Saturday, April 16, 2011

Extremo-Caturday (Extremophile Pt. 1)

So we figured out what was wrong with our internet. Our router died, it would turn on, lights blink for like a minute and then die. So we had to go get a new router. And now I am back to blogging.

It is yet another Caturday, so what better time to go through some of the crazy lifeforms that exist on Earth. These extreme lifeforms are known as extremophiles, because they thrive in places that we may consider adverse conditions for life. They live in places that are extremely hot, cold, acidic, salty, radioactive, dark, dry, or have high pressures.

Astrobiologists like to study these organisms because most places in the Universe seem to be adverse to life, and if these little critters can make it, then it gives hope that life may actually be abundant. It also lends support to the Rare Earth Hypothesis, where higher animals with intelligence are an extremely rare form of life but simple life is abundant.

So here are some of the stars extremophiles (most information comes from NASA's Night Sky Network):

Friday, April 15, 2011


Well, still having internet problems, going to have to call the ISP and deal with the dreaded customer service. UGH. In the mean time, using the cell phone as a mobile hotspot for short periods of time. It's a terribly slow connection, so I'm doing about all I can do.

So, while I wait for the internet to get fixed, I am going to play a (un)healthy amount of Minecraft. I haven't played much recently with all the blogging and astronomy events, but it is an incredibly fun and addictive game. It's a nearly unlimited 3D world where you mine resources and build whatever you can imagine by day, and survive an onslaught of monsters at night.

The game has been likened to LEGOs, with all the building and doing whatever you're capable of imagining. Some people even make complex things using a specialized red dust that can provide power. Useful for making traps that help you survive the night.

So, in keeping with the 'stuff I like' tradition, a post type that I haven't made in awhile, I like Minecraft. And it's going to be a good way to eat up time until my internet gets fixed. Also, I'll probably work on more imaging stuff and will have some decent pictures on Sunday.

P.S. I am also kind of excited, I have been nominated for the Board of Directors in the Harford County Astronomical Society. So, if I win the election I get that awesome distinction.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Note for 4/14/11

Well, I was hoping to have some shots from my telescope camera for you by now. Unfortunately there hasn't been a clear night yet since I got it. I have it all set up and ready to go though. Tonight looks like it might be clear enough, so I might give it a shot.

Also, tonight I am giving my presentation at the Harford County Astronomical Society on Life in the Universe. I am a bit excited, but unsure of exactly how large a crowd this will be. This will probably be the largest single crowd I have addressed in awhile where I am the focus. It should go well, and hopefully someone will either record it or take pictures that will be put online.

I don't have a lot of time for a major update today since I have to get ready. Kind of unfortunate, I also miss out on playing Frisbee and kickball with some friends. But I have been thinking of other idea's for future posts. There are no shortage of great astronomy topic to covered, but this weekend I might think about doing something more related to the Life in the Universe presentation. Probably looking at some extreme lifeforms (known as extremophiles).

So that's it for today. A more personal touch and not a lot of sciency info. Hope everyone has a good Thursday night!

EDIT: I'm back now, unfortunately by the time I got up to present I totally forgot about recording it. Oh well, I'll fill in on it later. Right now my internet is down, so not going to say much, its a pain to update from my phone. I think I am going to try to take some pictures of tis beautiful full moon though.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NASA Selects Museums to House Retiring Space Shuttles

On Tuesday, April 12th, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden unveiled the winners in the bidding war to become a home to one of NASA's retiring space shuttles. This came on the the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981; in addition to the 50th anniversary of space flight (the aforementioned Yuri's Night). The winners are:

  • Atlantis will go to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida
  • Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles
  • Discovery will go to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  
  • Enterprise will go to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York 
Two flights still remain before the Space Shuttle Program is officially retired after 30 years. Endeavour STS-134 in late April, and Atlantis STS-135 in late June 2011. Then the shuttles will be transported to their new homes and put on display. I know I plan to go see Discovery once the exhibit opens.

In honor of their 30 years of hard work, NASA has also released this nice infographic: Fun Facts About the Space Shuttle Orbiter

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The 2012 'Doomsday' Prophecy

So this weeks topic was suggested a couple of weeks ago by the fantastically hilarious Thundercat832 (a word of warning on her blog, it's not exactly work safe.) She felt I could give a good take on the whole 2012 thing.

So what will happen in 2012? Well, there will be earthquakes, volcanic eruption, hurricanes, typhoons, blizzards, floods, drought, disease, and several tons of space rock will rain down. Sounds like a pretty standard year to me, in fact, all of this stuff happens all of the time. It is tragic, but is the nature of living on an active and dynamic planet. Heck, without these processes, life might not have arisen in the first place and evolved to the point of human intelligence.

Well then, what is all this mumble jumble that people seem to be saying about 2012? Apparently it has to deal with the Mayan Calendar. The basic belief that I think people have is that the world is predicted to end on December 21st, 2012. The Winter Solstice.

This. Is. Bologna.
Just ask my friend Oscar Mayer.
People apparently, wholeheartedly, believe this to be the truth. They are buying doomsday bunkers and food stores and everything else just for some event that most likely won't happen. If it's the end of the world, how do they expect that to help them anyways? As if the entire Earth would stop existing over night because of supposed Mayan Prophesy.

