Exoplanet Alien Worlds Viewed With Unprecedented Detail

exoplanet imager first image

The exoplanet imager’s first image: not an exoplanet. http://www.space.com/

To date astronomers have discovered well over 1,000 exoplanets, or planets that circle stars outside of our own solar system. According to NASA, there are 3603 objects that are candidates for being an exoplanet, and 1015 confirmed exoplanets (verified by several different observers with several different instruments, reaching a minimum confidence level of 99.9999%).

All of these planets were found by NASA’s Kepler telescope, which also happens to be a solar powered spacecraft. Unfortunately Kepler does not allow us to know the composition of each planet, only that a planet is or isn’t there. Now, due to the creation of a new, high powered observational tool, all that is changing.

Gemini Planet imager function

A look at how Gemini functions. http://spie.org/

Throughout history hundreds of different observational tools have been created to observe the universe. Even before it was understood that we are part of a galaxy, let alone surrounded by exoplanets, human eyes looked to the stars in wonder and awe. Now we have the power to not only view those stars close up, but to also view the very composition of their planets. The tool that affords us this power is called the Gemini Planet Imager. The imager is an optical enhancement currently being used in the Gemini South telescope in Chile. It was built by a team of U.S. and Canadian institutions, funded by the Gemini Observatory, which is an international partnership comprising the U.S.A., U.K., Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil & Chile. Gemini is also partially funded by NSF, NASA, the University of California and the Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Humanity already has multiple massive telescopes including the Kepler and Hubble orbiting the Earth, why can’t they just do Gemini’s job? The purpose and function of the Gemini Planet Imager is uniquely different when it comes to exoplanet detection. Kepler locates exoplanets indirectly by focusing on a star and finding the “dark” spot the planet produces on the image when orbiting between the star and the telescope. Gemini on the other hand takes a more direct approach by directly detecting the light an exoplanet gives off. According to the Gemini Planet Imager website,

GPI will detect DIRECTLY the light from an extrasolar planet…Almost 1,000 extrasolar planets are known today, but mostly through indirect Doppler techniques that indicate the planet’s mass and orbit or transit events that measure the planet’s size and orbit. If we can directly pick out a planet from the star’s glare, we can use spectroscopy to measure the planet’s size, temperature, gravity, and even the composition of its atmosphere. By targeting many stars we will understand how common or unusual our own planetary system may be.

exoplanet totals

The periodic table of exoplanets as of January 2013. http://phl.upr.edu/

The Gemini Planet Imager saw light for the first time in November 2013, and has been working without a hitch ever since. Being eight times more sensitive than any existing imaging device, Gemini is the crowning achievement on an entire year of exoplanet discovery and analyzation in 2013.  It can even scan and processes images 100x faster, taking only 60 seconds.

Related Article: Triple Star System Paves Road to Understanding Gravity

The galaxy is a huge place, and although the Kepler telescope has detected thousands of planets and stars, that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the 300 to 400 billion stars in the Milk Way Galaxy. The Gemini Planet Imager will at least give us a little more quality to the small quantity of planets we have in our planet image menagerie.

potential habitable planets

Our potential new homes. http://www.bbc.co.uk/

The Kepler telescope and the Gemini Planet imager focus specifically on finding exoplanets similar to Earth. Scientists generally categorize discovered exoplanets by size relative to Earth. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on October 22, 2013, Scientists stated that after observing 42,000 Sun-like stars analyzed by Kepler, they had found,

603 planets, 10 of which are Earth size and orbit in the habitable zone, where conditions permit surface liquid water…22% of Sun-like stars harbor Earth-size planets orbiting in their habitable zones.

Along with Earth-like planets, astronomers have also discovered a solar system that shares a relatively large number of similarities with our own. It’s a good thing there isn’t a precise Earth analogue in the system otherwise there would be no way to prove that the system isn’t just one cosmically gigantic mirror. Our collective sanity has been spared.

Great technology will of course give rise to greater technology ad infinitum. That means a Google Galaxy ‘planet surface view’ is in humanity’s future. Awesome.

kepler solar system star

The orbits of different solar systems found by the Kelper telescope.

 

 

Sources: 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24549384

http://planetimager.org/

http://www.space.com/17383-kepler-planet-hunting-nasa-telescope-infographic.html

http://www.space.com/24188-exoplanet-imager-first-light-aas223.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+spaceheadlines+%28SPACE.com+Headline+Feed%29

http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/page/whatsTheDifference

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_telescopes,_observatories,_and_observing_technology#1960s

http://messier.seds.org/more/mw.html

http://arxiv.org/abs/1310.6248

http://www.pnas.org/content/110/48/19273

https://wondergressive.com/life-its-all-over-the-place/

 

Fuel Cell Cars: A History In Motion

 

fuel cell car

Fuel Cell Cars, the 21st century mount! bmwblog.com

From November 20 thru December 1st, the Tokyo Motor Show went off without any backfire and showcased a display of all types of vehicles. Everything from the cube-like DECA DECA super space vehicle to the quirky convertible X-Lander was displayed with vigor and intrigue. One notable display at the 2013 show was the Toyota FCV Concept Car. This car is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

The Elusive Hydrogen Fuel Cell

The idea behind the hydrogen fuel cell is simple. When hydrogen and oxygen combine they create H2O, heat, light, and a loose electron. This loose electron is captured and used as a power source.

