Tag Archives: Space

Mutually Orbiting Objects

Pluto and Charon orbiting each other
Pluto and Charon orbiting each other

This gif I found on the Planetary Society’s website shows Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, mutually orbiting each other.

Their description says:

This animation contains 13 images taken over the course of one Pluto rotation between April 12 and April 18, 2015. During this period, New Horizons was roughly 110 million kilometers from Pluto. Stacking and deconvolution has been used to increase the resolution of the images over the raw data, revealing Pluto’s spotty surface. The brightness variations make Pluto appear lumpy, but it is actually round.

Stacking and deconvolution. Stacking means they took several pictures and put them all together, one on top of the other, to get a better composite. I understand that. I don’t know what deconvolution means. You can tell I’m not  graphics person.

These mutually orbiting dots can tell us a lot.

For a grainy picture of two moving spots of light, this visualization actually gives us a lot of information. For instance, it shows us that Pluto is spotty. It takes about six earth days to rotate once on its axis. During that time, Charon orbits it several times.

But what immediately grabbed my attention is the way the little world dances with its moon.

We usually think of a satellite orbiting its primary. In this case, it would be Charon, the tiny dot, orbiting Pluto, the larger dot. But we’ve always known this is not really the case. The two objects orbit each other. More accurately, they both orbit their common center of mass (or center of gravity).

This is the principle that was first used to find extrasolar planets; and it’s still used, along with other methods.

Other star systems are so far away that we can’t really see the movement, but the Doppler effect is used to infer any wobble as the star moves toward us and away from us. As it moves toward us, the light is blue shifted a little; away from us, it is red shifted. A complex wobble could indicate more than one planet. This same measurement can often tell us how many planets there are, their approximate masses, and something about their orbits.

This is amazing, because a star is usually so much more massive than any planets orbiting it that the common center of mass will actually be inside the star itself. While the planets orbit in wide ellipses, the stars themselves just wobble very slightly like toy tops beginning to run down. This is often true of planet/moon systems as well. For this reason, until a couple of decades ago, it was commonly believed that we would never be able to detect this wobble. Now, of course, it is a routine–though time consuming–procedure. It can take years to observe enough doppler data to determine the number of planets in a system.

In the case of Pluto and Charon, this dance is visible to us because both objects are so near the same mass.  (Back in the days when Pluto was a planet, they have even been referred to by some astronomers as a double planet.)

This is the first time I’ve seen this principle visualized so well.



Change Climate Change

Samantha Says “Change Climate Change”

I believe her.
Astronaut Samantha Christoforetti wants to "Change Climate Change."
Astronaut Samantha Christoforetti wants to “Change Climate Change.”

Samantha Cristoforetti, born in Milan in 1977, boarded the International Space Station on November 23, 2014, becoming became the first Italian woman in space. She wants to “Change Climate Change.”

She was a US foreign exchange student attending Space Camp when she was 18. Now she has a degree in mechanical engineering from the Technical University of Munich, and has studied in France and Russia and graduated in Aeronautics Sciences at the Italian Accademia Aeronautica in Pozzuoli, becoming a lieutenant and fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force. Besides all that, she speaks five languages.

We Must Change Climate Change

I’ve shown her here to discuss her message: Change Climate Change.

No matter what your friends tell you, or your politicians, or even the doctor in your group who likes to think of himself as a scientist … and no matter what you want to believe, climate change is both real and dangerous; and we are causing it. The physics is well understood and the satellites monitoring the planet’s temperature show the lower atmosphere is warmer almost every year that ever before.

Those of us alive now won’t see the worst effects  of it, but our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren will. And it won’t be fun.

We need to change climate change now.

Blue Origin’s New Shepherd First Flight

Blue Origin to the edge of space

Blue Origin Launch
Blue Origin Launch

Blue Origin’s New Shepherd spaceship flew for the first time this Wednesday, April 29, from their range in the West Texas desert (two hours east of El Paso). This is the world’s only privately owned and operated launch site.

The spaceship sat there like a giant phallic symbol jutting up from the desert floor (You tell me! Am I wrong?). Then it rode a pencil of flame at mach 3 almost to the edge of space 58 miles up.

It’s payload parachuted back to earth and landed gently, apparently right where they wanted it to come down. The company website says, “Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return.” The capsule holds six.

The ship is supposed to be reusable, but there was a problem with hydraulics. It was not shown, but presumably it crashed. SpaceX had a similar problem with their early rockets.

