Despite their current popularity, selfies, or self-portrait photos, are nothing new. And while the above NASA image of US astronaut Buzz Aldrin was taken in 1966, it must be one of the first, if not the first, selfie taken off, or beyond, the Earth.
For greater clarity, see an enhanced version of the photo here.
I’ve linked to a number of pixel based scale scrolling type visualisations of the solar system, and beyond, before, but this representation, titled If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel, by Josh Worth, has a way of putting the planetary family we are part of, into an all too alluring perspective.
Look out for the witticisms, and awe inspiring thoughts, as you scroll between the planets.
Data collected from the Kepler space telescope has revealed the presence of 715 hitherto unknown planets, in orbits around other stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Many of these planets are thought to be rocky bodies, like Earth.
Most of the 715 exoplanets orbit closely to their parent stars, making them too hot to support life as we know it. But four of the worlds are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and reside in the “habitable zone,” that just-right range of distances that could allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces.
If each star in the galaxy hosts an average of 1.6 planets though, then it is pretty certain many, many, more exoplanets will come to light in due course.
While mission controllers knew that the Space Shuttle Columbia would probably break up on its return to Earth in February 2003, they decided not to tell the crew of the danger, reasoning that there was little they could do to save them.
It seems though a rescue mission, using the Space Shuttle Atlantis, was “considered challenging but feasible”, though it depended on preparing Atlantis in enough time to reach Columbia, before the spaceborne craft’s life support systems failed.
One problem confronting mission controllers trying to plan a rescue was not a shortage of oxygen or water as such, but rather the build-up of carbon dioxide that would ensue, in the keeping of Columbia in a low powered orbit until Atlantis could reach it:
How long those 69 canisters would last proved difficult to estimate, though, because there isn’t a lot of hard data on how much carbon dioxide the human body can tolerate in microgravity. Standard mission operation rules dictate that the mission be aborted if CO2 levels rise above a partial pressure of 15 mmHg (about two percent of the cabin air’s volume), and mission planners believed they could stretch Columbia‘s LiOH canister supply to cover a total of 30 days of mission time without breaking that CO2 threshold. However, doing so would require the crew to spend 12 hours of each day doing as little as possible – sleeping, resting, and doing everything they could to keep their metabolic rates low.
There are three ways, apparently, that an astronaut could fall into a black hole – it’s a good thing they’ve been catalogued then – and while the chances of survival are pretty slim, non existent really, at least “information” about the astronaut would be preserved, even if the hapless space explorer were to be completely crushed:
This original picture of black holes holds that they essentially destroy all information about anything that ventures past their event horizons – astronauts included. But quantum physics, the best description so far of how the universe behaves on a subatomic level, includes a principle known as unitarity, which maintains that information cannot be destroyed. To resolve this conflict, some scientists have recently (and controversially) suggested that black holes have “firewalls” at their event horizons. These are zones of extraordinarily destructive radiation. In this scenario, our astronaut would be instantly incinerated when crossing the event horizon, as would anything else falling into a black hole. The radiation released by the firewall would preserve information about the destroyed objects, astronauts included.
Back in the 1960s the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a US space agency, was keen to organise a “Grand Tour” of the solar system’s outer planets, by taking advantage of a planetary alignment that would occur in the late 1970s. They hoped to send up to four automated probes to take a closer look at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
Funding cuts thwarted the idea, though NASA deep space probe Voyager 2, launched in 1977, was able to fly by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
While there won’t be another such alignment of the outer planets until well into the twenty-second century, thanks to Pasadena based designer and illustrator Paul Rogers, who has created a map of the solar system for tourists, you may be able to plan your own jaunt about the planets.
That the Red Planet’s satellites, which are possibly captured asteroids, lack the… aura of some of the other moons present in the solar system, such as our own companion, or some of the larger satellites of say Jupiter or Saturn, makes me wonder whether it is time to consider what really constitutes a moon.
If Pluto can no longer be regarded as an actual planet, why must every last rock that has been pulled into orbit by a planet, be called a moon? Surely such bodies should adhere to some sort of criteria before being labelled a moon.
Being pretty much spherical, and of a certain size and mass, could form basic benchmarks, and anything under a certain size should be referred to as a “captured object” rather than a moon. Sorry Mars, but both your orbiting companions, Phobos and Deimos, are captured objects, not moons.
In an area of the Moon’s northern hemisphere known as Mons Hadley, resides a three-and-a-half inch high aluminum sculpture, called “Fallen Astronaut”.
The creation of Belgian artist Paul van Hoeydonck, the work – that was conveyed to the Moon by the crew of Apollo 15 in August 1971 – serves to commemorate astronauts and cosmonauts who lost their lives in the name of space exploration.
Unfortunately the sculpture today is noteworthy more for the controversy it ended up generating, more than anything else:
In reality, van Hoeydonck’s lunar sculpture, called Fallen Astronaut, inspired not celebration but scandal. Within three years, Waddell’s gallery had gone bankrupt. Scott was hounded by a congressional investigation and left NASA on shaky terms. Van Hoeydonck, accused of profiteering from the public space program, retreated to a modest career in his native Belgium. Now both in their 80s, Scott and van Hoeydonck still see themselves unfairly maligned in blogs and Wikipedia pages – to the extent that Fallen Astronaut is remembered at all.