On Another Planet

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September 18, 2017

Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Final Hurrah

The now defunct Cassini spacecraft took its last pic of Saturn (above) less than a day before its fiery plunge into the gas planet’s atmosphere. According to NASA, the view was snapped 394,000 miles from the planet when the point of Cassini’s atmospheric impact was still on the planet’s night side. The spacecraft’s kamikaze descent occurred around 6:22 am ET, although news of its demise didn’t reach NASA for an hour and 23 minutes later (the amount of time radio waves travel 930 million miles).

Below are some of Cassini’s final pix taken last Wednesday that Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist and a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters were “the final picture postcards of the Saturn system.”


Weathering Heights

According to an article in the excellent DCReport.org, US weather forecasters are woefully behind their European counterparts in predicting storm paths, as illustrated earlier this month when Europe’s meterologists correctly called hurricane Irma’s westward path a week away while US weather folks relying heavily on The Global Forecast System model embarrassingly projected the monster storm to head north, probably missing the mainland US – a 194-mile whiff. While US weather prognosticators using computer modeling, satellites, weather balloons, and airplane dives into the eye of hurricanes are getting better, other countries are getting better faster. In fact, Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, said in 2016 U.S. global weather predicting was in fourth place, behind European, British and Canadian forecasters. Things are so bad that the U.S. Air Force now uses British modeling software.“The United States needs a ‘moon shot’ program to dramatically improve weather prediction,” said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist and critic of U.S. forecasts. Unfortunately, the current system could deteriorate under Trump, who’s calling for a 16 percent cut for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) In addition, the National Weather Service is already understaffed, and still operates a system that has been putting out alerts in the same all caps format for 170 years because it was designed for the telegraph. DCReport.org urges readers to 1) call the White House at 202-456-1414 to give your opinion about staffing at NOAA and funding for weather forecasts; 2) contact your senators and representatives: 3) for more information, reach the Environmental Defense Fund, which has raised questions about proposed NOAA cuts, at 800-684-3322.

Clouding the Issue

The mysterious atmospheric clouds on Venus night side were taken with infrared cameras.

For the first time ever, scientists have been able to study wind and upper cloud patterns of Venus’ night side, and have been startled to discover that they behave very differently than those on the planet’s side facing the Sun. According to Javier Peralta of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), whose team used ESA’s “Venus Express” craft to gather data for its published report in the journal Nature Astronomy, “While the atmospheric circulation on the planet’s dayside has been extensively explored, there was still much to discover about the night side. We found that the cloud patterns there are different to those on the dayside, and influenced by Venus’ topography.”

Venusian super-rotation.

The hallmark of Venus’ atmospheric winds it that they churn much faster that the planet rotates itself. Known as “super-rotation,” these Venusian breezes spin up to 60 times faster than the planet below. While traditional modelling predicted the night-side super-rotating winds to act the same as the daylight side, the JAXA team’s findings show them to be surprisingly chaotic and irregular,and are dominated by puzzling, unmoving stationary waves.“Stationary waves are probably what we’d call gravity waves — in other words, rising waves generated lower in Venus’ atmosphere that appear not to move with the planet’s rotation,” says co-author Agustin Sánchez-Lavega of University del País Vasco in Bilbao, Spain. “These waves are concentrated over steep, mountainous areas of Venus; this suggests that the planet’s topography is affecting what happens way up above in the clouds.”

Hot New TIcket

Blistering pitch-black WASP-12b is is about 2 million miles away from its star and completes an orbit once a day.

