Sometimes I complain about the earthly weather, but mostly I like to post about astronomy and space events. Hope you enjoy the articles.
By: Susie77, 11:03 PM GMT on April 30, 2011
Voyager, The Love Story
Play ScienceCast VideoJoin Mailing ListApril 28, 2011:
One day, years from now--or maybe billions of years, no one
knows--aliens might be surprised to run across an old spaceship from
Earth. Improbably far from home, the ancient probe is space cold, its
nuclear power source spent long ago; an iconic white antenna points
silently into the void, beaming no data to the species that made it. Yet
this Voyager may speak to its finders.
Voyager's golden record cover [more]
A golden record is fixed to the side of the probe, and if ET can
decipher it, he might be surprised again, because Voyager has a story to
tell—and it's a Love Story.
Rewind to 1977.
Jimmy Carter was president, Star Wars was the
top-grossing film, and NASA was preparing to launch the two Voyager
probes to the outer planets. Like Pioneer 10 and 11 before them, Voyager
1 and 2 would fly by the gas giants and, after a frenzy of data-taking,
slingshot out of the solar system. These spacecraft were to become
interstellar ambassadors. Less than 9 months before launch, Carl Sagan
was asked by NASA personnel to assemble "some message for a possible
Later, one member of Sagan's small team would describe the process
as "a fire drill" with nothing less at stake than First Contact itself.
"The chances of aliens finding the Voyagers in the vast emptiness
of space are small—some say infinitesimal—but we took our jobs
seriously," recalls team member Ann Druyan. "From the moment when Carl
first broached the project to Tim Ferris and me, it felt mythic."
Voyager would carry a selection of Earth's greatest music, a photo
gallery of our planet and its inhabitants, and an audio essay of
terrestrial sounds, both natural and technological.
But how would this information be conveyed? A popular technology
in the 1970s was the 8-track tape. That would never do. For one thing,
what would ET think? Moreover, magnetic tape is susceptible to
degradation by space radiation and magnetic fields. A message recorded
on such a medium would decay long before it was found.
Radio astronomer Frank Drake, who became a key member of Sagan's
team, suggested a phonograph record. Extraterrestrials would stand a
good chance of figuring out how to play back such an old-school
technology—and phonograph records were tough. By one estimate, the
etchings on a suitably-shielded metallic phonograph record could last
for hundreds of millions of years in interstellar space, eroded mainly
by a slow drizzle of micrometeoroid impacts. A copper record coated in
gold would satisfy the thermal and magnetic requirements of the Voyager
Click to view a video about Voyager and the Golden Record.
"Eventually we decided on having the record designed for 16 2/3
revolutions per minute," wrote Sagan. This was half the speed of a
conventional 33 1/3 platter. "[There would be] some loss in fidelity but
not, we believe, an extremely severe loss, especially if the recipients
were as clever as they would have to be to acquire the record in the
Choosing the contents of the record was a heady and agonizing
process. Even with the stepped-down spin rate, there was only enough
room for about 90 minutes of music and a hundred or so images.
"I remember sitting around the kitchen table making these huge
decisions about what to put on and what to leave off," recalls Druyan.
"We couldn't help but appreciate the enormous responsibility to create a
cultural Noah's Ark with a shelf life of hundreds of millions of
In their book, Murmurs of Earth, Sagan et al
describe the decision-making process. Much of the challenge was
intellectual—e.g., how to cover the complete geographical, historical,
and cultural variety of the world’s music in 90 minutes or less. Among
Western music, Beethoven's 5th and Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode made the cut; selections from Jefferson Starship did not. Some challenges were legal: The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun
could not be sent because the Fab Four, who unanimously wished their
work sent to the stars, did not hold the copyright to their own song.
Other challenges were bureaucratic. In one of many anecdotes that
illuminate the human condition as well as anything on the Golden Record,
Sagan describes the tortuous process of obtaining permission for a
number of UN delegates to simply say "Hello." Ultimately, it couldn't be
done, and Sagan appealed to the foreign language departments of Cornell
University, where professors and students were eager to help. Thus a
representative set of short greetings was assembled, beginning with
Sumerian, one of the oldest known languages, and ending with a greeting
from an American five-year old: "Hello from the children of planet
When all was said and done, Voyager blasted off with 118
photographs; 90 minutes of music; greetings in 55 human languages and
one whale language; an audio essay featuring everything from burbling
mud pots to barking dogs to a roaring Saturn 5 liftoff; a remarkably
poetic salutation from the Secretary General of the United Nations; and
the brain waves of a young women in love.
Of all the selections on the record, it is the latter which might
pique ET's interest most. It certainly has this effect on human
Just how do you stumble upon a woman in love and record her brain
waves for an interstellar message? It helps when the young woman is
herself a member of the recording team: Ann Druyan.
A sampling of Ann Druyan's brain waves, recorded on June 3, 1977.
"I had this idea," recalls Druyan, "that we should put someone's
EEG on the record. We know that EEG patterns register some changes in
thought. Would it be possible, I wondered, for a highly advanced
technology of several million years from now to actually decipher human
Sagan and the others liked the idea, and volunteered Druyan to provide the brain waves.
"I contacted Dr. Julius Korein of the New York University Medical
Center, and with Tim Ferris's help we set up an hour-long recording
session for my innermost self."
The EEG was scheduled for June 3, 1977. Druyan prepared a script
to guide her thoughts—"a mental itinerary of the ideas and individuals
of history whose memory I hoped to perpetuate." She could not prepare,
however, for what happened two days before the scheduled recording.
