Titan’s Peaks

Mountains have always been a source of fascination for me. I climbed my first 14er, Mt. Yale (Elevation 14,199 ft.), when I was in middle school. Hopefully one day I can return to Colorado to climb more as well as many other mountains in this world. One of my favorite mountains is Mount Amiata in Tuscany and our property there overlooks the mountain as you can see in this picture I took below.

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Mount Amiata, 12.28.2015, 5:19 pm Copyright Ned Bowen, 2015

Anyways, when I found out there are mountains on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, I was intrigued. When I found out they are ice mountains, I wanted to know all about them. The highest peak is found within the mountain ridges known as the Mithrim Montes, named after the mountain range in Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings. The peak is 10,948 feet, which rivals some of the mountains on Earth. You can see them below:

 

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Source: Gizmodo

 

It’s interesting because I often never think about other planets having geological features like we do here on Earth. The only pictures we really see are from space and just show a circular planet with some markings of geological activity but you get no understanding of the scale of these mountain ranges. It just goes to show how most planets and moons have major elevation changes like Earth that allow us to study their surfaces by comparing them to ours as well as discovering the underlying geological activity of the planet/moon. The universe is awesome.

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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:

 

 

Gravity has waves?

Admittedly, I am late on the whole gravitational waves discovery, however I think that this video above is probably the best explanation as to what gravitational waves are and how scientists actually managed to find evidence for the waves.

The way that scientists actually discovered the waves fascinated me most in all the of news surrounding gravitational waves. Einstein discovered, through the use of math, that these waves do exist and that they stretch and compress any object that they pass through so we are human rubber bands. Well, not really. We will never see this stretching and compressing as it occurs at an atomic level, less than an atomic diameter. Which, is nice to know, because I don’t want to be constantly stretched and compressed like a rubber band. Now even if they are proven in math we have never had evidence of these waves in real life until now. And how they discovered it is fascinating.

They took lasers positioned tangent to each other in two, 2.5-mile-long evacuated pipes and had them combine to create an interference pattern that highly depends on the distance between the two lasers. Now, what allowed them to find the gravitational wave is as the wave passed by the earth it stretched one laser and compressed the other altering the interference pattern they created when combined backed together. When the wave passed the earth, it altered the interference pattern and alas we have evidence of gravitational waves. The device that they developed to discover the waves is truly amazing.

Now I’m just waiting for someone to make a song out of the sound byte that the collision of 2 black holes made leading to the discovery of waves.

Solar Storms

Who knew there were actually storms on the surface of the earth? Well, they aren’t the storms that we are used on earth. Actually, they are quite different. Storms on the sun occur when magnetic fields throughout the sun passing through sun spots and prominences spontaneously shift dramatically. The most known of these storms are solar flares, which are shown above. A solar flare is when X-rays and charged particles are discharged from the inner sun into space and end up reaching most planets including our own. One theory behind these flares is that they occur when the magnetic fields become incredibly tangled up that they cannot bear the tension of magnetism and as a result they break and reshape into a simpler pattern, creating a huge discharge of material from the sun.

So what do these huge solar flares mean for people on earth? We are able to spot them and they actually end up reaching earth a few days later. When they do hit earth, the X-rays are absorbed by our atmosphere and create strong auroras, which are the spectacular light shows that occur in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately these coronal mass ejections, which is the formal name of the particles these major solar flares give off, can also disrupt earth’s own magnetosphere, which causes problems to our power grid and radio communications. Solar flares, while they are beautiful in pictures and video and create for amazing aurora in the sky, can create many problems for our electrical systems and technology. The amount of technology will only increase in the next century so developing ways to protect technology from these flares is very important to protect our electrical grid.

 

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

Why do we have tides?

Today I want to talk about tides! Above is this video of Clovelly, England and the drastic tide that they experience day in and day out, especially when it is spring tide, meaning the moon and sun’s tidal forces line up to create even more drastic tidal forces. What is amazing about that video is how the entire harbor empties during Spring tide and it’s actually completely a result of the sun and moon, objects that are thousands of kilometers away from us! Now what is actually causing these tides? Well it’s caused by the gravitational forces between Earth and the Sun and Moon. Essentially the gravitational force is different across the earth as the side closest to the moon and/or sun has a stronger attraction compared to the far side. Therefore, the difference between the attraction on opposite sides of the earth create what is known as a tidal force. This tidal force is essentially a stretching force that pulls the earth in the direction of the moon or sun. This is illustrated in the image below.

 

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NOAA

 

We witness this tidal force most in the oceans because liquid is most easily affected by gravitational forces but the land moves as well, only a couple centimeters during spring tide, but still it moves! The entire sphere of the early is being stretched towards the moon or sun. Now, because of the distance to the moon, it has about double the effect on tidal forces the sun has but when they work in combination, which is known as spring tide, the force is strong enough to empty the harbor at Clovelly at low tide and be almost overflowing at high tide. This drastic distance is created by gravitational forces from objects hundreds of thousands of kilometers away. That’s pretty cool if I do say so myself.

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.