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Posts Tagged ‘Space’

Search for Traces of Ancient Supernova in Antarctica

Posted by jase on July 18, 2009

Japanese scientists journeyed to Antarctica to recover evidence of alterations to Earth’s atmosphere caused in medieval times by supernovae recorded by scholars – including obscure Irish monasteries where monks later interpreted them signs of the Antichrist . No, this isn’t the plot of the next Dan Brown novel (or a Dan Brow fanfiction written by an X-Files addict): this is real science.

Supernovae release terrific amounts of energy, as in “If one happened too close, the planet would be sterilized” truly terror-inducing terrific.  Some of this energy is fired off as gamma rays, which can travel thousands of light-years and still pack enough of a punch after to alter the atmosphere – which is exactly what happened in 1006 and again in 1054, when gamma rays blasted the upper atmosphere and created spikes in NO3 levels.  There was also quite a lot of visible light, creating a star visible even during the day which was noted by various Chinese, Egyptian and even monastic records.

To access past records of the atmosphere, a team of Japanese scientists carefully extracted 122 meters of ice core from Antarctica.  Even better, to locate events on such a stretch of frozen time you use known volcanic atmosphere-altering events as reference points – in other words, these guys use exploding mountains as a ruler. 

The team found NO3 spikes at times corresponding to 1006 and 1054, as well as a mysterious unknown third event – and we remind you that this is not a movie, even though that sounds so much like a second act reveal leading to a lost city or something, we can practically see Nicolas Cage’s shocked expression.

Unlike any movie adventurer of the unknown, who has a tendency to steal/detonate every single relic they find, the Japanese team have also made things easier for anyone who follows them.  The unprecedented detail of their observations reveals a standard 11-year cycle in ice-core records, corresponding to the sunspot cycle. This will help future ice-core observers track the time of events.

These people look at timescales so huge that the pulsing of the sun itself is just the ticking of a clock.

Posted in Antarctica, Climate, Earth, Global Warming, Historic Events, Science, Southern Hemisphere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ever Heard of: The Fermi Paradox

Posted by jase on July 12, 2009

The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.

The extreme age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that if the Earth is typical, extraterrestrial life should be common. In an informal discussion in 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi questioned why, if a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy, evidence such as spacecraft or probes are not seen. A more detailed examination of the implications of the topic began with a paper by Michael H. Hart in 1975, and it is sometimes referred to as the Fermi-Hart paradox. Another closely related question is the Great Silence—even if travel is hard, if life is common, why don’t we detect their radio transmissions?

There have been attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox by locating evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations, along with proposals that such life could exist without human knowledge. Counterarguments suggest that intelligent extraterrestrial life does not exist or occurs so rarely that humans will never make contact with it.

Starting with Hart, a great deal of effort has gone into developing scientific theories about, and possible models of, extraterrestrial life, and the Fermi paradox has become a theoretical reference point in much of this work. The problem has spawned numerous scholarly works addressing it directly, while various questions that relate to it have been addressed in fields as diverse as astronomy, biology, ecology, and philosophy. The emerging field of astrobiology has brought an interdisciplinary approach to the Fermi paradox and the question of extraterrestrial life.

Should alien artifacts be discovered, even here on Earth, they may not be recognizable as such. The products of an alien mind and an advanced alien technology might not be perceptible or recognizable as artificial constructs. Exploratory devices in the form of bio-engineered life forms created through synthetic biology would presumably disintegrate after a point, leaving no evidence; an alien information gathering system based on molecular nanotechnology could be all around us at this very moment, completely undetected. Clarke’s third law suggests that an alien civilization well in advance of humanity’s might have means of investigation that are not yet conceivable to human beings.

Certain theoreticians accept that the apparent absence of evidence proves the absence of extraterrestrials and attempt to explain why. Others offer possible frameworks in which the silence may be explained without ruling out the possibility of such life, including assumptions about extraterrestrial behaviour and technology. Each of these hypothesized explanations is essentially an argument for decreasing the value of one or more of the terms in the Drake equation. The arguments are not, in general, mutually exclusive. For example, it could be that both life is rare, and technical civilizations tend to destroy themselves, or many other combinations of the explanations below. 

