Tag Archives: Space

Notable News in Science From This Summer

While everyone was enjoying their vacation, including the staff here at Whim, science didn’t take a break for anybody. Here are some of the biggest stories in science that happened during the summer.

A wildfire that occured in 2016 in California; photo from nbclosangeles.com
A wildfire that occurred in 2016 in California; photo from nbclosangeles.com


Does Mars have water? Scientists say yes: One of the most important findings in the pursuit of life on other planets, scientists working on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission announced back in July that they had found a 12 mile-wide underground liquid pool, not just the normal damp spots that have been seen in the past. The water was detected in Mars’s south pole using radar.  As of now, there’s plenty of more plans to research the area for possible life and if it’s ever possible, to drill at the area. But that won’t happen until Earth gets humans on the Red Planet.

Another bad year for wildfires: While science does tell you that it is good for the ecosystem to have some wildfires, it does get to a point where too much is way too much. Wildfires have spread across the western United States, from California to Montana. Because of the wildfires, the northwestern part of the country has experienced the worst air pollution in 30 years according to a July 16 report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This is even worse when considering that when we have wildfires, the fires release chemicals like sulfate and black carbon which do not hurt the environment in the long run but are harmful in the current time period.

Spiders do have a “spider-sense”: Research done by Erica Morley and Daniel Robert of the University of Bristol in Britain found that electrical charges in the air give spiders a cue on when to fly. This signal will most likely explain why the timing of a spider’s takeoff is so unpredictable. In order to fly, spiders use their web and they have to wait for gentle wind conditions in order to take off.  For more about this, Morley and Robert’s research appeared in July’s issue of Current Biology.

Uranus Smells like Rotten Eggs


It’s bad enough that Uranus is the “butt” of all jokes, but now, kids all over the world can now say that Uranus smells like a “butt.”

Uranus’ upper clouds are made of hydrogen sulfide, the same molecule that gives rotten eggs that awful smell. This was discovered Leigh Fletcher and his colleagues detected the chemical fingerprint of hydrogen sulfide at the top of the planet’s clouds. The team issued their reports in the April 23 issue of Nature Astronomy.

This discovery wasn’t a complete surprise, though—observations from the 1990’s showed hints of the chemical lurking deep in the atmosphere of Uranus, but the gas wasn’t conclusively detected.

As it turns out, the clouds are not just the smell of farts, but they may have helped in discovering some details of the early solar system. It is likely that frozen hydrogen sulfide ice crystals would have been abundant in further reaches of the early solar system, suggesting that Uranus and Neptune were born farther from the sun than Jupiter and Saturn.

Fletcher says that “this tells you the gas giants and the ice giants were formed in a sightly different way.”

Fletcher and his team now are planning to send a spacecraft to the ice giants of Uranus and Neptune, the first since the Voyager spacecraft, which visited in the 1980’s.

So while all of the crude humor surrounding this planet may have grown stale, none can now deny the irony of its atmosphere, nor the wonders that such distant bodies still dangle before our scientists today.

Looks like Uranus was in on the joke this whole time.


Photo from Nasa.gov

Giant Solar “Tornadoes” (They Aren’t Actually Tornadoes)

The sun can be a very scary place to be (if it was possible to begin with), with temperatures in the upwards of 5,778 K (9,941 F) and tornadoes that are even bigger than those on Earth. However, scientists have found that those solar tornadoes are not similar to tornadoes on Earth.

Using the Doppler effect to add a 3-D dimension to their data, they were able to measure the speed of the moving plasma of the tornado along with the direction, temperature, and density. Now, after many years of studies, they have come to the conclusion that solar tornadoes don’t rotate.

In a presentation in Liverpool, England, Nicolas Labrosse, the lead scientist, explained that despite the similarities between tornadoes and solar prominences in pictures, the magnetic field is not vertical and the plasma mostly moves horizontally along magnetic fields.

Another scientist involved in the research, Brigitte Schmieder, noted that we shouldn’t be too worried about these tornadoes. However, when we start to see too many of them, that’s when we should start to worry, since space weather can potentially damage power grids, satellites, and communication networks.

Solar tornadoes can last up to a day and ones that are stable may last for several months. Their lengths can also loop hundreds of thousands of miles into space.