The apparent story behind the Mayans is that their long count calendar ends there, and this is a supposed to be a cause for alarm. But do you freak out every New Years Eve when your yearly calendar ends? No, you end up drunk watching Dick Clark's android countdown to the robot revolution. 

So the mere end of a calendar isn't prophetic of massive doom?

Yes, now you get it. The calendar was put together by a rather advanced civilization with knowledge of astronomy, writing and other skills around 250-900 CE (common era, aka AD). These guys had an empire that stretched from southern Mexico, through Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador, and into Honduras. Probably aside from this little snafu are most remembered for their pyramids and intricate building style.

This is a society that also valued calendars: with social, agricultural, commercial, and administrative elements, but mostly there was a religious element. Every day had a patron saint for specific use. The Calendar Round was a combination of calendars that lasted 52 years, or approximately one generation. They even had a the "Venus Cycle" incorporated, being keen astronomers, based on it's position in the sky.

This calendar wasn't great for recording history though. So they expanded on to it in what became known as the "Long Count" calendar, which lasts 5126 years. However, this calendar is a bit confusing to read, it relies on the Mayan use of base 13 and base 20 numbers, where our calendar uses base 10. But one way of interpreting is that it starts on the arbitrary date of August 11th 3114 BCE, and ends on December 21st, 2012. The arbitrary start date is because the Mayan's had to account for the history of time before the calendar was made.

So, it is merely the end of a cycle, and the calendar my actually continue on until around 8000 CE. If anything though, the actual Mayan mythologists and archeologists suggest that they predicted an age of enlightenment, not a doomsday. The ideas of catastrophe are most a reflection of our own society reading into the end of something as bringing about the end of civilization. Which just is NOT the case.

So, no. Do not expect Planet X to knock the Earth off axis or Gamma Ray Bursts to cook the planet or a sudden change in the magnetic poles that sends us into a deep ice age. You will be safe. And if anything, you should kick back and celebrate the rich Mayan heritage as an era passes. Another good read on the subject can be found on Universe Today.

 Also, make sure to vote for next weeks topic, you have until Monday!

50 Years: Redux

 Earlier I had posted about the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first flight, known as Yuri's Night. Well, I also learned that a movie has been made, just premiered in fact, called First Orbit. It is a real time recreation of Yuri's 108 minute flight, using the original mission audio from Yuri's flight and shot from the ISS by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli with a musical score by composer Philip Sheppard.

The audio is subtitled in English and runs about 140 minutes. It is completely free and on Youtube (embedded below) and on their website: I just started watching it and I have to say, the high definition video really gives justice to this historic anniversary. I hope you take the time to enjoy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

That New Blog Look

So, the template is up and working. I got it to a point where I am satisfied for now. It's called Blue Cosmos by Lasantha Bandara. There is still some tweaking to be done, but I'll continue to fiddle with it over the next couple days.

What do you think? Love it, hate it, don't care?  Comment.

Personally, since I am using blogger, I'd like to get to blogger bar back as a courtesy, but its no biggie. And I realize the title is two lines and all jammed together, I haven't figured that one out either yet. But, I figure I'll try replacing it with a banner soon enough. I also want to lessen some of padding space at the top of the page and between posts, it seems kind of far.

As far as the widgets and gadgets though, they all look good. I like the bar going across the top of the body, the subscription and twitter buttons, and the placement of the ads and stuff info on the sidebars.

50 Years of Human Spaceflight!

Tomorrow night is Yuri's Night, a celebration of the first human spaceflight, made on April 12, 1961 by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. His flight took one orbit that lasted 108 minutes in his Vostok 1 spacecraft.

He was the first person to leave the bonds of the Earth's gravity and the first to see the planet as a globe without borders. The celebration of this event has slowly been growing over the years, and hopefully you will join in too. You can find out more and event locations spanning the globe at, and more on Yuri Gagarin on Wikipedia.

"Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!"
Yuri Gagarin, 1st person in space

[Sorry this one is relatively short, messing around with this template and still trying to get back into things.]

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Curiosity For Mars

NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, is near completion. Part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Spacecraft, engineers have assembled and tested nearly all the rover's components at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In May and June the rover and other components of the spacecraft will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be prepared for launch. The launch will have to take place somewhere between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011, when the spacecraft can most effectively reach Mars. The launch vehicle to be used is an Atlas V rocket, on which the spacecraft will be bolted to the top.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

These images are essentially how the rover will look when it lands on Mars in August 2012. The mission will last for at least two earth years, but given the high mileage we have gotten out of the last two rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), this one has a lot of hope for more.

The landing-site is still to be selected among four finalist candidates, but the rover is equipped to study the intriguing places on Mars. At about 3 meters in length, the size of a Mini-Cooper (a small British-made car), the Curiosity rover is equipped with 10 scientific instruments to analyze Martian rock and soil. It will look for evidence of if Mars has ever offered environmental conditions favorable to microbial life in the past or present.

The decision on a landing-site is a matter of what area is most likely to be habitable. A sort of 'habitable zone' for Mars' surface. This would also help our own understanding on life's limits within our solar system. The problem with selecting a site also becomes an issue between researchers and engineers. The researchers, of course, want to research every nook and cranny and examine the most challenging places. The engineers can only build something that can do so much and go so far. There needs to be a broad open area to land a craft, and often that knocks out most of the interesting regions. Part of the reason some of the previous Mars photos looked like deserts was because the craft landed in a Martian desert.