The Apollo flights in stop motion animation

Wednesday, 28 October, 2015

This is fantastic, photos from Kipp Teague’s Project Apollo Archive have been used to make a stop motion animation, by Vimeo member harrisonicus.

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KIC 8462852, Dyson spheres, intelligent extraterrestrials, and us

Monday, 19 October, 2015

Hanging about waiting for extraterrestrials to send word they exist, and are keen to hear from us, may be a drawn out process. That’s not to say anyone has been sitting around waiting for something to happen of course, efforts to detect intelligent life elsewhere are decades old.

Aside from scouring the cosmos with our radio telescopes, listening out for radio signals that may be of alien origin, there are other ways to identify would-be extraterrestrial civilisations, one of which, spotting so-called Dyson spheres, has set tongues wagging in the last week.

KIC 8462852, a too faint to be seen star about fifteen hundred light years away from Earth, has been the subject of said chatter, and subsequently rampant speculation, on account of apparent variances in its brightness, that suggest a very large object may be nearby.

A most mysterious star

Detecting such fluctuations is one method astronomers use to ascertain whether a star hosts planets, as even the smallest planetary body can reduce a star’s brightness, albeit by the merest fraction, as it transits, or passes in front of the star, relative to an Earth based observer.

Whatever might be floating around KIC 8462852 however is far bigger, a planet the size of Jupiter for instance would be a but a speck in comparison. That rules out planets alone as a source of the variation. Another nearby star is also out of the question, as it would surely be visible.

So far other naturally occurring phenomena, including asteroids, comets, and Oort cloud particles, have been eliminated, thus leaving only one possibility. The super-massive object, whatever it is, must be artificial, or in other words, is the artifact of an extraterrestrial civilisation.

The great solar panel in the sky

A Dyson sphere is a mega-structure that an advanced race of aliens might build around a star, that acts as a massive solar panel cluster, and sates the growing energy demands of such a civilisation, is being mooted as a possible explanation for KIC 8462852’s brightness anomaly.

It’s quite a thought, isn’t it? An advanced extraterrestrial race may be a mere fifteen hundred light years distant. It’s enough to rouse all manner of feelings of awe and hope. Scientists however remain far more circumspect, and many feel that the cause is somehow natural.

Efforts are afoot to take a closer look at KIC 8462852, and astronomers are hoping to point a radio telescope at the fluctuating star, to see if any evidence of intelligent life is to be found. Time will tell. It’s a little too soon to raise your hopes, or fears, as the case may be though.

We can see them, but can they see us?

Should the prospect of an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation residing on what is effectively – in a manner of speaking – our doorstep, be unsettling, I would think there is little to worry about. We’re too primitive to be detected. But not so backward that we may have seen them.

Not even the signals from our radio and television shows are likely to give us away. The further they push out into space, the weaker they become. At fifteen hundred light years, they’d be virtually indistinguishable from the background noise of the galaxy. Once they even arrive.

Doubtless any KIC 8462852 based aliens would be aware of the Sun, and that it hosts at least one planet within its habitable zone, that is possibly home to basic life forms. Who haven’t however constructed their own Dyson sphere. Being so unsophisticated may just be an advantage then.

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13,000 NASA photos from the Apollo Moon flights

Wednesday, 14 October, 2015

Photo via Project Apollo Archive

I was wondering why a post I wrote five years ago, linking to Kipp Teague’s Project Apollo Archive, was suddenly picking up hits again, when I learned that NASA had handed over some thirteen thousand photos taken during the crewed Apollo missions, between 1961 and 1972, to Teague, who has since posted them to Flickr.

Apparently the US space agency no longer has the budget to publish the images – hopefully that money has gone towards the Mars project – but made the right choice finding someone who would. A great resource for anyone writing about, or researching, the Apollo Moon flights.

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The space age art of Michael Kagan

Thursday, 3 September, 2015

New York based artist Michael Kagan’s depictions of the space age, rockets, astronauts, and flight decks, have a gritty, industrial, and pioneering feel to them… what better way is there to present such paintings?

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Was that the International Space Station orbiting above us?

Thursday, 20 August, 2015

Many the time have I looked up at the night sky and seen a point of light arc gracefully overhead. It may have been an aircraft at high enough altitude to catch the Sun’s rays, or it could have been an orbiting satellite.

Possibly, it might have been the International Space Station (ISS). I’ll never know now, but thanks to NASA’s Spot The Station website, I’ll be able to find in the future when the ISS is going to be in skies in my part of the world, and where I can find it.