We think we know everything about our sun but this research about solar tornadoes shows that we as humans still don’t know all the answers.

Yes, A Satellite Is Falling But You Shouldn’t Worry Too Much

Don’t start to scream yet; it’s not the end of the world if a big satellite from China is crashing down into an ocean.

Tiangong 1, a defunct satellite from China was projected to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday. Now, according to the European Space Agency, which has released new information on the satellite, it is re-entering the atmosphere on Easter Sunday.

The spacecraft poses very little danger to people on the ground since most of the 8.5 ton vehicle is likely going to burn up on re-entry. The question is: What damage can the carcass of the satellite do to the planet?

As of now, the space object is projected to land in the Pacific Ocean which would be the best case situation for everyone. There was a possibility that the spacecraft would land on a strip of land in southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. That possibility prompted the governor of Michigan to activate the state’s Emergency Operations Center to keep an eye on the situation.

Tiangong 1 was launched by the Chinese in 2011 and it was China’s first space station (China has nothing to do with the International Space Station since they were barred by the U.S. legislation). The last crew of Tiangong 1 left in 2013 since the station was merely an experimental project for Tiangong 2, which will be in full service by 2022. Tiangong, which translates to “Heavenly Palace,” lost contact with China in 2016 and since then, the station has been monitored for re-entry.

People here in the U.S. shouldn’t worry about any space objects hitting a person. There is only one documented case of someone getting hit by space debris and that person was not injured. You’re more likely to die in space, be killed by a shark or hit by lighting before even getting hit with a piece of space junk.

So don’t worry, you’ll be fine for now.


Cover: An artist’s illustration of Tiangong 1; photo from theverge.com

Learning the Lesson of Stephen Hawking… Never Give Up

However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up- Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Hawking; photo from bbc.com
Stephen Hawking; photo from bbc.com

Famed physicist Stephen Hawking has passed away at the age of 76 in his home in Cambridge, England, early in the morning of March 14. In a statement from his family, they stated that Hawking died peacefully.

For over 50 years, Hawking had battled a form of ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and he was orignally given only two years to live when first diagnosed. Instead of giving up, Hawking took this as another part of life.

Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England to Frank and Isobel Hawking. Stephen had two sisters, Philippa and Mary and an adopted brother, Edward. The family was known for their intelligence and eccentricity.

Hawking was known to be “lazy” and “bored” when it came to his work, especially when he felt the work was easy. This showed itself while at college in Oxford, and later on, Hawking would gain popularity by joining the University College Boat Club and serving as coxswain.

Everything was going well until Hawking started to experience increasing clumsiness during his final year at Oxford. It got to a point where his family noticed the changes. A medical investigation had begun, and the worst possible outcome had been diagnosed: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a neurological degenerative disease that eventually left Dr. Hawking unable to move on his own.

Hawking was given two years to live. Though tempted to give up, he soon noticed how slow the disease was taking affect on him. H decided that rather than falling into despair and letting the disease control his life, h would instead delve into something that he loved–science.

With all of the work that Hawking did for the world, it’s even harder to began to think about how much pain he went through on a daily basis. That alone should be enough to make us appreciate all of the work he did in physics, which will be discussed, tested, and lead humanity into the future for years to come.

God Speed, Mr. Hawking… see you on the other side.



Cover Photo from The Telegraph

Flowers in space?

Astronauts on the International Space Station have been trying to cultivate edible plants in microgravity for around two years.

After various unsuccessful attempts at growth, you’d think these astronauts would be weary after these failed growth cycles. However, their perseverance has proven to be worthwhile, because they now have their first ever zinnia flowers blooming in space.

Zinnia is a genus of plants of the sunflower tribe within the daisy family. They are cultivated for their vibrant flowers, but they are also edible.


Scott Kelly, U.S. astronaut, posted a picture of one of the zinnia flowers on Twitter.


According to a recent NASA blog, after mold started growing on some of the leaves because of high humidity, Kelly was able to bring the flowers back to life.

This isn’t the first time plants have sprouted in space, however. The International Space Station team brought their Veggie plant system to life halfway through the year 2014. The team have also grown red romaine lettuce.

