LHCBlackHole

Credit: CERN/NASA/Ian O’Niel

Here’s a quick roundup of some interesting stories and headlines that have popped up in the science world recently:

  • Based on new calculations using information from the Higgs Boson discovery last year, some physicists are worried that the universe might be doomed for boredom. The new math shows that the very existence of everything could be inherently unstable, and in a few tens of billions of years a tiny bubble of an apparently much more boring, alternate universe might pop-up and subsequently expand at the speed of light, destroying everything. Granted, there’s still a lot to learn about the Higgs, the equations used to make this prediction will improve drastically over the coming years, and the human race probably won’t be around to see this happen, but I can’t help but laugh thinking about the universe vaporizing into a more “boring” state of existence. (Via Discovery News and New Scientist)
  • I wish I had time to cover/post about the Russian meteor explosion this past weekend, but I was out sick Friday and had a very busy weekend/early week of moving in with my lady Old Red Boots. You probably know the basics- a medium-sized meteor entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia last Friday at about 9:20am local time. I just want to point out the important facts: (1) The Russian meteor explosion had nothing to do with the close fly-by of asteroid 2012 DA14 which happened later that same day. The trajectories/orbits of the two were completely different. It was simply a bizarre coincidence. (2) The damage to buildings and glass was caused by the massive sonic boom, as well as the actual explosion of the rock itself high in the atmosphere. The sounds and damage were NOT from the impact of the meteor hitting the ground. There’s tons of footage of this thing, but this video has the best audio I’ve found– if you have a subwoofer, turn it up and you’ll get some sense of the earth-shattering rumble. This video is long but shows both the bright streak of the meteor (about 4:30 in) and has the ensuing sonic boom (about 7:00 in). (3) NASA estimates the meteor was about 55 feet across and weighed between 7,000 and 10,000 tons. (4) A large chunk of the space rock is believed to have landed in Chebarkul Lake near Chelyabinsk, gouging a large hole in the ice. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy had great coverage and follow-up of this event, so be sure to check those posts out as well!
  • Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, wants to put humans on Mars in 2018, and he’s created a non-profit called the Inspiration Mars Foundation to do it. I have to be honest, the timeframe of this sounds absolutely crazy to me. Not many details have been announced, but apparently there will be a press conference next Wed. Feb. 27th in which more details will be revealed, so I’ll try to withhold my skepticism until then, but it’s hard. (Via Universe Today)
  • Astronomers with NASA’s Kepler Mission have found the tiniest exoplanet yet, orbiting the star Kepler-37 about 200 light years away. This planet is significant because it’s even smaller than our own Mercury, and just barely bigger than Earth’s moon! Finding a planet that small is a major milestone and huge accomplishment for the Kepler team. I’ve no doubt they will be finding the Holy Grail of planet-hunting, a true Earth twin, within a year or two. (Via Bad Astronomy)
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Image via Universe Today

Image via Universe Today

You may have heard about the killer asteroid aptly named Apophis, which had a chance of hitting earth in 2036 and potentially devastating a good chunk of the human population. Thankfully, scientists have now made more accurate observations of Apophis and ruled out the possibility of it hitting earth.

The asteroid has been on a watch list for many years because in 2029 it will pass very VERY close to earth. So close that it will actually be inside the orbit of some of our satellites! The fear was that if the asteroid passed through a very specific spot as it passed us, the earth’s gravity would tug on it just right so that its orbit would be altered and it would hit earth on its next pass in 2036. Due to limited observations of Apophis, astronomers didn’t know its exact orbit accurately enough to determine if it would pass through this very specific gravitational “keyhole.” Even before this latest observation, which occurred during its latest flyby of earth, the odds of Apophis passing through that keyhole were very slim (about 1 in 100,000 if I remember correctly, but don’t quote me on that) but significant enough to worry. Further observations a few years ago lessened the odds considerably to about 1 in 1,000,000. Now, astronomers are absolutely positive the rock will not pass through that gravitational keyhole, and the rock will never hit earth. They also learned from these latest observations that Apophis is actually larger than originally thought- about 325 meters in diameter, vs. 270. So it’s a really good thing that this rock won’t hit us!

This does not mean we can sit back and relax, however. There are probably thousands of asteroids flying around out there that we haven’t even seen yet, and any of them could be on a collision course with us. It’s a very real threat, and based on our knowledge of past extinctions and impacts, statistically it’s only a matter of time before we get smacked by another one. We just have be able to detect it before it hits us, and have the technology in place to deflect it.

More detailed info can be found at Bad Astronomy and Universe Today.

