Europa Clipper – Europa is an icy moon that orbits Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. The Galileo space probe confirmed the moon has a thin atmosphere, is covered by thick ice and flexes tidally. The surface is covered with reddish-brown hatch marks, possibly left behind by irradiated salt water deposits. The Hubble telescope found water vapor shooting sixty miles in height, prompting the theory of a subsurface ocean on this strange world. The USA has planned a new mission of discovery, the Europa Clipper, named for high seas ship voyages in the not so distant past. For the first time, a space probe might discover life outside Earth. Still in the planning stages, the radiation-tolerant spacecraft will use Jupiter’s gravity to slingshot by the moon, 45 revolutions within 16 miles of the surface. Passing through the water above the surface will allow analysis of the chemical makeup but avoids the need to drill through ice layers. NASA is sending instruments aboard including cameras, spectrometers, radar, magnetometer, thermometer and instruments to detect atmospheric water and particles. Every great story starts the same way. What if? Could unimaginable creatures inhabit this familiar yet so alien underwater world? Truly, this is a new age of exploration.
EVOLUTION OF IMAGES – The 30,000 year old figurative paintings discovered in the Chauvet cave date back to the Paleolithic age. The art materials used were sticks, rocks, hand prints, mud, charcoal and red ochre. Fast forward to the year 1665 to peek into Johannes Vermeer’s art studio. His painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, looks like it might have been shot with a modern camera. His painting materials, techniques and rumored use of a camera obscura have been lost to history. Prior to the 1800’s, photographic attempts resulted in a crude finished product. That changed in 1839 with the Daguerreotype. Whereby a sheet of silver-plated copper was treated, exposed to light inside a camera, subjected to mercury vapor and sealed in a glass case. In 1888, the next evolution in stills was ushered in by the Kodak camera. Now, anyone could snap a photo and pay the company to process the images. First in black and white, then soon afterward in color Kodachrome film. Moving images, AKA movies, were a revolution of entertainment in the silent film era, from roughly 1895 to 1930. The Kinetograph was one of the first, watched through a peephole on top of the device. The word ‘film’ comes from a strip of celluloid material with a series of still shots that run through the projector, displayed on a movie screen with a reflective coating in a darkened movie theater. By the time the Great Depression came about ‘talkies’–otherwise known as sound films–became the standard in American entertainment. Black and white gave way to color but not entirely. The Wizard of Oz was filmed in Technicolor with some scenes shot in black and white. Film Noir employed severe angular shadows juxtaposed against razor sharp light to set a stark mood. Broadcast television was undergoing its own evolutionary process. NBC transmitted a pioneering broadcast in 1941 but earlier crude experimental iterations came earlier. At the time a cathode ray tube captured a moving image by interpreting a signal from a series of lines picked up by the set. NBC was also the first network to provide a color television signal as early as 1953. But the digital age changed everything–for still as well as moving images–beginning in the 1990’s due to computer capabilities. Still images came first, followed by televisions, monitors and portable hand held screens. By 2009 older analog TV systems were obsolete. Not long afterward, high definition televisions and displays became available. Most display screens today rely on LCD technology. Variations on this include 4K Ultra HD, OLED, curved monitors, VR goggles and even transparent monitors. Images are displayed on smart phones, static displays such as the Kindle Paperwhite, and on tablets including the Samsung Note. Images have come a long way in 30,000 years. I wonder what will come next, in the evolution of images?
THE EVOLUTION OF FLIGHT – Around the year 1500, Leonardo da Vinci produced sketches, mostly ornithopters, of flying machines and bird flight. The man-powered helical airscrew might have been able to lift off the ground. Unfortunately the engine wasn’t available at that time to produce a functioning helicopter. Prior to 1700, kite jumping and tower jumping were the earliest forms of human flight. The first manned hot air balloon was piloted in 1783 by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier on the order of King Louis XVI. The design consisted of a fire in an iron basket under a balloon neck, it sustained for 25 minutes at a distance of 5 miles. Gas balloons, blimps, dirigibles and zeppelins came later – relying on the tenants of the original design. Sir George Cayley developed a flying machine concept in 1799, actually built a glider in 1849, which carried a boy on a short flight. He correctly predicted a flying machine wasn’t possible without a powerful engine. After years of experimentation, the Wright brothers made their first flight in 1903 at Kitty Hawk. Orville and Wilbur’s manned/ powered flight measured 120 feet in length and lasted 12 seconds. Biplanes, monoplanes, jets and bombers succeeded one after the other – each one improving on previous designs. The world’s first practical helicopter took flight in 1939, invented by Igor Sikorsky, it was based on a single blade design still in use today. The Soviet Union launched the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin on the Vostok 1, for a single orbit around Earth in 1961. With the Apollo 11 spaceflight in 1969, the United States landed Charles Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. They spent 2 hours on the surface and collected rocks to bring back to Earth. NASA is planning a human surface expedition to Mars slated for mid-2030. The crew will explore the Martian surface for a year, 6 decades after the first human stood on another celestial body. And the next step into our solar system? The Milky Way … and beyond.
STAR UPDATE – Data from this star gets stranger still and it’s back in the news again. On May 19, when a dimming of 3% below normal was observed, a global call went out to astronomers. They were asked to track the star in order to determine the cause of this mysterious behavior. Flickering was first confirmed in 2015, one possible theory stated it might be an alien megastructure, such as a Dyson Sphere. KIC 8462852, Boyajian’s star, or Tabby’s star demonstrated irregular dimming followed by a return to it’s original brightness. This month’s event is the first seen in real time, which presents an opportunity, attempting to see what’s blocking it’s light. Something–a planet, comet storms, or a Dyson Sphere–has to be passing in front of it. Want to know more? Check out the new show on the Science Channel entitled Space’s Deepest Secrets which will feature an eposide on Tabby’s Star. The series premieres on June 6.
