Sunshine Recorder

"Planet Travel Posters Sets Mars & Venus" by Ron Guyatt

Space tourism is still a long ways off, but it’s not hard to imagine that someday, tourists will visit the natural geological landmarks of other worlds much like they tour the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest or Ayers Rock. Each of these great tourist destinations needs a classic retro travel poster to entice visitors. Until the day people settle off world and make their own destinations many of these may be the places that people will want to travel too. I hope that these posters can inspire people to think beyond our world to the limitless possibilities of the Universe.

(via staceythinx)

Misfits: From the Moon

Here are the lesser-known photos from NASA’s Apollo program, too sun-burned or out-of-focus to make it to mainstream, uncovered after many hours of browsing the Apollo Archive.

Link: Lost in Space

What really happened to Russia’s missing cosmonauts? An incredible tale of space hacking, espionage and death in the lonely reaches of space.

Midnight, 19 May 1961. A crisp frost had descended on Turin’s city centre which was deserted and deathly silent. Well, almost. Two brothers, aged 20 and 23, raced through the grid-like streets (that would later be made famous by the film The Italian Job) in a tiny Fiat 600, which screamed in protest as they bounced across one cobbled piazza after another at top speed. 

The Fiat was loaded with dozens of iron pipes and aluminium sheets which poked out of windows and were strapped to the roof. The car screeched to a halt outside the city’s tallest block of flats. Grabbing their assorted pipes, along with a large toolbox, the two brothers ran up the stairs to the rooftop. Moments later, the city’s silence was rudely broken once more as they set to work: a concerto of hammering, clattering, sawing and shouting. 

Suddenly, an angry voice rang out; the man who lived on the floor below leant out of the window and screamed: “Will you stop that racket, I’m trying to sleep!” 

One of the young men shouted back “Sorry sir; the Soviets have launched a satellite and we’re trying to intercept it!” 

The brothers finished setting up, grabbed their head-sets, twiddled the knobs on their portable receivers, hit the record button and listened… 

“Come in… come in… come in… Listen! Come in! Talk to me! I am hot! I am hot! Come in! What? Forty-five? What? Fifty? Yes. Yes, yes, breathing. Oxygen, oxygen… I am hot. This… isn’t this dangerous?” 
The brothers looked nervously at one another. They only fully understood the Russian later when their sister translated for them, but the desperation in the woman’s voice was clear. 

“Transmission begins now. Forty-one. Yes, I feel hot. I feel hot, it’s all… it’s all hot. I can see a flame! I can see a flame! I can see a flame! Thirty-two… thirty-two. Am I going to crash? Yes, yes I feel hot… I am listening, I feel hot, I will re-enter. I’m hot!” 

The signal went dead. 

There are those who believe that somewhere in the vast blackness of space, about nine billion miles from the Sun, the first human is about to cross the boundary of our Solar System into interstellar space. His body, perfectly preserved, is frozen at –270 degrees C (–454ºF); his tiny capsule has been silently sailing away from the Earth at 18,000 mph (29,000km/h) for the last 45 years. He is the original lost cosmonaut, whose rocket went up and, instead of coming back down, just kept on going. 

It is the ultimate in Cold War legends: that at the dawn of the Space Age, in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the Soviet Union had two space programmes, one a public programme, the other a ‘black’ one, in which far more daring and sometimes downright suicidal missions were attempted. It was assumed that Russia’s Black Ops, if they existed at all, would remain secret forever. 

The ‘Lost Cosmonauts’ debate has been reawakened thanks to a new investigation into the efforts of two ingenious, radio-mad young Italian brothers who, starting in 1957, hacked into both Russia’s and NASA’s space programmes – so effect­ively that the Russians, it seems, may have wanted them dead. 

Overview: On the 40th anniversary of the famous ‘Blue Marble’ photograph taken of Earth from space, Planetary Collective presents a short film documenting astronauts’ life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from the outside – a perspective-altering experience often described as the Overview Effect. The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment. ‘Overview’ is a short film that explores this phenomenon through interviews with five astronauts who have experienced the Overview Effect. The film also features insights from commentators and thinkers on the wider implications and importance of this understanding for society, and our relationship to the environment.




In the Center of Saturn’s North Polar Vortex: What’s happening at the north pole of Saturn? A vortex of strange and complex swirling clouds. The center of this vortex was imaged in unprecedented detail last week by the roboticCassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. These clouds lie at the center of the unusual hexagonal cloud system that surrounds the north pole of Saturn. The sun rose on Saturn’s north pole just a few years ago, with Cassini taking only infrared images of the shadowed region previously. The above image is raw and unprocessed and is being prepared for release in 2013. Several similar images of the region have recently been condensed into a movie. Planetary scientists are sure to continue to study this most unusual cloud formation for quite some time.

In the Center of Saturn’s North Polar Vortex: What’s happening at the north pole of Saturn? A vortex of strange and complex swirling clouds. The center of this vortex was imaged in unprecedented detail last week by the roboticCassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. These clouds lie at the center of the unusual hexagonal cloud system that surrounds the north pole of Saturn. The sun rose on Saturn’s north pole just a few years ago, with Cassini taking only infrared images of the shadowed region previously. The above image is raw and unprocessed and is being prepared for release in 2013. Several similar images of the region have recently been condensed into a movie. Planetary scientists are sure to continue to study this most unusual cloud formation for quite some time.

Link: Radiolab: The Dark Side of the Earth

200 miles above Earth’s surface, astronaut Dave Wolf—rocketing through the blackness of Earth’s shadow at 5 miles a second—floated out of the Mir Space Station on his very first spacewalk. In this short, he describes the extremes of light and dark in space, relives a heart-pounding close call, and shares one of the most tranquil moments of his life. When we were putting together our live show In the Dark, Jad and Robert called up Dave Wolf to ask him if he had any stories about darkness. And boy, did he. Dave told us two stories that became the finale of our show.

Link: Life in the Universe

This lecture is the intellectual property of Professor S.W.Hawking. You may not reproduce, edit, translate, distribute, publish or host this document in any way with out the permission of Professor Hawking. Note that there may be incorrect spellings, punctuation and/or grammar in this document. This is to allow correct pronunciation and timing by a speech synthesiser.

In this talk, I would like to speculate a little, on the development of life in the universe, and in particular, the development of intelligent life. I shall take this to include the human race, even though much of its behaviour through out history, has been pretty stupid, and not calculated to aid the survival of the species. Two questions I shall discuss are, ‘What is the probability of life existing else where in the universe?’ and, ‘How may life develop in the future?’ 

It is a matter of common experience, that things get more disordered and chaotic with time. This observation can be elevated to the status of a law, the so-called Second Law of Thermodynamics. This says that the total amount of disorder, or entropy, in the universe, always increases with time. However, the Law refers only to the total amount of disorder. The order in one body can increase, provided that the amount of disorder in its surroundings increases by a greater amount. This is what happens in a living being. One can define Life to be an ordered system that can sustain itself against the tendency to disorder, and can reproduce itself. That is, it can make similar, but independent, ordered systems. To do these things, the system must convert energy in some ordered form, like food, sunlight, or electric power, into disordered energy, in the form of heat. In this way, the system can satisfy the requirement that the total amount of disorder increases, while, at the same time, increasing the order in itself and its offspring. A living being usually has two elements: a set of instructions that tell the system how to sustain and reproduce itself, and a mechanism to carry out the instructions. In biology, these two parts are called genes and metabolism. But it is worth emphasising that there need be nothing biological about them. For example, a computer virus is a program that will make copies of itself in the memory of a computer, and will transfer itself to other computers. Thus it fits the definition of a living system, that I have given. Like a biological virus, it is a rather degenerate form, because it contains only instructions or genes, and doesn’t have any metabolism of its own. Instead, it reprograms the metabolism of the host computer, or cell. Some people have questioned whether viruses should count as life, because they are parasites, and can not exist independently of their hosts. But then most forms of life, ourselves included, are parasites, in that they feed off and depend for their survival on other forms of life. I think computer viruses should count as life. Maybe it says something about human nature, that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image. I shall return to electronic forms of life later on.

What we normally think of as ‘life’ is based on chains of carbon atoms, with a few other atoms, such as nitrogen or phosphorous. One can speculate that one might have life with some other chemical basis, such as silicon, but carbon seems the most favourable case, because it has the richest chemistry. That carbon atoms should exist at all, with the properties that they have, requires a fine adjustment of physical constants, such as the QCD scale, the electric charge, and even the dimension of space-time. If these constants had significantly different values, either the nucleus of the carbon atom would not be stable, or the electrons would collapse in on the nucleus. At first sight, it seems remarkable that the universe is so finely tuned. Maybe this is evidence, that the universe was specially designed to produce the human race. However, one has to be careful about such arguments, because of what is known as the Anthropic Principle. This is based on the self-evident truth, that if the universe had not been suitable for life, we wouldn’t be asking why it is so finely adjusted. One can apply the Anthropic Principle, in either its Strong, or Weak, versions. For the Strong Anthropic Principle, one supposes that there are many different universes, each with different values of the physical constants. In a small number, the values will allow the existence of objects like carbon atoms, which can act as the building blocks of living systems. Since we must live in one of these universes, we should not be surprised that the physical constants are finely tuned. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be here. The strong form of the Anthropic Principle is not very satisfactory. What operational meaning can one give to the existence of all those other universes? And if they are separate from our own universe, how can what happens in them, affect our universe. Instead, I shall adopt what is known as the Weak Anthropic Principle. That is, I shall take the values of the physical constants, as given. But I shall see what conclusions can be drawn, from the fact that life exists on this planet, at this stage in the history of the universe.


World Next Door
Nine theories of the multiverse promise everything and more. But if reality is so vast and varied, where do we fit in?  
Our understanding of the fundamental nature of reality is changing faster than ever before. Gigantic observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope on the Paranal Mountain in Chile are probing the furthest reaches of the cosmos. Meanwhile, with their feet firmly on the ground, leviathan atom-smashers such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under the Franco-Swiss border are busy untangling the riddles of the tiny quantum world.
Myriad discoveries are flowing from these magnificent machines. You may have seen Hubble’s extraordinary pictures. You will probably have heard of the ‘exoplanets’, worlds orbiting alien suns, and you will almost certainly have heard about the Higgs Boson, the particle that imbues all others with mass, which the LHC found this year. But you probably won’t know that (if their findings are taken to their logical conclusion) these machines have also detected hints that Elvis lives, or that out there, among the flaming stars and planets, are unicorns, actual unicorns with horns on their noses. There’s even weirder stuff, too: devils and demons; gods and nymphs; places where Hitler won the Second World War, or where there was no war at all. Places where the most outlandish fantasies come true. A weirdiverse, if you will. Most bizarre of all, scientists are now seriously discussing the possibility that our universe is a fake, a thing of smoke and mirrors.
All this, and more, is the stuff of the multiverse, the great roller-coaster rewriting of reality that has overturned conventional cosmology in the last decade or two. The multiverse hypothesis is the idea that what we see in the night sky is just an infinitesimally tiny sliver of a much, much grander reality, hitherto invisible. The idea has become so mainstream that it is now quite hard to find a cosmologist who thinks there’s nothing in it. This isn’t the world of the mystics, the pointy-hat brigade who see the Age of Aquarius in every Hubble image. On the contrary, the multiverse is the creature of Astronomers Royal and tenured professors at Cambridge and Cornell.
First, some semantics. The old-fashioned, pre-multiverse ‘universe’ is defined as the volume of spacetime, about 90 billion light years across, that holds all the stars we can see (those whose light has had enough time to reach us since the Big Bang). This ‘universe’ contains about 500 sextillion stars — more than the grains of sand on all the beaches of Earth — organised into about 80 billion galaxies. It is, broadly speaking, what you look up at on a clear night. It is unimaginably vast, incomprehensibly old and, until recently, assumed to be all that there is. Yet recent discoveries from telescopes and particle colliders, coupled with new mathematical insights, mean we have to discard this ‘small’ universe in favour of a much grander reality. The old universe is as a gnat atop an elephant in comparison with the new one. Moreover, the new terrain is so strange that it might be beyond human understanding.
That hasn’t stopped some bold thinkers from trying, of course. One such is Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University in New York. He turned his gaze upon the multiverse in his latest book, The Hidden Reality (2011). According to Greene, it now comes in no fewer than nine ‘flavours’, which, he says, can ‘all work together’.
The simplest version he calls the ‘quilted multiverse’. This arises from the observation that the matter and energy we can see through our most powerful telescopes have a certain density. In fact, they are just dense enough to permit a gravitationally ‘flat’ universe that extends forever, rather than looping back on itself. We know that a repulsive field pervaded spacetime just after the Big Bang: it was what caused everything to fly apart in the way that it did. If that field was large enough, we must conclude that infinite space contains infinite repetitions of the ‘Hubble volume’, the volume of space, matter and energy that is observable from Earth.
If this is correct, there might — indeed, there must — be innumerable dollops of interesting spacetime beyond our observable horizon. There will be enough of these patchwork, or ‘pocket’, universes for every single arrangement of fundamental particles to occur, not just once but an infinite number of times. It is sometimes said that, given a typewriter and enough time, a monkey will eventually come up withHamlet. Similarly, with a fixed basic repertoire of elementary particles and an infinity of pocket universes, you will come up with everything.
In such a case, we would expect some of these patchwork universes to be identical to this one. There is another you, sitting on an identical Earth, about 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 120 light years away. Other pocket universes will contain entities of almost limitless power and intelligence. If it is allowed by the basic physical laws (which, in this scenario, will be constant across all universes), it must happen. Thus there are unicorns, and thus there are godlike beings. Thus there is a place where your evil twin lives. In an interview I asked Greene if this means there are Narnias out there, Star Trek universes, places where Elvis got a personal trainer and lived to his 90s (as has been suggested by Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York). Places where every conscious being is in perpetual torment. Heavens and hells. Yes, it does, it seems. And does he find this troubling? ‘Not at all,’ he replied. ‘Exciting. Well, that’s what I say in this universe, at least.’

World Next Door

Nine theories of the multiverse promise everything and more. But if reality is so vast and varied, where do we fit in?  

Our understanding of the fundamental nature of reality is changing faster than ever before. Gigantic observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope on the Paranal Mountain in Chile are probing the furthest reaches of the cosmos. Meanwhile, with their feet firmly on the ground, leviathan atom-smashers such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under the Franco-Swiss border are busy untangling the riddles of the tiny quantum world.

Myriad discoveries are flowing from these magnificent machines. You may have seen Hubble’s extraordinary pictures. You will probably have heard of the ‘exoplanets’, worlds orbiting alien suns, and you will almost certainly have heard about the Higgs Boson, the particle that imbues all others with mass, which the LHC found this year. But you probably won’t know that (if their findings are taken to their logical conclusion) these machines have also detected hints that Elvis lives, or that out there, among the flaming stars and planets, are unicorns, actual unicorns with horns on their noses. There’s even weirder stuff, too: devils and demons; gods and nymphs; places where Hitler won the Second World War, or where there was no war at all. Places where the most outlandish fantasies come true. A weirdiverse, if you will. Most bizarre of all, scientists are now seriously discussing the possibility that our universe is a fake, a thing of smoke and mirrors.

All this, and more, is the stuff of the multiverse, the great roller-coaster rewriting of reality that has overturned conventional cosmology in the last decade or two. The multiverse hypothesis is the idea that what we see in the night sky is just an infinitesimally tiny sliver of a much, much grander reality, hitherto invisible. The idea has become so mainstream that it is now quite hard to find a cosmologist who thinks there’s nothing in it. This isn’t the world of the mystics, the pointy-hat brigade who see the Age of Aquarius in every Hubble image. On the contrary, the multiverse is the creature of Astronomers Royal and tenured professors at Cambridge and Cornell.

First, some semantics. The old-fashioned, pre-multiverse ‘universe’ is defined as the volume of spacetime, about 90 billion light years across, that holds all the stars we can see (those whose light has had enough time to reach us since the Big Bang). This ‘universe’ contains about 500 sextillion stars — more than the grains of sand on all the beaches of Earth — organised into about 80 billion galaxies. It is, broadly speaking, what you look up at on a clear night. It is unimaginably vast, incomprehensibly old and, until recently, assumed to be all that there is. Yet recent discoveries from telescopes and particle colliders, coupled with new mathematical insights, mean we have to discard this ‘small’ universe in favour of a much grander reality. The old universe is as a gnat atop an elephant in comparison with the new one. Moreover, the new terrain is so strange that it might be beyond human understanding.

That hasn’t stopped some bold thinkers from trying, of course. One such is Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University in New York. He turned his gaze upon the multiverse in his latest book, The Hidden Reality (2011). According to Greene, it now comes in no fewer than nine ‘flavours’, which, he says, can ‘all work together’.

The simplest version he calls the ‘quilted multiverse’. This arises from the observation that the matter and energy we can see through our most powerful telescopes have a certain density. In fact, they are just dense enough to permit a gravitationally ‘flat’ universe that extends forever, rather than looping back on itself. We know that a repulsive field pervaded spacetime just after the Big Bang: it was what caused everything to fly apart in the way that it did. If that field was large enough, we must conclude that infinite space contains infinite repetitions of the ‘Hubble volume’, the volume of space, matter and energy that is observable from Earth.

If this is correct, there might — indeed, there must — be innumerable dollops of interesting spacetime beyond our observable horizon. There will be enough of these patchwork, or ‘pocket’, universes for every single arrangement of fundamental particles to occur, not just once but an infinite number of times. It is sometimes said that, given a typewriter and enough time, a monkey will eventually come up withHamlet. Similarly, with a fixed basic repertoire of elementary particles and an infinity of pocket universes, you will come up with everything.

In such a case, we would expect some of these patchwork universes to be identical to this one. There is another you, sitting on an identical Earth, about 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 120 light years away. Other pocket universes will contain entities of almost limitless power and intelligence. If it is allowed by the basic physical laws (which, in this scenario, will be constant across all universes), it must happen. Thus there are unicorns, and thus there are godlike beings. Thus there is a place where your evil twin lives. In an interview I asked Greene if this means there are Narnias out there, Star Trek universes, places where Elvis got a personal trainer and lived to his 90s (as has been suggested by Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York). Places where every conscious being is in perpetual torment. Heavens and hells. Yes, it does, it seems. And does he find this troubling? ‘Not at all,’ he replied. ‘Exciting. Well, that’s what I say in this universe, at least.’

Link: "Biological Intelligence is a Fleeting Phase in the Evolution of the Universe"

During an epoch of dramatic climate change 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens (modern humans) evolved in Africa. Several leading scientists are asking: Is the human species entering a new evolutionary, post-biological inflection point?

Paul Davies, a British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative at Arizona State University, says in his new book The Eerie Silence that any aliens exploring the universe will be AI-empowered machines. Not only are machines better able to endure extended exposure to the conditions of space, but they have the potential to develop intelligence far beyond the capacity of the human brain.

"I think it very likely – in fact inevitable – that biological intelligence is only a transitory phenomenon, a fleeting phase in the evolution of the universe," Davies writes. "If we ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligence, I believe it is overwhelmingly likely to be post-biological in nature."

In the current search for advanced extraterrestrial life SETI experts say the odds favor detecting alien AI rather than biological life because the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence would be brief.  

“If we build a machine with the intellectual capability of one human, then within 5 years, its successor is more intelligent than all humanity combined,” says Seth Shostak, SETI chief astronomer. “Once any society invents the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, they are at most only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm of sentience to artificial intelligence,” he says.

ET machines would be infinitely more intelligent and durable than the biological intelligence that created them. Intelligent machines would be immortal, and would not need to exist in the carbon-friendly “Goldilocks Zones” current SETI searches focus on. An AI could self-direct its own evolution, each “upgrade” would be created with the sum total of its predecessor’s knowledge preloaded.

"I think we could spend at least a few percent of our time… looking in the directions that are maybe not the most attractive in terms of biological intelligence but maybe where sentient machines are hanging out." Shostak thinks SETI ought to consider expanding its search to the energy- and matter-rich neighborhoods of hot stars, black holes and neutron stars. 