Artist's concept of NASA's new SLS

Today NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and members of Congress announced an agreement to build the most powerful rocket in US history. The launch system (or SLS for space launch system) is intended to take astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and Mars. The SLS is a derivative of the space shuttle in that it uses 5 space shuttle engines and a fuel tank based on the design of the shuttle’s external fuel tank. There will also be two solid rocket boosters on either side of the main stack. The key difference is that the multi-purpose crew vehicle (MPCV), which is already under construction, will sit atop the entire stack, and will have an escape rocket system that will enable the crew to safely escape almost any type of failure or explosion at any stage during ascent. In many ways this new system is a hybrid of the Apollo-era Saturn V system and the space shuttle. For more info check out the official story on NASA’s website.

This is an exciting announcement, and it’s good to know that many aspects of this new SLS are based on or directly utilize existing technology. This means that the overall cost should be significantly lower than if we’d tried to build something entirely new. I’m glad there was bipartisan agreement that led to this decision being made relatively quickly. The target date for the initial launch of this new SLS is 2017. That seems realistic and I certainly hope it is. Humanity is long overdue to reach beyond low-Earth orbit and explore deep space.

Energy and space science rant

September 2, 2010

Rant time.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news, there was ANOTHER FUCKING OIL RIG EXPLOSION IN THE GULF. Which is why I’m going to now rant about how terrible fossil fuels are. There is nothing good about them as an energy source. They are filthy/pollute the environment, they’re inefficient, and most importantly they are FINITE. We will run out of them. Thankfully this particular explosion doesn’t seem as though it will cause more oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, but they aren’t sure yet. I firmly believe that every nation and every energy company in the world should be focusing 100% of their efforts on ways to eliminate the use of fossil fuels as an energy source as FAST AS POSSIBLE. As long as the world is still relying on them, we are speeding straight down a highway that ends with world wars the likes of which have never been seen, and possibly the end of the human race. Our use of fossil fuels will either lead to so much pollution that the entire ecosystem will collapse, or they will become so scarce that the entire world will go to war fighting over them. The very survival of our species could rely on finding a way to 100% renewable energy. Whether it be from the sun, the wind, the ocean, whatever… 100% renewable and clean energy as soon as possible MUST be the absolute goal, and we must stop at nothing to get there. There are lots of other uses for oil than energy, and dare I say those are probably a necessary evil, at least for a while- virtually all plastic is made from it, along with a host of other things, but those pale in comparison to how much is used for energy. I have no doubt technology will get to a point where we don’t need oil for manufacturing either, but energy should be our #1 priority.

Now for my space rant:

A group of spaceflight’s elite sent a letter to Congress yesterday urging the House Science & Technology Committee to revamp its NASA authorization bill. The group, composed of former astronauts, space industry veterans, and former NASA officials, are asking Congress to make their version of the bill look more like the Senate version, which is much closer to Obama’s initial budget recommendation which was announced in February. Unfortunately middle TN’s own Bart Gordon is the head of said committee. Yo Bart- I expect more from you than this. Look at the facts- Obama is right! I’ve said this many times on here before and I’ll say it again: NASA needs to focus its efforts on exploration beyond low-earth orbit and the moon. The private spaceflight industry is more than capable of taking over the job of getting our astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and can be capable much sooner than NASA could using its currently-under-development Constellation Program. But they need the help of NASA in the form of $$$. Less $$$, mind you, than we would spend on Constellation. We will never see the kind of innovation and progress again that we saw from NASA in the 1960’s unless their goals are ambitious and lofty. Putting a man on an asteroid and eventually on Mars should be the new main goal of NASA’s manned spaceflight program, and exploring the moons of Jupiter and Saturn should be the main goal of the unmanned (robotic probe) programs. Those are the kind of ambitious goals that will bring back the kind of innovation and tenacity of the 1960’s. Only this time it will be scientifically driven, not driven by a race to get to the moon before the Russians.

Rant: over.

Pardon me while I totally nerd-out for a minute… but I must share some news that made me very happy this morning. I first saw this in a tweet from Dr. Neil de Grasse-Tyson. Dr. Phil Plait- astronomer, author, blogger, and relentless promoter of real science and reality in general- is getting his very own show on the Discovery Channel. I’ve been a big fan of his ever since discovering his blog Bad Astronomy. He’s been mentioning a so-called “sooper seekrit project” in his posts for about a year now, and this must be what he was referring to. I get the feeling that there was some sort of miscommunication between him and the powers-that-be at Discovery, because all the tweets and mentions about this new show lead back to this YouTube video, which is basically a promo commercial/sneak-peek at the new series. However, he hasn’t yet mentioned it on his blog or even tweeted about it *update: he finally mentioned it on his blog here. Turns out it will only be a 3-part series… :(* . This doesn’t surprise me given the fact that he’s currently at Comic-Con. It looks like the show is going to take on a Mythbusters-esque vibe but mostly focusing on all the myths and junk science surrounding various doomsday/disaster scenarios such as asteroid impacts, comet impacts, gamma-ray bursts, and hopefully the ridiculous 2012 Mayan calendar myth. I honestly wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if Jamie and Adam of Mythbusters are producers of this show… or somehow otherwise involved with it.

