This was quite a week! A lot has happened and it all ends in finally stepping up my space game again without losing sight of all other things that matter to me. I changed the look and the theme of both my blog and twitter and finally feel that it fits. Previously I thought it was good but there was always something that didn’t feel right. As a result I just struggled on. Story of my life really. But I start to believe that when people say Life starts at 40, I think they’re on to something.
Despite of the amazing black hole picture, Beresheet crashing on the moon and SpaceX doing another successful launch, this past week was all about my cat Shepard. She was acting all strangely, like something was stuck in her throat. So when we brought her to the vet on Monday, the vet couldn’t find anything but stated that she needed dental care again. And while they were cleaning her teeth under anesthesia, they could have a better look at her throat.
I’m not the biggest fan of anesthesia but when her situation worsened of Wednesday we called again and on Thursday we heard they suggested doing the teeth cleaning so they could take a better look and she was able to come the very same day. This was not just unexpected but it was also on her birthday! The last cleaning of teeth was in my wedding anniversary so somehow our cat always ends up under anesthetics of a special day, this was only her second time.
All ends well
I’m really glad we did this. She had a vicious throat infection. Now she has clean teeth again, she has meds against the infection and we know her kidney values have improved. I mean, she was there already, so we had that checked as well. When she got home she was still high on morphine. That was the weirdest thing. But now she’s feeling better and is even more pampered than she generally is. Shepard is our baby. She only deserves the best and no pain at all.
Also this week I intensified my search for a ‘look’. Not quite sure what made me do this this week exactly but it was fruitful. Now the week is almost done I found the time for finally updating this blog, updating the look and the theme. It was a stressful week but it all turned out for the better. Now to keep it all up. But for once I’m comfortable that I will. I case you missed me, I will be joining the space conversation again as well.
Scientists have again determined with a near 100% certainty that our current climate change is caused by humans. One online Dutch news site had this news item not only prominent on their front page, but also made the statement that all comments on their news items that would indicate that climate change is fake or anything in that nature, will be removed. They don’t tolerate fake facts. I really applaud this. Of course there were the people who claimed their “freedom of speech”. But freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can say the sky is green, because that’s your opinion. The same applies for climate change. It’s not an opinion.
We should really worry about our climate. It’s February and I’m taking my midday walk in a t-shirt without a jacket. It’s 17C but at the same time that doesn’t keep people from wearing their winter jackets out in the afternoon. I guess we all need to get used to it in our own terms. The weather hits a new extreme record week after week. The seasons are shifting. This will have consequences on life. Safe the planet! The inconvenient truth in this is, the planet will be fine. Sure, they’re might be a possibility it ends up as either Mars or Venus eventually, but the planet will adapt. The question is, can we?
Over the course of history the Earth has endured many shifts in climates, from being colder to being warmer. This shaped the world as we know it today. To have an extended rundown on this interesting development I highly recommend reading “Origins. How the Earth made us.” By Lewis Dartnell. He will be able to tell you this much better than I can. How we live today is dictated by climate. If the climate changes, we need to adapt. But are we capable of doing so? Everything we know is built on this. New situations require new insights and solutions. But, the good news is, humans are creating this change. Therefore, it’s up to humans to do something about it.
If we don’t, climate will run us over and forces us to make decisions that will not be pretty. I live in the Netherlands for instance, so a rise in sea levels is not exactly something I’m looking forward to. Of course, the Dutch are masters in defeating water. Kim Stanley Robinson makes good use of this in his books that handle the world after climate change. But there’s a limit to this. We can’t defend land by building a ten meters high wall along the beaches of north-west Europe. Or anywhere else for any matter.
After the flood
There will be mass migration. Not just because of rising sea levels, but our land will not be suitable for the things it was suitable before. It may be too dry or too wet. It may be too cold or it may be to warm. So like the previous mass migration of our ancestors who left Africa for that very reason, we will encounter other people who already live there. I don’t think I need to tell anyone what that will result in. I trust that anyone reading this blog has a decent knowledge of history as well.
