Posted tagged ‘Astronomy’

The ‘Earthification’ of Science

December 18, 2011

All people from all nations must support Earth Science

“…To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”  – Carl Sagan

No, no, this is not one of those “evil, evil man was never meant to fly” type hyperventilations. It is an effort to point out that despite the scientific community‘s obligation to explore, discover and explain the Cosmos, it must also continue to accord the same intense curiosity about our home planet, Earth. This must be regardless of the rising number of discoveries of exoplanets including some that promise to be uniquely Earth-like (Kepler 22b). Science must increase its understanding of the entire evolution of Earth and in achieving this understanding, dictate its preservation
Yes, humankind must survive and Earth is our life-supporting host, but we must evolve our dependence to not continue to suck the very life from Earth while also tearing at its own life-giving entrails. Earth-focused science and technology is the answer. This is where we continue to enjoy and benefit from Earth’s bounty, but at the same time continue to insure that we do not abuse it benevolence. In times of crises such as those surrounding us now, it is even more critical that we defer to science for help in coping constructively with our crises in a manner that protects; even enhances our home planet.
No political head butting here, no cries of environmentalists seek to increase joblessness, and no defiance of the gifted and dedicated by the intense Earth abusers who seek immediate returns in trade for a degraded planet. Yes, we can enrich ourselves from this planet’s munificence, but we must do it in such manner that we preserve that abundance of resources while protecting the well-being of ALL life here at home. In this respect, organizations that are both global and territorial in scope seek to inspire greater Earth-science solutions to this challenge. One such public persuasion in this regard is clearly illustrated by the following video from the advocates for protecting millions of life-forms including Homo sapiens.
Science is the answer and for it to address ALL of the issues and challenges we must press hard upon the political button to bring about the changes and enactments needed to preserve planet Earth and in doing so preserve and enrich all life. ALL of us, tiny cells to towering Homo sapiens, are an integral part of this planet’s very existence. We are and must remain inseparable, and unified on behalf of Earth and life.

HUBBLE HISTORY: A Belated Tribute

May 1, 2011

BLOG NOTE: The following is a reprise of an Op Ed piece I submitted to the “Christian Science Monitor” during the public action to support the upgrade of the Hubble Space Telescope to keep it alive and well. I repeat it here as history and in tribute to our astronauts who stepped up and reached out to keep Hubble sharp-eyed as ever.

Growing up in the mountainous regions of Arizona meant that on any clear night I could step outside, lie back, look up and wander the universe. Now, many years later, I am a city dweller blinded by light pollution, but still longing for those starry, starry nights.

Enter the Hubble Space Telescope and I am home again. Using Hubble’s discoveries, I go deep into the universe. Galaxies and nebulae are not simply bright whirls of light, they are each a universe unto themselves and all equally awesome and compelling. The telescope also takes me to places never conceived or seen by anyone, and I then know just how Galileo felt. The instrument is also a time machine taking me back millions of years, and close to the beginning of everything. In wonderment, I guide my computer through these Hubble moments, and I become choked with emotion, as I realize I am traveling deep back into time to our beginnings.

Darkness is again on the horizon. They, our government, are talking about letting the Hubble die. The telescope requires regular upkeep and upgrading. Our astronauts using the space shuttle have successfully done this four times in the past. Now, as most of us have read or heard, Hubble is due another upkeep. Without this upkeep it will soon run out of energy and its probing eye on the universe will close forever.

Thirty astronauts, of which twenty-seven have flown Hubble servicing missions signed a petition to President Bush saying they will willingly go again. This was said, in spite of NASA’s timidity about safely launching a shuttle to support the Hubble. These heroic men and women stated in their petition that, ”we, the real risk takers, believe the attendant risks of the Hubble servicing mission are no more than the 90 previous manned missions to similar orbits, and are justified by the Hubble Space Telescope’s immense contributions to the space sciences.”

Claiming anxiety over the dangers of a shuttle flight to the telescope NASA’s leadership continues to stonewall everyone including Nobel Laureate scientists who advocate saving the Hubble. Today, both scientists and politicians twist and turn in efforts to either defend NASA’s decision or argue for full restoration of the budget and the servicing mission. Costs ranging as high as I billion dollars have been reported in committees and in the press, but the real incremental costs for the mission remain as originally budgeted, between 300 million to 400 million dollars spread over four years. Most importantly, the money is there, it has just been pulled out of the Hubble account.

So, why all the worry and fuss? There are certainly many powerful new telescopes in the works that can see as well or better than the Hubble. This is true, but there are several key factors to consider. Those other powerful eyes are on the horizon. They are not yet fully in place and at work. Hubble is on station and at work. Many of the other telescopes are far more exclusive with respect to shared information than the space telescope program.. The very manner in which The Space Telescope Science Institute manages Hubble’s discoveries have made it the “people’s eye on the universe.” These people are from all over the world and they are both novices and experts and all treasure the space telescope’s astounding revelations.

