In addition to being a totally awesome sight to behold, the famous pyramids of Giza in Egypt have also been a bit of a mystery. Scientists and archaeologists had a hard time explaining exactly how they were built given the technological limitations of the time period. The Pharaohs had a massive army of laborers at their disposal, but carving those massive blocks out of stone and moving them over miles of scorching desert would seem to be an insurmountable task even for an army of men. I was intrigued when I stumbled across the work of Dr. Joseph Davidovits, who claims that the stones were actually cast from a type of limestone concrete. This method would’ve require FAR less man-power and makes the pyramids’ construction seem much more reasonable. The seemingly impossible construction of the pyramids has fueled some ridiculous crackpot ideas that aliens helped build them. I was very glad to see that real science has actually explained the mystery of their construction quite well. Science wins. As always. Read more about his book Why the Pharaohs built the Pyramids with fake stones on the website of the Geopolymer institute.

This morning NASA attempted to launch the Ares I-X, the very first full-scale test version of their new Ares I rocket, which (if NASA proceeds on the current path) will replace the space shuttle as our primary means of transporting astronauts to low earth orbit. But a series of silly issues such as a probe cover getting stuck and a cargo ship accidentally entering the danger zone, combined with bad weather caused the launch to be delayed… possibly until tomorrow, maybe later.

Speaking of NASA… last week they got the full, detailed report from the Augustine Commission, which is a group of aerospace industry experts put together earlier this year by the Obama Administration to assess the state of manned spaceflight within NASA. Basically it’s a more fleshed-out, complete version of the preliminary report I mentioned several weeks ago on this blog. It’ll be interesting to see which solution NASA administrator Charles Bolden and the Obama Administration decide to go with. Personally, I’d like to see NASA get that additional 3 billion they need, but who knows? I can’t really summarize the options any better than Universe Today did last week when they reported on this, so I’ll just quote:

1. Maintain all programs as is, but extend the space shuttle program to 2011 and ISS to 2020. Without extra funding, the Ares rockets wouldn’t be ready until 2020 and there would never be enough money to go to the Moon.

2. Maintain current funding, scrap Ares I, develop an Ares V lite version (about 2/3 of Ares V heavy) and divert extra funds to ISS for extension to 2020. Buy commercial LEO human space flight. The Ares might be ready by 2025, and perhaps get to the Moon after 2030.

3. Add $3 billion per year and proceed with the Constellation program to return to the Moon. The ISS would have to be de-orbited in 2016 to allow a return to the Moon by about 2025.

4. Add $3 billion per year. Extend the ISS to 2020 and get to the Moon by about 2025. Use either Ares V Lite, or Shuttle-C for heavy lift.

5. Add $3 billion per year. Extend the shuttle program to 2011 and extend ISS to 2020. Instead of heading to land on the Moon, orbit the Moon, or go to Near Earth Objects and prepare to go to Mars. Use either Ares V Lite; a heavy Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) or, a shuttle-derivative.

So there you have it.

Yesterday some news outlets reported on a possible crater in Latvia left by a large meteorite impact. Well, it’s been confirmed as a FAKE, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Some Latvians must’ve had waaay too much time on their hands because after detailed inspection, shovel marks could be seen on the edge of the hole. I won’t spend too much time explaining all the obvious scientific inconsistencies because Dr. Phil Plait has done a thorough job of it at his blog Bad Astronomy. The biggest misconception about meteorites is that all of them cause a crater if they make it all the way to the ground- they don’t. In fact most that do hit the ground are less than a meter in diameter and actually are cold by the time they reach it. They also are traveling at normal terminal velocity and just hit with a non-crater-causing thud.

Finally, I’m really happy to see that the Large Hadron Collider repairs came along nicely and they’ve started inserting particles into loop. No actual collisions yet, but if all goes as planned they should be doing their first ones next month. Follow CERN on Twitter for updates.

This will be my last post for about a week or more. Tomorrow right after work Megan and I are heading westward to spend some time at Yellowstone and the surrounding areas, and possibly Portland as well. Having to make the 34 hour drive back from Portland is looking less and less appealing, however. That being said, posting will be virtually non-existent for a while.

