M Thomas Apple Author Page

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

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s an airplane! It’s…

February 4, 2023
MThomas

A Japanese telescope positioned on top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, captured video of an eerie flying spiral in the night sky on Jan. 18.

In the video, a small bright spot appears and slowly gets brighter and starts to dissipate into a spiral before getting small again and disappearing.

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/japanese-telescope-captures-image-mysterious-180332172.html

In fact, it was the remains of a discarded Falcon 9 booster from the launch of a SpaceX satellite. And it isn’t the first time this has happened. Japanese TV talked about this, too (since it was a Japanese astronomy, at the Subaru Telescope, that first recorded it).

So, an Identified Flying Object!

Yay, more metallic junk.

(Thanks to Glen Hill for bringing this article to my attention.)

Turn off the lights, and you’ll be seeing stars!

January 25, 2023
MThomas

A new study that analyzes data from more than 50,000 amateur stargazers finds that artificial lighting is making the night sky about 10% brighter each year.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/twinkle-twinkle-fading-stars-hiding-brighter-skies-rcna66692

Each spring in my Current Events and Global Issues class, I have students read about environmental issues.

Pollution is obviously related. But they almost never guess the “seven types of pollution” (yes, I know some people country eight, or ten, or even twelve…it all depends on how you categorize them).

They never consider Light Pollution.

Maybe it’s because most of my students (to the order of 90%) come from medium and large cities. To me, having grown up in a mostly rural area (in elementary school, my town had about 400 residents and in junior and senior high I lived in a “queen village” that had — gasp — an incredible 4,000 residents) — well, being surrounded by darkness was no big deal.

We could see stars from our backyard. Lots of stars. We learned all the major constellations (of the Northern Hemisphere, anyway, since that’s what we could see).

And more importantly we could see lightning bugs (or “fireflies” or “glowworms” or “candle bugs” etc). Decreasing water quality is thought to contribute to their declining numbers, but it’s far more likely that our insistence on lighting up the skies all the time are preventing them from finding a mate (hence the reason they “flicker” at night).

Turn off the lights!

What are you afraid of?

What is this “Cislunar” space?

January 24, 2023
MThomas

Though definitions sometimes differ, cislunar space generally refers to the space between Earth and the moon, including the moon’s surface and orbit. Any nation or entity that aims to establish a presence on the moon, or has ambitions to explore deeper into the solar system, has a vested interest in operating in cislunar space, either with communication and navigation satellites or outposts that serve as way stations between Earth and the moon.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-earth-moon-get-little-crowded-rcna64333

There is actually a limited amount of orbital space available between the Earth and the Moon (note: capitalize it, NBC! grrr..).

So, expect more and more competition for satellites — communication, navigation, and way stations.

And of course military and spy stations.

And by the way, only eight nations signed the so-called “Artemis Accords” in 2020. Guess who didn’t?

Buckle up!

Webb finds rocky Earth-sized planet

January 13, 2023
MThomas

The finding demonstrates how the observatory could be used to search for potentially habitable planets in the cosmos and examine the chemical makeup of their atmospheres.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/james-webb-telescope-finds-first-exoplanet-rcna65374

LHS 475b is 41 light years away, orbiting a red dwarf star in the Octans constellation (one of a few “modern” constellations only seen in the deep southern hemisphere).

Webb can even detect the presence of atmospheres, though given LHS475b has an orbit of two days and is a “few hundred degrees warmer than Earth,” it’s unlikely it’ll find much with this exoplanet.

Still, it’s a first. The first of many, I hope.

The 2022 Year of Space Exploration

January 2, 2023
MThomas

Lots and lots and lots of space stories occurred in 2022.

From DART to Landsat, Sagittarius A* black hole to CAPSTONE, the Korean Pathfinder to SpaceX, and to the ISS, Moon, and Mars, here’s a summary of major space exploration projects last year.

Looking forward to 2023 and beyond!

From nothing to Mars in 6 years

December 20, 2022
MThomas

In 2020, the UAE’s space agency launched its first Mars mission, less than a decade after it was created. How did they manage it?

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20221206-how-the-uae-got-a-spacecraft-to-mars-on-the-first-try

This is a great story about how true international cooperation rather than competition can result in scientific progress.

Thanks to their efforts, despite nearly being derailed thanks to the pandemic, we will soon have a complete picture of an entire year of Mars weather.

Not bad for a country whose space agency is so small “you could probably lose it in the car park of Nasa’s giant Johnson Space Centre in Houston.”

(Of course, the project’s findings may mean I have to rewrite some of my novel in progress, but why not? All in the name of science fiction…)

Why Japan and JAXA are definitely NOT the future of space exploration

November 26, 2022
MThomas

Falsified space research? No problem. The “apology bow” (sha zai, 謝罪) makes it all better.

There is a reason why Japan’s newest “micro” satellite spectacularly failed to do, well, anything.

The Japan version of NASA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, called “JAXA” for some reason rather than “JAEA” — maybe the founder was a fan of X-Japan?) is riddled with incompetency and sycophancy.

Much like the rest of Japan’s government, one of the most corrupt of the world’s industrialized countries thanks to its strict “senpai-kohai” hierarchy where those at the top do no work and those at the bottom have no choice but to do what those at the top say – even if it’s illegal or immoral.

Continue Reading

Volcanos, Venus, and Earth 🌋 Hellscape unveiled

November 25, 2022
MThomas

A new study shows that massive volcanic eruptions over an extended period of time may be responsible for changing the planet into what it is today. If there was simple life on ancient Venus, volcanism was its doom. The study also shows how powerful volcanic activity has played a role in shaping Earth’s habitability and how Earth only narrowly avoided the same fate as Venus.

https://www.universetoday.com/158696/volcanoes-are-the-worst-theyve-caused-extinctions-on-earth-and-probably-killed-venus/#more-158696

Venus is hot enough to melt lead, which is why no spaceship has ever survived to land on the surface.

And, no, there is nothing alive floating around in its toxic atmosphere.

But this is a neat article. Three future missions are planned for Venus (two by NASA – VERITAS and DAVINCI – and one by ESA – EnVision, which sounds more like a song and dance competition than a scientific probe).

Venus or bust!

Astronomers found a black hole in our cosmic backyard!

November 9, 2022
MThomas

Only 1600 light years away!

And it’s a binary system. Very odd.

It’s also “dormant.” Even stranger.

Ten times the size of our Sun, as far away from its companion star as the Earth is from the Sun.

Announced just in time for Halloween…

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/05/science/astronomy-black-hole.html

DART did it! 🎯

October 12, 2022
MThomas

“For the first time ever, humanity has changed the orbit of a planetary body,” said NASA planetary science division director Lori Glaze.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/dart-mission-deflected-asteroid-for-planetary-defense

A change of 32 minutes in orbit — but only 4% of the total orbital period. To deflect an asteroid away from Earth, it’d better be done several years in advance. 🌏

Still, it can be done. An amazing first.

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