"On June 1, 1977, Carl and I shared a wonderfully important phone
call," she recalls. Without the aid of a date or even a romantic moment
alone, the two had fallen in love during the mad rush to complete the
Golden Record. "We decided to get married. It was a Eureka!
moment for both of us—the idea that we could find the perfect match. It
was a discovery that has been reaffirmed in countless ways since."
Echoes of that moment reverberated through her mind during the
recording session. Her conscious mind may have been reciting culture and
philosophy, but her subconscious was buzzing with the euphoria of the
Great Idea of True Love. The hour was electronically compressed to a
single minute that sounds, appropriately, like a string of exploding
"My feelings as a 27 year old woman, madly fallen in love, they're
on that record,” says Druyan. "It's forever. It'll be true 100 million
years from now. For me Voyager is a kind of joy so powerful, it robs you
of your fear of death."
If aliens ever do find one of the Voyagers and decipher its
contents, they will briefly meet dozens of musicians, artists, whales,
dogs, crickets, engineers, and common working people. But the only one
who they might have a chance to truly get to know is that young
woman—not a bad choice.
It has been pointed out that the most probable finders of Voyager
will be … us. Eventually, technology may allow humans to overtake and
recover the distant probes. In that case, they will be reduced to mere
time capsules from the year 1977.
Arthur C. Clarke recognized this possibility and suggested adding a
note to the Golden Record: "Please leave me alone; let me go on to the
Because Voyager has a story to tell.
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA
By: Susie77, 10:36 PM GMT on April 29, 2011
NASA RESETS SHUTTLE ENDEAVOUR'S LAUNCH FOR NO EARLIER THAN MAY 2
WASHINGTON -- NASA managers met Friday to discuss the status of space
shuttle Endeavour's launch to the International Space Station. The
launch was postponed because of a heater issue associated with the
shuttle's hydraulic power system. The next launch attempt will be no
earlier than May 2.
The shuttle has three Auxiliary Power Units (APUs) that provide
hydraulic power to steer the vehicle during ascent and entry. NASA
launch commit criteria and flight rules require all three APUs to be
fully operational for launch.
Endeavour's external fuel tank was drained of more than 500,000
gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen so engineers can access the
area Saturday and evaluate the issue with APU 1.
For the latest information about the STS-134 mission and its crew,
By: Susie77, 10:17 PM GMT on April 21, 2011
Space Weather News for April 21, 2010
LYRID METEOR SHOWER: Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from
Comet Thatcher, source of the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Forecasters
expect the shower to peak on April 22nd with as many as 20 meteors per
hour, although visibility will be reduced by bright moonlight. The best
time to look, no matter where you live, is Friday morning during the
hours before local dawn. Visit http://spaceweather.com for live meteor counts and more information.
By: Susie77, 10:43 PM GMT on April 14, 2011
From Science @ NASA
Solar Activity Heats Up
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April 14, 2011:
If you've ever stood in front of a hot stove, watching a pot of water
and waiting impatiently for it to boil, you know what it feels like to
be a solar physicist.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded this X1.5-class solar flare on March 9, 2011. [movie]
Back in 2008, the solar cycle plunged into the deepest minimum in
nearly a century. Sunspots all but vanished, solar flares subsided, and
the sun was eerily quiet.
"Ever since, we've been waiting for solar activity to pick up,"
says Richard Fisher, head of the Heliophysics Division at NASA
Headquarters in Washington DC. "It's been three long years."
Quiet spells on the sun are nothing new. They come along every 11
years or so—it's a natural part of the solar cycle. This particular
solar minimum, however, was lasting longer than usual, prompting some
researchers to wonder if it would ever end.
News flash: The pot is starting to boil. "Finally," says Fisher, "we are beginning to see some action."
As 2011 unfolds, sunspots have returned and they are crackling
with activity. On February 15th and again on March 9th, Earth orbiting
satellites detected a pair of "X-class" solar flares--the most powerful
kind of x-ray flare. The last such eruption occurred back in December
Another eruption on March 7th hurled a billion-ton cloud of plasma
away from the sun at five million mph (2200 km/s). The rapidly
expanding cloud wasn't aimed directly at Earth, but it did deliver a
glancing blow to our planet's magnetic field. The off-center impact on
March 10th was enough to send Northern Lights spilling over the Canadian
border into US states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.
Auroras over Grand Portage, Minnesota, on March 10, 2011. Credit and copyright Travis Novitsky. [more]
"That was the fastest coronal mass ejection in almost six years,"
says Angelos Vourlidas of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. "It
reminds me of a similar series of events back in Nov. 1997 that kicked
off Solar Cycle 23, the solar cycle before this one."
"To me," says Vourlidas, "this marks the beginning of Solar Cycle 24."
The slow build-up to this moment is more than just "the watched
pot failing to boil," says Ron Turner, a space weather analyst at
Analytic Services, Inc. "It really has been historically slow."
There have been 24 numbered solar cycles since researchers started
keeping track of them in the mid-18th century. In an article just
accepted for publication by the Space Weather Journal, Turner
shows that, in all that time, only four cycles have started more slowly
than this one. "Three of them were in the Dalton Minimum, a period of
depressed solar activity in the early 19th century. The fourth was Cycle
#1 itself, around 1755, also a relatively low solar cycle," he says.
In his study, Turner used sunspots as the key metric of solar
activity. Folding in the recent spate of sunspots does not substantially
alter his conclusion: "Solar Cycle 24 is a slow starter," he says.
Better late than never.
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.