Early evening astronomy for the late night moon bats

I am only warning you about this now because I don't want you to be scared as I practice some tricks from my "Merlin's Winter Solstice Magic for Dummies" tonight. Anyways...

Tonight (tomorrow morning?), from about one thirty am est until about five thirty am est, the moon will be completely swallowed by the shadows of the earth. The last time a total lunar eclipse coincided with the winter solstice was in 1638, but I was not around to cause that one.

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If you are too busy blogging, participating in NASA's live chat or just surfing the net and don't want to put down your iPad, iPod or iPhone to follow this eclipse, there is an app for that. However, if you would prefer to hunt some planets, instead of staying up in the middle of the night to see me magically paint the moon a reddish-orange with my eclipse, there is some less lunar loony news and information on planet hunting for the "citizen scientist" and "amateur scientist" below the fold.

Saturday Morning Open Thread: The Edge of Space, Backyard Amateur Edition

This is an incredible father-son project, not to mention one heck of an innovative accomplishment:

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Father and son film outer space, do-it-yourself style
By Stephen Messenger, TreeHugger
Posted Fri Oct 8, 2010 12:30pm PDT

Like many youngsters, and those young at heart, seven-year-old Max Geissbuhler and his dad dreamed of visiting space -- and armed with just a weather balloon, a video camera, and an iPhone, in a way they did just that.

The father-and-son team from Brooklyn managed to send their homemade spacecraft up nearly 19 miles, high into the stratosphere, bringing back perhaps the most impressive amateur space footage ever. ...


What kind of projects did you do with your parents when you were a kid? And, perhaps most importantly, what kind of projects do you do with your kids (or siblings' kids, or neighborhood kids, if you don't have any of your own)?

The possibilities in this world of ever-advancing, affordable technologies are nearly endless.

Share your tale(s) in the comments below, and remember: this is an Open Thread.


A New Perspective On The Fermi Paradox


Ever heard of the Fermi Paradox? Essentially, it's this:

If there are intelligent civilisations elsewhere in the Universe with technologies that far surpass our own, why do we see no sign of them?

The article The Fermi Paradox, Phase Changes and Intergalactic Colonisation, posted June 26 online at the Technology Review, two gentlement from the National Technical University of Ukraine have come up with a new take that's yielding some interesting insights:

Their approach is to imagine that civilisations form at a certain rate, grow to fill a certain volume of space and then collapse and die. They even go as far as to suggest that civilisations have a characteristic life time, which limits how big they can become.

In certain circumstances, however, when civilisations are close enough together in time and space, they can come into contact and when this happens the cross-fertilisation of ideas and cultures allows them both to flourish in a way that increases their combined lifespan.

What's this mean? Well,

The result gives a new insight into the Fermi Paradox. Bezsudnov and Snarskii say that for certain values of these parameters, the universe undergoes a phase change from one in which civilisations tend not to meet and spread into one in which the entire universe tends to become civilised as different groups meet and spread.


Of course, this doesn't resolve the question definitively, but certainly provides some interesting additional sparks that could catch and burn brightly in a fertile imagination.

What do ~you~ think -- is there any intelligent life in the universe? (Outside of Earth, that is -- effectively avoiding whether or not you'd qualify humanity itself as "intelligent.")


Open Thread: The Dawn of a New Era, Space Commercialization Edition

Did you see it live, or read about it? The first successful orbital flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 occurred on Friday, 4 June 2010. Check out their updates here.

This truly marks the beginning of the commercialization of space flight.

We have witnessed a bit of history that we can be proud of.

This is an Open Thread.

Friday Morning Open Thread: Life On Mars, NASA Goals & Priorities Edition

NASA needs a goal, a destination and objective upon which to focus, else it is going nowhere. That's effectively what US Sentators told the space agency on Wednesday. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden disagreed.

...Bolden said after the hearing that critics were confusing the lack of a specific destination or timetable with the lack of a goal.

NASA has a goal, a big one, Bolden said. It's going to Mars. But Bolden added that getting astronauts to Mars is more than a decade away and NASA needs to upgrade its technology or else it never will get there.

"We want to go to Mars," Bolden said. "We can't get there right now because we don't have the technology to do it."

That is why he said the new NASA plan invests in developing in-orbit fuel depots, inflatable spaceship parts, new types of propulsion and other technology.

Bolden would not even guess when NASA would try to send astronauts to Mars, but said the technology NASA is studying could cut the trip to the Red Planet from three months to a matter of days if it works.

"We're oh-so-close, but we've got to invest in that technology," Bolden testified.

Bolden is correct; the amount of technological, economic and industrial growth that resulted from our push to the Moon resulted in many of the marvelous advances in science that have revolutionized many areas in the public and private sectors.

Another goal -- one that has been "out there" for a while and constantly revived -- is the desire to bring back samples of Martian life for study on Earth:

"At this particular time, I can't provide a date certain for the first human mission to Mars," Bolden told the Senate's science and space subcommittee. However, Bolden recently told the Houston Chronicle's editorial board it was his "personal vision" to put NASA on a path toward a human Mars landing sometime in the 2030s.

That's the kind of talk that could energize further robotic exploration of Mars, including two-way trips. "Non-human sample return would feed very directly into the technology for human exploration," Conley told me.

If Bolden's vision holds true, a lot of questions will have to be answered in the next 20 years. Conley said one biggie is how safe astronauts would be on the Red Planet. A report from the National Research Council, titled "Safe on Mars," outlined a whole list of potential nasties ranging from alien microbes to toxic hexavalent chromium. Some of those risks can be assessed only by up-close analysis of Martian samples, Conley said.

Of course, bringing back samples of extra-terrestrial life has its own inherent risks, as speculated in science fiction fare such The Andromeda Strain, Alien and -- perhaps most appropriate of the three -- Species. From the article cited above by Alan Boyles on MSNBC,

When fresh Martian material is brought back - either by astronauts or by special-delivery robots - it'll have to be contained much more tightly than the Apollo moonwalkers were 40 years ago. The way Rummel sees it, our planet was lucky that the moon was most sincerely dead. "If there had been anything alive on the moon at that time, it would be alive here now," he said. (On the flip side, we may have left something alive on the moon.)

NASA's plans call for Martian samples to be handled as if they were top-priority biohazards, in a containment facility equivalent to a Biosafety Level 4 lab.

Ideally, such a lab would also have the contact numbers for Michael Madsen and Sigourney Weaver.

This is an Open Thread.

Meet Roxy, the Lonely Hearts Penguin...and Other News

Leading off our eclectic collection of Valentine's Day stuff is this bit from Reuters about Roxy -- no, not the ePluribus Media webmistress, but in fact a penguin with a My Space page:

Girl Marries Dog
Rick Santorum shout-out)

Meanwhile... wonder Penguins are stressed.

That's how Roxy the webmistress keeps all of us in line, too.

In other news, ABC News is reporting that The International Criminal Court is preparing to issue a warrant for the President of Sudan for crimes against humanity. Such an action -- issuing an arrest warrant against a sitting foreign leader -- is unprecedented, and could have far-reaching implications. I wonder if George W. Bush, Richard B. Cheney and their former Administration's main players have any worries about what that could mean for them? Hat-tip to pmeldrum for the reference.

While our ability to track space-based debris could benefit from more data-sharing and the growing need for some type of Space Traffic Control grows, we're making some progress in our acceptance of reality-based thinking here on the ground:

More than 1,000 religious congregations around the world have signed up to give sermons on the theme of religion and science as part of the fourth annual Evolution Weekend.

And finally, Microsoft is planning to launch retail stores, even though analysts are skeptical about the potential efficacy of the move:

Skeptics questioned whether Microsoft's strategy would work in a dismal retail climate. They also wondered whether its stores could compete with Apple's, which seem to draw in passersby with the strength of the Death Star tractor beam in "Star Wars."

Apparently, we'll soon learn if being a behemoth that functions like somewhat impaired near-complete monopoly is enough to fly in the face of market practicality, barring any new and innovative way that these new retail outlets are introduced or in how they operate.

Microsoft isn't Apple, so the results could be ... interesting.