Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Dragonfly or Stardust mission? (Basically – Titan or go to a comet) NASA considers…

While it certainly makes sense that as we are learning over yonder in space at the same time as maybe we send another off the opposite direction to study two totally different things. Maybe it takes six years for a spacecraft to make the trip to Titan but in the meantime one can send a separate spacecraft to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko to collect surface samples… But honestly, Titan certainly seems more important than going to a comet. So how does NASA decide between two awesome missions?

Dragonfly, that’s the name of the Titan concept, involves sending a quadcopter-like spacecraft /flying robot to the alien Titan moon. It would be outfitted with instruments capable of identifying large organic molecules, the quadcopter, thanks to its flying abilities, would be able to visit multiple locations hundreds of miles apart to collect samples and study the landscape on Titan. A frigid moon of Saturn, Titan features a thick atmosphere and lakes and rivers of liquid methane, and what scientists believe could be a watery ocean beneath its frozen crust. Since we now that Titan has the ingredients for life, with Dragonfly, we will be able to evaluate how far prebiotic chemistry has progressed.

On the other hand, there is the Stardust mission. Comets are believed to be among the most scientifically important objects in the solar system, but they’re also happen to be among the most poorly understood however, we have also sampled from the ‘coma’ of a comet in previous missions. Still, this would be for materials from its icy surface so different in nature.

There is importance in both missions, but one might want to consider what ‘our’ needs are. DO we need to step up the idea of a colony or do we absolutely need to know the answer to where we came from? -As well as the rest of the universe.

So, which has been determined to be the one? Neither, really, both missions have entered what is called a “concept study phase” where the scientists involved can further develop their proposals. The final selection will be made sometime in July of 2019 - whichever spacecraft is chosen, the launch is expected sometime in 2025.

Monday, December 18, 2017

“Somebody's Watching Me” – Some Scientists are watching a cigar shaped asteroid that they think just may be watching us!

An odd, cigar shaped object or asteroid, traveling at about 85,700 mph is currently grabbing a lot of attention.

Named “Oumuamua”, this asteroid comes from the constellation Lyra (Where you can find that super bright star Vega), a full twenty-five light years away.

The SETI Institute, which employs over 130 scientists, educators, and support staff with a mission statement of “Our mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe, and to apply the knowledge gained to inspire and guide present and future generations,” has been scanning Oumuamua with the Allen Telescope Array spending in excess of 60 hours checking for transmissions over a wide range of frequencies. There is another SETI project, Breakthrough Listen, which has plans to devote 10 hours to scrutinizing the same asteroid using a large antenna in West Virginia.

The expected outcome? Radio silence. But maybe, just maybe, Oumuamua is someone else’s attempt to watch & listen to us.

This is actually based on some real data. Most experts that believe interstellar travel is possible suggest that a ship would probably be shaped like a cigar or needle, as it would be lean and aerodynamic enough to minimize friction and slim the chances of colliding with another asteroid or space-object not to mention any harmful gas and dust. Because of how solid it appears and how fast it’s moving, ‘Oumuamua (fyi -  means scout or messenger in Hawaiian) is unique. Given its high speeds Oumuamua will be making a fast exit from our solar system but not before scientists aim to figure out whether the ‘rock’ might actually be an alien spacecraft—either for living beings/aliens or perhaps a robotic probe.

Breakthrough Initiatives, you may know of the group, remember Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, to study the galaxy for signs of extraterrestrials, is most famous for its Stephen Hawking–backed Starshot project to send cheap spacecraft to Alpha Centauri at one-fifth the speed of light to find signs of habitability or alien life. Its more conventional SETI sister project, Listen, uses radio telescopes to scan space and listen for complex radio signals that might be signs of an alien civilization.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


It was there a full 690 million years after the big bang, the universe was just 5 percent of its current age and was still emerging from an enigmatic era known as “the dark ages.”

That such a huge black hole can exist from so far back in time shaping models of how black holes form for all time; offering insight into the universe’s early years.

