Monday, June 26, 2017

Man Made Northern Lights will light up the coast!! 

Three months to build & plan a launch – sound incredible? Sound hard to believe? Sound Rockets…

Sounding rockets are the vessel for some pretty cool things. A Sounding Rocket handles things for educational purposes or tests or just scientific instruments into space along a parabolic trajectory. The time spent in space is usually quite brief – from 5 to 20 minutes and usually at lower speeds to allow for accuracy. Actually Sounding rockets are especially helpful as some altitudes are just too low for satellites but provide a platform that is just right for the Sounding rocket.  For at least 45 years the Sounding Rocket Program has given us critical scientific, technical, and educational contributions and as a result is one of the most varied and cost-effective flight programs at NASA.
However it is sometimes these lower altitudes that make finding a proper launch window tricky. Take the launch NASA Wallops has been scheduled now for a total of ~8-9 times and that amount is quickly growing. The launch requires, especially in this particular case, a clear sky but also can’t have too great of a wind.
What is this launch? Well first let me tell you why if you live on the Eastern Seaboard (USA) up to New York, you need to watch the skies the night of the launch. It really is going to be quite awesome. The science studies of this particular mission relate to the ionosphere and auroras. Interested yet? 
The flight is a two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket. While it flies it will release into the ionosphere about ten small canisters maybe the size of a soda can. The cans will be released about 5 minutes from the launch time – actually between 4 and 5.5 minutes, and will form vapor tracers to allow researchers on the ground to visually track particle motions in space. 
Now this won’t be a long lasting event. The total flight time expected is only ~10 minutes. The rest would rely on the winds and other outside variables. However NASA ground cameras will be picking up the event from both Wallops and Duck, NC.

Barium, Strontium, and Cupric-Oxide are the contents of the cans and are not harmful so suggest no hazard to the residents – so just enjoy the show.
To be honest, when I first learned of this launch I read how it was to study an aurora and thought ‘don’t we know all there is to know about Auroras?’ – Well, okay, my first thought was cool I want to see this but my second thought was: aren’t auroras created up in the magnetosphere from charged particles in the solar wind (basically just electrons & protons)? I seemed to recall that the resulting ionization/excitation of the atmospheric contents results in bands of varying colors (depending on the elements involved). It usually occurs at the poles but occasionally a geomagnetic storm might enlarge the ‘auroral oval’. I’ll admit most of this portion is from memory and one of my high school science class’ but point being I didn’t think there was anything to learn.
Seems scientists are hoping to track gas particle movements within the clouds they create and test some imaging technologies. So, the answer is yes, and no. Yes we understand most that there is to know of auroras but also this experiment is also to look into some aurora imaging technologies. And besides…it’s bound to look really cool!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Head to Space; heads come back!

 (Photo Credit: Junji Morokuma, Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University)

If I were to take this story and run with it there are so many directions I might go. Funny thing is, everyone would say I’d stopped writing hard science fiction and gone for fantasy.

Still – this topic caught me off guard and so I had to share it with you!


So here goes with just the facts…

In January of 2015 some planarian (planarian refers to the genus) flatworms were placed in tubes which contained half water and the other half, air. (generally planarians are marine though some are terrestrial) The flatworms were launched to the ISS, thanks to SpaceX, but with some slight changes to them. Half of the flatworms had parts of their body sliced off. That is not a big a problem as one might think as flatworms do usually have the capacity to regenerate their bodies. 

An equal group of planarian flatworms with the same disabilities enacted were left here on Earth.

Fast forward to six weeks later (the worms were returned in 5 weeks but…) and while there were other results, the coolest or oddest result – depends how you look at things, was that one of the worms that had been decapitated had yes, regenerated his head but on each end. In other words yes his head had been removed and in 5 short weeks he had grown two more to replace it. AND when those two heads were then sliced off, both grew again indicating that the enhanced regeneration was permanent. 


Other changes? The space-worms now underwent some odd sort of fission where the split their bodies in two which would make each one create another identical worm. Another change of interest? As previously mentioned, flatworms or planarians are mostly marine – either salt or fresh water. The space-traveling flatworms when put in spring water post space became partially paralyzed/immobile and it took about two hours before they returned to normal.

