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Posts Tagged ‘Mercury

“To declare that Earth must be the only planet with life in the universe would be inexcusably bigheaded of us”*…

 

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If any intelligent life in our galaxy intercepts the Voyager spacecraft, if they evolved the sense of vision, and if they can decode the instructions provided, these 116 images are all they will know about our species and our planet, which by then could be long gone…

When Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 launched into space in 1977, their mission was to explore the outer solar system, and over the following decade, they did so admirably.

With an 8-track tape memory system and onboard computers that are thousands of times weaker than the phone in your pocket, the two spacecraft sent back an immense amount of imagery and information about the four gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

But NASA knew that after the planetary tour was complete, the Voyagers would remain on a trajectory toward interstellar space, having gained enough velocity from Jupiter’s gravity to eventually escape the grasp of the sun. Since they will orbit the Milky Way for the foreseeable future, the Voyagers should carry a message from their maker, NASA scientists decided.

The Voyager team tapped famous astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan to compose that message. Sagan’s committee chose a copper phonograph LP as their medium, and over the course of six weeks they produced the “Golden Record”: a collection of sounds and images that will probably outlast all human artifacts on Earth…

More (including an interactive decoding of the symbols on the disc) at “The 116 photos NASA picked to explain our world to aliens.”

And for an update on NASA”s attempts at interstellar communication, check here.

* Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Death By Black Hole

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As we contemplate co-habitation of the universe, we might send out-of-this-world birthday greetings to Alan B. Shepard; he was born on this date in 1923.  A naval aviator and test pilot, he was selected in the first class of American astronauts, the “Mercury Seven”; in 1961, he piloted the first American manned mission, “Freedom 7,” becoming the first American (and second man, after Yuri Gagarin) into space.  Ten years later, he was part of the Apollo 14 crew, piloting the lunar module for Nasa’s third successful moon landing.

Shepard during the “Freedom 7” flight

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Written by LW

November 18, 2015 at 1:01 am

“This is a credulous age, and the burden of knowledge which we now have to carry is partly responsible”*…

 

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This map, published by South Dakotan Orlando Ferguson in 1893, offers a unique vision of the Earth as a concave field, with a round convex area in the middle. Surrounded by Bible passages arguing against the idea of a spherical Earth and embellished with a small illustration of men grasping desperately onto a spinning globe, the map begs its viewers to order Ferguson’s book on “this Square and Stationary Earth,” which “knocks the globe theory clean out.”

Historian Christine Garwood writes that the idea that people in the medieval period believed in a flat Earth before Columbus roundly disabused the world of that notion is reductive. Some medieval thinkers realized the truth, and people have persisted in believing in a flat Earth far past the time of Columbus. “Flat-earth belief has a chronology far stranger than all the inventions,” she writes. The idea’s resurgence in the 19th century is part of that strangeness.

In the 19th-century United States, pamphleteers and authors of varying levels of credibility debated the flat-Earth theory vigorously. In an issue of the journal Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, published in 1896, the editors included Ferguson’s book in a list of other recent titles questioning the dominant scientific perspective on the nature of the globe. Some of these: Eclectic or Cosmo-Enspheric Astronomy: The firmament a hollow sphere, and we live inside of it (Ulysses G. Morrow, 1894); One Hundred Proofs that the Earth is Not a Globe (William Carpenter, 1885); and Terra Firma. The Earth Does Not Move. Is not a Globe (W.M. Herd, 1890)…

Explore further at “A Bizarrely Complicated Late-19th-Century Flat-Earth Map.”

[Comics, courtesy of Dilbert.com]

* George Orwell, inspired to take up this topic by playwright George Bernard Shaw’s 1924 introduction to Saint Joan

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As we contemplate circumnavigation, we might send supersonic birthday greetings to Robert Rowe Gilruth; He was born on this date in 1913.  An aerospace scientist and engineer, Gilruth developed the X-1, the first plane to break the sound barrier, then directed NASA’s Project Mercury– via which he enabled John Glenn to become the first American to orbit the Earth–  and later, the Apollo and Gemini Programs.

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Written by LW

October 8, 2015 at 1:01 am

Pictures worth a million words…

In his great opus De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium published shortly before his death in 1543, Copernicus takes 405 pages of words, numbers and equations to explain his heliocentric theory. But it is the diagram that he draws at the beginning of the book that captures in a simple image his revolutionary new idea: it is the Sun that is at the centre of the Solar System, not the Earth.

A diagram has the power to create a whole new visual language to navigate a scientific idea. Isaac Newton’s optics diagrams [Opticks, 1704] for example transform light into geometry. By representing light as lines, Newton is able to use mathematics and geometry to predict the behaviour of light. It was a revolutionary idea.

Mathematicians had been struggling with the idea of the square root of minus one. There seemed to be no number on the number line whose square was negative. Experts knew that if such a number existed it would transform their subject. But where was this number? It was a picture drawn independently by three mathematicians at the beginning of the 19th Century that brought these numbers to life. Called the Argand diagram after one of its creators, this picture… was a potent tool in manipulating these new numbers [Imaginary Numbers] since the geometry of the diagram reflected the underlying algebra of the numbers they depicted.

Although better known for her contributions to nursing, Florence Nightingale’s greatest achievements were mathematical. She was the first to use the idea of a pie chart to represent data.  Nightingale’s diagrams were designed to highlight deaths in the Crimea. She had discovered that the majority of deaths in the Crimea were due to poor sanitation rather than casualties in battle. She wanted to persuade government of the need for better hygiene in hospitals. She realised though that just looking at the numbers was unlikely to impress ministers. But once those numbers were translated into a picture – her “Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East” – the message could not be ignored.

Read more (and find links to enlarged versions of the images above) at BBC.com, in “Diagrams that Changed the World,” a teaser for new BBC TV series, Marcus du Sautoy’s six-part The Beauty of Diagrams (on air now, and available via iPlayer to readers in the U.K… and readers with VPNs that can terminate in the U.K.)

As we marvel at the power of pictures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1997 that eight planets in our Solar System lined up from West to East– beginning with Pluto, followed by Mercury, Mars, Venus, Uranus, Neptune, Saturn and Jupiter, with a crescent moon alongside– in a rare alignment visible from Earth.  Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn were visible to the naked eye; the small blue dots that are Uranus and Neptune, with binoculars.  Pluto was visible only by telescope (but has subsequently been demoted from “planet” anyway…). The planets also aligned in May 2000, but too close to the sun to be visible from Earth.

Readers who missed it have a long wait for the reprise: it will be at least another 100 years before so many planets will be so close and so visible.

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