Tag Archives: Space

From the Archives: Historical Bad@$$es: The Moonwalkers (August 25)

In memoriam of the first moonwalker, Neil Armstrong, today’s fun fact is about the moonwalkers:

Nine manned missions to the moon have taken place since 1968 when the Apollo 8 mission was launched, and all have been undertaken by the United

States. Of those missions (Apollo 8, 10-17), six (Apollo 11, 12, 14-17) landed on the moon. The following is the list of people who have been to the moon (meaning they have at least been in orbit around the moon), in order of date orbited, then rank for mission. Those marked with an asterisk (*) walked on the moon during the indicated mission, those marked with a caret (^) are appearing on the list for a second time.
Apollo 8: Commander Frank Borman II
Command Module Pilot James Lovell Jr.
Lunar Module Pilot William Anders
Apollo 9: Commander James McDivitt
Command Module Pilot David Scott
Lunar Module Pilot Russell “Rusty” Schweickart
Apollo 10: Commander Thomas Stafford
Command Module Pilot John Young
Lunar Module Pilot Eugene Cernan
Apollo 11: Commander Neil Armstrong*
Command Module Pilot Michael Collins
Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr.*
Apollo 12: Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr.*
Command Module Pilot Richard Gordon Jr.
Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean*
Apollo 13: Commander James Lovell Jr.^
Command Module Pilot Thomas Mattingly II
Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise Jr.
Apollo 14: Commander Alan Shepard Jr.*
Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa
Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell*
Apollo 15: Commander David Scott*
Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden
Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin*
Apollo 16: Commander John Young^*
Command Module Pilot Thomas Mattingly II
Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke Jr.*
Apollo 17: Commander Eugene Cernan^*
Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans
Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt*

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Space Week Day 7: The Milky Way

If you live in or near or have access to a dark place at night, preferably when the moon is new or below the horizon, you may be able to see twin bands of stars surrounding a band of relative darkness. The band of darkness is the galactic plane, where most of our galaxy’s dust, debris and non-stellar gas is found, and the twin bands of light are stars that are slightly outside of the galactic plane. The estimated diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 light-years. For scale comparison, if the galaxy and everything in it were scaled down to be one kilometer across, the solar system including the hypothetical Oort comet cloud, would be less than a centimeter across. The Milky Way Galaxy is made of two main arms, two minor arms and at least two smaller spurs. The two main arms are the Scutum-Centaurus and Perseus arms, the two minor arms are the Carina-Sagittarius and the Norma-Cygnus/Outer arms. The Solar System resides in a smaller spur between the Carina-Sagittarius and Perseus arms called the Orion spur. The entire Milky Way galaxy moves around a radio emitting object at the center of the galaxy called Sagittarius A* (the * is pronounced “star”), the current explanation for the object is that Sagittarius A* is a supermassive black hole containing more than 4 million solar masses.

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Space Week Day 6: Spaceplanes

A Spaceplane is any vehicle that operates as a spacecraft in space and as an aircraft within Earth’s atmosphere. The experimental X-15 was the first operational spaceplane after its flight in 1963 when pilot Joseph Walker exceeded 100km in altitude. Another notable group of spaceplanes are the space shuttles, both the American space shuttle program which flew 135 mission over 30 years and the Soviet Buran shuttle program which flew one unmanned test flight in 1988 before being cancelled in 1993. Both the X-15 and the 2004 SpaceShipOne, the first commercial spaceplane, took off horizontally from a “mother ship” which took them high into Earth’s atmosphere. The Space Shuttle, Buran shuttle, and the 2010 Boeing X-37 took off vertically with rocket assistance, reentering by gliding through the atmosphere.

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Space Week Day 4: Neutron Stars

A neutron star is the collapsed remains of a massive star, between 8 and 40 times more massive than the sun. They are comprised, as their name implies, almost entirely of neurons. Neutron stars are extremely small, but contain between about 1.5 to 3 solar masses, so they are extremely dense. Neutron stars are so dense that one cubic millimeter of neutron star material can weigh upwards of 80,000 metric tons, or about as much as the population of Helsinki, Finland. There are also many varieties of neutron star, such as magnetars, which have magnetic fields strong enough to destroy human tissue (due to the magnetic properties of water) from 1000km away. Finally there are the hypothetical quark stars, which are made mostly of a quark plasma created from neutron matter under heavy pressure.

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Space Week Day 3: Black Holes are not Vacuum Cleaners (August 28)

If Earth were to be replaced by an Earth-mass black hole, almost nothing in the universe would change. It wouldn’t start sucking things up, there would be no major gravitational disturbances, nothing. All that would happen is that anything that passed through a region the size of a peanut would be absorbed into the black hole, and anything that passed nearby would be distorted. All objects have an event horizon (the surface of a black hole), but most objects are far larger than their event horizon (a black hole with Earth’s mass is about the size of a peanut). Black holes also have something called a photon sphere, where photons (light waves/particles) orbit the black hole. Finally, if you were to try and fall into a black hole (for science of course) you would experience a process known as spaghettification. Since, as you approach the black hole, the parts of your body closest to the black hole are being pulled harder by gravity than those far away, you will be stretched, slowly are first but then more quickly, until all of your body is within the event horizon. What happens then? Nobody knows. The current mathematical models used in physics cannot describe what happens within the event horizon of the black hole.

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Space Week Day 2: The Five Dwarfs (August 27)

…Neptune was discovered in 1846, and there seemed to be no more reason to worry. Then a guy named Clyde came along. In 1930 Clyde Tombaugh discovered a rocky body beyond the orbit of Neptune. Named Pluto late in March 1930, the planet was originally thought to have a mass similar to that of the Earth, but eventually more accurate estimate revised this to smaller and smaller amounts, until a mass of .2% of Earth’s was settled upon. Again, as with the “forgotten four”, Vesta, Juno, Ceres and Pallas, more and more bodies in Pluto’s region of space were found. Some of these bodies were given special names like Eris, Makemake, Haumea, Sedna, Chaos, Varuna, Quaoar and Typhon, among many other trans-Neptunian “planets”. In August 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) put together a definition of a planet as an object that 1) orbits the sun, 2) has a nearly spherical shape and 3) has cleared its neighborhood of debris. The “demotion” of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet was simply the result of not having a formal definition of what a planet is. The five official dwarf planets are: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris. Finally, nineteen moons are large enough to be classified as planets or dwarf planets, should they orbit the sun. They are: Ganymede, Titan, Callisto, Io, the Moon, Europa, Triton, Titania, Rhea, Oberon, Iapetus, Charon, Umbriel, Ariel, Dione, Tethys, Enceladus, Miranda and Proteus.

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Space Week Day 1: The Forgotten Four (August 26)

Planet comes from the ancient Greek astēr planētēs, or wandering star. Back in that period of time it would have been reasonable to call them this, since the only way to observe them was with the naked eye. This method of observation, the Hellenistic astronomer (among other things) Ptolemy created a list of the seven planets, which then included (in order of closest to furthest away) the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. As the heliocentric model gained favor the Sun and Moon stopped being planets and the Earth became one, thus, a planet became a body that orbited the Sun. As astronomers looked, they found more planets (thanks to telescopes). Eventually, Uranus and four other, forgotten, planets were discovered. Those four planets were Vesta, Juno, Ceres and Pallas, and they were found in the gap between Mars and Jupiter. In the mid-1800’s, more and more “planets” like the “forgotten four” had been found. They all, including the “forgotten four”, were substantially smaller than any other planet that had been observed, and were removed from the list of planets and were classified as asteroids. Neptune was discovered in 1846, and there seemed to be no more reason to worry.

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