Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Forty Years Ago.

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Almost exactly 40 years ago in 1969 the world watched with excitement and anxiety as the Saturn V rocket of Apollo 11 shot skyward from Kennedy Space Center. The launch of this rocket was the first step in Apollo 11’s mission of putting NASA astronauts on the Moon, the commitment of a nation to deliver on President Kennedy’s call to do so not eight years previously in 1961. Obviously, this endeavor was incredibly risky, and the astronauts knew very well that there was a significant reality that they would never return. The entire world knew this, too. And yet, we sent them, and they went willingly.

I was born in January of that year, and was almost six months old when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would conduct the first ever moonwalk. Obviously, I cannot remember the event, but this single human achievement has played an enormous role, and been of huge influence, on my entire life. It is exciting to be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, and I am amazed at how absolutely relevant this achievement still is. I will spare you the history lesson, as there is an abundance of these seemingly everywhere. I will say, though, that it is interesting how things have developed since this historic moment.

Not Yet Four Days Ago.

In a case of either appropriate or ironic timing, depending on your perspective, NASA launched Space Shuttle mission STS-127 on July 15th after several delays. The Space Shuttle has been an important program for NASA, and for all of us, really, but in the shadow of the achievements reached by the thousands of people who were part of the effort to put humans on the moon you cannot help but feel that, for NASA, time has gone backwards. Regardless, the video below of the launch of STS-127 is incredible, and I am pleased that we are still sending brave people into space to help us learn, dream, and explore, even if they never actually leave Earth’s orbit.

Release The Planet Hunter

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Tomorrow evening, at about 9:50PM CST, NASA is launching (depicted in the animation above), its new planet-hunting space telescope on a mission to find Earth-sized and Earth-like planets that might have liquid water.  This is important, of course, because it means that these planets could be home to life. It is also important as this means these planets might be “habitable”. To understand the significance of this quest, I point you to the recent TED Talks presentation by , which is well worth the time to watch:

At the heart of this mission is the effort to determine just how common planets such as our own are. Some fear we are a unique occurrence in the universe, others believe that earths are possibly quite common. Kepler is departing to bring some resolution to this schism.

The Kepler mission is named after , astronomer and author of .

Latest Cassini Eye Candy

Sunday, March 1st, 2009


The Cassini robotic explorer continues to send back incredible imagery from its mission amongst Saturn and its moons. The latest series of images are part of the Equinox mission to observe the changing seasons on Saturn, and are rendered to expose the incredible detail of the stormy atmosphere underneath the signature rings of the planet. If you look at the lower left corner in the image above you will see an especially well defined storm, seen essentially as a blue dot in Saturn’s atmosphere.

This image was taken with the wide-angle camera on-board Cassini on Dec. 29, 2008 at a distance of approximately 680,000 miles from Saturn.

More on the . More on the . More on my own following of Cassini here on schneiderism.

Thinking Through 10 Dimensions

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

It’s safe to assume that most all of us are challenged in our understanding of those dimensions that theoretically exist beyond our own, wonderful, and seemingly complete 3rd dimension. This video, somewhat similar in approach to those by , does a superb job walking us through dimensions 1-10 in a way that is clear, concise, and pretty incredible to contemplate.

Found via .

A Step Closer to The Space Elevator

Sunday, January 25th, 2009


Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about the concept of a space elevator, and provided some background and motivation for NASA’s pursuit of this very cost effective access to Earth orbit. Quite realistically, if we truly want to create a substantive human presence beyond the surface of our planet it will take something akin to the space elevator to make it happen. Launching rockets into orbit is expensive, time consuming, dangerous, and wasteful. The space elevator will probably be expensive at first, but once it is built and ostensibly powered by solar energy the cost and danger of accessing Earth orbit are enormously reduced, and with the added benefit of much greater frequency. So, the space elevator is potentially a perfect solution for orbital access. It seems we have taken an important step closer with the development of light, long, and stretchy by scientists at Cambridge University. This is an important development, as the tether for the space elevator would require upwards of 144,000 miles of these nanotubes. At present, the scientists at Cambridge are able to develop about 1 gram of these carbon nanotubes per day, which can be stretched to 18 miles, but it will require work on creating the industrial production of carbon nanotubes to make the 144,000 mile space elevator tether viable.

It is interesting that something that existed essentially only in the realm of science fiction for many decades may now be actualized in the next ten years or so, this being another testament to the power of science fiction in shaping the direction of our technology.