The “Outredgeous” lettuce was grown aeroponically — in an air or mist environment without soil. Plants grown in these environments require much less water and fertilizer without a need for pesticide. These plants also are less prone to disease, and grow up to three times faster than plants grown in soil, NASA has stated.

NASA, in a blog post, wrote that this was the “first time a flowering crop experiment will be grown on the orbiting laboratory”.

Some have argued that a sunflower was actually the first flower to grow in space, although NASA has not yet commented.

Don Pettit, astronaut, grew a zucchini, sunflower and broccoli out of zip-lock bags on the International Space Station as a personal science experiment, documented in a NASA blog called “Diary of Space Zucchini”, in 2012.

Alexandra Whitmire from NASA’s Human Research Program said that NASA’s Veggie project could also provide crucial information for various other missions. For example, understanding watering schedules in microgravity, and knowing what to do if there is mold growth or other challenges in these extreme conditions on Mars.

“In future missions, the importance of plants will likely increase, given the crews’ limited connection to Earth,” Whitmire wrote in a NASA blog.

NASA hopes the veggie project will become a regular facility for International Space Station astronauts to grow fresh food in space.


Water in space?

On October 23, 2015, a viral video was released containing astronaut Scott Kelly “messing around with an Alka-Seltzer tablet dissolved in a floating ball of water and thought it was pretty neat.”

This video gained a lot of attention because of its futuristic theme and new science information. Daniel Faber who is the CEO of asteroid mining startup Deep Space Industries watched the video and he said he “saw the future.”

Floating water orb. Photo from futuristech.
Floating water orb. Photo from futuristech.


If you watch the video, which is shot in 4K resolution, you will witness a “tennis ball-sized blob of water floating around” while the astronaut Kelly plays around by injecting drops of dye into it.

He then slips an “effervescent tablet into the ball” and the viewers will see the ball of water begin to bubble.

“At the same time, gas bubbles form inside and occasionally escape the surface tension of the water, deforming it.

Faber believes this ball of water is the start of the future and is an “industrial process waiting to be developed.”

Faber also stated that this video “reaffirmed the untapped value of space for him.” The fact the specialists in the field of space are so excited and interested on what this video has shown, is exciting to America because it proves all of the undiscovered information that space still has to offer us.

The probability of creating the ability to take “advantage of the odd properties of liquids in microgravity to keep substances separated from each other in a controlled manner” is in the near future says Faber. He thinks we can use what we see in the video to “separate toxic substances from one another.”  

This would be a huge progression in the science field because of the ability to take a toxic substance out of a substance that isn’t toxic, making it possible to obtain more resources such as medicine that could help people in the long run.

Although all of this new information seems exciting and gives hope to the future, most of these scientific discoveries are still years down the road; however, the road will create more discoveries that will have all started with simply popping an Alka-Seltzer tablet into a ball of water.

China: To the moon and back

Asia has been on a space roll this year! First with India successfully joining the few who have reached Mars (and on a shoestring budget, no less), and now with China making it to the moon and back to earth again — a first for the country. In fact, this is he first round-trip to the moon and back that has been made in the last forty years and puts China in an exclusive club which houses both the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Xiaofei, after successfully returning to Earth. Graphic from China.org
Xiaofei, after successfully returning to Earth. Graphic from China.org

Previously, in Dec. 2013, China made worldwide headlines with its successful landing of a lunar probe onto the surface of the moon — another rare fete, only performed before by the U.S. and Soviet Union. At the time of this first historic step in their world advancement, Chinese media celebrated the landing. They hailed it a demonstration of the country’s growing scientific stature and swelled with national pride rather deservedly.

And while comparable, the return of this Chinese expedition, which kicked off Nov. for space news, involved a much smaller craft than the U.S. one, leaving the number people who have left footprints on the moon still that even dozen. China opted to send an unmanned probe named Xiaofei (or “little flyer”) on their historic mission. The little flyer who flew so true is part of a much larger goal for China’s space program. China’s long-term intention is to send another lunar probe to the moon in order to extract samples from the surface in 2017. The purpose, therefore, of Xiaofei was to gather information about the effectiveness of the technology for this upcoming mission.