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A flight over Atlantis Chaos, Mars

Monday, 17 August, 2015

Atlantis Chaos is a region in the southern hemisphere of Mars, that may have once contained huge amounts of water. Sadly there’s no trace of any today, but this fly-over animation of the area, prepared by the European Space Agency, is no less spectacular.

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On the Moon you can’t sleep much, that’s ok, you don’t need much

Tuesday, 28 July, 2015

It sounds as if a good night’s sleep was a forlorn hope for Apollo astronauts when it came time for some shut-eye, especially in what would probably have been the middle of the Lunar day.

Hammocks slung across the confines of the cramped Lunar Module don’t sound all that comfortable, to say nothing of the constant noise that the craft’s various mechanical, and life support systems, would have been making.

On the flip side though, it seems like the Apollo crews on the Moon’s surface didn’t need a full “night” of sleep anyway, on account of the reduced gravity environment, this according to Jack Schmitt of Apollo 17:

“One-sixth gravity is a very pleasant sleeping environment with just enough pressure on your back in those hammocks to feel like you’re on something but not enough to ever get uncomfortable,” Schmitt told the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. “I slept but my impression was that I only needed about five hours sleep to feel rested whereas ordinarily on Earth at that time I usually felt that I could use seven. But I think that’s related mainly to the lower gravity environment. You just don’t get physically as fatigued as you would on Earth.”

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Had to happen eventually… the Pluto conspiracy theories

Thursday, 23 July, 2015

There’s always someone trying to spoil everyone else’s fun, and only days after the New Horizons flyby of Pluto. Yes, the conspiracy theorists have started crawling out of the woodwork already.

One line of their… thinking on the matter says that the images returned to Earth last week were (somehow) faked, while another claims that an alien spaceship base was spotted on the distant member of the solar system, but was hushed up, and presumably, Photoshoped off, the images that NASA released.

A variant of the conspiracy theory exists that suggests that the NASA New Horizon mission happened and that it reached Pluto. However, the theory posits, the space agency is covering up the discovery of an alien, UFO base on the former ninth planet. Clearly a bone chilling orb at the edge of the Solar System would be prime real estate for such a facility, the better for the UFOs to make the occasional foray to Earth to abduct humans and perform disgusting experiments on them.

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All those great photos of Pluto, thanks to an aluminum camera

Thursday, 23 July, 2015

To date, the photos of Pluto, its moons, and their surroundings, taken by the New Horizons space probe, have been breathtaking. But the story of the camera, named Ralph, responsible for all these images, is also incredible.

Obviously no ordinary camera could be used for the job, and the team constructing Ralph had to, among many other factors, consider the freezing conditions in which it would be operating.

And because the various materials that make up a normal camera would respond, or shrink, at different rates, due to the ultra low temperatures – we’re talking well below minus two hundred degrees Celsius here – it was decided to build Ralph almost entirely from aluminum.

With the exception of the lens, being glass, the aluminum construction meant that the camera’s components would all shrink at the same rate.

“Going out that far, there are some fluctuations,” Hardaway says. “It can get quite cold, and materials will shrink as they get colder. But different materials shrink at different rates.” The answer, then, was to build almost the entire camera out of just one type of material. “We actually built the mirrors and the chassis out of aluminum so that as they shrink, they would shrink together, to maintain the same focal length. We could do a reasonable test on Earth and still expect the same quality image,” she says.

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Travelling light years to hear the music of decades past

Tuesday, 21 July, 2015 interface

The crew, if there were actually a human crew, aboard NASA’s New Horizons space probe will need something to help keep them entertained until they reach their next port of call, a KBO, or Kuiper Belt Object, some one billion kilometres beyond Pluto, that it is expected to encounter in early 2019.

From there, the deep space probe will probably hurtle through the galaxy until some random red dwarf star – since they’re all through interstellar space – drags New Horizons into its solar system. Still, what for this… crew to do until that happens?

They could tune into radio broadcasts from Earth, and since radio signals move at the speed of light, the would-be crew crew could listen, or should that be re-listen, to old radio shows. The further away from Earth you get, the older the music you hear will be (well, maybe). Assuming you travel far enough away that is. then will give you an idea of what to expect this in is regard. Select a timeframe, say twenty years, and you’ll be transported, by way of your web browser, to a point twenty light years from Earth, where you’ll be able to hear the songs that were being broadcast in 1995.

I thought the journey was more interesting than the music, but try it out, and see what I mean.

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