Before the year 2020, scientists are expected to launch intelligent space robots that will venture out to explore the universe for us.

"Robotic exploration probably will always be the trail blazer for human exploration of far space," says Wolfgang Fink, physicist and researcher at Caltech. "We haven’t yet landed a human being on Mars but we have a robot there now. In that sense, it’s much easier to send a robotic explorer. When you can take the human out of the loop, that is becoming very exciting."

As the growing global population continues to increase the burden on the Earth’s natural resources, senior curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Roger Launius, thinks that we’ll have to alter human biology to prepare to colonize space. 

Launius  looks at the historical debate surrounding human colonization of the solar system. Experiments have shown that certain life forms can survive in space. Recently, British scientists found that bacteria living on rocks taken from Britain’s Beer village were able to survive 553 days in space, on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS). The microbes returned to Earth alive, proving they could withstand the harsh environment. 

Humans, on the other hand, are unable to survive beyond about a minute and a half in space without significant technological assistance. Other than some quick trips to the moon and the ISS, astronauts haven’t spent too much time too far away from Earth. Scientists don’t know enough yet about the dangers of long-distance space travel on human biological systems. A one-way trip to Mars, for example, would take approximately six months. That means astronauts will be in deep space for more than a year with potentially life-threatening consequences.

Launius, who calls himself a cyborg for using medical equipment to enhance his own life, says the difficult question is knowing where to draw the line in transforming human biological systems to adapt to space.

Link: On the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Artifacts

Abstract: Extraterrestrial technology may exist in the Solar System without our knowledge. This is because the vastness of space, combined with our limited searches to date, implies that any remote unpiloted exploratory probes of extraterrestrial origin would likely remain unnoticed. Here we develop a probabilistic approach to quantify our certainty (or uncertainty) of the existence of such technology in the Solar System. We discuss some possible strategies for improving this uncertainty that include analysis of moon- and Mars-orbiting satellite data as well as continued exploration of the Solar System.

If extraterrestrials exist in our galaxy, then might they try observing us? This question was raised by Ronald Bracewell [1] shortly after Cocconi and Morrison’s suggestion [2] to search for extraterrestrial broadcasts. It is certainly possible that extraterrestrials could be observing us remotely; after all, near-future human technology includes the prospects of observing atmospheric spectra of extrasolar terrestrial planets [3] and exploring nearby star systems with unpiloted remote exploratory probes [4, 5, 6]. One possible scenario for human exploration of space begins with the discovery of an Earth-like planet around a nearby star, with an exploratory probe sent as a follow-up mission. It is at least plausible that extraterrestrials might also adopt a similar strategy [7, 8]. If so, then extraterrestrial technology could be hiding in our own Solar System.

We have obviously not yet discovered any technology of extraterrestrial origin, but how sure can we be that the Solar System contains none of these artifacts? In this paper we develop a probabilistic approach to this ques- tion. Certain regions of space have been searched sufficiently to discover such technology, if it exists, but much of the Solar System remains unex- plored. It is completely possible that extraterrestrial technology could be actively observing us without our knowledge, while it is also possible that defunct extraterrestrial technology exists on planetary surfaces or interplan- etary space. Therefore, it is of interest to calculate a likelihood that a given region of space is in fact absent of extraterrestrial technology. We begin our argument by first clarifying the types of extraterrestrial technology we con- sider. We then develop our probabilistic analysis and discuss its implications for future searches of the Solar System.

Another interesting paper on the same topic, from the Anglo-Australian Observatory, and the University of Adelaide:  SETA and 1991 VG

Abstract: A ~ 10-metre object on a heliocentric orbit, now catalogued as 1991 VG, made a close approach to the Earth in 1991 December, and was discovered a month before perigee with the Spacewatch telescope at Kitt Peak. Its very Earth-like orbit and observations of rapid brightness fluctuations argue for it being an artificial body rather than an asteroid. None of the handful of man-made rocket bodies left in heliocentric orbits during the space age have purely gravitational orbits returning to the Earth at that time, and in an3’ case the a priori probability of discovery for 1991 VG was very small, of order one in 100,000 per anmun. In addition, the small perigee distance observed might be interpreted as an indicator of a controlled rather than a random encounter with the Earth, and thus it might be argued that 1991 VG is a candidate as an alien probe observed in the vicinity of our planet.


Black Sun and Inveted Starfield: Does this strange dark ball look somehow familiar? If so, that might be because it is our Sun. In the above image, a detailed solar view was captured originally in a very specific color of red light, then rendered in black and white, and then color inverted. Once complete, the resulting image was added to a starfield, then also color inverted. Visible in the above image of the Sun are long light filaments, dark active regions, prominences peaking around the edge, and a moving carpet of hot gas. The surface of our Sun has become a particularly busy place over the past two years because it is now nearing Solar Maximum, the time when its surface magnetic field is wound up the most. Besides an active Sun being so picturesque, the plasma expelled can also become picturesque when it impacts the Earth’s magnetosphere and creates auroras.

Black Sun and Inveted Starfield: Does this strange dark ball look somehow familiar? If so, that might be because it is our Sun. In the above image, a detailed solar view was captured originally in a very specific color of red light, then rendered in black and white, and then color inverted. Once complete, the resulting image was added to a starfield, then also color inverted. Visible in the above image of the Sun are long light filaments, dark active regions, prominences peaking around the edge, and a moving carpet of hot gas. The surface of our Sun has become a particularly busy place over the past two years because it is now nearing Solar Maximum, the time when its surface magnetic field is wound up the most. Besides an active Sun being so picturesque, the plasma expelled can also become picturesque when it impacts the Earth’s magnetosphere and creates auroras.

(via darylelockhart)

Link: Why Explore Space? A Letter to a Nun in Africa

Ernst Stuhlinger wrote this letter on May 6, 1970, to Sister Mary Jucunda, a nun who worked among the starving children of Kabwe, Zambia, in Africa, who questioned the value of space exploration. At the time Dr. Stuhlinger was Associate Director for Science at the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama. Touched by Sister Mary’s concern and sincerity, his beliefs about the value of space exploration were expressed in his reply to Sister Mary. It remains, more than four decades later, an eloquent statement of the value of the space exploration endeavor. 

Dear Sister Mary Jucunda:

Your letter was one of many which are reaching me every day, but it has touched me more deeply than all the others because it came so much from the depths of a searching mind and a compassionate heart. I will try to answer your question as best as I possibly can.

First, however, I would like to express my great admiration for you, and for all your many brave sisters, because you are dedicating your lives to the noblest cause of man: help for his fellowmen who are in need.

You asked in your letter how I could suggest the expenditures of billions of dollars for a voyage to Mars, at a time when many children on this Earth are starving to death. I know that you do not expect an answer such as “Oh, I did not know that there are children dying from hunger, but from now on I will desist from any kind of space research until mankind has solved that problem!” In fact, I have known of famined children long before I knew that a voyage to the planet Mars is technically feasible. However, I believe, like many of my friends, that travelling to the Moon and eventually to Mars and to other planets is a venture which we should undertake now, and I even believe that this project, in the long run, will contribute more to the solution of these grave problems we are facing here on Earth than many other potential projects of help which are debated and discussed year after year, and which are so extremely slow in yielding tangible results.

Before trying to describe in more detail how our space program is contributing to the solution of our Earthly problems, I would like to relate briefly a supposedly true story, which may help support the argument. About 400 years ago, there lived a count in a small town in Germany. He was one of the benign counts, and he gave a large part of his income to the poor in his town. This was much appreciated, because poverty was abundant during medieval times, and there were epidemics of the plague which ravaged the country frequently. One day, the count met a strange man. He had a workbench and little laboratory in his house, and he labored hard during the daytime so that he could afford a few hours every evening to work in his laboratory. He ground small lenses from pieces of glass; he mounted the lenses in tubes, and he used these gadgets to look at very small objects. The count was particularly fascinated by the tiny creatures that could be observed with the strong magnification, and which he had never seen before. He invited the man to move with his laboratory to the castle, to become a member of the count’s household, and to devote henceforth all his time to the development and perfection of his optical gadgets as a special employee of the count.

