Star Trails

NorthStarTrailsImage: © Sérgio Conceição

Short star trails circle the North Star, Polaris, above a gorgeous landscape on Flores Island in this long-exposure image by astrophotographer Sérgio Conceição.

Not Enough Greenhouse Gases?

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Science fiction writers have long featured terraforming, the process of creating an Earth-like or habitable environment on another planet, in their stories. Scientists themselves have proposed terraforming to enable the long-term colonization of Mars. A solution common to both groups is to release carbon dioxide gas trapped in the Martian surface to thicken the atmosphere and act as a blanket to warm the planet.

However, Mars does not retain enough carbon dioxide that could practically be put back into the atmosphere to warm Mars, according to a new NASA-sponsored study. Although the current Martian atmosphere itself consists mostly of carbon dioxide, it is far too thin and cold to support liquid water, an essential ingredient for life. On Mars, the pressure of the atmosphere is less than one percent of the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere. Any liquid water on the surface would very quickly evaporate or freeze.

Proponents of terraforming Mars propose releasing gases from a variety of sources on the Red Planet to thicken the atmosphere and increase the temperature to the point where liquid water is stable on the surface. These gases are called “greenhouse gases” for their ability to trap heat and warm the climate.

“Carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O) are the only greenhouse gases that are likely to be present on Mars in sufficient abundance to provide any significant greenhouse warming,” said Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado.

Read the rest of the reasons here why terraforming Mars isn’t possible just yet.

One Giant Step For Womankind

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Two of NASA’s astronauts are scheduled to make history this month.

On March 29, Anne McClain and Christina Koch will leave the relative safety of the International Space Station for a spacewalk to upgrade the craft’s batteries. As well, two other women will play important roles behind the scenes for this spacewalk — Mary Lawrence and Jackie Kagey will serve as the spacewalk’s lead flight director and lead spacewalk flight controller, respectively.

A third woman, Canadian Space Agency flight controller Kristen Facciol, will support the spacewalk from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Not history making? I disagree. This is a giant step forward for all women in the sciences!

What do you think?

Solar Farts Are Dangerous!

yellow sphere illustration

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So here’s something I learned today from Popular Science…

“Our great big ball of gas and plasma continuously churns and showers the solar system with charged particles and radiation, collectively called solar wind. Solar wind is quite dangerous for human beings, and would likely cause gastrointestinal, neurological, and circulatory issues for us in addition to cancer with enough exposure. Thankfully, we’re all protected from such effects thanks to Earth’s magnetic field.”

I can imagine my boys saying something cheeky here about the Sun passing wind. Solar farts are dangerous, folks!

100 Billion Stars…Is Anyone Out There?

sky space telescope universe

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There’s a really great article at National Geographic today about the probability of life on all those other planets in Earth’s so-called ‘habitable zone’. According to astrophysicist Sara Seager, there are more planets than there are stars, and at least a quarter are Earth-size planets in their star’s so-called habitable zone, where conditions are neither too hot nor too cold for life. With a minimum of 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, that means there are at least 25 billion places where life could conceivably take hold in our galaxy alone—and our galaxy is one among trillions.

An influx of private funding has reenergized the search for life elsewhere among the stars, so it’s conceivable that we may find life as early as the next generation of planet-hunting satellites, if not this one. There’s an informative and interesting info-graphic on planet hunters within the article that’s worth a look too. Research has broadened from merely listening for radio signals to searching for optical and infrared emissions as well.

The article I’ve linked above is meaty with infographics, new research and lots of spectacular photos. If you have any interest at all in life beyond our own, you’ll find the article of interest. Check it out, I’d love to know what you think!

Dragons Are Real, Look!

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I can’t be the only one who missed this news, right?

Early in February of this year (2019 in case you’re reading this in the future), NASA captured a stunning image of a dragon aurora over Iceland. NASA said, “The aurora was caused by a hole in the sun’s corona that expelled charged particles into a solar wind that followed a changing interplanetary magnetic field to Earth’s magnetosphere.”

The aurora is pretty cool, but even more remarkable than you’d think because it appeared during a time of low sunspot activity, according to NASA, which means the sun is not emitting as many charged particles as it normally does.

The writer in me wants to believe this is just another sign that dragons are real.

A Return…With Friends!

