Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Voyager I: First Human Made Object to Escape the Solar System?

Since its first flight in September 5, 1977 as a way to fully explore the outer planets of our Solar System, is Voyager I now the first human made object to completely escape our Solar System? 

By: Ringo Bones 

If the Heliopause marks the outermost boundary of our Solar System, then the Voyager I spacecraft, which was launched almost 40 years ago as a way to explore the outer planets of our Solar System is now indeed the first human made object to have completely escaped our Solar System. According to NASA scientists and via peer review of scientists elsewhere across the world – instrument data recently collected by Voyager I had indeed confirmed that it has indeed completely left our Solar System. Ed Stone – the chief scientist and part of the original team that comprised the Voyager program was quite overwhelmed when he got the notice that Voyager I has indeed passed beyond the Heliopause. Despite coasting along after the gravity assists provided by the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn at a “mere” 20 kilometers per second into the depths of interstellar space, Voyager I will reach our nearest stellar neighbor – Proxima Centauri – in 40,000 years time. Although Voyager I’s plutonium 239 fueled thermoelectric generator could still be guaranteed to work by the year 2040 or 2050. Voyager I -for all intents and purposes – is now indeed going on an interstellar voyage.  

Launched to take advantage of the rare planetary alignment that only happens once every 175 years, the two Voyager spacecraft –Voyagers I and II – was originally sent to take close up photos of the outer planets – i.e. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – and collect other useful data. Even though the two spacecraft’s imaging system is comparable in technology used in the early 1990s era Video CD systems that rely on Reed-Solomon coding, it was considered state of the art back in 1977. After sending back stunning pictures of Jupiter, Saturn and their moons and then off to Uranus and Neptune and their moons during the past couple of decades or so, Voyager I also carried with it a gold plated LP containing sound of the earth and excerpts of Classical and Rock N’ Roll music plus that now famous golden plaque showing the location of our Solar System and our home planet with reference to nearby stars and the nude human male and female figure said to be readable for millions of years while travelling in the cold vacuum of space. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mother Nature’s Vacuum: Better Than Man’s?

Given what we currently know and been capable so far, is Mother Nature’s vacuum more perfect than that currently been created by our electronic thermionic vacuum tube engineers and scientists? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Believe it or not, the Horsehead Nebula is 50,000 times more rarefied than the vacuum created inside the glass enclosure of a typical thermionic vacuum tube. Elsewhere in the Cosmos, the convection currents of the outer atmosphere of the red supergiant star Betelgeuse – in the constellation of Orion – is so rarefied that the atoms comprising the convection currents are more loosely packed than in the most perfect vacuum that scientists and electronic thermionic vacuum tube engineers had been able to create so far here on Earth. Given the disparity between what we have been able so far to create, will we be able to ever create our own vacuum so rarefied that it could rival that or even exceed that found surrounding the Horsehead Nebula or the outer atmosphere of the red supergiant star Betelgeuse? 

In reality, the thick cloud-like misty appearance of the Horsehead Nebula and other related celestial phenomena as seen from our Earth-based vantage point can be for all intents and purposes be considered an “optical illusion”. These “cosmic mists” in reality are more rarefied than the highest – or hardest - laboratory vacuum we can create so far here on Earth, but in many regions of the Milky Way galaxy, they are banked so deep, cloud upon cloud, that they completely hide the stars and galaxies which lie behind them. 

Part of the difficulty in creating a vacuum that rivals that or exceed that of the Horsehead Nebula or the outer atmosphere of the red supergiant star Betelgeuse was explained by Dr. Harvey C. Rentschler in the meeting of the American Physical Society – which was then published on the July 1943 issue of the Scientific American magazine. In his experiments conducted 8 years before 1943 had led him to conclude that atoms of gas – oxygen, hydrogen, or nitrogen – actually dissolve in the crystalline structure of some metals just as salt dissolves in water. These gas particles then “loosen” the electrons in this structure, causing them to be emitted from the metal more readily when heat is applied. And according to Dr. Rentschler, this should result in longer-lasting thermionic vacuum tubes and accomplish important savings in the size and number of electric batteries, generators and other apparatus needed to supply the filament power. So despite the use of clever chemical getters, creating an artificial vacuum here on Earth by scientists and electronic thermionic vacuum tube engineers that rival that or even exceed the vacuum surrounding the Horsehead Nebula, the outer atmosphere of the red supergiant star Betelgeuse, or other related celestial phenomena is – at present using current technology – still an almost quixotic quest.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Russian Ural Meteorite Impact and the Asteroid Flyby: Cosmic Coincidence?

