Monthly Archives: July 2015

Science Thursday: July 30th, 2015

And we’re back! After a week of frolicking around Oshkosh for EAA Airventure 2015, seeing Jim Lovell and company speak about Apollo 13, and falling in love with Long-EZs, I am back in the real world (which, I might add, is much less exciting then the make believe one full of airplanes and astronauts.) Being back in the real world, I can write more editions of Science Thursday! (Wohoo!)

This week, we start off with some news about the International Space Station. Russia has formally committed to remain a partner in station operations through 2024. This is big news after recent relations between Russia and the West have been seemingly unstable. The European and Japanese space agencies, the two other large players with their own research modules on the station, have not committed to an extended station life yet, but the ESA is expected to do so sometime next year.

The NTSB has released a report regarding the crash of Space Ship 2 last October. The report, which can be found here, blamed the accident on the designer of SS2, Scaled Composites, for not doing enough human factors work in their design. They created a vehicle where it was possible for one human error to lead to a catastrophic break up of the vehicle, which is what occurred last October. So, while the copilot did mistakenly unlock the feathering mechanism early, the report blamed the designers of the vehicle for not putting any safeguards in place. So, watch for human factors job openings at Scaled Composites in the near future.

A bit of sad news: there is one less Northern White Rhino today than there was Sunday. The 31-year-old female animal named Nabire died at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic on Monday. Her death leaves only four Northern White Rhinos in existence, three females and one male. It is possible that there could still be a new birth, but moving the four animals to Kenya in 2009 in hopes that their natural habitat would facilitate breading.

Scientists have discovered an aurora for the first time outside of our solar system. The aurora was discovered around a brown dwarf some 18 lightyears away. The brown dwarf, which is not quite a star, but much larger than a planet, has auroras, but scientists are puzzled as to what is actually causing the auroras.

Finally, The solar system has faces. Quite a few of them actually. Some of them are on Pluto, like Mikey Mouse, some of them are on Mars, like that one everyone thought the government was making up or hiding or something (conspiracy theories don’t rise very high on my radar), the man on the moon, all those sorts of things. Anyway, this article goes about describing some of these faces (but it does go a bit whacky at the end.) Still a little fun though.

That’s it for this weeks edition of Science Thursday. Thanks for reading, and remember, only 63 days until The Martian comes out! See you next time.

Science Thursday: July 16th, 2015

Welcome to this week’s edition of Science Thursday after a week off last week. There’s really only one thing that anyone has been talking about this week, and last week, and that is Pluto. So let’s start there.

The New Horizons spacecraft successfully flew by Pluto on Tuesday, without crashing into it. This subsequently lead to what is now my favorite photo of a scientist ever (look at the guy in the middle) as well as a bunch of new data about Pluto. Including this┬árelatively high resolution photo of the has-been planet. (To all my fellow 90’s kids…get over it.) The probe also got some photos of Pluto’s moon Charon revealing some interesting features. It also lead to what will some day undoubtedly be well known ancient pop-culture references, including this xkcd what-if post, and this webcomic.

While everyone was busy looking at Pluto, the good ole’ folks down at the LHC discovered a new particle. The pentaquark, which was first theorized in the 1960s, like the Higgs boson, has been found. Which is good news for the world of theoretical things waiting to be discovered. I’ve just noticed that so far this week we have TWO things that involve pictures of scientists being happy about data. Which is really all scientists ever do. What this means exactly is still a little fuzzy for me, because I’m not a particle physicist, but it’s still really cool. If you would like to indulge yourself, here are the findings as published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

So the two weeks that science has been happening has also given us quite an emotional roller coaster regarding a miniature ice age. (Kind of like a real ice age, but for those little railroad towns that people with too much time on their hands make.) First, there was going to be a mini ice-age in the 2030s. Then, there wasn’t. Ok, so it was a little more just a bump in the road, but when you’re talking about ice ages in our lifetime, you should probably be sure. (Cough cough…talkin’ to you Valentina Zharkova…cough cough) Anyways. Professor Zharkova posited that two low points in the cycles of different layers of the sun would coincide in about 15 years, and the Earth would see temperatures that were last reached in the last mini ice-age during the mid 1600s. However, while the Sun does in fact have cycles, it turns out that the little mini ice-age of the 17th century, during the Mounder Minimum was in part caused by a bunch of volcanic eruptions among other things, and lasted much longer than the upcoming low point is predicted to last. So, no mini ice ages in the next 15 years.

In other news, NASA has named the astronauts who will be crewing the Boeing and SpaceX commercial crew launches. The fantastic four comprise of Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley, and Sunita Williams. The four will fly Boeing’s CST-100 capsule and SpaceX’s crewed Dragon. The commercial crew transportation program will allow the United States to be able to launch it’s own astronauts to the ISS without relying on the Russian space agency to do so. Crewed test flights could start as early as 2017.

Finally this week: worm sperm. Actually, worm sperm that’s 50 million years old. Scientists in Antarctica have discovered 50-million-year-old sperm cells, which are the oldest known sperm cells ever to be found. The cells were found in a fossilized sex cocoon made by the worms. It is believed this is how the cells survived, because little sperms are so fragile and die quickly. Last year, 17-million-year-old shrimp sperm cells were discovered in a cave in Queensland. Those 17-million-year-old cells had fossilized nuclei, which is also believed to be the case for the 50-million-year-old worm sperm.

That’s all for this weeks edition of Science Thursday. Thanks for reading, and good luck trying to get the phrase ‘worm sperm’ out of your head. It’s deceptively catchy…see you next time.

Science Thursday: July 2, 2015

Welcome to this week’s edition of Science Thursday!!! This week, well, this week we have some happy things to talk about, some disappointing things to talk about, and lasers.

First, some happy things. If you were outside the past couple of nights, and looked up, as people often do, and saw two really bright dots in the sky, you saw Venus and Jupiter. (The bigger dot was Venus, and the smaller one was Jupiter…probably). Conjunctions, which is the term for two planets appearing close to each other in the sky, actually happen quite regularly, and are documented online in several places including this Wikipedia article. This particular conjunction is special because of how close the plants are to each other in the night sky. If you saw it, then good for you. If you didn’t, don’t worry, there are going to be more soon.

Some disappointing news, which you probably already know. SpaceX had a launch failure this week. This is the first failure in the 19 missions that the Falcon 9 rocket has flown. The mission was carrying supplies to the International Space Station, and is the third ISS resupply mission to fail in the past eight months. The ISS crew is going to be alright; they carry enough supplies with them so that three mission can fail and nothing bad happens to them. The failure does come at a pretty dynamic time in SpaceX’s growth, however. While the company no doubt is going to find the issue, fix it, and move on (which is what usually happens in spaceflight), other people who might not be so used to rockets, or used to the risks that are understood by those who are used to rockets, might not understand this in the short term. Here is a thoughtful report done by Jeff Foust posted on The Space Review that tells of the different repercussions that this launch failure will have regarding several different members of the space community. Space News also reported on the launch customers who were hoping to go flying on SpaceX rockets later this year, and will probably be affected by Sunday’s mishap, and the subsequent investigation.

Rosetta has found some sinkholes on a comet!!! Specifically, on 67P/C-G, which it has been orbiting for the past several months for those of you living under an actual rock. This is kind of cool, and also kind of freaky, because sinkholes are kind of freaky, as denoted by…well any picture of a sinkhole ever. These sinkholes are as large as 200m wide and 200m deep. (That’s about 650 feet for the Americans in the crowd.) In other words, pretty freakin’ big. According to the BBC article, these sinkholes are important because they contain little “goosebumps” that are thought to be the original building blocks of the comet.

The New Horizons probe is going to fly by Pluto in July 14th, after a last minute adjustment. The mission’s controllers, based at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, directed the probe to execute a 23 second thruster burn that will ensure that it’s trajectory is just so for the flyby of the dwarf planet.

Well, there was an extra second in all of your lives this week. Yes ladies and gentlebots, Tuesday night, right after 23:59:59, instead of becoming July 1 at 00:00:00, it in fact stayed June 30 for another second, 23:59:60. Which you might not have noticed…you were probably sleeping…but your laptop probably noticed, and so did you cell phone, and so did all the serves that servers you fucking Facebook and Twitter and all of that shit, and all the servers that hold your credit card data at your credit card company, and things like that. This is evidently a subject of some contention, because leap seconds have to be added to the calendar irregularly, due to the nature of the Earth’s rotation and a whole bunch of other variables. This time though, it looks like the world is still in the same number of pieces it was in before the leap second occurred, which is a good thing.

Finally, as promised, lasers. Specifically, Mark Zuckerberg’s internet lasers. Mark Zuckerberg wants to bring the internet to places where it isn’t using lasers. Which, almost asnwers the question posed in this YouTube video.

That’s that for this weeks edition of Science Thursday. Thanks for watching. Reading. I meant reading. Read you next time.

i> UPDATE – Friday July 3, 9:30 ET
The Russians have successfully launched a resupply mission to the ISS at 00:55 Eastern time. The Progress 60 P (M-28M) mission will reach the ISS on Sunday. While astronauts and cosmonauts are a bunch of bad-ass boys and girls who are icy cool under pressure…and who (probably) are not counting their chickens, now that I think about it, the fact is someone has launched something to the ISS without any disintegrations or tumbles, which is a good thing.

UPDATE – Sunday July 5, 9:36 ET
Progress 60 (M-28M) has successfully docked with the ISS, giving the crew actual access to all of the supplies inside. This is the first time the crew has recieved supplies after two consecutive resupply mission failures. The next resupply attempt will be made by the Japanese in August.