How Did Groves Battery Work?

Sir William Robert Grove is considered to be the father of the fuel cell. In 1839 he created a “gas voltaic battery.”

He based his experiment on the fact that sending an  electric current through water splits the water into its component parts  of hydrogen and oxygen. So, Grove tried reversing the reaction – combining hydrogen  and oxygen to produce electricity and water.  This is the basis of a simple fuel cell.

The idea of reverse engineering got other scientists thinking. How did he figure that out? Though it is a simple concept, the use of hydrogen fuel cells has long been naught but an alchemist’s dream. Scientists have spent the last 150 years negotiating the delicate balance of cost efficiency. With the yield being far less than the cost of production, the experiments performed by Charles R. Alder Wright and C. Thompson led them to this conclusion:

our results were sufficiently good to convince us that if the expense of construction were no object, so that large coated plates could be employed, enabling currents of moderate magnitude to be obtained with but small current density, there would be no particular difficulty in constructing [cells] of this kind, competent to yield currents comparable with those derived from ordinary small laboratory batteries; although we concluded that the economical production of powerful currents for commercial purposes by the direct oxidation of combustible gasses did not seem to be a problem likely to be readily solved, chiefly on account of the large appliances that would be requisite

Or… “we don’t have enough money and resources.

Related Article: Technological Advancements: A Detriment to Our Hearing
 

NASA’s Use of Fuel Cells In Space

NASA has been using fuel cell technology since the Gemini missions, which was a stepping stone to the Apollo missions. The Gemini missions gave NASA the opportunity to test, develop, and refine their space faring abilities.

Since then NASA has continued to pursue three different types of fuel cell technology: Proton-exchange-membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), regenerative fuel cells (RFCs), and solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs).

PEMFCs: In theory these cells should last the longest out of the three. The only emissive byproduct of this cell is water. This water is said to be so pure that NASA plans to use it as drinking water for astronauts. Fuel Cell processWhile the future of these cells is bright they are definitely in need of further refinement.

RFCs: What a wonder that such a thing exists. These fuel cells create electricity, water, and heat. After the process the water is then introduced to a solar-powered electrolyzer. This takes the water and turns it back into its basic components: hydrogen and oxygen.

SOFCs: These cells are the most efficient of the three. They take energy from directly oxidizing fuels. The type of fuel is flexible and the cell is a long term champion. The only downside is that these cells need to operate at temperatures between 600-1000°C (1112-1832°F). Which… is something to sweat about.

From the Stars to the Garage

NASA has been quite generous in helping to provide the technological state we live in, from awarding the grant to the inventor of the mouse (the one you’re likely using right now) to aiding in the aerodynamic creation of the Nerf Glider. With the fuel cell it isn’t any different. Heck, they’re currently working with the Cleveland RTA using a hydrogen fuel cell powered bus to transport commuters to and fro.

The technology has even left the research labs of NASA and made its way into other industries. As I mentioned earlier, cars too are now being conceptualized with Zero emissions. Well, there’s water of course.

2013 has shown us Toyota’s first attempt at the hydrogen fuel cell car. This new year already has its promises! In California, Hyundai plans to introduce a “free fuel” program that will start with 1000 cars and only a few dealerships. American car companies are also planning to release their own fuel cell powered vehicles but you may have to wait a little bit longer. By 2017 Ford intends to introduce its own Hydrogen Car.

It seems that 150 years of experimentation is starting to bear fruit- Not the kind that laypeople have to watch distantly orbiting our planet. Rather, we will begin to see a transformation of our society away from haste and waste and move toward longevity and thoughtfulness.

Related Article: Waking Up: New State of Consciousness Proposed
 

Sources:
http://www.qrg.northwestern.edu/projects/vss/docs/power/1-what-are-fuel-cells.html

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

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

http://americanhistory.si.edu/fuelcells/origins/origins.htm

http://paultan.org/2013/11/21/tokyo-2013-daihatsu-deca-deca/

http://www.topspeed.com/cars/suzuki/2013-suzuki-x-lander-ar160981.html

http://www.corrosion-doctors.org/Biographies/GroveBio.htm

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/gemini/index.html

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/technology/fuel_cells.html

http://www.siei.org/electrolyzers.html

http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/technologies/spinoffs.html

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/510416/ford-daimler-and-nissan-commit-to-fuel-cells/

China Launches Moon Rover: Space Age Continues and Why You Should Care

Moon rover ahoy!

Meet the Rover family. http://www.space.com Moon rovers next door

On December 2nd China launched a rocket headed to the moon carrying a robotic moon rover called Yutu, or Jade Rabbit. This moon rover will carry out China’s first soft landing on the moon, a landing marked by sufficiently minor damage and exploration after landing. The moon rover will stay on the moon for a few months and keep busy collecting data.

After taking into account the Curiosity rover on mars, this will be the first time in the history of the universe that there has been a human presence on three celestial bodies at the same time!

Moon rovers reach out

No matter where we send the probe the data never reports any cheese. Wikimedia moon rover ahead!

While China had a satellite playing an ode to Mao Zedong from space in 1970, it wasn’t until 2003 that they really got in on the space game after they put an astronaut into space. In 2009, China crashed the Chang’e 1 craft into the moon in a controlled, hard landing. This marked the first time a human object had landed on the moon since Russia launched the Luna 24 probe in 1976. This may not be too surprising since there really isn’t anything that attractive about the moon. If there was, we would have built hotels on the moon already, or had a reason to advance our need for research-and-development in particle physics and space flight so that we may embrace the whole of the cosmos in an attempt to better understand existence, make contact with other life, and discover ever greater mystery.

Sounds horrible. Instead, let’s just cut NASA’s already pathetic allotment of .5% of the national budget, down from almost 4.5% in the 1960’s.

Better late than never. rt.com

Better late than never. rt.com

The issue with space programs is that not everyone is convinced they’re worth it. It’s not easy to see the advantages of exploring infinite space at a tiny fraction of the speed of light in a dinky machine filled with limited atmosphere. The real-estate options in our solar neighborhood are pretty bleak, so why should we care about demanding a Space Age renaissance? What good is going to come of a single moon rover?

Related Article: Ancient Galaxy that Shouldn’t Exist is Found Perfectly Formed

Most Americans think NASA receives funding of around 20% of the national budget.  The perceived budget is 40 times more than the actual budget. NASA’s success and failure fall under a great deal of scrutiny, but what most people are quick to forget is that although NASA hasn’t invented portal guns or teleportation technology, they have positively impacted a wide range of scientific discovery, industrial/commercial innovation, and social standards.

First off, NASA’s effect on the U.S. economy is very significant.

The economic benefits of NASA’s programs are greater than generally realized. The main beneficiaries (the American public) may not even realize the source of their good fortune. . .

The hobby of a bunch of Klingon speaking Trekkie geeks is providing the nation with billions. Nasa.gov

The hobby of a bunch of Klingon speaking Trekkie geeks is providing the nation with billions. Nasa.gov

From 1976 – 1984, 259 non-space applications of NASA technology accounted for

— $21.6 billion in sales and benefits;

— 352,000 (mostly skilled) jobs created or saved,and;

— $355 million in federal corporate income taxes

Step 1, send a moon rover to Luna. Step 2, ? Step 3, profit! http://www.thehindu.com/

Step 1, send a moon rover to Luna. Step 2, ? Step 3, profit! http://www.thehindu.com/

In 2002 the aerospace industry was worth over $95 billion. That seems like a pretty remarkable investment for something that is given less than a single percent of the total budget. But what have we personally received from NASA besides the loss of Pluto?

Related Article: The Big Bang Wasn’t the Beginning

Since it was established in 1958, NASA has been constantly experimenting and developing new, never before possible technology. Some of the everyday items that NASA created include:

  • LED Lights
  • Artificial Limbs
  • Anti-icing Systems
  • Firefighter Gear
  • Freeze Dried Food
  • Solar Power
  • Tang
  • Refrigerated Internet-Connected Wall Ovens (what?)
  • and more…

NASA’s new squad of 8 space cadets have some lofty goals to accomplish in the coming decades, with NASA planning missions to asteroids, travel across the solar system, and working with space spiders all on the same deflated budget.  Sounds like NASA might be getting into the business of miracles too. It appears a space age renaissance wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all!

It is pretty remarkable that China was able to accomplish the sending of a moon rover on a budget that is 7.3% of the microscopic U.S. space budget. Then again, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised.  Have you ever seen Chinese builders build a 30 story building in 15 days? They might have strange and alien bathrooms, but do not underestimate China!

*edit: China successfully landed their moon rover! 

