This Spacespiracy Moment

June 8, 2016


Asteroseismology, the New Frontier:

Asteroseismology is the “science that studies the internal structure of pulsating stars by the interpretation of their frequency spectra,” and now has been used to measure the mass and age of stars from the oldest globular clusters in the galaxy. Using NASA’s Kepler/K2 to observe the stars for 80 days (the amount of time needed to most accurately determine oscillation modes), scientists now have data needed to study how galaxies, like the Milky Way, were formed.  


Analyzing Comic Books - Captain America and His Shield:

If you’re into physics AND comic books, specifically the Captain America series, this is the article for you! It breaks down the scientific mechanics of the captain’s famous shield. Personally, this math goes way over my head, but for those of you who can follow, it looks like a fun read!!


A Mission to Mars in the 1950’s?

Intentions to land men on Mars are almost as old as NASA itself. In 1958, the newly formed government agency already had plans to conduct a “feasibility study on using nuclear powered engines to get to Mars.” Although never flown, the engine was built, but funding slowly stopped and NASA’s Martian dreams came to a slow end. DON’T BE SAD. We’re always about 20 years away from landing on Mars…


Beneath the Surface, a Sneak Peak of Jupiter’s Atmosphere:

As discussed last week, the Juno spacecraft will soon propel itself into Jupiter’s atmosphere, and send probes down below the planet’s cloud cover, to observe the planet’s surface. Even before that data becomes available, researchers report this week that the storms we have observed in Jupiter’s atmosphere, extend several kilometers below the cloud cover. Planetary scientists state this news isn’t shocking and that the reports are simply a “sneak peak” of what Juno will undoubtedly observe.


Bikini Atoll is Still Super Radioactive:

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, 23 nuclear weapons were tested in Bikini Atoll, an atoll in the Marshall Islands. In the 1970's nuclear physicists predicted that by now, 2016, the radiation levels in the atoll would be between 16-24 millirems per year. Well they were way WAY off. Recent measurements indicate radiation levels range between 184 and 639 millirems per year.


The Dark Disk Debate:

Lisa Randall, a Harvard university physics professor, is making headlines. Last week, her and her student, Eric Kramer, published a paper online that has already been accepted into the Astrophysical Journal. Their research is about a “dark disk” of dark matter that they believe, is at the center of the Milky Way. Randall claims that this disk may be responsible for all sorts of unexplained galactic activity, including small that increases of comet impacts on Earth that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs.


Everyone Look At Pluto!

A recent analysis of images of Pluto reveals new information about the dwarf planet’s surface properties and mysterious “hazes.” Surprisingly these images were taken after NASA’s New Horizons approach towards Pluto.


The Break-Up and Reunion Cycle of a Comet:

Purdue University and the University of Colorado Boulder have come up with some interesting findings about comets orbiting the sun in less than 200 years - they break apart and then, reconnect, probably throughout their entire life cycle.


Faint Radio Emissions, 5 BILLION Light Years Away:

The National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), part of an international project called the Cosmological Evolution Survey (COSMOS), has detected faint radio emissions from atomic hydrogen. What makes this detection different? They are coming from a galaxy 5 BILLION LIGHT YEARS AWAY. Not only does that more than double the current record, the amount of atomic hydrogen is so massive (almost 100 billion times the mass of our sun), that it allows for more in depth observations on how galaxies react with the gas.


Galaxy Spotlight - NGC 6496:

This week, galaxy NGC 6496, a globular cluster with stars roughly 10.5 billion years old, is in the spotlight. First discovered in 1826 by James Dunlop, a Scottish astronomer, the stars in this spherical cluster are full of metals heavier than hydrogen and helium. Approximately 35,000 light years away, the galaxy sits in the constellation Scorpius, which is currently nestled between Mars and Saturn, both in opposition.


HL Tauri’s Baby Fat:

In a follow-up to last week’s article about star HL Tauri, scientists have discovered that their theory about the star having quite a few baby planets in its orbit, was true. Planet CI Tau b, is a very big, and very heavy, baby planet. Nearly 11x bigger than Jupiter in mass, the baby is nestled very close to HL Tauri, taking only 9 Earth days to orbit the star. This is the first time astronomers have observed a baby planet so close to its mother star.


How Big Is the Milky Way?

Measuring the mass of the Milky Way is really REALLY hard. Not only are there stars and planets of all shapes and sizes, there is mysterious dark matter, a component of our galaxy that we really don’t know too much about. Gwendolyn Eadie has been studying the Milky Way since she first started her graduate program at McMaster University, and may have developed a more accurate method of measurement by using unknown, as well as known, globular cluster velocities.


