Sunday, June 10, 2012


So you've certainly noticed by now that I haven't posted anything in nearly a year. That's probably because I've completely forgotten about these blogs.

I should have posted a note like this earlier, but I kept putting it off. I'm no longer updating the blogs. I won't be even in the foreseeable future.

I will however leave the blogs as they are. The links all still work and the navigation bar on the right side still links between the blogs. It'll be open for however long Blogger keeps it up, and available for you all to read.

I may come back to it. I may not. I did enjoy doing it for a while, but then it started to feel like a second job and drained the fun out of it.

Enjoy yourselves and thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

August 28, 2011 : Face on Mars

One of the features in the Cydonia region, the "face on Mars" (about 1.5 kilometers (one mile) across), has had special notoriety in Western culture since it was imaged in 1976, because it looks like a face. This naturally occurring pareidolia has also inspired science fiction literature which typically assume it is a non-natural structure. For comparison, an example of naturally occurring pareidolia on Earth is New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain.

In one of the images taken by Viking 1 on July 25, 1976, a 2 km (1.2 miles) long Cydonian mesa, situated at 40.75° north latitude and 9.46° west longitude, had the appearance of a humanoid "Face on Mars". When the image was originally acquired, Viking chief scientist Gerry Soffen dismissed the "face" in image 35A72 as a "[trick] of light and shadow". However, a second image, 70A13, also shows the "Face", and was acquired 35 Viking orbits later at a different sun-angle from the 35A72 image. This latter discovery was made independently by Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar, two computer engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. DiPietro and Molenaar discovered the two misfiled images, Viking frames 35A72 and 70A13, while searching through NASA archives.

Cydonia was first imaged in detail by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 orbiters. Eighteen images of the Cydonia region were taken by the orbiters, of which seven have resolutions better than 250 m/pixel (820 ft/pixel). The other eleven images have resolutions worse than 550 m/pixel (1800 ft/pixel) and are virtually useless for studying surface features. Of the seven good images, the lighting and time at which two pairs of images were taken are so close as to reduce the number to five distinct images. The Mission to Mars: Viking Orbiter Images of Mars CD-ROM image numbers for these are: 35A72 (VO-1010), 70A13 (VO-1011), 561A25 (VO-1021), 673B56 & 673B54 (VO-1063), and 753A33 & 753A34 (VO-1028). Parts of the region were subsequently imaged at far higher resolution by the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions.

When it was first imaged, and into the 21st century, the "Face" is near universally accepted to be an optical illusion, an example of pareidolia. After analysis of the higher resolution Mars Global Surveyor data NASA stated that "a detailed analysis of multiple images of this feature reveals a natural looking Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination". Similar optical illusions can be found in the geology of Earth; examples include the Old Man of the Mountain, the Pedra da Gávea, the Old Man of Hoy and the Badlands Guardian.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

August 21, 2011 : Black Holes

A black hole is a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that marks the point of no return. It is called "black" because it absorbs all the light that hits the horizon, reflecting nothing, just like a perfect black body in thermodynamics. Quantum mechanics predicts that black holes emit radiation like a black body with a finite temperature. This temperature is inversely proportional to the mass of the black hole, making it difficult to observe this radiation for black holes of stellar mass or greater.

Objects whose gravity field is too strong for light to escape were first considered in the 18th century by John Michell and Pierre-Simon Laplace. The first modern solution of general relativity containing a black hole was found by Karl Schwarzschild in 1916, although its interpretation as a region of space from which nothing can escape was not fully appreciated for another four decades. Long considered a mathematical curiosity, it was during the 1960s that theoretical work showed black holes were a generic prediction of general relativity. The discovery of neutron stars sparked interest in gravitationally collapsed compact objects as a possible astrophysical reality.

Black holes of stellar mass are expected to form when heavy stars collapse in a supernova at the end of their life cycle. After a black hole has formed it can continue to grow by absorbing mass from its surroundings. By absorbing other stars and merging with other black holes, supermassive black holes of millions of solar masses may be formed.