One explanation is that the human civilization is alone in the galaxy. Several theories along these lines have been proposed, explaining why intelligent life might be either very rare, or very short lived. Implications of these hypotheses are examined as The Great Filter.

Further reading:

The Fermi Paradox

Posted in Aliens, Astronomy, Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Paranormal, Science, Space, Ufology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Isn’t the Universe Crawling with Intelligent Life?

Posted by jase on July 12, 2009

In his famous lecture on Life in the Universe, Stephen Hawking asks: “What are the chances that we will encounter some alien form of life, as we explore the galaxy?”

If the argument about the time scale for the appearance of life on Earth is correct, Hawking says “there ought to be many other stars, whose planets have life on them. Some of these stellar systems could have formed 5 billion years before the Earth. So why is the galaxy not crawling with self-designing mechanical or biological life forms?” 

Why hasn’t the Earth been visited, and even colonized? Hawking asks. “I discount suggestions that UFO’s contain beings from outer space. I think any visits by aliens, would be much more obvious, and probably also, much more unpleasant.”

Hawking continues: “What is the explanation of why we have not been visited? \One possibility is that the argument, about the appearance of life on Earth, is wrong. Maybe the probability of life spontaneously appearing is so low, that Earth is the only planet in the galaxy, or in the observable universe, in which it happened. Another possibility is that there was a reasonable probability of forming self reproducing systems, like cells, but that most of these forms of life did not evolve intelligence.”

We are used to thinking of intelligent life, as an inevitable consequence of evolution, Hawking emphasized,  but it is more likely that evolution is a random process, with intelligence as only one of a large number of possible outcomes.

Intelligence, Hawking believes contrary to our human-centric existece, may not have any long-term survival value. In comparison the microbial world, will live on, even if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Hawking’s main insight is that intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution:  “It took a very long time, two and a half billion years, to go from single cells to multi-cell beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence. This is a good fraction of the total time available, before the Sun blows up. So it would be consistent with the hypothesis, that the probability for life to develop intelligence, is low. In this case, we might expect to find many other life forms in the galaxy, but we are unlikely to find intelligent life.”

Another possibility is that there is a reasonable probability for life to form, and to evolve to intelligent beings, but at some point in their technological  development “the system becomes unstable, and the intelligent life destroys itself. This would be a very pessimistic conclusion. I very much hope it isn’t true.”

Hawkling prefers another possibility: that there are other forms of intelligent life out there, but that we have been overlooked. If we should pick up signals from alien civilizations, Hawking warns,”we should have be wary of answering back, until we have evolved” a bit further. Meeting a more advanced civilization, at our present stage,’ Hawking says “might be a bit like the original inhabitants of America meeting Columbus. I don’t think they were better off for it.”

Source: Daily Galaxy

Posted in Aliens, Astronomy, Biology, Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Science, Space, Ufology | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Global Dimming and Death of Our Sun

Posted by jase on July 10, 2009

by Brian Cox

The Sun is Dying

Sol, our sun, will not live forever. It has enough fuel left, if our current understanding is correct, for another 5 billion years, at which point it will die. But could it be possible for the Sun to die much sooner, within the next 100 years even? From a scientific perspective, it should be said that this is very unlikely. But, it is also true that there is a lot about the universe that we do not understand.

Over the last few years astronomers have observed that there is extra “stuff” in the universe that we can see only by its gravitational influence on stars and galaxies. This stuff goes by the name of Dark Matter, and there is five times as much Dark Matter in the universe as there is normal matter, the stuff that makes up you, me, and the stars and planets we can see with our telescopes. What is this mysterious stuff? It’s possible, some scientists would say likely even, that this stuff is made of particles known as supersymmetric particles, a new and exotic form of matter that is high on the list of potential discoveries at CERN’s giant Large Hadron Collider, a 27km in circumference machine which begins operations this year after almost a decade of construction.

Theoretical physicists have spent many years calculating the properties of these supersymmetric particles, and we have a reasonable theoretical understanding of how they might behave. One possibility is that they could clump together into giant balls known as Q-balls. If this is true, then these heavy and exotic objects could have been made billionths of a second after our Universe began, and still be roaming the Universe today. It is speculated that, if a Q-ball drifts into the heart of a super-dense object such as a neutron star, it could begin to eat away at it’s core like a cancer, until the star is no longer massive enough to maintain itself and explodes in a violent explosion. Such explosions, known as gamma ray bursts, are seen in the Universe, although their cause is as yet unknown.

