If you have been following science news news in the past few months you will know that scientists at the NFN-Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy reported they measured neutrinos, an elementary electrically neutrally-charged particle, travelling faster than the speed of light in a experiment.
This conflicts with Einstein’s models of General and Special Relativity that have been an accepted models of “how the universe works” for decades now. General Relativity bridges the gap between the small and the large in the cosmos and integrates gravitation into Newton’s principles of motion so that everything works. There have always been problems with General Relativity on a very small scale, like when it gets into quantum mechanics, but nevertheless has been pretty much accepted as fact by now.
In other words, General Relativity describes the interaction between space and time with gravity taken into account. A huge part of Special Relativity, a consequence of that being e = mc^2, is that nothing can exceed the speed of light, because any object that did so would have infinite mass, and it would take an infinite amount of energy to go that fast anyway. Light is pretty weird to begin, because it acts as a particle and a wave, and photons don’t really travel across space, if that makes sense, they more just emit from one place and appear in a destination. Anyways, that’s not really the point, just a little aside.
So did scientists in Italy just disprove the cornerstone of modern astrophysics and science? Probably not. And here is why…maybe…
The way this experiment worked was that a stream of neutrinos is released in Cern, Geneva (Switzerland) and travels through 732 km of rock and whatever else is underground before they are detected at Gran Sasso, Italy (neutrinos pass through normal matter like it is nothing). In order to measure the time elapsed they used super-precise clocks linked by a GPS satellite. What may have happened is that scientists overlooked accounting for the fact that the clocks are taking time relative to each other. So while the neutrinos are moving towards Italy and away from Cern, the satellite is also moving towards it (Cern)…I think. At least enough to account for the 60 nanoseconds scientists are claiming the neutrinos arrived sooner than expected. It was expected to take 0.0024 seconds and they arrived 0.00000006 seconds faster.
But because the satellites are moving, from their point of view, the positions of the neutrinos and the detector are changing. The neutrinos are moving toward the detector, and the detector appears to be moving toward the neutrino source. So the distance between the origin and destination appears to be shorter than it would if it were being observed on the ground.
“Consequently, in this reference frame the distance traveled by the [particles] is shorter than the distance separating the source and detector,” van Elburg writes. This phenomenon is overlooked because the OPERA team thinks of the clocks as on the ground — which they are, physically — and not in orbit, which is where their synchronizing reference point is located.
So, it turns out that Special and General Relativity is safe for now. I knew it had to be some sort of simple mistake, or in this case, something just went unaccounted for…but it would have been much more exciting if it had turned out to be true.
Information available at: BBC News, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15830844>
and the quote was taken from Popsci magazine, <http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-10/dutch-physicist-says-special-relativity-explains-faster-light-neutrinos>
I wanted to make a subtitle for this post: Finally, A Post About Science and Space but not NASA. This one is about the findings at the New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, for short. Their long name, although it’s only a rumor, is the New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Amazing Scientific Findings That Help Usher In A New Era of Understanding Where We Came From and Hence Where We Are Going.
It has always been hypothesized that our atmosphere was methane filled and nasty, uninhabitable, and unfit for life, and as that may have been true, the uninhabitable part, at least on the surface of the Earth, scientists have shown in a paper published this week that it was much the same as it is now. The significance of this can help us understand how life on earth started and answer the eons old question of “where did we come from?”
I do not aim to bore you with technical details, but basically they figured this out by taking a very old rock, a rock called a zircon, some are as old as the Earth itself, and they measured how much of a certain metal it contained. The metal, Cerium, exists in two states, one state more highly oxidized than the other, meaning it has reacted with another element and lost electrons in the process. The more highly oxidized Cerium the zircon contains is an indicator of the atmosphere at the time.
However, this runs contrary to the idea that early life would have a hard time…starting, for lack of a better term, with the current cocktail of atmospheric gases we reside in today. The highly methane concentrated atmosphere would be better as a catalyst for amino acids and DNA.
I am confused.
Also, in another disappointing twist, this did have something to do with NASA: it was funded by NASA.
The journey to talk about space, science, rockets and boosters without mentioning NASA continues…stay tuned….
Information found at Astrobiology Magazine. <http://astrobio.net/pressrelease/4373/earths-early-atmosphere>
Three days ago NASA launched a vessel that will put a massive rover on the Martian surface in order to determine if the Red Planet has an environment that is suitable to life either now or in the past. Everything so far has gone perfectly, all the functions are working normally and if everything continues as planned, the rover will touch down on the dusty red surface of the planet, which is on average 225 million km away from earth; a staggering 8 and a half month journey. Watch an artist’s depiction of how the rover will land below:
The rover will scoop up soil and drill into rock and analyze all the samples and determine what the planet was like in the past, as well as of course if the planet could sustain any microbial life now. Only time will tell.
