Archive for the ‘Mars’ Tag

Analemma Dilemma   Leave a comment

Analemma_fishburn

Afternoon analemma photo taken in 1998-1999 by Jack Fishburn in Murray Hill, NJ.  Bell Laboratories building in foreground

Have you ever noticed in the mornings, from about mid-December to around mid-January that the sun rises the same time every day?  Even though the time of the setting sun changes, the dawn keeps breaking at 7:21 am (or whatever time your sun happens to rise, depending upon where in the world you live).  It’s as if it’s stuck, needing an extra nudge to get it moving.    Once again, from about mid-June to mid-July, the same thing happens with the sun once more.

As illustrated in the photo above, this phenomena is called an analemma.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as, “a plot or graph of the position of the sun in the sky at a certain time of day (as noon) at one locale measured throughout the year that has the shape of a figure 8; also  :  a scale (as on a globe or sundial) based on such a plot that shows the sun’s position for each day of the year or that allows local mean time to be determined.”

So, if one were to take a picture of the sun at the same time every day, from exactly the same position, you’d more or less wind up with a figure 8.  It’s proof that the Earth’s axis is tilted at 23.439°.  However, the angle at which it’s seen changes wherever one is located on Earth.  The above was taken at roughly 40° north.  Here is a picture taken at Veszprem, Hungary, which is latitude 47°:

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Image Credit & CopyrightTamas Ladanyi – Analemma 2011 – taken at 9:00 am 

So at 47°, the sun’s angle’s a bit sharper.

Here’s an excellent link from the Washington Post that illustrates how the sun moves in the sky through the months.

And who can forget the moon?  Since it rises and sets, it too creates its own analemma.  However, the moon rises 51 minutes later every day, so in order to successfully photograph it, one has to take that into account.  Understanding that means the moon returns to the same position 51 minutes later, in accordance to its rising.  Still, with patience, one can create an excellent example of what the moon can do, although one has to also remember it has phases.  That creates a wonderful variety of shapes.  Here’s an example:

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Credit & Copyright: Rich Richins

Earth isn’t the only place where the analemma occurs.  Any planet where the sun shines also shares this perspective, although it’s teardrop shaped on Mars:

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Digital Illustration Credit & Copyright: Dennis Mammana (Skyscapes)

Why the different shape?  Here’s the explanation from NASA:

“On planet Earth, an analemma is the figure-8 loop you get when you mark the position of the Sun at the same time each day throughout the year. But similarly marking the position of the Sun in the Martian sky would produce the simpler, stretched pear shape in this digital illustration, based on the Mars Pathfinder project’s famous Presidential Panorama view from the surface. The simulation shows the late afternoon Sun that would have been seen from the Sagan Memorial Station once every 30 Martian days (sols) beginning on Pathfinder’s Sol 24 (July 29, 1997). Slightly less bright, the simulated Sun is only about two thirds the size as seen from Earth, while the Martian dust, responsible for the reddish sky of Mars, also scatters some blue light around the solar disk.”

Each planet, given its north-south axis tilt and shape of its orbit, has its own analemma shape:

  • Mercury – nearly straight line
  • Venus – ellipse
  • Mars – teardrop (as illustrated above)
  • Jupiter – ellipse
  • Saturn – figure 8, but with tight northern loop
  • Uranus – figure 8
  • Neptune – figure 8

Let me add that you don’t necessarily need a camera to record the sun’s analemma.  Think back to the movie “Cast Away” wherein Tom Hanks marks on stone where the sun travels throughout the year.  You can make note by just looking out the window and the same time each day, seeing where the sun happens to be at the same time each day.  It’s pretty cool.  Try it!

Posted January 14, 2015 by seleneymoon in Moon, Nature, Planets, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Sun

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Quick but Quotable Links!   Leave a comment

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Hey There!

In addition to my regularly-scheduled blog entries (which, I admit, have been rather slim as of late…sorry!), I’m dishing up a delicious serving of quick but quotable links.  That is, once you take a look at what I’ve got here, you’ll be talking about them to your friends, family and blogosphere buds.

