Here’s what most astronauts will never tell you.
Turns out our solar system â with its medium sized sun, its four small rocky planets, its four big gassy ones farther out â isn’t like the others. We are unusual. Very unusual. Says one prominent astronomer, we are “a bit of a freak.”
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield shows what happens when you wring a wet towel in zero-gravity.
The first Canadian to lead an ISS expedition, he is probably one of the most charismatic astronauts of our time. He’s very active on social media, with a huge following on Twitter and Tumblr.
Russia is celebrating its Day of Cosmonautics in grand fashion today. President Vladimir Putin has announced a new multi-year plan to develop the country’s spacefaring efforts, which will be funded to the tune of some 1.6 trillion roubles (just over $50 billion) between now and 2020. Underlining Russia’s proud heritage of space exploration and engineering, Putin describes this new drive as being instrumental to Russia’s economic competitiveness as well as maintaining its position as a leading space power.
Visiting the construction site of a new spaceport today, Putin said that the new funding will be spent on modernizing Russia’s outdated rockets and other equipment, stimulating the development and use of homegrown components, and catching up to the rest of the world in the field of unmanned space exploration. Echoing the words of American astrophysicist Nel deGrasse Tyson, Putin also anticipates there to be many trickle-down benefits from funding further research into space technologies — everything from medicine and transportation to telecommunications and defense systems stands to potentially benefit.
For example, throughout the 1960s, anywhere from 40% to 60% of Americans felt that we were spending too much money on space exploration. Even after the moon landing, barely half the country felt that the Apollo program was worth the cost. And while many Americans believe that NASA costs almost a quarter of the US budget, the actual cost is less than 0.5% — and it hasn’t risen more than 1% since 1993.
The Russians want to use their proposed Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex (OPSEK) as a launching point for spacecraft destined for Mars, the Moon, and possibly Saturn. The returning crew would also recover on the station before landing on Earth. This Russian space station could form part of a deep-space network, supporting manned exploration of the Solar system.
Storm on Saturn.
The universe contains over a 100 billion galaxies, with some estimates going as high as several hundred billion. In our Milky Way galaxy alone, there are 200 to 400 billion stars, whereas there may be as many as 10 sextillion.
Of course, given the sheer scale of what we’re dealing with, the numbers and estimates vary wildly. Here’s how a study from the Daily Galaxy break down the visible universe within 14 billion light years:
- Superclusters in the visible universe = 10 million
- Galaxy groups in the visible universe = 25 billion
- Large galaxies in the visible universe = 350 billion
- Dwarf galaxies in the visible universe = 7 trillion
- Stars in the visible universe = 30 billion trillion (3×10²²)
Another study I’ve read suggests that 90% of the most distant galaxies in the universe could be unseen due to clouds of cosmic dust. That would mean that – assuming the same number of stars in each galaxy – that the number of stars in the visible universe would be 270 billion trillion or (2.7 x 10 to the power of 24). Try to wrap your head around that number.
Experts predicts we would need about 2 to 5 years to divert the path of an oncoming asteroid. Since we’re still many years away from being able to slowly push such an object off course, our only options would be either crashing a spacecraft into it or altering its course with nuclear explosions (which is technically illegal in international law).
So far, only the United States and Russia have the ability to undertake this task, although the space programs of Canada, Japan, and Europe have been very helpful with surveillance and exploration, while those of India, China, and Brazil are becoming more advanced. Needless to say, while such a threat is probably still far off, we should start working together to prepare — which is a difficult task in and of itself. It’s going to be quite an investment in a world already beset with so many other problems and sources of disunity.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to build-up the necessary international response and coordination:
The United Nations Scientific and Technical Subcommittee has a special working group on NEOs advised by a special coalition of experts (called Action Team 14), ranging from space agencies to advocacy groups. Together, they are working to formalize an U.N. framework for coordinating an international response to potentially dangerous NEOs. Their recommendations, which will be presented in February, are expected to include proposals to establish two institutions.
The first is an international asteroid warning network to coordinate the search for NEOs, determine which ones are threats, and what their characteristics are (what they’re made of, how fast they’re traveling, and other factors relevant to trying to deflect them).
The second group is a “space mission planning advisory group” — comprised of engineers, astronauts (and cosmonauts, and maybe taikonauts), and other representatives of various countries’ space agencies — to plan potential responses to threats. It’s a good start, but some experts feel it’s moving too slowly (surprising no one familiar with the United Nations).”
A pre-launch photo of the crew. Morale is important - laughing together is essential to real success.
How endearing! If you’re going to be stuck in space together, you better at least get along, right?
Despite having a broadcasting power of only 20 watts - equivalent to a refrigerator light bulb - the Voyager spacecraft can be reached 7 to 9 billion miles from Earth. The article is old but has some great information about this amazing device.
An artist’s impression shows the disk of gas and cosmic dust around the young star HD 142527, as observed by astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. They have witnessed vast streams of gas flowing across the gap in the disc, the first time we’ve seen the stages of a star being born. Read more about it here.