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered a smoldering gaseous planet outside our solar system that absorbs nearly 94 percent of light hitting it, making the Jupiter-like orb virtually pitch-black. “We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet,” said Taylor Bell of McGill University and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, lead researcher of the Hubble study. “Most hot Jupiters reflect about 40 percent of starlight.” According to NASA, newly found planet, dubbed WASP-12b, is so close to its sun that most molecules are unable to survive its 4,600 Fahrenheit day side, making it impossible for light-reflecting clouds to form, resulting in light penetrating deep into the planet’s atmosphere where it is swallowed up by hydrogen atoms and converted into heat. However, the planet’s fixed nighttime side is a different story. and is more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit cooler, allowing water vapor and clouds to form. “This new Hubble research further demonstrates the vast diversity among the strange population of hot Jupiters,” Bell said. “You can have planets like WASP-12b that are 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit and some that are 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, and they’re both called hot Jupiters.”

Prophet of Doom

Hold on to your Tin Foil Hats! According to a Christian numerologist citing passages from the New Testament that the recent solar eclipse and Hurricane Harvey (Irma wasn’t bad enough?) are the predictive signs that the world will come to an end this Saturday when the famously-mythical Planet X (also known as Nibiru) will have a catastrophic encounter with Earth. According to British tabloid The Sun, Christian numerologist David Meade came up with September 23 as the day Nibiru will pass Earth, causing volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes, by extrapolating “codes” from the Bible and also a “date marker” shown by the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. NASA has repeatedly insisted the existence of Planet X is a hoax. Also, it’s only fair to note that Mead’s views are not endorsed by any other Christian or religious sect.


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Fast and Dubious

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July 31, 2017

By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Burning Down the House

Revealing NASA photo taken in 2012 shows extensive methane flaring that occurred at oil extraction operations in the Bakken region of North Dakota (highlighted in box). Such unnecessary methane flaring that contributes to climate-changing greenhouse gassing and wastes vast amounts of energy could be possible again under the Trump Administration.

While the US media continues to be gobsmacked by “The Apprentice – White House Edition” meat grinder narrative where contestants cannibalize each other as our Republic burns to the ground, concertmaster der Trumpenfuhrer makes sure his administration keeps on truckin’ in its accelerated fossil-fueled assault on planet Earth and the US citizens it purports to govern.

In a recent DCReport.org article titled, “An Environmental Disaster in the Making,” author Sarah Okeson sounds the alarm bells, reporting that the US Interior Department is fast-tracking drilling permits for the “New Texas Oil Boom,” while the EPA turns a blind eye as it works to unravel “Obama-era regulations on methane, a greenhouse gas that worsens climate change and has been linked to asthma.”

Bringing back wild west oil drilling – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke As with several other Trump Cabinet members, Zinke has called for increased energy drilling and mining on public lands and has expressed skepticism about the urgency of climate change.

The recipe for this environmental time bomb starts with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (the same goon who last week threatened Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan with retaliatory actions agains their state if Murkowski continued to vote against the [ultimately] failed Republican healthcare reform bill), who is making it easier for energy companies to slice up the Permian Basin, a region covering Texas and New Mexico that is rich in oil and gas reserves with “more recoverable oil than any field outside Saudi Arabia.” So much crude, in fact, that North American drillers plan to drop most of their $84 billion play money this year in the area, which Citigroup estimates “could be producing 5 million barrels of oil a day by 2020, more than Iran or Iraq.”

Then the EPA – led by big-oil stooge Scott Pruitt – steps in and stonewalls new regulations restricting methane emissions at new oil and gas wells even though more than 203,000 Americans, about a quarter of them children, live within half a mile of the 18,000 gas and oil facilities subject to the EPA rule, according to the FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit that studies oil and gas development. (The Interior Department also is quashing a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) dictum limiting the amount of methane that can be vented, burned or wasted from oil and gas operations on federal and Native American lands.)

Fortunately, a federal appeals court has blocked Pruitt’s attempt to delay the EPA statute, and .environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, are suing Zinke and the Interior Department for not enforcing provisions of the BLM rule. The attorney generals in California and New Mexico have also sued over the delay in enforcing the BLM edict.

“As much as Zinke talks about valuing our public lands and emulating Teddy Roosevelt, the truth is that he and Donald Trump share the same priority: giving Big Oil free rein on our publicly-owned lands, whatever the cost to our health and our environment,” said Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club.

