Tag Archives: NASA

Physics: Big Strike Out!

diphoton bumpTo the dismay of physics geeks everywhere, theoretical particle physics struck out at the plate this year. Three swings, three misses. (Well, maybe one wasn’t really a swing. More a taken ball the umpire called a strike.) It was a crushing disappointment for those of us hoping for a rule-change to the game.

On the other hand, cosmology geeks got three recent home runs, so there was victory (with more coming!) for those who peer at the big and distant. On the other other hand, none of those were game-changers either. (They were just, you know, awesome.)

Since I follow both physics and cosmology, win some, lose some.

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Plutonic Star Tar!

There comes a time when words fail, and all you can do is stare in amazement. The Friday press conference from the New Horizons team had that effect on many of us. (I’m not the only one who wept with sheer joy.)

Pluto haze

From behind the planet, the Sun illuminates Pluto’s 100 mi layer of haze.

They say pictures are worth thousands of words, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking (click on any image to go to the source)…

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Pluto Presents!

Hot off the press! Check out Pluto’s first close up:

Pluto Surface 1

The young surface of Pluto (the planet)! [click for NASA source]

Those mountains are up to 11,000 feet high! And the surface looks to be roughly 100 million years old — extremely young compared to the four-and-a-half billion year age of the solar system (and not a crater in sight!).

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Pluto (the planet)!

Pluto 2015-07-13

Pluto… like no one has ever seen it before!

(At least no one on Earth!)

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Pluto, All Stars, & Twins

New HorizonsOh, my! I mentioned last time that the Minnesota Twins, after a surprisingly good month of May, cooled down big time in June. Fans held their breath wondering how far the team would fall from the height reached in May. Now, with June behind us and July well under way, we can start breathing normally again.

The Twins lost ground in June, but remained above the .500 mark (by five games!) by month’s end. But July seems to have brought an end to the ice-cold bats. The Twins are 8-4 in July as we begin the All-Star break.

But more importantly: It’s Pluto Day!

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Post #500!

500 posts

This blog is nearly four years old (I started on July 4th, 2011). This post makes it exactly 500 posts here on Logos Con Carne. To commemorate it, I’m giving myself the 500 Odometer Award (which I built myself from various electrons I had laying around).

As part of the party, this post consists of miscellaneous odds and ends that have intrigued me lately. I’ll leave it to you to decide which are the odds and which are the ends.

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Beating Swords into Rockets

Saturn V

Kudos and congratulations to Curiousity! The Mars Space Laboratory—the “rover”—is safely down on Mars.  Other blogs have covered it in great detail, so I won’t go into it.  The Bad Astronomer is a great place to start with anything space-related; here’s a good one, and here’s another.  Maki, over at sci-ənce, has a really cute comic.  And you can always count on Randall Monroe, over at xkcd, for a good take on it.  (And speaking of xkcd and Mars, I’ve always loved this one.)

But I do just want to say, “Wow!  This is really cool!”

And isn’t Curiousity an apt name for a mission designed to slake ours.

I’m amazed, and very, very happy, that it worked.  It would have really sucked to have our Curiousity ended in infinite silence, not returning our increasingly desperate texts.  Was it something we said? We can change! Just give us a chance. Speak to us, please!

So kudos and congrats to courageous Curiousity and the many, many people who pulled it off!  My virtual hat is literally off to you!!

It got me thinking about beating swords into plowshares.

Did you know that the rockets we used to launch the Mercury and Gemini capsules were military rockets that already existed? NASA just re-purposed them for the space missions.

The original mission of those rockets was to launch nuclear bombs!  In using them to explore the new frontier of space, NASA made real the old saying about beating swords into plowshares.  Or in this case, rockets.

Atlas-D

The very first rocket we used to hoist humans into space, during Project Mercury was a member of the Redstone family.  They were based on the German V-2 rocket!  Remember that many of “our” rocket scientists came from the German war rocket program (and see this xkcd comic).  Which means the first Mercury rockets were directly related to the rockets that bombed England!

We used another rocket for Project Mercury, the Atlas-D, which came from the Atlas family. Those were designed back in the 50s as ICBMs: Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.  The “IC” part means we could throw them across the sea at other continents (those pesky Rooskys being high on our list). The “B” part is about the throwing; we light one of those off, it climbs on its tailfire for a while, and then it coasts to touchdown like a launched football to the end zone.  Only in this case, it’s a blast zone.  We didn’t put pig bladders on those things.

By the time Project Gemini came along we graduated to Titan family. A bit more bang for the buck, in at least two senses of the word.  The Titans were the ones (or one of the ones) planted in missile silos around the country. (In Arizona, one such site is now a tourist location where you can tour the silo and learn about those crazy, hazy days of near nuclear annihilation (tick-tock, it’s nearly midnight).)

Titan

And let’s just skip any phallic fantasy foolishness. Missiles are shaped the way they are for aerodynamic reasons (although in this case “aerodymanic” might almost be a better word). And yet, despite that, they were all about dick waving, weren’t they.

Which brings up an interesting point. One could argue that the space race was its own form swordsmanship. Certainly from the political point of view there was both point and edge. That was a race with consequences!

On the other hand, the men and women, the scientist and engineers involved in actually designing and implementing the race, they had science on the brain. They wanted to boldly go where we were never before [swell music swells] to explore strange new worlds, to seek out… well, you know how it goes!

It wasn’t until we built the mighty Saturn V that we built a machine specifically to put humans in space, specifically to advance our scientific progress. The Saturn V not only pushed us to the moon, it put venerable Skylab in orbit.

That was 40 years ago, and we’ve come a long way, baby. We just did a magic trick that put a car-sized scientific machine on Mars. Another small step for the hairless apes, can I get a hip happy hooray!