Well, it has been found. This black hole was located by an Eduardo Bañados at the las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

Not sure whether it even existed, Eduardo had three nights of at the la Campanas Observatory in Chile to locate this supermassive black hole that is basically invisible to us but is gulping down some portion of the universe. Alas, on the third night, Eduardo found it. It was way out at the edge of the   universe, a black hole 800 million times more massive than the sun. And all this took was a signal that traveled more than 13 billion light-years across time and space to reach Bañados’ telescope.

Wednesday, Bañados and his colleagues were able to reports a new find that is the oldest and most distant black hole ever discovered.

The object’s size is stunning, it existed just 690 million years after the big bang, when the universe was a toddler, just emerging from an era referred to as “the dark ages.”

And what will we gain from this discovery? Because such a large black hole existed so early in time, it will shape models of how black holes form. Also it will offer insight into the universe’s early years.

But the object Bañados and his colleagues discovered, called ULAS J1342+0928, was even bigger than they’d bargained for - suggesting that something might have made black holes grow more quickly. Scientists don’t yet know the underlying reasons for such rapid growth, or whether still older black holes are waiting to be found.

In a companion paper published in the astrophysical journal letters, the scientists report another odd finding: the galaxy where ulas j1342+0928 dwells was generating new stars “like crazy,” bañados said. Objects the size of our sun were emerging 100 times as frequently as they do in our own galaxy today.

“To build stars you need dust,” Bañados said. “but it’s really hard to form all this dust in such little time on cosmic scales - that requires some generations of supernovae to explode." 

There is so much we have yet to know. This monster may hold many of the answers.

Mary Davie
Data Analyst
Franklin Mutual Insurance Group
973-948-3120 Ext. 8225
Toll Free: 800-842-0551 Ext. 8225
E-mail: mdavie@fmiweb.com


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Thursday, December 7, 2017


When you speak of Mars (and all of do from the speculative to the fact-based discussions) do you ever chat about the space-worms? What are they?

Earth worms really. Two healthy brand new baby worms were recently born in the Martian Soil. OK, the simulated Martian Soil. This is really good news for the future share-croppers of the red planet. 

The recipe for the ‘Martian Soil’ was volcanic terrestrial rocks, pig manure, and live adult worms. If you saw the movie “The Martian” you may be wondering why the fuss? Mark Watney didn’t have any earth worms and he got potatoes to grow! What’s so special about Earth Worms?

First of all, like Mark Watney did, we need the plants in an oxygen friendly area. Perhaps a closed agricultural ecosystem -- one might start with an underground tunnel
And then oxygenate it….

Next we are going to want some Earth Worms spread all over and here’s why;
1.     Earth Worms loosen the soil and make it easier for plants to develop their roots in soil even though it may be too hard/compact for deep root development. They create tunnels that can provide channels that roots can grow through easily, further encouraging root growth. Loosening the soil also makes it easier for water to penetrate deep into the soil, ensuring there is enough moisture in the soil to support the plants and encourage deeper root growth. 

2.     When earthworms move through the soil, organic materials and soil particles cling to them and come loose in other soil layers. The worms also break up fungi, dead roots and other large pieces of organic material in the soil as they move through, mixing it in with surrounding soil.

3.     Earthworms eat organic material in the soil, with some worms eating up to half their body weight per day. The organic matter is ground up in a gizzard within the worm's body. Soil particles are also taken in by earthworms as they eat, with the particles becoming mixed in with organic waste as they move through the worm's digestive tract. The mixture of soil and organic waste is excreted from the worm's body as nitrogen-rich waste known as worm castings. 

4.     Bacteria and other microbes are an important part of healthy soil because they aid in the decomposition process and prevent harmful microbes from growing. Earthworms help to distribute these microbes throughout the soil and also drag organic material, such as dead leaves (not many on Mars), deeper into the soil for the microbes to break down. As earthworms break down larger organic materials in the soil, they also provide additional food for these microbes which in turn helps them to multiply.

