It has captured the imaginations of science fiction fans the world over - the possibility of traveling to distant worlds in the blink of an eye - but it has remained little more than fantasy.
We currently occupy a time where a significant technological deficit prevents us from considering such propositions, but that does not mean that interstellar travel could not one day become reality. And, it seems, that we have taken one more step toward that goal.
In order to get around the cosmic speed limit, the concept of warp drive was introduced. Such a scenario would actually cause space-time around a space craft to expand and contract, creating a cosmic wave, if you will, upon which the ship would ride.
While Einstein's equations preclude mass from traveling at speeds greater than that of light, space-time itself has no known limitations. So creating a bubble of space-time that moves faster than the speed of light that carries a space ship along with it - that, in effect is stationary in reference to the space-time bubble - is a clever end around the limitations of physics.
However, there has always been a problem with this hypothetical warp drive: Energy.
Even if we possessed the technological knowledge to effectively warp space-time around an entire ship, which we don't, the energy needed was always thought to be prohibitive. However, a new design suggests that there may be ways to dramatically reduce the energy needed.
While there is still a long way to go - these new designs would still require roughly the entire electricity output for the entire world for an entire year just to get the thing going - these strides point to a future where, with more study, the idea of warp drive may no move from being highly improbable to possible.
Image Credit: Harold White/NASA
Several weeks ago the internet watched in awe as the Mars rover Curiosity completed its journey to the surface of the red planet.
Now, as it begins the next phase of its mission, to search out evidence of here life may have formed, if at all, video is starting to emerge of its plunge through the atmosphere.
Many people have taken to constructing these videos, using NASA/JPL data to construct brilliant high-def movies. But a stumbled across one on Youtube that I particularly liked, so thought I would share. Enjoy!
The world lost a great hero on Saturday. Astronaut Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82.
His death came somewhat suddenly, arising from complications with a cardiovascular procedure.
Armstrong was a quiet, private man, who was content to live outside of the spotlight after his historic Moon landing. But it was he and his fellow astronauts that inspired a nation, and indeed the world, to dream that mankind was capable of making the impossible, well, possible.
Stay tuned to this space; I'll have more on Armstrong, including a piece on how it was the likes of him who inspired a nation to greatness.
The Perseid Meteor shower is peaking this weekend. So if you are out and about in the evening hours, be sure to check it out.
Of course, the best viewing is to be had under dark skies, away from bright city lights.
Friday (tonight) may be the best viewing as the Moon will be rising later tonight, but the shower actually peaks late Saturday evening/early Sunday morning.
Happy sky gazing!
A few months ago I was out in southern Arizona observing on the VERITAS experiment. While there a colleage and good friend of mine, Daniel Gall, set up his camera to capture the gamma-ray observatory in action.
Shot over several nights with a Nikon D5100, the images are 30 second exposures spaced 30 seconds apart. If you have having trouble viewing the video above, you can see the original here.
There has been a lot of talk in the last couple years about the future of the manned space program. Of course, the highlight of the discussion is the possibility of a manned trip to Mars.
Considerable obstacles await such a venture, so in preparing for that small steps are taken to devise solutions.
One of the greatest problems is how to land on the surface. Small rovers, like Spirit and Opportunity, were relatively simple to to get down to the surface safely because they are small and light.
However, getting a heavy payload, like a manned mission would have, is very different. With a very thin atmosphere a parachute does not have the stopping power that the Earth has. And a high velocity impact is difficult to stop, even with airbag-type technology.
So, NASA created a three stage system that used a parachute, rockets and a "sky crane" to protect Curiosity, an enormous rover compared to its predecessors, from damage during landing.
Early this morning, Curiosity mades its way safely to the surface, perhaps paving the way for more heavy payload missions in the future.
And the work is already starting to pay off as Curiosity is already beaming back images from the surface. And, as an added bonus, the craft was caught landing by the HiRES Mars orbiter as it made its way down to the surface.
Image Credits, Top: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Middle: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Bottom: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
Now before you begin making travel arrangements to the other side of the Universe, you should know that this is not going to happen for another 4 billion years.
But even then, there is little to suggest that Earth would be in any danger as there is a lot of empty space in galaxies, so unless we happened upon the central bulge of Andromeda we would probably be ok. (I should note that this is all academic anyway; as the Sun increases in brightness - as it has done, and will continue to do over its life time - the radiant energy will eventually make Earth too hot to support life; most likely before this collision occurs.)
These spiral galaxies - along with possibly the Triangulum Galaxy - will merge to form a new galaxy. Initially the new object would probably be classified as either a Peculiar or Irregular Galaxy. But researchers suggest that eventually the combination could form into an elliptical galaxy as it approaches a gravitational equilibrium of sorts.
Part of me wishes that this event was going to happen much sooner; it would be amazing to see the Andromeda galaxy hanging so brilliantly in the night sky.
Above Image: The Andromeda Galaxy dominates the night sky about 3.75 billion years from now. Image Credit: NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas; and A. Mellinger.
I'm actually out in the Colorado Springs area visiting family for a week, and it certainly hasn't been the visit that we planned.
As you are probably aware, wild fires have sprung up across the state and some of them have resulted in the loss of life and homes.
While searching around I stumbled across the above image from NASA taken with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite on June 23, 2012.
You can clearly see the smoke from the wild fires (note that the white puffy things are clouds, the smoke is gray and more diffuse). This was early in the evolution of the fires outside Colorado Springs in Waldo Canyon, so the smoke from there is still relatively faint in this natural color image.
It may take several more weeks to extinguish the fires, but they are certainly making progress.
Since I will only be able to sporadically update the blog during the next few weeks, I thought I would leave you all with some summer reading until I can get back to regular updates. Enjoy the articles below!
Don't worry though, as NASA was on the ball and snapped some pretty impressive pictures of the event. And believe me, these are much more visually appealing than seeing it yourself (though that is pretty cool as well with the right equipment).
Anyway, you can check out the entire gallery here, or for your convenience of I have included my three favorites on this post. Enjoy!
Image Credits: JAXA/NASA/Lockheed Martin (Top), NASA/SDO, AIA (Middle and Bottom).
It sounds like a bit of mumbo-jumbo doesn't it? "Hey, we can't explain our data, so we're going to make up stuff to make our equations work. What to call it? Uh, how about Dark Matter. Oh, we need more? Ok, the other stuff is, uh, Dark Energy."
Ok, so that isn't how it went down. Not even close, actually. In fact, there is some real science behind the theories of dark matter and dark energy. At the same time, though, we don't exactly have everything sorted out.
So I thought I would give you the latest on where things stand and where we are headed in the search for the dark stuff of our Universe. See the below links for details.