The worms that stayed home did not undergo any similar changes.

Granted finding the double-headed mutation was kinda cool, but the point of the study was to see if the worm’s regeneration patterns were changed in space.

There are many tests I would plan next and I am sure that they have. Such as now send up something that doesn’t regenerate under the same circumstances (amputated heads etc.) and see what happens? Do they now regenerate (that might be a neat side effect!) or does whatever special trait they have - get changed/more intense perhaps?

You see where I’m going right? This takes on an almost comic book origin story…or the beginning of a fantastic journey!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Science meets Hollywood NASA's goes futuristic for its Mars rover concept vehicle

NASA has now availed itself of the cool futuristic designs we had always expected but never got. For around 40 years now we have been the recipients of data coming to us from the Red Planet. Our unmanned rovers have looked like blocks of machines, miniaturized and a camera on a stick. OK, not quite so bad, but they have been what they needed to be and weren’t made for some intergalactic beauty contest; But not so our extraterrestrial machine designed for the (coming closer & closer) future. 

It has a little bit of the Batman mobile look from the recent films. The design has six wheels and a futuristic exterior design with a minimalistic interior design that screams ‘you’re not in Kansas anymore’. The Mars concept vehicle is 11 feet tall, 24 feet long and 13 feet wide – certainly an imposing size.

Well there is a reason why the design for the manned rover looks like something we’d expect in the future – the design for the giant rover was made by the Parker brothers, Shanon and Marc. If that sounds familiar at all it is because the twosome’s movie fame. They ‘made their mark’ designing the futuristic motorcycles in Tron. The best part, Shanon admits part of the design was just to make it cool.

Now the inside seats 4 and drives like an SUV. They even have a lab in the back.


Now this vehicle won't go to Mars. It’s meant for an earthbound mission to educate future scientists about the red planet.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Climate Change & the Doomsday seed vault

It boggles the mind and attacks the part of the brain that recognizes irony.

The Doomsday seed vault, located in the Arctic Circle in Norway, has been impacted by Climate Change. The melting of the permafrost flooded the tunnel entrance. Thankfully no seeds were lost and currently researchers are looking into making the vault more secure & self-sufficient.

The Doomsday seed vault was started in 2008 & holds more than 20 million seeds. Originally seeds were held at the Nordic Gene Bank (since 1984) in an abandoned coal mine at Svalbad. Also saving seeds were the Southern Africa Development Community but both the Nordic and African collections were transferred to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault Facility on January first 2008 when the Nordic Gene Bank and NordGen were integrated. The Doomsday vault contains samples from approximately one-third of the world's most important food crop varieties.

Its physical design is 390 feet into a sandstone mountain on Spitzbergen Island. The site has robust security systems and the seeds are packed in three layers of foil packets that are heat sealed to exclude moisture.

The facility is managed by the Nordic Genetic Resource Center, and there is no permanent staff on-site.

The reason for selecting this site: Spitsbergen, was because it lacked tectonic activity and had permafrost, which would aid in its preservation. It was thought that the 430 ft above sea level will keep the site dry even if the ice caps melt. Locally mined coal gives the power for the refrigeration units that cool the seeds to the internationally recommended standard of −18 ° but if the equipment fails, at least several weeks will elapse before the facility rises to the surrounding sandstone bedrock's temperature of −3 °C

It is expected that some of the seeds will last for 100s of years but that some grains could last even longer, like a thousand years.

Just some thoughts. First this seed bank assumes several things; that whatever Doomsday scenario affected us, we can get to the Arctic circle, also that there is still Sun/an Ozone layer, and the Earth was not completely flooded. Still, I’ve updated my go bag for emergencies to include directions…just in case!


Friday, May 12, 2017

Loki – not Thor’s adopted brother, the lava lake on Io

It sounds almost SciFi, but it isn’t. Io is the most volcanically active of the known solar system. If I were writing a SciFi novel I might describe it as follows;

‘Swells of lava extending farther than the eye could see - across the wide expanse of Loki Patera, a massive lake on this moon Io. The brightness caused by the lava seeming to shift from the glowing eyes of a predator to during the times the crust solidifies, the darkness of impending doom.’