Despite its invisible interior, the presence of a black hole can be inferred through its interaction with other matter. Astronomers have identified numerous stellar black hole candidates in binary systems, by studying their interaction with their companion stars. There is growing consensus that supermassive black holes exist in the centers of most galaxies. In particular, there is strong evidence of a black hole of more than 4 million solar masses at the center of our Milky Way.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

August 14, 2011 : SETI

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is the collective name for a number of activities people undertake to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life. Some of the most well known projects are run by the SETI Institute. SETI projects use scientific methods to search for intelligent life on other planets. For example, electromagnetic radiation is monitored for signs of transmissions from civilizations on other worlds. The United States government contributed to early SETI projects, but recent work has been primarily funded by private sources.

There are great challenges in searching across the cosmos for a first transmission that could be characterized as intelligent, since its direction, spectrum and method of communication are all unknown beforehand. SETI projects necessarily make assumptions to narrow the search, the foremost being that electromagnetic radiation would be a medium of communication for advanced extraterrestrial life.

As early as 1896, Nikola Tesla suggested that radio could be used to contact extraterrestrial life. In 1899 while investigating atmospheric electricity using a Tesla coil receiver in his Knob Hill lab, Tesla observed repetitive signals, substantially different from the signals noted from storms and Earth noise, that he interpreted as being of extraterrestrial origin. He later recalled the signals appeared in groups of one, two, three, and four clicks together. Tesla thought the signals were coming from Mars. Analysis of Tesla's research has ranged from suggestions that Tesla detected nothing, he simply was misunderstanding the new technology he was working with, to claims that Tesla may have been observing naturally occurring Jovian plasma torus signals. In the early 1900s, Guglielmo Marconi, Lord Kelvin, and David Peck Todd also stated their belief that radio could be used to contact Martians, with Marconi stating that his stations had also picked up potential Martian signals.

Founded in 1994 in response to the US Congress cancellation of the NASA SETI program, The SETI League, Inc. is a membership-supported nonprofit organization with 1,500 members in 62 countries. This grass-roots alliance of amateur and professional radio astronomers is headed by executive director emeritus Prof. H. Paul Shuch, the engineer credited with developing the world's first commercial home satellite TV receiver. Many SETI League members are licensed radio amateurs and microwave experimenters. Others are digital signal processing experts and computer enthusiasts.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

August 7, 2011 : Cruithne


3753 Cruithne is an asteroid in orbit around the Sun in approximate 1:1 orbital resonance with the Earth. It is a periodic inclusion planetoid orbiting the Sun in an apparent horseshoe orbit. It has been incorrectly called "Earth's second moon", but it is only a quasi-satellite.

Cruithne was discovered on October 10, 1986, by Duncan Waldron on a photographic plate taken with the UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, Coonabarabran, Australia. The 1983 apparition (1983 UH) is credited to Giovanni de Sanctis and Richard M. West of the European Southern Observatory in Chile. It was not until 1997 that its unusual orbit was determined by Paul Wiegert and Kimmo Innanen, working at York University in Toronto, and Seppo Mikkola, working at the University of Turku in Finland.

The asteroid is named after the Cruithne or Cruthin, a people of early medieval Ireland.

Cruithne is in a normal elliptic orbit around the Sun. Its period of revolution around the Sun, approximately 364 days at present, is almost equal to that of the Earth. Because of this, Cruithne and Earth appear to "follow" each other in their paths around the Sun. This is why Cruithne is sometimes called "Earth's second moon". However, it does not orbit the Earth and is not a moon. In 2058, Cruithne will come within 0.09 AU (13.6 million kilometres) of Mars. Cruithne's distance from the Sun and orbital speed vary a lot more than the Earth's, so from the Earth's point of view Cruithne actually follows a kidney bean-shaped horseshoe orbit ahead of the Earth, taking slightly less than one year to complete a circuit of the "bean". Because it takes slightly less than a year, the Earth "falls behind" the bean a little more each year, and so from our point of view, the circuit is not quite closed, but rather like a spiral loop that moves slowly away from the Earth.