 

Sources:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=virgin-galactic-space-hotels

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/02/world/asia/china-prepares-to-launch-moon-rover-mission.html

http://www.agi.com/downloads/resources/white-papers/A-Comparison-of-Lunar-Landing-Trajectory-Strategies-Using-Numerical-Simulations.pdf

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/#.Up7-EcRDvgw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwiE0Ik29H0

http://edition.cnn.com/2003/TECH/space/09/30/china.wanhu/

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-03/01/content_10923205.htm

https://wondergressive.com/news/life-its-all-over-the-place/

https://wondergressive.com/news/new-plausible-theory-of-black-holes/

https://wondergressive.com/news/nasa-developing-orion-for-human-travel-across-solar-system-in-next-10-years/

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/search/pagedetails.action?packageId=BUDGET-2013-BUD

http://www.academia.edu/179045/_Public_Opinion_Polls_and_Perceptions_of_US_Human_Spaceflight_

http://www.thinkwithportals.com/

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v355/n6356/pdf/355105a0.pdf

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40967.pdf

http://www.universetoday.com/13573/

http://www.chinese-traditions-and-culture.com/chinese-toilet.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwvmru5JmXk

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/index.html#.Up8MmMRDvgx

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nasa-established

http://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2008/tech_benefits.html

https://wondergressive.com/news/nasas-new-squad/

The Strength of the Chelyabinsk Meteor

Meteor from the sky

Look at the size of that meteor!
http://www.slate.com

February 15, 2013 was no ordinary day, it was the day of an explosion in the sky! For some it was also a very unexpected and stressful day. For those that haven’t heard, on that day in Chelyabinsk, Russia, a meteor exploded and injured over 1200 people! This all happened in a relatively small city so the injuries sustained weren’t high in number, but what would happen if it were in a dense urban setting?

Isn’t that unbelievable though? A meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere at 19 kilometers per second and exploded with a light 30 times brighter than the sun. I don’t know about you but I would definitely be scared out of my mind that the world was ending if I had seen that explosion.

Related Article: Let’s Capture US an Asteroid!

So what about all of this explosion talk? Glad you asked! According to new studies, the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion was comparable to the Hiroshima bomb, except multiplied by 30! 30 times the bomb that wiped out over 30% of the population of Hiroshima, some 70,000 people. 30 times a nuclear bomb! Holy cow! Did I mention that it outshone the sun over 30 times as well? How scary would it be if it got closer in the atmosphere over a populated area like Chicago?

Related Article: Amateur Astronomer Films Jupiter Explosion

NASA surely is doing something about this right? Preparing missiles or sensors or something? More-so since they recently talked about a re-occurrence of the meteor of Chelyabinsk is 7 times more likely than they originally thought. In fact, Professor Peter Brown, a planetary scientist at the University of Western Ontario, who is actively involved in NASA’s study of the Chelyabinsk meteor says:

We should see something like Chelyabinsk every 30 to 40 years rather than every 120 to 140 or so — a factor of three or four more of these impacts than the telescopic data suggest.

Related ArticleSign Me Up for Mars!

What does that mean? Are we heading towards a meteorite influenced nuclear warfare future? Will our Earth be constantly bombarded by meteor spectacles in our daily sky? NASA assures us that recurrences of the event are likely over ocean waters rather than populated areas, but still, I wonder. Maybe it really is time to venture out and explore space for new habitats to ensure our survival? For now… here’s a compilation of Chelyabinsk meteor explosions as captured by civilians and enthusiasts alike! Cheers!

 

Research:

Wikipedia – Chelyabinsk meteor

EuroNews: New study claims asteroid explosion 30 times Hiroshima

Youtube: Chelyabinsk Meteor Compilation

Wondergressive: Let’s Capture Us an Asteroid!

Wondergressive: Amatuer Astronomer Films Jupiter Explosion

Wondergressive: Sign Me Up for Mars!

Tethers Unlimited and the Space Spider

 

The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration has recently awarded a grant of half a million dollars to Tethers Unlimited. The grant was given to encourage the development of an orbiting mechanical spider capable of 3-dimensional printing on a grand scale. From the Tethers Unlimited Website:

TUI is developing an architecture and a suite of technologies for automated on-orbit construction of very large structures and multifunctional space system components, such as kilometer-scale antenna reflectors.  This process will enable space systems to be launched in a compact and durable ‘embryonic’ state.

The development of these sorts of technologies allows for a new method of building in space. Tethers has taken the recent 3D printing technology to the next level. The idea is to send the printer to space and then send the “ink” instead of launching a gigantic rocket filled with a project already printed, stapled, collated, and spiral bound.

Wonky analogies aside, this robotics seem strikingly similar to nano technologies. Instead of pushing around platelets in the blood stream, these extraterrestrial spiders will be manufacturing gigantic solar panels, antennae, and other orbiting satellites.

Related Article: 3D Printing: The Next Revolution in Creativity

Once on orbit, these systems will use techniques evolved from emerging additive manufacturing and automated assembly technologies to fabricate and integrate components such as antennas, shrouds, booms, concentrators, and optics.

The primary benefit of this on-orbit fabrication capability will be order-of-magnitude improvements in packing efficiency and system mass, which will enable NASA to use small, low-cost launch vehicles to deploy systems dramatically larger than possible with current state-of-the-art technologies.