Photo via USA Today

Photo via USA Today

As I mentioned a few days ago, we saw 500 Days of Summer last weekend. Most people would agree that there’s no such thing as too much Zooey Deschanel, and thus I highly recommend watching this cute music video put together as a promotional piece for the movie. It’s for She & Him’s “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here” and features ZD dancing with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I have no idea how to embed USA Today videos on WordPress, so just go watch it here. (Via Stereogum)

I know I flooded you with science nerdiness yesterday, but I have to post this. I read an article this morning on Space.com containing details on the options for the future direction of NASA that Obama’s Augustine Commission are reviewing. Basically they’ve narrowed it down to 7 generalized options. They’ve been holding public hearings to get input from citizens (which is awesome) and plan to convene to make their final decisions and present them to President Obama at the end of this month. I’ve mentioned this many times on here before, but this is the first time I’ve seen the actual options that are under review. Personally, I’m torn between the “Directly Shuttle-Derived System” and relying on commercial spaceflight. It’s obvious that the current Ares I is having issues. It’s also obvious that many companies, the leader of them being Virgin Galactic, are really close to making commercial spaceflight a simple and easy solution. NASA could just buy flights from a private company to get astronauts to and from the ISS. I definitely think the US has invested way too much time and money into the ISS to end our involvement in 2015, just 4 years after it will be completed. It will still be useful and there’s no sense in abandoning it. Then NASA could possibly use the shuttle-derived plan, along with Ares V (which hasn’t had as many setbacks as Ares I because it’s not intended to carry humans; only cargo) to get to the moon and eventually Mars. Just my two cents.

See y’all in a week!

Ares I-X/Man-made Auroras

August 5, 2009

Image Via Universe Today

Image Via Universe Today

NASA is assembling the Ares I-X rocket currently in the the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kenndey Space Center. This rocket is a test version for the Ares I which, under the current plan, will eventually take astronauts to the ISS and moon. They plan to do the test flight on Oct. 31st of this year. However, Obama’s Augustine Commission is currently reviewing the direction of NASA and could come out with a report that recommends scrapping the Ares rockets in favor of retro-fitting the space shuttle’s external fuel tank/SRB assembly to work with the new Orion Crew Vehicle. (I’ve posted about this before.) I’d say the test will happen regardless of the Augustine Commission’s recommendations, and furthermore I’d speculate that their findings will be somewhat dependent on the results of this test flight. Either way, it’ll be cool to see what happens. (Via Universe Today)

It’s unfortunate that most really big advances and breakthroughs in science are the result of military initiatives. (See: THE INTERNET) A scientist can ask the government for money to research a technology that could greatly improve the lives of everyone, but as soon as he/she mentions that the technology could have military applications, their chance of getting said money goes up exponentially. Such is the case with one of the most mysterious facilities ever to be built. No, I’m not talking about Area 51, I’m talking about HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) in Alaska. This thing is literally capable of creating its own miniature aurora in the sky. It’s a 3.6 megawatt antenna array aimed directly into the sky, and its purpose is to turn the ionosphere (a layer at the top of the atmosphere full of charged particles) into a giant low frequency antenna. I think the intent of the scientists behind this project is good, but the facility has fueled tons of conspiracy theories. Some even say it is responsible for Hurricane Katrina. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know exactly how ultra low frequency radio waves can affect the weather, but I do know that something powerful enough to blast the ionosphere and create a mini-aurora is pretty awesome, and the scientific knowledge that can be gained from such experiments is well-worth the evils of military application. The main military application in this case is the penetrating power of those ultra-low frequency radio waves generated by the ionosphere. Those waves could be used to detect underground bunkers and communicate with submarines deep in the ocean. Other radio waves are quickly absorbed by just a few feet of water or land, but these high-powered, low frequency waves have much more penetrating ability. I suggest reading this well written article on Wired about HAARP for more info if you’re interested. Here’s what the antenna array looks like:

The Nashville Scene/Cream is sponsoring all the 8 off 8th Mondays during July, and each week the 8 bands will all perform covers from a specific decade- the 60’s through the 90’s. Tonight is 60’s night and the bands are:

Matt Friction and the Cheap Shots
Roman Candle
Eureka Gold
The Clutters
Kindergarten Circus
Ole Mossy Face
Jacob Jones
Millionaire Magicians

Tigers Con Queso will be on the lineup for 90’s night on July 27th. More info at Nashville Cream. I’ll be there tonight taking pics, so come on out. It’ll be fun.

