Astronews - July 2005

New solar system world with Moon beyond Pluto

This week astronomical detective work led to the stunning discovery of a large new world beyond Pluto – and hiding in plain sight.

The object is about 70% Pluto's diameter and it has a moon.

The find suggests more such objects are waiting to be discovered and is likely to reignite the fierce debate about what constitutes a planet.

For now it is called 2003 EL61.

The discovery, coupled with other recent finds such as Sedna and Quaoar, suggests other large objects may lurk in the murky region beyond Neptune.

Learn more here:
New solar system world has a moon


The Red Planet is about to be Spectacular (again!)


Did you get the email about Mars saying it will soon be closer to Earth than ever before in recorded history in the next months?

Did the email say "Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history."

Well sorry to disappoint folks, but this Mars email is from 2003. And like most email warnings it is also a little distorted and exaggerated.

Some of you might still remember that this Mars apparition (when Mars was closest to Earth) actually happened two years ago. In August 2003 Mars came closer to Earth than ever before in recorded history.

Now please don't cry, because Mars is still making a very very good showing in 2005! The closest approach will be just after Halloween. It will almost be as good as in 2003.

The 2005-2006 apparition of Mars will be one of the most favorable of the twenty first century for two reasons:
1) Mars will be almost as close to Earth as it was in 2003,
2) Mars will be higher in our sky above the celestial equator. Astronomy enthusiast know what this means - they will have a better opportunity to see and enjoy Mars!

Why are we getting closer to Mars? Imagine a race track. If one car is closer to the center of the track and traveling faster, it will eventully catch up to and pass the outer car. This is what is happening with Earth and Mars, we are "lapping" Mars.

Read more about this Mars email at KC Hoax: 


Astronews - June 2005

Watch 3 Planets after Sunset this weekend!


Be sure to look up tonight and the next few nights!

Check out the western horizon just after sunset. The grouping of Venus, Saturn, and Mercury low in the west-northwest should not to be missed!

Venus, the brightest of the three, sits in the middle and will be visible first as it starts to gets dark. Next you'll spot Mercury about one degree to Venus' lower right and then Saturn about two and half degrees to Venus' upper left. Then watch as these three planets in a row follow the sun and disappear below the horizon.

Timing is critical! Start about 30 minutes after sunset. Make sure you have a clear view of the horizon!


Cosmos 1 Solar Sail set for June 21st Launch


First Solar Sail Spacecraft Ready for Daring Flight

Cosmos 1 , the world's first solar sail spacecraft, now has a launch date of Summer Solstice, June 21, 2005.

The innovative and first-of-its-kind solar sail, a project of The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios, will launch atop a converted ICBM from a submerged Russian submarine.

It will deploy in Earth orbit and attempt the first controlled flight of a solar sail.


A message from Ann Druyan (widow of Carl Sagan)

Cosmos 1 is scheduled to lift off on the day of the summer solstice. Imagine the rays of the sun striking the solstice markers at the ancient astronomical observatories of Stonehenge and Chaco Canyon as Cosmos 1 rises from out of the sea and into the sky.

What better way to honor our ancestors than to continue the voyage to the stars that they began?

On that day, as on every other one, I will be thinking of Carl Sagan and all I learned from him about the joys of being alive in the cosmos. He envisioned that we would learn to use the awesome powers of science with wisdom and foresight. . . That the wonders of nature revealed by science would belong to each and every one of us. . . .And that we would someday find our way to the distant stars.

Cosmos 1's launch vehicle is an intercontinental ballistic missile that was originally designed to deliver a nuclear weapon of mass death to a city somewhere on our tiny pale blue dot. Now she has been converted to a peaceful and even mythic purpose. She will carry a new kind of spacecraft into earth orbit.

Four days later Cosmos 1 will open its eight massive reflective sails to test a revolutionary and potentially much faster way of moving through the universe. Cosmos 1 is a ship designed to ride the light.

If we succeed, perhaps someday fleets of light ships will carry our descendents on voyages of exploration to the worlds that circle other suns.

