Neil deGrasse Tyson Space Video Game

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is crowd funding a scientifically accurate space game. Due to release in 2019, “Space Oddessy” is to include planets and galaxies based on current science. Depending on the implementation, this could be good and bad. I doubt they will use any modern space propulsion systems because the fastest probe the Horizon, travels at just over 35,000 MPH. That is plenty fast on Earth but nowhere near what’s needed for interstellar travel.

The nearest star to us is Alpha-Centauri which is 4.3 lightyears or 25 trillion miles away and at it would take Horizon around 80 thousand years to get there. Even if it could, it’s power supply would be long dead and be little more than space junk.

So it would be a very boring game floating slowly around the planet and unable to reach even Jupiter in anything less than years.

More on the video game

Kickstarter: Space Oddessy

 

 

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…. . .-.. .-.. —

…. . .-.. .-.. — is Morse code for “Hello”.

The mysterious Tabby’s Star is once again in the news as new speculation comes from a recently published astrophysics paper by science writer Andrew Collins. In the paper, Collins says that the interval matches the cycle of our solar calendar of 242 days.  He further says that the intervals are in multiples of 11, a prime number.

What does this mean? Well, it means that if there is intelligent life there they predicted that we would notice this pattern some 1300 years ago. It is quite possible that they detected life here that long ago and decided to build a beacon to get our attention.

I don’t think they would do it just for us. I think if they created a beacon then it would be for any species advanced enough to notice.

Look at it this way. Every species is going to develop at its own rate and there is no way to predict which ones will eventually develop to the point of looking up into the night sky and develop tools to ask, “Is there someone else out there?” Not to mention the differences in the technologies that can develop.

There’s no universal language that we know of but if aliens were to develop a way to communicate across vast distances then making a flickering light in a distinct pattern is a good choice.

But there’s a problem with that. If all they are saying is a series of prime numbers then there’s little information in the message and any answer would be a long way off since any reply we could generate would take 1300 years to reach them.

My hope is that if they were smart enough to create a beacon in the night then maybe in that flashing we also get schematics for some sort of new radio to speak with them.

Interestingly, this was also the premise of the Carl Sagan novel Contact. Aliens sending a message that repeated. This repeating message contained schematics for a way to contact them.

Alien Messages?

Captain, we are detecting three habitable worlds…

trappist1

Trappist-1 an ultra-cool dwarf star about the size of Jupiter is located about 40 lightyears from us. This solar system has attracted the attention of our scientist because of the three confirmed planets in the Goldilocks zone. An orbital area around a star where we know water can exist in a liquid form. This is the zone where our own Earth lies.

This system is also interesting to us because it contains seven planets, the most recent being confirmed this month. Further, the seven planets are roughly Earth-sized and have a very stable orbit meaning the planets have been around long enough for life to develop.

The story is still unfolding but as we bring new technologies online to study this fascinating star system more questions will be asked and hopefully, we’ll get some answers too.

Aliens in Trappist -1?

Seventh Planet

Tabby’s Star- Back in the News

Last year, Tabby’s Star or KIC 8462852 an F-Type Main Sequence star some 1200 light-years away from us hit the news. Scientists have been for some time studying it and cannot determine what is causing the interesting dip in the star’s light.

This led to some interesting speculation that there was a Dyson Sphere surrounding the star gathering the star’s energy for an advanced civilization.

Normally, the light from a star dips when a planet’s orbit has it pass between the star and us. This dip is tiny in comparison to the amount of this dip. Usually a huge planet several times the size of Jupiter would cause a flux of maybe a few percent. This dip, however, is more than 20%. No planet is known to exists of that size.

Now Professor Zaza Osmanov of the Free University of Tbilisi, Georgia, the country not the state, (Free higher ed in the US? Don’t get me started on that. ), says that by using infrared telescopes we could easily spot more of these dips in perhaps other stars. He speculates as many as 64 nearby stars fit this profile.

What does that mean? Well, if they are indeed Dyson Spheres it means we are surrounded by advanced civilizations and it goes to my speculation that we are not only not alone but aliens are aware of us and are just waiting for us to get our heads out of our backsides and get with the program.

