When the Greek Alphabet turns menacing.

Podcast: Space Radiation

By: Astronomy Cast

Link: http://www.astronomycast.com/2019/01/ep-515-space-radiation/


There are four main types of radiation one can encounter:

Alpha particles: Protons. Blocked by the skin. Potentially dangerous if inhaled or consumed.

Beta particles: Electrons.

Gamma rays (and X Rays): Photons.

Charged nuclei: Galactic cosmic rays and solar events.

On earth we’re mostly safe from these because of our magnetic field and atmosphere but in space travel and the surface of other worlds they’re extremely dangerous. Astronauts on long flights have a much higher risk of cancer.

The Van Allen Belts that surround Earth contain a lot of these particles and are a risk to electronic equipment that passes through them.

Solar flares are extremely dangerous for unprotected humans and electronics. The Apollo missions were lucky that the Sun stayed quiet and didn’t release any major flares in our direction during them.

There are various ideas for shielding spacecraft (surrounding them with water or soil, or generating magnetic fields) but none are really feasible with current technology.

The best bet for explorers on other worlds is living underground.

Balloons would never be the same.

Video: The Impossible Element Hiding in the Sun

By: SciShow Space



The first periodic table didn’t include space for the noble gases – since they don’t react with anything they’re very hard to detect through chemistry.

Helium was discovered in space due to a solar eclipse in the 1860s before it was discovered on Earth in 1895 through radioactive decay of Uranium.

By looking at light through a prism, scientists discovered that you can distinguish different types of light by looking at its spectrum.

Light generated by burning different element has a unique collection of dark lines. This is due to each element absorbing light at specific wavelengths. This is governed by quantum mechanics. Atoms absorb photons at different wavelengths, and this behavior is unique to each element.

The solar eclipse allowed scientists to get a spectrum that included Helium from the Sun’s corona by blocking out the main spectrum.

We use spectroscopy to learn about composition of all kinds of things that emit or reflect light. We can even study the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars.

If it weren’t for Nixon, we’d have humans that were born on Mars by now

Book: How We’ll Live on Mars

Author: Stephen L. Petranek


Werhner von Braun was a Nazi SS Officer who was taken to the US after the war and wrote a book called Das Marsprojekt which has been an instrumental piece of work outline the necessary steps for travel to Mars to this day.

Nixon’s decision to scrap the Apollo program in favor of the Space Shuttle program was the turning point of advancing our space exploration capability. The military wanted the Shuttle Program as a way to launch and repair spy satellites.

It’s likely the first humans on Mars are going to be the result of private enterprise, not government agencies.

Mars could be a gateway for asteroid mining, either for rare mineral extraction back to Earth or back to Mars.

Large mirrors in space reflecting more sunlight to Mars’ surface is one of the most feasible ways to warm up parts of the planet and start a greenhouse effect cycle of getting more carbon dioxide and water vapor in the air to build even more heat.

My thoughts:

Even though the book is only four years old, a lot of the dates are already incorrect. None of the private companies are as far along as they predicted they would be. As someone else who is aggressively futurist I can relate to the disappointment of technology not being as far along as I want it to be.

If we had kept NASA’s budget at 4% of government spending and kept up the focus we had during the Apollo program, we’d have humans on multiple planets and moons across the solar system by now, and be awash in rare resources and probably much more advanced technology and energy generation methods. Such a shame.

It was cool reading this after the Red Mars Trilogy to get a bit more hard science and see some real life progress being made on Mars missions.

Life, uh, finds a way

Podcast: Planetary Protection Protocols

By: Astronomy Cast

Link: http://www.astronomycast.com/2019/01/ep-514-planetary-protection-protocols/


Based on how likely a destination is to have life on it, there are different levels of cleaning and decontamination spacecraft must undergo before being launched.

The idea is that we don’t want to carry life with us that could potentially be an invasive species on a different planet and destroy or otherwise negatively impact native life.

When the protocols were first written up, we weren’t aware of the potential for life on many places we now think it could reside, such as Titan, Ceres, or even the gas giant planets.

Also, the methods used to clean some of the earlier Mars missions such as Viking I and II would not have necessarily have killed some of the extremophile life we now know exists.

Tardigrades are awesome.

Nothing was wrong with that name until that sitcom from the 2000’s came along and made my In-Laws think they finally understood me.

Video: What’s Wrong With the Big Bang Theory?

By: PBS Space Time


Notes: From the CMB we can see that the temperature of the Universe is every direction is very consistent, even among areas of the Universe that are outside each other’s particle horizons. The best current explanation of this is that the Universe must have started out very small so everything had enough time to mix around, before undergoing a rapid phase of massive inflation – going from the size of a subatomic particle to roughly the size of a grain of sand. At that point it switched to expanding at the current rate of expansion we still observe today.

The current limitations of the Big Bang theory do not explain the origin of the Universe. They explain what has happened after that.

Before the Universe was 400,000 years old it was too hot and dense for atoms to exist. Photons would be emitted and instantly absorbed. So it’s impossible for us to see back further in time than this – there’s nothing to see.

At the initial stages of the Big Bang, temperatures were so hot that the Higgs field didn’t exist to give particles mass. (Editorial: Does this help explain why the Universe didn’t just collapse back on itself as a black hole? Without the Higgs field and mass, there wasn’t anything for gravity to operate on). Also, we can actually create these conditions within the Large Hadron Collider.

Interesting Links

Article: Don’t Worry, MLB — Hitters Are Killing The Shift On Their Own

By: 538

Link: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/dont-worry-mlb-hitters-are-killing-the-shift-on-their-own/

Notes: “The Shift” is a defensive practice in baseball to use historical data of the places a batter is likely to hit a ball and move the defenders more towards those areas.

Statistically it seems like this tool is becoming less valuable. Somewhat predictability, it seems like batters are starting to adjust to this strategy and change their hitting styles when encountering the shift.

It feels like another example of evolution within the game where one group finds an advantage and another group adapts to overcome it. Taking this idea to its conclusion, it makes me theorize that every generation the players are overall better than the previous generation as we collectively learn more about the game and how to plan, practice, and play it better.

Article: The 8 Signs That Machine Learning Will Automate Some or All of Your Job

By: Gizmodo

Link: https://gizmodo.com/the-8-signs-that-machine-learning-will-automate-some-or-1831853145

Notes: Machine learning is coming and it’s going to significantly change many current jobs. It will replace some jobs completely. Not as talked about though is how many jobs are going to have some or part of their tasks augmented or supplemented by machine learning. If you spending your time doing repetitive tasks or tasks that have very concrete input and output, it’s very possible those tasks will be offloaded to automation, either making you more efficient and profitable or allowing a single person to do the work of several.

It’s coming for all of us eventually though 😉

Article: Cassini Saw Rain Falling at Titan’s North Pole

By: Universe Today

Link: https://www.universetoday.com/141271/cassini-saw-rain-falling-at-titans-north-pole/

Notes: It’s summer on the north pole of Titan. And it’s raining methane.

Video: How we Make the Coldest Places in the Universe

By: Scishow


Notes: Absolute Zero is the lowest possible temperature, at which point the motion (kinetic energy) of subatomic particles completely stops. Currently we can create situations in labs that are closer to absolute zero than anywhere else we know in the Universe.

The Doppler cooling method involves firing photons at an atom to slow its kinetic motion. But there’s a limit as to how far this can cool an atom.

Sisyphus cooling goes beyond this by having the atom enter a higher energy state emit a photon, sending it into an overall lower energy state.

Buy local food that’s in season

Video: Is Organic Really Better? Healthy Food or Trendy Scam?

By: Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell


Notes: There isn’t a global consensus on the definition or rules of organic.

Organic foods tend to have more antioxidants. (See https://blogaccessmemory.com/2019/01/14/anti-antioxidants/)

There are mixed results on whether organic foods contain more nutrition value.

It’s more important to eat fruits and vegetables than how they were produced.

There does seem to be less pesticide residue on organic produce but that doesn’t mean none. Organic pesticides are not necessarily safer than artificial ones. Toxic is toxic.

Pesticide residue on produce isn’t necessarily harmful under current guidelines and restrictions.

Organic production systems aren’t clearly better for the environment. Conventional farming is better for using less land, and organic better for less environmental toxicity.

Recent increased demand for organic products has caused incidents of fraud or undesired business practices.

It would be better to stop thinking of organic as good, conventional as bad, or their differences being irreconcilable. The best idea would be to take the strengths of both to get out food.

The best method is to buy local food that’s in season.

Anti Antioxidants

Podcast: Antioxidants

From: Science Vs

Link: https://player.fm/series/science-vs/science-vs-live-chocolate-coffee-wine


Despite a whole lot of studies there hasn’t been any data linking Antioxidant supplements to better heart health, decreased cancer rates, or slowed aging.

It’s now thought that free radicals aren’t as bad for us as we thought they were, they’re actually necessary for health body function, and our body has pretty good systems of regulating them.

However, these foods also contain Resveratrol, a molecule that can potentially activate sirtuins in the body, which is a protein that can help burn fat. There haven’t yet been enough good long term studies to determine if this could be beneficial for humans.