Category Archive: Space

Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better

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  A few months ago I wrote a piece on some of the most amazing scientific predictions to come out of classical literature. From IVF to space travel, it seems that an unexpected number of major technological innovations have been proceeded by the imaginations of great historical authors. But, if amazing scientific breakthroughs can be predicted before they happen, then surely the reverse must also be true. Indeed, history must be littered with examples of respected authorities confidently postulating the possibility of a discovery one minute, before shame-facedly back-pedalling in the next. So, with that in mind, here’s a run-down of science’s top-5 greatest hypothetical hick-ups.   5) Theory: Planet Vulcan, Proponent: Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier During the 1800s, astronomers were struggling to explain certain peculiarities in Mercury’s celestial orbit. Several scientists, led by Le Verrier, suggested that these disturbances arose due to the existence of another planet or  moon, which was named ‘Vulcan’, after the Roman god of fire. The theory drummed …

Mississippi Delta

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It may look like a branching blood vessel, but this image is actually taken 700km above the surface of the Earth. It is a false-colour image of the Mississippi Delta – the coastal region where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico. To highlight the edges of the branching pattern of river channels, vegetation in this image have been coloured red. While engineers have done their best to control the course of the Mississippi River with a series of levees and artificial channels, it is still difficult to control the 17000 cubic meters of water that flow out of the mouth of the river every second. On its 2320 mile journey from its source, the river has picked up a large amount of sediment. As the water slows as it enters the Gulf, this sediment can no longer be carried by the moving water, and so is deposited. It’s not a coincidence the image shares a striking similarity with …

Awesome proof we landed on the moon

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Surely this is every kid’s fantasy – to be able to drive an awesome buggy not just off-road, but off the planet. The driver of the buggy (or Lunar Roving Vehicle as it’s more properly called) is Fred W. Haise, Jr., Commander of the Apollo 16 mission to the moon. From the footage, you can tell it was taken on another world for a number of reasons. Firstly, the scale of the environment the LRV is driving in – it goes on for miles in every direction. So, either NASA built the world’s largest set to film this in or it actually did take place on the surface of the moon. Secondly, look at the dust that flies out from under the vehicle. Notice how it falls much slower than it normally would. That’s because the moon’s gravity is sixth of that on Earth.  Also look at the way the dust behaves. On Earth, dust kicked up from a vehicle would …

Inside the space shuttle Discovery

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If you really like switches, you should have become an astronaut. This 360 degree photo was taken from inside the Space Shuttle Discovery. Over its 27 year lifetime, it has spent over 365 days in space, and travelled a whopping 148 million miles – the equivalent of travelling to the Moon and back 250 times. Highlights of its illustrious career include launching the Hubble Space telescope in 1990 and docking with the Mir space station in 1994. Discovery has to operate perfectly in extreme environments – High temperatures, solar radiation, the vacuum of space – all require complex machinery. Hence, the huge number of switches, buttons, dials, monitors and joysticks. That’s why it can take up to 12 years of training before a pilot is allowed full control of the shuttle. Unfortunately, every shuttle is now out of commission, each heading for a different museum to live out the rest of its days. While plans are being carried out in …

Hell hath no fury like a Venus scorned

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From a distance, the planet Venus looks a calm and serene place. But take a closer look, and things might not be quite so peaceful. Named after the Roman goddess of beauty, the surface of Venus is actually a very unattractive place to be, with choking fumes of sulphur dioxide and a surface temperature hot enough to melt zinc. Things have got even uglier, as scientists get more evidence of active volcanoes on its surface. This hellish image is really an artists impression of what an active volcano on the surface of Venus might look like. Although, the surface of Venus is littered with shield volcanoes, most have been inactive for millions of years. Evidence comes not from the surface of Venus, but from its atmosphere. Although on average its atmosphere only has 0.015% sulphur dioxide, this is concentrated in the lower sections. Higher up, interactions with radiation from the sun break it down into different chemicals. The Venus Express spacecraft …

Star trails in the southern skies

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The movements of the heavens above are sometimes hard to notice. This photo, however, shows clearly the stars rotating around the Earth’s rotational axis. The telescope in the foreground is the Yepun telescope (UT4) in the Very Large Telescope (VLT) complex at Paranal Observatory, Chile. The picture was taken by Farid Char, an astrophotographer from Chile. I asked him a few questions about his magnificent picture: How long does it take to create the picture? The photo is an artistic composition. I took several captures, then stacked them, but I superimposed a single frame to see the telescope quiet, otherwise it would appear distorted because of its continuous movement during the night. The basics of the picture are shown on its web section, but I can tell you is a composition of 867 single captures over a tripod (15” each), and the overall exposition was 4 hours 12 mins (from 23:50 h to 04:02 h local time). What does it mean to …

Desert beauty revealed from space

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Who knew so much geography could be crammed into such a beautiful image as this one. Taken by ESA’s ENVISAT satellite, this image shows the mountains of Tibesti on the borders of Chad and Libya. First of all, the dominant blue smudge are the mountains themselves – the highest range in the Saraha. Most have been created by now-dormant volcanoes, but some are still active in the region. Lava flows can just be seen on the western edge, flowing to the left. The highest peak – Emi Koussi can be seen as a darker circle in the lower right part of the dark area. Emi Koussi is a really interesting volcano, as scientists believe it is a good analogue Elysium Mons – one of the largest volcano on Mars. The white area at the top of the image is a depression in the landscape, caused by accumulating carbonate salts blown off the surrounding regions. When these carbonates dissolve in water …

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