Category Archives: space

Gadzooks – It’s Our Anniversay

Trail Baboon has reached a milestone – TEN YEARS!  In honor of our anniversary, I am re-running a piece from our first week (with Dale’s approval!)   I was going to change the question, but it’s turned out to be eerily prescient in our current situation.

SIX MEN IN A TUB
An intriguing human experiment has begun in the western part of Moscow at the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems.

Six men just started a 520 day “mission” to Mars.  They are enclosed in “a series of windowless steel capsules” for the duration, with enough food and activities and chores to keep them busy.  There’s also ample time for relaxation.  The “voyagers” will have to exercise two hours a day but will only be able to shower once a week.

Uh oh.

There are many obstacles to overcome in a real journey to Mars.  There would have to be a shield to protect the humans from solar radiation.   And psychologists predict that one the greatest emotional hazards is the likelihood that the crew would begin to grow tired of each other’s company.   But at least in a genuine Martian trip there would be a sense of excitement and anticipation of arriving on the planet – something that’s missing in this effort.

Perhaps the greatest hurdle in this make believe exercise is to get six grownups to pretend for almost a year and a half that they can’t just walk out for a smoke or a bit of vodka.   After all, it takes skilled actors years of training to get you to suspend reality for two hours on a stage.  How long can fact-based scientists and researchers last?

Because a similar effort ten years ago ended badly (sexual harassment allegations, fistfights), the mission commander is quoted in an AP article as saying “Each crew member has the right to end the experiment and walk out.  We have had such negative experience in the past, and I hope it won’t happen during this experiment.”

Double uh oh.

Which guy will make a bid to scuttle the mission after 500 days because he can’t stand “Commander Flatulence” or would just like to get out and feel the sunshine? The longer you’re in, the greater the pressure to stay in.  And the longer you’re in, the greater the leverage for anyone who threatens to leave.

This sounds like a twisted reality show disguised as a scientific experiment.  All it needs a name and a theme song, like that ditty that introduced “The Brady Bunch”.

Here’s the story of a group of fellas
Who were simulating flying into space.
They were scientists and they all liked each other
Which is not commonplace.

They’re pretending to go to a planet.
If you’re Martian it’s the place that you belong.
In the movies when the Martians meet the Earthlings,
they never get along.

Till this mission where these fellas met this planet.
Well not really but they tried to make believe.
They had almost made it there when it started.
That’s when everyone declared “I’m going to leave.”

I’m going to leave.  I’m going to leave.
I can’t stand you, and you, and you I’m going to leave.
I’m going to leave.  I’m going to leave.
This is Moscow we’re on Earth I’m going to leave!

What would you need to survive 520 days enclosed in a series of windowless steel capsules with five other people, all pretending that you can’t go outside?

 

Too Hot to Handle

KELT 9-B seems an innocuous-enough name for an exoplanet. It was discovered in 2017 and is apparently an “ultra-hot Jupiter” – huge gas giants hotter than anything in our solar system.  In fact, some of the new data coming in suggests that it is three times larger than our Jupiter and approximately  7,800 degrees Fahrenheit on its surface.  So hot in fact, that hydrogen atoms are shredded by the heat during the daytime and can only re-form until they appear on the dark side of the planet; KELT 9-B is tidally locked to its star, so the hot side always faces its sun.

It’s amazing to me that we can figure this stuff out since we can’t just look it up on the internet. All the data on KELT 9-B has come from two robotic telescopes in the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope project, one telescope in South Africa and the other in southern Arizona.  And of course, it makes me wonder how a planet like KELT 9-B comes into existence.  And can it survive its own heat?

How do you cool down when you’re angry?

Ohm!

Photo credit:  NASA

Twice yesterday I uttered the words “it’s why I’ll never get on the space shuttle.”

On the way to work, I stopped at SuperAmerica. Sorry, Speedway.  The cashier was struggling with the computer that runs the gas pumps, having to basically re-boot it every time somebody needed to pump their gas.  While I was waiting for her to ring me up (no gas for me), I commiserated with her and she made a derogatory remark about computers in general.  I replied “Yea, it’s why I’ll never get on the space shuttle.”

Fast forward a couple of hours and we had a “flub” (Tech’s word for it, not mine) which locked a lot of us out of our program subdirectories for about an hour. I was the one who called the helpline to document the issue so I was the one to hear the tech swear that computers would be the death of him.  As I repeated my space shuttle line, I realized that I say this often in response to somebody griping about pcs and computers in general.  Interesting that there is a need – seems to me that our society depends heavily on computers but generally doesn’t like them.  So here I am, stuck with “it’s why I’ll never get on the space shuttle” as my personal mantra.  I supposed it could be worse.

Do you have a mantra? What would you like it to be?

Space Discovery

Photo credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

For all space geeks, the news this week is that a high school student, on his third day of interning at NASA, discovered a planet. For all Star Wars geeks, it turns out that it’s not just your ordinary planet, but a very rare circumbinary planet with two suns, like Tatooine, the planet where Luke Skywalker grew up.