Could such a dangerous, exotic object drift into the Sun’s core and cause it to stop shining? It is likely that the Sun is many times too diffuse to stop a Q-ball – it would power right through. But maybe, just maybe, some strange exotic form of matter from the earliest times in the universe could settle deep within the Sun’s core, and disrupt its function enough to cause the catastrophic scenario seen in Sunshine. It’s far-fetched, but we have a saying in physics that anything that isn’t explicitly ruled out is therefore possible, so in the final analysis, you never quite know.

Global Dimming 

It is now suspected that pollution in the Earth’s atmosphere, caused by industrialization and natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, may have significantly reduced that amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface. It is estimated that this could have led to a cooling effect of over 1 degree overt he last 40 years, which would go some way to offsetting the effect of global warming. Global warming is caused primarily by increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere that prevent heat being radiated back out into space from the Earth’s surface.

The phenomenon of global dimming may therefore have saved us, so far, from the worst affects of climate change, although it has been noticed that as pollution levels have been reduced, particularly in Western Europe, the affects of global dimming seem to be reducing, leading to an accelerating temperature rise once again. We may therefore be in the paradoxical situation that reducing pollution might INCREASE the effects of global warming, leading us ever more quickly towards catastrophe.

This discovery isn’t all bad, however, because it may suggest a short term solution to climate change. Why not intentionally put pollutants, which may be designed to be benign in other respects, into the atmosphere to accelerate global dimming, and therefore slow the climate change caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Several suggestions along these lines have been made, including adding small particles to airplane fuel, and therefore using one of the main contributors to climate change, aircraft, to slow its effects. It’s an intriguing possibility, and one that is the focus of significant research, although it should be said that we cannot at present predict the effects of such fine-tuning of the climate, so global dimming shouldn’t be seen as a means to allow us to continue to increase carbon dioxide emissions.

Posted in Astronomy, Climate, Earth, extinction, Global Warming, Science, Solar Energy, Space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Was the Universe Destroyed by Dark Matter?

Posted by jase on July 7, 2009

Did dark matter destroy the universe?  You might be looking around at the way things “exist” and thinking “No”, but we’re talking about ancient history.  Three hundred million years after the start of the universe, things had finally cooled down enough to form hydrogen atoms out of all the protons and electrons that were zipping around – only to have them all ripped up again around the one billion year mark.  Why?

Most believe that the first quasars, active galaxies whose central black holes are the cosmic-ray equivalent of a firehose, provided the breakup energy, but some Fermilab scientists have another idea.  Dan Hooper and Alexander Belikov posit that invisible, self-destructing dark matter may have blown up every atom in the universe.  At least it’s plausible in that if we wanted to ionize an entire universe, we’d want something that sounded that awesome.

Dark matter is a candidate for providing ionizing radiation because, if it exists at all, it’s its own antiparticle: if two dark matter particles hit each other they can blow up.  Insane as it sounds, the theory predicts that despite making up most of everything the particles themselves are so tiny, and so terribly fussy about colliding, that they can form huge structures without destroying themselves.  Positron emissions which may be an indication of exactly this kind of self-destruction have been observed by the European PAMELA satellite currently orbiting the Earth.

As theories go, this one is more awesome than accepted.  The quasar hypothesis has wide support, and crediting something we’ve never even seen with reshaping the universe may be going a little far.  Then again, that’s what modern cosmology is doing with dark matter anyway, so maybe this idea will fit right in.

Posted in Astronomy, Earth, extinction, Extraterrestrial Life, Science, Space | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

John Keel: 1930-2009

Posted by jase on July 7, 2009

A Remembrance by Loren Coleman

John Alva Keel, 79, a friend, Fortean, fierce fighter for his theories, professionally a writer and journalist, has died. A fellow admirer of Mothman and the anomalies all around us, such as the “name game,” is gone.

Keel, who lived most of his life in New York City, passed away on Friday, July 3, 2009, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, after some months in a nursing home near his Upper West Side apartment.