A study was completed by researchers at UCBerkeley which reviewed images taken from Io on March 8th, 2015 just as Jupiter’s icy moon Europa passed in front of its volcanic one. This allowed the astronomers to capture differences in heat radiating from the volcanoes on Io because of the small amount of sunlight reflected by the surface of Europa in infrared wavelengths.

The size of the lake? 220 kilometers in diameter (126 miles). And its named after Thor’s adoptive brother, or the Norse god.


I will never cease to be amazed at the sort of things the scientists can advise us of. Such as the temperature. Lake Loki Patera varies from 270 degrees kelvin (that’s 26 in Fahrenheit) to 330 kelvins (134 in Fahrenheit). When taking notice of these temperatures, the next discovery was the overturn. What is Overturn? Overturn is something and thickens, falling into the liquid beneath it. This in turn causes a wave of hot magma to rise up and spread across the surface of the lake. So periodically the temperature varies as does the light given off by the lava lake.

Unfortunately the teaching moment ends there and all must wait until the next alignment with Europa. Of course that isn’t until 2021.

Friday, April 28, 2017

March for Science was 4/22/2017 – NOW let’s actively use science data?!


Strangely, there have been questions as to whether scientists can and should advocate for public policy. Honestly, they shouldn’t have to, but given the current ‘climate’ (pardon the usage of the word!), do they have an obligation to do so? I think so – if no one else will.


Obviously, scientists have the relevant data and the expertise to contribute to the all-important conversation(s) about public policy; although interestingly enough they risk the very funding that allows them to contribute intelligent ideas if they let us – the voters/public, know.  They have been placed in an interesting position by the current administration - they are being told they can’t communicate with anyone outside of the administration. (Source: e-mail sent by President Donald Trump’s administration to officials at EPA and Dept. of Agriculture.)


The “punishment” could be scientists who attempt to advocate may risk any public funding although many scientists have already lost their funding as the work topic was deemed out of bounds for the current administrations plan & beliefs. Maintaining public trust is imperative for scientists, both to be able to communicate public risks appropriately and to preserve public funding for research but alternatively, how much trust will the public have in them if they must keep quiet and yet when they go to the allowed people to disseminate, the scientific advice given is largely (or completely) ignored?


The Committee on Science, Space and Technology is the committee in the House of Representatives that presides over non-defense federal scientific R & D. The agencies included are: NASA, the Department of Energy, EPA, ATSDR, NSF, FAA, NOAA, NIST, FEMA, the U.S. Fire Administration, and USGS.


Representative Don Byer (D-Va.) is one who has become fed up with the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and what has been deemed as ‘anti-science nonsense’. With this in mind he has launched a project called the “FactCheck Project” and began partially as a result of a hearing on Climate Change on March 29, 2017 where Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) brought 3 climate change skeptics. Apparently he wanted the scientists to mirror his facts not rely on their facts. Representation by the 97% who ‘believe’ in Climate Change was handled by one person, Michael Mann – Climate Scientist at Penn State. Funny thing is the final result of the committees query; Are the roughly 97 percent of scientists correct in their consensus that it is real and that humans are the primary cause. It is inconceivable to me that the opinion of a few can beat out the scientific evidence that has survived peer reviews and many other manners that the scientific community puts evidence to the test so that we can consider it fact. Yes, sometimes fact one day gets expanded and apparently that is one of the arguments of deniers. I’m not going to go into each of the reasons that might occur but I will dare to say that it is not going to change the measurements of various gases etc. in the atmosphere and that is where the problem lies. Deal with the problem, argue if you want about where it comes from, but deal with the situation that is currently at hand as tomorrow will be too late!

There was a tweet that the House of Representative’s Science Committee sent out that seemed to mock Climate Alarmists. (below)



What this was referring to was not exactly what it expected as the tweet was based on a Briebart tweet which referred (erroneously) tp the following: 



Presently we are more accustomed than we would prefer to ‘alternative facts’ so perhaps we should just allow the first part to go by, but if we do, where do we come down on this?