Watching the video, if you haven’t already, will give you a better idea of the insane technology needed to get a vehicle of this magnitude onto the Martian surface safely. This is not just as simple as just launching a vehicle and waiting for it to land on Mars…
Video courtesy of NASA, information used in this blog was retrieved from the Mars Science Laboratory website: http://www.http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/
In my very first post on this site I discussed how the V-2 rocket (also knowns as the Aggregat-4, short for Vergeltungswaffe 2 or “retaliation weapon 2″) is the grandfather of all modern rocketry. It was developed by Nazi Germany during WWII and was fired on Great Britain and responsible for 7,250 deaths military and civilians while actually killing about 12,000 slaves during production. I want to come out and say that I in no way condone the actions of Nazi Germany during this time period and the purpose of this post is to simply highlight the importance and brilliance of the weapon.
Anyway, to make a long story short, when Germany lost the war, everyone who worked on the V-2 experiments surrendered to the United States because Germany would have surely killed them to prevent information from leaving the Nazi regime. The data gained from the project was used as the basis for all the development that came afterwards on future, more sophisticated rockets developed by the USA and USSR. The first picture ever taken from space was taken by a V-2 rocket.
The V-2 (and all other rockets) have four major systems; the structure, the payload, the guidance, and the propulsion systems. The structural system is what you see, akin to the skin. The rocket frame is made of lightweight metal. The frame also includes the fins – the classic aerodynamic trademark of rockets. V-2 rockets were also painted. Most times they were either a checkered pattern (this pattern made it possible to make sure the rocket was visibly rolling properly – more on that later) or camouflage. The payload is essentially the warhead, which is contained in the nosecone. The guidance system is used to control the rocket once in flight. On board computers, radars, radio are all used. Gyroscopes are used as well along with small graphite vanes at the motor exit (where the trust occurs) as well as rudders on the fins. The vane were numbered 1-4. One was used for pitch, two for yaw and one for roll, or in non-technical terms, angle up and down from front to back, angle side to side from front to back, and, well, roll. Rockets spin, or rotate. The guidance system keeps the rocket stable so it does not tumble in freefall, or after it has reached Brennschluss or the engine cut-off time near the peak of flight which in the V-2′s case was an approximate parabola. The final system is the propulsion system, the most exciting system of the bunch in my opinion. This system includes the fuel, the oxidizer, the pumps, combustion chambers, and the plumbing. Engineers often group systems differently, that is, into weight determination and flight performance categories which puts the payload, structure and propulsion systems into an empty weight category. The V-2 used a 75% ethanol/water mixture for fuel and liquid oxygen for an oxydizer which is mixed with the fuel in the combustion chamber where it explodes. This explosion passes through the nozzle and creates thrust. And quite a bit of it.
The mathematics behind rocket flight is incredibly complex even to get into on a very basic level so I will spare my imaginary readers that daunting task, but I will tell you that it involves equations for force, thrust, aerodynamics, properties of motion, an understanding of `basic` science fundamentals like conservation of mass, momentum and energy, Newton’s laws of motion, Newton’s first, second and third law, states of matter, combustion, torque, fundamentals of math like area, volume, scalars, vectors, an immense amount of fluid dynamics, static gases, thermodynamics and so much more.
Historians estimate that 3,000 V-2 rockets were fired during the war at a cost of 3 billion dollars. Ultimately, I would consider the project a failure in terms of doing what it was intended for – as a killing tool. It killed more people during production that it did during deployment as a weapon. However, when the war ended and the information was used in more productive ways, especially by the US, that is where the real success lies.
A rocket called the PGM-11 Redstone was the first American ballistic missile which was a direct descendant of the V-2 and developed by the same people that did the V-2. A variation of the Redstone, known as the Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle was the vessel in which the first American, Alan Shephard entered space.
Information sources: Index of Rocket Slides, NASA <http://exploration.grc.nasa.gov/education/rocket/shortr.html>, V-2 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-2>, PGM-11 Redstone <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PGM-11_Redstone>, Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury-Redstone_Launch_Vehicle>
Photo credit: V-2 picture, V2Rocket.com <http://www.v2rocket.com/start/makeup/makeup.html>, PGM-11 Redstone <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mercury-Redstone_Booster_Units.gif>
I had this one post in progress, a draft, that was supposed to highlight all the most important things NASA did and continues to do as the worlds most important organization that routinely leaves the earth and does strange things in space at a staggering cost. To put it in perspective, the amount of money NASA spends in a single month is enough to pay tuition for every student at Temple…for two years.
Even though NASA is only about 1% of the nation’s budget, the national budget again is absolutely colossal and in times like this when every person with very few exceptions is struggling to make ends meet, the money seems wasted, or at the very least people want a return on investment.