Where humans and domesticated animals will suffer, eventually when all has sunken in and we probably have reduced our numbers radically through war, famine and diseases, the earth will restore itself and adapt. Maybe the surviving humans live under domes. Life outside that dome will flourish again. It will find its way in the new environment and eventually will tear down the abandoned cities and make it their own again. Animals will get extinct but new ones will stand up and thrive in the new environment. If Earth ends up like Mars or Venus, things still will end up grim for everyone, but those planets have not turned the way they are overnight. It’s also not said that they’re completely lifeless either.
The survival of humans on Earth is in our own hands. And it’s our duty to our planet to help her prevent a faith like Mars or Venus. And every little change is one. Shop with conscience. Try to reduce plastic. Eat less meat and if you do make sure it’s bio. Push your government to act accordingly upon the Paris Agreement. I’m confident that we can do this together. In time. In time everyone will be able to adapt to the changes that have to be made, even though they’re really not that hard. It’s. In. Our. Own. Hands.
The Rover scheduled for launch in July 2020 as part of the ExoMars mission has a name! With a competition, ESA asked to name the rover designed to search for life on Mars. Former and perhaps even current life. The name they picked is beautiful: Rosalind Franklin. She was a London chemist (1920 – 1958) who would make a crucial contribution to DNA, the footprint of life. However she is a forgotten figure, like so many women in science history.
While temporarily working in Paris, she perfected her skills in X-ray crystallography, which would eventually become her life’s work. During that time she made “Photo 51”, which showed the double helix structure of our DNA. Back in London she started working with Maurice Wilkins at King’s College. They didn’t get along very well. She was hired while Wilkins was on a holiday and put on the DNA project which he has neglected for some months. She also wasn’t able to mingle well with her male colleagues in general because the lunch rooms at college were men only. This made it harder to discus her work with others and probably contributed to the act that she hardly shared her work at all.
Unknown to Franklin, Wilkins showed her photo to two other researchers, James Watson and Francis Crick. They worked at the university of Cambridge and were also working on the structure of DNA. They would end up writing the paper of the double helix, with an introductory paper by Franklin, that would lead to the Nobel prize for Watson and Crick in 1962. Not a word about Franklin was said, not even during the acceptance speech. As Franklin had died in 1958, she wouldn’t have been given the Nobel prize. A mention to her crucial work would at least have been decent. They however admitted this after accepting the Nobel prize.
A last name is important
That the ExoMars rover is named after her is fantastic. However people are starting to name the Rosalind Franklin Rover Rosalind. This may sound cute but is wrong on many levels. If you were to shorten the name of the Rover, please resort to her last name, Franklin. As you would with any other male name.
Men among each other often call each other by their last name, even or perhaps especially in friendly matters. This commonly happens in work space as well. Women are always called by their first name, and if a cuter version of the name is possible, this is used as well. Just take a look at the last American election. This was between Trump and Hillary. This has always stricken me as weird and even sexist. Why wasn’t it Trump against Clinton? It may seem unimportant, after all it’s about the people running for president and not their names. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the campaign would have focused on the name Clinton instead of Hillary, she may have won the election.
And this is just one example, albeit a recent and painful example. We should make sure that women are recognised not by their pretty names and faces, but by their last name and accomplishments. Don’t call the Rover that is named after an important figure and may very well be the first to discover life on Mars just Rosalind or even worse, Rosy (the nickname Franklin hated). After all wee owe the beautiful pictures of our universe to Hubble and not to Edwin. Or Eddy.
Searching for life
Granted, the Rover is named Rosalind Franklin. Why wasn’t Franklin sufficient? It would have been, if women throughout history would have been given the credits they deserved at the time it happened and not years later. Movies such as ‘Hidden Figures’ show how men dominate the field (as life in general for that matter), where women have played an equally important role. I’d like to think that the scientific world differs in this with the real world but unfortunately this isn’t the case. It is getting better. And there are plenty of awesome scientists (female, male and non-binary) who couldn’t care less which sex is getting the credits, as long as the person who gets them truly deserves them.
