August 29, 2016
B l i n d e r s O n T h e R i g h t
This week our imaginations and creativity are aflame. We just discovered a new rocky planet, near Proxima b, and it’s close to us; it may be habitable. NASA is recruiting Earthlings to become the first Martians with inspiring new posters and other artists have come up with the viable concept of a solar train whizzing us around to new worlds.
But first, let’s don our hazmat suits as we delve into the minds of Congress or the Republican candidate for president, and enter the black hole of vanity, greed and blindness. Those dreams of discovery are obliterated, spaghettified.
For more than a year, news outlets – particularly those with a scientific bent such as Galactic Sandbox — have been desperately trying to pry from the presidential candidates just where they stand regarding space exploration and the future of NASA. It’s like pulling donkey teeth.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has given precious little lip service to what her position on space exploration is, but we are not very troubled by it. Her campaign has repeatedly said that NASA and space science is a priority in the party’s plank, and they’re going to stick to that. NASA has always fared better under Democratic presidents. And on a personal note, Mrs. Clinton’s original dream in her younger days was to be an astronaut, and she actually applied to NASA for a career. Luckily for us, they turned her down.
On the other hand, Donald Trump infamously said that America has “to fix the potholes first.” We agree that there needs to be a massive program to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure, but any bean counter knows that both public works and a robust space program can be accomplished at the same time, if only Republicans would quit stonewalling every decent piece of legislation merely to foil “that black guy in the White House.” It’s a well-known fact that President Obama’s political foes launched their miserable obstructionism the day after he first got into office.
Recently, Aerospace America managed to crowbar this out of Trump: “A lot of what my administration would recommend depends on our economic state. If we are growing with all of our people employed and our military readiness back to acceptable levels, then we can take a look at the timeline for sending more people into space.”
This is disturbing to me on so many levels that it’s physically painful. However, I will try to unpack it. First, “with all of our people employed….” The problem is not a lack of jobs, it’s a lack of good jobs with a living wage. In fact, many of us low-income people have THREE jobs, all paying less than seven bucks an hour. Second, “our military readiness back to acceptable levels.” This guy is so devoid of facts it’s frightful. Congress keeps throwing money at the military, and the Pentagon has repeatedly told them to shove it. The brass doesn’t really pay $3,000 for hammers or $5,000 for toilet seats. They itemize mundane items astronomically to hide the cost of “black” projects. Yet the Pentagon has said again and again it doesn’t need even that much money for their black ops… they are awash in money. Republican politicians insist on this idiocy because many of the “white elephant” hardwares are made in their districts, and they are not only pork barreling but also price gouging to boot. Thirdly, “then we can send…more people into space….” Donald, you pathetic moron, it’s not simply about sending people “into space,” it’s about robotic exploration, space telescopes, research and development. Sigh.
With all this in mind, Galactic Sandbox has a new battle cry we’d like to share, and we encourage our readers to shout it frequently this election season: ♫ Thank You, Republicans! ♫ (Sung to the tune of “Thanks for the Memories”)
– Kate Woods
K i n g o f t h e W o r l d
NASA’s Juno spacecraft whizzed by Jupiter last Saturday at 5:51 a.m. PDT at a speed of 130,000 mph, marking the mission’s closest approach to the gas giant yet at a distance of about 2,600 miles. Last weekend also was the first time Juno’s full suite of scientific instruments were turned on since the craft arrived at the Jovian system on July 4th. “This is our first opportunity to really take a close-up look at the king of our solar system and begin to figure out how he works,” said Scott Bolton, the mission’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX.
While high-resolution JunoCam pix of the Jovian atmosphere and the first portraits of Jupiter’s north and south poles are expected to be released later this week, results from other scientific measurements collected during the flyby won’t be available for some time, says NASA.
“No other spacecraft has ever orbited Jupiter this closely, or over the poles in this fashion,” said Steve Levin, Juno project scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This is our first opportunity and there are bound to be surprises. We need to take our time to make sure our conclusions are correct.”
There are 35 more close encounters with Jupiter scheduled during Juno’s prime mission, which is scheduled to end in February of 2018.
M o r e T h a n M e e t s t h e E y e
Astronomers are all atwitter about the recent discovery of a massive galaxy, which on first glance doesn’t appear to exist. Apparently, the newly dubbed Dragonfly 44 cosmic island consists of 99.99% dark matter, and is the largest galaxy of its kind that has been identified to date. (Dark matter is the still-not-completely-understood “gravitational glue” that is thought to make up almost 85% of the universe’s mass.) An international team of scientists spotted the galaxy last year with the WM Keck Observatory and the Gemini North Telescope in Manuakea, Hawaii, and after clocking the speed of the few stars in the region, concluded that they would be flung apart unless held together by dark matter. “In the Dragonfly galaxy stars move very fast. So there was a huge discrepancy: using Keck Observatory, we found many times more mass indicated by the motions of the stars, than there is mass in the stars themselves,” said Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University. Speaking of such “invisible galaxies,” last year, Dokkum explained, “If the Milky Way is a sea of stars, then these newly discovered galaxies are like wisps of clouds. They are found in a dense, violent region of space filled with dark matter and galaxies whizzing around, so we think they must be cloaked in their own invisible dark matter ‘shields’ that are protecting them from this intergalactic assault.”
