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?


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. 


JOURNEY TO MARS – Interplanetary space travel has been the vision of science fiction prophets for over a century. Consider the iconic silent film, directed by Georges Méliès entitled Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902). It was based on From the Earth to the Moon written by Jules Verne. But, NASA’s first foray onto another planet, Apollo 11 in 1969, was 46 years ago. It’s been a long time since, and the world has transformed dramatically in the interim. What’s NASA planning now, you might ask? Well, they have plans for us, big plans. The space agency will send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars by 2030. The International Space Station, Mars rovers, robotic asteroid missions and transmission of cargo to Mars are all considered incremental steps. Using the Orion spacecraft in 2020, astronauts will capture an asteroid, place it in moon orbit and explore around it, eventually returning to Earth with samples. So, Mars is next, and beyond that … who knows? If youre a regular visitor to my blog you already know I’m fascinated by a simple question. What if? Impossible to answer.