So obviously, Earth Worms do quite a bit of work. And since now we know we can have them on Mars, maybe we can grow all sorts of stuff like Asparagus and Martian Tomatoes (I hear they are really good!)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"Danger Wil Robinson..” to Continuum Robotics, what a ride!

Euhler in his Euler-Cauchy’s stress formula or in his Euhler’s equations of motion has dealt with the distribution of forces and contact force density. This might not mean much off hand but if you were to think about Continuum Mechanics then the entire school of theories and thoughts gets interesting.

Continuum mechanics deals with physical properties of solids and fluids which are independent of any particular coordinate system in which they are observed. These physical properties are then represented by tensors, which are mathematical objects that have the required property of being independent of coordinate system. These tensors can be expressed in coordinate systems for computational convenience.

Perhaps you are wondering why I am expounding on a topic that seems to have little to do with space and the Universe…Well, it all starts with a robot. Remember “Danger Wil Robinson..” How hard and unforgiving the ‘tissue’ of that robot was? Or maybe you are a Stars Wars person, so let’s look at R2D2. Robotics is an active field and the look of Robots vary greatly, but until recently, the touch didn’t vary too much.

Welcome soft robotics.

Soft Robotics is the specific sub-field of robotics dealing with constructing robots from highly compliant materials, similar to those found in living organisms. Similarly, soft robotics also draws heavily from the way in which these living organisms move and adapt to their surroundings. In contrast to robots built from rigid materials, soft robots allow for increased flexibility and adaptability for accomplishing tasks, as well as improved safety when working around humans.

Then of course there is the hybrid soft robots that are built with an internal rigid framework and then a soft exterior.

MIT & Harvard have been working at length in the field of soft robotics seeking to make them stronger, but also to make them able to pick up irregular shaped objects (to use, for instance, working in a factory or manufacturing center).
What did this result in?

Scientists at MIT & Harvard were able to devise a new way to outfit the soft robots with more strength and this is done by using origami skeletons in the soft robots. For the muscles, yes, these robots have muscles; the scientists created a sealed bag filled with air or fluid with a folding origami structure inside which becomes the skeleton then in order to make the muscle contract, the pressure inside the bag is reduced, and the artificial muscle contracts just as the muscles in a human body do. The new technique allows the artificial muscles to lift 1,000 times their own weight.

These artificial muscles are little more than flexible actuators, yet the factor used to measure strength changes greatly. AND my tie in to space? These robots could be used in space. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


 The Earth’s waist line, when the Earth was very young, was much larger waistline (ie. the equatorial circumference was larger) due to a faster rotation. It has been suggested that it may even have been spinning fast enough to have "Saturn type rings" around it. But then time happened to it.

You see for four and a half billion years, Earths entire lifetime, our rotation has been gradually slowing. The speed of average day has grown longer by (between 15 millionths and 25 millionths of a second every year) and you probably think that would not be large enough to have an effect, and you’d be wrong.  What we have is a constant struggle between the planet's gravity and its centrifugal force as its angular motion slows. Due to the loss in the Earth Kinetic Energy from all forms of forces acting on it from the tides, or galactic space dust, include the solar wind, also the space weather, the geomagnetic storms, all working to slow it down.

This slow down permits gravity to pull the planet's shape into a more perfect circle or sphere. Like a daisy chain of one thing causing another, tremendous stresses within the Earth and in its crust struggle to fit on the slowly changing mantle. Were the Earth's rotation not slowing, there would be none of this stress, and the Earth would maintain its girlish curves throughout time. Its rotation is gradually slowing however, (even taking the conservation of momentum into consideration), causing its angular momentum to become progressively weaker. Gravity remains just as strong as ever and continues to exert the same amount of inward pressure.