Just How Giant is a Giant Squid?

Documented in Europe as early as 1639, Giant Squids have been puzzling scientists, and terrifying science fiction fans for decades. Photographed in the wild for the first time in 2004, we still don’t know much about the massive sea creatures, especially just how big they can get. Charles Paxton of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland is attempting to do just that, by measuring both a dead squid and estimating a squid’s total length based on it’s hard beak. The hard beak length is directly related to the creature’s tentacle length, which can extend pretty far beyond its arms. His conclusion? The maximum length of a giant squid is 20 meters.


King Tut, Meteorite Weapon Wielder:

King Tut is probably one Egypt’s most famous pharaohs...and he may have owned a knife made out of meteorite remnants. Without damaging the dagger, scientists have discovered that it is comprised of an array of metals, and other materials, typically found at meteorite sites. Using the specific percentages of nickel and cobalt found in the knife, scientists have determined that the meteorite is likely in the Kharga Oasis region of Egypt.


Planet Nine?!

We may have another planet in our solar system ladies and gentlemen! Caltech’s famous astronomer, Mike Brown, is arguing the existence of another gas giant, far beyond Neptune and Kuiper Belt objects. In a recent show at Alder Planetarium in Chicago, new Kuiper Belt discoveries, and their erratic orbits, are introduced. Brown states that the irregular orbits indicate the presence of a strong gravitational pull of another planet...but don’t get too excited, space lovers. We’re still about 3-5 years away from proving Brown’s theory.


Slow Down, Universe! You’re Growing WAY TOO FAST!

Astronomers may have discovered that the universe is expanding 5-9% faster than originally thought. Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Johns Hopkins University, and his team refined the calculation process, narrowing the variability index to a mere 2.4%. This resulted in defining a new Hubble constant value. Now at 73.2 kilometers per second, the size of the universe is expected to double in 9.8 billion years.


Space Travel for Photons:

In an effort to measure the likeliness of our ability to “transmit untrackable quantum messages,” scientists have sent photons to space and back. Using a satellite to reflect the light particles, ricocheting them back to Earth, scientists have discovered that the quantum traits of the photons remained complete and unchanged, even after a 5,000 kilometer voyage. Researchers hope this discovery will aid in their aspirations to use satellites to transmit cryptic messages.


Sputnik Planum, Pluto’s Beating Heart:

New Horizons, NASA’s mission that studied Pluto last year, has churned out more fascinating data. This time, the information focuses on Sputnik Planum, an area on the surface of the dwarf planet located in its famous “heart” region. Despite the minimum amount of heat generated by Pluto’s core, New Horizons observed geological movement. Specifically, the spacecraft spotted convection, a process that restores surface level ice with raw, unused material. The planet is churning the material quite quickly, creating a “cosmic lava lamp.”


Tabby’s Star on Kickstarter:

The public will use Kickstarter for just about anything these days. Such is the case with Tabetha Boyajian, a Yale University professor, whose team first observed the anomalies surrounding Tabby’s Star. She wants to use a private telescope network, the Las Cumbres Observatory Telescope Network (LCOGT), to continue to study the star, and it’s peculiar, and inconsistent, dips of light. Let’s help her get there! $100,000 by June 17th...she’s only a third of the way there with 15 days to’s a link to her Kickstarter Page.


Webcams on Mars:

In 2003, a small, low resolution camera, was added to the Mars Express to confirm the separation of its Beagle 2 lander. Shortly afterwards, the low-res webcam was turned off, having served its purpose. Four years later, the camera was turned back on to support educational outreach...and scientists were blown away by the images it was able to capture. With a vantage point, unique only to the webcam and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, the camera is now getting some upgrades and will soon be considered a “serious scientific instrument.”


Why Are These Galaxies So Wasteful?

New research from the Cosmic Origin Spectrograph (COS), an instrument built to study the gas surrounding galaxies, shows that large amounts of heavier elements are being ejected from the galactic center of some galaxies. Oxygen, carbon, and iron, are discharged as far as a million light years away, a process that can take up to 10 millions years to complete. Releasing these elements is indeed wasteful, as it prohibits future planet and star formation.


Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine




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A dystopian, action-adventure trilogy set in San Francisco.

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writer | author | sci-fi storyteller

Lisa Caskey

writer | author | sci-fi storyteller
© 2016 by Lisa Caskey
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