More on long, stretchy carbon nanotubes at

On The Origins of Technology

Sunday, January 25th, 2009


There is no way that I could improve on this beyond just pointing you to Kevin Kelly’s . In this piece Kelly writes what is essentially a beautiful overview of the origins of the universe, and adds in some incredibly interesting perspective on these origins, our reality, and how they continue to influence and control all manner of existence, including his theory on the appearance of technology. It is absolutely worth reading the entire article as it is smart, concise, and really well written. Here’s a favorite excerpt:

“While the appearance of any particular form of technology or life is against all odds, the appearance of technology and life as a whole were ordained as soon as the universe began to expand, unpacking room for difference. Technology is the latest in a long line of structures that manifest the expanding potential of difference in the universe with actual differences. The expansion of space/time opened up the universe to the dissipation of entropy, and thus to the appearance of entropy-accelerating forms like life, mind, and mind-life (technology). The mammoth supercollider in CERN and the tiny Intel 8080 computer chip – the big and little of the technium — owe their ultimate origins not to the minds of human engineers, but to the fundamental laws of this existence. The genesis of technology began at the Big Bang. as Weakly syntropic but persistent structures like galaxies and stars exploited entropy to sustain order. In their orbits the first bacteria and later humans extended the ruse. Now the technium delivers differences that life – in all its amazing power – cannot manage. ”


Death Star

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

supernova remnant Cassiopeia A

It’s a bit blurry, but the image above is no less incredible. It depicts the shock waves and ejected material from a star going supernova. Recently, compositing images from a range of orbiting and terrestrial telescopes, MIT researchers created the reconstruction of what remained of this star after the explosive, cataclysmic supernova. These remains, referred to as a “supernova remnant”, are now called , and they are comprised of a set of intertwined bubble-like shells of debris that were spewed in the midst of the star’s destruction about 330 years ago (the expansion estimated to have begun in 1667).

Shown in the video below is the evolution of Cassiopeia A made using techniques from medical imaging. This animation combines X-ray images from Chandra, NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, and ground-based, visible-light telescopes to create the first three-dimensional animation of a supernova remnant. In this composite, note that:

  • lowest energy X-rays are shown in red
  • intermediate energies in green and the highest X-ray energies in blue
  • that the explosion’s outer blast wave, moving slower than expected at 18 million kph, is also shown in blue

from on .

Looking more closely at the aftermath of this massive event, the animation below depicts Cassiopeia A based on data also from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope. As you watch this, note that:

  • green indicates mostly X-ray emissions from iron
  • yellow reveals mostly X-ray, infrared and visible-light emissions from argon and silicon
  • red is the coolest debris, seen in infrared
  • blue depicts X-rays from the outer blast wave

from on .

Barack Obama’s Focus on Science

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

I watched the video above at last evening and liked very much how President-elect Obama explains his perspective on the role of science in his administration, and the thinking behind the science and technology team he has assembled. This team will maintain his focus on the value that science offers society and the world, and represents a cross-section of disciplines that is comprehensive (with the notable lack of a biologist…) in the face of the real challenges faced by our nation, challenges that can be addressed through science, innovation, and discovery. This perspective is in stark contrast to the previous eight years, and stands to move science in the United States forward on many, many fronts. A prescient quote from Obama’s presentation:

“The truth is promoting science is not just about providing resources, it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or idealogy. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient. Especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth, and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States.”

Barack Obama

This emphasis on science and the importance of open inquiry is something that President-elect Obama had discussed several times during the campaign. This was a notable difference between himself and essentially all of the other candidates, from both parties. This difference would be one of the many reasons that I ultimately cast my vote with him, and continue to be reminded by the Obama transistion team what an excellent decision that was.

Ganymede Goes to The Dark Side

Friday, December 19th, 2008

That would be the dark side of Jupiter. Above is an animation of images taken by the Hubble telescope in April of 2007 that show Jupiter’s largest moon moving behind Jupiter. Stunning.

More at .

Titan’s Floating Surface

Friday, November 21st, 2008

This is not breaking news, as it dates back to March of this year, but I was excited to read about it earlier this morning. The Cassini team issued a report last March that demonstrated the evidence of a liquid ocean beneath the surface crust of Saturn’s moon Titan. The interesting revelation is that this ocean is thought to be “global” on the moon, and as such indicates that the entire surface crust of Titan is decoupled from the interior of the planet, floating on this ocean. The evidence for this is based on the measurements of how Titan’s crust slides as a result of forces exerted by its atmosphere, as much as a .36 degree shift measured over the course of a year. That is considered to be pretty significant movement.

There is a great article about this at , and it reports that the empirical evidence of the ocean on TItan, already long suspected by scientists, lends credence to the theory that several other icy bodies in our solar system also have hidden interior oceans. Jupiter’s moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede are the most probable candidates for this phenomenon. The image above illustrates the proportion of the internal make-up of several of these satellites, and the relationship between these proportions and the existence of an internal ocean. It is thought by scientists that the existence of oceans in icy satellites may be a common occurance in our solar system.

Magnetic Fields Made Visible

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

from on .

A pretty incredible film shot at NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratories at UC Berkeley that does an excellent job visually describing the magnetic fields of the sun. We’re surrounded by them, as well as a complexity of other magnetic fields, and it is interesting to think that as we move through our environments we are moving through the intricate patterns made by these fields.

Check out for more information on magnetic fields and the making of this film. Also, from the same group that did the film above, there is the video below which has taken the enormous library of images from solar astronomy and pieced them together into gorgeous time-lapse photography that captures some of the stunning activity happening on the surface of the sun. At about four minutes the video below gets really, really interesting and relates strongly to my previous post The Surface of A Star:

from on .

The Surface of a Star

Monday, October 13th, 2008

I have posted about the sun previously (here and here), but the images I came across today at stopped me in my tracks. Simply amazing. We’re seeing the surface of the sun, our sun, the surface of a star. Images like above, which captures a massive solar flare, and images like this:

This shows the magnetic structures of the sun and was taken by the in the back in 2003. Do yourself a favor and go to and see these images in larger scale (or at least click on them here to see them larger). They’re stunning. I mean, check this out:

You are seeing the roiling, molten surface in detail, the bubble shaped objects packed tight are called “granules”. The dark shape in the upper left is an irregularly shaped sunspot. These are all amazing to me, but then there is the as it projects over a billion tons of matter into space at over a million kilometers per hour:

I am wide-eyed. That is all.

Getting Closer to Mercury

Friday, October 10th, 2008

This week, on October 6th, the robotic explorer made another intimate pass of the planet Mercury, getting as close as 125 miles, and delivered more stunning imagey. This flyby provided Messenger with a gravity assist to allow it to settle into Mercury’s orbit in March of 2011, being the first probe to do so. In the above two pairs of images, the top being from Messenger’s last flyby in January of this year, and the bottom being from the flyby this week, we get the opportunity to contrast two very detailed views of the planet. I’ve been following Messenger’s adventures with Mercury for awhile, and continue to get excited by what Messenger is sending back to us. I found the image above at .

The Biggest Computer Grid in The World

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

Previously, I posted about the Large Hadron Collider (here and here) and how upon completion it became the most complex machine ever built by mankind. The LHC was successfully tested just a few weeks ago, and despite some minor setbacks recently is set to deliver a treasure trove of information to researchers about the earliest moments of the universe over the next year.

As part of this research, and to enable the analysis of huge, huge amounts of data, a collaborative approach has been taken to create a virtual computer capable of this task. This analysis will be mankind’s biggest data challenge, and on October 3rd the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid came online, becoming the largest computer grid in the world. This grid is comprised of 140 computer centers in 33 countries and will have the capability of processing, analyzing, and managing over 15 million gigabytes of information from the LHC each year.

This collaborative, networked approach not only makes this complex analysis possible, but it allows a diversity of research groups globally to participate and benefit from the information generated by the LHC experiments.

This networked grid of computers would seem to align with my Network is The Computer post from a few weeks ago.

More information at .

Biggest Canyon in The Solar System

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

More incredible imagery from Mars. This time it is a nice detail image of Ius Chasma, an area within Valles Marineris which is believed to be the largest canyon in the solar system. This recently released image by NASA was snapped by the , one of the many robotic explorers working for us on Mars right now, and shows in pretty stunning detail the stratigraphic layers believed to have been created by both wind and water. I am in awe of the detail of this image and with the frequency and quality of images available to us from Mars. Nice work NASA, the ESA, and all of your partners for all of the Mars missions. I’m a fan.

Test Firing of The LHC

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

CERN test fired the , which I wrote about previously this year, earlier this week and, minus a couple minor electrical issues, the test firing was a success. The test this week was just an activation of the particle beam accelerator, testing the firing of the beam in both directions of the 17 mile accelerator, with the first beam collisions not planned for testing until October when researchers at CERN will intersect proton beams. When fully operational the LHC will allow researchers to recreate and closely observe the earliest moments of the universe and record the particle behaviors that occur during these incredibly brief moments.

