Posts Tagged space

NASA shoots the Moon

I got up a bit earlier than usual to set up my 8-inch reflector telescope for a view of the 6:31 AM CDT collision of NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).  The weather was ideal – clear skies with no wind.  Never mind that we had our first frost – Minnesotans like me don’t mind temperatures at the freezing point (knowing full well that soon this will be considered balmy!).  However, despite a spectacular view of the Moon’s South Pole, I saw no evidence of the “man in the moon” getting ‘goosed.’  To placate the alarmists who thought the Moon might be destroyed, NASA likened their crash to an eyelash hitting a jetliner.  From what I could see myself and the video by NASA, that is an apt analogy, assuming the eyelash came off a gnat.

So LCROSS proved to be a lot less dramatic than us skywatchers hoped for.  However, if the follow-up satellite sensed water blown up by its self-destructive predecessor, the mission will be a big success.  This will take a while to decipher as noted by Wired magazine’s GeekDad blogger Brian McLaughlin.  If you are geeky like me, you will keep an eye out for the final outcome of this shoot-for-the-moon experiment.

PS. All this is mindful of the book by Jules Verne From the Earth to Moon posted with illustrations from an 1886 edition by NASA in their Space Educators HandbookJules Verne's Moon shot (“One small click for all mankind.”).  It’s fantastic!

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Close encounters with improbable events (‘Goofers’) and implausible beliefs (Martians)

On my flight home yesterday from vacation in Arizona and New Mexico, a lady from Santa Fe asked about my screen saver showing photographic evidence from NASA that water flows freely on the surface of Mars. She told me that this is just a cover up by the US Government of Martians living under the surface of their planet. “The truth will come out soon,” this New Mexican said, “They cannot suppress the bloggers who know that aliens really do exist.

Photo by H. P. Anderson

Photo by H. P. Anderson

I suspect this woman scoffed at NASA’s high resolution photos taken in July of the Face on Mars showing it to be only a geological mesa — not an artificial monument by extraterrestials. The diehard believers in Martians, represented by a caller to the Art Bell “Coast to Coast” radio show, say that NASA dropped a nuclear bomb this structure to de-face it!

My trip last week featured a few other improbabilities. Its purpose was to see the Minnesota Gopher football team play in the Insight Bowl at Arizona State University’s stadium in the Phoenix area. Us Minnesotans cheered wildly as our team went up by 31 points past the halfway point of the game. Sadly, the ‘Goofers’ blew their seemingly insurmountable lead and let the Red Raiders of Texas Tech win in overtime. This reportedly was the biggest comeback in a Division 1A bowl. Cursory research on the history of bowl games shows them going back over a century with accelerating frequency in recent years — perhaps a few thousand games in all. I suppose I should feel lucky to see this unlikely event, but what really pleases me is that the coach got fired immediately afterwards.

The other unusual event experienced by me and my traveling companions was a record 16 inch snowfall in Albuquerque where I’d booked our flights to save on airfare. Fortunately the weather cleared just in time for takeoff. En route to the airport we stopped at Meteor Crater where NASA astronauts train for extraterrestial missions. Some people, like my fellow traveler from Santa Fe, believe that this was where the NASA perpetrated the hoax of man traveling to the moon. After seeing the Minnesota team implode at the Insight Bowl and then on my trip home almost getting stuck in over a foot of snow in supposedly sunny New Mexico, I am ready to believe that just about anything can happen. Come on NASA — quit covering up: Bring on those eight-fingered aliens! By the way, how are they at handling oblate spheroids?

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Mercury — a transitory mote in the eye of the sun

On Wednesday residents of my hemisphere saw (?) the planet Mercury transit the sun. This happens only about every decade. One really couldn’t see Mercury because it is so small relative to the sun, which burns far too brightly for the naked eye to withstand. I watched the transit live from an astronomer’s view (Kitt Peak, Arizona*) via the webcast by San Francisco’s Exploratorium. The funny thing is that a speck in their Meade 16 inch reflector’s optics showed up more prominently than Mercury itself. For a perspective on how small this planet appears from earth (only 1/200th the diameter of the sun) see this photograph from VisualUniverse.org. Nevertheless, when Mercury first hit the edge of the sun, the astronomer directing the webcast said the he and his colleague were doing a little “happy dance”! :) By virtue of owning an 8-inch Meade reflector, I am a very amateurish astronomer myself. Seeing Mercury was a rare treat worth savoring. Here’s something really rare that’s reported at Wikipedia: On July 5, 6757 residents in Eastern Siberia can watch the simultaneous occurrence of a solar eclipse and a transit of Mercury. If you want to see this, I advise you go there now, drink a barrel of vodka, set your atomic-powered alarm clock 4751 years ahead and, finally, bury yourself in the snow. Good luck and mind the mastodons!

*Located by red star on map showing zones of visibility. For great views of the telescopes, background narration and the transit itself, click the RealVideo link to the saved webcast.

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Longer-term perspective on global warming (and other catastrophes)

On March 16th I blogged about the sharp upturn in global temperatures that some liken to the blade of a hockey stick. The blog provides a link to a graph reproduced by the BBC which goes back 1000 years. Aside from questions about how data are fitted, simple changes to scales and other attributes of the graphs themselves can paint very different perspectives on seemingly straightforward scientific questions such as whether we ought to be worried about global warming. Andy Sleeper shows this in part 7 of his white paper titled HOW TO LIE WITH STATISTICAL GRAPHICS. The color-coded graph generated by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is very alarming. However, it only provides 122 years of history and the y-axis scale is restricted to about 2 degrees C. A few figures later in Sleeper’s paper one sees another graph based on 400,000 years of temperatures estimated from core samples of Antarctic ice. It reveals cyclic temperature swings of 12 degrees C! In this context, should a less than 1 degree increase in global temperature be considered abnormal, that is, due to a special cause such as man-made carbon dioxide?

PS. Here’s something to really worry about. The November issue of Sky and Telescope features a heads-up on “The Most Dangerous Asteroid Ever Found” — a 1000-foot pile of rock called Apophis. It will just miss the Earth on April 13, 2029. If Apophis hits a narrow zone — called the keyhole, it will be dragged enough by our gravity to put it on a course that collides with Earth seven years later. One can only hope that NASA’s proposed gravity tractor will pull the asteroid off target and save the planet.

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