To keep the fire blazing under their toes and not ours, we encourage folks to send love messages to both Pruitt (Facebook and Twitter sites,Pruitt.scott@Epa.gov / Phone: 202-564-4700) and Zinke (202-208-3100, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240, Facebook and Twitter sites).


Facts of Life

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, boasts the most complex atmosphere in the solar system that many scientists believes mimics the atmosphere of early Earth before the build-up of oxygen.

Researchers are abuzz over the detection within the smoggy nitrogen/methane atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, of a molecule instrumental in the creation of life. The European Space Agency last week revealed that the international Cassini-Huygens mission may have found a “universal driver for prebiotic chemistry,” forming conditions that may be similar to those that led to the development of life on Earth. The new Cassini-Huygens findings, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, describes the unexpected discovery of a particular type of  highly-reactive, negatively-charged molecules “understood to be building blocks towards more complex molecules, and may have acted as the basis for the earliest forms of life on Earth.”  When exposed to sunlight, these energetic particles generate reactions involving nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon, leading to more complex compounds that eventually drift down towards Titan’s lower atmosphere, possibly reaching the moon’s surface.

Over the Moon

 In a potential new coup for the Kepler Astronomy Telescope, scientists are reporting initial findings showing that the space-based planet-seeker may have recorded data of an extraordinarily-large moon the size of Neptune orbiting a giant planet nearly 4,000 light years away, reports the National Geographic. If confirmed, the discovery of the ridiculously-huge satellite marks the existence of an “exomoon,” opening a new chapter in the study of worlds beyond our solar system. In order to affirm their detected signals, researchers have booked time this October to aim the Hubble Space Telescope at the planet’s home star. “This candidate is intriguing, and we obviously feel good enough about it that we’ve asked for Hubble time,” coauthor Alex Teachey, a graduate student at Columbia University, says in an email. “But we want to be crystal clear that we are not claiming a detection at this point.” Until then Teachey’s team will be keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that Kepler will add a remarkably new feather in its cap, on top of the already confirmed 2,000 alien worlds and 4,000 potential exoplanets it has spotted.

Penny Pinching

According to a newly-released report obtained by Buzz Feed, NASA passed up the opportunity to send astronauts around the Moon in 2020 – not because it wasn’t safe – but due to lack of sufficient funding. The document explains the reason space agency acting head Robert Lightfoot last May declined the Trump administration’s urging to include humans on the first mission of the jumbo Space Launch System rocket that would make an eight-day express trip around our nearest celestial neighbor in 2019. “NASA concluded crew could have flown on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), provided timely and sufficient funding,” if the launch were postponed until  2020, the report signed by Lightfoot read,  A crewed EM-1 mission would have had “significant” benefits, the report adds, including a “better overall flow” of future flights and by accelerating the possibility of shipping humans to Mars aboard spacecraft launched via SLS rockets. “NASA wants people to know it could have done this, if they had the money, but won’t because they don’t,” Keith Cowing of NASA Watch told BuzzFeed News. While NASA usually refrains from sending human guinea pigs on maiden space voyages, the maturity of the repurposed space shuttle rockets integrated into the SLS vehicle and the successful flight test of an Orion capsule in 2014 dispelled signifiant fears regarding astronaut safety. However, the $600 million $900 million NASA needed to cough up in order to add life support systems was the ultimate show-stopper.