This further lunar probe is just another step in China’s game plan to first put a permanent lunar orbiter in place and eventually to send a man to walk on the moon. All, of course, are badges of honor for the Chinese government as they take their rightful place alongside other world superpowers in economic and technological advancements. China has expressed that their interstellar exploits only further display their continuing growth and race to the front of the international stage.

Although this return journey is only one of many steps in China’s winning lunar plans, the success is a worthy one for the nation.


Coming soon to a planet near you

Space has always been something of a mystery to people. Planets have, until recently, only been able to be seen through an earthbound lens. Developments in science over the last several decades, however, have landed man on the Moon and a rover on Mars. In keeping with this trend, we hope the time isn’t too far from now when people will have first-hand experience with these planets we have only seen through a lens. Continue reading Coming soon to a planet near you

Dalton Hall renovations: Do they actually make a difference?

The new arrangement seems very alluring to the individuals who come to Dalton for food. It’s obvious that the masterminds behind this makeover were focusing on creating a more inviting and modern food court. To achieve this goal they have added TVs, couches and round tables.

Though this change is pretty to look at, it disregards the increasing size of our current freshman class and the overcrowded lunchtimes resulting from this shrinking space and rising student body. It seems like Dalton was remodeled with the previous class-size in mind, not the current one.

Continue reading Dalton Hall renovations: Do they actually make a difference?

Not of this Earth

Since the beginning of human history, there have been many theories on the origin of life. Some theories include a creator or designer and some include life materializing spontaneously through chemical reactions. Regardless of what set it in motion, there are theories of where it actually began, ranging from the deep depths of the ocean to frozen ice caps to clay and to, most interestingly, the far reaches of outer space. Continue reading Not of this Earth

Voyager spacecrafts are out of this world

We’re leaving the solar system.

How’s that sound for a vacation? It’s certainly not something you do on the spur of the moment, and it’s a trip the Voyager spacecrafts have been on for 35 years.  Launched in the late 1970s by NASA, these two ambassadors for humanity are laden with objects meant to give extraterrestrial intelligence a taste of life on Earth, and have finally reached the edge of our solar system. Continue reading Voyager spacecrafts are out of this world

Solar storms what you need to know

On March 8 the little blue and green marble known as the Earth was showered in excess solar radiation. The sun has been in a phase of higher than normal activity for the past two months.

Early in the morning on March 8, the Earth was hit with the second strongest solar flare since 2005. The solar flare was launched from the sun at 1,400 miles per second. This jet of highly energized particles was expected to hit the Earth’s magnetic field around 1 a.m. Continue reading Solar storms what you need to know

Mars 500, a test in isolation

A Russian experiment that started just under a year and a half ago has come to an end. The test was to determine the affects of isolation on a crew during their trip to the red planet.

Photo from Creative Commons.

The experiment took place in a facility just outside Moscow. The crew of the Mars 500 was made up of a Frenchman, an Italian, a Chinese and three Russians. They spent 520 days locked in isolation. The trip to the simulated Mars took 250 days with 30 following days spent orbiting or working on a simulated planet surface. Then, the six-man crew took a return trip for 240 days. All of this took place inside of a locked 19,500-cubic-foot facility.

During their simulated trip, the crew underwent conditions similar to those experienced by a real crew flying to Mars. Their food and water was rationed, and the crew started with all the supplies they would have for the mission. They underwent days of monotonous tasks, which is where the real experiment lies.

Researchers wanted to examine the impact of isolation and monotony for extended periods of time. They examined the crew’s mental and physical state throughout the mission using a series of tests to watch for degrading conditions on any of the test parameters.

While communication with the outside world was limited, it was not entirely cut off. The crew was allowed to check their email, though it was delayed up to 40 minutes to simulate a real-life delay that would occur from the space craft traveling millions of miles away from its home planet.

This successful mission was the longest time any human being had been in isolation under a controlled environment. The previous record holder was Valeri Polyakov of the Mir space station who spent an impressive 437 days alone. This marked a milestone in the history of space explorations. Now research has shown humans are capable of sustaining long periods of time in isolation in limited amounts of space.

While the future of space exploration in the United States is up for debate, it’s clear that other nations are not just waiting idly for the next great space innovation to be made by the private sector. Increasingly we are seeing evidence that human beings are capable of great things when the time and money is there to allow them to do so. It may only be a matter of time before space is just one more conquered frontier.