No true edge of space

There is no true edge of space. The atmosphere just keeps on getting thinner until it’s as thin as the tenuous gas between the planets, but 60 miles is usually considered the edge of space. For practical purposes,  it’s a good round number for a test rocket to aim for; and 58 is close enough for a first test.

Blue Origin, run by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, hopes to carry passengers on suborbital flights within two years. It’s important to remember how many other companies have failed at this, of course.

Australian space company didn’t make it

I remember an Australian company was going to be carrying paying passengers to orbit in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary Columbus “discovering” America. It didn’t happen. But a lot has happened in the industry in the 23 years since 1992, and somebody is going to do it soon. Maybe Blue Origin.

American space industry is coming along

SpaceX  was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. It is the company that has serviced the ISS a few times and gets most of the press. But Blue Origin is beginning to look impressive with this test shot.

Since the space shuttle was decommissioned in 2011,  the United States has been dependent on foreign governments and private industry to get spaceships, astronauts, supplies, and satellites into space. The fledgling American space industry has not yet come into its own, but it’s coming along.

Companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are seeing to it.

Happy 25th Birthday to the Hubble Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) (above) flew into space aboard the Discovery Space Shuttle 25 years ago today and has been amazing us ever since.

It was named after astronomer Edwin Hubble, who discovered in 1923 that our Milky Way was not the only galaxy in the sky. Six years later he discovered that all the hundreds of billions of galaxies were rapidly moving away from each other, which led in the 1940s to the Big Bang Theory, which led in turn to the other Big Bang Theory we love to watch on evening TV.

The telescope started sending back the amazing pictures we loved even before an astronaut was sent to replace a defective lens. A few years after that, yet another crew was sent for further repairs and updates. In addition to the aesthetic value of the pictures, the scientific value has been way beyond anything we had imagined.

HST Deep Field
HST Deep Field

This is the Hubble Deep Field. It may not look like much, but it has been described as “the most important picture ever taken;” because it shows so many galaxies (about 3,000) at various stages of evolution, almost to the end of known  space in a patch of sky where there appeared to be none. This tells us a great deal about the early universe.

The empty upper right quadrant was not scanned, so we can  reasonably assume it would look about like the rest of the picture. The tiniest dots are not stars, but whole galaxies more than 12 billion light years away, near the edge of the known universe. This was described as the “deepest, most detailed visible view of the universe” when it was made. The “original” available from NASA is a huge picture that I had to squeeze into the space above with a long crow bar.

For comparison, our galaxy has an estimated 200 billion stars, but some of these galaxies in the picture are smaller. They are so far away the light has taken more than 12 billion years to get to us, so we are seeing them as they were then. That was before they had time to grow as big as the Milky Way, and they may have done so by now.

The Hubble observed a small “empty” patch of sky in Ursa Major for more than ten consecutive days about Christmas of 1995, collecting enough light to see faraway galaxies invisible by any other means. (A typical project takes about an hour.)

This project pieced together 342 separate exposures with a total exposure time of more than 100 hours, but the resulting image showed the space was anything but empty.

HST eagle nebula
HST eagle nebula

Here are the “elephant trunks” of the Eagle Nebula, also known as the “Pillars of Creation.” While they may look like pillars,  they’re actually streams of cold gas and dust. The tips are “star nurseries” where stars are born. (No, not literally. That’s not how stars come into existence.)

HST eskimo nebula
HST eskimo nebula

This “Eskimo Nebula” is a cloud of gas and dust representing the end of a dying, sun-like star. It is thought by some to look like a face surrounded by a fur parka. The “parka” is a disk of material embedding a ring of comet-shaped objects, with tails streaming away from the central star.

The Hubble Space Telescope has brought us all this and vastly more. Happy Birthday, Hubble.

Hubble Telescope 25th Anniversary Show Tonight

HST Spiral Galaxy M100
HST Spiral Galaxy M100

Twenty-five years ago, NASA launched one of the most ambitious experiments in the history of astronomy: the Hubble Space Telescope. This Friday is Hubble’s 25th anniversary. In honor of this anniversary, NOVA tells the remarkable story of the telescope that forever changed our understanding of the cosmos. Airs at 9 p.m. April 22 on PBS. (Check local listings for airtime.)

From the PBS website

HST Orion Nebula
HST Orion Nebula

That’s tonight, folks. It’s Channel 13 where I live, and I plan to be watching. And recording.

The pictures here are from the HST, and they’re just a sample of the many thousands of wonderful pictures it’s taken since it went to space aboard a shuttle.

You know this is going to be spectacular!

Duet From Space?


British singer Sarah Brightman
British singer Sarah Brightman

British singer Sarah Brightman, who popularized the song  “I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper” in 1978, is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station for ten days in September. While there, she wants to sing the first duet from space; and she is looking for somebody to sing with her (from earth).

Brightman paid $52 million for the privilege, and she is now training in Russia with Astronauts and Cosmonauts. This ought to be fun!

That’s messed up!

Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

Ken Ham is an ignoramus!

In the first place, this idea is just his imagination; because the Bible (where he supposedly gets his information) says nothing at all about life on other worlds. Absolutely nothing!

Secondly, the space program as it exists now is not looking for intelligent life on other worlds. We already know it is extremely unlikely that we’ll find it in this solar system, because we would have already found evidence of it. What we’re looking for now is something like bacteria. Does Ken Ham honestly believe bacteria and other microbes are damned to hell when they die?

I should add that there are groups of scientists and mostly volunteers who are looking for signals from intelligent alien civilizations, but these groups are not part of the space program. They are supported mostly by private donations. They work under the name of SETI, or Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. SETI looks for radio signals and other signs of life in the vicinity of other stars; not here in the solar system, where our space ships currently explore.

Thirdly, why would any supposedly educated person suppose the only purpose of the space program is to find ET intelligent life? We send space ships to explore the solar system and learn how it works. This helps us understand how earth itself works, and eventually will make it possible to use the resources of space to make life better right here on earth. If life exists away from earth, finding it would increase our knowledge of the universe. That would be a good thing. OTOH, if we explore the solar system and find no sign of anything living anywhere but earth, that was only a small part of the project, anyway.

In the long run, very few things are more important to humans on earth than our space program.

Moon Landings a Hoax After All?

Science proves NASA faked the moon landings 45 years ago.

Really? Well, no. Not really. Of course not! The moon landings were as real as Columbus’ trip to the New World.

Sorry to disappoint you conspiracy theorists, but no, science proves no such thing. All the moon landings were real. Of course!

Apollo Moon Landings by Nasa
Apollo Moon Landings

The United States’ Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, and there were five more manned U.S. Moon landings between then and 1972. Each mission consisted of three male Astronauts, two of which landed and one of which remained in orbit in the command module. A total of twelve men landed.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 were first. The last three Moon landings all included rovers.

One group of Astronauts left a mirror on the Moon, facing precisely toward Earth. Any scientist with a suitable laser can reflect it off that mirror and see the reflection all the way from Earth with his or her instruments. While the mirror was placed there for scientific reasons, the fact that it is still in use today is one more proof (as if it were needed) that NASA really went to the moon. The Moon landings were actually real.

It has been pointed out that the flag could not “blow in the wind” on the moon, because there is no air. This is true. That’s why they took a metal flag, which you see in the picture below seeming to wave in an imaginary breeze. It’s an intentional illusion. I assure you, if NASA wanted to fool you about the Moon landings, they’re smarter than that.

Buzz Aldrin salutes US Flag during first moon landing
Buzz Aldrin salutes US Flag during first moon landing

It’s high time for new Moon landings.

We should have been making more footprints on the Moon for the last 45 years. Men and women should be living there by now, doing science and building a sheltered city. They should be building factories to manufacture space ships out of Lunar materials. Space ships with which to go on to Mars and explore the Solar System. Doing this work outside of Earth’s gravity field would make it a lot cheaper in the long run. It’s pitiful that we wasted all the science and engineering we had developed by just stopping.

It’s high time we made some new moon landings.



Thanks, Bill and Steve

Thanks to Bill Moyers and Steve Mirsky for letting us know about this guy.

How can an ignoramus like this get elected to Congress? Much less become Chairman of the Science Subcommittee on Oversight of  the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology? He doesn’t understand the science he is supposed to regulate. He thinks it is “lies from the pit of hell.”

I first read about Paul Broun in Scientific American, December2012, Antigravity, by Steve Mirsky. He was in this position then, and he still is. As well as being a member of several other important committees.

Surely the State of Georgia can do better than to let this man run un-opposed again. Get him out of the House of Representatives and back into medical practice where he can only hurt one person at a time.

On second thought, he ought to have his license to practice medicine revoked, too. Do you really want a doctor who thinks that much of what he was taught in medical school is “straight from the pit of hell”? Including not just evolution and cosmology, but embryology, too?

And if Georgia won’t stop electing him, isn’t there at least some way to get him off any science-related committees?