There’s still a long way to go in equality and the Rover Rosalind Franklin is another great step towards it. After all, it could be that Rover that will tell us that we’re indeed not alone in the universe. And when that happens, we can be sure that no one will ever forget the name Rosalind Franklin. And that is exactly what this chemist deserves.
This blog post may prove my most challenging yet. And while it won’t change this blog and my space communicating ambitions, there is something else that is changing. The name of this blog from Martine’s Rymd to Mel’s Space. And that alone may require a small explanation.
Last week I’ve been to the hospital to start an important change in my life. I’m not female but I don’t want to be male either. I’m neither. I’m agender. After discovering this years ago, talking about this for years with the person who pointed this out to me in the first place (eventually I married her), I went to the family doctor and explained my situation. This is how my hospital appointment came about and while this was just a talk and a test, for me this day marks the day that I will be open about it.
Is that scary? You bet it is! Years ago I didn’t even know what agender was and I’m one myself! People see me as female and address me as such. I can’t even blame anyone but it really starts to bug me. I know other women find it annoying when getting thrown ‘women stuff’ at them. But I don’t identify as one. I want that to change and I realise that it’s going to be an interesting journey. But I can’t continue to not say anything just because I don’t want to confuse anyone. Right now, I’m confusing and frustrating myself and that’s not a good thing.
This blog is still about space, aliens, the universe, Star Trek and my personal space musings. That’s not going to change. I might however will start using it to write about the journey from woman to agender as well. You may find that under ‘personal’. It’s scary but I feel good about it and in the end it’s that what matters. Feeling good in your body and doing the things you love. And that thing is still writing about space and aliens. But you can call me Mel now. And this is my space. Mel’s Space.
In a spurt of not giving a fuck (and I hadn’t even read the book yet), I decided to give it a go. I asked the keeper of the twitter account @people_of_space if a person like me, a starting scicommer with little followers, would qualify for hosting the account for a day. And I was. This week would turn out to be a week where I learned more than I could have imagined. And I even found some confidence.
Space is for everyone
Tara created people_of_space so people from all walks of life could talk about their passion to a larger audience. Space is for everyone. So one week, it’s people who work in the space industry sharing what they do. The other it may be an enthusiastic amateur astro-photographer sharing their pictures. I think it’s an amazing concept and it really shows that people from all walks of life and from anywhere in the world have something to say about space. And anything that comes with it. Last week I hosted the account and I admit the closer the moment came, the more nervous I became. I had plans on what I wanted to talk about, but what if people didn’t want to hear about that?
In the week ahead I had some encouraging words over twitter, telling me that I could do anything, it was my week. Also, in a conversation a German astrophysicist mused whether #SpaceComm could be a thing, working nicely with the already known and used hashtag #scicomm. “Now, here’s something I can talk about!” I answered. I also stuck close to my twitter bio: Space, Cats, Aliens and Star Trek. Also, science writer. What does that even mean? Where do I write? I can do this! I can actually find good topics that are space and that also reflect on who I am. Just stick to that, I said, and it’ll be fine. There’s no plottwist here. I was fine. More than fine.
Aliens, Star Trek and Space Cats
Not all subjects I talked about gained an equal responds. My thread about the Netherlands Space Society didn’t seem to be doing much. Which may be okay of course. I ran two polls and was massively surprised that the poll about Aliens had much more responds than the one about Star Trek. It gave me the confidence boost to talk more about Aliens on my own account as well. People do believe in Extraterrestrial Intelligence. And some space people are too open to alien abduction stories, it’s not just me. I created #AlienFriday. I will keep using that. Who cares that I’m the only one using it? It now belongs to my space communication. And so does Star Trek, space people like Star Trek and their references.
Space Cats on Thursday was amazing. I have thought long and hard whether to talk about Felicette, the first cat that went into space. She’s not that well known. The cats were used for research and that’s what I find hard to talk about. I can’t look at pictures of animal neglect and abuse. Her story is a tad different but still. She was the first (and only) real space cat. I had to mention it. And I found it hard. But the responds was overwhelming! So much love and sympathy. I’m glad I mentioned her. My wife later added that it was also good, because using animals (against their will) is part of the space program and it’s important to talk about it, even when it’s more comfortable to just ignore that part. (I have skipped the part about the mice in Scott Kelly’s book for instance.)
Interaction and information
I was quite lucky with a relative quiet week at work. I could write most threads under office hours. So a small thank you for my colleague who didn’t mind doing a bit more that week is in order. Though I won’t tell him directly. I was also able to interact with people and that turned out to be easier than i thought. Someone asked me about blogging. It was nice to give some advice. Also people asked about CHEOPS, which was really cool as well.
What I learned was that I really enjoy talking about Space and sharing information. What I learned was that you can use a Star Trek gif or reference when applicable. I learned to talk about aliens when I wanted to, despite what others might think. I also learned that it actually didn’t bother me that some threads did better than others. It was interesting to see this development. And it’s good to know that you never know what will spark a discussion. It is also timing after all. The most important thing I learned was, well, that I have been downright lazy before.
SpaceComm learning experience
Here I am, science writer, scicommer. Granted, I can’t do this full time as I have a office job. But I shouldn’t just wait until subjects present themselves to me, that’s not how it works. I knew that. But it’s how I often did my social media (to my followers: I’m deeply sorry for that). This past week made me think about contents, made me make a strategy. Exactly what my social media course had taught me but I hadn’t put in practice yet. And you know what, I really enjoyed that. This week has given me more confidence and more insight. Maybe it was because, no matter how you look at it, you are representing the account People of Space and you want to do it justice. And that helped.
I wil take all that back to my own account. I want to do it justice as well. I’ve added #SpaceComm to my twitter bio, because that’s exactly what I’ll continue to do. I’ll see about how #SpaceCatsonThursday will develop but I definitely will keep #AlienFriday if only that it will force me to keep talking aliens. And I want to keep talking about aliens. I’ve already been asked if I’d like to host again in the future. Ask me again after a couple of months and I’ll talk Space Comm. This is just getting started. And then I might tell about what I learned, how cool would that be? People of Space, you are amazing.
NASA. Mighty, mighty NASA. The winner of the Space Race. Or rather, America claims that title as the US government instructed NASA to put a man on the moon first. They already lost putting a human being in orbit first to Russia. This was important. So, 50 years ago the entire world held its breath and watched a man called Neil and a man called Buzz make the first steps on the moon. America is the only country that put people on the moon. NASA has been the leading space administration for years. But since the retirement of the Space Shuttle it became clear to Houston and the rest of the world that NASA has a problem. And this problem might be solved with another space race.
This is not NASA’s fault. Since putting men on the moon, the funding has plumped and right now the budget is barely 0,4% of America’s entire budget. Compare it to the Department of Defense if you want, which gets 13%. But then know that every dollar spend on NASA makes ten. I’d say that’s a good investment. But I’m a writer, not an economic. NASA relied on Roscosmos for years to send Americans to space.
This month Space X will test its crewed dragon module and take it to the ISS, albeit without people. Boeing is also working and quite far in bringing humans (Americans) to space. These private companies weren’t restricted by government funding. Even though NASA will continue to work with Roscosmos, it’s a good thing for the Americans to not just be dependent on Russia.
Working with ESA
NASA has a long history of working together with ESA as well. The European Space Agency was founded in May 1975. They don’t have a program to bring people into space themselves and currently rely on Roscosmos as well. Previously NASA has brought Europeans into space. Most notably from a Dutch perspective they launched Wubbo Ockels into space with the Space Shuttle in 1985. But ESA isn’t just working on sending astronauts to space, nor does NASA for that matter. In the case to explore space, they have done amazing things already. Both agencies will continue to do so and work together as well.
