Space Crops

By: Tyler Arsen

We are truly at a unique point in human history. Having just accomplished the astounding feat of landing a spacecraft on a speeding comet, it seems that we have entered the era of science fiction.

So what’s next?

Scientists have been trying to tackle the issue of recycling in space for decades. During the 1970’s, scientists and engineers at Stanford University were asked to come up with ideas about how a self sustaining environment could be created for humans to live in, far away from our planet. This accomplishment would be the first step in the process of colonizing outer space. Optimists predicted that such a project could be completed by the year 2005, but forty years later it is still a distant vision.

Artists depiction of interplanetary farming

Artists depiction of interplanetary farming

To supply astronauts with food and supplies during their mission costs huge sums of money. It is estimated that a single kilo costs thousands of dollars just to transport to the International Space Station (ISS). Since maintaining a supply chain from earth during an extended journey into the stars would be impossible, these future ventures would rely on a closed life-support system. This is why a new EU- funded research project is underway regarding the possibility of cultivating food crops in outer space, which could supply travelers into outer space with oxygen and food.

This research project, entitled TIME SCALE will be headed by Ann-Iren Kittang Jost, research chief at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space, which is located and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. One of the biggest issues that the scientists face is learning about how certain plants interact with their new, different environment. Kittang says that “One of the biggest challenges is to administer exactly the right amount of water and nutrients to the plants in such little gravity.”

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It is predicted that a closed, self sustaining environment could be operational in space by the year 2050. The research conducted by the Norwegian team of scientists would be vital to this undertaking, and to our end goal of extending humanities reach into our solar system and beyond.

P.S.
If you’re weird like me and want to learn more about the complications of growing plants in space, check out this youtube video by the European Space Agency:

Thanks for reading!

Sources:
http://www.thelocal.no/20141121/norway-to-grow-food-crops-in-space
http://sciencenordic.com/small-steps-toward-colonisation-space

Dwarf Galaxy

By: Tyler Arsen

On a clear night, it is estimated that between 2,500 and 5,000 stars are visible in the sky. This seems like a large amount…and it is! The night sky illuminated by the stars has made for some beautiful photographs. However, if you were standing on a planet in the newly discovered M60- UCD1 galaxy, the sky would light up with at least 1 million visible stars.

This super-compact dwarf galaxy is only 300 light years across, compared with our Milky Way’s 100,000 light year diameter.

Artist’s concept of supermassive black hole within M60-UCD1

Artist’s concept of supermassive black hole within M60-UCD1

Even more interesting, this galaxy is home to a supermassive black hole that is 5 times larger than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It’s mass is a stunning 15 percent of the total mass of the galaxy. How did astronomers measure the size of the black hole? They used data compiled by the Gemini North 8-m telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea.

After observing the stars in motion at the center of the galaxy, they concluded that their speed (370,000 kph) is faster than stars would be expected to move without a black hole. This super- compact dwarf galaxy may be the broken off piece of a large galaxy in collision with another. Because of the size of the black hole relative to the usual black hole to galaxy ratio, scientists estimate that the original mass of the galaxy was 50 to 200 times more massive than it is now.

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Starburst in an irregular Dwarf Galaxy

Why is this important? Dr. Jay Strader of Michigan State University says that “This means that the seeds of supermassive black holes are more likely to be something that occurred commonly in the early Universe.” It also holds implications that there are many other compact galaxies in the universe that contain supermassive black holes. Researchers estimate that M60-UCD1 is more than 10 billion years old, so the study of this super-compact dwarf galaxy would reveal information about the early stages of the universe.

P.S.

Check out this blog to learn more about dwarf galaxies!

Sources :

http://www.sci-news.com/astronomy/science-supermassive-black-hole-dwarf-galaxy-m60- ucd1-02156.html

http://unews.utah.edu/news_releases/smallest-known-galaxy-with-a-supermassive-black-hole/

The First Interstellar Spacecraft

By: Tyler Arsen

No human has ever left our solar system. However, on September 12, 2013, an announcement was made that Voyager I became the first manmade object to pass into interstellar space. Launched in 1977, Voyager I was the second of a pair of twin observational spacecrafts to launch. After traveling at different flight paths and at different speeds, Voyager I caught up and passed Voyager II. Voyager I is instrumental in our knowledge of our solar system.