In a previous post I listed a whole bunch of things that have been invented directly by NASA or influenced by technology conceived in their laboratories – stuff we use everyday, like smoke detectors and cordless drills. The point I tried to get across is that while firing a tube into space is expensive and on the surface could be seen as little more than posturing has a great shockwave residual effect.
So I’ve spent a lot of time justifying NASAs budget in this draft, but I learned in another class that if I’m going to convince anyone of anything, it’s going to be through feelings and emotions rather than logic. I could have a bunch of great points in my post but all the explaining I could do in a thousand word post is better explained by just watching this amazing video. It is a set of time lapse photos weaved into a video of the earth as seen from the International Space Station. Truly remarkable stuff.
You can see plenty of Auroras, light outlining cities, lightning and clouds. Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments.
I am not saying that a few cool snaps from outer space justifies the 18 billion dollar price tag, but it’s pretty damn cool stuff. It is almost like the pinnacle of human achievement. How can you put a price on that?
The video used at the vimeo link is courtesy of NASA.
NASA has recently developed a material that absorbs 99% of the light whether it is visible, non-visible, ultraviolet or any other wavelength. The cool thing about it to me is that it was done at the Goddard Space Flight center in Greenbelt, MD – a stones throw from where I grew up. From an article on NASA’s website:
“NASA engineers have produced a material that absorbs on average more than 99 percent of the ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and far-infrared light that hits it — a development that promises to open new frontiers in space technology.
The team of engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., reported their findings recently at the SPIE Optics and Photonics conference, the largest interdisciplinary technical meeting in this discipline. The team has since reconfirmed the material’s absorption capabilities in additional testing, said John Hagopian, who is leading the effort involving 10 Goddard technologists.
“The reflectance tests showed that our team had extended by 50 times the range of the material’s absorption capabilities. Though other researchers are reporting near-perfect absorption levels mainly in the ultraviolet and visible, our material is darn near perfect across multiple wavelength bands, from the ultraviolet to the far infrared,” Hagopian said. “No one else has achieved this milestone yet.”
The article goes on to explain that the tubes are extremely strong and that the purpose of this material is to get extremely accurate measures of different wavelengths coming from space. For example it allows scientists to measure objects that are not visible because of they are so far away…
“The nanotech-based coating is a thin layer of multi-walled carbon nanotubes, tiny hollow tubes made of pure carbon about 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair. They are positioned vertically on various substrate materials much like a shag rug. The team has grown the nanotubes on silicon, silicon nitride, titanium, and stainless steel, materials commonly used in space-based scientific instruments. (To grow carbon nanotubes, Goddard technologist Stephanie Getty applies a catalyst layer of iron to an underlayer on silicon, titanium, and other materials. She then heats the material in an oven to about 1,382 degrees Fahrenheit. While heating, the material is bathed in carbon-containing feedstock gas.)
“If used in detectors and other instrument components, the technology would allow scientists to gather hard-to-obtain measurements of objects so distant in the universe that astronomers no longer can see them in visible light or those in high-contrast areas, including planets in orbit around other stars, Hagopian said. Earth scientists studying the oceans and atmosphere also would benefit. More than 90 percent of the light Earth-monitoring instruments gather comes from the atmosphere, overwhelming the faint signal they are trying to retrieve.
Currently, instrument developers apply black paint to baffles and other components to help prevent stray light from ricocheting off surfaces. However, black paints absorb only 90 percent of the light that strikes it. The effect of multiple bounces makes the coating’s overall advantage even larger, potentially resulting in hundreds of times less stray light.”
This is very cool stuff and shows the ingenuity of scientists coming up with solutions to things that are still seemingly impossible, although I caution against using the word impossible in today’s world. This material is sure to help advances in astronomy and research in many other areas…
“With the carbon-nanotube coating, however, the material is less dense and remains black without additives, and therefore is effective at absorbing light and removing heat. ‘This is a very promising material,’Wollack said. ‘It’s robust, lightweight, and extremely black. It is better than black paint by a long shot.’”
Article and Photo courtesy of NASA. Full article available at: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/super-black-material.html
The shuttle program as we know it has ended. NASA is concentrating efforts on building something newer and safer. After all, the current shuttle (or was current shuttle) was outdated by decades. I mean, it was 30 years old – think about how far we have come in terms of technology in that time; advancements in materials, design, just everything.
The most major argument for dissolving the shuttle program or even NASA as a whole is cost vs. benefits. NASA gets 0.5% of our national budget which is quite a large chunk of change. Whether you think it is a waste of money or not is up for debate; you may think it is a small price to pay for the pinnacle of human achievement, whereas others think that the (near) 19 billion dollars allocated for the program this year is much better spent in other ways.