Right now NASA pays approximately $10,000 to put just one pound into orbit. One single pound.  According to the CDC, the average human weighs about 195 pounds. With some quick math we can see that it costs about $1,950,000 to send a person into orbit. Not to mention that this math is the simple math. It is no medium sized wonder that NASA is investing in technologies such as the Space Spider.

The net payoff will be to enable NASA to acquire and distribute a variety of forms of data at higher resolution, higher bandwidth, higher signal-to-noise, and lower life-cycle cost.

The future for NASA seems to be rich with this sort of innovation. With plans as grandiose as settlements on mars, NASA is upping the technological ante. I really hope that they finance a company whose sole mission is to make Thunder Cats a reality.

Related Article: Mars, The First Frontier?!
 

Sources:

http://www.mars-one.com/en/mars-one-news/11-news/284-mars-one-will-settle-men-on-mars-in-2023-press-release

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/background/facts/astp.html_prt.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tethers_Unlimited,_Inc.

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-09/10/spiderfab-tethers-unlimited

http://www.tethers.com/SpiderFab.html

Human Body Statistics

NASA’s New Squad: A New Era of Space Travel

Do_You_Have_the_Right-a3a3ce4221605f6d21b38a69df63d0e9

NASA recently announced the selection of a new squadron of space cadets. They’re expected to be the first “class” trained for missions to deeper space. Namely this batch is likely going to be responsible for  a new era in space travel.

The space cadet candidates were chosen from a starting pool of 6,372. Only about ten dozen applicants received the call backs of their lifetime. After extensive medical tests and interviews, the folks over at NASA selected their 8 diamonds in the rough. The members of this celestial octet will be members of a small (yet ever increasing) lineage of human beings who have seen the world from outside.

Related Post: NASA’s Planned Mission to an Asteroid

The 8 Balls

In accordance with NASA tradition, the last class of astronauts is responsible for the naming of the new class. So when NASA’s 20th group of celestial explorers (aka The Chumps) were given the opportunity they decided upon a much more meaningful name. The 8-balls, named for their importance in winning a game of pool, have a lot of hard work ahead of them.

Their two years of “basic training” consists of vigorous activities- which us groundlings can only begin to imagine. The details so far seem vague. Bob Behnken, chief of the Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center has some input on how the training will go:

The astronaut candidates, or “ascans,” will be instructed on the technical aspects of living and working aboard the space station. They’ll also tour NASA’s facilities across the country, “so that the class as a whole will have a good understanding of all the things that go into making NASA as successful as it is,” Behnken said.

First, though, they will be given flight training at the nearby Ellington Field in Houston and, for some, at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., as well.

“They will also have T-38 [supersonic jet] training, where those who already have an aviation background will hone their skills in the T-38 and those who do not will have the opportunity to get that aviation background under their belt before they start supporting crews who are on orbit,” Behnken said.

Related Post: Amateur Astronomer Films Jupiter Explosion

Whether or not you consider the gender polarization of this class, it is definitely clear that these new space cadets will be shuttling in the future of extra-worldly travel. Part of their basic training consists of living aboard the space station. That’s right. That’s just the training.

These Space Travelers are expected to travel further out than any other astronaut from the U.S. Eventually, they may even be among the first to travel to a near-earth asteroid and perhaps even Mars!

Related Post: Sign Me Up For Mars!

Only the future can be sure of what is in store for these folks. Their story is going to be that of awe and wonder.

 

 

Sources and Additional Reading

http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n1308/20ascanintro/#.UhYkw3fgexM

http://collectspace.com/news/news-082013a.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Astronaut_Group_21

Hurricane on Saturn’s North Pole

After orbiting Saturn for nine years, the Cassini space probe has made another incredible discovery about the ringed giant. NASA has recently released the above photo of an enormous hurricane centered on the planet’s north pole. The images are astoundingly beautiful and will hopefully help shed light on the composition and structure of Saturn and the other gaseous planets.

Here’s how NASA explains it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHx3AQAn0T0

To be fair, the actual images are not this glamorous. They were taken in red and infrared wavelengths and the color that you see here was added to increase detail and contrast, but they are nonetheless spectacular to behold. To help you understand the color scheme, NASA explains:

The images were taken with Cassini’s wide-angle camera using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light…At Saturn, this scheme means colors correlate to different altitudes in the planet’s polar atmosphere: red indicates deep, while green shows clouds that are higher in altitude. High clouds are typically associated with locations of intense upwelling in a storm. These images help scientists learn the distribution and frequencies of such storms. The rings are bright blue in this color scheme because there is no methane gas between the ring particles and the camera.

Red indicates depth, and I love how a close-up on the eye of the storm makes Sauron’s look withered and impotent. The top of Saturn looks like lava swirling down a reinforced drain into hell.

