Blog Archives

New Scary Posts for Halloween!

Here are my best posts on Halloween:

 

  1. History of Halloween, NEW https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/astronomy-myths-and-legends/
  2. My exploration of the myths of Werewolves! https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/new-page-astronomy-myths-and-legends-new-wolf-moon-hooowl/ 
  3. Harvest Moons: https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/2013/09/ 

Happy Anniversary, Hubble!

 
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.

Star Master Weekend, Get your tickets NOW!

Today In Space History: Special Report- Dr. Richard Obousey

Richard Obousy, president of Icarus International.

Richard Obousy, president of Icarus International.

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.

 

 

Design for the original Daedalus Project ship from the 1970s.
Design for the original Daedalus Project ship from the 1970s.

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

Artist's rendering of the Orion Spacecraft, which will send humans to the Moon, (and hopefully Mars) by 2017
Artist’s rendering of the Orion Spacecraft, which will send humans to the Moon, (and hopefully Mars) by 2017

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!

Happy Stargazing!

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

New POW: The Dog Star Sirus

Be sure to visit today’s Picture of the Week page to see the brightest star in the sky, Sirius the Dog-star.

New Pages- Today In Space History and Astronomy Myths and Legends: The Seven Sisters

Orion Spacecraft (artist's rendering)

Orion Spacecraft (artist’s rendering)

Hello Loyal Readers and Subscribers!

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve added a new page devoted to Astronomy History as well as current developments in the Space Program called “Today in Space History” At least once a week, I’m going to comb the web and the history books and report on new developments in space exploration as they develop. When nothing’s new, I’ll give you some info on history- recalling what happened on this very day in history, with facts on everything from the first chimp in space, to the discovery of gravity by Isaac Newton. In short, This new page is about space exploration- not only what’s going on now, but also the many discoveries, experiments, successes, and failures that made it possible.

My first post is about how NASA is celebrating the inauguration of President Obama, with a week long program of open houses, free stargazing tours, and discussions about the future of NASA with astronomers and astronauts. Here’s a taste of what I found:

For more titillating posts, please visit “Today In Space History”

Also, sit tight, tonight I’ll be coming out with an all new “Astronomy Myths and Legends” post, about the Pleiades, (or the Seven Sisters as it’s also called), one of the most beautiful star clusters in the night sky.

 

Hope this piques your interest, and see you later!

-Paul

New Page uploaded!

Hi Everyone,

I’ve added a new page called “Astronomy Myths and Legends,” where I give you some research on the myths and stories associated with a particular planet, star, or constellation. Today I’ve posted a few myths and legends on Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, the brightest star in the sky! Hope you enjoy it: https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/astronomy-myths-and-legends/