Born Alva John Kiehle in upstate New York on March 25, 1930, John Keel began writing at a young age. Indeed, Keel’s first published story was in a magician’s magazine at the age of 12.

Keel would go on to become a scriptwriter for radio and television, and a stringer for newspapers. He later moved to Greenwich Village and wrote for various men’s and speciality magazines.

Keel’s first published book was Jadoo in 1957, which was quickly serialized in a men’s adventure magazine. The paperback is his account of his journey of discovery to India to investigate the alleged activities of fakirs and holy men who perform the Indian rope trick and who survive being buried alive. In Jadoo, Keel also told of tracking a Yeti, an Abominable Snowman, in the jungles of Asia.

John A. Keel’s non-fiction look at the very real unplanned twists in life were recorded in his 1966 novel, The Fickle Finger of Fate. It is a rare book, and few realize that Keel wrote this book.

Keel was an early admirer of Charles Fort (1874-1932), and while still doing the mainstream writing, began authoring articles for England’s Flying Saucer Review (FSR) and a long series of columns for Saga.

Further influenced by Fortean Ivan T. Sanderson and ufologist Aimé Michel, in early 1966, John Keel commenced a full-time investigation of monster, aerial and paranormal phenomena. Over a four-year period, Keel interviewed thousands of people in over twenty U.S. states, especially in the Ohio River Valley of the United States. More than 2,000 books were reviewed in the course of his investigation, in addition to thousands of magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. Keel also subscribed to several newspaper-clipping services, which often generated up to 150 clippings for a single day during the 1966 and 1967 UFO “wave.” Besides FSR, Keel wrote for several magazines including Saga with one 1967 article “UFO Agents of Terror” referring to the Men in Black. He also wrote one of the first articles on Mothman in FSR, during this same time period.

Like other contemporary 1960s researchers such as J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallée, Keel was initially hopeful that he could somehow validate the prevailing nuts-and-bolts, extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis for UFOs. However, a year into his investigations, Keel realized that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was untenable and did not explain, for him, based within his personality and belief systems, all the answers.

Keel’s insights also included his view of cryptozoology.

I grew to know Keel after being introduced to him through mutual friends Brad Steiger and Ivan Sanderson. I worked closely with Keel on contributing as yet-unpublished material of mine for his book, Strange Creatures from Time and Space (1970), which would influence my and Jerome Clark’s first two books The Unidentified (1975) and Creatures from the Outer Edge (1978).

Keel’s impact is far-reaching. Keel’s book, Strange Creatures from Time and Space was the inspiration for Craig Woolheater’s interest in Bigfoot and eventually would stimulate the creation of Cryptomundo.

Love him or hate him, John Keel was popular and one of the most widely read and influential Fortean authors of the late 20th century. Although his own thoughts about aerial, monster, and associated anomalous phenomena gradually evolved during the 1960s, Keel remained one of ufology’s most original and controversial researchers.

It was Keel’s second book, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970), that alerted the general public that many aspects of contemporary UFO reports, including humanoid encounters, often paralleled certain ancient folklore and religious encounters. Keel also argued that there is a direct relationship between UFOs and elemental phenomena. Keel informed me often that he did not consider himself a “ufologist,” but a “demonologist.”

“Ufology is just another name for demonology,” John Keel told me, a week before the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, which occurred just a couple of miles from where he lives.

…as noted in Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, page 114, (NY: Paraview, 2002).

As Keel himself wrote, “I abandoned the extraterrestrial hypothesis in 1967 when my own field investigations disclosed an astonishing overlap between psychic phenomena and UFOs… The objects and apparitions do not necessarily originate on another planet and may not even exist as permanent constructions of matter. It is more likely that we see what we want to see and interpret such visions according to our contemporary beliefs.”

In UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970), Keel argued that a non-human or spiritual intelligence source has staged whole events over a long period of time in order to propagate and reinforce certain erroneous belief systems (mirroring Vallée). Keel conjectured that ultimately all anomalies, such as fairies, 1897 mystery airships, 1930s phantom aeroplanes, mystery helicopters, creatures, poltergeists, balls of light, and UFOs, are a cover for the real phenomenon.

It was during this time period that Keel maintained an enormous and active correspondence with other researchers around the world. For example, I, Loren Coleman, was introduced to my now long-time friend Jerry Clark by John Keel, via letters. These exchanges between Keel and his fellow writers and researchers, even as intellectual disagreements and different paths took many of us on varied journeys, cemented 40 years of solid friendships among a small group of dedicated Fortean writers.

In Our Haunted Planet (1971), Keel coined the term “ultraterrestrials” to describe the UFO occupants. He discussed the seldom-considered possibility that the alien “visitors” to Earth are not visitors at all, but an advanced Earth civilization, which may or may not be human. Keel took no position on the ultimate purpose of the phenomenon other than that the UFO intelligence seems to have a long-standing interest in interacting with the human race.

UFO historian Jerome Clark wrote that Keel was “a radical theorist who believes that UFOs are ‘ultraterrestrial’ rather than extraterrrestrial. By that he means they are shape-changing phenomena from another order of existence. These ultraterrestials are basically hostile to, or at least contemptuous of, human beings and manipulate them in various wasy for example by staging ‘miracles’ which inspire unfounded religious beliefs. Ultraterrestrials and their minions may manifest as monsters, space people, ghosts and other paranormal entities.” (The UFO Encyclopedia, Volume 1: UFOs in the 1980s, page 148, NY: Agogee, 1990).

After years of writing parts of the story in various articles and other books, in 1975, Keel published The Mothman Prophecies, an account of his 1966-1967 investigation of sightings of the Mothman, a “winged weirdie” reported in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Keel corresponded with Ivan T. Sanderson, quietly for months, trying to determine what kind of bird might be involved with the sightings. It was later, as Keel more fully revealed the tale of the sightings and concurrent phenomena, that other elements came into the mix.

The book was contemporarily adapted into a 2002 movie directed by Mark Pellington, starring Richard Gere, Debra Messing, Laura Linney and Alan Bates.

Two parts of Keel’s personality were played by Gere and Bates. Bates’s character was “Leek,” which was “Keel” spelled backwards, and Gere’s character was a newspaperman, “John Klein,” also a play on Keel’s name. Because Keel was ill at the time, Sony/Screen Gems cut back Keel’s schedule of public appearances to only a few televised ones. I assisted Keel by becoming the movie’s publicity spokesperson on 400 radio shows, and appeared with Keel in the David Grabias documentary Search For The Mothman, which is in the Deluxe DVD of The Mothman Prophecies.

At the time of the release of the movie, a rumor circulated that Keel had died. On January 14, 2002, a story rapidly made the rounds via the web that John A. Keel had just died.

I quickly put the rumor to rest by calling Keel, and confirming that Keel was, indeed, still alive, although Keel quipped that everyone should be told, “his funeral is on Saturday and he will be wearing black.” Keel told me that this happened to him at least once before, in 1967.

Keel suffered a heart attack sometime before October 13, 2006. He admitted himself to New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital on Friday the 13th of October, and underwent successful heart surgery on October 16, 2006. Keel then was moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation center on October 26, 2006, as his close New York friend Doug Skinner told me soon afterward. Skinner became invaluable in assisting Keel, and passing along messages to and from Keel’s old friends.

Keel’s impact cannot be underestimated, especially in terms of his analysis of patterns. His work on “windows” (specific hotspots of combined phenomenal appearances), “waves” (cyclic appearances of the phenomena), and the “Wednesday phenomenon” (the theory that a disproportionate number of UFO events occur on that day of the week) are deeply influential across time and space. Generations of readers of Fortean literature often do not even realize that Keel’s writings may be behind “name game” discussions or authors’ speculations on the fact that a certain location on a ridge might have a high rate of strange events occurring there after the 21st of the month on a Wednesday in a high-frequency month such as April. Keel was there first trying to look at such patterns.

The popular cultural influence of Keel has been enormous. It shall take future academic studies to fully realize his reach among the subculture that respects and are denizens of his ongoing intellectual playground.

On July 6, 2009, as word swept through the Internet, from Phyllis Benjamin at INFO and others, that Keel had passed away last Friday, tributes and sorrow were shared online in overwhelming fashion from his followers, fans, and friends.

John A. Keel will be missed.

