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Venus, Mars and the Moon February 21, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Science.
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Yesterday, today and tomorrow those three will appear very close in the sky. Caught this last night, an amazing sight through binoculars. The dot above and very very slightly to the right of Venus is Mars and through binoculars is clearly red in colour.

photo

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting mystery, a plume in the Martian atmosphere which can’t be fitted into current atmospheric models. Of course there’s a perfectly natural explanation no doubt but some of the fun is seeing how it is resolved.

Jupiter Rising December 20, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Science.
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jupiter-in-binoculars

I’ve swiped the image below from this blog here because it’s almost precisely what I saw yesterday morning through binoculars of Jupiter and attendant Galilean moons, albeit the four moons visible were ranged left, as it were, of the planet. I’d noticed the planet in the early morning sky, around 7.30, and wondered what it was. The disk was visible through the binoculars and then I saw the moons. It looked almost structural, but a moments googling revealed its identity. As the author of the blog linked to above notes…

On one hand, you’re not going to see any detail on the planet. And the four Galilean moons will just be little sparks.

On the other hand–the hand you should be concentrating on–you went to the closet, knocked the dust off whatever binoculars you already had, pointed them at that bright star over there, and now you can see that it is visibly a planet (despite being almost half a billion miles away) and, oh yeah, those little sparks are moons. If you’ve never seen this before with your own eyes, you will have an emotional reaction.

That’s a brilliant way of putting it. It’s quite something.

That “top-secret” spaceplane… October 18, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Science, US Politics.
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… that would be this one, would it?

Secret Space Plane

Which an article in the Guardian notes (to the amusement of some comments BTL on the article) that it…

landed Friday at an air force base on the southern California coast.

Given that secrecy perhaps it’s a surprise to learn that it is known that…

The plane spent nearly two years circling Earth on a classified mission.

And what about it’s name, that’s surely classified… or not.

Known as the X-37B, it resembles a mini space shuttle.

Well, that’s obvious from the photos… the photos that were ‘stills from video’… stolen… no, actually, ‘made available by the Vandenberg Air Force Base’.

Well that’s none too clear, the infra red photo… so there’s still some mystery about what it looks like…

…if you haven’t seen this – credited to US AIR FORCE/Reuters.

51eddf5d-4016-4518-9c3e-cbb8c6497c47-460x276

And it’s highly implausible that much more is known, isn’t it… about it’s genesis, well other than:

The X-37B program has been an orphan of sorts, bouncing since its inception in 1999 between several federal agencies, Nasa among them. It now resides under the air force’s rapid capabilities office.

Or the numbers of aerospace craft actually built or the number of missions:

The plane that landed Friday is one of two built by Boeing. This is the program’s third mission, and began in December 2012.

Or its dimensions and features…

The plane stands 9.5ft tall and is just over 29ft long, with a wingspan under 15ft. It weighs 11,000lbs and has solar panels that unfurl to charge its batteries once in orbit.

Or future plans…

The air force said it plans to launch the fourth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida, next year.

But that’s it… except for this wiki page devoted to the X-37B and previous iterations.

Which contains photographs of this remarkably covert vehicle dating from… erm… 2010.

Boeing_X-37B_inside_payload_fairing_before_launch

More seriously, worth noting that the USAF has this sort of capability during a period when due to the retirement of the space shuttle the ability of the US to launch humans into Earth orbit necessitates using Russian launchers.

And a much more intriguing series of questions relate to what it actually does, and what it is intended to do.

Of course the USAF has long had a parallel programme (or used some shuttle missions) of launches. And there have been persistent rumours on the fringes of a covert USAF manned spaceflight capability, but the existence of this makes that seem unlikely.

Science and not science. Really not science. September 13, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Crazed nonsense..., Science.
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This is fairly annoying, even by the standards of the British tabloid press. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy notes how the Express has run a series of articles with only a tangential relation to astronomy. Tangential, as in none.

A scientist writes… August 11, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Science.
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I hadn’t checked in on Dr. William Reville in the Irish Times in a while, but this column is fantastic. In many senses…

Science now believes that inert matter spontaneously sparked into life 3.8 billion years ago and evolved to produce mind. But matter cannot therefore be that “inert”, since it must intrinsically bear the potential for life.

And:

Also, Midgley holds that natural selection alone cannot fully explain the prodigious fruitfulness of life.

And:

Although it filters the life options that confront it, it cannot account for the intrinsic nature of these options. Therefore, life itself, and its most complex manifestation, the human mind, is far from being fully explained by science.

Hmmm…

Watching the skies August 9, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Science, Uncategorized.
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This hasn’t much to do with anything in particular. Last night I was out looking up at the sky, and very clear it was too, around 10.30 or 10.45 and saw a very bright light crossing West/East or SouthWest/NorthEast followed on exactly the same track (so to speak) by a dimmer one. It/they weren’t jets, so I’m presuming they were satellites, and if anyone can identify them all the better (and actually just found this which suggests it was indeed the International Space Station, but what was the thing behind it, something moving into position with it? – and indeed, reading further it appears that it was [ESA’s space freighter ATV Georges Lemaître] ATV-5 vehicle). A long time since I’ve seen anything so it was kind of nice.

Meanwhile somehow found this online, a map of Berlin from space last year. I wonder are the divisions the article points to quite as stark as it suggests. Anyone on the ground (again, so to speak) able to support that line or not?

Atomic Rockets June 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Science, Science Fiction.
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…a site to lose oneself in if science and science fiction are your thing.

Counter-Earths… May 24, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Science, Uncategorized.
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Here’s an oddity, some may remember the entertaining and flawed Gerry Anderson big screen excursion, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun where astronaut Ray Thinnes – and spoiler alert here – finds himself crash-landing on a planet on the far side of the sun which is a copy of Earth in every detail, bar that everything is reversed (i.e. text is ‘backwards’). It’s not great, very limited in conception but it’s sort of fun and as always there are those great Anderson models of space ships and so on. Here’s the trailer…

But here’s another twist on that idea, a TV movie that until recently I had no idea existed, called The Stranger from 1973, which is available on YouTube in its entirety. Astronaut crash lands on a planet called Terra, which is on the far side of the sun. This planet is similar enough to Earth – absurdly so, vehicle types are the same, the language is English, but has three moons and is run by a global totalitarianism called the ‘Perfect Order’. It was produced by Bing Crosby … and was clearly intended as the pilot for a ‘Fugitive’ like series, and if you watch it you’ll see why it was never picked up. Though the idea itself, absurd as it is, is sort of interesting (Land of the Giants sort of took some of the conceptual slack on that too).

Counter-Earth stories are something I like, though as can be seen here the idea doesn’t hold up once one looks at the science. The perturbations of a planet in Earth orbit on the far side of the Sun would be long evident across the solar system. Unless of course there was a highly advanced technological society there which could somehow mask… no, but that way lies madness.

Some may remember the increasingly unpleasant Gor novels which had a similar conceit, but there’s many more examples. Indeed it is perhaps time someone did a modern version, perhaps along the lines of that concealed high tech advanced civilisation in our own solar system.

And yet, while we may mock the idea of planets that were similar, or even identical, to Earth? One of the variations on parallel universe/many worlds theories is the following, which when I first read about it in Scientific American many years ago genuinely struck me as bizarre, perhaps even a bit unnerving…

Copycat regions of the universe: We now turn from the exceedingly small to the incomprehensibly large. If the universe is infinite, as many cosmologists surmise, then if you travel far enough you will eventually reach regions nearly identical to ours. That’s because if you take a finite number of elements and mix them into an infinite number of combinations, eventually chance will reproduce one of the previous arrangements. It is like playing tic-tac-toe—play enough times and you are bound to repeat yourself. Hence somewhere, by pure chance, there could be a near-parallel Earth where a nearly-identical version of you is reading this article on a parchment scroll illuminated by a glowworm.

