The new documentary IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is both inspirational and awe-inspiring in its retelling of NASA’s Apollo program to place a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. The great thing about it is that it’s the Apollo astronauts themselves who tell the story.
Director David Singleton interviewed 10 of the remaining astronauts who had traveled to the Moon and back including Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 and 13), Gene Cernan (Apollo 10 and 17), Dave Scott (Apollo 15), Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17), Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), and Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11). Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, is not interviewed, but the notoriously reclusive astronaut appears quite a bit in the film, and of course can be heard taking his famous first step on the Moon’s surface.
Besides the many technical triumphs, the film also touches on some of the setbacks NASA faced in its race to fulfill president Kennedy’s seemingly impossible lunar-landing dream, including exploding Saturn V rockets, the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts, and Apollo 13’s doomed mission.
I’m a big fan of the whole Man on the Moon adventure, so a lot of the NASA film footage used in the film was already familiar to me, but some scenes (especially one when Apollo 11’s command module heads off toward the Moon) were a complete surprise, and just seeing it all on the big screen was a real treat.
The astronauts themselves – now in their seventies - come off much warmer and more human than I expected. Alan Bean, in particular, seemed like an exuberant child telling you all about the great amusement ride he got to go on.
So if you remember where you were when Neil Armstrong exclaimed “Houston, the Eagle has landed”, and even if you don’t - or even if you weren’t born yet – I recommend you see this really great film. You’ll relive, or experience for the first time, all the excitement of one of mankind’s boldest and greatest achievements.
What’s the coolest radio telescope (sorry Green Bank) and the largest single-aperture telescope on Earth? What radio scope has been featured in a James Bond movie? And a Jodie Foster movie? And collects data for the SETI@home project?
Arecibo is an amazingly awesome project that has a history of discoveries since its construction in 1963. In 1964 scientists using it determined Mercury’s rotation was 59 days, not 88 days as previously thought. The telescope helped prove that neutron stars exist. It aided scientists in discovering the first binary pulsar. It aided scientists in finding the first extrasolar planets. It is able to track asteroids with enough precision to determine which ones might impact the Earth. And, back during more paranoid times, the telescope was used to look for Soviet Union radar installations by detecting their signals bouncing off of the Moon. The telescope also beamed into space a radio message in 1974 towards star cluster M13. The telescope also studies space weather (specifically the impact of solar flares on satellite and cell phones) and climate change. The telescope has a visitor center (Angel Ramos Visitor Center) attached that brings in more than 100,000 visitors a year.
Recently, the National Science Foundation, a long time funder for the telescope and its various scientific programs, has told Arecibo that it will need to close if it cannot find $4 million, or half the $8 million annual operating budget. In part, the idea is to free up funds for other, new, projects. This all makes total sense to me, but I am somehow emotionally attached to this thing, having never been there (its in Puerto Rico), but having written a report on it when I was in 5th grade.
Just last week, however, Cornell University’s National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center held a meeting, “Frontiers of Astronomy with The World’s Largest Radio Telescope,” with astronomers from around the world to discuss plans for future research using Arecibo over the next 5 to 15 years. Hopefully, this meeting will lead to securing the funding needed to keep the telescope operational.
Below is part of a report commissioned by NSF, charging a Senior Review Committee with the task of examining the Division of Astronomical Sciences portfolio of facilities and with the goal of redistributing roughly $30 million of annual spending. There’s a lot of stuff in the section below, and I’ve tried to hyperlink as much as possible so you can learn more. Again, I think NSF is making total sense, but man, change is hard...I’m going to miss Arecibo.
The Senior Review Committee (SR) recognizes the significant and unique scientific contributions that the Arecibo Observatory has made to astronomy and astrophysics and it congratulates National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) and Cornell on operating the facility so effectively. The current scientific program set out for Arecibo involving a combination of survey work and competed, smaller observing programs is very strong and is already producing important discoveries. The SR endorses its future discovery potential and archival value. Roughly 200 scientists from all around the world are working with the three Arecibo L-Band Feed Array surveys, all three of which promise important scientific results.
However, the committee was not persuaded of the primacy of the science program beyond the end of the decade and found that the case for long term support at the present level was not as strong as that for other facilities. Much of the survey work will be completed by 2010 when the current NAIC contract expires and the proposed extensions to higher Galactic latitude do not seem as likely as the current surveys to have a large scientific impact. The SR was advised that the minimum feasible operating cost for Arecibo is $8M, even when it is largely working in survey mode. Therefore, invoking Principle 1, [Principal 1 - Optimizing the Science. The prime criterion, when making difficult choices between operating existing facilities and investing in new ones, is maximizing the integrated science impact for the overall US financial investment] the SR recommends a decrease in Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) support for Arecibo to $8M (plus the $2M from Division of Atmospheric Sciences over the next three years. Roughly 20 percent of the observing time should be set aside for individual (non-survey) proposals in order to retain some discovery potential. This should permit a reduction in the scientific and observing support staff and a discontinuation of the future instrumentation program without compromising the main science program. Thereafter, the SR recommends that NAIC plan either to close Arecibo or to operate it with a much smaller AST budget. This will require that NAIC seek sufficient external funding to continue to operate it fully. This support might be coupled to Arecibo’s status as one of the most important and visible high technology enterprises in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. An alternative possibility is to seek one or more foreign partners. This could have appeal to countries that wish to build up a capability in radio astronomy or communications technology. The SR recommends closure after 2011 if the necessary support is not forthcoming. It recommends that operation of the Angel Ramos Visitor Center continue, consistent with Principle 3. [Principal 3 - The Public Dividend. Public awareness of astronomical discoveries, the observatories that produce them, and the personnel who are responsible for them, are a critical part of the current AST program that must be maintained.]