Posted in Aliens, Extraterrestrial Life, Paranormal, Science, Space, Ufology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hawking Says Asteroids Biggest Threats to Intelligent Life

Posted by jase on June 28, 2009

Stephen Hawking believes that one of the major factors in the possible scarcity of intelligent life in our galaxy is the high probability of an asteroid or comet colliding with inhabited planets. We have observed, Hawking points out in Life in the Universe, the collision of a comet, Schumacher-Levi, with Jupiter (below), which produced a series of enormous fireballs, plumes many thousands of kilometers high, hot “bubbles” of gas in the atmosphere, and large dark “scars” on the atmosphere which had lifetimes on the order of weeks. 


It is thought the collision of a rather smaller body with the Earth, about 70 million years ago, was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. A few small early mammals survived, but anything as large as a human, would have almost certainly been wiped out.

Through Earth’s history such collisions occur, on the average every one million year. If this figure is correct, it would mean that intelligent life on Earth has developed only because of the lucky chance that there have been no major collisions in the last 70 million years. Other planets in the galaxy, Hawking believes, on which life has developed, may not have had a long enough collision free period to evolve intelligent beings.

“The threat of the Earth being hit by an asteroid is increasingly being accepted as the single greatest natural disaster hazard faced by humanity,” according to Nick Bailey of the University of Southampton’s School of Engineering Sciences team, who has developed a threat identifying program.[ Image: Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision with Jupiter]

The team used raw data from multiple impact simulations to rank each country based on the number of times and how severely they would be affected by each impact. The software, called NEOimpactor (from NASA’s “NEO” or Near Earth Object program), has been specifically developed for measuring the impact of ‘small’ asteroids under one kilometer in diameter.

Early results indicate that in terms of population lost, China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the United States face the greatest overall threat; while the United States, China, Sweden, Canada and Japan face the most severe economic effects due to the infrastructure destroyed.

The top ten countries most at risk are China, Indonesia, India, Japan, the United States, the Philippines, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Nigeria.

“The consequences for human populations and infrastructure as a result of an impact are enormous,” says Bailey. “Nearly one hundred years ago a remote region near the Tunguska River witnessed the largest asteroid impact event in living memory when a relatively small object (approximately 50 meters in diameter) exploded in mid-air. While it only flattened unpopulated forest, had it exploded over London it could have devastated everything within the M25. Our results highlight those countries that face the greatest risk from this most global of natural hazards and thus indicate which nations need to be involved in mitigating the threat.”

What would happen to the human species and life on Earth in general if an asteroid the size of the one that created the famous K/T Event of 65 million years ago at the end of the Mesozoic Era that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs impacted our planet.

As Stephen Hawking says, the general consensus is that any comet or asteroid greater than 20 kilometers in diameter that strikes the Earth will result in the complete annihilation of complex life – animals and higher plants. (The asteroid Vesta, for example, one of the destinations of the Dawn Mission, is the size of Arizona).

How many times in our galaxy alone has life finally evolved to the equivalent of our planets and animals on some far distant planet, only to be utterly destroyed by an impact? Galactic history suggests it might be a common occurrence.

The first this to understand about the KT event is that is was absolutely enormous: an asteroid (or comet) six to 10 miles in diameter streaked through the Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 miles an hour and struck the Yucatan region of Mexico with the force of 100 megatons -the equivalent of one Hiroshima bomb for every person alive on Earth today. Not a pretty scenario!

Recent calculations show that our planet would go into another “Snowball Earth” event like the one that occurred 600 million years ago, when it is believed the oceans froze over (although some scientists dispute this hypothesis -see link below).

While microbial bacteria might readily survive such calamitous impacts, our new understanding from the record of the Earth’s mass extinctions clearly shows that plants and animals are very susceptible to extinction in the wake of an impact.

Impact rates depend on how many comets and asteroids exist in a particular planetary system. In general there is one major impact every million years -a mere blink of the eye in geological time. It also depends on how often those objects are perturbed from safe orbits that parallel the Earth’s orbit to new, Earth-crossing orbits that might, sooner or later, result in a catastrophic K/T or Permian-type mass extinction.

