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  • Posts Tagged ‘Ice Cube’

    When I’m feelin’ down, these are some things that bring me back up

    2011 - 03.16

    When I started this blog I told myself I would use this space to talk about things that inspire me and highlight the best in human character. I want it to be more about building things up, and talking about what is possible, rather than tearing things down or endless snark, cynicism, pessimism, paranoia, etc. The headlines lately have been dominated by disheartening news, particularly in my home state of Wisconsin, but there have been some awesome things going on, which I want to spend time thinking about.a

    There’s been some great press on the Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory lately, including an excellent article in IEEE spectrum.  I had previously blogged about Ice Cube, and it continues to remain in my thoughts, how awesome this thing is. Every time I read dismaying political news or feel despair at the missteps of our society, I remind myself that we’ve got dudes at the south pole tracking cosmic rays, and I feel a little bit better about our species. It’s reassuring–maybe the large majority of people are too caught up in the hustle of daily-life to bother with such existential “big-questions” but there is a tiny group of people working to answer these questions for our behalf. Those people are called heroes.

    Something else which is very, very cool is the STEREO spacecraft. Thanks to these guys, for the first time ever, we have a full 360 degree view of our sun. Sitting in same orbital position as earth, one satellite sped up and one slowed down, so that eventually (read:now!) they are positioned on opposite sides of our star. If I extrapolate correctly from the image above, it looks like from now and until around 2018, we can actually see the whole sun–enabling scientists to track sunspots, and the massive bursts of radiation that periodically spew forth. Although the odds of these radiation bursts and magnetic storms just so happening to align with Earth’s position are low, when it does happen, it directly affects all of our lives, in the form of blackouts, GPS interference, and slowdowns in many global industries affected by this radiation.  The rotating image at right is the first 360 degree composite they made of the sun.  There will be a lot more of these to come!

    The STEREO satellites, to me, represent some small measure of mastery over our cosmic front yard. It’s good to have a window to know what’s happening outside. And it excites me to think that we’re doing it. Not only do we have the technology to do it (the most obvious barrier), but we also have the political willpower to spend them dollas to get up there and DO it (this is the real obstacle to most awesome science). That, my friends, is what you call rad.

    I’ll sandwich in an honorable mention slash eulogy here for the NASA Glory satellite, which recently crashed into the Pacific. It’s a sad thing to think about, but worth mentioning, because hopefully they will try again. Long story short it was intended to monitor a whole slew of climate-related metrics to get us closer in touch with what the Earth is doing. Obviously very important work. This is actually the second satellite of this nature which failed to achieve orbit, so conspiracy theorists unite! (that’s the extent of my negativity here today)

    Another neat thing I read about recently is the All-Sky Fireball Network. In addition to having a maximum ass-kicking name, the project monitors the sky with a nationwide network of smart cameras, with the aim of tracking any meteors burning up in the atmosphere. William Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office states coolly, “nothing will burn up in those skies without me knowing about it!” Sweet!!

    Tracking these meteorites also gives them a vector for both where they should land and where they came from. Thus, if any of the meteorites leave remains that can be retrieved upon impact, the guys can study them, knowing a bit about their origin. Doublesweet. In effect it’s like getting free samples from outer space, without the need to launch costly rockets. Their data will also enable spacecraft designers to learn more about the nature of hole-punching threats that meteors would pose to future vehicles. Triplesweet.

    Learning about something like that is exciting, but I also get the feeling like, geez, this is so great, why didn’t we start doing this like 30 years ago? Again, the technology is nothing new, it’s simply summoning the will to pay for it that holds us back. Every time something like this gets funded, our priorities inch a little closer toward making sense in my mind. It’s reassuring to think about!

    Riffin on the Ice Cube / Space books

    2011 - 01.02

    I was at half price books about a month ago and I found this eye-popping hardcover book called “Superstructures In Space” for just $10.  It’s chock full of gorgeous photos taken by spacecraft and of spacecraft, detailing all the major human forays into space.  I’ve learned a lot reading it.  Chiefly that there are way more space missions going on than I realized.  There’s a probe on it’s way to Pluto (it’ll get there in 2015!), and another one inserting into orbit around Mercury in March of next year.  The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is an ongoing mission that has returned 3 times more data than the last 5 missions to mars COMBINED.  It’s mapped mars with a greater resolution than available on Google Earth.  The Deep Impact spacecraft was a super sweet mission in which they shot this projectile into an asteroid to observe what kinds of elements would be present in the resulting debris.  There’s just a ton of amazing things going on in space that I wasn’t even aware of.