Even though astronomers say the both events have nothing to do with each other, were the Russian Ural Region meteorite impact and the asteroid flyby just mere cosmic coincidence? 

By: Ringo Bones

Friday, February 14, 2013 could be a very memorable date for anyone interested in cosmic events as a 2-meter meteor broke up over the skies of Russia’s Ural Region producing a shockwave equivalent to five times that of the Hiroshima A-Bomb that injured over a thousand people and causing over 30-million US dollars in property damage. Pieces of the meteor had even struck as far afield as neighboring Kazakhstan.  Though astronomers say the events are unrelated, Asteroid 2012 DA14 – with a diameter of 150-meters – just came within 28,000 kilometers – just a tenth the distance between the Earth and the Moon, and grazed the orbit window of geosynchronous satellites. 

The smaller two-meter meteor that broke up over the Urals might be the one posing the most danger but our current optical and radio telescope technology are not sensitive enough to see and detect two-meter wide or smaller meteoroids as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. And even though the odds of being hit by a former celestial body is insignificantly low at 1 in 150-trillion, it doesn’t offer comfort to the over 1,000 Russians injured by flying shattered glass caused by the shockwave of the meteorite strike – though the last one such event happened in the general region was back in 1908 where a large meteorite exploded over Tunguska, Siberia. And the only person ever hit and injured by a meteorite strike was Mrs. Ann Hewlett Hodges.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Is The Star Betelgeuse Going Supernova?

Given that astronomical observations made between 1996 and 2011 have shown that the star Betelgeuse shrank by 15%, is it soon going to become a supernova?

By: Ringo Bones

Back in 1996 and even more recent astronomical observations made in 2011 have shown that the star Betelgeuse shrank by 15%, and given what astronomers have learned over the years observing stars, it is very likely that Betelgeuse could go supernova in 500-million years’ time. But should all of humanity be worried?

Given that one of the hypothesized causes of the Permian Mass Extinction of 250 million years ago was a supernova or stellar explosion that was much closer to planet Earth than the 100 light-year minimum safe distance for such events to not disrupt the ozone layer or fry the Earth’s surface with lethal amounts of ionizing radiation, we should all be a little worried about the star Betelgeuse going supernova. But there are some very important factors to consider before anyone gets carried away by the hoopla over a repeat of the Permian Mass Extinction in our near future.

First, the minimum 100-light-year safety distance for supernovas is, in truth, but an arbitrarily set safety distance on what astronomers know so far for supernovas not disrupting our planet’s ozone layer or frying Earth’s surface with lethal amounts of gamma radiation given that some stars with weird magnetic field configurations that go supernova can still wreak havoc to the ozone layers of Earth-like planets 500-light-years from them. Second, given that Betelgeuse is about 700-light-years away from us, and assuming the star had gone supernova back in 1996, we – and Earth’s astronomers - would only know that Betelgeuse went supernova in 1996 only after 683 years into the future given it would take light and other information pertaining to Betelgeuse going supernova 700 years to get to Earth. So it might only be a problem – or an astronomical wonder – for humanity’s future generations hence.

Going supernova or not, Betelgeuse is quite a fascinating star in itself. As a red supergiant in the constellation of Orion, Betelgeuse is a very peculiar over-bright star. In spectral type, Betelgeuse is only a red M-star, shedding its ruddy light from a surface only half as hot as our sun’s. Normal M-stars are 10-times smaller in diameter and 1,000 times dimmer in light than our sun. But Betelgeuse equals 800 suns in diameter and 14,000 suns in brightness.

Another more fascinating aspect of this star is that the outer edges of Betelgeuse contains huge curtains of billowing gas that rise and fall quicker that the whole globe of the star’s rotational period. And in these convection currents, the atoms are more loosely packed than the most perfect vacuum that our own scientists have so far been able to create on Earth!