Monday, March 31, 2008
Happy Anniversary "Oddball" Earth
An interesting fact was revealed in a highlighted segment of the mornings news on ABC7 one year ago today, Los Angeles and that is - Mount Everest is NOT the tallest place on Earth, ie. the place on Earth that would be the closest spot next to any other celestial object.
The segment pointed out that the Earth is not perfectly spherical. The Earth has a shape that a beach ball would assume when someone sits on the ball. Kind of an oval silhouette type of shape known formally as an "Oblate Spheroid"! ... Hence the name of this weblog.
The point here is that when one takes this spheroid shape into consideration ... the "tallest" place on Earth would be located logically somewhere around the Equator and it has been found as a volcano in Ecuador.
Mount Chimborazo is located in the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes of central Ecuador, 150 km (93 miles) south-southwest of the capital Quito.
The shadow of Chimborazo as seen from the top of the mountain. Image Credit: Gerd Breitenbach
This description from Wikipedia -
Farthest point from earth center
Although the summit of Mount Everest reaches a higher elevation above sea level, the summit of Chimborazo is widely reported to be the farthest point from earth center (Senne 2000), although this could be challenged by Huascarán. Chimborazo is just one degree south of the equator and the earth's diameter at the equator is greater than at Everest's latitude (nearly 28° north), with sea level also being elevated. So, despite being 2,581 m (8,568 ft) lower in elevation above sea level, it is 6,384.4 km (3,968 mi) from the Earth's center, 2.1 km farther than the summit of Everest.
Mount Chimborazo as viewed from the Southwest. Image Credit: Wikipedia
After eating some rats and nearly being killed by a mudslide in Baños, we took off more or less at random and decided for the other side of Chimborazo. First day of approach walking up scree slopes with big packs. Then we didn't feel like going to the summit the next day (that is to say, Vincent was altitude-sick, as usual), so we just went for some ice-climbing on the face on a route that led to nowhere. Basically the rule was: "go where it's steepest". In fact it is hard for us ice climbers to find any routes of technical interest on those gentle-sloped volcanoes. Well, we managed to find a couple pitches of 80° ice. The rock around is real bad though. Image Credit: Guillaume Dargaud
Traditional summit picture on Chimborazo, this time with some sun. The Altar is visible on the right and Iliniza (?) on the left. The Altar is not very well known but it is one of the nicest mountains of Ecuador. It is also one of the hardest, having been first climbed only in the 50's by an italian team. Image Credit: Guillaume Dargaud
With this change in perspective, it's funny ya' know but the gentlemen pictured above did not know that they had just scaled the tallest point on the planet Earth.
Who was the first person to climb and conquer Chimborazo and replace Sir Edmund Hillary as the first person to the "Top Of The World"?
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Hubble Discovers Life Basics On Distant Sphere
The upgraded Hubble telescope, with its perch circling above the Oblate Spheroid out in space, has discovered what is considered the basic evidence of the “signature” that life (as we understand it) could exist on another planet. The distant sphere is located 63 million light years away and is known as HD 189733b.
The process of the creation of life requires the existence of carbon based gasses and other chemicals on which bacteria and other life forms are composed. It is believed that without these signature compounds, life could and would not develop.
Stellar spectrography by a flame-cutting grid - Capella's Spectrum, order 1 spectral image taken by a Philips vesta webcam. Image Credit: lightfrominfinity.org
So the discovery of such signature evidence through spectrography with instruments on platforms like the Hubble Telescope, on spheres that exist in other solar systems, makes for a better understanding and pushes the envelop of current scientific techniques.
This excerpted from WIRED -
Molecular Basis of Life Discovered on Extrasolar Planet
By Alexis Madrigal, Wired - 03.19.08 6:15 PM
Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have for the first time found the telltale signature of methane, an organic molecule, in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system.
Methane is one of the chemicals of life, an organic compound in the class of molecules containing carbon. However, no life is likely to exist on the large, gaseous planet known as HD 189733b. Its daily temperatures can reach 1,340 degrees Fahrenheit.
"These measurements are a dress rehearsal for future searches for life," said Mark Swain, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the lead author of a new study that appears in Nature tomorrow. "If we were able to detect [methane] on a more hospitable planet in the future, it would really be something exciting."
Since the discovery of the first so-called exoplanet 13 years ago, scientists have been able to glean little about the 270-plus known extrasolar planets. Even rough sizes and masses have been calculated for a mere 30 of those planets. It is only in the last year that scientists have begun to characterize the conditions on these planets, like their surface temperatures, and as in this case, the chemical composition of their atmosphere. Such findings not only shed light on other solar systems, but also on our own.
HD 189733b, a so-called "hot Jupiter," located 63 light years away, has proven a boon for scientists studying exoplanets. Its large size and proximity to its star mean that it dims the star's light more than any other known exoplanet. Combine that with its home star's high brightness, and scientists find that the system creates the best viewing conditions of any known extrasolar system.
At different wavelengths, every atom and molecule has its own telltale footprint, so scientists can convert what are known as absorption spectra into the chemical composition of the object they're looking at.
The technique, known as spectrography, will remain the main scientific technique for learning about exoplanets into the future with planets that could support life.
"Twenty years from now, we'll be able to do this for superearths," said Jonathan Fortney, an astronomy professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "We'll be able to see methane in the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet."
To do so, however, astronomers will need new tools. Swain's team used Hubble's Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer to capture rough spectrographic data. They were forced to use the low-resolution tool because the dedicated instrument for spectrography -- the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph -- broke in 2003, Redfield said.
"The STIS spectrograph would get resolutions several orders of magnitude higher than the tool they used," said Seth Redfield, a Hubble postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, who previously identified sodium in HD 189733b's atmosphere.
He said NASA was planning to try to fix the tool in late summer of this year, and that access to the tool could lead to new discoveries. In the meantime, scientists will keep plugging away, revealing the properties of planets dozens of light years away, molecule by molecule.
"We know so little observationally about these planetary atmospheres that any sort of measurement is tremendously exciting," Redfield said.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Squeezed - The amplitude of an ordinary light wave (top) is equally uncertain everywhere, whereas phase-squeezed light (middle) is more uncertain in some places than in others. In a squeezed vacuum (bottom), only that varying uncertainty remains. Image Credit: G. Breitenbach et al., Nature 387 (1997)NOTHING Is Finally Captured, Stored, & Retrieved
That’s right! This is a feat for the ages. NOTHING, or a reasonable facsimile in the form of a VACUUM, has finally been captured, placed in storage, and successfully retrieved. Actually, what was captured and frozen in time was LIGHT … scientists were able to achieve something that, on the surface, may sound simple, but is so difficult it was given the new name of “Squeezed Vacuum”!
The value in these experiments might help spell out the boundary between the quantum and classical realms and allow a greater understanding toward new quantum information and telecommunication technologies.
This excerpted from Science NOW - Physicists Successfully Store and Retrieve Nothing
By Adrian Cho - ScienceNOW Daily News - 29 February 2008
It sounds like a headline from the spoof newspaper The Onion, but for physicists, this is actually an achievement: Two teams have stored nothing in a puff of gas and then retrieved it a split second later. Storing a strange form of vacuum builds on previous efforts in which researchers stopped light in its tracks (ScienceNOW, 22 January 2001) and may mark a significant step toward new quantum information and telecommunication technologies.
To stop light, researchers first shine an intense and continuous beam of laser light into a gas of atoms. That "control beam" tickles the atoms to allow a pulse of laser light of another wavelength to enter the gas. To trap the pulse, researchers turn off the control beam, which causes the pulse to imprint itself on the atoms. To release it again, they turn on the control laser.
So storing a vacuum might sound ridiculously simple: Follow the same procedure but leave out the pulse, and you store nothing. However, Alexander Lvovsky of the University of Calgary in Canada and his colleagues and Mikio Kozuma of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan and his group have stored a very peculiar type of nothingness called a "squeezed vacuum."
