Friday, May 31, 2019

🚀 Obsessing About the Fermi Paradox? Will Starlink Ruin the Sky? What Killed Venus? And More...


My Second Interview on Space Junk Podcast: the Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter

I had such a fun time chatting with Tony and Dustin about Conspiracy Theories that they brought me back for round two. This time to chat about the Fermi Paradox, and why it's such a troubling concept. The Universe is big and old, and there should be live everywhere in the Universe. So, where is it? If you think you've solved the Fermi Paradox, you probably haven't thought enough about the Fermi Paradox.

I enjoyed the interview, and I think you will to. And definitely check out the Space Junk Podcast and subscribe. Lots of great discussions with astrophotographers, astronomers and other space-minded people.

Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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SpaceX Just Launched the First 60 Satellites for Starlink. What About Space Junk?

On Thursday, May 23rd, 2019, SpaceX launched one of its most important payloads in the history of the company - 60 satellites that will begin the constellation of their Starlink internet satellite system.

There were several delays leading up to the launch. It was originally supposed to launch on May 15th, but high upper-level winds scrubbed it. Then the launch was pushed back a week because they needed to upgrade the software on all 60 satellites.

But finally, on Thursday, the rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 10:30 pm Eastern Time from the Space Launch Complex 40 pad.

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Italy from space

Sen has Launched a 4K Video Stream to Space

Sen (or Space Exploration Network) just launched the first satellite in their 4K streaming platform that will show off the surface of the Earth below them. This first satellite is just a demonstration, to show how the service will work and what the video feed will look like. Several other satellites are coming shortly

Ancient Venus?

Theory Proposes that Venus Could Have Been Habitable, but a Large Ocean Slowed Down its Rotation, Killing it

Venus is the worst today, but was it better in the past? Astronomers have detected evidence that it might have had a large ocean billions of years ago. And this ocean might have acted like a brake, slowing down the rotation of Venus to the point that it led to a runaway greenhouse effect


Is Starlink Bad For Astronomy?

After the launch of Starlink, skywatchers have seen the bright train of satellites moving through the sky. This has led to big concerns that the constellation of satellites is going to cause havoc for astronomers across the world. We don't know the final configuration and how bright things are going to get, but let's just say, it's a big controversy right now.


You can get a Replica of a Machete that Went to the Moon

Did you know that the Apollo missions carried a machete on board when they traveled to the Moon? Of course it wasn't to cut through the thick foliage on the desolate Moon, it was part of a survival pack that the astronauts could use if their capsule landed in a forest or jungle. And now, you can buy a replica.

Soyuz launch

Soyuz was Struck by Lightning in Flight, Still Deployed its Satellite

In this dramatic picture, you can see a Russian Soyuz rocket blasted by lightning as it was lifting off on Monday. It was carrying a replacement satellite for the GLONASS navigation system (a Russian equivalent of GPS). Incredibly, the strike didn't seem to affect the rocket, and it deployed its payload into orbit safely.


Climate Change

NASA's Long-Term Climate Predictions have Proven to be Very Accurate, Within 1/20th of a Degree Celsius

NASA has been studying the state of the Earth's climate for decades, from the ground, from the air, and of course, from space. They've gotten very very good at developing predictive models about how the planet's temperatures are going to change based on carbon emissions. In fact, they've predicted the current state of the world with surprising accuracy - within 1/20th of a degree Celsius. 

Mars polar cap

New Layers of Water Ice Have Been Found Beneath Mars' North Pole

Planetary scientists are discovering more and more water on Mars, trapped beneath the surface in the form of ice. Researchers used Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's shallow radar instrument to peer several kilometers below the surface of Mars, and it found several layers of sand and ice beneath Mars' north pole.

Mars sand dunes

Different Conditions From Earth Drive the Movement of Sand Dunes on Mars

Mars is similar to Earth in so many ways, but it's always happy to remind us that it's a truly alien world. Mars has sand dunes, but the places they form and the way they move is very different from the same features we have here on Earth. 


This is Where Mars 2020 Rover is Heading. From this Picture, I Think You Can Guess Why

It's time to start getting excited for NASA's next mission to the Red Planet: the Mars 2020 rover (although I'm sure it'll get renamed). This recently released picture shows the region where Mars 2020 is going, and I think you can probably guess why it's such an exciting destination. Look at that ancient river delta. If there's life on Mars, this is a pretty good place to look.

Hubble galaxy

Why do Some Hubble Images Have That Chunk Taken Out of the Corner?

Older images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope have this familiar look. It's almost a perfect rectangle and then there's a block taken out of the corner. What's in there? What are they hiding? Is that where all the aliens live? No, there's a perfectly rational explanation, one of Hubble's science instruments has a narrower focus.