Up in Arms

Iran’s “Simorgh” rocket was launched at the Imam Khomeini Space Center, Iran, on July 27. (Tasnim News Agency/Handout via Reuters)

The U.S,. along with France, Germany, and Britain,  cried foul last week after Iran announced that it had successfully tested a rocket that can launch satellites into orbit, a move the group of nations said breached a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding ballistic missile development.  Acting further, citing continued “provocative actions,” the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on six Iranian missile manufacturing firms owned or controlled by the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group that was involved in the production of the rocket. According to Reuters, the move enables the U.S. government to block those companies’ properties under its jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. citizens from conducting business with the firms. “The U.S. government will continue to aggressively counter Iran’s ballistic missile-related activity, whether it be a provocative space launch … or likely support to Yemeni Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia such as occurred this past weekend,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the other hand, defended his country’s  space program on Twitter, arguing that it does not build missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons. “Iran—unlike the U.S.—has complied in good faith with the letter and spirit of JCPOA [the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S., and five other powers],” Zarif said, adding that the United States’s “rhetoric and actions”  “show[ed] bad faith.”

New Kids in Town

Soyuz MS-05 carrying NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) docks with the International Space Station on Friday, July 28.

A Russian-made Soyuz rocket lofted three astronauts – including veteran American, Russian, and Italian space farers,  to the International Space Station, joining two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonauts already onboard the orbiting laboratory. According to NASA, the new Expedition 52 crew members will spend more than four months conducting a smorgasbord of approximately 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. The new additions also mark the first time the space agency has four crew members (including Italy’s Paolo Nespoli) available for these scientific demonstrations, effectively doubling the amount of research time for NASA and its partners.

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Eyes Wide Open

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August 29, 2016

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor

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.

Screen shot 2016-08-28 at 2.52.12 AM

©Copyright 2016 Nate Beeler.

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 toScreen shot 2016-08-28 at 9.21.46 PM 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, itrump and little NASAf 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.”

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A top-secret military space plane landed in California after a two-year test flight ended in 2014.

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

Screen shot 2016-08-28 at 7.25.53 PM

View of Jupiter’s north polar region as taken by Juno on August 27, when the craft was 437,000 miles away.

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.

Screen shot 2016-08-27 at 12.17.58 AM

This dual view of Jupiter was taken on August 23, when the Juno spacecraft was 2.8 million miles from the giant gasbag

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

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Will-o’-the-wisp: Shrouded Dragonfly 44 galaxy in Gemini Observatory photo.

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

Screen shot 2016-08-26 at 11.58.40 PMA 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

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Mars 2020 rover.

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

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What were we thinking? Scientist now believe that the oceans started warming immediately as the industrial revolution shifted into high gear by the mid 19th century.

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

Screen shot 2016-08-27 at 12.12.42 AMTired 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

fracking memeWhen 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.

Aztec hot spot

Aztec, NM hot spot.

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.

protest signThe 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

Screen shot 2016-08-28 at 9.52.55 PMLast 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.


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Lettuce Entertain You

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By Kate Woods – Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

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Ready to hear another “quirky” giggly clip about astronauts munching their ISS-grown space lettuce?  If I hear or see just one more lame-brain sound bite from a moronic glamor puss news reader about it, my TV will be blasted to bits by good ol’ Bessie.  She’s a .22 rifle.

Space-based agriculture is important – I don’t argue that – for we got to grow our own food when and if we ever get to Mars.  But the way it’s conveyed by these screaming media infants just gives me indigestion.