    Just as I thought my interest/obsession was plateauing, for Christmas my girl gave me an even more gigantic book (see comparison below; literally GIGANTIC at 17×14 inches!) by called “Cosmos: A Field Guide”.  It’s not related to Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” in the literal sense (although they do invoke “star stuff”, a well-worn Saganism), but it goes through everything we’ve observed in the universe, from satellites looking at Earth, all the other planets, the outer solar system, Oort Cloud and Kupier Belt, the Milky Way, other galaxies, and the boundaries of what we can see in our universe.  The book is pure space porn, filled with breathtaking pictures of every type of celestial body imaginable.  The one shown here is the remnants of a supernova.  There aren’t really words that convey the size or the grandeur of what’s been discovered out beyond our planet.  I’m totally enraptured by these ideas at this moment in life…

    So against that backdrop I was reading about the neutrino observatory at the South Pole.  As silly as it may sound, the fact that we got a dude down there at the coldest place on the planet, measuring and counting neutrinos hoping to figure out some piece of our universe–it gives me hope that humans might be able to make it.  These are the biggest questions for us to answer: what is the universe made of, how did it form, can we trace its lineage?  In the words of Carl:

    What he’s getting at is the fact that these questions go beyond nations, races, generations, or any other divisions among us.  And our quest to answer them is tied inseparably to technology that will allow human civilization to make an ultimately essential leap–spreading to other worlds.  The universe is unfathomably vast and we humans, despite all our progress, are still at a most infantile age.  Whether we end up destroyed by nuclear weapons, avian flu, asteroids, or the greenhouse effect, one way or another Earth isn’t going to be safe forever.  Our ability to get out there (and get out there fast!), I believe is going to be THE pivot point on whether the genus “homo” ends with “sapiens”, or lives on to continue further.

    A thought that keeps running through my mind is “we live in a primitive time”.  I imagine a far away age where our distant descendants roam the galaxy in search of resources to mine, lifeforms to chronicle and trade with, picturesque worlds to settle upon, and maybe sightseeing by watching stars being born in nearby nebula.  These are the actions of an advanced civilization.  By comparison, we are living in far more primitive times than the stone age!  We still use rockets to launch spacecraft.  Rockets!  How un-elegant.  The knowledge that there are other galaxies besides our own is less than a century old.  That fact astounds me.  What utter ignorance we have begun to climb from.  The idea of an earth-centric universe seems embarrassingly laughable.  Like a little kid who thinks he knows how babies are made; “when the man pees inside the woman”.  Hahahaha, how naïve and clueless we were!

    I suspect that even such ideas as popular today as “dark matter” will one day be as antiquated as the concepts of ether or the crystalline spheres of the geocentric model.  Our galaxy-traversing descendants will look back through the history books and chuckle about what ideas once passed as science.  But that is the beauty of science–it is always refining itself, self-correcting, and disowning the baggage that no longer applies.  The neutrino observatory is an awesome step in refining our search for matter, understanding cosmic ray sources, and general surveying of the universe.  No doubt it will place us one step closer to the answers to those ‘big questions’.  How big of a step, only time can tell!

    What’s cooler than cool? Ice Cold, I mean Cube!

    2010 - 12.27

    Last week I read about a wholly impressive undertaking which I was previously oblivious to, and now very interested in hearing more about: the Icecube Neutrino Observatory, at the South Pole. Yes, that South Pole. Basically they drilled a bunch of loooooooong holes, filled em up with detectors, and now they’re going to “listen” for neutrinos, of which they can measure power and direction, thanks to the size of the array of detectors. One cool detail is that the detector will be better at seeing neutrinos that come from the northern hemisphere. As in, neutrinos that have passed THROUGH the ENTIRE Earth before reaching the array. It’s better at seeing those.

    Wait, wait, did you just say “passed through the entire Earth”?

    Yep. Neutrinos can do that because neutrinos don’t ordinarily interact with matter. In fact, when they detect them, what they’re detecting is not even the neutrino directly! Here, this amazing video will enlighten us all. Dim the lights and get some popcorn:

    Oh man, how cool is that. Studying cosmic rays… In my most jealous voice I cry “Lucky!” This is a powerful new tool to study one of the influencing factors in our evolution. Take it away, Carl:

    “Think of it: A star blows up, thousands of light years away in space and produces cosmic rays which spiral through the Milky Way galaxy for millions of years until quite by accident some of them strike the Earth… and us. The evolution of life on Earth is driven in part through mutations, by the deaths of distant stars. We are, in a very deep sense, tied to the cosmos.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos