Tag Archives: NASA

Wonderful Whitson

Happy Labor Day everyone! Today in the USA we honor American workers with a day off for (most) everyone. On this 2017 edition of the day, I would like to pay special props to an American whose work is literally out of this world.

Peggy Whitson has been logging some major merits in her career as an astronaut for NASA. She recently returned to Earth via Soyuz capsule to Kazakhstan after working the past 288 days aboard the International Space Station. After her most recent stint in space, Peggy owns records for being the first two-time female commander of ISS, the oldest woman in space (57), the most practiced woman to take a stroll in space with 10 space walks, oh, and now she has spent more time in space than any other American. In total over three missions onboard ISS, Whitson has accrued 665 days in orbit, longer than any woman in history. There are a few Russian cosmonauts who have stayed in space longer, including Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin who returned with her.

Whitson is a biochemist who started with NASA in 1989. She has been conducting research on a number of things, perhaps most notably on antibodies in zero-G. She has been awarded numerous medals from NASA, including their Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2006, and even served as Chief Astronaut for a time. Originally hailing from Iowa, she now lives in Houston, Texas where NASA is headquartered. She said that any trouble she may have adjusting back to life with greater gravity is nothing compared to the hardships of those affected by Hurricane Harvey, which includes some of her fellows at Mission Control.

Whitson may no longer venture into the cosmos, but she is still planning on working at NASA on the ground for spaceflight missions, as well as some other projects in the future that may involve a certain red planet.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, then send them my way at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Float on back here next week for more fun.

Shine on you American Space Ninja,

Alex

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Totality Awesome

Even though I was not within the range of full totality for the total solar eclipse that worked its way over North America last Monday, I still was treated to quite a show as the moon moved almost entirely in the path of the sun to create the unique view of a cookie with a bite taken out of it that I enjoyed staring at through my eclipse glasses for about an hour as the moon progressed across the sunshine. I made the most of my watching experience by posting up in my front yard dressed in a Star Wars shirt that reads “Join the Dark Side” with a dark beer (porters are made for winter to be sure, but Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald is quality all year) all the while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I think I witnessed the closest moment to totality during “Time”.

For anyone else who was not able to see totality in person due to being out of the path or having overcast skies within it, check out this video that does a great job of explaining the dynamics of total solar eclipses:

I’m excited because the next such eclipse to grace North America will pass directly over Ohio in April of 2024, which means I’m bound to be able to infringe on someone’s hospitality to see it if even I move away somewhere else between now and then. That eclipse will also pass over parts of Mexico and Canada, as well as Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, New York, and Maine, and slivers of Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Vermont within the United States. Learn more about it on NASA’s site here. It may be seven years away, but it will be here before you know it!

In regards to this most recent eclipse, Google and Cal-Berkeley worked together on a project to compile pictures taken by people within the totality path to make a short video of the view of totality from the US locations that got to see the brilliant glow of the sun’s corona light up the darkening sky. You can watch that video on Eclipse Megamovie here. As it has no sound, I recommend syncing it up with an appropriate song that fits the time pretty nicely:

Thanks for reading and watching! Feel free to send any questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Orbit back here next week for more fun where everything under the sun is in tune…

But the sun is eclipsed by the moon,

Alex

 

Total Eclipse of the Part… of the World I Live In

What are you doing? Don’t look at me; look at the sun! It’s not often that I can say that in earnest sincerity, but in case you’ve been hiding away or stranded in the wilderness with no network connectivity (it would be more embarrassing if you were stranded with it), then allow me to tell you that there is a total solar eclipse – where the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun – making its way across North America on this hopefully clear skied August 21, 2017. So grab your properly produced eclipse viewing glasses and step outside to gaze upward when the moon makes its lineup with the big, burning, bright ball in the sky in your area. For more information on that and more regarding this awesome astronomical event, check out NASA’s website here. The next time such a sight will occur again for this section of the Earth will be in 2024, so make sure to make the most of it now because who wants to have to wait for seven more years?

Plan your lunch break accordingly,

Alex

Astronauts Without Borders

Once upon a time not so long ago, the United States and Russia had a high-profile meeting that was a top news story. Unlike today though, this was not a shady circumstance that cast doubt on the inner dealings of each respective government, but rather helped to improve the relationship between two nations that had been engaged in a constant and bitter show of one-upmanship with nuclear proliferation. I’m talking about the Cold War. Nevertheless, 42 years ago on this date, July 17, 1975, the United States and Russia, then called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, set aside their differences, at least as far as the scientific community was concerned. As the preeminent superpowers of the world and the leaders in space exploration, the US and USSR arranged for an historic high five within the vacuum of space.