A hearing title was the following: “Affirming Congress’ Constitutional Oversight Responsibilities: Subpoena Authority and Recourse for Failure to Comply with Lawfully Issued Subpoenas,” a mouthful, certainly, but it’s purpose was to lend credence to the committee’s investigative effort ExxonMobil. The attorney General of each of the following states - New YorkCalifornia, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands, to lok into the stories within InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times reports that express that Exxon scientists knew about the dangers of burning fossil fuels, even as the company worked to undermine climate science. As an investor in Exxon, I have always been supremely pleased that they seemed to understand Climate Change and also spend a good amount of money investigating the other options (vs. fossil fuels).


So you perhaps might be forgiven for misunderstanding the scientific process if you were say the Chairman of some obscure Congressional committee dealing with taxation or waste management. However is it  too much to expect that the Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology -Congressman Lamar Smith — should understand how science works?

So that we all understand, scientists carry out their research, discuss same research with results with colleagues, go through write up their results and finally submit them for publication. The editor of the scientific journal then takes the same paper and sends the paper to (name withheld for this step, usually) then reviews the evaluations of the research and with any criticism, returns the paper for required revisions. If these are addressed in the appropriate manner, the scientific journal editor can then decide that the paper is acceptable and publish it or continue to require more updates to the investigation. Rocket science? Not exactly.

So I am then struck by how an individual committee member can challenge the scientific community as if he knows better!

While not entirely related but speaks to another angle – the Pope, you know the pope – speaks (according to the catholic faith) infallibly and recognizes the apparently obvious fact that our climate is changing. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, actually said the following: “We should be good stewards of the earth God gave us” because climate change science “isn’t settled.” Odd that Inhofe invokes god, for which there is faith but no evidence, while remaining unconvinced of climate change, where there is an abundance of evidence but for which he has no faith.

The Pope, who is not a scientist, is simply acknowledging that the science is overwhelming and compelling, and so there is a moral obligation to act.

One final point; Science is acceptable by all EXCEPT when it refers to Climate Change. The current administration accepts the development of space, but apparently that science is different than accepting science that won’t allow the going into space and gleaning profits from resources located there

I don’t expect everything to be believed as that would be Utopia, but there are concerns that affect our borders, water that is raising and will ultimately cause 1000’s or even 10,000’s of refugees (some from the United States of America!) Basically affecting so many other areas that to not be concerned would seem to cause the USA to be less great!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

POINT of NO RETURN –Telescopes aim at a Black Hole

For decades we’ve been told what a black hole looks like and we have accepted that image as if it were fact. Now, finally, a telescope known as the Event Horizon Telescope might be changing all that. Called the EHT, it in reality is 8 telescopes located all around the world – from Mexico to Spain to Antarctica scientists will be casting their telescopes ‘eyes’ to Sagittarius A* , the supermassive black hole that lives in our neighborhood – kind of. It’s actually around 1600 or so light years from Earth.  


Black Holes are the sponge of space. They sop up gas, dust, and all sorts of debris. Supposedly light is trapped by a Black Holes pull as well. Sometimes this assertion has been brought to task versus observations but generally is an accepted ‘fact’. For those not as accepting though this glimpse will hopefully reveal the truth.


In order to track down the evasive truth of Sagittarius A*, a massive lens is reqired — a lens the size of the Earth. The technique is called very long baseline interferometry, the Event Horizon Telescope project is designed to link the ALMA observatory with all of the other such telescopes (Arizona, California, Hawaii, the South Pole and hopefully Greenland) and form a telescope that’s giant enough, with a high-enough resolution to see that black hole.


These radio telescopes are extremely sensitive. Sensitive enough that thin clouds are enough to complicate the chances of ALMA’s 66 antennas detecting tiny radiation waves from space. So with all the difficulties and all the data that will be collected, publication of this image may not happen until next year. But then we’ve waited this long – a little longer is no big deal.


You may recall last year’s astronomical discovery at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) that for the first time spacetime-warping gravitational waves that emanated from a collision of two black holes about 1.3 billion years ago were observed. The discovery was the best available evidence of a black hole’s intense gravity and radiation.

But we want more data. Taking an image of a black hole’s event horizon would take it a step further. Also a synthesized image from the telescope array would put test Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which predicted the existence of black holes, to the test. Scientists better understand the nature of black holes, how they work and how they shape galaxies and more importantly, that they truly exist.


Einstein’s equations might break down — at the edge of a black hole. At least that is the area if they do, they are most likely too!


Come on Einstein, I’m rooting for you!