November 13, 2014
It’s not every day you get a tweet from a comet, but on November 12, that’s exactly what came from Comet 67P, located about 310 million miles from Earth. “Touchdown! My new address: 67P!”
Photo credit: ESA
The Rosetta Mission took a giant step forward on Wednesday when the Philae lander settled, or perhaps bounced, onto the surface of a comet far, far away. This is the first time scientists have managed to land a space probe on a comet. European Space Agency scientists and executives traded high fives and hugs, and even the news that there may have been a landing glitch did little to subdue their celebration.
Because gravity is very weak on Comet 67P, Philae was equipped with anchors that were supposed to bolt the lander to the surface of the comet. But those harpoons failed to fire, so the spacecraft isn’t secure.
Despite this, the Rosetta mission is a success.
Scientists hope to find answers about the evolution of our solar system through experiments done by Philae, including testing the surface of the comet, measuring the magnetic field and interaction between the comet and solar wind, and even gathering deeper samples of the comet for testing.
Rosetta traveled 6.4 billion miles over ten years to come to this point. The Philae lander weighs about 220 pounds and is about the size of a washing machine. The comet is about 2 ½ miles in diameter. Getting a spacecraft onto a piece of rock that small, so far away is a huge accomplishment! One scientist described it as hitting a golf ball all the way onto the moon.
The name of the spaceship may sound familiar. The Rosetta Stone was a piece of rock found in Egypt in 1799 that had three different languages on it—two forms of Egyptian and Greek. Historians were able to finally decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and as a result, they discovered the culture of Ancient Egypt, which had been previously wrapped in mystery.
Will the Rosetta Mission provide the same insight into our current astronomical mystery? Will we learn how our solar system formed, how life on Earth began? This is a very exciting first step on the long road of space exploration.
Friday, January 30, 2015, 5:00
McCormick Place, South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL, United States
Join us for the ALA Midwinter conference in downtown Chicago. Visit Nomad Press and take advantage of our show specials.
Show runs January 30 – February 2, 2015.
October 27, 2014
If you weren’t listening very closely to the news these past few days, you might have missed it. Remember Felix Baumgartner and his historic jump from approximately 24 miles in space? Someone beat his record.
photo credit: Rico Shen
I know, this doesn’t look like a guy who would voluntarily skydive to Earth from 25 miles in space, but looks are almost always deceiving.
Alan Eustace, a Google executive who has the best professional title ever (Senior Vice President of Knowledge) detached himself from a helium balloon 25 miles above New Mexico and fell back to the planet’s surface, reaching speeds of 1,300km/hour and breaking the sound barrier, which people on the ground could hear even though for him it was quiet.
What’s almost more impressive than his fall down to Earth is his trip up into space, which did not take place in any kind of capsule or space ship. Instead, he dangled at the end of a long tether attached at the other end to a helium balloon that carried him until he freed himself and began his descent. All that separated him from the enormity of space was his specially designed space suit, which Paragon Space Development Corp spent three years getting right. Oh, and by the way, to keep his face mask from fogging up and blocking some pretty amazing views, he had to stay almost completely still and respond to radio queries with the tiniest of leg movements.
So why was there so much publicity surrounding Baumgartner’s jump and so little surrounding Eustace’s? These were two very different events. Baumgartner is a known daredevil (nicknamed Fearless Felix) with several world records to his name. Eustace is a 57-year-old computer scientist. Baumgartner’s event was sponsored by corporate giant Red Bull. Eustace refused to accept sponsorship money from companies, including the one he works for, Google. He and the engineers at Paragon Space Development Corp wanted to focus on the science and engineering behind the event, and they worried that sponsorships would make this more of a publicity stunt than an experiment.
While the two jumps stand far from each other on publicity scale, they share at least one important feature. They cause kids all over the world to look up. What would it be like to float that far into space? What would it feel like to jump? What would it feel like to fall? What would it feel like to land?
Keep looking up, kids. There’s always another record to beat, boundary to push, goal to achieve.
~Andi at Nomad
October 13, 2014
Most of us know the story of Christopher Columbus and his fleet of ships that brought the dawn of European exploration and colonization to the Americas. Many of us also know that Columbus is not an altogether wholesome character, but one who traded in slaves and used cheating and treachery to advance his own cause.
But you might not know about the time Columbus had to rely on the intersection between trickery and astronomy to save his own life and the lives of his crew.
On Columbus’s fourth journey to the New World, his ships suffered from both hurricanes and termites, and Columbus and his crew had to seek shelter ashore the island of Jamaica. The Arawak Indians were friendly at first and supplied the white men with food, but as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into six months, they got tired of supporting the interlopers in exchange for worthless trinkets. Columbus found himself faced with angry natives and a crew near mutiny. He had to find a way to make people do what he wanted them to do.
Luckily, Columbus had a copy of an almanac written by Johannes Muller von Konigsber, also known as Regiomontanus. Regiomontanus was a German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer who recorded detailed information about the sun, moon, and planets, as well as stars and constellations, which enabled sailors to navigate areas of the planet that had never been explored by Europeans before.
Through Regiomontanus’s almanac, Columbus knew that a lunar eclipse would happen on the evening of Thursday, February 29, 1504. Three days before this, he warned the Arawaks that they had angered God by refusing to feed Columbus and his men. God, Columbus declared, would provide a sign of his anger by making the moon disappear.
The Arawaks had certainly witness eclipses, but had no idea what caused them. They had no written history of the sky above their heads, no instruments to measure the heavens, and no way to predict what happened on the celestial canvas.
So when Columbus said something like, “Behold, God is angry and will take away the moon,” the natives might’ve listened pretty closely. And three days later, when the moon did in fact turn the blood red of a lunar eclipse, the natives might have felt pretty willing to do anything that the person who predicted this turn of events asked, as long as he put the moon right again.
And so, Columbus got to buy another six months of survival by capitalizing on the fear of his native hosts.
Nearly 400 years later, Mark Twain took inspiration from Columbus’s trick in his novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Accidental time traveler, Hank Morgan, saves his proverbial neck by predicting a solar eclipse, convincing the king that executing him is a bad idea. Just like Columbus, Morgan bought himself enough time to make it out of his dangerous situation alive.
This Columbus Day, no matter your feelings about the true history of Columbus, celebrate the use of scientific knowledge as a way of making friends—or at least a way of keeping your enemies from killing you.