Monday, December 22, 2014

Moon Musings


A stunning anniversary just passed, and it's been on my mind all weekend.

On December 19, 1972, upon the splashdown return of Apollo 17, there were 12 men on planet Earth who knew what it was like to walk on the surface of our Moon. This fact remained true for true for 18 years and 7 months.

Then, in August 1991, James Irwin (Apollo 15) died of a heart attack at age 61.

In 1998, Alan Shepard (Apollo 14) died of leukemia at age 74.

In 1999, Pete Conrad (Apollo 12) was killed in a motorcycle crash at age 69.

In 2012, Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11) died of heart failure at age 82.

Today, there are 8 men left who remember traveling to and working on the moon.

  • Buzz Aldrin turns 85 years old in January.
  • Ed Mitchell and John Young are also both 84. 
  • Alan Bean and David Scott are both 82. 
  • Gene Cernan is 80.
  • Jack Schmitt and Charles Duke are both 79.
In less than one year, every single man who walked on the Moon will be an octogenarian.

Even if the youngest of them make it in to their 90s or to 100, will they see another Moon mission? Or perhaps, as has been hot news this year, BEYOND the moon? Will they watch astronauts who are American or Chinese? Male or female? Who will be President in that era? Will it be just as inspiring to the world?

Some think we could pull off a Moon mission or beyond by 2020, though with how administrations roll, it will be more like 2025.
  • At that point, Buzz Aldrin would be 95. 
  • Ed Mitchell and John Young would both be 94. 
  • Alan Bean and David Scott would both be 93. 
  • Gene Cernan would be 91. 
  • Jack Schmitt would be 90. 
  • Charles Duke would be 89. 
I wonder, will they make it? Statistically, we can expect to lose a few more of their tiny club before we see a return to the lunar surface, given that even the best ideas are still in the planning stages. Anything could suffer cancellation again, in favor of Mars, Asteroids, or on the altar of war, depression or unforseen disaster.

So, when we go back, if we go back, will anyone alive personally remember what it was like to go the Moon?

Something to ponder.

Monday, December 1, 2014

FREE 2015 "Year In Space" Calendar


Readers and Tweeters! Some lucky SpaceTwit is going to win a stunningly gorgeous 2015 Year In Space Calender, hot off Starry Messenger Press, published in cooperation with The Planetary Society.

And when I say SpaceTwit, I mean that in the nicest possible way. Because all you have to do to enter the contest is tweet about the new calendar to spread the word.

Designer Steve Cariddi created this large-format 2015 Year In Space Calendar to appeal to space enthusiasts of all ages, and the introduction was written by everyone's favorite Science Guy, Bill Nye!

This beautiful creation has his stamp of approval, and it's not difficult to see why. I got my hot little hands on it, and have been absorbed for hours. The photography is stunning, and every square centimeter is packed with colorful collages, planets, astronauts, space crafts, and profiles of famous scientists. The calendar grids feature moon phases, sky-gazing guides, space exploration milestones throughout history and fun space facts.


Circulate any of the tweets below, or create your own tweet with the calendar link, and CC: back to my account so I know to enter your Twit-handle in the drawing.

Win a FREE Year In Space 2015 calendar w/fabulous space photographs! Intro by Bill Nye @TheScienceGuy cc @pillownaut

Win a FREE Year In Space 2015 Calendar Created by @YearInSpace & @exploreplanets the Planetary Society cc @pillownaut

EVERYONE who tweets will also get a re-tweet from me from somewhere in their recent stream, and an inclusion in my next #FF round for your Klouting pleasure! Next Monday morning (December 8, 2014), we will choose a winner at random and notify everyone.
Click to see Calendar Pages!

And Get This: you get a special discount for being a Pillow Astronaut Reader and Tweeter! Of course, only one person can win the free prize, so when the rest of you purchase multiples for your kids for Christmas, and I know you will, check out the discount grid, alongside FREE U.S. shipping and lowered international shipping.

Check in the box for the Internet Discount, which ranges from 22% to 39%, depending on quantity ordered; then in the comment section, let them know Pillownaut sent you!

If you do not have a Twitter account, feel free to share this article to Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or Tumblr!  Then, leave me a comment here on this blog post to let me know! Anyone who shares is entered. :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Wild Black Yonder


Arthur Darris of Chicago, IL emailed me with the following question; upon discussion over the past couple days, he said I could use our [slightly paraphrased] conversation as a blog post. Regarding the mention of Radio Telescope technology on my last Trivia Series, Arthur asks:

There is something I have wondered about as we search for radio signals from space hoping to pick up signs of life. Why radio? Is it because that is what we use? I thought I read that our own signals aren't reaching deep space as once thought... don't they degrade as they travel? Maybe ETs don't want to interfere with our natural development so they ensure we do NOT detect them. Maybe they communicate in ways we cannot detect yet? But I never hear anyone say this when they talk about SETI. If we learned how to travel beyond our solar system, wouldn't we also need a faster way to communicate?

