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Today I’m simply going to point you in the direction of Nashville Cream to see what’s going on show-wise this weekend. It’s looking like a pretty good one. This is all so I can briefly talk about more science, since this week had only one science-related post.

Buzz Aldrin has stayed somewhat in the spotlight after he became the 2nd man to walk on the moon in 1969. In addition to recording a rap song with Snoop Dogg, Talib Qweli, Quincy Jones, and Soulja Boy, he founded a non-profit organization called ShareSpace and has has published articles criticizing NASA for not focusing on manned exploration beyond our own moon. Just a few days ago he published an article on AOL along those same lines, but this time outlining his idea for what NASA should do next. Mainly he agrees with Obama’s plan to look to private space companies for ferrying cargo and astronauts to the ISS and low Earth orbit. But he proposes that if NASA focuses its effort on Mars, we can get there by the summer of 2019. He wants NASA to continue using the space shuttles to carry leftover space station parts and modules into orbit, where they would then be assembled into an “Exploration Module” prototype, which would be a precursor to a fully fleshed-out version, capable of taking a crew to Mars. There are a lot of details missing here, such as whether or not this EM is supposed to land on Mars or just orbit it, and if it’s supposed to land, where the crew would get the supplies needed to survive, and of course the big question would be: how do they get back? Regardless, I think it’s great that he’s continually putting ideas out there. I don’t necessarily think that he’s even trying to present a technologically feasible, functional plan… more that he’s just trying to get people thinking in a different direction. And even though this is VERY old news, it’s worth posting this video of him punching nutbag, anti-science, anti-reality filmmaker Bart Sibrel in front of a Hollywood hotel in 2002, after being confronted by him. FUCK YEA BUZZ ALDRIN! (Via Discover Blogs)

I must also take this opportunity to point that some scientists really DO have a sense of humor. According to i09, a physics student has asked the International System of Units to call 10 to the 27th power “hella.” That means that a distance of 10 to the 27th meters would be a hellameter. That’s pretty close to the current estimated size of the universe (it would be 1.4 hellameters, to be exact), thus we could officially say that the universe is “hella big.”

Have a great weekend!

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It’s been a minute since I mentioned the NASA budget/direction controversy, so here’s a bit of an update:

Lots of NASA employees and contractors in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral have launched a campaign against Obama’s budget cuts/change of direction for NASA. They are doing this because when the shuttle program winds down later this year, and the Constellation program gets ousted altogether, there won’t be nearly as many jobs in the area. That’s a legitimate concern, but in the big picture, I say it’s a necessary evil. Besides, these people are engineers, scientists, etc… they are all very smart and quite capable of finding work in other areas, maybe even for the private companies like SpaceX that will take over the duties of getting cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station. I am all for Obama’s plan, because it pushes NASA to look ahead into exploring the rest of our solar system. That’s where the REAL science/discoveries happen. In reality the space shuttle is a dinosaur- it’s expensive to maintain, and it’s not safe. It has no bailout system whatsoever, so if something goes wrong (see: Challenger and Columbia), the astronauts inside are screwed. It is most definitely an impressive piece of engineering, but it’s time to move on. NASA can NOT continue spinning its wheels, never getting us past the ISS and/or low Earth orbit. NASA needs to focus its efforts/money on projects like the VASIMR plasma rocket engine, which could cut a spacecraft’s trip to Mars from 6 months to roughly 40 days. The new commercial spaceflight companies will be more than capable of handling NASA’s cargo and low Earth orbit needs much sooner than NASA could on its own via the Constellation program. End of rant.

In some happier science news, Google is developing a new thermal mirror energy system that could cut the cost of electricity to 5 cents per kWh. This would make solar thermal energy much cheaper than coal. These stations are made up of a huge array of mirrors arranged so that they create one gigantic parabolic mirror. The parabolic shape reflects all the sunlight into one point, at which a heat-collecting device is mounted (on top of a tower), which in turn heats water into steam that runs a turbine to generate power. Naturally this system is only good for areas which receive a lot of sunlight such as deserts, but if Google can make them cheap to build, they could play a big part in getting the world weened off of fossil fuels for energy production. As I’ve said before, we shouldn’t be fiddling with ways to cleanup our use of fossil fuels, we should be focusing eliminating our dependence on them altogether. (Via EcoGeek)

Finally, the earthquake that rocked Chile over the weekend may have actually shortened the length of a day. Granted the current estimate is that our day was shortened by only 1.26 milliseconds, but that’s still pretty amazing. Not only did the day shorten, but the figure axis was also offset by about 3 inches. Think of how big this planet is… that earthquake had to release an unfathomable amount of energy to actually alter its axis! (Via Space.com)

Here we go again. I recommend investing in Kroger stock this year, because they’re gonna get a big boost in sales in TN from all these “snowstorms” wherein a meteorologist utters the word “snow” and 75% of the population immediately clears the milk, bread, and egg isles. (Apparently people only eat french toast during snowstorms?) As usual, I’ve been monitoring the progress of the forecast and find it interesting that the NWS hasn’t issued the winter storm warning yet, only a watch. I’m sure the warning will come, but it’s kinda funny that they’re hesitating, no doubt because of the giant snow fail from a few weeks ago. (To be fair, some areas around the midstate did get something close to the forecasted amounts, though no one really got the full 2-3 inches that was initially forecast…) This system is a little different than the last one, however. This one will most definitely have enough moisture to generate the 3-5 inches, unlike the last system which had moisture “issues.” The big limiting factor with this system will instead be temperatures. Nashville will literally be right on the dividing line between having an ice/rain mix and having an all snow event. If this system decides to track just 50 to 100 miles further north than the models think it will, that will cause more warm air to advect farther north, and we’ll end up having mostly rain friday changing to a little snow on the backside fri. night into sat. morning. If it decides to track slightly further south, we’ll have all snow, but much less of it, and areas to the south of us could actually see more snow than Nashville does. This system has a little better chance of “success” in giving us a good ol’ fashioned snowfall than the last one, but I wouldn’t place any bets yet.