The asteroid that hit Vredefort located in the Free State Province of South Africa is one of the largest to ever impact Earth, estimated at over 10 km (6 miles) wide, although it is believed by many that the original size of the impact structure could have been 250 km in diameter, or possibly larger(though the Wilkes Land crater in Antarctica, if confirmed to have been the result of an impact event, is even larger at 500 kilometers across). The town of Vredefort is situated in the crater (image).

Dating back 2,023 million years, it is the oldest astrobleme found on earth so far, with a radius of 190km, it is also the most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome Vredefort bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy release event, which caused devastating global change, including, according to many scientists, major evolutionary changes.

What has kept the Earth “safe” at least the past 65 million years, other than blind luck is the massive gravitational field of Jupiter, our cosmic guardian, with its stable circular orbit far from the sun, which assures a low number of impacts resulting in mass extinctions by sweeping up and scatters away most of the dangerous Earth-orbit-crossing comets and asteroids

Posted by Casey Kazan with Rebecca Sato

Note: This post was adapted from a news release issued by University of Southampton.



Posted in Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Moon, NASA, Science, Space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

BOOKS: Buzz Aldrin – Magnificent Desolation

Posted by jase on June 24, 2009

“Buzz Aldrin relives the Magnificent Desolation of space, and the soul-sucking depression that awaited back home.” –Vanity Fair

Forty years ago, Buzz Aldrin became the second human, minutes after Neil Armstrong, to set foot on a celestial body other than the Earth. The event remains one of mankind’s greatest achievements and was witnessed by the largest worldwide television audience in history. In the years since, millions more have had their Earth-centric perspective unalterably changed by the iconic photograph of Aldrin standing on the surface of the moon, the blackness of space behind him and his fellow explorer and the Eagle reflected in his visor. Describing the alien world he was walking upon, he uttered the words “magnificent desolation.” And as the astronauts later sat in the Eagle, waiting to begin their journey back home, knowing that they were doomed unless every system and part on board worked flawlessly, it was Aldrin who responded to Mission Control’s clearance to take off with the quip, “Roger. Understand. We’re number one on the runway.”

The flight of Apollo 11 made Aldrin one of the most famous persons on our planet, yet few people know the rest of this true American hero’s story. In Magnificent Desolation, Aldrin not only gives us a harrowing first-person account of the lunar landing that came within seconds of failure and the ultimate insider’s view of life as one of the superstars of America’s space program, he also opens up with remarkable candor about his more personal trials–and eventual triumphs–back on Earth. From the glory of being part of the mission that fulfilled President Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon before the decade was out, Aldrin returned home to an Air Force career stripped of purpose or direction, other than as a public relations tool that NASA put to relentless use in a seemingly nonstop world tour. The twin demons of depression and alcoholism emerged–the first of which Aldrin confronted early and publicly, and the second of which he met with denial until it nearly killed him. He burned through two marriages, his Air Force career came to an inglorious end, and he found himself selling cars for a living when he wasn’t drunkenly wrecking them. Redemption came when he finally embraced sobriety, gained the love of a woman, Lois, who would become the great joy of his life, and dedicated himself to being a tireless advocate for the future of space exploration–not only as a scientific endeavor but also as a thriving commercial enterprise.

These days Buzz Aldrin is enjoying life with an enthusiasm that reminds us how far it is possible for a person to travel, literally and figuratively. As an adventure story, a searing memoir of self-destruction and self-renewal, and as a visionary rallying cry to once again set our course for Mars and beyond, Magnificent Desolation is the thoroughly human story of a genuine hero.

Out now.

Posted in Books, Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Historic Events, History, Inspiring Stories, Literature, Moon, NASA, Science, Space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Will Life Be Found in the Oceans of Europa?

Posted by jase on June 22, 2009

Jupiter’s Europa.  One of the most interesting non-Earth locations in the solar system.  Never mind ice and occasional puddles, this moon has entire oceans – and where there’s water, we can’t help but hope there’s life.  Recent results show that there are heat sources to drive evolution of such as well, but there’s still debate over what’s actually going on in there.

Europa has been of interest since we started to suspect it hid water under its frozen crust, attracting the interest of everyone from NASA to Arthur C. Clarke.  The widely accepted picture has Europa’s rocky core stressed by the Jupiter’s gravity.  Which is a lot, by the way – at two times ten to the power of twenty-seven kilograms, Jupiter is so massive the SI system doesn’t even have a prefix that goes that high.