The diameter of the storm on Saturn is estimated to be about 1,250 miles, twenty times bigger than the average terrestrial hurricane. The edges of the cyclone are spinning at 330 miles per hour. In comparison, the Hurricane Katrina was about 400 miles wide with sustained wind speeds of about 125 miles per hour. 

The images also expose a rather odd quirk in Saturn’s atmosphere that scientists first discovered from images taken by the Voyager spacecraft about 25 years ago: There is an unusual jet stream that surrounds the north pole in the shape of a hexagon. This jet stream is incredibly large, about the width of two Earths side-by-side. Scientists previously had not been able to discover what was in the center because it had been winter on Saturn and the planet was tipped away from the sun. Without sunlight is was impossible to see the planet’s north pole.

However, with the long winter over (a year on Saturn is about 30 Earth years) the sun has finally risen over the pole. This allowed scientists to take these incredible images and document the giant hurricane that is centered and locked within the hexagonal jet stream.

Weirdly enough, there is also a tremendous hurricane on the other side of the planet as well that was discovered in 2006. Just like its brother in the north, it is fixed in position directly over the its pole. Larger than its northern counterpoint, the southern hurricane is a whopping 5,000 miles across, although it doesn’t enjoy its own polygonal ring surrounding it.

I’ve written about the Voyager spacecraft and my love of stellar exploration before. When Galileo viewed Saturn through his telescope in 1610 he became the first person to see its rings. However, because of the limitations of his lens he thought they were two moons encircling the gaseous planet. It’d be fun to play the time travel game and show him what we now know today, if the logistics involved wouldn’t kill him out of shock. (They most assuredly would.)

Science is such illuminating fun and the pace of discovery has quickened along with the means of acquiring knowledge. I follow a maxim that states that it’s always better to know than to not know, and tomorrow we’ll know just a little bit more. 

 

Sources:

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/29apr_saturnhurricane/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=sandy-vs-katrina-and-irene

http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1988Icar…76..335G

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22351048

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6135450.stm

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/

 

Recommended Books About Saturn

Saturn: A New View

Saturn

Saturn: Exploring the Mystery of the Ringed Planet

Lifting Titan’s Veil: Exploring the Giant Moon of Saturn

Let’s Capture US an Asteroid!


What would interstellar warfare be without the original ideas that brought us there? Like, for instance, humans developing new space technologies and exploring space in the first place. Lucky for us, we have a great amount of our budget invested in NASA, a hefty proposed 17.7 billion dollars to be exact, which, surprisingly, is still 50 million less than in 2012. Looks like NASA’s planned mission to an asteroid was not just a pipe dream!

The most interesting part of the budget would be the proposed spending associated with NASA and asteroids. The description in the budget for NASA states that:

The Budget includes $78 million for NASA to develop needed technologies and study alternative approaches for a robotic mission to rendezvous with a small asteroid—one that would be harmless to Earth—and move it to a stable location outside the Moon’s orbit.

That is to say we will send men to space to commandeer an asteroid and bring it home! As if the asteroid had any say in the matter anyway, I foresee a cult uprising like no other before! That is all chump change compared to what NASA is really planning to do with this excavating of asteroids. Sometime in 2014, there is a planned launch of Orion, which will bring us one step closer to herding asteroids and ultimately reaching Mars in 2030!

Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division (what a title!) says:

It’s a key element of our overall plan to get humans beyond Earth’s orbit as quickly as we can

With that test flight accomplished, the scientists and engineers can analyze Orion’s design and maneuverability,  capability of Orion housing humans, and heat shields designed for Orion’s reentry, all of which will hopefully bring us all closer to sun bathing on our red brother’s atmosphere. That, or using it as a space station for our intergalactic space battles!

For a full low down on the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2014, visit that link and check out whether or not you agree with the budget and the changes it will bring. One definite that it prescribes is an eventual decline in our debt, but at what cost?

 

Further Reading:

Wondergressive – NASA’s Planned Mission to Asteroid

NASA’s Proposed Budget

President’s Budget for fiscal year 2014

NASA website

Wondergressive – Interstellar Warfare

Mars’ Atmosphere

 

The Almighty Escapism: Creating Distraction

Contention 1: Life is suffering.

Sword makers of old understood that the more they heated the steel, the stronger the blade would become. The mightiest tools have always been forged in the fiercest fires, and, likewise, the trials of man’s life sharpen the tenacious ones into razor-edged forces that shape the annals of civilization. To the initiated, life’s sufferings are turned to purpose, and this is why the greatest achievements in history are often preceded by the greatest defeats, because life, like the aged swordsmith, knows to test the metal it’s forged with before setting it to its Herculean tasks. Whether one defiantly taunts adversity or nestles into safety, life is suffering, and suffering is abound on life’s road to enlightenment.

Contention 2: Enlightenment is the purpose of life; we are all already enlightened.