So without further ado, here they are:

1.  This comes via the website Cool Infographics, which offers a wide selection of ordinary data magically transformed into wonderful graphics detailing ideas, thoughts, facts and other items of note.  Randy Klum is the author of both the site and the book of the same name.  The link below details 50 years of visionary sci-fi computer interfaces, or, in other words, television shows and movies’ predictions for our digital futures, starting with “Lost in Space” and continuing onto the movie “Oblivion.”

http://www.coolinfographics.com/blog/2014/8/13/50-years-of-visionary-sci-fi-computer-interfaces.html

2.  There’s a whole batch of brash storm chasers following tornadoes, or hurricane hunters that fly planes directly into the eye of a hurricane to see what’s going on inside.  I’ve witnessed tornadoes forming myself (not by choice) or totally nasty thunderstorms approaching while driving.  Now imagine yourself aboard the Cassini spacecraft and zipping around Saturn.  You’ve discovered a storm at its north pole unlike any other.  Click here and prepare to be amazed…

3.  Here’s a followup to the blog a wrote a few weeks ago regarding the zombie spaceship otherwise known as the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3, or ISEE-3.  Unfortunately, the hardworking citizen scientists were unable to steer the craft into a direction that would bring it closer to the moon.  However, I highly recommend that you not cheat yourselves out of this remarkable adventure and learn more about its extended mission and those that made it possible.  Visit its website here.

4.  The Martian Confederacy  by Paige Braddock and James McNamara is a relatively new online graphic novel.  It’s the year 3535 and three outlaws struggle to save Mars, once a former vacation destination.  Read it!

5.  Thinking about the perfect Christmas present?  You can’t go wrong with a genuine lightsaber!  Pick out the perfect one for your favorite Jedi knight right here.

That’s it for my quick short list!  Enjoy!

 

 

 

What’s In a Name?   Leave a comment

Kepler Mission Planets

Credit: JPL

(Click on the below link for a VERY COOL video!)

http://nyti.ms/1g2QQ0W

Used to be that naming planets was a fairly simple task.  The Ancients looked up towards the skies, observed that a handful of stars travelled across the sky (and, in fact, planet means “wanderer”) and gave them a suitable name that reflected what they saw.

For example, Mars, glowing red in the heavens, was named for the Roman god of war.  And it wasn’t just the Romans who considered this planet the embodiment of conflict and challenges, many cultures and their languages also saw fit to give it this distinction.  The Greeks called it Ares, Hindus call it Mangela, Hebrews call it Ma’adim, in Sanskrit it is known as Angaraka, and in Babylon one would notice the rising and setting of Nergal.  

With the advent of stronger telescopes, more planets within our solar system were discovered, though not bright enough to spot with the unaided eye (mostly – if you know where to look on an incredibly clear night in the middle of a very dark, dark field with absolutely no chance of any interfering light from any source, you might see Uranus, but that depends on other conditions, too).  I’ve seen Jupiter’s four bright moons, through a telescope but with my own eyes, too (but you have to cover up Jupiter with a magazine to see them; it’s much less of a challenge to spot them even with birding binoculars or a decent pair of opera glasses).

Nowadays, we have a problem of riches.  Thanks to the hard work of astronomers, astrophysicists and others trained to observe the telltale signs of wobble and movement, there are over a thousand planets at our disposal.  Sure, they’re ridiculously far away and chances are you’ll never see any of them though your backyard reflector.  But you might see the star they’re rotating, and imagine what kind of life lives upon these exoplanets, as they’re called.

Do you want to blow your mind?  The New York Times has an amazing interactive graphic that’ll keep you busy for hours.  I can’t even find the words to describe how amazing this chart is, but if you check it out, make sure you scroll down to the end.  I won’t give away what’s there, except you’ll gasp and say, “hmm!  The ones found are the result of NASA’s Kepler mission that have confirmed planets rotating around stars.  If you click on some of the graphics on the above link, up will come information about the planet and its sun.

Of course, it’s impossible to find appropriate names for this batch that seems to be growing daily.  That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been attempts.  The International Astronomical Union is sponsoring a contest for that very purpose.  Have any ideas?  Here’s your chance to honor a hitherto anonymous planet with a memorable, catchy handle, just as you would a baby.

Trouble is, what would the inhabitants of said world think?

 

Mapping the Red Planet   Leave a comment

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Credit: USGS

Mars, the alluring tempter of a planet, now exists in map form, easily accessible at the touch of a computer key.  That’s it, just above the copy of this blog post.  As you can see, there’s peaks and valleys, plus polar ice caps.  From the shape of things, one can imagine where water might have flowed and accumulated.

Here’s another view: rotating Mars

The last map was created in 1987, when technology and resources were scant and crude, compared to today’s standards.  Previous maps consisted of data taken from Viking probes and other sources.  What made this latest incarnation possible is the use of the Mars Global Surveyor and the laser altimeter, which bounces up to 600 laser beams to the surface.  Such details, as ages of rocks, were gathered from these sources.

On the United States Geological Survey pages, you can find more details of the map and how it was produced.

Prepare to be fascinated!

Wanted: A Planet to Call Home   2 comments

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Credit: NASA

Clearly, we’ve grown bored with the Earth.  It’s that lover one always strives to please, yet somehow no matter what one does, it’s never right.  In the end, one gives up and goes elsewhere to find love and acceptance.  Its inhabitants have, in equal parts, loved and abused it, ignored its warnings and acted surprised when it fought back.  In the end, we all know it’ll get its way and beat us, but no one who borrows time trodding on its grassy plains and thick muddy fields ever thinks about that prospect.

Instead, our eyes shift upward, looking elsewhere for a better situation and a second chance.

Ever since the discovery of exoplanets, or those outside of our own solar system, space explorers have been determining which of those planets will host life and, optimistically, life that we can identify, and, how we’re going to to meet up one day.  Average citizens, whose off-world opportunities are rather limited, have to rely on imagination and conjecture to supply possibilities.  After all, those alien spaceships have to come from somewhere, right?  They can’t all be bad.  Those Antarians from the movie “Cocoon” did benefit the forgotten population of greying Floridians, even supplying a ride back to Antarea to seniors deserving of a new life.

Closer to home, it’s simpler to take advantage of our backyard planets and subsequent moons.  Once humans figured out what planets actually were, they’ve also contemplated living upon them.

Take, for instance, the moon.  Relatively ancient technology got us there and back for a short visit way back when.  Nowadays, it’s entirely feasible to build a craft to ship us there en masse to create a colony there, given its relative nearness.  We already know there’s a supply of water and rare earth elements just hankering to be mined.  Nearly every genre of science is hankering to conduct experiments there, driven by desire, curiosity and the uniqueness of the lunar environment.  Americans, Russians, as well as private interests all have plans in the works to get up there by the 2020s and make a homestead claim.

Humans attach great meaning to the color red.  Anger, temptation, danger and naughtiness are all meanings associated with it – just about everything we’re not supposed to have and desperately crave.  I’m assuming that’s the subliminal reason why Mars is so magnetic.  After all, this red planet practically begs someone to come hither.  Probes coyly hint at the richness of Mars’ treasures.  Water’s there, too, although not behaving the way we’d like it to be, adding more to its mystique.  And like a forbidden love, the more determined we are to have it, the more money it costs to secure it.  I’ve no doubt there’ll be a batch of humans trying to tame the Wild Red Planet’s surface, but it’ll come at a price, no one will be happy, but we’ll be never be satisfied until we at least have a first date.  Then we’ll see.

Until then, I’m going to bide my time and see what openings Virgin Galactic has in the near future.  I might want to book a ride.

Left in the Dust   Leave a comment

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Opportunity.  Credit: NASA

 

There’s a really hard worker out there, a senior citizen by many standards, who labors daily to investigate new discoveries and justify employment.  It’s a familiar circumstance, as anyone who’s been to McDonald’s lately and notices the grey-haired workers slinging burgers behind the counter.

Except this time, we’re talking about a enterprising, determined robot named Opportunity.

NASA’s ten-year-old scrappy little fella keeps plugging away, searching through the red dust looking for, well, new opportunities.  And like many senior citizens out there, he’s survived wretched conditions: blazing heat, frigid winters, uncertain circumstances, life out in the open without so much as a complaint.  Somehow, someway it’s continued to plug away at the only job it has ever known, and that’s reporting its findings back to the scientists who record its reports and disseminate whatever they contain in the name of research.

Those days might end a whole lot sooner than anyone thinks.  The 2015 NASA budget has been slashed, with zero funds for our Earthern expatriate.

What’s becoming of America and its intrepidness?  I mean, really?

I’m not really a political person, but when I see opportunities lost (and this isn’t a pun) such as the one on Mars, I feel a bit more of our prestige going down the toilet.  We should be proud that a robot as resilient as Opportunity still continues to operate. as we almost certainly are with Voyagers 1 and 2.  And yes, there are plenty other missions slated for Mars, including manned ones.  But why quit an Opportunity now, when there’s still so much to be gained?

Our nation once threw itself into the space race full tilt.  Those days have ebbed, but the drive to encourage and educate young scientists isn’t fostered as diligently as it once was, or should still be.  I find this ironic, since we seem to be heading into second golden age of Sci-Fi.  With all the interest in what’s going to unfold in the future, shouldn’t we take a little hunk of our past and keep it going?

Though we’re gaining ground of what sort of planet Mars truly is, it’s become a group effort among nations.  Everybody who’s industrialized seems to have their eyes set squarely on Mars, for science and the inevitable drive for profit.

Which leaves me to wonder: is America up to the challenge anymore?  Does America really care about its space legacy?  Has it lost its imagination about how far we can go?

I sure hope not.  I’m still betting Star Trek is a chronicle of the future, sent back to us here in the past, just like ST IV: The Journey Home.

Posted April 10, 2014 by seleneymoon in Space Missions, Star Trek

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