Archive for Space Update

Space Update 2

Posted in Space with tags , , , , on April 14, 2012 by innothingwetrust

More news from the world of things not of our world.


UFO Seoul-searching

What appears to be a classic ‘flying saucer’ has been filmed by an airline passenger from the window of his plane over Seoul, South Korea. Some have already denounced the video as a hoax, but it has garnered over a million views on YouTube already:

Reports from North Korea that this is the spirit of former Dear Leader Kim Jong Il are as yet unsubstantiated.


Pa-lava over Jumbo Dumbo

It turns out that the image below is in fact not a gigantic Martian Elephant as scientists had first suggested, but a coincidental likeness resulting from recent lava flows on the surface of the Red Planet. The appearance of the pachyderm is an example of ‘pareidolia’ – the phenomenon where people ‘see’ things (such as shapes or animals) which aren’t really there. Other examples include the ‘man in the moon’, ‘faces’ in the headlights of cars and ‘humour’ in the films of Adam Sandler.


Kepler to taste porridge in 2 years

Optimistic astronomers are hoping that the Kepler Space Telescope might detect a true ‘Goldilocks’ planet within the next two years. A Goldilocks planet is one orbiting in what is called the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ around its star; a proximity meaning that conditions are warm enough that H2O does not freeze, but no so warm that it evaporates. Being able to harbour liquid water, it is believed, is the ideal environment for life to flourish, and so finding these planets is key in the search for life beyond our world. Many planets have been discovered in this zone already, but none as yet have been proven to harbour these conditions.

The Kepler mission is a beautiful and fascinating pursuit whose primary function is to locate Earth-like exoplanets (planets orbiting stars other than our own Sun). The planets are detected in a number of ways, but there are two main methods:

The first is called the Transit Method. This involves looking directly at a star for a long amount of time and measuring the amount of light it receives. When a planetary transit occurs (when a planet passes in front of its star as it orbits), the amount of light being received dips just slightly owing to the planet’s disc blocking out some of the light. Our instruments detect this trough and we can then say that we have discovered a new solar system. However, this method isn’t perfect as obviously it will only work for solar systems which are ‘side on’ when viewed from Earth. If the angle of planetary orbit means that transits do not occur from our perspective, then there will be no dip in light emissions to detect even if there are 100 planets orbiting the parent star. So another method is also used.

This is called the Radial Velocity method. It works by detecting ‘wobbles’ in stars which are indicative of the fact that something is orbiting it. Despite the fact that stars are stupendously large compared to the planets which they sustain, the planet will still exert a gravitational force on its parent star, causing it to ‘wobble’ when observed closely. Imagine tying a rock to the end of a string and then waving it round and round over your head. Your hand, and probably your whole body, would wobble slightly as the weight of the rock pulls on your arm. This is the phenomenon detected by Radial Velocity, and if a star wobbles like this, it means that it has substantial satellites.

Once new solar systems are detected, work can begin on determining how many planets are in the system and – more importantly – whether any of them orbit in the Goldilocks Zone. Hundreds of exoplanets have so far been discovered, and a relative handful have been inside this zone. However, none so far have shown convincing signs of having the right atmosphere, mass, gravity or chemical makeup to support life as we know it. However, it can only be a matter of time before such conditions are detected: since the first discovery in 1995, 691 confirmed exoplanets have been discovered. Since the Kepler mission began in 2009, 2,321 potential exoplanets have been reported. Some of these will turn out not to be planets, but in any case that means Kepler is discovering potential exoplanets at a rate of roughly 3 per day.


Space Shuttle Boeing to a better place

How do you transport a de-commissioned Space Shuttle which can no longer fly? Why, you strap it to a plane that can fly of course. The NASA Shuttle Discovery which came to the end of its working life last year is being flown atop a modified Boeing 747 to the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia, where it will remain on display for the rest of its days. Discovery carried out 39 successful missions in 27 years of service, most notably transporting the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. Discovery, I salute you.


And finally…

Why did the astronauts leave the moon bar? There was no atmosphere.


