M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

When planets align! Eh. Again.

April 24, 2022
MThomas

https://www.nj.com/news/2022/04/parade-of-planets-4-planets-to-line-up-in-sky-this-weekend-joined-by-moon-next-week.html

(Note: You won’t be able to see the planets actually looking like these photoshopped images…unless you happen to have a really powerful telescope in your backyard.)

Not sure why I first got this info from a site based in New Jersey. The info about what time of day and in what part of the sky is only relevant to people living in the NJ_NYC area.

Still, it’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs once every few years…

2005. 2016. 2020. And 2022. Not exactly a regular pattern, it seems.

And, no, there is no “spiritual significance” to a planetary alignment. It’s an illusion, an imaginary lining up of the solar system that doesn’t affect you personally. Sorry.

But it’s still fun to watch. Er, if you enjoy getting up before dawn (I don’t).

According to nj.com, “The planetary parade of sorts will occur when Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn all appear to be lined up in a row above the horizon during the pre-dawn hours — starting Saturday morning, April 23. The alignment will also be visible during the next few mornings, and April’s crescent moon will soon join the parade, according to experts from LiveScience and AccuWeather.”

Yeah, lots of web sites are covering this. At least the one I linked above doesn’t have automated videos, flashing ad gifs, and other random pop-ups that drain your smartphone battery.

Click here for more info about the next great alignment (not as impressive as the so-called “Great Conjunction” a couple years ago, but we’ll see more planets in June and July): https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/04/17/planets-align-april-venus-mars-jupiter-saturn/7351117001/

Why do all the planets orbit the sun in the same direction?

April 16, 2022
MThomas

Note: not to scale (duh). Thanks, Getty. Uh, is this really the best way to show the solar system? (There…are…NINE..planets!)

Think of pizza dough flattening into an enlarging disk as it’s tossed. Because the cloud had an initial rotation, this same direction of spin has persisted…

https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/solar-system/a39729213/why-do-all-the-planets-orbit-in-the-same-direction/

So basically the answer is simply that that’s the way they all started out.

Some moons, however, do have retrograde orbits. I.e., they orbit in the opposite direction around their respective planets. Some small asteroids and comets also have retrograde orbits due to their small mass being easily affected by larger cosmic objects.

But Ibet now you’re all thinking of pizza… 🍕

Let’s make rocket fuel with E. Coli!

April 12, 2022
MThomas

In short, the algae will use sunlight to transform CO2 into sugars that are then enhanced by bio-engineered E.coli into 2,3-butanediol. Interestingly, 2,3-BDO is not entirely conceptual as it currently exists and is mainly used to produce rubber components. It has just never been thought of as fuel before.

https://www.universal-sci.com/article/producing-rocket-fuel-on-mars-using-microbes?utm_campaign=Universal-Sci%20Weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter

Neat. So all the astronauts have to do is bring, uh, how much algae we talking here?

The article doesn’t say, but it does mention a by-product of the process: Oxygen!

That would seem rather helpful. Mars or bust?

Meet the man who was Shatner’s eye

March 28, 2022
MThomas

www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2022/03/22/star-trek-movie-shatners-eyeball/

The iconic “retina scan” scene in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan was not Shatner’s own eye.

It was an “eye double” software engineer.

(As the man himself says, your iPhone can take a more detailed picture these days, but it was high tech for 1982…)

Psyche! It might not be as heavy as we thought

March 4, 2022
MThomas

A new study suggests that 16 Psyche, one of the most intriguing and most valuable asteroids we know of, could be covered in iron-spewing volcanoes.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2022/02/24/the-iron-giant-asteroid-worth-more-than-our-global-economy-may-have-an-explosive-secret-say-scientists

Psyche is an asteroid that was probably once the heart of a planet in the early system, one that didn’t survive the violent process of planet formation.

Yep — that “worth more than the global economy” rock in space.

But we’ll have to wait a few years to find out if it’s “less metal and more hard rock” — the Psyche Mission rockets off in August 2022 and the probe won’t arrive for four more years.

How do we find ET? Look for pollution…

February 24, 2022
MThomas

CFCs in the atmosphere above the North Pole.

“We give off waste heat (from industry and homes and so on) and artificial light at night, but perhaps most significantly, we produce chemicals that fill our atmosphere with compounds that wouldn’t otherwise be present. These artificial atmospheric constituents just might be the thing that gives us away to a distant alien species scanning the galaxy with their own powerful telescope.”

https://phys.org/news/2022-02-webb-telescope-civilizations-air-pollution.html

Or, as Futurism puts it: “SCIENTISTS ALREADY PLOTTING HOW James Webb COULD DETECT ALIEN CIVILIZATIONS WHOA.”

Just. Settle down, wouldja. Sheesh.

Scientists have proposed aiming the James Webb space telescope the Trappist system, specifically Trappist-1e.

Really hope this isn’t what they find…

Purple rocks on Mars

February 5, 2022
MThomas

SuperCam showed that the coatings are enriched in hydrogen and sometimes magnesium. In addition, images from Mastcam-Z suggest that they also contain iron oxides. Both the hydrogen and iron oxides point to past water being involved in the formation of the coatings. That shouldn’t be too surprising, perhaps, since this area in Jezero Crater used to be a lake a few billion years ago.

https://earthsky.org/space/purple-rocks-mars-perseverance-rover-desert-varnish/

The rocks resemble so-called desert varnish, which protect microbes from the sun’s radiation. It’d be interesting to find out whether cyanobacteria that once existed on Mars did this…but the four billion year old question is, how did those bacteria get there in the first place?

Robot performs surgery — on pig intestines

January 27, 2022
MThomas

They slice. They dice. They perform complicated microsurgery without the aid of doctors…

US researchers say a robot has successfully performed keyhole surgery on pigs all on its own – without the guiding hand of a human. Furthermore, they add, the robot surgeon produced “significantly better” results than humans.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/jan/26/robot-successfully-performs-keyhole-surgery-on-pigs-without-human-help

OK, that’s neat. But.

Hands up, who wants to have their intestines spliced together by the Terminator v. 1.0?

The Death Star has an inner ocean

January 22, 2022
MThomas

New analysis of one of Saturn’s moons suggests that it may harbor a liquid ocean. No, not the usual suspects – the new culprit is Mimas, the little moon with a big crater, which gives it more than a passing resemblance to the ‘Death Star’ from Star Wars.

https://www.sciencealert.com/evidence-for-a-liquid-ocean-has-been-uncovered-in-saturn-s-death-star-moon

Add Mimas to Europa and Enceladus as possible moons harboring ET.

Like, IWOW —-

Should Pluto and Ceres be “planets”?

January 3, 2022
MThomas

Demoted by the IAU in 2006, the Once and Future “9th planet”

…a study announced in December from a team of researchers in the journal Icarus now claims the IAU’s definition was based on astrology — a type of folklore, not science — and that it’s harming both scientific research and the popular understanding of the solar system.

I’m not sure I agree that moons of Jupiter and Saturn should be classified as “planets,” but frankly I see little difference between “dwarf planets” and “planets.”

Plus it wrecks the song I learned to remember the order…

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/pluto-planet-debate-rages-rcna8848

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