Did an Ancient Supernova Help Push Humans to Walk Upright?

Astronomers think that a powerful supernova bombarded the Earth with high energy particles about 2.6 million years ago. Coincidentally, this was the same time that hominids moved from being on all fours to standing upright. It's possible that the supernova changed our atmosphere, leading to more forest fires, and more savannas, giving humans a reason to stand up and look around.

Rare Neptune

A Very Rare Planet Discovered. Less Massive than Neptune, Hotter than Mercury. Very Few Should Exist

Astronomers have found a very rare example of a planet; one they thought shouldn't exist. NGTS-4b has three times the size of Earth and is 20% smaller than Neptune. The bizarre part is that it's orbiting so close to its parent star that it suffers temperatures above 1000 Celsius. The radiation from the star should have blasted away all its ices. So how can it be there?

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday

Soul Nebula

This is a beautiful photograph of the Soul Nebula by Paul C. Swift, aka @moonrocks_astro . It's an emission nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia, and Paul needed to gather 60 hours of exposure to take this amazing image.

We have featured over 1,000 astrophotographers on our Instagram page, which has more than 174,000 followers. Want to do a takeover? Use the hashtag #universetoday and I'll check out your photos.


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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Speaking of Science: The science behind the changing game of summer

Speaking of Science
Talk nerdy to us

Michael Conforto of the New York Mets hits a grand slam homerun in front of Will Smith of the Los Angeles Dodgers, to take a 6-2 lead, during the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium on May 28, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already know that I am a baseball fan — a fierce, gleeful, over-the-top emotional, long-suffering supporter of the beleaguered New York Mets (who, as of last night, have won as many games as they've lost this season). I stay up late to listen to West Coast games on the radio and root for my favorite players like I'm a Little League mom ("C'mon Pete! You got this! Good eye!") and on warm, sunny afternoons I love nothing more than sitting on a sticky seat with my scorebook in my lap, breathing the briny smell of hot dogs and warm beer, cheering alongside thousands of strangers to a soundtrack of fake organ music piped through stadium speakers.

In my mind, baseball, to paraphrase one of my favorite books, is the greatest, slowest contraption to get you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer's day.

It's also an interesting physics problem. A few years ago, ahead of the MLB's home run derby, I spoke to Alan Nathan, a professor at the University of Illinois, about the factors that control whether a baseball makes it out of the park.

There are many. The thin air at high altitude stadiums -- like Denver's Coors Field, 5,200 feet above sea level -- offers less resistance to a flying ball. Rising heat also reduces air density, allowing balls to travel a few feet farther for every 10 degree increase in temperature. A good breeze in the right direction can carry a ball, but side spin -- which happens when the batter swings just a little too soon or too late -- can cause a line drive to curve foul.

But at the most basic level, Nathan told me, there are just two crucial elements to a well-hit home run: launch angle and exit speed -- the velocity at which the ball leaves the bat.

The latter of these is in the news nowadays because pitchers are throwing harder than they've ever been; last week, my sports colleague Dave Sheinin reported that the median pitch velocity has gone up by almost a full mile per hour in the last 10 years. These super fast pitches are harder to hit, but when ballplayers can make contact, the ball goes off the bat that much faster -- leading to more home runs.

How did pitchers get so fast? That's an issue of biomechanics. New trainers, armed with high tech tools for analyzing a pitcher's motion, are figuring out how to maximize the amount of energy a moving human body can inject into a 5-ounce leather ball. It's all about "efficiency," Dave says -- producing as much energy as possible without stressing the body to its breaking point.

The game has changed as a result. This season, baseball players are already on pace to hit more home runs than in any other year in history. But because hitters feel like their best bet for offensive success is a home run, their swings are calibrated for the optimum launch angle -- rather than just putting the ball in play. In 2018, there were more strikeouts than hits for the first time in MLB history.

Solving this problem (if you think it is a problem, as most MLB officials do) will likely take all kinds of science. Some of it involves the social science of incentives: In 2020, the league will require all pitchers to face a minimum of three batters, meaning that even the hardest throwing reliever can't afford to use up all his energy getting just one out.

Baseball is also considering moving the mound back by two feet; the added distance won't change the speed of a fastball, but it will give hitters slightly more time to react to a pitch -- and hopefully a better shot at making contact. Research suggests this could work: when the mound was moved back 10 feet in the late 19th century, batting averages jumped by 35 points.

As a baseball fan, and as a science lover, I'm curious to see where the game goes next.

-- Sarah

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