Tag Archives: Space

I Sing the Body Cosmic

[Link] In 1993, NASA announced they were going to build a space station that would orbit the earth and allow astronauts to take very pretty pictures of space from really far away. The station would cost an extraordinary amount of money, and recieved a lot of criticism since it had no percieved purpose. The public view of the station was a combination of NASA’s vanity and science-fiction. We’d fly up into space, build a big station, and ya know, sit there, enjoy the view, whatever.

In 1995, a good deal of the criticism was relieved by Dr. Samuel Ting, who is a Nobel Prize winning particle physicist, which means he’s significantly smarter than anyone who reads or writes this blog. Doc Ting proposed building a big ole machine that would look for, and hopefully find, antimatter.

(A quick aside on antimatter: For those who are curious what antimatter is, well, no one at the Curious Mechanism is any sort of science major, but here’s the gist as I understand it: for every particle (proton, electron, etc) there is an antiparticle. Now, this antiparticle has the same properties as its particle [size, and, uh, I don’t know, color?] except that its charge is opposite. Now, particles make up matter, by extension, antiparticles make up (da-dada-DAA!) antimatter. We cool? Let’s move on.)

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Hiding in the Dark

Mr. Thursday has a significant interest in science, though, among all the branches of knowledge in the world, this is, perhaps, the one we find most frustrating. After all, it takes a specific and specialized group of knowledge to calculate how fast fire travels. No matter how often we ask, our chemical engineer friend always tells us that he must know what is causing the fire to burn, and how much of this combustible is being used. Technical details! we cry, but to no avail. We still don’t know if Jack Bauer or Sylvester Stallone can outrun fire. We know that Arnold Schwarzenegger can do it, because all of his movies are autobiographical events told in real time.

Anyway, our two most favorite branches of science are Deep Sea, and Deep Space (we really like environmentalism, too, but that less for the scientific reasons and more for, well, other reasons–a post for another day). Sea and space are both cold, dark, and have unnerving gravity issues. Plus, people who get to travel to such places wear such absurd suits. We’ve always felt that astronauts and deep sea divers resemble, in a way, Muppets.

Well, in the news this week there have been developments in both fronts.

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Ultra Deep Field

Hubble's Ultra Deep Field

Space, is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.

Scientists decided last week, thanks to the help of this fantastic picture (even better if you get one with higher resolution), that approximately 96% of the universe is Dark Matter and Dark Energy. You see, this picture is looking at about a 10 billion year span of time.  For reference, each of those little bits of light is not a star, but rather, a galaxy containing millions upon millions of stars.  And by looking at the stuff in the picture that’s oh-golly-gosh really old, NASA saw different things than when they looked at the stuff that’s, well, middle aged in galactic terms.

So, it’s definitely there, but what is it? No clue. It works as some sort of anti-gravity, taking up the spaces between objects that have gotten so far apart their gravity isn’t affecting them anymore. But, the while the opposite of love isn’t hate but rather apathy, this is not true for stars. When they get far enough apart, they’re not content to just continue drifting aimlessly away from one another. Oh no, indeed, they invoke the Dark Matter and Dark Energy and send their frigid former star-friend flying away at dizzying speeds.

Scientists will just tell you the universe is expanding faster, but that’s no fun, now is it?

Incidentally, Happy Thanksgiving all. Mr. Thursday, for one, is looking forward to the mashed potatoes, and is thankful for the Ultra Deep Field, the daily insanity of the MLB off-season, Aldaris Porteris, and you, interweb.

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To Space

Infant Stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud

Just recently, NASA decided to fix the Hubble, a decision applauded by all those who are interested in space (and, since Mr. Thursday is interested in everything, we’re interested in space). The picture above is one of hundreds, taken by the Hubble, that can be found here.

We applaud all things unusual and unique here, and the Hubble is no exception. While it’s certainly not Earth’s largest telescope–Hubble’s lens is a mere 2.4 meters across, compared to a number of telescopes possessing lenses upward of 10 meters–it bares that oh-so-fantastic distinction of actually being IN SPACE.

Earth’s atmosphere is dense and frankly, it’s blurry. So all those lovely Earth-scopes, big as they may be, get pictures with atmos-crud on them. While computers can edit out a lot of this, they are somewhat restricted in their abilities to view things that are really, really far away. That’s why telescopes on mountains in Hawaii have to be so much larger. Stick a small telescope in orbit (no small task) and you can look at nebulae for 1000 years and keep finding new stuff.

As much as Mr. Thursday is rooting for NASA to get to the moon and Mars and everywhere else, we’re pleased as punch that our favorite space-camera is going to get fixed and maintained for more pictures. Because as cool as space exploration is, we’re still a few years away from chartered flights around the moon, and we don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have pretty pictures of quarks to comfort us.

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