Electromagnetic Spectrum
That tiny rainbow band is all humans can see!

Why radio waves? That is a long and monumental answer, packed with delightfully nerdy details, but the short version is: because radio waves are THERE.

Radio waves are everywhere. They are "universal" in the literal sense of the word! Truly, humans did not invent and emit them to keep up with Top 40 Hits. ;)

Electromagnetic radiation transports energy at the speed of light. Radio waves are just one form; other forms include visible light [to human eyes], X-rays, infrared, microwaves, etc.  Electromagnetic radiation is widely detected, easily received, can be easily generated artificially, and lasts across vast distances… even through massive dust clouds.

Frequency Allocation
Use of the radio spectrum is regulated by
governments through frequency allocation

Any other techie planet will discover those waves, as we did, and they'll find that tons of things in the cosmos emit all sorts of waves.

Once the wave  properties are examined, any scientific observers would notice oscillation, which determines frequencies. The downside is the enormous spectrum of possible frequencies; they won't know ours, and we won't know theirs. And yes, they degrade over distance, since they are forms of energy. Everything degrades over time and distance.

So hey, let's point a big dish at the sky to collect radiation in high concentrations and amplify frequencies! Or how about a whole pack of dishes? The more dishes you have working together to provide focus, the more accurately faraway sources of various signals can be pinpointed and examined for location, distance, motion, etc. Hence, arrays.

Electromagnetic Radiation Spectrum
Same Galaxy, Different Wavelengths

I had a college professor who was very down on arraying, or as he called it "desperately listening to invisibility" LOL, but I don't think it's so far-fetched. Neither does SETI, and hopefully SETI will survive. We could get lucky. In fact, many scientists believe that radio signals will be our ultimate communication, and not space travel . Our chances of finding other civilizations via Star Trekian propulsion is not currently possible, given time and distances between possible habitable planets – even if we detect them from a vast distance.

Interestingly, according to one sample, 1 in 5 people believe aliens already live among us... disguised! I tend to think of this as the "badly informed by Hollywood" tinfoil hat crowd, but who knows – the joke may one day be all on us skeptics.

E.T. Extra Terrestrial
If you know what this is... you're old.

Sorry. I meant that to be brief. Or maybe it was. I nut-shelled. But you can also find huge amounts of interesting data if you Google "Radio Astronomy."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Telescopin' Trivia


Peak Meteor Shower time! Hope everyone is enjoying the Leonids! And what better time to appreciate our telescopes-- which often translates into coveting a newer, better, bigger one.

Conventional history records that German-born Hans Lippershey invented the telescope in 1608, but legend has it that the device was actually invented years earlier by children playing with lenses in his shop where he created eye-spectacles. Other stories say his apprentice first hit upon the idea of doubling refracting lenses. Nonetheless, Lunar Crater Lippershey is named after him, and not the help.

Coastal merchants were the first competitive consumers of early telescopes, using them to spot approaching trade ships; certainly sailors also found them handy when scanning for land masses -- but Galileo Galilei was the first to use one for astronomy. Turning the telescope heavenward, he found the Galilean moons, noted the phases of planet Venus and also analyzed and described sun spots.

Most of the world's largest optical telescopes (listed by aperture) are now built in remote areas, or atop remote peaks, so as to operational in clean, thin air.

For over 70 years, the largest telescope in the world was located at Birr Castle in Ireland. The 40-ton reflecting telescope with a 3-ton mirror, built by the Earl of Rosse in 1845, was nicknamed the “Leviathan of Parsonstown”. Suspended between two giant stone walls, the telescope offered views of Jupiter and one was later used to observe nebulae.

Leviathan of Parsonstown

Today, the largest telescope in the world is the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos in La Palma, Canary Islands (Spain).

From 1993 (when fitted with corrective lenses after deployment) to the present, the Hubble Space Telescope has been the source of more than 25% of all published astronomy research papers. Funny how you never hear anyone gripe anymore that it was 7 years late and over-budget.

Radio Telescopes in northern California
Radio Telescopes that pick up celestial radio waves instead of light, being all the modern rage, now number over 100 and span the globe. Singular dishes and arrays can be found in both Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Antarctica. There have even been two in space!

The majority of professional astronomers don't even look through eye-pieces anymore. Telescopes are largely operated remotely with computers! Even casual computer users can access robotic observatories from home now. Want to try an internet-based telescope? Go to Seeing In The Dark at Cornell University's Astronomy Department.