This Spacespiracy Moment

September 26, 2016



A Star Has Disappeared!!

In 2009, astronomers observed a star flare up and become 1 million times brighter than the Sun. Shortly thereafter, the star seemed to disappear. Some theorized that the view of the star may have become obstructed by a dust cloud...but the Hubble Space Telescope is telling a different tale. New data suggests that the star never reached a supernovae, but instead, collapsed into a black hole.


The Centaurs and Their Rings

There are two minor planets orbiting the Sun between Jupiter and Neptune. Called centaurs (10199 Chariklo and 2060 Chiron), in 2014, “rings” were discovered on these unique celestial bodies...and now scientists think they know what’s causing them. “Through the computer simulations, they found that the icy mantle of the passing centaurs are ripped off by a giant planet’s tidal force. The fragments then spread out around the centaur, causing the ring to form.”


Explaining the Science Behind Pluto’s “Heart”

Pluto is a frozen tundra of awesomeness...and Sputnik Planum, the location of the dwarf planet’s famous heart, just might be coldest place on the dwarf planet. Why? Because beneath its icy surface lives a deep basin, so deep that the atmospheric pressure at the base is higher than at the surface. This causes nitrogen to condense out of the atmosphere, forming methane gas deposits on Sputnik Planum. In other Pluto news...scientists also believe a very salty ocean not only sits below Sputnik Planum, but actually caused the dwarf planet to “tip” at some point in its lifetime. They think this tipping action is what caused the “heart” to align with Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.




Human Gene Editing Is Happening Right Now

It has begun. A scientist in Sweden is editing human embryos. The Chinese have also reported editing embryos, but never to the extent that the embryos developed into a human baby...the Swedish developmental biologist, Fredrik Lanner, states that he is working with viable human embryos from in vitro fertilization. He’s using CRISPR to hopefully make discoveries that will lead to infertility treatments. Worried about human gene editing coming to a city near you? Well, it’s probably already happening.


One Last Pic...Before Rosetta Dies

To culminate all of Rosetta’s hard work, the spacecraft has sent us one last image of its final resting place, Comet 67P. (Click the link above to view the image!) Rosetta was launched by the ESA (European Space Agency) in 2004 to examine the aforementioned comet. It took the little girl 10 years to get there, flying by Mars and asteroids 2867 Steins and 21 Lutetia, on its way. On September 30th, the spacecraft will crash into the Comet 67P and join its lander, Philae. RIP, Rosetta!


The Origin of the Space Blob

Have you ever heard of a Lyman-Alpha blob? Neither have I... Apparently, they are giant hydrogen gas clouds that stretch for hundreds of thousands of light-years and are really really rare. They look like giant galaxy “nurseries,” breeding grounds for the universe’s largest galaxies, so understanding them is important. Now, after 15 years of research and bafflement, thanks to ALMA, VTL, Hubble, and Keck Observatory, scientists finally have some clues to work with. It appears that the blobs consist of several different galaxies, all producing stars at a very rapid rate. This accounts for not only the size of these blobs (who came up with that name, really?), but as well as their glow. Producing that many stars gives off an extraordinary amount of UV light.




Teaching Celestial Navigation

Besides my father, whose love of cartography knows no bounds, who uses maps anymore? GPS technology currently dominates...but what if that system suddenly when down? The world would erupt into chaos! (This sounds like the making of a sci-fi story to me.) The Navy doesn’t want to take that chance so they have reintroduced celestial navigation (also referred to as astronaviagation) courses into their curriculum. I for one am all for this...once we start colonizing the solar system, how else will our naval officers know how to navigate the galaxy?


Titan’s Cloud is Chemically Odd

Titan has a weird cloud. The fact that is has a cloud at all, is odd...because, according to what we know of its atmosphere, because it has a very low amount of pressurized dicyanoacetylene vapor (less than 1%), it shouldn’t be able to form clouds. But, low and behold, thanks to 2010 data from Cassini (the spacecraft dedicated to researching Saturn), we have an infrared picture of a thin but wide, colorless cloud. Because NASA’s Voyager 1 space probe saw the same thing back in the 1980’s, we know Cassini’s observations aren’t a fluke. So how exactly did the cloud form? Through experiments and simulations, scientists are working hard to try and figure it out.



What if I told you that the government is developing programming code that is unhackable? Would you believe it? Well, maybe you should. Most computer programs are coded informally, verified by whether they work or not. Unless you’re the an elite programmer (and even the geniuses make a few mistakes too), these programs are likely riddled with bugs and errors, leaving holes that are easily hacked. But what if programmers used a different kind of verification process? What if there was a way to test code logically? You guessed it...there is. The government, thanks to help from Microsoft Research, is now using a formal verification style of programming that reads like a mathematical proof. “Each statement follows logically from the preceding one. An entire program can be tested with the same certainty that mathematicians prove theorems.” Cooooooool.




Using Science Fiction to Save the World (Or At Least the Oceans)

Andrew Merrie, a sustainability scientist from Stockholm University, wants to save the oceans, and his biggest challenge is getting the gen pop on board. So, he’s turning to science fiction. Called science-fiction prototyping (coined by futurist Brian Johnson), the strategy uses “science fiction to get a handle on the implications of future technologies, social structures, or (in this case) environmental conditions.” Basically, he wants to use fictional images and narrative to paint the possible future, both positively and negatively, of Earth’s oceans. He has employed No Man’s Sky artist, Simon Stålenhag, for the visuals (click the link above to view some of the illustrations - they’re stunning), and his home base, the Stockholm Resilience Center, for the narratives. I think this is a great idea...and Merrie, if you’re reading this, I am MORE THAN HAPPY to help out. Hit me up if you need another writer...


Where’d You Get That Tan?

The light we see all around us isn’t only produced by the Sun. Yes, most of it is, but a small fraction is produced by lingering Big Bang photons and UV light from nearby stars and galaxies. Cool, right?? The breakdown of the surrounding light source is pretty interesting: approx. 77% comes directly from the sun, 23% is reflected off the sky (which is why it’s important to wear sunscreen even on a cloudy day), 0.001% are those Big Bang remnants I mentioned, and the remaining 0.000000001% are from nearby stars and galaxies.


The Woman Who Finds Stars

I absolutely love stories about women in STEM, especially when those women specialize in astronomy, astrophysics, and/or planetary scientists. Introducing Anna Frebel, an MIT astronomer. She is really REALLY good at finding stars, and recently, she has discovered three old-timers...stars that might be from the second generation of stars ever produced in our universe. Specifically, these stars are 13 billion years old and are all found within our own galaxy. She also has found a tiny galaxy scampering around inside the Milky Way, a galaxy she believes that was formed very shortly after the Big Bang. Finding these galactic relics helps Frebel, and other astronomers, better understand how our galaxy was formed.



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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