Among the countless teachers professing to be enlightened, one of the most common yet ironically dualistic claims is that each of us is enlightened already. Christ, Mohamed, Zoroaster, Osho, David Icke and even Scientology’s L Ron Hubbard all pointed out that divine wisdom is our true nature. Yet, simultaneously, they say reaching for enlightenment is our reason for being, the so called great answer to life. Wait what! Become what I already am? Not being enlightened (or rather, aware of the inherent enlightenment ever-present) we struggle to wrap ourselves around how this double-talk isn’t some cosmic catch-22. If reaching for enlightenment is the highest purpose, then survey a thousand pedestrians on what they want more than anything and how many would say “divine understanding?” Not many.

There is a calculated purpose, though, behind why countless methods of realizing our divine nature within a single lifetime have been known to humanity for millennia, such as Kriya Yoga or sun-gazing, yet go widely unheard-of in general. Delusion is mandatory for existence. Yes, the transcending of mind, a necessary step, is often misunderstood to mean forfeiture of critical thought, and this is one of many pitfalls, but the harder pill to swallow and the reason for epidemic ignorance is this: Without deception, without lies, there is no meaning to anything.

Contention 3: There IS a soul; the soul DOES reincarnate.

Imagine the soul this way: energy, the pulsating power rippling through existence, the animating essence behind your beating heart and thinking mind, is inherently incapable of being either created or destroyed, according to the first law of thermodynamics; this power that drives you is absolutely eternal. This notion, for many, is proof positive of the immortal soul and its propensity for reincarnation. For the “seeing is believing” mind of western understanding, there is Dr. Ian Stephenson’s Expansive study into reincarnation back in 1975, lauded by the Journal of the American Medical Association as a “painstaking and unemotional” collection of cases that were “difficult to explain on any assumption other than reincarnation.” This study has been a vital resource in the tipping of the collective scales toward acceptance of this ancient belief structure. European Cases of the Reincarnation Type is the title but the study continues.

Ok, so what are you getting at?

So on the pretenses here that enlightenment is the ultimate purpose of life, reincarnation is an absolute, and this life cycle will continue indefinitely until the soul realizes its oneness with all existence, let’s take this train of presumptions one step further. When Hunter S. Thompson took his life after the end of the 2005 football season, perhaps it was because he understood this great truth: like water and breath, entertainment and distraction are a finite resource. Man’s inability to sit with himself in a quiet room can be seen as the root of all modern man’s problems in a perfect way, because distraction itself serves only one enormous overarching purpose: delaying pain. And pain, further still, is what we feel when we fear what we’ll realize when there is nothing left to worry about. When there is nothing left to consider, you are simply a human “being” (not a human ‘doing’ or a human ‘having’), just being, or, in other words, enlightened. Entertainment, therefore, is our barrier to enlightenment.

Contention 4: Life is but a dream.

Because we are all enlightened by default, all of civilization and its achievements can be seen as a massive distraction from this state of is-ness. When we are enlightened, the cyclical cosmic ride is over and we merge with the almighty oneness of existence, the Godhead. Here is the point. In order to perpetuate existence, collectively we must be distracted from the truth, because the truth is there is no existence (Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am,” but I only think I am, therefore, I am what I think).  If it seems at times that everything is a lie or too crazy to be true, that is because it is… Everything the senses perceive and interpret is a fabricated dream we are collectively creating to allow the Godhead (us) to experience itself as the illusion of less than everything. That old stoner question of “if God is so powerful, can he make a stone that not even He can lift,” has an answer: You are God, and you have told yourself the stone is too big so you can experience your only limitation, lack of limitation. Without believing the illusion that you are separate from the mountain, moving mountains makes no difference.

So what does any of this have to do with creation?

Creation, in every conceivable form, from writing a novel, doodling a stick-figure, building a desk, or amassing an empire, all expand the Godhead. Here’s how. Your unique experiential wisdom, through what you create, is transformed into a vessel for others to divine new relative wisdom, previously unexperienced.

When we consume escapism and distraction (TV, drugs, games, work, sex, anything at all), it eventually leads to boredom (“I’ve already seen this movie, heard this story, been here, done that a million times”). The boredom, in its beautiful necessity, drives us to create (a new game, new idea, new records and feats), adding to the collection of consumable distraction from is-ness for the hive. Rinse. Repeat. But every creation is meaningful in its own way, as a portal to move another into your same state of consciousness. This is why the greatest art wells up the strongest emotional charge.

Starting in the mid-60’s, Dr. David Hawkins lead a 40 year global kinesiological study on levels of human consciousness, with hundreds of thousands of subject. His findings systematically proved man’s divinity. His map of levels of consciousness (above), on a graded scale, showed how even the most ignorant of racist rants (terrible) holds value, because there is wisdom to be found for an audience of child-rapists (more terrible).

