No one can shoot a satellite down!

Was the title provocative enough for you? For the past several days headlines all over the web have read “US to shoot down satellite.” Ok, first off, that satellite is on its way down no matter what. That would be the problem. It doesn’t actually need shot “down.” Second, after it gets nailed by whatever our government and military, in their wisdom, decide to fire at it, the satellite is going to hopefully smash apart into a bazillion little pieces, and some of those pieces will end up going up, while others stay in orbit, so in reality we are shooting the satellite in all directions. An accurate, and still fantastic, headline should read, “US plans to blast satellite into little bits” or “US plans to blast...

Read More

Mercury & Venus: Understanding hot rocks & Greenhouse gases

The latest episode of The Universe focused on our solar system’s hottest two planets: Mercury and Venus. In looking at each of these worlds, scientists are faced with Sun related issues no other planet has: we can never study these planets when they are high in the sky well after sunset (the ideal time to study any celestial object), and any space probe we send to them must be heat shielded in the extreme. While a quick look at the lists of latest space missions shows that NASA and ESA do throw things at these planets now and then, it is clear that easier outer solar system targets are much more popular planetary proves. One has to ask, all because Mars is hansom and popular, why should he get all the attention? While one might say (tongue throughly planted...

Read More

Panspermia is in the Air

Panspermia is in the Air

Tonight I watched the latest installment of The History Channel’s “The Universe.” The week’s episode focused on Spaceship Earth (which re airs Sunday night). This episode addressed many different aspects of the Earth’s formation, how it gained a moon, and how the Earth+Moon system was able to support the formation and evolution of life. Along the way, the touched on some of my favorite elements of Earth science, specifically: how comets have carried water to Earth, the sharing of rocks (and possibly life) between planets, and global warming.

For some strange reason, the ideas of moving life around the solar system on rocks / comets / other random objects and alien life have been coming up a lot with me this week. First blogged on the probabilities of finding radio signals from aliens (hat tip to Fraser on that one), then Fraser and I talked with Swoopy about the new National Research Academies Report on things we need to think about in trying to find life on off of this world. And now… The Universe is jumping in and bringing up alien life as well.

And when talking about alien life in the solar system, I always thing about panspermia.

Read More

The Universe: The Red Planet

The Universe: The Red Planet

mars.jpgI just finished watching this week’s episode of “The Universe.” As its name, The Red Planet, implies, this episode focused on the forth planet from the Sun: Mars. It took a systematic journey through our understanding of Mars that included historical perspectives and modern space based explorations.

One of the things it particularly emphasized (that I don’t think is generally talked about enough) is the importance of a magnetic field in maintaining a planetary atmosphere.

The Earth, which still has its atmosphere, is significantly larger than Mars, and we are still cooling off as a planet. Once upon a time, our world was so hot that volcanoes were going off all around the globe, and the material they threw into the atmosphere settled into a noticeable layer of soot. Today, our world is a bit calmer, a bit cooler, and a bit less messy. Given enough time, volcanism may die out altogether as our planet cools and its liquid iron core solidifies. When that happens, our planet’s magnetic field will also die down and the magnetosphere will disappear.

To get a picture of what this means, we need only look one world out.

Read More

Death by a 1000 paper boxes

Death by a 1000 paper boxes

boxes.jpgIt all started back in the 1890s. Catalogues came to farmers. Farmers sent their money. Good arrived in boxes. Those goods — everything from watches to carriages to entire houses in kits — came from Sears, Roebuck and Company. The goods were often things that couldn’t be bought locally at reasonable prices or with a reasonable selection and Sears et al was able to earn business by offering greater selection at lower prices with free delivery. I’m not sure what the farmers did with their Sear’s boxes. Probably reused them for something, but… but eventually I’m guessing most of them found their way into the garbage pile along with the rest of the packing materials.

Right now there is a box of boxes on my back stoop that is human-sized in volume, and almost human massed (see picture: note single serving Silk yogurt for scale). It is the result of shopping online where the selection is higher, the prices are often lower, and sometimes there is free delivery. Amazon, Drs. Foster and Smith, and eBay are all to blame. As much as I hate the mega-malls, the strip malls, and, well, even the local mall, I have to wonder if their isn’t a more eco-friendly way to purchase the things that can’t be acquired on a walk through the mom and pop stores of main street?

Read More
Now live! Expect the Unexpected.
Currently offline.