P r o x i m a F a m i l i a r i t a s
A tantalizingly-close Earth-sized exoplanet has been discovered orbiting the nearest start system to our own. According to NASA, astronomers peering through the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile, have identified a rocky planet circling in the “habitable zone” around Proxima Centauri, the smallest member of the Alpha Centauri triple star system just 4 light-years away. In fact, scientists speculate the Earth-like orb could be warm enough to allow liquid water to collect on the surface, and are eager to determine whether it holds the ingredient suitable for life.
C o l o s s a l P i c k
NASA has chosen United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) huge Atlas V rocket to launch the space agency’s next robotic mission to Mars in the summer of 2020, The Mars 2020 rover mission is the next phase of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term motorized exploration of the red planet, and will be especially equipped to search for key clues to the potential for life. ULA rockets have sent spacecraft to Mars 17 times in the past 50 years.
P a s t I m p e r f e c t
A new study published last week in the journal Nature is challenging the length of time it is believed humans have affected climate change, reports the Washington Post. Using paleoclimate records from the past 500 years, the authors of the paper show that sustained warming began to occur in both the tropical oceans and the Northern Hemisphere as far back as the 1830s, and indicate that belching industrial-era greenhouse gas emissions were the culprit, even then. “I don’t think it changes what we know about how the climate has warmed during the 20th century, but it definitely adds to the story,” said Nerilie Abram, an expert in paleoclimatology at Australian National University and the new study’s lead author.
R i d e O n T h e S p a c e T r a i n
Tired of your metro commute to work? Someday, you may be able to board a “Solar Express” space train that would tote humans, supplies and minerals at lightning speeds between extraterrestrial bodies and space stations in our solar system. In fact, the concept’s creators, who are soliciting help from others to improve the idea, believe one could travel at 1% the speed of light (about 3,000km/s), meaning you could get to Mars in less than two days. Since acceleration and deceleration are the most expensive phases of space travel, the Solar Express will never stop – instead smaller capsules will hop on as it goes whooshing by. Comprised of a series of aligned cylinders at least 50 meters long, the Solar Express would be powered via a combination solar energy, hydrogen propellant supplied by water harvested form comets and small moons, and ion thrusters (see graphic above).
R e d A l e r t . . . M a r t i a n s W a n t e d !
NASA needs YOU! The agency just released a series of cool posters aimed at recruiting tomorrow’s new explorers, the 21st Century Marco Polos and Neil Armstrongs who may someday go to Mars or an asteroid near you.The colorful Bauhaus-style artworks are available for purchase, too.
S t e p p i n g O n T h e G a s
When the Oil and Gas Industry wants to dirty up a place, they like to go where people are so oppressed and poor that they are too busy trying to survive to complain about their kids’ nosebleeds, asthma or other long-term medical problems. So the Four Corners region of New Mexico, where numerous Native American reservations are located, is a perfect place for the filthy energy barons to drill and frack.
Until those snoopy NASA scientists showed up.
In 2014, when a NASA study pinpointed a colossal methane hot spot over the Four Corners, the industry went defensively ape. The oil PR guys actually said (we are NOT making this up) that the methane pollution was coming from natural sources and landfills. NASA did another study just to appease the polluters, and the results which they released last week were worse: NASA found 250 hot spots, especially in the Aztec, NM area where the oil and gas kings have numerous facilities that belch out the worst kind of global warming gasses: NASA detected methane and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with oil and gas production, including known carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, and xylene.
The EPA and the Bureau of Land Management say they are cracking down on any new facilities that emit such dangerous greenhouse poisons, but what about the existing ones? Galactic Sandbox agrees with the environmental organization, Earthworks, who confirmed this story with infrared cameras, that fossil fuels need to be where they are least harmful to living things: in the ground.
A c e I n T h e H o l e
Last but not least, famed physicist Stephen Hawking may finally get his illusive Nobel prize, thanks to a fellow scientist who was able to create a “fun sized” black hole in his lab. According to Popular Mechanics, Israeli professor Jeff Steinhauer has made a breakthrough challenge to the notion that nothing escapes a black hole’s clutches, which could lead to proving Hawking’s calculations made 42 years ago showing these super gravity wells actually “radiate” particles back into space. In his experiment, Steinhauer bypassed the difficulty of calculating such radiation, and simulated a “black hole” capable of engulfing sound using a laser that shot rubidium atoms in an environment cooled to near absolute zero. According to Steinhauer, since the rubidium atoms were traveling faster than the speed of sound, part of the sound wave was pushed out of the “black hole,” thus contradicting what the scientific community believes happens in real black holes.