Contrary to what silly stories of moon crab monsters would tell you, there actually was an Apollo 18 mission. NASA had launched seven manned lunar landing missions with its Apollo program, successfully landing six of them (Apollo 13 had a bit of a snafu).  However, the final moon mission, Apollo 17, was not the last time a Saturn V rocket shot an Apollo craft into orbit. Apollo 18 was launched in conjunction with the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 19.

After there establishment in orbit, the two craft were lined up and then linked up, marking the first time that two craft from different countries and space agencies docked. The mission was orchestrated to serve as practice for potential rescues in the future.

The ABC coverage is pretty good at explaining the mission, but here’s the link if you want to watch the docking without the newscaster speaking.

Leave it to the men and women who work in science and especially the students of space to show us how meaningless political squabbles can be. We are all one species on the same Earth, and it is missions like this one that help us to realize that no matter whether we are on opposite sides of the world, or floating above it, we are at our best when we work together to advance our mutual pursuit of greater understanding of our place in space.

Thanks for reading and watching. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, launch them into my inbox at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to orbit back here next week for more out of this world fun.

I’m sure I’ve written that before and I don’t care,

Alex

Space Butt Joke

Happy Holi everyone! Also happy early Pi Day and the one with all the green stuff! Have an enjoyable and safe celebration of all you care to. I am kicking things off today, but not for the aforementioned Hindu spring festival of love (go ask Google). I am instead hoisting a cold one for the 236th anniversary of the discovery of Uranus!

The seventh planet in our solar system is the third largest behind Jupiter and Saturn respectively, although not the third heaviest. That weighty honor belongs to its slightly heavier and farther-from-the-sun neighbor Neptune (slightly is a relative term). Uranus was official discovered on March 13, 1781 by British astronomer William Herschel. This dude was an astronomy all-star (pun very much intended). Herschel is most well known for his determination that Uranus was a planet, but he also discovered some moons of Uranus and Saturn, did some studies on Mars’ seasonal shifts and rotation, was the first President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and, oh yeah, fucking found out that infrared radiation was a thing! William Herschel discovered a planet and a form of electromagnetic radiation on the light spectrum! I found $20 in a parking lot once, but something tells me his stuff will probably be longer remembered.

While Herschel was the first to conclude that Uranus was definitely a planet, he was not the first to spot it in the sky. Uranus can actually be seen with the naked eye and it is the farthest planet that can be seen without help from a optical device. It was the first planet official discovered with a telescope, and was the first planet to be discovered in modern history (as in this side of the Renaissance), however, it was noted by other previous astronomers on their surveys of the night sky, perhaps even possibly cataloged as far back as before the common era. Why then do we give credit to Herschel? Well, mainly because everyone who took a look at Uranus (shut up!) before him thought it was one of the many stars in the cosmos. Herschel, with the aid of his telescope was able to figure out the true identity of the shining celestial body, although, even he first assumed it was a comet, and not a planet. Hey, we all goof sometimes; at least he figured it out eventually.

As was the case with Uranus, modern technology (again, modern in the sense of being refined post-Renaissance) helped to uncover the existence of Neptune, Uranus’ next door neighbor. As a matter of fact, Neptune was not seen, but was first discovered because it was tugging on Uranus’ orbit (stop that childish laughter!) and the pull was correctly determined to be from another planet. We have since gotten a good look at both worlds with the aid of even more modern technology, specifically the NASA probe Voyager 2, which is the only spacecraft to have whizzed by either of the ice giants. That’s what Uranus and Neptune are considered, by the way. As both planets are massive and gaseous (all right, c’mon!) they are classified as giant planets, or jovian planets – Jove is another name for the Roman god Jupiter, which you’ll recall is the namesake of our solar system’s largest planet. Nevertheless, not all giant planets are gas giants. Gas giants, like Jupiter and Saturn, are composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, the lightest elements. Ice giants are mostly heavier elements like oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen, none of which are astoundingly heavy, but are heavier than hydrogen and helium.

Uranus is comprised predominantly of water, methane, and ammonia, but don’t hold out hope for the presence of water being potential source of life as the temperature is too low. But hey! It’s axis of rotation is retrograde – as is Venus’ – which means that it’s north and south poles are along the Uranus equivalent of Earth’s equator meaning Uranus spins horizontally! That’s why its rings are shown to be perpendicular to traditional rotation planets with rings like Saturn. One of Uranus’ rotations (a Uranian day) is only 17 hours, but its orbit around the sun (a Uranian year) is roughly 84 Earth years.

