In mid July, NASA space probe New Horizons makes its closest approach to Pluto. If past experience is anything to go, the encounter, which will offer astronomers and scientists access to data hitherto only dreamed of, is likely to re-write much of what we know, or thought we knew, of this distant member of the solar system.
To say nothing of the photos we should soon be seeing. Instead of the current blurred, pixelated, images of the (dwarf) planet, we will possess high definition pictures of an actual, real world, plus its largest moon, Charon, ready to have its featured named as we see fit.
A day on Mars, or to be more precise, a complete planetary rotation, lasts about forty minutes longer than it does on Earth. You’d think that would make the red planet ideal for human settlement, if we can look passed the numerous difficulties of setting up camp there of course.
After all, who doesn’t want more hours in the day, even if it’s only not quite one full hour? It would appear that things aren’t quite that simple however. So wired are humans to an exact twenty-four hour day, the additional forty minutes provided daily on Mars would actually prove to be rather exhausting for us:
It turns out if you’re on Earth, that extra time wears thin pretty quickly. If you’re on Mars, or at least work by a Mars clock, you have to figure out how to put up with the exhausting challenge of those extra 40 minutes. To be exact, the Martian day is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds long, a length of day that doesn’t coincide with the human body’s natural rhythms. Scientists, Mars rover drivers, and everyone else in the space community call the Martian day a “sol” to differentiate it from an Earth day. While it doesn’t seem like a big difference, that extra time adds up pretty quickly. It’s like heading west by two time zones every three days. Call it “rocket lag.”
With Pluto bound space probe New Horizons rapidly approaching its destination, and who knows, about to turn all we know of the solar system’s best known dwarf planet on its head, Spaceprob.es allows us to check in on the numerous other active craft that are trawling interplanetary and interstellar space, on our behalf.
Leading the charge is Voyager 1, at a distance of almost twenty billion kilometres, or eighteen hours and seven minutes light travel time, from Earth, while the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is virtually above our heads, some 372,000 kilometres away.
By the way, if you’re interested in checking out Voyager 1’s approximate location in the night sky, give or take a few light minutes, here are some directions.
Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol, recently found a bag of bits and pieces that the late astronaut had brought back from his Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, that he had kept stowed away for decades, in a cupboard at their home.
Inside the bag were 17 objects from the Apollo 11 mission including Armstrong’s waist tether, utility lights, and emergency wrench. Most importantly, it contained the 16mm data acquisition camera (DAC) used to film footage of the final approach to the moon on July 20, 1969. The camera was also used to record Armstrong going down the ladder and taking his famous “one small step,” the planting of the flag and other footage of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface.
I guess if I was the first person to set foot on the Moon, or any person to set foot on the Moon come to that, I’d want a few keepsakes as well.
In 1938, Orson Welles narrated a radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” as a series of simulated radio bulletins of what was happening in real time as Martians arrived on our home planet. The broadcast is widely remembered for creating public panic, although to what extent is hotly debated today. Still, the incident serves as an illustration of what could happen when the first life beyond Earth is discovered. While scientists might be excited by the prospect, introducing the public, politicians and interest groups to the idea could take some time.
Project Blue Book was the name given to an investigation carried out by the US Air Force from 1952, through to 1970, into Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs.
So, was it conclusively established that extraterrestrials had in fact visited Earth? I think we all know the answer to that, but don’t let that stop you from reaching your own conclusions, by way of the Project Blue Book Collection, a digitised archive of the reports produced by the project’s investigators.
If you took an x-ray photo of the Sun, what might you see? The above image, taken by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), is actually taken in “high-energy x-rays”, so not the sort of x-ray picture we might usually be familair with, but impressive nonetheless.
The reason for all this has to do, primarily, with timescales. For starters, when it comes to alien intelligence, there’s what Schneider calls the “short window observation” – the notion that, by the time any society learns to transmit radio signals, they’re probably a hop-skip away from upgrading their own biology. It’s a twist on the belief popularized by Ray Kurzweil that humanity’s own post-biological future is near at hand. “As soon as a civilization invents radio, they’re within fifty years of computers, then, probably, only another fifty to a hundred years from inventing AI,” Shostak said. “At that point, soft, squishy brains become an outdated model.”
I wonder if the term artificial intelligence is correct though. If we somehow evolve, or develop technology, that one day allows us to transfer our consciousness as it were, into robotic like devices, wouldn’t that still be intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence?