Tag: Orbit

Day 1000: How It Ends

Header

Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.

Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.

And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.

Genetics-1

Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.

If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.

Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…

Day 988: That’s No Moon

Header

With only a dozen days remaining of my self-imposed sentence in this asylum of perpetual prose, I am scootching toward the realization that there are some topics I will never get to. The hidden subtext within the dialogue of each Misfits of Science episode will remain unexplored, and I’m afraid the sacred ghost notes that elevate the percussive harrumph of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain” and Toto’s “Rosanna” will fail to make the kilograph cut.

Instead I must devote these dog-yawn final days to loftier, more resonant subjects – yesterday’s investigation into Mozart’s poop jokes notwithstanding. And so I look to the moon – that luminous gob of celestial spittle, that pearlesque voyeur who knows all of our funkiest sins, the swiveling muse of the incurable drunkard. The moon pours elbow grease on our tides and provides an alibi when we need one for our meandering sanity. And before we had the cognitive wherewithal to stack our chips on science, the moon provided the palette for some of our strangest superstitions.

The moon puts on a nightly spectacle; what earth-bound broadcast can compare to the thrill of a clump of rock bigger than our entire continent dangling in the air over our heads? And even with Neil Armstrong’s size 9½ prints on her cheeks, she still retains an exotic air of mystery.

MeliesMoon-1

Before Georges Méliès stabbed it with a wayward rocket ship, the man in the moon had a starring role in olde-timey mythology. In the biblical Book of Numbers, one of the more cynical stories tells of a man who was sentenced by God to death by stoning for the heinous crime of gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Early Christian lore suggested that the man in the moon was that very man. Another tradition claims the man is Abel’s blood-bro Cain, forever doomed to circle the Earth. Read more…

Day 779: Full Moon Fever

Header

Even for those of us who don’t hang their spiritual hats upon the rack of organized religion, there exists the very real possibility that we are cosmically intertwined with forces and energies mightier (and invisiblier) than our own. Some of these forces – gravity, aging, the uncontestable craving for pizza after a night of drinking – have been proven. Others are clearly ridiculous (if you think you’re more of an aggressive driver because of your astrology sign, you’re wrong; you might just be an asshole). Still others are open to interpretation.

I have had this discussion with my wife so often, it’s almost like watching a rerun whenever the topic comes up. She is a teacher, spending her days surrounded by squalid little junior-high germ-buckets whose behaviors are subject to hormonal whim and hyperactive attention spans that could frustrate a housefly. She is convinced that when the moon is full, her students become more unruly, more emotionally explosive. A walk past our kitchen calendar can send a telegraph of dread up her spine.

Ever the cynic, the skeptic, the buzz-kill (her descriptor, not mine), I disagree. The moon is hovering in the sky, some sixty-five billion miles (give or take a lot) from these children’s fluttery brains. How could a slab of grey rock minding its business in our orbit possibly transform these grub-balls into more manic grub-balls? It’s time to do some really quick and sloppy research and settle this once and for all.

FullMoon

If there’s one concession I’ll grant my wife’s argument it’s that she has buckets of history on her side. Aristotle and Pliny the Elder observed that full moons would spark psychotic episodes among those who were susceptible to such things. Right through the 1700’s, actual doctors believed that the moon phase would have an impact on epileptic seizures, rheumatism and fevers. Hell, even the Latin word for moon, ‘luna’, forms the root of the word ‘lunatic’. This is not a recent superstition.

Are we hornier at a full moon? Do women’s reproductive systems tend to spurt out babies when our sky is lit up by a perfect white circle? Do our veins bleed more on that one day of every month? Read more…

Day 705: Legends Of Urbania

Header

The beauty of the Internet Age is how information – or more entertainingly, misinformation – oozes like honey-sludge, coating the globe in a glossy sheen of non-truths and insidious punks. Mischievous urban legends have been inspiring tizzies for as long as there have been folks around to lend their ears, but email and social media are like kerosene-swamped kindling, spreading the flames of tall tales from send-click to send-click in triple-time.

Those who have been burned by generous Nigerian princes or some such costly buffoonery are no doubt tuned in to the deceptive nature of online ‘info’. But I am still baffled on a regular basis how many people are unaware of snopes.com or the Museum of Hoaxes, two sites that are invaluable for cramming that valuable hiccup of pause between reading and believing.

Below I’ve included a half-dozen urban legends, often relayed in hushed tones around a high school cafeteria table or an office email circle. You probably know them, and if you’ve done your homework you probably know how much fiction has been shoveled atop any grain of actual fact that might be contained therein. But in case you haven’t tried to debunk ‘em, now’s your chance to learn the truth.

Which is taken from the internet, so… well surely you can trust me, right?

BigMac

McDonald’s Operates A Shadow Company To Fool Us

McDonald’s is an easy target. We know it’s bad for us, but eventually the tales of unsaturated fats and unfathomable calories get a little stale, which is why the company has had to deny using eyeballs in their burgers and chicken feathers in their shakes. The phrase “100% Pure Beef” has been slapped on McDonald’s containers since they were made out of crunchy McStyrofoam. So if we know faulty advertising is an easy crime for the FDA to snag, what if the phrase wasn’t bogus but simply misleading? What if they simply purchased their filler-infused beef from a company called “100% Pure Beef”? Read more…

Day 696: Here is Ceres

Header

If you haven’t read the article or seen the t-shirt, you’re probably nevertheless aware that our ninth planet, Pluto, was demoted in 2006 to the meager status of dwarf planet, a lower classification that for whatever reason enraged pockets of the populace. I suspect a chunk of that outrage had to do with one of our ingrained snippets of knowledge – the names of our solar system’s planets – that we remember from elementary school being altered. It’s fundamental, like the names of our Canadian provinces (which has changed) or the five senses (though actually there are several others).

But amid all this weird hype over a remote ice-rock and whether it still gets invited to the same imaginary shindigs as Saturn or Venus, we forgot to celebrate little Ceres. Ceres was also tossed into the dwarf planet class along with Pluto and three others, but for Ceres it was a promotion. Where once she was just a passenger amid the rush-hour gridlock of the asteroid belt, now she reigned supreme.

And as much as we all have Pluto’s name etched in our brains as the last fuelling post before the great black expanse of deep space, we know almost nothing about Ceres. And her secrets might be among the most interesting in our little corner of the cosmos.

Ceres

Much like the grainy footage of Bigfoot, this is all we’ve got of Ceres: a blur, courtesy of the Hubble Telescope. We know surprisingly little about this chunk of rock, though NASA is aiming to change that when the Dawn spacecraft pays Ceres a visit early in 2015. Ceres was discovered due to math, which means that I’ll be covering this portion of the story using the most vague and non-researched terms possible. Read more…

Day 616: Top Floor – Ladies’ Wear, Shoes, And The Cold Dark Void Of Space

Header

A scientist looks at a problem and asks, “How?” A skeptic looks at a problem and asks, “Why?” A caribou looks at a problem and just keeps on moseying along because a caribou has no damn problems. When faced with the dilemma of constructing a viable and dependable space elevator, the caribou will show no interest, exhibit no signs of stress, and simply carry on eating whatever it is that a caribou eats (I’m guessing raccoons?).

But humankind didn’t get where it is by giving up and eating. No, we packed that food into a quickly-consumable paste of protein and insulating chemicals, threw on our paisley thinking-vests, and addressed the issue with imagination, innovation, and ridiculously difficult math.

Certainly if we can transplant one’s butt hair to one’s head, if we can process cheese into shiny, single-wrapped squares, if we can teach a frog to play “The Rainbow Connection” on the banjo, we can figure out how to build an elevator into space. How hard can it be?

KonstantinTsiolkovsky

That crazy-looking Russian is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, scientist, theorist, and professional crazy-looking Russian. His work in astronomic theory paved the way for all those people-packed tubes of steel we’ve tossed beyond the sky. One day, Konstantin was checking out the newly-minted Eiffel Tower and he thought,  “Hey… why can’t we build another one of these, except bigger? Like, all the way to outer space?” Read more…

Day 600: A Look At What’s To Come

Header

Whenever I reach a round number in this all-consuming project I like to look back and reflect on how far I’ve come, or how much volunteer charity work I might have done had I not been spending a couple hours every day writing bacon jokes and references to 1980’s-era sitcoms. But today, as the bejeweled crown of 600 rests its weighty crown-ass upon my trembling hairline, I want to look forward.

As always, my trusty companion – Wikipedia – is here to assist, with a handy timeline of near-future events. Not being a naturally meticulous planner, it’s good to know that someone is looking out for future-me. I’m going to plunk these dates into my iPhone calendar and, like everything that I enter into that app, never look at them again.

After all, I’ve got things to do. I’ve got a life to live. Or, because I’ve come this far and already accepted that I’ll have no time for a life until this project is over, I’ve got 400,000 more words to write.

Here’s what we have to look forward to:

IndependentScotland

–       2014 will be a busy year. The World Trade Center will be completed in New York, US and UK troops will wave goodbye to Afghanistan, and Scotland will hold a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. If it passes, it will come as a shock to millions of North Americans who already believed Scotland has been its own country for centuries. Read more…

Day 532: Some People Call Me The Space Comrade

Header

Yesterday I penned a touching tribute to those plucky little furry heroes, the unsung monkeys who ventured into space at the hands of American scientists, who were hungry for a forward step in their ever-mounting space race with the Soviet Union. Well, back then the Russians were doing a lot more than imprisoning dissenters and passing hate-filled bigotry legislation. Back then, they were matching America in the race for the sky.

So what about the Russian monkeys? Were there any Russian monkeys? Do they even have monkeys in Russia? I really should do more research before writing these things.

Okay, it turns out they do have monkeys in Russia, and a handful of them took that fanciful voyage to the stars. But that all happened in the 1980’s and 90’s, not back when America was claiming its triumph in the field of orbital primates. So what were the Soviets doing during that time, if not launching monkeys? Well, depending on how far you’re willing to yank on the thread of conspiracy, they may have been lobbing humans up there before we knew anything about it. Long lost humans. Long lost cosmonauts.

SovietSpaceDogs

In the 1950’s, while the Americans were looking for the closest equivalent to little hairy humans to send into orbit, the Soviets were content to fire anything up there. And since dogs were more abundant than monkeys, that was their focus. Dezek and Tsygan were the first noble pooches to soar above the 100km line where space begins, and they both lived to tell the tale. And by ‘tell the tale’, I assume that means when other dogs sniffed Dezek and Tsygan’s butts, those other dogs instinctively understood what happened. Read more…

Day 525: Wherefore Art Thou Pluto?

Header

Poor, poor Pluto. For many people, the demotion of Pluto from the ranks of the Elite Nine backing vocalists to the Sun’s great whizzbang show was nothing short of a tragedy. Rallies were held, people marched through the streets with pale orange warpaint smeared across their sweaty faces, and supporters across the globe lit their local Laundromats on fire in a misguided act of defiance. Myself, I refuse to acknowledge Micronesia as a nation until we can once again call Pluto a planet.

Well, bad news everyone. As much as we’d like to cling to the security blanket of our childhood science lessons – the few we remember, anyway – Pluto is not technically a planet. Nor is it sentient, nor is it even aware that it has been demoted. That chunk of ice-rock has had a brief flicker in the window of our awareness, and its ‘status’ has shifted a lot more often than this most recent re-classification.

Oh, and technically Micronesia is a region; the Federated States of Micronesia is a country. So my protest may have been in vain.

Pluto

Back in the 1840’s, a suave fellow named Urbain Le Verrier noticed there were some quirky wiggles in Uranus’s orbit. ‘Quirky Wiggles’ is not the scientific term – in fact, it would be a great name for a clown at a kid’s party – but the point is, Uranus was acting a little wonky. Using what he learned from Isaac Newton’s lessons on mechanics (which is clearly more than I have learned from them), Le Verrier pinpointed where another planet might be. That planet turned out to be Neptune. Read more…