Thanks for reading! If you want to learn more about Uranus (keep your composure for one more paragraph!) then check out the NASA site where I got much of my information. Send any questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com, and orbit back here next week for more out of this world fun! That is not a promise of another space post… at least not immediately.

Urectum,

Alex

It’s a TRAPPIST-1!

It has been a week of star-studded news. Yes, there was that insane debacle at last night’s Academy Awards that saw the wildest finish to any Oscars presentation when the wrong movie was announced as the Best Picture. Actually, the wrong movie has been announced as Best Picture lots of times, as I discussed a few years ago, but in this case the movie that official won the award was only announced after the award had already been presented to the producers of another movie who were halfway through their acceptance speeches! For a fun and thorough wrap-up of all the action, check out the annual Screen Junkies Grouchies award show.

As bonkers as that was, and as interesting as I am in the goings-on of the film world, I am much more intrigued by what’s happening with another world. Seven, in fact. Moonlight is the least of my concerns when starlight and planetary transits creating shadows that our space telescopes can see are occurring.

For decades, numerous astronomers have been tirelessly searching for other worlds like ours throughout the universe. These exoplanets as they are called when they are outside of our solar system, are the key to further observing what the most common planets are like and how ours stacks up in the grand cosmic scene. Additionally, the search for Earth-like worlds give us a greater look at areas that may have the right pieces to harbor life. This can mean that we may discover the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on one of these worlds, and/or find another world suitable for future human habitation.

Last week, NASA revealed that such a solar system had been found with not one, but seven – yes, seven! – Earth-like planets orbiting around a small star. Three of the seven exoplanets are within the habitable zone for humans, also known as the Goldilocks Zone because its conditions are not too hot or cold, but just right for humans to live within. Most exciting of all though, this star system is but 12 parsecs, or about 39 lightyears away! Now while this is about 250 trillion with a “T” miles away from us, in relation to the massive scope of the universe as we know it, this is extremely close. A lightyear is as its name implies, the unit of distance that it takes light to travel in the span of one year. Light is the fastest moving thing we know in the observable universe, clocking in at around 299,792,458 meters per second, or 671 million with an “M” miles per hour. That’s pretty darn quick, and we couldn’t hope to match it with our current technology, and probably never will manufacture a real-life Millennium Falcon to exceed it, but it is very much within the realm of possibility for a spacecraft that can manage one-fifth (1/5) the speed of light to be made. In fact, such technology is currently being worked on.

Is this the dawning of the Age of Aquarius? Make no mistake, it will take some time for us to reach the recently discovered star, called TRAPPIST-1 after the terrestrial telescope in Chile that first found it in the constellation Aquarius. However, the great potential that this system and the exoplanets within it hold for the future of our species is tremendously exciting. I won’t get to go there in my lifetime, but maybe the great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren I’m not planning on having will start to see humans making their way toward landing on the TRAPPIST exoplanets, perhaps with the chance to colonize them. Much sooner within my lifetime, as in the next few years, we will probably know what the composition of the exoplanets’ atmospheres are made of and whether or not they contain oxygen, a biological marker that heralds the presence of living organisms. It at least seems likely that the exoplanets, which we know are rocky like our world and not gaseous like Jupiter, contain water, the liquid form of which is the necessary component to life, as you may have heard before. Who knows? Perhaps we may even have definitive proof of life outside of Earth unearthed within our remaining spins around the star we know and love best. Hopefully it’s less hostile than what Private Hudson experienced on LV-426. Game over, man! Rest in peace, Bill.

Thanks for reading! If you want to learn much more about the TRAPPIST-1 system than I can tell you then check out the ever reliable NASA webpage for continuing updates, as well as the beautiful and information-filled TRAPPIST-1 site found here. There is a great set of pages that detail everything from what we know of each exoplanet so far, and the timeline of the discovery. Be sure to check out the cute and colorful comic on the “Stories” page that features an astronomer rabbit explaining the find to her panda pal in terms that make it accessible (and fun) for us all. Send any questions or comments my way to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Make your way back here in a little less than one TRAPPIST-1f year (nine days!) for more fun and informative stuff.

To TRAPPIST-1 and Beyond!

Alex

Love and Science: A Match Made in the Creative Cosmos

Every once in a while I am reminded that love is the strongest emotional force in the universe (or multiverse; can’t discount that possibility especially with today’s focus), and one way that this is frequently presented is in film. Okay, it is so frequently presented in film that it essentially bashes us over the head with this message to the point that we almost ignore it. We hear so often that love is grand that we take it for granted. Love = Awesome is not a meaningful conclusion when diluted by the constant exclamation of this by every waking soul.

And yet… still I am reminded of what an unbelievably brilliant thing/feeling/power/whatever love is. Most recently I was reminded after a weekend with friends where I started off seeing the joy in my companions’ eyes as the night began. I truly realized what it all meant though as their pain, strain, anger, frustration, and fatigue started to emerge. Long story short, I returned to my area’s annual German-American Festival with the same and additional company as I went to it with last year when I had too much liquid fun and spent an unplanned night at a friend’s house. This year the plan was for me and others to stay at that friend’s house so that we could more completely and responsible enjoy the drunken debauchery, but I strayed from this plan. Fear not, I did not foolishly and irresponsibly drive home under the influence, but I did drive home. At the festival, we met some other friends and associates and as the group I came with made for the exit, I remained with another group I did not care as much about pretending to be far more intoxicated than I was in the hopes of unearthing an earthshaking revelation because a man deserves to know when the woman next to him is in the second trimester of her pregnancy with his child and still hasn’t shared this information with him. My brevity is hardly that, but by this point you are probably more intrigued by the ballad of my weekend.

I never fished out a confession (though the seed is planted and a question will be asked soon), although I did manage to piss off all of my friends I talked to that night, except the gay guys who did wonders for my self-esteem – thank you, Jeremy, I realize now that I am super cute! Everyone else left with some justified sourness towards me though:

  • My friends whose place I parked at were angry I was not going to stay with them and concerned I would get drunk and drive my car.
  • My friend who is still recovering from her decade-long only relationship ending a few months ago was sad that I shirked off her drunken advances and ignored our other friends’ pleas to stay at their house.
  • My friend who could not come until much later that I assumed would not come actually did by which point my phone had died leading to a number of confused, unanswered, and ultimately angry texts wondering where I was and why I wasn’t responding.
  • My coworker was certainly less than amused that I poured her boyfriend a continuous flow of Dunkel and questions as to why she was only drinking water and Gatorade.

In the end, I left alone and got physically lost in addition to the emotional and familial disconnect I was feeling. I did not have the use of the technological device that allows me to more easily navigate the map of my social life, as well as the physical path back to my car. I actually walked up and down the same street multiple times and passed by the one I needed to take a couple times before I got my bearings and got to my car. I left an empty pitcher and a written thank you at my friends’ door, but I should have left an apology for my separation and deception.

You’re probably feeling deceived by me now considering the title doesn’t point to an outpouring of emotion from my weekend excursion; that I’m just as bad as those fuckers who title Cracked videos. The point of this all, besides being healthy expression for me, is that I was again reminded of the power of love. Not by a fun, positive encounter, not by a movie, and not by Huey Lewis and the News, but by an occasion that saw me disappoint people who love me. The responses were all different, yet similar, and painful to endure. I coped, not by seeking these people out to mend our newly arisen issues, but by looking back to that screen that has shown me time and time again that love is the bestest. Solace was specifically brought to me from a friend I’ve never met, but I think you should check out his stuff because I really like what he does. His name is Mikey, and he likes movies.

Wonderfully critical in all the right and entertaining ways, Mikey nails the underlying themes that we miss in both blockbuster and obscure movies. Okay, yeah, he calls Donald (John Lithgow’s character) Cooper’s (Matthew McConaughey) father when he is in fact his father-in-law, but that’s as cosmically small a gripe as my annoyance with my friends who said they’d join the fray Saturday and stayed home. My admiration for Christopher Nolan’s brilliant space-based exploration of the end of humanity and one of the most beautiful father-daughter relationships ever put into story has been made clear in the past, but I’ve never discussed the critical point that is the role of love in this film. And I won’t because, again, Mikey nailed it. Suffice it to say, love is necessary in our every action, and science – something else I have not hidden my admiration for – is no exception. While we must remain objective when conducting study, we cannot become completely closed off as to why we are doing it. Love, passion, regard for one aspect of the pursuit of knowledge or another; we must  keep these in mind as well, careful never to be swayed too strongly by any, but always aware of the role they play. Gravity may be one of the most powerful physical force, but love is, as I said, the most powerful emotional force in the cosmos. Sure, they are places where gravity is not as strong, and love is not as present, but those are examples of areas where there is a lack of the respective force compared to others.

Mikey’s latest looks at cinema is the Interstellar video I included, but he has many others, including the first episode of his show I ever watched, which featured my favorite movie of last year:

Thanks for reading. Be sure to check out Movies with Mikey on his channel Chainsawsuit Original, and be sure to come back here next Monday for more fun of all sorts. I can be reached at monotrememadness@gmail.com in the meantime. Stay scientific, and may there always be love in your heart.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light,

Alex