The townspeople, however, became angry when they realized that the count was wasting his money, as they thought, on a stunt without purpose. “We are suffering from this plague,” they said, “while he is paying that man for a useless hobby!” But the count remained firm. “I give you as much as I can afford,” he said, “but I will also support this man and his work, because I know that someday something will come out of it!”

Indeed, something very good came out of this work, and also out of similar work done by others at other places: the microscope. It is well known that the microscope has contributed more than any other invention to the progress of medicine, and that the elimination of the plague and many other contagious diseases from most parts of the world is largely a result of studies which the microscope made possible.

The count, by retaining some of his spending money for research and discovery, contributed far more to the relief of human suffering than he could have contributed by giving all he could possibly spare to his plague-ridden community.


Cosmonaut Crashed Into Earth “Crying In Rage”
So there’s a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he’s on the phone with Alexei Kosygin—then a high official of the Soviet Union—who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die.
The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes—though no one knows this—won’t work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.”
This extraordinarily intimate account of the 1967 death of a Russian cosmonaut appears in a new book, Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, to be published next month. The authors base their narrative principally on revelations from a KGB officer, Venyamin Ivanovich Russayev, and previous reporting by Yaroslav Golovanov in Pravda. This version—if it’s true—is beyond shocking.
Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Kamarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space. The two men were close; they socialized, hunted and drank together.
In 1967, both men were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn’t back out because he didn’t want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.

Cosmonaut Crashed Into Earth “Crying In Rage”

So there’s a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he’s on the phone with Alexei Kosygin—then a high official of the Soviet Union—who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die.

The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes—though no one knows this—won’t work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.”

This extraordinarily intimate account of the 1967 death of a Russian cosmonaut appears in a new book, Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, to be published next month. The authors base their narrative principally on revelations from a KGB officer, Venyamin Ivanovich Russayev, and previous reporting by Yaroslav Golovanov in Pravda. This version—if it’s true—is beyond shocking.

Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Kamarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space. The two men were close; they socialized, hunted and drank together.

In 1967, both men were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn’t back out because he didn’t want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.

(Source: sunrec)

Stirring Photos Chronicle the Final Years of the Space Shuttle Program 

A wise photo editor once said that sometimes the most interesting photos don’t happen at the football game. They happen in the parking lot. It’s easy to get caught up in the action and forget that everything surrounding the action can be just as revealing.

Case in point is Philip Scott Andrews’ ongoing photo series Last Days, which documents the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. For three years Andrews has had unprecedented access to the Kennedy Space Center, and he’s made good use of it by capturing a side of this facility the public is not used to seeing.

“A lot of people when they hear NASA they think about guys in white lab coats,” Andrews says. “The astronauts are fascinating, but there are only a couple of them, and then there are thousands of workers who are making this possible.”

The historic program, officially titled the Space Transportation System (STS), performed its last launch, the Atlantis shuttle, on July 8, 2011. The program’s vehicles, the only winged aircraft to ever enter orbit and return for multiple uses, are now being decommissioned and placed in museums for future generations to experience.

It seems appropriate to capture the passing of this iconic era of human scientific achievement in Andrews’ grainy black and white, a choice he made explicitly for its timeless quality. Andrews’ dad was a photography consultant for the aerospace industry and, like many people from his generation, was profoundly moved by the achievements of NASA.

“The Space Shuttle has a lot of symbolism for what this country used to be and for what we were able to produce in-house,” he says. “I wanted this to be my love song to the space age, if that’s not too cheesy to say.”

Instead of perseverating on the few remaining launches, Andrews wanted to reacquaint the U.S. with the scope of its achievement by turning his camera toward the program’s more everyday moments and characters.

“A big problem with the Space Shuttle was that it became too consistent,” he says. “The American people stopped seeing it as a difficult task. They made it so ordinary that it lost its sense of adventure.”

By forcing people to re-see all that goes into maintaining and launching a shuttle, Andrews helps get at the heart of something that truly changed the country as we know it. Something he thinks we need to achieve again today.

“I think that projects like [the space program] make us a better country,” Andrews says. “Whether it’s going to the moon or achieving energy independence, these projects always lead to research and discoveries that we can’t even estimate now.”

(Source: )