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I’ve been away this past week due to two failures.

A hardware failure, and a failure to communicate.

The first was a stuttering failure of the household router. In an effort to fix it, a tech that shall remain nameless failed to communicate correctly and we had to go nearly a week without the internet. It was getting pretty nerve-jangling by the time a knowledgable tech showed up to configure a newer router. You’ve never seen an entire household go from stressed out to happy in so short a time!

Last night, I had a dream. No, nothing of Martin Luther King importance, but for me, it was fairly significant. I don’t normally remember my dreams, but this one concerned my novel-in-progress, ‘Infinite Worlds’. You might remember that IW is set on an Earth-like parallel world, New Olympus. Devi Aradesta and Coriander Wolf have to find a way to get to New Olympus and retrieve a missing team of Earth scientists. Last night, I dreamed of a side-story to ‘Infinite Worlds’, and this morning I started writing.

Friends, I can’t properly express how excited I am about this tale, which as yet has no name. Here’s the plot in a nutshell…

In a parallel universe, there is a world very much like Earth. New Olympus is ruled by a strong-willed woman who has a plan for her world’s future. That future includes the immigration of potentially thousands of Earthers. But there are some in her government who would rather see her dead than share New Olympus with off-worlders.

Despite the best warriors protecting her, and a watchful and dedicated bodyguard at her side, the Chancellor of New Olympus, Bia Andosian is growing increasingly ill. With no heir named to follow in her footsteps, and no second in command, a corrupt Minister plots to take her place as Ruler. And his plan for New Olympus includes death for all Earthers. Even the ones already on New Olympus.

Emery Mai’s day to day job is to keep Chancellor Andosian safe. While she struggles to learn why the Chancellor is growing increasingly ill, she must also discover who is behind a newly created faction of anti-Earthers. She has to find a way to save her friend’s life, as well as the future of her world. Two worlds, and their inhabitants, stand to lose everything if Emery fails.

Does this sound like something you might be interested in reading? Have any suggestions for a title? Let me know in the comments section below!

I Invite You To…

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I’m thrilled to report that we’ll have a visitor to Words & Worlds very soon, none other than inter-planetary traveler and universe-hopper Devi Aradesta! She’ll be stopping by to discuss everything from planetary colonization, to movies, tea, Fletcherian ale and what it feels like to slip between worlds. She’s also interested in answering any and all of your questions, Dear Readers, so let’s hear them! Ask those burning questions in the comments box and then watch this space for what promises to be a great interview!

(Maybe we’ll even convince Coriander to sit in the hot seat for an interview of her own!)


 

Listening For Life

sky space telescope universe

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Back in February 2011, NASA’s Kepler Mission announced it had found 54 planets orbiting stars in so-called “habitable zones” in our galaxy. After the planets were found, NASA alerted the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) of their locations. The institute’s scientists started listening to those planets. SETI chief Jill Tarter has been quoted as saying the Institute is not listening for the kind of sound you hear with your ears. “What we’re doing is using sensors that are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation,” she says.

Electromagnetic radiation is just another name for energy that travels in wave form. Radio signals are also a form of wave energy. So when SETI “listens” to the cosmos, the institute is actually receiving electromagnetic radiation. Jon Jenkins, co-investigator for data analysis for the Kepler Mission, translates that electromagnetic radiation into sound. His actual job is measuring light from specific stars as a way to find nearby planets.

“When I started looking at these light curves,” he says, “I thought, ‘What if we played one of these through a sound card and it said, “Hello, Earthlings?” Unfortunately, Jenkins says, they haven’t heard that yet.

Jenkins made one recording by transforming wave energy — light from a star — into sound. Apparently, what has scientists puzzled is why the intensity of the pulsations change over time. One possibility put forward is that alien civilizations are modulating their own star’s brightness as a way to send signals across galaxies

Astronomers at the Parkes Observatory in Australia observed the brightest fast radio burst known to science on March of this year (2018). The signal was detected first on March 1st, then again on March 9th and 11th, with the March 9th signal breaking the record for strongest known deep space radio signal. All three have a powerful, localized origin. Scientists detected a “rapid fire” burst coming from a separate radio source within the past year. Could this strange pattern of radio bursts be attempts at intergalactic communication?

 

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Could E.T be trying to say hello?