Image of Voyager II

Image of Voyager I

Have you ever wondered where the astronomical images in your high school and college textbooks come from? These are snapshots taken by Voyager I in its long and lonely journey to the edge of our solar system.

This undertaking was initiated due to an astronomical event that happens once every 176 years. Taking advantage of a special alignment of outer planets, it allowed the spacecraft to slingshot from one planet to the next, effectively boosted by the first planet’s gravity.

Photograph that depicts planetary alignment found at universetoday.com

Photograph that depicts planetary alignment found at universetoday.com

The primary mission of the Voyager I expedition was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. The spacecraft’s discoveries include the detection of active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io, and the complexities of Saturn’s rings. After a successful undertaking, the mission was extended to the exploration of Uranus and Neptune. The Voyager II is still the only manmade object that has ever visited those outer planets.

Understanding that the Voyager I would potentially be able to fly out of our solar system, scientists placed two records on the spacecraft. On these records were audio recordings including whale calls, songs from Chuck Berry, and spoken greetings in 55 different languages. Additionally, a 12 inch copper disk was installed that included pictorials on how to operate the spacecraft, and a map that showed the position of our sun among nearby stars.

Copper disk placed on Voyager I

Copper disk placed on Voyager I

Scientists predict that the Voyager I will have enough power to keep communicating with earth until 2025 at the latest. Currently, the spacecraft is sending back vital information about the edge of our solar system, called the heliopause. This is the boundary line between our star system, and beyond into interstellar space. Eventually, after wandering the Milky Way for 40,000 years, Voyager I will come within 1.6 light years of a star in the Camelopardalis constellation. We can only hope that by that time, humanity will have found a way to outrace it and extend our influence into the galaxy.

P.S.
Check out this blog for additional information concerning Voyager I and its journey into interstellar space.

Also, this video posted by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is definitely worth watching:

Thanks for reading!

Sources:
http://www.space.com/17688-voyager-1.html
http://www.space.com/22729-voyager-1-spacecraft-interstellar-space.html
http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/12/tech/innovation/voyager-solar-system/

The Multiverse Theory

by: Tyler Arsen

In ancient times, it was thought that the earth was flat, and that there was nothing across the ocean. Upon exploration, our universe was expanded. Then, we thought that our planet was unique, and there there were no others, only to find out that we have seven other planets in our solar system.

Our solar system was thought to be the only star-centered system able to sustain life, until we realized that there are upwards of three hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. Finally, we discovered that our galaxy is not unique, but that there are around one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe.

The question remains: are we to assume, after being wrong so many times before, that our universe is the only one that exists? The multiverse theory is one idea that attempts to disprove this assumption.

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Stars with enough mass eventually collapse in on themselves, forming what we know as black holes. It is thought that at the very center of these black holes, there is a point called “singularity”, at which physical laws as we know them cease to exist. We cannot determine what effect this singularity will have on an object, so from this area, many theories have been put forth, one of them being the “Multiverse Theory.”

Since it is impossible to predict the effects of this singularity, any number of the physical laws that are present in our universe may be absent. This includes gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear forces.

“If nuclear forces were slightly weaker, no chemical elements other than hydrogen would be stable and there would be no nuclear energy to power stars.  But, if the nuclear forces were slightly stronger than they actually are relative to electric forces, two protons could stick together so readily that ordinary hydrogen would not exist, and stars would evolve quite differently.”  (Rees 232)

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This depicts the small microscopic window of opportunity that our universe had in order for it to be life sustaining. Since our universe is defined by its observable laws, if any of those laws were to change even slightly, it would no longer be considered this universe. There isn’t only opportunity for one other universe. Since stars collapse frequently, there is possibility for an endless number of universes.

“Our universe may be just one element – one atom, as it were – in an infinite ensemble: a cosmic archipelago.  Each universe starts with its own big bang, acquires a distinctive imprint (and its individual physical laws) as it cools, and traces out its own cosmic cycle.  The big bang that triggered our entire universe is, in this grander perspective, an infinitesimal part of an elaborate structure that extends far beyond the range of any telescopes.”  (Rees 3)

This theory puts our place in the world, the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe into perspective. With each new discovery about the vastness of our universe, and the possibility of others, it is almost impossible to assume that our planet is the only one able to sustain life. It shows how small we are in the inconceivably infinite universe.

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P.S.

Check out this hilarious video by Youtube user Showcaine in which they discuss the implications of the multiverse theory:

Also, this blog gives a different viewpoint on the idea of the multiverse. Thanks for reading!

The Center of the Galaxy

By: Tyler Arsen

The moon orbits the earth. The earth orbits the sun. The sun is located on a spiral arm of our galaxy. But what holds the Milky Way Galaxy together? What massive object could hold 300 billion stars in it’s gravitational field?

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First, let’s talk about our galaxy. The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, about 110,000 light years in diameter. It has two major arms, two significant minor arms, as well as two spurs. The  Orion’s Spur contains our sun and solar system.

The Milky Way itself is in constant rotation, with our solar system traveling at a speed of 515,000 miles per hour. Even at this speed, our solar system takes 200 million years to travel all the way around the Milky Way Galaxy! It’s amazing that at this high speed, we are still stable in our little corner of the galaxy, held by an immense gravitational force.

So, what is at the center, keeping us in it’s grip?

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Astronomers have observed that the stars nearest the center of our galaxy fly at speeds of up to three million miles per hour. That information combined with the density observed leads scientists to believe that a supermassive black hole, 2.6 million times the size of our sun, is at the core of the Milky Way.

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to even imagine an object of that size.

The origin of supermassive black holes remain a mystery to astronomers and scientists to this day. One belief is that they originate from much smaller black holes through the slow intake of celestial gas. Another theory is that they form through the collapse of an entire star cluster, thus merging multiple black holes into one, supermassive in size.

Whatever the case, the origin of black holes is instrumental to our knowledge about how galaxies, and large scale structures in our universe came into existence.

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If you’re interested, this blog gives another take on the Milky Way galaxy and our position in it.

Sources:
http://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr162/lect/active/smblack.html
http://www.atlasoftheuniverse.com/galaxy.html
http://www.universetoday.com/109015/whats-at-the-center-of-our-galaxy/

Spaceflight and the Human Mind

By: Tyler Arsen

The psychological toll of months in outer space has always been the subject of concern in the community of those interested in expanding our presence into the stars. With the introduction of a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s put on the table, this concern is even more present. The effects of isolation, boredom, and cohabitation in close quarters can can create psychological issues.

Third Quarter Effect:

This is a psychological term that describes the dip in morale just past the halfway point of a mission. The individual realizes how much time has passed, and how much work there still is to be done, and enters a stage characterized by an increase in depression or tension. In worst cast scenarios, this effect may lead to a mental breakdown.

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Fighting Boredom in Space

Maintaining crew morale throughout the entirety of the mission is largely based upon the ability to find interesting and useful things to do during the monotonous times. If you get bored at home with an entire world to explore, just think about how bored these astronauts get in their limited space and resources! This concern is especially relevant during long space flights, when the communication gap is wider and the crew is responsible for planning out their daily schedules independently.

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Crew Compatibility

Imagine spending months in a small, inescapable place with someone you dislike. This has to be taken into account during long missions. Certain dormant social and mental issues can resurface after relentless disturbance. This is one of the downsides of manned flight, because compatibility is not an issue during unmanned flights. It is important to find a crew that meshes well, and that is conducted through the introduction of personality tests and evaluation sessions.

Traits of the Ideal Astronaut

Astronauts have gone through a screening process that weeds out those incapable of performing missions properly. As a result, the few that remain share similar attributes. A few of these are:

  • Adventurous, but not reckless.
  • Optimists; doers rather than thinkers.
  • Able to compartmentalize fear and doubt.
  • Sociable; the ability to relate to another.
  • Mentally stable, able to inwardly sustain themselves during psychological trauma.
STS-81 Crew Portrait

STS-81 Crew Portrait

All in all, it takes a certain type of person to be an astronaut, and unless you possess these attributes, it is almost impossible to make it through the training program. It only makes sense, since less than a fraction of a percent of our population has ever traveled into the cosmos!

Also, if you want to learn about what it takes to be an astronaut from someone who is in the process, check out astronaut abby. It’s a cool blog that allows you to get into the head of an aspiring astronaut!