If Arecibo is kept operating beyond 2011, it is expected that this will only be a limited term extension, pending the deliberations of the next decadal survey. In any case, Arecibo’s longer term future depends upon progress with the Square Kilometer Array which will be fully steerable, have ten times the collecting area, will access more of the sky to higher frequency and will have the angular resolution of an interferometer, leaving Arecibo as a niche telescope. This raises the important question of the cost of decommissioning the telescope, which could be prohibitively large. The committee concluded that there were no reliable de-commissioning estimates and recommends that AST engage an independent study to advise on the viability and cost of decommissioning the telescope. Obtaining this information is a pre-requisite to long term planning.
(Oh. And I hope that something else out there is tracking asteroids. That whole monitoring them for Earth impact seems important to me.)
A fiery object was seen falling to Earth last weekend over Carancas, a small town located in the Andes near in the Bolivian border, about 800 miles south of Lima.
People who visited the reported impact site say gases emitting from a large crater found there have caused them to suffer nausea, vomiting, eye irritations, and severe headaches. Livestock in the area have also become sick.
But not everyone believes the located “impact crater” has anything to do with the fiery object seen in the sky. Dr. Caroline Smith, a British museum meteorite expert, says it may just be mistaken for a crater.
"Increasingly we think that people witnessed a fireball, which are not uncommon, went off to investigate and found a lake of sedimentary deposit, which may be full of smelly, methane rich organic matter," she said.
An engineer from the Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute reported no radiation has been detected at the site, and a team of scientists is on its way to the crater to investigate and gather further evidence. In the meantime, local authorities have been asked to warn people to stay away from the site.
Video from the site shows what appears to be a large crater 100-foot-wide by 20-foot-deep (another source states the crater is half this size). Marco Limache, a local official, reported that "boiling water started coming out of the crater, and particles of rock and cinders were found nearby."
If it proves to be a meteor crater, then it’s possible that sulfur or other elements in the extraterrestrial rock that caused the impact could have reacted with the ground water to produce the noxious gases.
Whatever it was - a fireball or a meteorite or possible space junk returning to Earth – it’s made a lot of local people nervous, and worried that the water is no longer safe to drink.
"This is the water we use for the animals, and for us, for everyone, and it looks like it is contaminated,” said one local villager.
"We don't know what is going on at the moment, that is what we are worried about,” he added.
Not that any of us reading this have to really worry about this personally, but there’s new evidence that the Earth could be able to survive should our Sun start to balloon into a red giant. That’s estimated to happen in a few billion years.
Astronomers have found a planet in a similar position as Earth’s relative to its star that continues to exist as the star has become a red giant. The star in question, V 391, was much like our Sun, but as it aged, its core ran out of hydrogen. That triggered a reaction where it began to burn helium and its outer surface expanded out about 100 times wider. It’s believed the same thing will happen to our Sun in about 5 billion years.
The planet in question has about three times the mass of Jupiter and orbits V 391 at about the same distance as Mars is from our Sun. However, the red giant action of V 391 is considered highly unusual and may be just representative of 2 percent of the red giant actions that happen to stars. Astronomers are continuing to watch what’s happening there, but say that it’s too small of a data sample to project what will happen to Earth when the Sun go to a red giant phase. The common thinking is Mercury and Venus will be vaporized in a red giant transition of the Sun while Earth would be on the borderline of the safety zone.
The X Prize Foundation in connection with Google has announced it will give $25 million to the first successful entity to land a rover on the moon and send back electronic data back to Earth.
The foundation is the same group that back in 2004 challenged private aerospace efforts to pilot a craft into the threshold of space.
So here’s exactly what you need to do to get $20 million:
• Get your rover to the moon.
• Have it travel at least 500 meters across the moon’s surface.
• Send back high-resolution video, photos or other data.
For an additional $5 million bonus prize, you need to:
• Have the rover cover 5,000 meters of moon surface
• Send back images of man-made artifacts on the moon, such as lunar craft from the Apollo missions.
The full values of the prizes will be available until Dec. 31, 2012, or when some group successfully completes the tasks. Then the reward drops to $15 million for the next couple years.
Full details on the contest are available at www.xprize.org.
There are copies of Science News in my area of cube-land here at the Science Museum by the box of interoffice envelopes. The cover of the August 18 issue caught my attention – “Oddball Iapetus”. The title of the cover story is even better, “Idiosyncratic Iapetus”. Nice alliteration.