Perhaps like in Star Trek First Contact, they are waiting for us to fly our first warp ship, thereby signaling that we as a species have developed and matured enough to join the larger community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atmosphere Confirmed on Earth-sized Exoplanet

Since the discovery of exoplanets, scientists have been able to observe atmospheres on these distant worlds. Most of them are Jupiter-sized and many are Super-Earths as some astronomers have called them. Super-Earths are around eight times the mass of our home world.

Exoplanet GJ 1132b orbits the M-dwarf star GJ 1132 some 39 light-years from Earth. An M-Dwarf is a star with less than 60% the mass of our sun and is the most common type of star found in our galaxy. In our local neighbourhood, 20 of the 30 closest stars fit this category.

What is significant about this planet is that it marks the first time we’ve been able to detect an atmosphere on a planet this small at only 1.6 times our mass.

Earth’s atmosphere is mostly nitrogen with a large oxygen component but on this world, researchers say according to their measurements, is likely rich in water vapor or methane giving it a thick Venus-like atmosphere.

The atmospheres of planets are observable via transmission spectroscopy where researchers use instruments to measure the star’s light travelling through the target planet’s atmosphere.

With this new finding, researchers will be focusing on the planet using existing technology and newer technologies that will be launched in the near future like the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS also set to launch no later than 2018.

 

Mach Effect for Starships!

No not Mass Effect as in the hit video game. The Mach Effect was first described by Austrian physicist Ernst Mach in 1883. The Mach Effect, says that objects have inertia because of the gravitational effects of the other objects in the universe and by pushing on an object here, far away objects are affected. Basically, mass experiences inertia when being accelerated. Don’t worry, I don’t fully understand that either but the application of it is much simpler.

Enter James F. Woodward professor emeritus of California State University, Fullerton, who using the theory of the Mach Effect created the Woodward Effect.

In essence he has created a drive that uses no fuel but still creates thrust. His experiment is based on the observation that when a capacitor has a charge it changes mass. To create thrust, the drive he built oscillates a stack of capacitors in a back and forth motion, and by charging the capacitors on one end it changes mass. When charged the drive then pushes off this heavier side and creates a small but measurable pulsed thrust.

In theory if these were large enough and enough of them were working at the same time it could create a functional drive.

So what next?

NASA has seen this technology and is now developing it into a functional drive system! It will be some time before we see starships but we’re one step closer to beam up.

Trivia: Kirk never actually said, “Beam me up Scotty.”

NASA backs the Mach Drive

Next Big Thing

Mach Drive

Woordward Effect Allows for Endless Starship Fuel

Is There Life on Enceladus?

Last week NASA announced its most amazing find about the Saturnian moon to date. The very real possibility of life.

Two years ago the space probe Cassini entered Saturn’s orbit and began its detailed survey of the planet, its rings and its moons. Two moons Titan, and Enceladus, were of great interest because they seem to be geologically active.

Titan with its mysterious atmosphere was later penetrated by the Cassini Huygens probe to discover lakes of hydro carbons on its icy surface.

One of the missions Cassini performed was a flyby of the moon Enceladus. This mysterious ice-covered moon featured cracks that shifted over time hinting at a liquid ocean beneath the surface. Another feature revealed by the flyby was enormous plumes of water that ejected into space from the moons southern pole further evidence of a geothermally active world.

Over the following months, the probe would make multiple flybys through the plumes to analyse and collect data.

Last week NASA made a startling announcement of the presence of hydrogen and carbon dioxide in the plumes.

Why hydrogen? In order for hydrogen to be created there needs to be an energy source in the core of the moon warming water into a chemical reaction with the rocks on the ocean bottom.   Furthermore, hydrogen when combined with carbon dioxide forms methane, a possible food source for microbes. The very same reaction seen here on Earth.

What’s next? It is too early for NASA to make any announcements of future projects but several have been proposed over the years that include a closer examination of the plumes and an eventual robotic probe.

Further Reading:

Titan – Wikipedia

Enceladus Hydrothermal Vents

Ocean Worlds- The Quest for Life

Astronaut: NASA discovery sparks my dream of intelligent life beyond Earth

Enceladus Life Finder

 

 

Is E.T. Calling Us?

First detected in 2007 at the Parkes Observatory in the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia, Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs have kept radio astronomers busy searching for their mysterious origin.

FRBs differ from other radio noise because of the intensity and short length of transmission. Imagine a sudden bright flash of light but you are unable to determine where it came from. Some of the bursts released the equivalent energy of 500 million suns.