Sources:
http://www.space.com/24268-manned-mars-mission-nasa-feasibility.html
http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2003-02-11/news/0302110251_1_astronauts-personality-traits-cosmonauts
http://www.racetomars.ca/mars/article_effects.jsp
http://www.space.com/9052-months-long-missions-durable-astronaut-mind.html

The Crab Nebula Event

By: Tyler Arsen

Imagine looking up at the sky and seeing an immense, unexpectedly bright object that you had never seen before. How would you react?

Well, this is exactly what happened to the Chinese astronomers of old. In late July of 1054, a star that may have been upwards of ten times larger than that of our sun exploded in a dazzling, voilent death. This event made for one of the most interesting and noteworthy astronomical events in the history of the human race.

www.darkstar1.co.uk

Had the event occurred 50 light-years from earth, it would have destroyed all life in a blast of radiation. As it was, the event creating nothing more than a spectacular light show, comparable to fireworks on the fourth of july.

The Chinese described the brightness of the supernova as six times brighter than Venus. For two years, an object as brilliant as a second full moon was visible in the night sky.

For a time, it was even visible during the daylight.

The Chinese weren’t the only civilization to witness this spectacular event. The Sanagua Tribe is the best known indian tribe in a regional group known as the Western Anasazi, located in Arizona.

Their culture was highly based in corn farming and substinence hunting and gathering, but evidence was also found that at some point they developed a system of “Sun Shrines” in order to observe the heavens. Probably used to time the planting and harvesting of crops, they also were instrumental in their viewing of the supernova of 1054.

The Indians depicted the event on rock art known as “petroglyphs”.

imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov

Western Anasazi Petrograph, depicting the supernova above, and Halley’s comet below!

Eventually, the nebula faded from sight and was forgotten for about six centuries. After the invention of the telescope, the nebula was again spotted in 1758 and became of subject of fascination within the scientific community. To this day, it is still studied intently due to interest in the neutron star spinning at the center of the nebula.

Interested in learning a little more? Check out this video by SciShow Space entitled “The Supernova of 1054, Our Very Special “Guest Star”:

Also, if you liked my post and want to read up a little more on the topic of astronomy, I would recommend The Space Writer. It’s an incredible interesting and informative blog.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sources:

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_567.html

http://space.about.com/od/nebulae/a/CrabNebula.htm

http://www.kopernik.org/images/archive/crab.htm

http://messier.seds.org/more/m001_sn.html

END OF YEAR 2014 SKY EVENTS

By: Tyler Arsen

If you’re worried that you’ve missed all the cool events happening this year, don’t be. Sure, you may have missed the biggest full moon of 2014 on August 10th, or the spectacular meteor shower which occurred on May 24th, but there’s still a few eye catching events to see. Here’s three upcoming celestial episodes you won’t want to miss!

Near Collision of Comet With Mars

Astronomers are excited for October 19th’s near collision of a comet with Mars. Many people don’t realize that planets are not the only objects with atmospheres. Comets also possess their own, albeit weaker, atmospheres. The effects of Mars’ atmosphere and the atmosphere of the comet C/2013/A1 colliding is the object of interest within the scientific community.

How will we be able to view it?

It just so happens that the spacecraft MAVEN arrived on Mars in September, so the timing could not be better.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/maven/main/#.VDhLEF5H1FJ

Partial Solar Eclipse

Another event not to miss is the partial eclipse of the sun occurring on October 23rd. You’re in luck if you live in North America, because this event is almost exclusive to that area and eastern Russia.

Now, remember that the eclipse occurs at different times in different time zones, so check out this website to determine the best viewing time for your area. Also, don’t forget to wear eye safety glasses, which can be found here.

Geminid Meteor Shower That Will Light Up The Sky

Lastly, don’t miss the Geminid meteor shower on December 13th. This will be viewable from December 4th to the 17th, with its peak activity being on the 13th. This event is considered one of the best meteor showers of the year, with 120 meteors per hour visible at it’s peak.

You won’t need any special instruments to view this event, just an open view of the sky, preferably away from artificial lights. Break out the telescope and check it out!

Here’s an AMAZING video of a Geminid meteor shower time lapse from Kenneth Brandon:

Geminid Meteor Shower Time-Lapse 2012

Happy Viewing!

Sources: http://www.rainbowsymphonystore.com/eclipseshades.html http://earthsky.org/space/everything-you-need-to-know-geminid-meteor-shower#watch http://earthsky.org/tonight/partial-solar-eclipse-for-north-america-on-october-23#time http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/12aug_marscomet/