And, yeah, Iapetus is weird. Beyond the fact that in Greek mythology, Iapetus is the Titan son of Uranus and a moon of Saturn (you’d think that Iapetus would be a moon of Uranus) it is oddly colored and oddly shaped.
The moon is two-toned, and the reason for this is not exactly known. The darker surface might have been caused by any number of things – it could have even come from one of Saturn’s other moons. Some theorize that micrometer impacts on the moon Phoebe or Titan knocked the material loose and it was then swept up by Iapetus. Or perhaps when the cosmic collision that created the moon Hyperion occurred it produced debris that ended up covering part of Iapetus. Or if not from another source, the odd color could originate from within Iapetus, brought to the surface by meteor impact and/or cryovolcanism.
Iapetus is shaped sort of like a walnut, and even has an equatorial ridge that heightens the impression. Portions of this ridge rise more than 12 miles over the surrounding area. This shape is not totally unusual, but it is usually attributed to moons or planets that have a rapid rotation – but Iapetus has a very slow rotation (one rotation every 79 days) so how did this odd shape come about in this instance? The current theory is that at one point during Iapetus’ life, it had a much faster rotation, and about the same time it began to slow down its crust cooled and thickened, preserving the shape from its youth to today. (I am vastly simplifying things – for a complete account of how this is possible check out this article.)
AND what is way-copasetic and that I didn’t know until I started writing this blog, was that the Cassini spacecraft performs its closest flyby of its entire mission of Iapetus, TODAY, passing by about 1,000 miles of the moon – the closest any spacecraft has come to Iapetus. Read more about that here.
NASA space shuttle mission STS-120 this October will be brining more to the International Space Station (ISS) than the Harmony module, which will provide attachment points for European and Japanese laboratory modules. In addition, it will bring the original prop lightsaber from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The prop is being flown to the ISS to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars franchise, which began with 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
As both a Star Wars nut and a fan of most things space related, I read this story with mixed feelings. Is this more a PR opportunity for Star Wars or NASA? Star Wars can almost do no wrong in my mind (except possibly with Jar-Jar Binks) and I wonder if this story, while giving props to Star Wars, isn’t really more of a boost to NASA for being associated with something cool like Star Wars. Personally, I think a lot of stuff NASA does is cool but I know a lot of people who could care less about NASA and space in general (I call them “space haters”).
And, hey, its something fun. I’ve read a few blogs that are accusing NASA of wasting funds on this, but I doubt this cost NASA much in terms of money, and probably has exposed them in a fun and positive light. I’m all for it.
Hello, The answer I am looking for is some kinda code letters or numbers used by archeologist's that help identify stones or rock's. This code usualy goes before what kind of stone it is, in this case the stone is Pipestone. Maybe the code is for date of creation of the stone? I am not sure I am not a archeologist. Please help me find the code or what ever it is called that I can use in front of this item Pipestone from the National Monument located in Pipestone, MN. Quarry site # 28 Lone Tree Pit. Please help me with this issue. I am only looking for code for sacred stone , not Pipestone found in ereas outside the Monument, which is not sacred stone and cannot be listed sacred, if did not come from the Monument. Any help would be great. Thanks Keith Nelson~ site # 28 LONE TREE PIT nativeoftwincities
The title of this YouTube video may be a little demeaning toward the French in general, but when I watched this, I couldn't believe it. It really shows a disturbing lack of regard for science and science education in the world. Are we destined for another Dark Ages?
Anyway, University of Minnesota astronomy professor Lawrence Rudnick and his research team has discovered an area in space – check that – a HUGE area in space where there seems to be a tremendous amount of nothing. Empty space. No stars, no planets, no dust, no dark matter, no Big Bang residual microwave energy, no nothing. I mean, yes nothing. And plenty of it.
"This is 1,000 times the volume of what we sort of expected to see in terms of a typical void," said Prof. Rudnick.
There’s evidently so much of it, in fact, that if you were able to travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second – or about 5.8 trillion miles per year) – it would take you about a billion years to cross it. Talk about a snooze-fest. I’d be completely bored to tears after the first two or three years.
But it seems appropriate that Rudnick be the one to discover this vast emptiness, since he seems to specialize in nothing.
He’s been teaching at the University of Minnesota since 1979, and has offered first year seminars in “Nothing”, bringing in experts to instruct his students on how “nothingness” is used or applied in various fields.
"It has a little bit of philosophy. I bring in people in different fields to talk about nothing in their fields. I've had artists come and talk about minimalist art, interior designers to talk about designing empty spaces,” Rudnick said. “I've had a blind person come and talk about seeing nothing and what does that mean."
Rudnick’s discovery came out of studying radio picture data of the universe taken from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
The area studied is located in the constellation Eridanus near the foot of Orion, and showed a distinct drop in temperature and lack of matter, up to 45% less matter.
Even though it’s really nothing, Rudnick remains modestly philosophical about it.
"It's not going to be tomorrow's pacemaker or anything like that," he said. "It is, however, part of the story of how we got here."
Rudnick’s research is scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal.