Long Duration Love Affair

That cylindrical object you see pictured above is a roughly school-bus sized structure which was deployed into space in 1984. It orbited the Earth for five and a half years with nothing expected of it other than to float there, getting battered about by whatever the great black yonder saw fit to throw at it. You see, every inch of its outside surface was covered with Science. 57 separate experiments, mounted in 86 trays, involving the participation of “more than 200 principal investigators from 33 private companies, 21 universities, seven NASA centers, nine Department of Defense laboratories and eight foreign countries.” Its purpose was to study the effects of space on a multitude of materials. Its name is the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) and I am deeply in love with it.

01.20. filed under: design. science. space. 13

Mechanismo

Or: praise of futures past

A few weeks ago I picked up a book in the bargain bin at Strand titled Mechanismo. When the guy ringing me up at the checkout counter came upon it in my stack, he stopped, flipped through it quickly and somewhat sheepishly, and alerted a buddy standing a few registers down. They admired it together. I remember thinking, “Well, guess that one is Nonist worthy.” The book, published in 1978, is essentially a collection of essays by the venerable Harry Harrison on all things science-fictional. What makes the book standout, however, is the bounty of 70’s era sci-fi illustrations contained within, and it’s some of these that I’d like to share with you.

01.12. filed under: art. books. science. space. 13

B-flat In The Dark Heart Of Perseus

Quote: “In the dark heart of the Perseus galaxy cluster, 300 million light-years from Earth, a supermassive black hole has been singing the same note for 2.5 billion years. Its tone registers 57 octaves below middle C and, according to scientists at NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Center, is a resounding B-flat. Yet, how is this possible in the vacuum of space? When relativistic jets, which contain material moving at close to the speed of light, slam into the hot gas that pervades giant elliptical galaxies and clusters of galaxies, they beat a ‘galactic drum,’ as it were. The jet acts as the stick, whereas the surface of the gas is the drum.”

There is currently a vote before the Galactic Senate to rename the entire area “The Ringo Quadrant.” Check out this Scientific American article for more. The image was adapted from here.

10.29. filed under: science. space. 1

Cockroaches that spent 12 days aboard the Russian orbital laboratory Photon-3 - Noah’s Arc, returned to Earth last week. Two of these cockroaches were pregnant, evidently becoming the first Earth creatures to have conceived in space and becoming the first members of the 100,000 mile high club. Russian scientists are expecting these two female cockroach cosmonauts to give birth to “the world’s first offspring conceived in microgravity.” That’s interesting, certainly, but do we really need to help these indestructible little buggers adapt their genes to space as well? Silkworms I’m not too worried about, but roaches?! If we keep this up, when we finally come across a monolith somewhere, there’ll already be cockroaches there, scuttling under it when we shine our flashlights.

In other science-factual news of a fascinating but highly questionable nature- Craig Venter has announced he’s built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals, in effect creating the first new artificial life form on Earth. Pants-crappingly good news ay?

10.08. filed under: headlines. science. space.

Scorched rock floating through empty space beholden to cold dispassionate forces for near eternity.

Observations of the star “V 391 Pegasi b” have revealed that a planet circling close to its star, like say, Earth, is not necessarily doomed to being swallowed whole when its star expands and goes “red-giant” in old age.

Quote: “Stars such as our own expand into red giants in their old age, engulfing nearby planets. Now a planet has been sighted circling close to V 391 Pegasi, a star that has gone through the red-giant phase to become what is known as a hot B-type subdwarf. The planet, it seems, survived this process.”

09.18. filed under: humanity. observations. space. 1

The image above is a color composite I created combining 6 hand drawn black and white images, each by a different astronomer, of a total solar eclipse which occurred on July 18th 1860. Although photography already existed at the time of this eclipse it was nowhere near precise enough to make truly useful astronomical observations. The astronomers who recorded it continued on with the method of hand drawing observations, which they’d employed long before the invention of the telescope, let alone the upstart photography. This particular eclipse was special in that the drawings are now thought to be the first known representations of a coronal mass ejection. See below for the original images, which are beautiful in their own right, and a bit more info.

09.10. filed under: science. space. 9

Quote, “Some stars undergo a natural process that generates acoustic waves similar to those produced by wind instruments. The gas inside the star contracts and expands, which leads to a heating and cooling cycle. This periodic change in temperature alters the star’s light intensity, and astronomers can detect the resulting pulse patterns with telescopes. Kolláth and Keuler use this data as a basis for their music, but after one critical adjustment: Since the frequencies of star sounds are much too low for humans to hear, the team uses a computer program to shift the pitches by as many as 30 octaves—over four times the difference between the highest and lowest notes on a piano. So essentially, stars produce sound waves that appear visually as patterns of light, which are then translated into music.” Seed story on astrophysicist Zoltán Kolláth and composer Jenő Keuler’s Stellar Music Project.

Related: space sounds, space audio, ESA sounds from space, space weather vlf receiver, listening to leonids, sounds from space: sonification applications, NPR The Musical Sounds of Space, and the sounds of Titan.

12.10. filed under: bits&bytes. space.

Russell William Porter (1871-1949) was an architect, explorer, mapmaker, watercolorist, and pioneer in the field of “cutaway illustration.” As though this were not an impressive enough skill-set Porter was also an ameture astronomer and telescope builder, sometimes referred to as the “founder of amateur telescope making.” It was presumably this wonderful intersection of talents which lead astronomer George E. Hale to recruit him to work on the design of the 200-inch telescope on Mt. Palomar (for a time the largest telescope on earth). During its conceptual development Porter produced 19 beautiful drawings of the instrument, which amazingly (considering their technical depth and exactitude) were all done before the telescope was actually constructed using only blueprints as a guide. The Prime Focus, from this set, is pictured above.

12.02. filed under: art. history. people. science. space. 2

One of the long-running challenges faced by proponents of space exploration has been finding compelling reasons to sell such efforts—particularly big-ticket government programs—to the general public. This is a challenge because in the United States there are few coherent attitudes about space. The prevailing attitude might best be classified as apathy. Jeff Foust of The Space Review talks a bit about a recent forum held on Capitol Hill: What’s the value of space? This is one of those questions that literally boggles the mind. For those of us who view space the way others might view… well… God, it’s hard to even frame a response. So what is the value of space? I’d love to hear how all of you would answer that question. If you’re not too shy or apathetic why not answer in comments?

Further space linkage for today:

NASA offers Planet Quest, the search for another earth (flash presentation)  which rounds up information on 8 separate up-coming missions. Here is the homepage.

NASA’s Constellation Program is “getting to work on the new spacecraft that will return humans to the moon and blaze a trail to Mars and beyond.” Here is a nifty flash presentation.

After a decade’s work, physicists are flying an antimatter observatory. PAMELA.

They all see it. It comes and goes. Could it be that it’s alive? From clues to hypotheses, the forensic investigation of the dark dune spots of Mars. Via.

Lastly, a nice alphabetical way to browse the major space artifacts on display in the National Air and Space Museum.

06.20. filed under: link dump. space. 5

There are one hundred billion stars in the Milky Way
and not one is star-shaped. -Hans Hollein.

05.28. filed under: !. observations. space.

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