To see what this is, begin with a normal light wave. Classically, this is a smooth wave of electromagnetic fields with equally spaced peaks and dips. But throw in quantum mechanics and things get more complicated. The precise height of the wave becomes uncertain, so the wave gets fuzzy (see figure). Physicists have learned how to manipulate that inevitable uncertainty--for example, making it smaller at the peaks and larger in between. That makes "phase-squeezed light." Now imagine turning down the intensity of the phase-squeezed light to zero. The wave itself goes away, but the waxing and waning uncertainty remains, creating a squeezed vacuum.
"I'm very impressed," says physicist Alexander Kuzmich of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. "It's a real technical achievement." The ability to store squeezed states could help pave the way to new types of quantum networks that would carry uncrackable coded messages, says Kuzmich, who in 2006 stored and retrieved a single photon. "There is something we still don't understand about that transition."
Which, of course, still leaves us all with NOTHING!
Saturday, March 1, 2008
High Resolution NASA Radar … Maps The Moon
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has recently released new high-resolution radar maps of the Moon's south pole. The mapping technique is unique in that it uses digital radar information gleaned from one array of the most sophisticated radar antennae’s in NASA’s arsenal of sensing equipment.
The antenna’s in the array measure three-quarters the size of a football field. From the Mojave desert in California here on the Oblate Spheroid, the antennae send a 500-kilowatt strong, 90-minute long radar stream 231,800 miles to the Moon … and back. The information is then processed with computers at JPL in Pasadena in order to develop detail maps of the Moon’s surface for possible landing sites of possible future Lunar exploration missions. This technique is second only to actually launching a satellite with sophisticated camera equipment and surface sensors.
Digital Elevation Map of Lunar South Pole - Image brightness is generated from the strength of the radar echoes that are bounced of the lunar surface and the color represents the elevation. This map covers an area of 650 kilometers (400 miles) by 450 kilometers (280 miles) with an elevation measurement every 40 meters (130 feet). Image Credit: NASA
This excerpted from Science @ NASA website -
New Radar Maps of the Moon
Science @ NASA - February 29, 2008
NASA has obtained new high-resolution radar maps of the Moon's south pole--a region the space agency is considering as a landing site when astronauts return to the Moon in the years ahead.
"We now know the south pole has peaks as high as Mt. McKinley and crater floors four times deeper than the Grand Canyon," says Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "These data will be an invaluable tool for advance planning of lunar missions."
New radar imagery of the lunar south pole. The movie simulates solar illumination over the course of a complete lunar day. Video Credit: NASA
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory collected the data using the Goldstone Solar System Radar located in California's Mojave Desert. Three times in 2006, JPL scientists targeted the moon's south polar region using Goldstone's 70-meter radar dish. The antenna, three-quarters the size of a football field, sent a 500-kilowatt strong, 90-minute long radar stream 231,800 miles to the Moon. The radar illuminated the rough-hewn lunar surface over an area measuring about 400 by 250 miles. Signals were reflected back to two of Goldstone's 34-meter antennas on Earth. Scientists have been analyzing the echoes ever since, and the data were released by NASA for the first time this week.
NASA has used the data to make a VR movie of a Moon landing from the point of view of the astronaut. Click here to watch. Animation Credit: NASA
"I have not been to the Moon, but this imagery is the next best thing," says Scott Hensley, a scientist at JPL and lead investigator for the study. "With these data we can see terrain features as small as a house without even leaving the office."
NASA is eying the Moon's south polar region as a possible site for future outposts. The location has many advantages; for one thing, there is evidence of water frozen in deep dark south polar craters. Water can be split into oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to burn as rocket fuel--or astronauts could simply drink it. Planners are also looking for "peaks of eternal light." Tall polar mountains where the sun never sets might be a good place for a solar power station.
These are the highest-resolution maps to date. The best images, previously, were generated by the Clementine spacecraft, which could resolve lunar terrain features near the south pole at 1 kilometer per pixel. The JPL radar maps are 50 times more detailed.
As wonderful as they are, however, these images will pale in comparison to next-generation photos from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The spacecraft is scheduled to launch in late 2008 and its camera will beam back photos of the moon with details as small as 1 meter.
"The south pole of the Moon," says Cooke, is going to be "a beautiful place to explore."