Part of the problem is that radio telescopes though dish-shaped can pick up signals from the ground as well as space. In one famous case, scientists detected a curious repeating transmission. It wasn’t until many years later that they determined the source was the microwave in the staff kitchen.

Back to FRBs.

Over the years bursts would continue to confound and frustrate scientists. That all changed late last year when researchers went to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) to use the Molonglo telescope.

This telescope, run by the University of Sidney, unlike single dish telescopes, is constructed of two intersecting arms each a mile long forming a cross. The very architecture of the site eliminates signals from the ground.

The massive telescope has been in operation for 50 years and in that time it has collected a great deal of information at a rate of 1 TB a day and should have recorded many FRBs. Realizing this the scientists sifted through the collected data of the telescope knowing that any detected signals would have to originate from space.

Months passed as they searched through the massive amount of stellar data. They eventually found a repeating signal from a tiny dwarf galaxy 3 million light-years from us.

The finding has brought renewed interest in the telescope and astronomers are updating the software in hopes of finding new discoveries.

But don’t get too excited, 3 million light-years means the signal was sent 3 million years ago. The civilization that sent it is probably long dead or so advanced that they might not even recognize a reply.

So, we continue to search for E.T. even though we might not know what they are saying.

 

Further Reading

Mysterious Microwaves

Molonglo telescope – Google Earth

500 Million Suns

FRBs confirmed

Jurrasic Park: Now?

In the Jurassic Park film series, scientist extracted DNA from a drop of dinosaur blood found in amber. Throw in a scattering of biochem technobabble and suddenly you have living dinosaurs. Pure science fiction.

One step closer.

For years, scientists have argued that soft tissue cannot survive for that many years however we are finding this is not the whole story.  This is because of the way fossils are formed. Basically, when an animal dies in a watery environment the soft tissue rots away leaving the bones which are then covered with sediment that eventually turns into rock.

In 2009 when paleontologist Mary Schweitzer peered into her microscope at a fossilized dinosaur bone she saw something unexpected.  Instead of fossilized bone cells, she saw cells that resembled red blood cells. Turns out the 68-million-year-old cells were the connective tissue collagen.

Fast forward to 2017 and the recent news of monkey blood found in a 30 Million-year-old amber preserved tick.

Can we get DNA out of these specimens? George Poinar, Jr., professor emeritus at Oregon State University who’s been finding these amber preserved bugs, and apparently is the guy who gave the idea for Jurassic Park, says probably not.

Professor Poinar says that trying to extract the DNA would destroy the specimen and he does not want to do that.

So where are we then?

Well, while many scientists accept that soft tissue cannot survive that long, this is proving to be false by the growing body of evidence to the contrary.

So no Jurassic Park yet but we are getting closer to finding viable organic samples. Sooner or later we may come across some usable DNA now that the idea of tissue survivability is no longer as crazy as it once sounded.

As always, more reading:

Red blood cells found in dinosaur bone

Tick preserved in amber

Cassini: The Final Mission

Capture

 

In October 1977, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA in conjunction with the European Space Agency and the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, ASI or Italian Space Agency, launched one of the most ambitious space missions to date. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft began its seven-year mission to the planet Saturn.

Fast forward to almost 20 years later and we have thousands of detailed photos of the ringed planet and its moons and landed a probe on Titan. We’ve gained a great deal of knowledge from that data we now have new missions to look forward to.

All good things…

As the probe is running out of power, Cassini’s final mission will be to break up and crash into Saturn. Why not leave it to continue onward?

Two very good reasons. Enceladus, and Titan.

From the photos sent back by Cassini, we’ve learned they have a liquid ocean under the changing frozen surface. Project scientist Linda Spilker in a recent interview on NPR explained that because there may be life on these two moons, they did not want risk contaminating these worlds if the dead probe should crash into one of them.

Curious Moons

Enceladus regularly spews plumes of water into space and in a future mission packed with life detecting equipment will make multiple passes over the moon to look for signs of organic life.

Titan’s liquid ocean is covered with an icy crust that develops cracks as the moon melts and refreezes.

Below, I’ve linked to pages that give more information about the future missions and a link the photo gallery from Cassini.

Mission: Titan

Mission: Enceladus

Cassini Image Gallery