like most of us in this economy, NASA has had to make some budget cuts. When they released their 2014 budget, it cut over $55 million from the previous year. Planetary studies have been hurt the most with 300 million cut from the budget. Looking at this, it’s clear that studying our solar system is just not a priority anymore; NASA is taking new directions with its research and some of its new plans are quite exciting.
For Example, NASA is increasing its funding to support Earth science; tracking man made and natural changes to our planet, including pollution and climate changes. The idea is that hopefully learning more about how to protect our planet and to protect ourselves.
In addition, there is also a program in place to start manned missions into space once again. I’ve written about this before when I mentioned the Orion Spacecraft, the first manned spacecraft designed for interplanetary orbit in 30 years. NASA is already building the space capsule, and the whole project should be finished by 2021.
BUT, there is one item on the NASA budget that seems right out of science fiction- The capture and mining of ASTEROIDS!
That’s right, President Obama approved a new project designed to send a special craft out into space for the purposes of finding and capturing a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA), and then bringing it back down to Earth to study, and eventually mine it for its contents. This might sound like something out of a James Cameron movie, but it really is part of the NASA budget, and the project is getting underway as we speak.
So why mine asteroids? To answer this question, I’ll break down the arguments and, (to continue with the Sci-Fi theme I’ve begun), I’m going to list them one by one, and name them after some awesome Sci-fi movie titles.
1. The Abyss/ Avatar-
According to scientific estimates, one asteroid may contain over $20 TRILLION dollars worth of precious metals, as well as iron, nickel, and cobalt. Ultimately, it might improve NASA’s budget and the world economy greatly to invest in asteroid mining. Plus, unlike Avatar, all of these asteroids would be uninhabited, making mining comparatively easy from a socio-political standpoint. Still, as you can see from the video above, to make this plan economically viable on a large scale we would need to develop vastly superior rockets, to keep the cost of sending rockets up into space all the time lower than the profits reaped from the asteroids themselves. As far fetched as this idea may seem, companies are already working to make it a reality. Imagine NASA beginning a new industry as unlimited as the universe itself!
2. Titan AE
If our planet were to suffer a cataclysm, (which could literally happen any day now), we will need to find a new way of getting water, oxygen, and the ingredients to create plant life. In addition to precious metals, asteroids also contain all of these. Bits of oxygen and hydrogen are locked up within the rocks. In addition, we know that asteroids contain ingredients for life, since 3.5 billion years ago, they helped develop life on our own planet. Therefore, if we ever need to leave the Earth, it makes more sense to mine our raw materials from asteroids, rather than taking everything with us. Of course, getting us off the Earth, is a much bigger problem:
As the Russian meteor explosion grimly reminded us, Earth could literally be hit by an asteroid at any time without warning. This is why the primary goal of the Asteroid Retrieval project is to study asteroids and determine how best to combat a potential threat. Lest we forget, an asteroid destroyed entire species on our planet 65 million years ago, and we need to be careful to make sure it doesn’t happen to us (cue the dramatic music).
So there you are, the major reasons why it’s a good idea to find asteroids and bring them back here. We eagerly await NASA making this project a reality, so that they make space a safer and more profitable place to live. As one more treat, here is a NASA animation of how the project might look, with dramatic Hollywood music underscoring for good measure.
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:
Today, I’d like to switch hats for a little while from Astro-nut to Shakespeare Geek. I’ve been studying Shakespeare for a long time and since today is his birthday, I thought I’d take some time to celebrate it. Like a lot of Elizabethans, Shakespeare believed that the stars and planets helped to influence a person’s destiny. Of course, he lived in the time of Galeleo and Copernicus who questioned these established opinions, and you can hear this changing tide of ideology in the dialogue of his plays. Plus, Shakespeare frequenly uses stellar images to add some extra spice to his love poetry. After all, who doesn’t want to be compared to the radient Venus, the brilliant stars, or the kingly Jupiter?
So today, I’d like to sojurn with you for a while away from the shores of science, and into the sweet waters of music and poetry related to the stars, with Shakespeare as the pilot for our vessel. Hope you enjoy it!
The Facts Are These:
- Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1613, and died at the age of 52.
- He wrote 37 surviving plays, 154 sonnets, and four epic poems.
- The word “Stars” appears 77 times in Shakespeare’s work.
- The god Jupiter appears as a character in one of his final plays, “Cymbeline”
- In his tragedy “King Lear” an old lord worries about disasters called by eclipses and comets.
- One of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, Prospero, is a magician who uses the powers of astrology to control the elements.
- Shakespeare was called “Sweet Swan Of Avon” by his contemporary Ben Johnson. The river Avon flowed through his home town of Stratford in Warrickshire. You can still see the swans today!
Some Famous Quotes From Shakespeare About Stars:
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love. – Hamlet
Take him and cut him into little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun -Romeo and Juliet
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves – Julius Caesar
FOOL: The reason the seven stars are only seven is a pretty reason,
KING LEAR: Because they are not eight?
FOOL: Yes, indeed: thou wouldst make a good fool.
Shakespeare and Astrology
As I’ve mentioned in the “This Month In Astrology” posts, people of Shakespeare’s day believed that the planets and stars could influence a person’s desitny and their character. They believed that the universe contained four basic elements called humours, that were the forces behind the planets, the stars, and our bodies. The four humours corresponded to the four basic elements- Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. These humours reflected aspects of people’s personality- the cold and dry meloncholy, the warm and airy blood, the hot and fiery cholor, and the slow and temperate phlegm (the humour of water). Living in ballence with the planets, stars, and your own bodily humours was the best way to live a healthy life, so Shakespeare and his contemporaries studied the stars to figure out how to control and understand their lives. Queen Elizabeth herself had a pesronal astrologer who helped her get through the invasion of the Spanish Armada. A lot of Shakespeare’s tragedies focus on people whose destinies seem to be influenced by bad stars or planets. As I mentioned in “The Ides Of March” post, a bad planet or a comet could influence the fates of powerful people. Meanwhile, the comedies focus on people who let their humours take over them; from the melancholic Jaques to the foolish constable Dogberry, to the brave but idiotic Orlando, Shakespeare’s characters are at their funniest, when they are at their most “humourous.” In short, Shakespeare’s understanding of the humours and the stars allowed him to classify and examine different types of people, and how they deal with extrodinary situations. This is one reason we continue to read his work 400 years later.Finally, a little poetry reading. Here is one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a short poem that’s only 14 lines long.
In this poem, the speaker rejects the doctrine of Astrology when looking into the face of his beloved, and instead claime that the only celestial light he needs is in the bleoved’s eyes. When those lights are gone, the universe as he knows it will end, so he advises the object of his affection to have children to allow those lights to renew. This is the format of the first 126 sonnets, but Shakespeare uses incredibly varied devices to make the same simple point.
So I hope this little sojourn into Shakespeare’s swan boat was entertaining for you and I hope combining my love of astronomy and Shakespeare will help you, the reader to appreaciate both even more.
“Jove and my stars be praised! Here is yet a postscript” – Twelfth Night
PS. If you liked this little exploration into stellar poetry, please leave a comment below. There is a rich vein of poetry related to the Sun, Moon, and stars, and I would love to write about them in future posts.
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!