Worried About the End of the World on Dec. 21? Don’t Be.

Phil Plait has an excellent article on why you should feel that it’s NOT the end of the world as we know it.

Unless you’ve buried your head in the sand—which, to be honest, would be a better use of your time—you’ve heard the world is coming to an end this Friday, Dec. 21, 2012.

OK, for those of you who are impatient and want to cut to the chase, here’s the scoop: No, it isn’t.

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The forecast for the apocalypse is….

The forecast for the apocalypse

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Beware the Frankenstorm

When storms collide: 2012-10-25This weekend, three major storms are expected to collide over the north east United States: a storm front currently making its way from the west coast, an arctic blast from eastern Canada, and hurricane Sandy. From The Seattle Times:

Meteorologists expect a natural horror show of high wind, heavy rain, extreme tides and maybe snow to the west beginning early Sunday, peaking with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday and lingering past Halloween on Wednesday.

Dubbed “Frankenstorm,” this monster will be striking around the time of the full moon: this increases the likelihood of coastal flooding as the rain and wind churn up higher than average tides. Experts are predicting as much as $1 billion in damages by the time everything settles again.

To my friends and family on the East Coast: be safe.

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Terra’s first space treaty turns 45 today

The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies went into effect on October 10, 1967, 45 years ago today. It was the first international agreement on use of global space, and it remains in effect today with 100 official parties and another 26 nations who have signed without formal ratification.

The treaty is pretty impressive:

  • Parties are forbidden from placing nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit around the Earth, on the Moon, or on any other celestial body (planet, asteroid, comet, etc.) or otherwise stationing such arms in space. Conventional weapons are permitted.
  • Parties are forbidden from making any territorial claim off of the Earth: the Moon and other celestial bodies are to be considered the common heritage of mankind. However, objects launched into space (such as a space station, satellite, probe, and the like) shall remain under the jurisdiction of the party that launched it, and said party shall be liable for any damage or contamination the object may cause.
  • Parties are forbidden from using celestial bodies as military targets or installations. The use of such bodies is restricted to peaceful purposes such as exploration and scientific study. All such exploration and study shall be done for the benefit of all countries. No country may be banned or otherwise restricted from exploration or study, and no country shall be required to pay any kind of fee or otherwise obtain permission to explore or study.

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Comes the Comet

And what a comet it will be. The recently discovered ISON is set to make its closest approach to the sun in November, 2013, and the prediction is that it will be a once in a lifetime event.

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Warp Drive: Feasable?

Science fiction has taken a step closer to being science fact: according to Space.com, Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than Thought, Scientists Say.

A design proposed in 1994 theorized that a football shaped ship, encircled with a large ring with the right properties, could create a ripple in space-time. Because it would be space-time, the ripple could travel much faster than light moving in space-time. The craft would ride this ripple, staying relatively motionless against it. The net effect would be a ship moving about ten times the speed of light without violating relativity.

The problem was that a vast amount of energy would be needed to make it work. But a new design indicates that by changing the shape of the ring slightly, the energy requirements can be drastically reduced. This would put the possibility of a real, working interstellar drive within human grasp. In fact, a group of scientists at the Johnson Space Center is Huston has set up a lab to test the theory.

So far, Zefram Cochrane has not been reachable for comment, probably because he hasn’t been born yet.

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Asteroid to pass Earth on Thursday

No need to panic quite yet: 2012 QG42 will be making its “close” encounter at a comfortable distance of 1.78 million miles, about 7.5 times as far away as the moon.

The asteroid was discovered only last month, and is believed to be somewhere between 190 and 430 meters (625 and 1,400 feet) on its major axis. Its calculated orbit has it on a course that goes from just inside the orbit of Mars to just inside the orbit of Venus. This has put it on the list of “potentially hazardous objects” that may, some day, impact the Earth.

More information can be found at Space.Com.

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Coronal mass ejection, August 31, 2012

Just… wow.

Coronal mass ejection, 2012-08-31

Have I ever mentioned that I am a total sucker for space pictures? I think I have.

This glorious picture of our sun comes courtesy of Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog. It is a composite of two separate images in the extreme ultraviolet range — 304 and 171 angstroms, to be exact, where magnetic activity that is normally invisible can be seen clearly — colorized for your amazement. The big bright yellow loopy thing in the upper left is a sunspot, stunningly beautiful at these wavelengths. The coronal mass ejection (CME) is the long orange-red stream reaching down to the left. To give a sense of scale, click here for the same (although a little less colorized) image with a picture of the Earth added in.

The CME occured around 4:36 p.m. Eastern time on August 31, 2012. It was not big as such things go: NASA classified it as only a C8 flare, which is at the top end of the least powerful category. It was not aimed directly at the Earth, and would not have caused problems even if it had been, but it was enough to trigger a major display at the poles. Spaceweather.com has some amazing pictures of the auroras, and a movie of the CME occuring in real time.

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Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies

A friend of mine sent me a link to a useful poster that outlines the 24 logical fallacies you are most likely to see on the net. The poster is a PDF and available in three sizes. Or, you can go to the site’s home page and use their online reference.

The site is funded by donations through PayPal, so feel free to toss them a few dollars if you find it useful.

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Voyager approaches interstellar space

On August 20, 1977, a probe the size of a VW bug was launched into space. Named Voyager 2, it was sent out into the void to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime alignment of the outer planets and rendezvous with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Two weeks later, on September 5, Voyager 1 was launched to visit Jupiter and Saturn only. Because it was only taking the penny tour, Voyager 1 could take a more direct route, which let it reach Jupiter four months ahead of its sibling: the first probe to take pictures of the majestic gas giant.

After their last planetary encounters, both probes swiched over to an extended mission: to reach into the outer limits of the Sol system and see what they could find. On November 17, 1998, Voyager 1 passed the Pioneer 10 launched March 2, 1972 to become the most distant man-made object from the sun.

Thirty-five years later, the Voyagers continue to send back data. Although NASA does not have a dedicated team of engineers for the mission anymore, the data does get reviewed and evaluated, with the results published in the Voyager Weekly Reports. NASA also has a Voyager Mission Page, with information about location and what scientists still hope to learn. Right now, both craft are in the heliosheath, a turbulent area where the outgassing of Sol’s wind has slowed down enough to be stirred up by the interstellar medium, the dust and cold gas that exist between stellar systems. Eventually — no one knows when — the probes will pass that final boundary and become the first artificial objects (that we know of) to exit into interstellar space.

So hoist a pint to the marvels of human engineering and our quest for knowledge.

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