It may be better if we do not encounter extraterrestrials

Friday, 12 September, 2014

It’s quite possible we on Earth are the first born in terms of intelligent life in the cosmos, given the relatively young age of the universe. It’s something that makes the chances of our ever encountering extraterrestrial life pretty remote, and that may not, surprisingly, be a bad thing:

A message with a more straightforward intent could have equally ruinous effects. It could be a new scientific insight or technological blueprint sent as an item of interstellar trade or détente, but have a destabilizing effect on Earth’s economy. Or a message could contain a philosophical statement interpreted to have religious meaning, triggering conflict and disorder. Even “Is Anyone Out There?” would be problematic – the decision to answer or not could provoke more than just verbal conflict within our species.

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And here’s a shout out to all the residents of Laniakea

Thursday, 11 September, 2014

It’s nice, in a way, to know that the universe is divided into suburbs of sorts, and our galaxy, the Milky Way, is, along with some one hundred thousand of its closest galactic neighbours, part of a region that has been named Laniakea… doesn’t that make the cosmos feel all more homely then?

Astronomers were able to identify the boundaries of Laniakea by charting the flow of more than 8,000 galaxies surrounding the Milky Way. By that yardstick, they discovered that the Milky Way, along 100,000 other galaxies, is sailing toward a region named the Shapley super-cluster.

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A flyby of Triton, the ice moon of Neptune

Friday, 5 September, 2014

Photos taken by deep space probe Voyager 2, in August 1989, have been stitched together to form a flyby like animation of Triton, the largest satellite of Neptune. Triton is unique among the large moons of the solar system’s planets in that it has a retrograde orbit, meaning it circles Neptune in the opposite direction of the planet’s rotation.

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Sea plankton on the International Space Station’s starboard bow?

Wednesday, 27 August, 2014

There’s bound to be a logical explanation, bound to… a study of external surfaces of the International Space Station (ISS) has revealed, among other things, the presence of sea plankton.

So how does plankton even reach the ISS? Via evaporation in over-drive? And once it… arrives there, what are the chances of survival? Pretty good actually, it would seem:

Some organisms can live on the surface of the International Space Station (ISS) for years amid factors of a space flight, such as zero gravity, temperature conditions and hard cosmic radiation. Several surveys proved that these organisms can even develop.

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The greatest space flight hacks to date

Thursday, 14 August, 2014

Photo by NASA

We all know that the Apollo 13 Moon mission was essentially one long space flight hack that returned the crew safely home, but there have been other instances of space missions going awry for one reason or another, even if the problems have not been of quite the same severity.

In April 1985, nine months before the Challenger disaster, the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery deployed the satellite Leasat-3. With the shuttle doors open, it drifted away. But within minutes it was clear that something was wrong: the satellite’s antennae had failed to deploy. Rather than abandon the $85m satellite, the crew set to work putting together a less-than-sophisticated device that could be used to poke the satellite to activate a lever on its side. Dubbed the “fly swatter”, this improvised space stick was constructed using clear plastic covers from spacecraft manuals, sticky tape and a metal pole.

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A totally partial eclipse of the Sun as seen on Mars

Thursday, 31 July, 2014

Phobos eclipses the Sun, image via NASA/JPL-Caltech

Even though Phobos and Deimos, the two moons – or captured objects as I think of them – of Mars, aren’t especially sizable, solar eclipses, all be they partial, seemingly, still take place. Above is a photo, taken by NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity, about a year ago, of a Phobos/Sun occultation.

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Pluto, what we know now is not what we’ll know in twelve months

Tuesday, 22 July, 2014

NASA’s New Horizons space probe is now only one year out from its scheduled encounter with former planet Pluto, in the outer reaches of the solar system.

While astronomers have gleaned much information about the distant dwarf planet from Earth based telescopes, it is likely a fair bit of what we know, or think we know, will be turned on its head as New Horizons draws closer. In fact, far from coming up with answers, the abundance of new data brought forth will likely only pose even more questions.

New Horizon’s Pluto visit will transform the science of this small body in a matter of weeks, and it will likely take a long time before all of the data it provides will be unpacked. The only thing that would truly surprise the science team at this point would be if they find no surprises on Pluto, said Stern. It’s a safe bet to assume the probe probably won’t be definitively answering scientific questions so much as raising interesting new problems and providing researchers with many decades of mysteries.

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Photos of a tilt-shifted universe

Thursday, 17 July, 2014

Image via Hubble Space Telescope, NASA, ESA, STScI

If the images collected by the Hubble Space Telescope were taken with a camera with a tilt-shift lens, this is what they might look like.

Via MetaFilter.

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Venus would be a fine place to live… if our heads were in its clouds

Monday, 14 July, 2014

As a people we be must seen as excessively keen to establish colonies on other planets in the solar system if a case is being made to do so on the anything-but-habitable Venus. Of course a base wouldn’t be on the surface, but rather some forty or so kilometres above, in a floating city no less, where conditions are said to be “Mediterranean”.

The second planet from the Sun might seem like a nasty place to build a home, with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead and an atmosphere so dense it would feel like being submerged beneath 3000 feet of water. But the air on Venus thins out as you rise above the surface and cools considerably; about 30 miles up you hit the sweet spot for human habitation: Mediterranean temperatures and sea-level barometric pressure. If ever there were a place to build a floating city, this would be it.

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A guide to finding solid ground to stand on in the solar system

Wednesday, 9 July, 2014

Illustration by xkcd

Always good to know where one can locate some terra firma, so to speak, around the solar system… thanks to this surface area graphic from xkcd.

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