Our Pale Blue Dot

Well, I guess we made it. Another 4 months rotating around the sun. Another semester of college in the books. I often see this point in the year as a great time to reflect on what we’ve learned and if there is anything to take away from this semester it’s that we are truly a pale blue dot floating in what we deem the universe. I’ll let Carl Sagan explain:

 

We really are a pale blue dot. Drifting in our galaxy alone. It’s pretty amazing to think that so much has occurred on our tiny speck in space. It’s humbling. Everything we have ever known, everything our parents, grandparents and ancestors have ever experienced has occurred on an Earth that is 8000 miles across. It’s amazing to me that this measly planet has the only source of life that we have discovered. Is there potential for life to be out there? Absolutely. When it comes down to it, the chances of us discovering life from another planet, another solar system, another galaxy, at least in our lifetime, are slim to none. Does that stop of us from looking? Of course not. We haven’t found anything so far, yet we try harder. We sent the Kepler satellite into orbit with the sole purpose of finding planets and potentially habitable ones, around other stars. I am confident that once we find evidence there is potential for life, we will not be far off actually discovering life.

Taking an astronomy course has given me a completely new perspective on life. Not just how inconsequential everything on this pale blue dot is to the greater Milky Way, but how we need to do everything we can to preserve our great planet because we alone can make it prosper or destroy it. We are a speck in space and time and in this moment, we should be focusing on doing everything we can to take care of our planet, each other and in the words of Carl Sagan “cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Thanks for a great semester.

Noonway,

Ned

Pluto’s Kind Heart

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Via WIRED (Article) Direct Link to Picture

 

Pluto has been a topic of fascination for astronomers for a long time now. With the recent flyby of the New Horizons Spacecraft, a new image of Pluto has captivated the world. Pluto has a heart. Well not actually a heart but a region that looks like a heart! I guess Pluto is really trying to send its love to us so we can let it be a planet once again. I mean come on, why do we need to be demoting Pluto to dwarf-planet status? What has it done to us to deserve this demotion especially with the love it’s trying to show us!

On a more serious note, “Pluto’s Heart” is a region called the Tombaugh Regio. Alan Stern, who is the New Horizons Principal Investigator, believes that part of this region know as Sputnik Planum was created from a massive impact with an asteroid 10 kilometers across. To put that in perspective, that’s an asteroid the size of Manhattan smashing into the earth. Moreover, they have found evidence of glacial flows around the edges of this basin, which may provide evidence that Pluto, which was thought to have no internal heat, may have geological activity and thus possibly internal heat! A lot of questions are still to be answered but this evidence is some of the first that shows there is more to Pluto than what meets the eye.

More information can be found here:

 

 

The Martian – Hollywood exaggeration or accurate?

Yes, I’m super behind on my movie watching but I finally watched “The Martian” over the weekend and wow did it absolutely spark my interest in space travel and the feasibility of living on Mars for months including growing your own food…what? By the way, if you haven’t seen it yet stop reading this immediately and go watch it. It’s completely worth it and this post will spoil it for you.


 

First off, The Martian does a great job and gets some stuff right, but then again this is science fiction and so there has to be some fictional things but what “The Martian” does is not over exaggerate a ton of things making almost all of it very believable. One blatant thing that they screwed up was the storm at the beginning that stranded the astronaut on Mars after he was hit by the communication tower that the wind knocked over. The dust storm certainly could occur but not to the level it was dramatized because of the incredibly thin atmosphere Mars has. So the storm couldn’t have happened, however, a lot of other things they got right.

For instance, all the orbital dynamics and the time it would take to travel between Mars and Earth was completely dead on and one scientist even acclaimed the movie for doing the computations to determine how long the trips would take. On top of this, the slingshot the Hermes Spacecraft undertook around Earth to head back to Mars was entirely feasible as gravity assisted speed boosts are used to help satellites obtain more speed all the time.

The last two things I wanted to talk about was the ability to grow potatoes on Mars and taking off from mars in a deconstructed rocket. After doing research, I found out that the way Watney grew potatoes was entirely feasible as Martian soil can sustain food growth especially with using feces as fertilizer and obtaining water the way he did, so, in essence, his ability to grow food on Mars is plausible.

Last, what I thought was most ridiculous, was when Watney basically stripped the rocket of its nose cone and other portals so he was essentially flying into space in an open cockpit. I thought there was absolutely no way this could happen. Well, it sort of is and sort of is not feasible. I say this because currently we do not have the technology to take off from Mars because NASA has absolutely no idea how to launch a rocket from Mars at the current point in time so, in that case, it is not possible. However, the fact that the windows are off is potentially possible because the atmosphere is so thin, by the time friction (which would develop heat and thus require the heat shield to protect against the atmosphere) played a factor, it would be negligible. Therefore, it is plausible to launch a spacecraft like that.

All in all, “The Martian” does probably the best job yet of abiding to science when creating a science fiction movie and it was applauded by many scientists as well as checked by NASA to prove it was mostly valid despite a few snafus. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would strongly suggest you go see it immediately.

Sources: Guardian, Time MagazineIFLScience

Historical Astronomers in Context

Isaac Newton (Jan 4, 1643 – Mar 31, 1727) Accomplishments

  • Isaac Newton’s big contribution to Astronomy was the development of the Three Laws of Motion that applied to how everything in this universe moved. He developed the three laws after examining fellow astronomer, Johannes Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion. The laws include: “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force,” Force=Mass*Acceleration, and “For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.” The important thing about these laws is that they applied to everything. In addition, Newton created the law of Universal Gravitation, which describes how every mass attracts every other mass by a certain force along a line that intersects both masses.

Historical Events:

  1. In 1682, Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn. This was a big thing happening in America as the Quakers were separating from the other settlers of the New World, which would become America. (World History 1600s)
  2. From 1701-14, the war of Spanish Succession occurred between France and Spain that was the result of Louis XIV’s actions to attempt to expand French Power. (World History 1700s)

Historical Figure

  1. Louis XIV (1638-1715)Louis XIV was important because he was one of the absolute monarchs of France that attempted to bring France under rule of one cohesive government with him at the top. He created a centralized administration with a middle class at the base while attempting to unify the religion of France as well as construction the Versailles Palace to show his extreme wealth and dominance over the French people.

Reflection:

I think it is important to realize that when most astronomers were making significant discoveries and contributions to the field of Astronomy, there was a lot going on in the rest of the world and that it is important to remember the greater context of global politics and events. The worst thing we can do is to pretend we are in a bubble when looking at history and purposefully ignoring what is going on around the world when Newton is developing his three laws. Also, these men face persecution because many of their discoveries were so radical that most governments and religions would not accept them and therefore, punish, banish, or kill those who released them.