Some politicians and scientists say Hubble has completed an astounding job with amazing discoveries implying that it is finished. This is not so. It is not what we already know, but what Hubble is yet to tell us that is so critical, and the universe won’t wait while we ponder the telescope’s future. There are many reasons why the Hubble must be kept alive and on station, but for me, the words of our astronauts who put this instrument in place and have kept it alive say it best.

Sacrificing the Hubble Space Telescope at this stage of the initiative’s development would be putting a damper on some of the greatest advances made to date in our understanding of the universe. Mr. President, each of us have risked our lives to bring about many of those advances, including twenty-seven individuals who have flown in direct support of the Hubble Space Telescope. We, therefore, cannot accept that all our efforts and risks taken were for naught…”

We must keep this eye on the universe. Save the Hubble.

UPDATE NOTE: Fortunately, as we all know, the upgrade mission was approved and STS125 carried those dedicated and courageous astronauts up to keep Hubble alive and well. If you would like to view that petition to President Bush you may do so here. As you read over it, look up and send best wishes to our esteemed eye in the sky, and send both cheers and applause to all those astronauts who stood tall for Hubble.

A RHEALIFE: An Explorer’s Journal – Part III

February 28, 2011

An Apology: I sincerely apologize for the lateness of this update to my journal. A series of intervening events kept me very busy and the best I could manage was to jot down some notes to remind me of ideas and events I wanted to include in this last part of my journal. I hope all of you will forgive this transgression.

The icy, fractured and chaotic surface of Rhea

Core Anyone?: As the above image of Rhea’s tumultuous surface shows, I had a very limited range of exploration; all of it considerably hazardous. The “dirty snowball” concept would seem a fitting description if my personal experience and research had not proved a different assessment of Rhea. Deep beneath Rhea’s crusty skin, there is evidence of a base core.

Tasty Green Plants: Even though there had been earlier research on the effects of both microgravity and hypergravity upon plant growth, I neglected to consider the changes in the tastes of the vegetable plants I grew in my hydroponic garden. The taste was not unpleasant; just different. I acquired a new taste for all of my green food.

Oxygen’s here: I continue to both assess and utilize the thin flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide in Rhea’s atmosphere. Researchers are still investigating the possibility that similar thin but oxygen rich atmospheres may exist on other icy planets in our solar system and even possibly on some exoplanets in other star systems.

Something other than rings: Years back there was real excitement that Rhea may have rings. Well, I do not see any here, and I am right. It turns out that Cassini‘s detection system MIMI spotted something that behaved (one time) like there may be rings, but subsequent flyby’s showed no repeat of those indications. There is still something unusual that occurred that was either peculiar to Rhea or was an event between Rhea and Saturn or Rhea and another one of her sister moons.  There is a lot of action our here, but most of it is physics of the understood kind.

Well, its wrap up time: Yes, I am happy and proud that I was selected to be here, and I think my observations and reports have helped us to better understand the very intricate process of planet formation (including most moons). This same knowledge is helping and will continue to help us eventually understand what we finally, physically see in our neighboring exoplanets.

How am I doing? I am tired. I am weak, and I am ready to return to Earth. Despite my regular exercises, the microgravity of Rhea is physically debilitating. In this regard, long-term visits on planetary bodies like Rhea should be done by robots. Additionally, although all of my food, both grown and supplied was very nutritious, I remained constantly hungry. Why? In any given meal my chew-time was very short.  Don’t laugh, really. By chew time I mean just that, the process of chewing food is a neuro-physiological need that is directly related to hunger satiation. No chew or low chew often fails to produce our bodies hunger satiation response.

Ahh, but being here, in the eyes of Saturn will remain unforgettable. The imposing, gorgeous, and powerful giantess with her accompanying gaggle of moons is a constant panoply of celestial dynamics. Waking up to Saturn, or Titan or Dione or Mimas knocking on my window, so-to-speak, is difficult to describe. Lets just say I lived most days in complete awe.

Can humans exist in this kind environment for long periods of time? I would say, barely. It is cold, almost airless, with little or no gravity and depending upon the specific orbit of the planetary body, your days can be very short or terribly long.  Earth-style sunlight is not present and so a human’s life-cycle can get pretty confused.  It certainly was for me in the beginning. I adjusted, but I can’t wait for a good old sunrise on Earth. In this regard, I am, as far as my research revealed, the only living being on Rhea. We need to remember this when we continue our search for life on exoplanets.  Yes, we will find life out there, but most likely it will occur in a very Earth-like environment. Need I point out then, what a precious treasure our home planet is? Be kind to Mom Earth,  it is, at the moment,  our only safe and supportive home.


Header Image:  Courtesy of Maestro Cassini and NASA – Rhea blue streaks.

Site Close-up:  Courtesty of Maestro Cassini and NASA – A crusty, fractured, icy Rhea.