Big rumors abound in the blogosphere about Obama’s budget proposal due to land in Congress on Monday. The biggest rumor is that it will completely cutout NASA’s Constellation program, which is the rocket system currently under development to not only replace the Space Shuttle, but also put men back on the Moon. I reported many times on the progress of the Augustine Commission and its recommendations for how NASA should proceed given that its current “trajectory” was financially unsustainable. One of the options they proposed was to eliminate the Constellation program and let commercial spaceflight companies like SpaceX takeover the duties of getting astronauts to the International Space Station and other low-earth orbit missions. I have a feeling that if the budget really does cut the Constellation funds, that’s where we’ll be headed next. Honestly I think it may not be a bad idea, because it would allow NASA to focus more on getting man further out into the solar system, and eventually to Mars. I tend to agree with Dr. Phil Plait’s (the Bad Astronomer) sentiments on the issue (as usual) but I’m not in total agreement with him that we should still go back to the moon. But then again, he’s the astronomer with a Ph.D and I’m not. For even more info, check out Universe Today. Check those blogs again on Monday afternoon, as I’d say they’ll be able to update waaaay sooner than I will once the actual budget info is released.

Two cool things come your way via Universe Today today:

Apparently a Romanian group is competing for the Google Lunar X-prize with a bizarre balloon-rocket combination. They have a nice animation video in the post that explains the design far better than I could with word, so just check it out for yourself. I never thought I’d see helium balloons involved in a project where getting to the moon is the final goal… It’s one of those things that’s mind-numbingly simple and you say “why did no one think of this before?”

Also from UT is this cool HD video of Space Shuttle Atlantis blasting off on Monday. The shuttle docked today with the ISS.

Regarding the Feds’ raid of Gibson HQ yesterday: (FYI- it wasn’t the FBI, it was the Fish & Wildlife Agency that raided them…)

Via Hartley

Science-y tibits 10/13/09

October 13, 2009

I haven’t posted any science-related stuff on here in waaaay too long. Part if it has been Next Big Nashville, which I’m still recovering from, along with other general business. That being said, here are some goodies for you:

NASA has a renewed focus on the moon, especially to determine how much, if any, water is there.  One of the ways they decided to do that was to smash the rocket stage of the current satellite into the surface and analyze the result plume of dust and debris. Sunday they did just that, and the results are still coming in, but it was definitely a successful impact. Check out more about the LCROSS mission here.

I’ve mentioned the 2012 doomsday myth on here before and linked to various website that thoroughly debunk it, but today one article caught my eye. I’d never even thought to research what the Mayan descendants have to say about this issue. Turns out they are pretty smart and fully understand that the world won’t end just because their Long Count calendar ends. The whole steaming pile of bullshit that is the 12/21/2012 doomsday myth is entirely a creation of modern Western culture that’s been imposed on the Mayan culture and one of their many calendars. The point to drive home here is that THE VERY PEOPLE WHO INVENTED THE CALENDAR DON’T EVEN BELIEVE THE HYPE BECAUSE IT’S BULLSHIT! They simply take it for what it is: an anniversary of sorts, a time when the Long Count calendar starts over again. Read the article at Discovery News.

Remember when Stephen Colbert lead a huge campaign to get the newest node for the Space Station named after him? While he did win the popular vote, NASA had the final say and didn’t name it after him, but they did come up with a ridiculous name for the new treadmill for the ISS that, when abbreviated, spells C.O.L.B.E.R.T. and the astronauts just completed its assembly. Here’s a pic of them using it for the first time:

Via Space.com

Image via Stargate Universe blog

Image via Stargate Universe blog

Ok first of all I have to get out my excitement about Stargate Universe, the third show in the Stargate TV franchise. The 2-hour series debut will hit your screen this Friday at 9pm (8pm Central) on SyFy. io9 posted a fairly revealing clip from it today. Don’t get me wrong, no real spoilers there, just a good idea of the vibe and overall tone of the show. This series will be a much more serious take on the Stargate saga. I’m thinking it’s going to end up taking on a similar mood to Battlestar Galactica.

Ok now that’s out of my system….

I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines about how water was discovered on the moon recently by NASA’s mineral mapper instrument aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 probe launched in 2008. First of all, this does NOT mean that water is swirling around on the surface of the moon. The moon has no atmosphere and therefore water can’t even exist in a liquid state at all. What’s happening is that the incoming solar rays are reacting with the material on the surface to create a thin layer of hydroxyl (OH) and normal water (H2O) in the very top milimeter or so of regolith. This layer is so thin that it would amount to 1 liter of water per ton of surface soil. That’s a VERY small amount, but it’s a lot more than we ever thought would be there. What does this all mean for the future of human exploration on the moon? Read this Universe Today article to find out.

Here is a great Daily Galaxy article about something that I had honestly never even heard or known before. I hadn’t the slightest clue that there are more bacteria/microbes in our bodies than there are actual human cells. That’s to say that if you counted the number of human cells and the number of microbial/bacterial cells in your body, there would be more bacteria/microbes. In fact it’s utterly awe-inspiring (and slightly terrifying) to think that some of the species if bacteria actually don’t exist anywhere else outside our bodies, and that we could NOT survive without them. Essentially they’re as important as any organ. We’re literally more germ than we are human, and it couldn’t exist any other way. Of course, we look more like us because human cells are MUCH bigger than bacteria cells. The crazy thing, as the article points out, is that doctors still don’t know anything about most of these bugs that live inside us. But they’re trying to change that.

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:

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