Space Update

Posted in Space with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2012 by innothingwetrust

I freakin’ love space. I will never understand the mindset of anyone who does not hold it to be the single most gobsmackingly fascinating thing imaginable. The possibilities are (perhaps even literally) endless and the stupendous range of celestial phenomena from star-birthing Nebulae to light-swallowing black holes are both terrifyingly majestic and majestically terrifying. And all that is looking way beyond the things which lie on our very own cosmic doorstep. The planets within our own solar system alone are wondrous enough to captivate global imagination for a lifetime (if only people would look up more!). And, of course, there is the continuous quest for the Universal Holy Grail: finding life elsewhere. A quest which, if concluded with such a find, would radically alter the collective human psyche (at least of those individuals who haven’t yet conceded its almost certain existence) and forever change the entire world and its future, as well as the future of our species. In short, it’s awesome. And I mean dictionary definition ‘awesome’.

So from time to time, I will be sharing with you some of the latest interesting space stuff and probably gushing some more about how blown my mind is.

Close Encounters of the burnt kind
This pretty awesome video has emerged of what hopeful UFO enthusiasts have claimed is footage of an alien space craft ‘summoning energy’ or ‘refuelling’ from our very own Sun. However, NASA have debunked such claims as predictably wishful thinking. The black stream seemingly being sucked from the sun’s surface is a ‘prominence’ (a massive eruption of gas streaming off the surface of the sun), and what looks like the Death Star is in fact a ‘filament’ (a long structure of relatively cool material in the solar corona). Not quite the Independence Day scenario some were hoping for, but it still looks pretty cool (plus this video is accompanied by hilariously dramatic music):


Musical stardom
Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s singing career is set to sky-rocket when he becomes the first person to record an original song in space. Hadfield has had two purpose-built cosmic guitars made for the trip in which he will take control of the International Space Station’s ‘Expedition 35’ mission. He will be the first Canadian to captain the ISS – let’s hope the top of his head doesn’t float away:


20,000 Europa leagues under the sea
Jupiter’s moon Europa has long been the source of much excitement for scientists searching for extra-terrestrial life. This is because it is believed to contain some of the key ingredients for life, including liquid water and oxygen. Although Europa is covered in a thick outer crust of ice, it is thought that between this layer and the moon’s warm iron core lies a vast planetary ocean. It had previously been thought that no life could exist in such cold conditions and with no sunlight. However, the discovery here on Earth of ‘extremophiles’ – organisms which live and thrive in extreme circumstances historically dismissed as unlivable – has given rise to the theory that bacterial micro-organisms could also live in the similar environments of Europa. The Jovian satellite’s scarred surface is created by the enormous gravitational forces acting upon Eurpoa by its parent, Jupiter. These forces constantly crack the icy surface and create fissures through which the liquid water beneath rises to the surface and freezes, creating ‘scar’ ridges.

No one is expecting to find the oceans full of whales, sharks, fish, octopuses or squid (although, if there is anything we know of that is close to alien life, it is the squid). At best, we can hope to find single-celled organisms and bacteria. However, even this seemingly meagre discovery would cause a monumental shift in our understanding of life in the Universe. If we need look no further than our own solar system – which, if the Earth was the Universe, is about the equivalent of a centimetre in front of our eyes – for extra-terrestrial bacteria, then we can assume that it is very, very common throughout the Universe. And if bacteria is so common then wherever the right set of conditions for complex life occur, it is likely that many of them will be populated with the right ingredients. Basically, if any form of life exists on Europa, it is extremely likely that complex life exists elsewhere in the Universe, which is why this is such an incredible mission. The following video details an experiment which Russian scientists have carried out to test methods and theories about a possible mission to Europa:


Moonwalking through history
NASA have recently released the below animation detailing the history of our moon. It is pretty fascinating and takes into consideration evidence and incredibly detailed pictures collected by the LRO (the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter). Launched in 2009, the LRO has many tasks to undertake, including a detailed mapping of the ‘dark side of the moon’ and a search for lunar water and ice. Full details of the LRO’s mission can be found here: Anyway, the video is pretty cool:


And finally…
How do you arrange a party in space? You planet.

This hilarious joke-ending will also be a regular feature.

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