We expect that Cosmos 1 will be a naked eye object. If you should catch sight of it sailing the summer skies, please pause a moment to remember the generations of life and consciousness that made Cosmos 1 possible. . . And then find something to do to protect this ancient continuity. . .To help us overcome our planet-wide madness, so that the generations that follow us will have their chance at the stars. Let Cosmos 1 be a signal flare of our determination to do so.

To learn more visit these sites:

Cosmos One Solar Sail Tracking Site

Planetary Society Solar Sail Site

Astronews - May 2005

Wormholes Don't Work Like in the Movies



For time travellers, the future (or the past?) is looking bleak.

Hypothetical tunnels called wormholes were once the best bet for constructing a real time machine.

These cosmic shortcuts, which link one point in the Universe to another, are favoured by scifi writers as a means of explaining time travel.

Wormholes are familiar to anyone who has watched the TV shows Farscape, Stargate SG1 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

But the idea of building these so-called traversable wormholes is looking increasingly shaky, according to two new scientific analyses.

Remote connection

A common analogy used to visualise these phenomena involves marking two holes at opposite ends of a sheet of paper, to represent distant points in the Universe. One can then bend the paper over so that the two remote points are positioned on top of each other.

If it were possible to contort space-time in this way, a person might step through a wormhole and emerge at a remote time or distant location.

The person would pass through a region of the wormhole called the throat, which flares out on either side.

A wormhole could be kept open by filling its throat, or the region around it, with an ingredient called exotic matter.


This is strange stuff indeed, and explaining it requires scientists to look beyond the laws of classical physics to the world of quantum mechanics.

Exotic matter is repelled, rather than attracted, by gravity and is said to have negative energy - meaning it has even less than empty space.

Law breaker

But according to a new studies this method of building a traversable wormhole may be fatally flawed. The authors looked at a kind of wormhole in which the space-time "tube" shows only weak deviations from the laws of classical physics.

These "semi-classical" wormholes are the most desirable type for time travel because they potentially allow travellers to predict where and when they would emerge.


Wormholes entirely governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, on the other hand, would likely transport their payloads to an undesired time and place.

"We aren't saying you can't build a wormhole. But the ones you would like to build - the predictable ones where you can say Mr Spock will land in New York at 2pm on this day - those look like they will fall apart," one researcher said.


Read the full article:
Wormhole 'no use' for time travel

Astronews - March 2005

Space Myths and Misconceptions


James Oberg has an interesting article on crazy ideas about space flight. Here's a few choice excerpts:

No-gravity myth #1: One terrifying but dying myth is that satellites with nuclear weapons or spy cameras can hover over particular ground targets such as Washington, DC. That's easy if there's no gravity in space, but it's impossible in the real world except at a precise distance over the equator (the so-called geostationary orbits).

No-gravity myth #2: For those fascinated by the possibilities of "war in space, Earthside analogies have been stretched beyond the breaking point. The oft-repeated idea of "shooting down a satellite" falls into that category because a satellite struck by a weapon would retain its speed and hence would stay in orbit, dead or alive, whole or in pieces.

No-gravity myth #3: If the notorious clouds of "space junk" stay up there because the fragments float around aimlessly, why can't we send up a shuttle or two and pick up all the trash as it goes by? But when you realize that each piece of junk flies through space at tremendous speeds in different locations and directions, the "obvious solution" evaporates.

No-gravity myth #4: Another tipoff that someone possesses an inadequate understanding of space physics is if they ever use the phrase "falling into the sun." For example, some people seem to believe that if nuclear waste can be thrown across the nonexistent "gravity boundary" between the earth and outer space, it will fall harmlessly into the sun. While disposing of dangerous wastes in space is not entirely a hare brained scheme, serious analysts realize that all probes launched away from Earth enter orbit around the sun with the earth's own forward speed, which is more than adequate to prevent them from falling into the sun. It's far easier to push the junk outward to interstellar space 3.7 billion miles away (if you're patient) than to push it into the sun 93 million miles away.

Read the entire article on Jim Oberg's website.