A hidden ocean, sealed under kilometers of ice, far off in space.  That image is so utterly calm you might have fallen asleep while reading it (in which case we apologize for stealing hours of your life), and according to Robert Tyler of the University of Washington it’s entirely wrong.  He’s made mathematical models showing that the secret seas are hugely violent bodies thrown around by the immense mass of Jupiter.

Tyler’s model, however, has those massive gravitational forces acting on the oceans directly.  The result is truly titanic tides, waves so gigantic they make the Titanic itself look like a speck of sand.  His models put the minimum kinetic energy of the flow at seven point three exaJoules.  In the standard unit for ridiculous amounts of energy, that’s one hundred thousand times the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, or 100 kiloLittleBoys.

The theory is meeting with some resistance, as papers effectively titled “Everything all y’all were saying up to now was wrong” usually do.  We won’t know either way until we get a closer look at this most interesting of interplanetary destinations.  Until then we know one thing: with a theory that involves incredible undersea upheaval, super-nuclear natural disasters and energy sources for potential alien life, if it turns out he isn’t right about the science Prof Tyler can always work with Michael Bay.

The key point of contention is the moon’s crunchy ice covering.  We know that the Jovian moon is coated in kilometers of frozen material, but that sort of handwaving figure can get you in trouble – exactly how many kilometers there are can make all the difference.  We believe that the European core is heated by the massive tidal forces applied by Jupiter – but how does that heat radiate into space?

Most scientists believe that the subEuropan seas are locked under tens of kilometers of ice.  Heat is then conducted from the warm core by bulk convective motion of ice – huge chunks of frozen material literally carrying the heat away with them as they move up through the icy layer, shuffling and refreezing as they dump heat into space.

Richard Greenberg, a professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, believes that the crust is thin, only a kilometer or so, and heat is carried out by simple conduction – much slower, but providing a constant flow of energy through a relatively fixed underwater region bordering the immense cliffs of ice. 

Greenberg does weaken his case by accusing a “Big Ice” cabal of scientists of suppressing his results, holding back his views to favor their own established model.  The thing is, when you start talking about a conspiracy against you it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong: you sound a bit crazy.  Especially when that “cabal” isn’t a hidden core of ultra-billionaires, but probably about twenty guys with tenure who meet twice a year to talk about space moons.

On the upside, it seems the shadowy Europa lobby can’t keep him silent and he’s published a book, “Unmasking Europa”, putting forward his views and setting up the mother of all “I told you so”s if it turns out he’s right.  Again, he slightly weakens his case by fantasizing an entire Europan ecosystem based on a few flybys of the Galileo probe, and it’s not as if popular opinion  will actually sway the scientists investigating the issue.

What is important is that such issues do now percolate to the public, one way or another.  Science is no longer the preserve of those either rich enough to afford it or trying to build missiles out of it.  Beside the cook books and crime novels you can find imaginings of the stars, controversies of the cosmos, and books about the entire universe. Which are slightly more interesting than “Five things you can do with leftovers” by Dolores Housewife.

Posted by Luke McKinney @ The Daily Galaxy

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Spaceport America: World’s First Interstellar Airport

Posted by jase on June 21, 2009

Spaceport America Conceptual Images URS/Foster + Partners

Spaceport America Conceptual Images URS/Foster + Partners

After years of planning, ground is officially being broken in New Mexico for the world’s first interstellar airport.  

For everyone looking to hop the next commercial flight to space, your departure gate has finally been announced. Almost two years after the first plans were announced, construction has finally begun on Spaceport America. The spaceport, which will serve as the launch and landing pad for Virgin Galactic flights, is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and represents the first serious commitment of infrastructure to manned commercial spaceflight.

According to the the project website the festivities kicked off June 18th with a panel of speakers, food and drink, and even a mariachi band.

Currently, Virgin Galactic only has two space ships, so it will probably be sometime before the facility experiences O’Hare and LaGuardia level traffic. So now might be the best time to sign up for a flight, before Spaceport America starts experiencing the soul-crushing delays that keep John Grisham, Hudson News, and Brookstone in business.

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