And not just near identical, but identical

Beyond the Hubble Volume. We know with some certainty that there’s “more universe” out there beyond that boundary, though. Astronomers think space might be infinite, with “stuff” (energy, galaxies, etc.) distributed pretty much the same as it is in the observable universe. If it is, that has some seriously weird implications for what lies out there. Beyond the Hubble Volume you won’t just find more, different planets. You will eventually find every possible thing. Read that again and let it sink in. Everything. If you go far enough, you’ll find another solar system with an Earth identical in every way except that you had cereal for breakfast this morning instead of eggs. And another where you skipped breakfast. And one where you got up early and robbed a bank. In fact, cosmologists think that if you go far enough, you will find another Hubble Volume that is perfectly identical to ours. There’s another version of you out there mirroring your every action 10 to the 10^188 meters away. That may seem unlikely, but then, infinity is awfully infinite.

Just think, another European Election, another local election… Yep, great.

In orbit they’re decades behind… March 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Science, Technology.
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…is the thought one has reading an interview with British astronaut Tim Peake in the Observer.

Is the space station full of 90s tech?

Sort of. It’s very weird [laughs]. I used to be a military test pilot so I’m trained to be extremely critical of cockpits and ergonomics. We strive for a very high level of performance in our military aircraft. I thought the space industry would be along the same lines, but the ISS first launched in 1998. Even then, the Russians used the same blueprints as for the Mir space station, so some of it goes back even further, to the late 70s. Then a Soviet space station is attached to an American one, with European and Japanese labs attached to that … Well, it’s never going to be seamless. There’s a lot of workarounds and old technology. On the Soyuz craft, the Russians have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy, so there are huge oxygen valves that haven’t been changed since the 60s.

Sounds a bit Doctor Who or slightly steampunk?

Yes! It’s a funny, fascinating blend of old and new. And it’ll stay that way because the ISS will be up there until 2024. New technology’s constantly going on board. We’ve got highly advanced equipment like the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which looks for dark matter outside the space station, but an antiquated environment in other respects. There’s iPads and Google Glasses, mixed with clunky, shoebox-sized units. But it all works and that’s the beauty of it. We’ve managed to bring nations and technologies together.

In a way it’s no surprise. The Soviet/Russian approach of tried and trusted tech makes a lot of sense. Indeed one could argue that the reappraisal of what is near enough 1950s/60s technology by the United States in the aftermath of the end of the Shuttle programme is not dissimilar. Lobbing capsules into orbit is a far cry from the idea of a reusable space plane. Sure, it didn’t work out that way, but if feels like a retreat.

But there’s another point here. I’d not realised the ISS was going to be decommissioned in 2024. But even there we see different approaches as evidenced here. The Russians hope to reuse elements of the ISS as the core of future stations.

And this, from last year, is sobering:

NASA’s efforts to develop capabilities for both commercial cargo and crew currently only have the ISS as a destination. When the ISS is finally splashed into the Pacific, there will be no destination and no market for Dragon, Dream Chaser, Cygnus, and CST-100 if no replacement is developed. If the replacement is another government-owned and -developed station, the growth potential for commercial cargo and crew will be limited. If commercial stations can be successful, commercial financing opportunities of space based businesses will have the potential for more rapid growth.

In other words there’s the chance that an international station won’t be in orbit post-2024. Whether the much-vaunted commercial space sector can take up the slack seems to be a very open question. And meanwhile some states are taking a – perhaps – longer term view.

Dark skies…over Southwest Kerry February 1, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Science.
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Some good news for sky watchers…

A 700sq km area in southwest Kerry is expected to be named an international “dark sky reserve”, securing the highest designation for the exceptional quality of its night sky.

It will be the first region in Ireland to receive such an award and – if it achieves “gold-tier” reserve status – the first region in the northern hemisphere to get this designation, spawning hopes for an astro-tourism spin-off.

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