Riding light and sending sounds in space

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. That’s per second, not per hour. If you travel at the speed of light for an hour, you cover 671 million miles.

That’s fast, right?

Well maybe on Earth it is, but the universe is a big place. It took about five hours for the signal from the New Horizons probe to travel from Pluto to Earth. And that’s traveling at the speed of light.

To put it in perspective, take a look at this if you’ve got 45 minutes to spare:

That’s how long it would take to get from the Sun to Jupiter: 45 minutes.

Forty-five minutes of nothing but emptiness with a few big space rocks called planets, moons and asteroids showing up every few minutes to break up the monotony. I bore easily, so if it took this long to get to Jupiter, imagine how many “Are we there yet”s I’m going to ask on a trip to Pluto.

If we’re ever going to get to other parts of the galaxy, we’re going to have to break the light barrier. Which means we’re probably not going anywhere. Maybe a billion years from now, our robot satellites in space like Pioneer, Voyager and New Horizons will be picked up by some alien civilization, which will ask: What the hell is this?

This is the Golden Record we sent on Voyager back in 1977: a collection of greetings in different languages, sounds of life and selections of music, plus a roadmap to where we are. Voyager has left the solar system and is now in interstellar space.

So let’s say Voyager does end up on a planet in another part of the galaxy where there’s intelligent life. What do you think the aliens would say? Maybe this?

Check out the Speaking of Science blog at the Washington Post for more about the Golden Record.

Steven Colbert visits Pluto

With Neil DeGrasse Tyson

To illustrate the point, here’s the size of Pluto and its moon, Charon, in relation to the Earth.



The diameter of Pluto is 1,471 miles. The diameter of the Earth’s moon is 2,159 miles.  So if you overlap them, (and let’s add the dwarf planet Ceres, which is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter (there are dwarf planets that close to us? Were we not paying attention in astronomy class?), here’s what you get:


That seems to indicate that the Moon is more qualified to be a planet than Pluto. So Neil wins. Pluto is a dwarf. But as he adds, we’re a dwarf compared to Jupiter:


We are not worthy.

Fast and light to Pluto

The New Horizon space craft, which has been on a very long trip to the planetoid, dwarf planet, planety thing past Neptune (sometimes), has confirmed that it survived its pass-by of Pluto, 9½ years after its launch from Earth.

This New York Times mini documentary explains the mission. And I’m really looking forward to the release of photos, expected later today.

I’m of the generation when Pluto was a planet, and I always want to see what’s out there. I’m just finding out that Pluto has five moons. That’s got to account for something.

But if the trajectory of Pluto is such that it crosses the orbit of Neptune, does that raise the possibility that in a few billion years or so, they’re going to collide?

No. From 1979 to 1999, Pluto was the eighth planet from the sun. In 1999, it slipped beyond Neptune to become the ninth. But Pluto’s 248-year orbit around the sun takes it 17 degrees above and below the plane in which Neptune and the other planets travel. So their paths don’t actually cross as they swap positions. Imagine you are the sun in the middle of your back yard. The fence is Neptune’s orbit. You toss a boomerang way out over the neighbor’s houses and it comes back, being on both sides of your fence during its travels without hitting the fence. Of course, activity like that can be frowned upon, and in Pluto’s case helped lead to its demotion.

Thanks, Live Science!


Are we all holograms? Some physicists say it’s possible.

So maybe we’ve all been sucked into a black hole, but our data remains at the edge and projects itself in the form we currently believe we’re in?

I can’t even think of a “Star Trek” episode that was a complicated as that. But then, there’s another believe in physics and every possible existence we could have had, has or will happen somewhere in the universe.

So let’s take this a step further. If we are the data remnants on the edge of a black hole, then that should mean that, like numbers, when different data interact, you get a different result. And if that’s the case, the result in our “existence” could very possibly be the many worlds result of quantum mechanics.

Yeah, that’s a stretch. But I’m on the edge of a black hole, so what else should I be thinking about?

That’s a simpler way of explaining it. But there, there’s the theory that the universe talks to young white women:

Now that just makes no fuckin’ sense.


Mapping the solar system

A nice map of the solar system and the satellite missions that we’ve used to explore it from National Geographic (click to enlarge):


And yes, when you click through it, you see it’s a huge map. But it’s not really an adequate representation of the size of the solar system.

Click here to go through a scale model map of the solar system, using as the scale our moon the size of one pixel. And then you’ll see that despite the billions of stars and planets in the night sky, we are really in the middle (?on the edge?) of nowhere.

Once you go through that vast, seemingly endless, map of nothingness, think what your reaction should be to this observation:

Now some SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) researchers are pushing a more aggressive agenda: Instead of just listening, we would transmit messages, targeting newly discovered planets orbiting distant stars. Through “active SETI,” we’d boldly announce our presence and try to get the conversation started.

Naturally, this is controversial, because of . . . well, the Klingons. The bad aliens.

“ETI’s reaction to a message from Earth cannot presently be known,” states a petition signed by 28 scientists, researchers and thought leaders, among them SpaceX founder Elon Musk. “We know nothing of ETI’s intentions and capabilities, and it is impossible to predict whether ETI will be benign or hostile.”

My reaction? Doesn’t matter if they’re benign or hostile. It would take them forever to get here. So send the signal, which would travel at the speed of light and take years to get to the next galaxy. At the worst, we’ll just end up crank calling each other. (Hey, Boba Fett! Is that a ring around Uranus? Yuk, yuk, yuk.)

Meanwhile, the Web site Vox has plenty more space map thrills for you.