Posts Tagged ‘spacecraft’
This is the QUESTION you may be asking yourself after you heard the news. The next generation of spacecrafts being built to take astronauts into space, to the moon and BEYOND, otherwise known as the Constellation Program has been canceled.
When I first heard the possibility of this happening, I was disappointed and saddened. As a young boy, I had dreamed of becoming an astronaut one day. I am sure that is still the case with many young boys and GIRLS who are in school today but hope to go into SPACE someday. What does this bit of news mean to them and YOU, if you are a young girl or boy?
What the news media is not reporting as widely is the fact that NASA has been issued a new directive by President Obama to work more closely with the private sector, companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and others to take astronauts into space. This means there will be MORE spots for astronauts on spaceships than exist today.
If you DREAM of someday going into space, do not give up that dream. Your chances of becoming an astronaut just went up. Of course, you will still need a good education to secure your place on a spaceship.
Well, Earth-like planets to be precise. What does that mean, you ask? You see, Earth is a very SPECIAL planet. Special in the sense that it is the only planet that we (currently) know of that can support life.
How does Earth support life?
For starters, Earth is right DISTANCE from our Sun, in what some call the Goldilocks Zone (also known as the habitable zone). It is the region where water can exist in a liquid form on the surface of a planet. Too much closer and the heat from the sun would boil away all the water. Too far, and there isn’t enough heat causing any water on the planet to freeze.
Earth is also a TERRESTRIAL planet, meaning that part of the surface is solid, i.e. made up of rocks and dirt. The Earth is also large enough to have a GRAVITY that can have an atmosphere, you know, the air we breathe. Without enough mass, the gravity would be too low to prevent the air from escaping out into space. You can read more about this in my book. 😉
Believe it or not, those are the pretty much all the things that are needed for a planet to support life. What about OXYGEN, you ask? Oxygen that we breathe is created by plants, which are a form of life. You would think, with these meager requirements, there are probably HUNDREDS, if not thousands, of planets that can support life.
The thing is, detecting other Earth-like planets is not an easy thing to do. Stars are really far away, and planet that may exist around those stars tend to be very TINY compared to the star they orbit. Our own Sun contains more that 99% of all the mass in our solar system. And our, habitable Earth is quite small compared to giants like Jupiter and Saturn.
Kepler, the planet hunter.
As you can imagine, looking for other Earth-like planets is not an easy task. However, a space mission launched in March of 2009 aims to do just that. Kepler, named after the astronomer, Johannes Kepler carries very POWERFUL cameras to catch a planet transiting its parent star. A transit is when the planet that we are looking is in between us and its parent star as the planet goes around the star. When the planet is between us and its star, the brightness of that star as seen by us is lower than when the planet is behind star. The animation below explains it better than I can write it.
Look at the sky on a clear night. What is the largest star you see? Imagine looking for a planet in front of that star. A tiny Earth-like planet around a star that already looks only like a dot from where we are. That is what Kepler is trying to do. At a lecture given by a Kepler mission scientist that I attended, she said that they expected to find about a 100 Earth-like planets in the tiny patch of the sky it will look at. Whether those planets will have ALIENS will be another matter.
- Goldilocks and The Three Bears (in text form).
- Stars and habitable planets.
- Kepler mission’s education and public outreach.
The Internet has opened up a whole new world to public participation in science projects both big and small. These were usually restricted to the in-crowd but are now available to anyone with a computer. The level of participation can be very active, as in the case of GalaxyZoo.org (more on this later), or very passive like in Folding@home and SETI@home.
Sometimes, they are a one time deal that can still be very exciting to participate in. Akatsuki (Japanese for dawn) is one such opportunity. Akatsui is a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) space mission to study the planet Venus. The Akatsui Message Campaign is a public outreach effort for the mission, which allows people to submit a very short message that will be printed onto an aluminum plate what will be attached to the Akatsui spacecraft.
The deadline for submissions is January 10, 2010. Sorry for the late notice but I just found out about it. I should add, although the slogan for this outreach program reads, “We will deliver your message to the bright star Venus,” Venus is actually a planet. But, you already knew that. Thanks to my friend Robert Sparks for the info.