The remainder of this post will not be to argue that NASA’s budget is justified because I understand the frustrations of spending almost half a billion dollars to send a squid to space (see my post from a few days prior) when almost every tenth person in the country can’t find a decent paying job. However, I want to point out the achievements that NASA has had on your personal life. You may have never realized that experiments in space could have practical applications in the home, at the hospital, and so on.
OK here we go…
Do you watch TV? Have you ever flipped on a show or sporting event that was taking place live in a different part of the world? Well you have NASA to thank because they worked with Bell, AT&T, RCA and Hughes to develop satellite tv.
Ever used a cordless Black and Decker product like a drill? The technology was invented during the Apollo program – now a 400 million dollar a year industry with Black and Decker alone.
Do you have a smoke detector in your house? They were developed for Skylab in the 70s by Honeywell, Inc. NASA also helped develop a better breathing systems for firefighters in the 70s based on stuff worn by astronauts. In addition, the Jaws of Life, a tool most often used to remove destroyed panels from cars to get people out during accidents, you guessed it.
Do you drink filtered water? Do you have insulation in your home? Chances are that NASAs discoveries and advances in technology for these areas had something to do with the ones in your house right now.
NASA’s research has led to advancements in airplanes, stuff like windshear protection, lightning protection, collision avoidance technology.
Do you play sports or go to games? NASA helmet padding is used in football helmets, mattresses and pillows. Modern golfballs use principles discovered from NASA flights. Expensive swimsuits is made of NASA technology fabric. The covering material on stadiums is often times material developed by NASA.
Some of the weirder things that have gone on with NASA include the development of a Robotic Mother Pig to feed baby piglets. They developed technology to help fix oil spills in the form of tiny beeswax balls filled with microbes that `eat oil`.
They have also had an immeasurable impact on anything to do with satellites – sat nav, Google Earth and so on.
NASA had a hand in developing more advanced prosthetic limbs. Dialysis machines were developed thanks to chemical processes. MRI, CAT scans, mammograms, and ultrasound were not invented by NASA, but again, it has contributed to the advancement of all three.
If you have ever used an ear thermometer you have NASA to thank as well.
NASA has made advancements in rubber for your tires, and grooves in the concrete for your roads. The shoes you wear may have moon boot material and technology. Your anti-gravity pen was invented for astronauts.
I can’t even go on anymore (although that’s pretty much it). If you can go one day without NASA technology developed in part by NASA’s research then…I don’t know, it’s impossible.
Photo credits: BlackandDecker.com, Redskins.com
I have been researching people who claim to “hate NASA” over the past few days and it has been quite a delightful experience. If we could only power the world by mining the Internet for stupidity, our energy problems would be immediately and permanently solved. Here is a few gems:
“…There are so many documentaries that speak about natural events that are changing and that are prooved (sic) by scientists and I hate NASA to lie us, to try to deny the reality. They are killing us !!!…Yeah yeah… keep your lies for others !!! I hate all the power you think you have just becaue (sic) you are government!!! I think YOU are destroying the planet by all your experiences… you organize tsunami and attack to eliminate people because “there are too many people on the earth” and then you want us to believe that is “natural disaster”…” – Chapi C
I don’t know what natural disasters have to do with NASA, and it’s a real shame that NASA thinks “we are stupid” (another unfounded claim in a different segment of her rant) when there is clearly detectives like Chapi out there to set the record straight and show that whoever “we” are, is NOT stupid. Here is another good one:
“because it is incapable of taking the risks nessasary (sic) to progress at a fast enough pace to keep up with the private sector.(spaceship one) Due mostly to the beaurocracy (sic),lack of vision,and lack true of direction. Any one of these shortcomings could be responsible for the non survival of the human race in the future.” - zvs31
I am glad that “zvs31″ brought up this point about the private sector because they have really caught up. Lack of vision and direction – maybe, I’ll give him that too, but I don’t think NASA not succeeding the way some nobody thinks they should is going to be the ultimate pitfall of human achievement and survival.
Andrew J. Testa claims he worked for Lockheed which is closely associated with NASA and “It is a sham, a dried up money-pit
with no purpose and no direction, flopping about like an ugly fish in the bottom of a boat.” He goes on to use some very colorful language that is inappropriate for this blog but very entertaining.
Of course, I am being biased, but I am also trying to give you something entertaining to read. There are plenty of good articles by scholars that argue NASA is wasteful, spaceflight dangerous and shuttles outdated. I have no retort except to say, it’s a government program, what on Earth (or in space) do you expect? You think the government has any incentive to tighten up and be more resourceful, especially in terms of something as apocalyptically costly as the space shuttle program where they can really get away with saying something like “Um, we’re moving 40,000 lbs of equipment into space, not including the weight of the shuttle itself, and thats not exactly cheap.”
Information Sources: http://www.akdart.com/nasa.html,
http://amplicate.com/hate/nasa – Picture credit also to amplicate.com and Facebook