Hipster Runoff posted the new single Got Nuffin from Spoon today. It’s a good song, so go grab it.

I’ve got a lot of science to dump on you today, so here we go…

Astronomers have been a little puzzled by our Sun recently because it’s been unusually quiet. We reached solar minimum, the lowest part of the 11-year cycle of sunspot activity, in 2008. Normally we’d be seeing some sunspots appearing, marking the beginning of the next cycle, but for some reason the Sun has been strangely quiet this year, and no one really understands why. This weekend marked the first real appearance of sunspots for the new cycle, breaking the stretch of puzzling silence. Space.com has more.

I’ve always loved the large-scale, long-term predictions and statements that Dr. Stephen Hawking is known for. One of his latest predictions/statements is truly fascinating. He proposes that we take a much broader view of the term “evolution” and include not only genetic information (internal), but also external information. Because we now have the ability to communicate external information we are now in a different stage of evolution. Just like so many of his broad ideas, this one really makes you think almost on a totally different level. Read more at the Daily Galaxy article.

Even though communication with NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander ceased last fall, scientists are still evaluating the data collected while it was in operation. The scientists used a specialized instrument on the lander to detect water ice clouds and even snow falling to the martian ground. Yes, I said snow. On Mars. How effin’ cool is that? Learn more about this phenomenon by reading the Universe Today article.

Also from Universe Today- a more substantiated version of the blurb I posted a couple weeks ago regarding the possible back-up to NASA’s new Constellation program. A video clip from the presentation made to an external review committee by shuttle program manager John Shannon has been posted on YouTube. Apparently NASA is taking this proposal pretty seriously and everyone there is waiting on the final word by an executive session as to whether they’ll keep charging ahead with the current plans for the Ares rockets or try this new plan to retrofit the existing external fuel tank/solid rocket booster system to work with the new Orion Crew Vehicle. Watch the video below. As Universe Today points out, this system would be MUCH cheaper and faster to implement. Honestly, I think there’s a decent possibility that they’ll end up going for this and scrapping the Ares rockets. Only time will tell. Full article here.

A sneak peek from the new season of LOST. I’m officially excited. I might even try to start having LOST viewing parties. I don’t really have people over to my place very much… if at all, so here’s to trying something new.

What does Obama have in mind for NASA’s Constellation program? Ok, I get it, we have budget problems… but we can’t just throw away all the hard work NASA has put into the successor to the space shuttle- the Constellation program. We have to see Ares I, Ares V, and the Orion capsule through to their completion. As quoted in the article, those programs are years ahead of any alternative. Changing course now would only widen the gap between the space shuttle and its successor. Mr. Obama, I love you, but please leave Constellation alone. For that matter, leave NASA’s budget alone… I’m all about your “scalpel” approach to budget cuts, but take the scalpel elsewhere. Too many people see space exploration as “unnecessary” or think “oh, it can wait.” The science that NASA does is VITAL to the progress of the human race. It’s more of a “big picture” mentality, but we’ll never achieve the goals of putting men on Mars, and eventually colonizing other worlds if we keep putting off the first steps toward them. NASA has been put on the backburner with increasing budget cuts ever since the end of the Apollo missions. The nation must get out of the mentality that space exploration and scientific discovery are secondary to the problems we face here on earth, because the scientific breakthroughs/discoveries that come as a result of said exploration will probably help to solve many of those problems- the biggest of which is the energy crisis and global warming. Sorry about the soap box, but I feel like I need to start including more of my own thoughts into this blog rather than just posting lots of links.

I was unaware of the legislation that passed in 2007 to phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2014. I’m glad it passed… but this article points out that the mercury contained in the new compact fluorescent bulbs will pose a major environmental hazard if people don’t dispose of them properly.

In local music, The Features have a special Christmas package deal going at their website. You can get their latest album Some Kind of Salvation and a new Tshirt as a package deal. Get it while it’s hot.