He made the discovered this past July at the very beginning of his internship; he and other astronomers have spent the last six months confirming the find. The planet is now called TOI 1338b and looks to be almost 7 times bigger than Earth.

Apparently not only are circumbinary planets rare, they are even rarer to find since the way that most planets are confirmed don’t work due to timing of the planet passing in front of its stars.   So this is quite an auspicious start for the high-schooler who has said that he does intend to continue his studies in astronomy and astrophysics.

If you could be known as the discoverer of something, what would it be?

Among Us?

Fun news this week. Astronaut Helen Sharman, one of the first seven Britons to travel to space, has come out as pro-alien lifeform.

“There are so many billions of stars out there in the universe that there must be all sorts of different forms of life.  Will they be like you and me, made up of carbon and nitrogen? Maybe not.”

Shades of Carl Sagan’s Contact.  And as if that isn’t spectacular enough, she went on to say”

“It’s possible they’re here right now and we simply can’t see them.”

This of course brings to mind the scene from Men in Black in which Will Smith says he was sure his third grade teacher was an alien:

Anybody you are sure is an alien?

The Hot Jupiters

I was catching up on some of my favorite science vlogs and found one on SciShow Space talking about “Hot Jupiters”. These are gaseous giant planets that orbit so closely to their sun that their year would be just a few days on Earth.  Apparently Hot Jupiters are fairly easy to detect but still not fully understood. All this aside, my first thought was “that would be a good band name”.  The Hot Jupiters.

Come across any good band names of your own recently?

Among Us?

Photo credit: Miriam Espacio

Ten years after the UFO incident in Roswell, New Mexico, it was on this day in 1957 that the most impressive UFO sighting happened in Levelland, Texas; the impressiveness was due to the large number of witnesses over the short period of time. Ufologists continue to argue that the Air Force investigation was too short and that the phenomenon was NOT ball lightning.

A few days later, Jim Lee, who was the head of the Interplanetary Space Patrol (perhaps named after a popular TV show of the day “Space Patrol”) stated that the Levelland sighting was indeed a visit from outer space and predicted that UFOs would soon begin to come in large numbers, large enough that there would be no more non-believers. Lee’s group pushed the agenda that humans could work and collaborate with our visitors via radio waves.

“The days of the skeptics are numbered, and they had better find a good place to hide away for even the entire populations of our large cities will see these ships as they come in from outer space. They will soon come in large numbers for all to see and the skeptic will not have a leg left to stand on. There is no need for alarm over the situation at this time.”

While I try to keep an open mind about things I can’t prove or dis-prove, I’m pretty sure that if we are visited by extra-terrestrials, it probably won’t go well. Considering how many problems we have to solve just to get to Mars, any travelers that could get themselves here would be so far ahead of us technologically (or magically if that’s your bent) that they could squash us like bugs.  That’s just my opinion, of course.

But the bottom line is that Jim Lee was wrong… we’re still not seeing UFOs in great numbers, in all our large cities.

Have you ever had a prediction of yours come true?

Aliens Among Us?

Back to my rant on reactionary headlines. Now I’m seeing news that some videos from quite a few years ago have been leaked from Navy archives, videos that the Navy says are “real”.  They show unidentified objects that have never been explained.  So now aliens exist and are among us according to the headlines.

Personally I’m not willing to say that we are the only life in the universe. As Matthew McConaughey says in the movie, Contact

However, I’m pretty sure that if there is other life in the universe, the human race doesn’t have it within itself to RECOGNIZE that life. I think that our definition of life is too small.  Even our definition of life is based on what we currently believe to be life:  “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants form inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity and continual change preceding death.”

I’m also pretty sure that any kind of life/civilization that can get to Earth is/will be way more advanced than we can imagine. So I’m not really concerned that the Navy video is really aliens – if aliens are here, they are advanced enough to keep themselves hidden from us.  For all we know, aliens do walk among us and we’ll probably never figure it out?

What place in the universe would you like to visit?

New Phase of the Moon

NASA has been back in the news with the announcement that a return trip to the moon is in the works for 2024. And this means that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is back in the news with HIS announcement that he wants to bankroll 6-8 artists to go with him on a SpaceX flight affectionately named “Dear Moon”. He says that taking artists to space would allow them to “communicate their experiences to the masses in new ways”.

Of course, this project is just in the offing and we’ll have to see if it comes to fruition by 2024.

Would you want to travel to the moon? Or Mars?  Or beyond?

That Ole Devil Moon

The last couple of mornings, I’ve had to head to work a little early and thanks to Daylight Savings Time, in the dark. I go pretty much straight west on 494 and have been graced both mornings by a huge, supermoon.

According to Wikipedia “A supermoon is a full moon or a new moon that nearly coincides with perigee—the closest that the Moon comes to the Earth in its orbit—resulting in a slightly larger-than-usual apparent size of the lunar disk as viewed from Earth.”

And it turns out that there is an opposite phenomenon – a micromoon.  And sadly, the supermoon this week is the last one of 2019.

What do you see when you look at the moon?