Putting some numbers (via ) to all of this, when up and fully functional the LHC will accelerate protons in 14,000,000,000,000 electron volt collisions 600,000,000 times a second after traveling 26,659 meters (17 miles) at 11,245 times a second. To do this the LHC will utilize 10,000 tons of liquid nitrogen cooling 9,300 magnets to control these proton collisions occuring at 99.99% the speed of light, all taking place at -271.3°C (-456°F) and 10-13 atmospheres.

There is much misguided fear that the firing of the LHC will potentially end reality as we know it. There is absolutely no science behind these fears. Regardless, it is interesting to contemplate:

The Power and Presence of Ike

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Hurricane Ike made landfall at 2:10AM CST this morning at Galveston, Texas. Ike is an enormous storm, as seen in the image above taken from the International Space Station, so much so that it poses a disruption to orbital traffic above it. The damage from Ike is expected to be massive, and not because Ike is an incredibly strong hurricane but instead simply because Hurricane Ike is so expansive. has a great post on the damage models for Hurricane Ike.

Cassini Provides Enceladus Eye Candy

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I had already posted about Cassini’s August 11th very close flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and some of the amazing images it captured, but this mosaic warrants posting as well. It is a composite of eight images from Cassini that have been stitched together. The image above is shown in enhanced color and Enceladus would not actually look like this to the human eye. Enhanced color, in this case achieved using a combination of five different lenses, is used to bring out more feature differentiation and detail for analysis, things like the four south polar sulci (which are surface depressions or fissures, and often referred to as Enceladus’ “tiger stripes”) visible in this mosaic. To the human eye Enceladus would look more like below, the starkly stunning image that led my previous post on Enceladus:

More on these images at

Up Close With Enceladus

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Saturn’s moon , pictured above in a full color image from a flyby in 2005 and written about on schneiderism before, received a close visit from the on August 11th. This flyby allowed Cassini to snap incredible surface detail images. The following are some of the more compelling pictures to come out of this flyby.

Below is an image of “The Mound,” which is the object in the center right of the image which is casting a long shadow to the right. The incredible detail of this photo shows us the complexity of ridges, fissures, and cracks that makes up the surface of Enceladus, looking almost like a close-up image of elephant skin.

One thing that Cassini potentially revealed is evidence of the active venting occurring on Enceladus, venting observed by Cassini on previous missions. The image below appears to show this venting in progress, and in detail. Looking at the center of the image, note the blurred whisps over the whitish fissure feature. Serious speculation suggests that we’re seeing active venting right there:

Cassini was able to get very close to Enceladus, much closer than previous visits, and the images below show the high detail that this made possible. The first was taken by Cassini at a distance of about 1600 miles, the second even closer taken from about 975 miles. Both are incredible.

From 1600 miles:

From 975 miles:

I do not think that we can overstate how incredible it is to be seeing the surface of Enceladus in such rich detail, truly an important and amazing accomplishment. These images are a treasure trove of information for researchers and scientists seeking to learn more about our solar system.

More on Cassini’s August 11th flyby of Enceladus at , and a very informative article on Enceladus can be found at .

For The Moment, The Strongest Material Ever.

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Image of graphene sheet via Berkeley Lab

We’re talking about , an incredibly strong nanomaterial made from graphite and comprised of a densely packed single layer of carbon atoms that are arranged in a hexagonal pattern like a honeycomb. This forms a two-dimensional sheet, as shown in the image above, with an incredibly simple atomic structure. All of this was entirely theoretical and not thought possible until it was actually made back in 2004. Graphene has been described as an unrolled carbon nanotube. Columbia University nanoscale science researcher and professor has been working with graphene and testing its strength. Hone likens his one molecule deep sheet to ultra-thin plastic wrap, and compares his test of the material’s strength to stretching that piece of plastic wrap over the top of a coffee cup, and measuring the force that it takes to puncture it with a pencil. Hone says that If he could create a large enough piece of graphene (it has so far been restricted to very small pieces more ideal for high-conductivity transistors) to lay over the top of the coffee cup it would be strong enough to support the weight of an automobile pushing down on the pencil.

While graphene does possess incredible strength, it’s most likely use in the near future is as a replacement for silicon in electonics and semi-conductors.

just brought graphene to my attention, and I read this great article with more detail at .