Tag Archives: space

My partial lunar eclipse

July 16 2019. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch and the night of a partial lunar eclipse. This is cool stuff! But as the day progresses, I more and more convince myself that I should pass the lunar eclipse. The forecast said cloudy anyway. In the evening the clouds break and I still don’t bother because I wouldn’t be able to see much in the city anyway. It’s 10:45PM and I start watching part 2 of Chasing The Moon. Well, my brain thinks I’m watching, but I’m probably partially asleep. Then, the phone rings. What the hell? I pick up and it’s my partner who is currently in the south of France, visiting her mother. Is it worth watching the eclipse, because right now she’s being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I tell her it should be. And I decide to go outside anyway.

partial lunar eclipse

How I saw the partial lunar eclipse 16 July 2019. Picture by Mel Marcik

The train station

I live next to a small train station. It’s higher than the streets so logically if I stand on the platform, I should be able to see the moon. Just like the total lunar eclipse which I watched there in the freezing cold in the early morning. I get up on the platform and just above the former station hall, now pub, and above the highway that runs parallel to the tracks, I can see the partial lunar eclipse. She doesn’t have a red glow like I expected. Behind me a woman sits on a bench waiting for her train. Another man comes on the platform, it look like he is going to stand close to me but I guess my annoyed aura scares him off.

I stare at the moon, and sometimes at the phone, being in contact with my partner far away. My eyes start to hurt. The station is very bright, and I have the squint between the lights to see the moon. The platform is more lit than my very own living room. I can hear the cars on the highway. I hear the cars down on the street below. A tram passes. I hear people laugh. At the other platform a man is making a phone call and walks up and down the platform. More laughter downstairs. Then the train arrives and the people get in, some people get out. The conductor looks at me and asks me if I join the train. I shake my head, thank him. He nods, blows his whistle and the train takes off.

The Milky Way

I sit down on the bench and continue to stare at the moon. I pick up my phone and look at my Sky 3D app. According to the map I’m looking straight at the Milky Way. All I see is an overly lit platform, the train from the opposite direction arriving, the noise shields of the highway. I can see the moon partial blocked by the sun. I can actually see Jupiter. My partner says she sees Jupiter too and I wave at Jupiter. I don’t tell her this. We exchange some spiritual tinted messages. Actually, I complain about the noise and that I can’t see the Milky Way. But what I mean was, I love this city but I need space. And quiet.

The plan

I sit on the bench a bit longer and decide to head back home. In the South of France my partner already went to bed. I arrive home to a paused documentary and I check how many MBs I have left on my data plan and I decide I watch this part tomorrow during my commute which I start on that very same platform. Then I pick up my laptop and write, I write this down. Because I know I can accomplish things, and I can do awesome things ans be good at the things I love doing. If only I wasn’t so lazy. I just want to stop being lazy. So I write this now and not tomorrow or later this week. Or never.

But what I really want is to live in a place where it’s actually worth it to look up. To actually see the stars and to enjoy the wonders of space without trams ringing, cars rushing by and people laughing in the streets. I want to look up at the stars and be completely taken by the moment, to be at peace. To breath fresh air and hear an owl in the distance. Or maybe an elk. To look up while it’s pitch dark and when the season comes to see auroras. The city is wearing me out. But I still love this city. I will leave this city some day but only to have that place in space. I know I can accomplish things and I sure will accomplish this thing. The partial lunar eclipse just confirmed this.

This was quite a week and theme update

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.

Shepard

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. 

My week hosting People of 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.

New Horizons reaches Ultima Thule and this is cool

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! 

There’s a lot to say about ‘Oumuamua, that’s for sure.

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.

Gone adrift

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.