Nature is hot: Hawaii volcanoes

Melted rock hitting the ocean. A beautiful and dangerous combination.

 

To explore strange new worlds

My first thought on this was, “We have a telescope orbiting the sun 40 million miles away from us?”

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler telescope is broken, potentially jeopardizing the search for other worlds where life could exist outside our solar system.

If engineers can’t find a fix, the failure could mean an end to the $600 million mission’s search, although the space agency wasn’t ready to call it quits Wednesday. The telescope has discovered scores of planets but only two so far are the best candidates for habitable planets.

“I wouldn’t call Kepler down-and-out just yet,” said NASA sciences chief John Grunsfeld.

NASA said the spacecraft lost the second of four wheels that control its orientation in space. With only two working wheels left, it can’t point at stars with the same precision.

In orbit around the sun, 40 million miles from Earth, Kepler is too far away to send astronauts on a repair mission like the way Grunsfeld and others fixed a mirror on the Hubble Space Telescope. Over the next several weeks, engineers on the ground will try to restart Kepler’s faulty wheel or find a workaround. The telescope could be used for other purposes even if it can no longer track down planets.

Yes, it’s disappointing that our ability to find other Earth-like planets is hampered by this. Yet, we’re never going to visit these planets in my lifetime because they are orbiting stars light years away from here.

I guess my space exploration today will be limited to this:

 

The sky is falling!

Well, that was a confusing space odyssey Friday.

Everyone was told days ago that an asteroid was headed toward the Earth, but (Not to worry!) it was going to miss us by thousands of miles and wouldn’t even show up on the radar. For some reason, I woke up about 3 or 4 a.m. Friday morning and looked at my iPad, and there was a news alert that said a meteor had hit Russia and hurt hundreds of people. And soon afterward, every news site in the world was showing things like this:

So the asteroid DID hit us, right?

No.

This was a meteor. The asteroid is still out there. Still not a danger. In fact, by Friday afternoon, it had passed by unnoticed and was on its merry way. This was something else, and we didn’t know it was coming.

Gee, that’s reassuring, because I’m thinking of the movie “Armageddon” and how Paris didn’t see the closing credits:

So the meteor was a sliver of the asteroid that broke off, right?

No. The Washington Post says:

It was a day when the Earth was caught in a cosmic crossfire. The big rock came from the south, the smaller one from the east. They were unrelated objects, with different orbits, one the size of an apartment building, the other slimmer but with better aim.

The larger asteroid missed by 17,000 miles, as expected, but the Russian meteor stole the show Friday, fireballing across the Ural Mountains in spectacular fashion and exploding into fragments, creating a powerful shock wave that blew out windows, collapsed roofs and injured 1,200 people, mostly from broken glass.

Here’s an illustration of how the meteor came down when it hit Russia.

diagram

It was traveling at 40,000 miles an hour. It was about 50 feet wide and weighed about 7,700 tons. It exploded high in the atmosphere with the force of 20 to 30 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs.

Gee, that’s reassuring.

Do you remember the 1950s science-fiction “Uh oh! Here comes the killer asteroid” movies, where a group of scientists have built ONE SPACESHIP to take a couple of hundred people to another planet — that just happens to support human life — so the species will survive.

Thing is, unless we’ve missed the announcement, there’s nowhere to go. If there was a planet in range that would assure our survival, we’d be sending probes there already.

NASA launched the two Voyager spacecraft more than 35 years ago. They are literally at the edge of the solar system. Other satellites have examined the giant planets past Mars. We’ve got robots on Mars for now going on 10 years looking for minuscule signs of life.

What they’ve found so far? Maybe there’s water on a moon of Saturn.

And even with that, we’ve never met anyone with one of those Willie Wonka golden tickets that are good for one seat of the survival rockets. Which don’t exist, unless there’s some top secret project in China like there was in the movie “2012.”

Then you’ve got to think if something really big is falling out of the sky, one of those “planet killers,” why tell us anything? We can’t go anywhere. If it’s big enough, we’re going to see it days before it hits. And unless there’s a global “shoot the rock out of the sky with nukes” game plan, there isn’t much to look forward to. Maybe this:

Or this:

Given the choice, I’d prefer to listen to Pink Floyd over Richard Wagner. (In case you’re looking for the MP3, the Wagner is the Prelude from “Tristan und Isolde.” The Pink Floyd is “The Great Gig in the Sky” from “Dark Side of the Moon.”)

Voyages to the moon: for real

There are people who think the 1969 moon landing of Apollo 11 and every moon mission after that were hoaxes, filmed in a television studio somewhere on Earth.

I never believed that, by the way.

I think the Apollo moon missions were among the greatest scientific achievements in history. Even the ill-fated Apollo 13 (why you would designate 13 to any voyage astounds me, just for the bad karma of the number) was a great moment in exploration, because three guys went to the moon, their space ship blew up halfway there, and a bunch of guys with crew cuts, horned-rim glasses and slide rules somehow figured out a way to get all three of them back alive.

I digress. S G Collins of the Netherlands says a moon hoax was impossible because we didn’t have the technology to fake it. Not space technology. Film technology.

He did make a point here that I wondered about. In 1968, Stanley Kubrick released “2001: A Space Odyssey.” If anyone could have done a hoax, he could have, right?

I don’t know. Here’s the moon scene from “2001.”

Having seen the video from the moon landings, the “2001” scene doesn’t quite cut it (from a reality TV perspective).

But think about this: The Iranians said they put a monkey in space today. Must have sucked for that monkey. But we’re now at the point where even Iran is able to put something up in the air. And we haven’t been back to the moon since Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt went up there in 1972 on Apollo 17.

People who are now 40 have never had a manned moon mission happen in their lifetime.

That’s sad. I’d prefer we in the U.S. don’t wait until the Iranians, the Russians, the Chinese or the European Union send people up there. Because the man on the moon is a purely American achievement.

Marco Rubio needs to talk to Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson constantly amazes me. One minute, he says atheists are responsible for mass shootings and if your spouse has Alzheimers get a new spouse. Then I get whiplash when he turns around and says marijuana should be decriminalized and oral sex is just fine.

But this is off the charts:

Pat Robertson says creationism isn’t based on science. It’s absurd to say the Earth is 6,000 years old. He talks about carbon dating and dinosaur bones. It’s a fact-based answer.

What is going on here?

Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who’s going to seek the presidential nomination of “the Stupid Party” in 2016, refuses to answer the question “How old do you think the Earth is?” But televangelist Pat Robertson says you can’t “fight revealed science” and expect to be seen as credible.

And who the hell is Bishop Usher?

James Ussher (sometimes spelled Usher, 4 January 1581 – 21 March 1656) was Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland between 1625 and 1656. He was a prolific scholar, who most famously published a chronology that purported to establish the time and date of the creation as the night preceding Sunday, 23 October 4004 BC, according to the proleptic Julian calendar.

Wait a minute? The creationists base their entire attack on science and want to rewrite textbooks because of a 17th-century archbishop? On a guy who was combining religion and science at a time when Galileo was being persecuted by the church for saying the Earth went around the Sun?

It’s worse than I thought!