This continuous struggle between gravity's centripetal force and angular momentum's centrifugal force results in tremendous dynamic stress within the Earth as it attempts to adjust to its trimmer shape. The Earth finds itself gradually shifting its shape from that of an oblate spheroid with a bulging equator & flatter pole regions to that of a more perfect sphere. Throughout the ages, since day one, the Earth has been going through this constant gradual change.
The surface of the Earth's mantle, especially in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Earth is becoming smaller while the pole regions have uplifted and become rounder. The fact that the Earth is getting rounder, even today, has been confirmed by the satellite "Lageos" which is being monitored by scientists at the University of Texas Center for Space Research and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
What it comes down to is an imbalance exists between the angular momentum and gravity that cause the subduction motions of the continental crustal plates due to their crusts shifts and crunches as they continually try to fit what has become a diminishing area of mantle. There are hundreds of GPS sensors along the Pacific Coast which indicate North America is moving westward at about 3 inches per year and that the Pacific plate is subducting under the continent's Pacific coast. Then the subducting ocean plate is replaced by the central Pacific ridge of mantle oozing up to form a new ocean bottom.
And guess what, it is this very activity, this relentless, extremely slow, tremendously powerful, shrinking equatorial region that then cause earthquakes to occur, volcanoes to erupt and the Earth's vast mountain ranges to rise.
Dr. Roger Bilham from the University of Colorado has said that the intense correlation between the changing rotation and the earthquake and volcanic activity suggest there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year. During these periods the Earth's mantle sticks a little more to the crust, which changes how outer core flows, creating a mismatch between the speed of the solid crust and the mantle.

Experts warn we 'had it easy this year' with just six severe earthquakes and claim that next year we could have at least 20 serious earthquakes, and the most intense ones are expected to occur in tropical regions, home to around one billion people and plenty of vacationing resorts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


How much does your government love you? Do they aim to make your breathing easier, more of a guarantee than a hope? Are they willing to make the unpopular choices because those choices are in fact the better choices or do they opt to make the easier choice because it gives you what you want right now?

A government is not supposed to love you, want your vote yes, love you? Breathing, well, given choices made thus far, it’s clearly not a future goal. When it comes down to it, in general, people want what will make they’re life better today and do not have much interest in tomorrow. We could have a long debate about why, but let’s just concede that as fact. In general politicians aim to provide a better tomorrow, maybe extend that a year or two, but rarely do things that are for generations to come when it the current generation, that’s the people who voted for them, doing less well. So, basically, avoiding things shouldn’t impact the daily lives of John or Jane Q. Public.

Understanding that, is it any wonder that on the 25th anniversary for the original dire warning to humanity in which 1,700 scientists from around the world listed the environmental plaques humanity faced, that this time 15,000 scientists from 184 countries around the world found it necessary to issue a more dire warning ?

In 1992, the original dire warning was sent out. The catastrophic losses were listed as follows: stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

25 years later has the world changed its tune? Cleaned up its act? Anything?

25 years later, in 2017, 15,000 scientists have this time come together and say “Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse…Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.

Let’s think about this, we live in a world where there was the Paris Climate Accord. Wait, but we’re not in it. The last few years the Great Barrier Reef (Coral reefs are complex structures built mainly from the calcium carbonate [limestone] skeletons laid down by hard corals. These reef-building corals are highly vulnerable to rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification. Slowed growth and loss of hard corals will reduce essential habitat for many other reef creatures) has gone through a lot, several bleaching events, some loss from extreme weather, some ocean acidification and none of it good. The Larsen C Ice shelf collapse, upper ocean temperatures have increased more than 1 degree, the distribution of penguin colonies has changed, decline in the krill (a tiny ocean crustacean resembling a shrimp that is the primary food of baleen whales and other animals that filter their food from seawater. ), and underneath all that ice that’s no longer there are nearly 100 volcanos – which is another climate change nightmare. We’ve had storms that are stronger, bigger, and more destructive than ever. But we are the one country in the world that hasn’t signed the Paris Accord. Remember what I said in the second paragraph? Well, as long as it is believed by politicians that people want what will make they’re life better today and do not have much interest in tomorrow than nothing will ever change. Even though, and I am not positive, but I know it in my gut, the pentagon has to prepare for Climate Change because it is a major threat.

It is a major threat-that’s why 15,000 scientists just sent you a dire warning.