ESA has access to technical NASA files which potentially saves ESA a lot of time and money while developing a new satellite or rover. But NASA doesn’t share all their secrets. And nor does ESA. There’s still competition between the agencies which keeps everyone on their toes. It also brings new ideas and progress. And sometimes tension when NASA (rightly) proudly announces they discovered and explored a first contact binary, while ESA (rightly) clears its throat and points out that they landed on such an object a few years ago already. It’s a space race in its own way.
China’s space explorations
Despite the cooperation between the space agencies, you might say the Space Race is still on. This is a good thing. Just look at how far the Space Race between America and Russia has brought humanity. To the moon indeed. But it’s not just America, Europe and Russia that are at play. China has already a few rovers on the moon but started 2019 by putting Chang’E-4 on the Far Side of the Moon. No agency has ever done this and this is a major mile stone for space exploration and for CNSA in particular. The Chinese National Space Administration isn’t new in space. The general public may not know too much about them, though the landing of Chang’E-4 on the moon may have changed that.
China is actually only the third country that put a probe on the moon which is remarkable if you think about it. It looks like that after the Apollo program proved successful, the interest in the moon declined. The focus was put on experiments in space that benefits life on Earth and also exploring the rest of the universe with ultimately colonizing the universe. It seems after extensive exploration of Mars, the interest in the moon returned.
Interest in the moon
The moon could very well be used as our gateway to space. America has proposed to put people back on the Moon and to build a station there. The question is, will they be the first? China is on a rise. They have skilled taikonauts with space experience. Yang Liwei was the first Chinese person in space, he also became the first none American / Russian to orbit the Earth solo. And did so in an Chinese rocket, the Shenzhou 5.
China’s neighbour isn’t unfamiliar in space either. JAXA was only formed in 2003 (by merging three independent space industries), but the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency has already done amazing things. It is an expert in asteroid exploration and has currently reached Ryugu. Not only will they explore the asteroid but they will take pieces of the object back to earth. That hasn’t been done with an orbiter ever before. Japan is also fond of the moon and after having launched an orbiter successfully, they have planned to launch a rover to the surface of the moon and has joined America and China in the pursuit of putting people on the moon again. JAXA has also collaborated with ESA and has BepiColombo currently on its way to under-explored Mercury.
Other space agencies in the race
Last year we welcomed Australia in the world of space exploration by opening their own space program called the Australian Space Agency. I haven’t seen anyone use ASA, not even in the agency’s logo. This is probably is a good thing. As they only exist for half a year I can’t really list what they have done just yet but they are extremely ambitious and a welcome, more than welcome, addition to the space family. One rightfully may ask themselves why there hasn’t been a space agency in Australia prior to July 2018. Even Canada, the CSA ASC, has one. Notorious for going viral with their astronaut Chris Hadfield play Space Oddity in space and recording an entire music album (mostly) in space. But the Canadarm2 on the ISS is from their hands. As the name indeed suggests. It also suggests that this mechanical space arm isn’t the first.
America has reached Mars with their rovers and orbiters. So has Russia and Europa. But who is the fourth player at Mars? The ISRO Mangaluyaan is orbiting Mars since 2014 and is India’s first interplanetary mission. The ISRO was founded in 1969 and hasn’t exactly sat quietly since. When first relying on other agencies for their satellite launches, in January 2017 they launched 104 satellites with one rocket, of which 96 of American origin. India wants to expand their lunar exploration and is also aiming to go to the sun in 2019/2020. Also planned for 2020 is a mission to Venus, a planet currently ignored by other agencies. India might not be the first country people think of when they think about space. But not paying attention to them is not just a waste, it’s an insult.
Interesting space organisations
There is plenty to look forward to. Space Exploration is on a definite growth and with so many players it may lead to even greater things. Competition can be a good thing. None of the agencies want to risk failure though failure will happen from time to time which all agencies benefit from. There are two other space programs I want to put my focus on and apologise to all space agencies I haven’t mentioned here. This is already my longest post to date, know that I salute all of you.
In Andy Weir’s book Artemis, Kenya is the important player on the lunar city. An African country? Why not. Kenya has been the first country launching a satellite into space so Weir got that right. We may know Africa best from safaris and starvation (thank you, USA for Africa) and where this a part of Africa, it’s important to know that Africa has a lot more to offer. Several countries have their own space agencies and are working hard on becoming part of space exploration in the future. Not so long ago, Mauritius held an important space seminar, Launching Africa. It showed that we should not underestimate Africa. It’s a movement that want to engage people and raise space awareness on that continent. It looks very successful and I for one would welcome them in Space Exploration.
In Denmark a group of amateurs are working voluntarily and in their free time on an amateur manned space program. You read this right. The non profit organisation entirely relies on donations and people’s knowledge they give for free. They have already successfully launched rockets (unmanned) and aren’t resting until they can safely send an amateur astronaut into space. Finding that volunteer might prove more difficult than one might expect. But the Copenhagen Suborbital is one to watch, I’m positive they will accomplish something astonishing in the next few years.
To boldly go
And all this is just a fraction of what humans are up to in order to explore space further. We still have a long way to go until we can build the Enterprise and boldly go where no human has gone before. But even the Enterprise wasn’t build in one day. What we’re doing right now are the first small steps towards it. And if we would set aside our worldly differences, a Federation might only speed up the progress. The launch by American Space X of the private Israeli moon probe from SpaceIL is an example of great cooperation. Keep exploring wherever you are, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t. It’s only then we will make a real gigantic leap again.
Yesterday, I was talking about what falls into the category The Meaning Of Life. I uttered the words “Well, I don’t want to make things more complicated than they already are for other people” during this conversation. Already then this was met with some disapproval. I realised after sleeping on it that it indeed was an odd thing to say. Especially for me.
Questions of life
I’ve got my Science Writing degree. In 2019 I really want to do something with that. I want to explain the universe to people. But I also want to theorise the universe, use quantum physics for this. I want to explain why life should exist in the universe. To go into the difficult questions of the universe. I want to tell people that dark matter is going through their bodies right now. If I’m really good I’ll be telling them what that is as well.
Talking about complicated right? I don’t do things easy. Some things can be solved by simple things but they don’t always occur to me. I suffer the consequences rather than solving it by doing something simple. Human beings are rather complex beings, if only they would use their brain. It’s a good thing some (or most, but I’m not an optimist) humans still do. I want to explore the complex universe. I want to share this with people.
But then, why wouldn’t I want to make things complicated for people around me when it’s about me? Perhaps I don’t want to go through reactions people will give. It may be a change for me but that’s one years in the making. Do I really want to change people’s life by dropping what could be a bombshell?
It’s like a scientist working on a theory. It involves struggle. It involves complex thinking and radical ideas. Then, the theory is complete, years in the making. The theory is published and the world reacts. What the fuck? This is something completely different. The scientist is left feeling hurt. Why are people reacting so hostile?
Diving into the universe
So there’s that. I’m diving into the universe and expect that it won’t confuse people. Perhaps I shouldn’t just hide behind space, aliens and theoretical physics but think about my own happiness as well. But as it is with any theory, one step at the time. That’s what I shall do. Watch this space as science writing is on its way. And who knows I’ll take you on a personal journey as well. I hope I can count on your support on both journeys.
It’s the end of another year and we all know what that means. Indeed, it’s time for year lists! Here I want to mention the 5 science books I enjoyed reading most this year. If they haven’t been published in 2018 I will mention this as such. I’m not using any particular order, other than the order I have read them in. In case you haven’t read one or more of them, I hope I will inspire you to do so. Except perhaps the first one, if you don’t speak Dutch you have an excuse. But that’s probably the only one.
Verstoppertje Spelen Met Aliens by Jean-Paul Keulen (nov. ’17)
The title means “Playing hide and seek with aliens”. It is a scientific approach on why we haven’t heard from the aliens, and also why we haven’t found the aliens and why this might take a while. Keulen has a very pleasant way of writing and a great sense of humor. The book is a great even without a scientific background. He takes the search for aliens pretty far without getting into the questions whether extraterrestrial intelligence exists. This book is about the scientific possibilities and not about the existential question. A shame it’s not in English.
The Order Of Time by Carlo Rovelli
Time. What is time? It flows in different speed in different places. Gravity has a big influence on time. And Quantum Theory has a lot to say about time as well. Rovelli has a very enthusiastic way of telling. Be aware that you need to stay focused. This book is written with inspiring people to get into Quantum Theory in mind (worked on me) but he also easily trails off. This is interesting but if you are listening to this book like I did rather than reading, you need to focus on every word he says. Flipping back the pages because you lost the plot temporarily isn’t that easy when listening.
Chasing New Horizons – Alan Stern and David Grinspoon
Warning: if you have accepted that Pluto isn’t a planet (like I had), this book will likely change your mind. Granted, this book is written by Mister Pluto himself but isn’t propaganda on why Pluto is a planet. The whole matter is discussed only briefly. No, this book is all about how the mission was created. The struggle that followed. The dedication of the people involved. All the setbacks. You know that New Horizons will become a success, otherwise you’re reading expecting a disappointment. The book tells a fascinating story of determined people who want nothing more than explore space. Also, Pluto is a planet.
Endurance – Scott Kelly (oct. ’17)
Scott Kelly spent a year in the International Space Station. How did he made it to that special assignment? Turns out that this is an inspirational story of someone who had some odds against him but never gave up. Even when he believed it wouldn’t happen he kept on that path. The story of how he became an astronaut are mixed with his year on space. A story of success and a story of loss. No matter where you are in life yourself and what your goals are, this book will inspire you in one way or another. I listened to this book and it was read by Kelly himself which gave the audio book an warmer feel.
Brief Answers to the Big Questions – Stephen Hawking
I have reviewed this book on my blog recently but it belongs in this list. If you were to read only one science book, make sure it’s this one. Hawking writes brilliantly and with a lot of humor. He possessed the ability to explain the even most complex things in a way that leaves you understanding even a black hole. His brief answers are really explaining the big scientific questions. We still have a long way to go understanding the universe though. It was in the making while he was still alive. By the time it was published it wasn’t just a great science book. It’s a last testimony of the most gifted scientist of our time. He will be missed.
On New Year’s Day the New Horizons spacecraft will flyby Ultima Thule. Previously it brought Pluto closer to us and closer to our hearts. Now it continues to explore the Kuiper Belt. This is cool indeed.
Ultima Thule, not just any rock
Ultima Thule is not just any rock hidden in the Kuiper Belt. It’s carefully chosen while New Horizons has long flown by Pluto. Scientists still don’t know whether it’s just one rock, or two closely orbiting each other. 2014 MU64, as the object was formerly known, will be the most primitive world ever observed from up close. And this could tell us a lot about our own world, Earth, as well.
As we have seen with the Pluto flyby, LORRI is able to take breathtaking images. LORRI stands for Long Range Reconnaissance Imager and is a telescopic camera. New Horizons will flyby closer than it has by Pluto and Ultima Thule is smaller than the planet. The expectations are high. But due to the incredible distant we may have to wait until January 2 or even January 3 for the first images to emerge. Data will take at least 6 hours to reach Earth. And this needs to be sorted and filtered.
Keep on giving
New Horizons will try to gain as much info as possible in the few seconds it flies by Ultima Thule. It will take more than a year for all the information to be downloaded. The spacecraft will then long be on its way to perhaps yet another target. This is yet to be decided. As long New Horizon has fuel, it runs on plutonium actually, it will be able to explore more.
It makes New Horizons the gift that keeps on giving. The Pluto flyby alone exceeded all the expectations. The data gathered from that encounter is still leaving scientists amazed every day. It has re-opened the debate whether Pluto is a planet or not. This is not just because people melted when Pluto showed its heart (named the Thombaugh region, named after Pluto’s discoverer). New Horizons showed that Pluto is a very active world and ticks every box it needs in order to be a real planet. Except it just hasn’t cleared its orbit.
A great start of 2019
Data gathering and photo taking aside, this flyby will be historic. We’ve never seen a world from so close by ever before. No spacecraft has ever done this. The Kuiper Belt can be seen as a collection of rocks that failed to make it into a planet. It could very well tell us more on how our solar system was formed and perhaps even how life made it to our planet.
2019 will have a great start for all space fans. The Ultima Thule flyby will be the perfect start of an amazing year in space. Not bad for a mission that nearly didn’t even see the light of day. It now shows us the edges of our solar system. And that is indeed cool.
I’m wishing everyone on the New Horizons team the best of luck during this flyby. And thank you for never giving up on this mission. It’s been all worth it. And the end is yet not in sight!
The Harvard paper was criticized and perhaps it does show a lot of flaws and it may be weak. The fact that some people dared to even propose the possibility of something made by an extraterrestrial intelligence in the scientific community, has to be applauded.
We are at the point in history where we will find evidence of extraterrestrial life any time soon. It will happen in our lifetime. Even if it’s a tiny microbe or a fossil of that microbe, it will change the way we look at our universe. It will change our place in our universe. It will change everything. Maybe we all are secretly are afraid of the consequences of that. One day we will have to face them. The discovery of ‘Oumuamua however is not that day.
What do we know?
‘Oumuamua has been discovered in October 2017 and has since been the subject of speculations. It has been anything from alien spaceship to comet but fact is that we still haven’t got a clue. We do have a lot to say about it.
What we do know about this object is that it is the first interstellar object traveling through our solar system that we have been able to detect and follow. It’s estimated that several interstellar objects are travelling relatively close to the Earth but they are difficult to spot with current technology. Further we know that it’s cigar shaped, has a reddish, smooth surface and the latest observation estimated it to be between 100 and 400 meters long. It’s tumbling through space rather than smoothly rotating. It has also been accelerating while passing through our solar system.
This all made way for many speculations. At first it was classified as a comet but it lacked a trail of dust while passing our sun which a comet would have. Then it was classified as an asteroid. But that would not explain the acceleration ‘Oumuamua made while passing the sun. So, it was put back in the comet section. With the sun heating up the object it must have created gas after all and boosted its speed. Maybe we just didn’t see the trail.
Due to the peculiar shape and the rather unusual tumbling, it was also quickly speculated that this object could be an alien spacecraft gone adrift. Also the smooth edges fueled this speculation and when it was also known that the object had accelerated, only added to this theory. It’s hard to say what ‘Oumuamua is really made of. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence but when we don’t even have ordinary evidence to confirm an ordinary claim, the roads to extraterrestrial explanation are wide open. And you can’t blame those who look into a solution of alien origin.
It’s hard to say what ‘Oumuamua really is. The Spitzer telescope has tried to follow it as long as was possible but in order to really investigate what “the first distant messenger” (what ‘Oumuamua roughly means in Hawaiian) really is. We know it’s interstellar as it travels so fast that it wasn’t caught in our own sun’s orbit. But in order to know more we needed more time. Therefore the object might be a highly debatable visitor forever but it has taught us to be on a look out for more of these visitors and study them more closely. We now know what we can roughly expect.
We don’t know
Fact is, we really don’t know what ‘Oumuamua is. It’s natural to stay within your own field. Astrophysicists will look at their knowledge and search for an explanation in what they know. But it’s not that strange to think out of the box either. The interstellar visitor doesn’t tick all the boxes we know. There are several things weird about it and we can’t say for certain what made the object accelerate. It made even researchers of the prestigious university of Harvard think of the unthinkable. What if this is an alien spaceship? Advanced technology can fail as well. It could have gone adrift. Maybe from a species long extinct for all we know. We don’t know how old the object is.
What I think ‘Oumuamua is? I have no idea. Do I want it to be an alien spacecraft? Of course I do, how exciting would that be? I want to believe. And it ticks a couple of boxes of that theory. But it also ticks some that would suggest that it doesn’t. It shows that we assume we know a lot about our universe but in reality we don’t. That’s what make these discoveries so exciting, it’s something new, unknown.