 ” F u n  S i z ed ” E x o p l a n e t
jupe photo from SETI The big news that’s handled barely more seriously is the recent discovery of another Jupiter-like planet, 51 Eridani b, located 100 light years from Earth.  The reason it has caught scientists’ attention is for its small size: it’s only twice the size of Jupiter, and since most of the Jupiter-like planets we’re finding are 5 to 13 times the size of our gas giant, that makes it a toddler at only 20 million years old.  This fact may force brainiacs to rethink the fundamentals of solar system architecture.  In a score for Earth-based astronomy, Eridani was spotted by the Earth-based Gemini Planet Imager at the Gemini Observatory in Chile. (Yeah, I can hear the double-digit IQ’d politicians now: “The money used to build that Cheelayin telescope could have been used to line five of our pockets! Oh the humanity!”  Ugh.)  Fun Fact: As of August 14, nearly 2,000 exoplanets have been discovered.
E x t r a t e r r e s t r i a l  D e t e n t e
But the news I find imminently more interesting is a recent interview The Mirror had with Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut who trekked on the moon in 1971.  Mitchell has Screen shot 2015-08-16 at 10.54.36 AMalways had an interest in extraterrestrial life, and in his post-Apollo incarnation he has not avoided talking about his own sightings from space.  And he does it deadpan. Not a man known for embellishment, Mitchell believes ETs prevented nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia when they buzzed and disabled nuclear silos in New Mexico in the 1950s.  His conversations with base missile launchers and personnel at the time are convincing, though second-hand.  So whom would you believe?  Mitchell, or the Air Force’s explanation of unexplained sightings as “swamp gas”?  Brace yerselves for the mainstream media’s “UFO Giggle Curtain.”
C h o r e  W i t h  A  V i e w
Speaking of Russkies, two spacewalking cosmonauts this week stopped to shine up one of the ISS’s portal windows while the remaining ISS crew members were dining on Romaine lettuce drizzled with oil and vinegar.  (I’m sure the news-reader morons are having a whale of a time yukking that up.) Thing is, while the media spun the window washing angle, the Russians performed much more important tasks including installing a new antenna, completing a detailed photographic survey of the ISS exterior, and  placing “gap spanners” on the hull of the station to help  ease crew member movement on future spacewalks.
B r e a k i n g  U p  I s  H a r d  T o  D o
Meanwhile, 37 million light years from Earth, spiral galaxy NGC 428 got its first close up NGC 428snapped by the Hubble Telescope this week.  A most refreshing fact-only story in Sci-News reports that the galaxy, first discovered by Sir William Herschel in 1786, has been banged up and warped as a result of a collision with another galaxy…which is our Milky Way’s eventual fate with the next-door Andromeda Galaxy about 4 billion years from now.  On a related note, a guy named Stu Parker in 2013 discovered a supernova occurring within NGC 428 from the Backyard Observatory Supernova Search in New Zealand. (Extra points for Earth-based astronomy!)
K e e p  L o w  E a r t h  O r b i t  B e a u t i f u l
micro cube satsNASA is taking more proposals for their Cubesat Satellite program, which allows anyone in the U.S. to launch their homemade micro sat from the space station.  Be advised: it has to be useful, advance the frontiers of space and humanity, and all the info gleaned from the tiny creations will be available to the public.  Right on cue, a New Zealand space company has developed an online booking agency to reserve a launch of any satellite into space.  Just what we need: more space junk….
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And speaking of “Incoming!”  The Perseid Meteor Shower was spectacular this year with Screen shot 2015-02-27 at 9.32.06 AMthe new moon politely cooperating by not being around.  From the ghost town of the New Idria Mercury Mine in California (pop. 3) – my home – it was spectacular.  During its peak on Tuesday and Wednesday, I counted three a minute – which promptly made my brother Oliver call me a “liar” since he was looking in a different direction.  The Perseids are the dust and gravel thrown off yearly by the Comet Swift-Tuttle.  The next major meteor shower is in November when the “Leonids” arrive for their yearly extravaganza, (As well as making a cameo appearance in the film “Contact,” there have been some historic years when the Leonids have turned into a meteor STORM, so pop an umbrella and don galoshes just in case!).
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Oh, and by the way…. This story only merited a mention in Discovery News, and nothing but deafening silence in the lamebrain media.  But we thought you may want to know that scientists of the International Astronomical Union have announced at their yearly meeting in Hawaii that there is now further proof that our particular universe is dying.  Apparently, they have known since the 1990s that our cosmos was slowly fading, but a new survey that measured the wavelengths of 200,000 different galaxies – from the infrared to the ultraviolet – proves this universe is producing half as much energy as it did 2 billion years ago.  If it were announced on CNN, you can bet that the Doomsday preppers would move into high gear.  We better find a way to get to the next universe (or at least the way things are going on Earth, another planet).  Have a nice day!
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