Evolution of Computing – The punch card machine read holes pierced in paper. The Turing machine, more of a concept than a machine, is the logical basis for modern computing. The ENIAC could be reprogrammed, its panels were switched around to perform functions. The teletype was the precursor to the modem as we know it today. Mainframe computers referred to the large cabinets that housed the units used by companies and universities. Vacuum tubes were replaced by transistors, eventually leading to microprocessors. The Arpanet–precursor to the internet– began with 4 connected computers, transmitting digital packets. The Altair 8800 microcomputer caused a sensation when it appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics. The following year Apple I came onto the hobbyist market. It worked using a keyboard and TV. The Apple Lisa, with an early mouse and GUI (graphical user interface), was too expensive and didn’t sell well. The IBM PC, Commodore 64 and Macintosh followed each other in rapid succession. Windows 1.0 and the Mac OS appeared about the same time. Photoshop brought images the same way HTML brought text to web pages. Did you know that there were only 26 web sites in 1992? Laptops, tablets, smart phones and e-readers are making computers smaller and smaller. I wonder, what will be next in the evolution of computing?
Trappist 1 – Perhaps science has found our future home or a world already populated by aliens. Look up in the night sky towards the Aquarius constellation, where there’s an ultra-cool dwarf nearly 40 light years away. Named Trappist 1–for the TRAnsiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope in Chile–astronomers spotted regular dimming, a signal when planets transit the bright face of a distant sun. OK, a star, but what about planets? Further inspection revealed 7 planets total, 6 of which are Earth sized, 3 of which are in the life supporting habitable zone. For the first time, multiple planets around the same star, all in one spot. Amazing, since most of the exoplanets discovered to date have been large gas giants too near the host sun. But it’s much cooler, less than half the sun’s heat and much smaller, one-twelfth the mass as compared to our own sun. What does all this mean? Potentially, a habitable world. Science hasn’t yet verified signs of life such as oxygen and methane. However that might come to be, once the James Webb Space Telescope is launched, in 2018. It will observe distant events, such as forming stars/ planets, and be capable of capturing direct images of exoplanets. Such as those orbiting Trappist 1? Let’s hope so.
EVOLUTION OF SOUND – The first recorded music technology was the phonograph which worked by rotating engraved wax cylinders. It ran on a hand crank system and didn’t need electricity, pulling faint music through a needle into the horn. The next generation was a hand cranked Victrola which played flat records that could be printed and mass produced. Broadcast radio and the Electrola were next, run on electrical power, each coming onto the market around the same time. Music volume was amplified. Vinyl records and transistors improved electric record players as did the LP (long playing) album format. The compact audio cassette tape could also store data in early microcomputers. It was wound between two miniature spools, held inside a protective plastic shell and once flipped, it played the other side. For the first time music was portable. Options included a boombox, Walkman and car audio systems played through a console to listen while driving. The digital compact disk (CD) succeeded the analog gramophone because it didn’t have background noise. And of course it was smaller. Then, the hard drive rendered other physical storage mediums obsolete. While the MP3 file loses some of the sound richness–of the vinyl record or CD audio–right now it’s the prevailing 21stcentury format. The iPod and iTunes gave consumers anywhere access on portable devices, a user friendly experience and the bonus of affordability. With the popularity of Netflix and YouTube, streaming media (Pandora, Prime, Spotify) now eliminates the need for physical media altogether. What will be the next step in the evolution of sound?
TOP ASTRONOMICAL MYSTERIES
1. Earth’s Solar System has differences that aren’t easily explained, compared to discoveries of alien planets around other stars. Such as the position of the gas giants and a possible as yet undiscovered exoplanet.
2. The Sun’s corona puzzles scientists because its ultra-hot outer atmosphere reaches 10.8 million degrees and coronal heating that occurs in the sun’s upper atmosphere.
3. Cosmic rays flow into the solar system from deep space, the origin and great strength (100 million times more than manmade collider particles) of these subatomic particles is a mystery.
4. Supernovas are fuel depleted massive stars that blast so bright they outshine galaxies. Scientists want to understand what happens inside a star before the ignition.
5. Reionization of the universe occurred right after the big bang in an age when hydrogen gas cleared and became translucent to ultraviolet light. These processes are not understood.
6. Dark energy makes up 73% of the universe, theories state it is pulling the universe apart. Astronomers use it to explain the rapidly expanding universe.
Dark matter is invisible, has mass–23% of the universe– but can’t be seen. Its presence is detected by gravitational pull on other objects.
8. Missing Baryons make up the missing 5% and science suspects they may be found between galaxies in intergalactic medium but can only account for half of this material.
PROXIMA B – The closest rocky planet outside our solar system orbits Proxima Centauri. The star is a red dwarf, gravitationally locked to Alpha Centauri, in the Centarus constellation. The planet, Proxima B, orbits within the habitable zone and is 1.3 times the size of Earth. What’s interesting about that, you might ask? Known science tells us liquid water is essential for life, to be just close enough to the sun to remain liquid and not freeze. More will be constantly revealed, so expect telescopes scouring the night sky, for evidence of the chemical signals of life on Proxima B. We are technologically closing in on the ability to send interstellar probes there. High tech devices, travelling a percentage of light speed could reach the planet within 2 decades. Every great story begins with this question – what if? Imagine streaming pictures sent back from this strange world–what plants, insects, animals–from a distance of 4 light years after a decade’s long flight. This is the next step for mankind’s evolution, to send probes and eventually humans, to our planet neighbor. Looking outward past the Milky Way and into the great beyond.