Check it out: *Updated youtube link- they took the video down for a few days and reposted it.*

No idea when this show will air, *the show will probably air this fall* but I’m definitely looking forward to it. Congrats, Phil!

Combined science/music post today. Not much time….

A meteorite about the size of a fist crashed through the roof of a doctor’s office in Virginia on monday. Reports say that it was traveling about 220 MPH when it hit the roof. There’s a common misconception that all meteorites hit the ground as a fireball and cause a crater. The truth is only the really big ones, about car-size and up, actually have enough inertia to keep up those kinds of speeds all the way to the ground. The smaller ones that reach the ground have long since been slowed by the friction of the atmosphere, and usually hit at speeds anywhere from 100 to 300 mph, depending on the size and weight. I don’t want to spend much time on this so go here or here for more info.

Now for the music.

I mentioned a while back that beloved Nashville scrap-punkers Meemaw decided to end their hiatus. Well, the time has come! It all goes down tonight at The End, along with Marj!, So Jazzy, and JEFF the Brotherhood. I don’t really know if you can quite call it an interview, but please do check out this gem of a video segment of them talking/playing a new song/goofing off over at Nashville’s Dead. Good times.

Unfortunately this had to happen the same night as a ton of other good stuff in town.

One of the aforementioned other things is the special edition of Happy Valley at the Cannery Ballroom, where I will be running the Generation Domination photobooth. It’s part of Mercy Lounge’s 7-year anniversary party, but unlike the other show upstairs, it will cost a meager $5 to get into. The FREE show upstairs will consist of The Non-commissioned Officers, The Ettes, De Novo Dahl, Apollo Up, and the two secret guests have now been revealed- The Features and Turbo Fruits. That has to be the most amazing lineup of local rock I’ve seen in a long time.

On Saturday Mercy is once again the place to be, as the last day of their week of free shows consists of Space Capone, How I Became the Bomb, Heypenny, Madi Diaz, Tallest Trees, and Armed Forces. This amazing lineup will be followed by the return of BFF, featuring yours truly and Fan Fiction of Nashville Nights on the decks, and we promise to keep your butt on the dancefloor till the wee hours.

In case you missed the memo, BFF was a weekly dance party held by me (Burgers) and Joseph (Fan Fiction) at Mad Donna’s in east Nashville. That location turned out to be not quite right for what we were trying to do, so instead of keeping BFF as a monthly staple, we decided to just let it be the branding we use whenever/wherever we spin together. There are two upcoming BFF-related events, the first of which I just mentioned, and the other is Feb. 5th at La Paz. More details are in the pipeline about that, but I’ll say now that it’s probably going to be the official afterparty for the Features’/Cortney Tidwell/Majestico show which just a block away at Exit/In. It’s gonna be a blast y’all.

Have a great weekend!

phot-39a-09-fullresThe floodgates of exoplanet discovery just opened. The High-Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (known as HARPS) discovered a batch of 32 new exoplanets, pushing the list of known exoplanets to over 400. Most of these are low-mass planets about the size of Neptune. Since HARPS (which is a spectrograph) works with a land-based telescope which has to put up with the distortions and aberrations of the Earth’s atmosphere, that’s a very impressive feat. It shows just how good astronomers are getting at planet-hunting, and with the recently-deployed Kepler space observatory working like a charm, it won’t be long before we find the jackpot of astronomy to date: an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant star. (Via Universe Today)

I’ve mentioned that new theories challenging the textbook theory of a massive asteroid impact in Mexico killing off the dinosaurs are gaining serious momentum in the field of paleontology. The main challenge to the impact theory is the one involving a massive, long-erupting supervolcano in India known as the Deccan Traps. India has coughed up yet another, 3rd challenge to the impact theory: an impact event of its own. Some researchers from Texas Tech University think that a huge depression that exists beneath part of the Indian Ocean is actually an impact crater, and that it’s the result of an asteroid that smacked into the earth near the time the dinosaurs went extinct. (In geologic terms “near” actually means within a few million years…) If this turns out to be a true crater, and not just the result of normal tectonic plate movements or volcanic activity, then I’d say it definitely had at least some effect on the dinosaurs, and probably some effect on the ongoing eruption of the Deccan Traps. (Also via Universe Today)

NASA rolled out the first full sized test vehicle for its new Constellation program earlier this week. The Ares I-X was rolled out to launch pad 39B for its scheduled test flight next week on Oct. 27th. This is a full-scale mock-up of the Ares I, which (if the current plan is adhered to) will replace the Space Shuttle as NASA’s method of delivering astronauts to and from low Earth orbit. The test flight, of course, will be unmanned. Here’s a pic via NASA’s website. Keep up with the test launch at the launch blog. The new rocket is 327 feet tall, over 100 feet taller than the Space Shuttle.

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Click to enlarge