When we create, we activate a higher level of our minds, advancing ourselves. But through advancing ourselves, we contribute to the advancement of humanity as a whole via the ones we affect and the ripple effect. When Roger Bannister became the first in history to run a mile in under 4 minutes, he lifted a veil of possibilities that 36 others, in only the subsequent year, followed him beyond. When you create, the realm of the possible expands.

When you learn you have the power to move mountains, you’ll know you were already the one who put them there.

Sources:

Greatest Achievements of Human History (rationalwiki.org)

50 Famously Successful People Who Failed at First (onlinecollege.org)

Jesus Christ Quotes and Dying Statements (free-spiritual-guidance.com)

10 Prophet Muhammad Quotes: A Taste of Honey (islamicrenaissance.com)

Zoroastrianism (heritageinstitute.com)

Osho on Enlightenment, Osho Enlightenment Quotes (oshoteachings.com)

Remember Who You Are – David Icke (youtube.com)

My Philosophy By L. Ron Hubbard (lronhubbard.org)

thefreedictionary.com

In 1610, God Was a Binary, Fractal, Self-Replicating Algorithm (wondergressive.com)

Europe PubMed Central (europepmc.org)

Living of Light Research (home.iae.nl)

Meditation – Pitfalls on the Path (lifepositive.com)

First Law of Thermodynamics (grc.nasa.gov)

Ian Stevenson (wikipedia.com)

European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (amazon.com)

The Last Words of Hunter S. Thompson (phrases.org.uk)

Veritas Publishing (veritaspub.com)

Gold Eluded Banister, But Track Immortality Did Not (nytimes.com)

Elizabeth Gilbert: The Elusive Creative Genius (youtube.com)

 

 

Voyager 1: The Final Frontier?

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued a press release on March 20 indicating that the Voyager 1 space probe may have travelled beyond the influence of the Sun and become the first man-made object to exit the Solar System. There is considerable discrepancy on whether or not that statement is accurate, however, as there is no real consensus on what constitutes the actual end of our Solar System. For now, though, let’s ignore the specifics of the debate and simply respect and reflect on the enormity of the accomplishment.

The AGU reported that the probe appears to have traversed past the heliosphere:


The heliosphere is a region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles, and which is thought to be enclosed, bubble-like, in the surrounding interstellar medium of gas and dust that pervades the Milky Way galaxy. On August 25, 2012, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft measured drastic changes in radiation levels, more than 11 billion miles from the Sun. Anomalous cosmic rays, which are cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere all but vanished, dropping to less than 1 percent of previous amounts. At the same time, galactic cosmic rays–cosmic radiation from outside of the solar system–spiked to levels not seen since Voyager’s launch, with intensities as much as twice previous levels.”

In a scientific journal for the AGU, Geophysical Research Letters, authors W.R. Webber and F.B. MacDonald state:

“It appears that [Voyager 1] has exited the main solar modulation region, revealing [hydrogen] and [helium] spectra characteristic of those to be expected in the local interstellar medium.”

However, Webber notes, scientists are continuing to debate whether Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space or entered a separate, undefined region beyond the solar system.”

NASA scientists also attempt to dampen the celebratory moment of man first dipping his big toe into the interstellar pool of the final frontier:

“It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called ‘the magnetic highway’ where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed.”

None of that matters to me. I’m in it for the science, man. And for its historical significance.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 was designed to investigate the outer gas giants. After collecting data on Jupiter and Saturn and the latter’s largest moon, Titan, the probe was sent out into the interplanetary medium to explore the boundaries of space. The probe is estimated to have enough juice in it to be able to send messages back to Earth until 2025.

To me, the most illustrious accomplishment of the spacecraft was championed by the legendary Carl Sagan. At his urging, the space probe was directed to take a picture of Earth from about 6 billion kilometers away. This picture is called the Pale Blue Dot and it remains one of the most mesmerizing and resonating images of our teal, Goldilocks planet.

The space probe also contains the Voyager Golden Record, a copper time-capsule of man’s scientific and artistic achievements, meant to demonstrate homo sapiens status as intelligent life. Among other things, it records our understanding of DNA and mathematical concepts, spoken greetings in 55 languages and a musical selection that ranges from Beethoven to Chuck Berry. Although these inclusions are unlikely to ever find themselves in an extra-terrestrial iPod, it’s the beauty behind the thought that counts.

We’ll have plenty of time later to determine when Voyager 1 definitively escaped the influence of the Sun.   The specifics don’t seem too important right now, though. At 123.5 astronomical units away from our parental star, it is certainly the farthest we’ve ever roamed from our pale blue dot. For now, let us revel in the gorgeous reality that it is (arguably) the first man-made object to be on the outside looking in, our first child to leave the solar roost.

 

 

 

Sources:
http://www.agu.org/news/press/pr_archives/2013/2013-11.shtml

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-107

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-03/20/voyager-1-leaves-solar-system

 http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=52392

http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/goldenrec.html

http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/where/index.html