Kepler Space Telescope Has Found a Strange Star.

The Kepler space telescope has discovered a most unusual star in its search for exoplanets a long time, but erratic dimming of the light, – up to 20% dimming, which is *a lot*, over a longer period.
There are several hypotheses investigated, including a swarm of comets, or …. just maybe …. a structure built by an alien civilization.

Now, I remember the buzz a few decades ago, when the first pulsars were detected, and some thought the precision of the pulses had to be artificial but – as it turned out – it was a natural phenomenon of a fast rotating neutron star.

I would not jump to the alien conclusion before every other hypothesis has been thoroughly investigated. It could, however become very exciting if all the “natural” hypotheses would have to be discounted …

The article can be found here :


Weekly Photo – Rocket Science

In 2010 I became aware of a group in Denmark Copenhagen Suborbitals.

The group is building rockets, rather big ones, no New Year’s fireworks.

Given the size of their vehicles they could not get permission to launch from land (Denmark is a small country, and has no large deserted areas). What did they do ? Easy ! If you can not launch from land, then it must be from the sea.

In the summer 2010 I went to the presentation of their Mark 1 sea launch platform, named Sputnik. It was set to sea carrying the rocket, using a crane. This is one of the better pictures I got from the presentation.

The Mark 1 of the platform is not self powered, so they used another self made project for propulsion of the platform, yes, it is a submarine you see on the picture.

The rocket itself is 9m (30ft) tall and 60cm (2ft) diameter.

The first launch attempt later in the year failed. The count went down to 0 and – nothing happened. Well, the pyrotechnics went off as expected, but the rocket stayed in place. The failure was due to a frozen valve for the liquid oxygen.

They learned a lot about procedure and tech from the failure, and one year later, June 2011 a modified rocket and launch platform (this time self propelled) were used. Counting down to 0 and – nothing happened. After a look at the telemetry it was found that the launch signal had not arrived, and 10 – 15 minutes later another attempt was made, and off it went. I do not have pictures from that event, since only active members of the group were allowed in the area. They did, however publish a press kit on the website.

Their criterion for success was that the rocket lifted itself above the platform, the flight went up to about 2km when the flight was aborted from the ground, in order to stay within the designated area.

The rocket had no active steering and veered off like a missile. The “payload” was recovered, but not the engine stage. More on this project later.

Northern Lights

I consider that there are three great spectacular events to see in the sky. All are very rare, and I have not seen all three of them. Let us take a look at this :

1. Meteor Storm :

In 1998 I was looking to get to see a meteor storm from the Leonid meteor shower. It peaks every 33 years – with variations in the size of the peak.
Following the most common predictions of the peak I made ready to stay up for a night. But – as my luck (or lack of it) was – the show did not happen on that night . . . A slightly different, but even more spectacular show of a fireball meteor storm came one night BEFORE the prediction. Many people missed the opportunity, and so did I. A colleague of mine was up in the middle of the night and thought, “fireworks at this time of the night ?”. When he looked out there was one bright fireball after the other appearing in the sky.
The following night I stayed up, and essentially nothing happened. What a disappointment. Some people claim that it was the show of a century – and I missed it. On top of that – it was a clear sky that night, something of a rarity where I live.

2. Total eclipse of the Sun :

This is one event where 99.9% is *very* different from 100%. I went to see the show in Northern France in August 1999, and nearly missed the climax of the show. but minutes before totality a small blue patch appeared in the sky, and we got to see totality. Quite a spectacle.
I wrote a modest report on the event – with a few pictures, you can find it here.

3. Northern lights – Aurora Borealis.

In Denmark where I come from, I have seen the Northern Lights twice in my life.
Funny enough, moving further South to The Netherlands I would have expected to see less of it there. But in a shorter time span I have seen Northern Lights at least twice, and even photographed it. The photo is far from spectacular, but it will have to do for me.

Enter Norway – to be more precise, the town of Tromsø. There the auroras are a common occurrence. I came across a beautiful time lapse movie made by Ole Christian Salomonsen in Tromsø.
He publishes it (in HD Video) on his blog
I heartily recommend taking a look at the 4.5 minutes of movie, the aurora and his foreground images are – well – spectacular.

More Books I Intend to Read

I just started reading Dan Simmon’s book “Hyperion”, and I still have along way to go. I think it is interesting enough for me to read all the way through, though I am going at a slow and steady pace.

Listening to the podcast ‘Dragonpage Cover to Cover‘ I was listening to their Library segment. This is one of the few cases where I felt the enthusiasm for a book so contagious that I went to order it immediately.

The book in question is Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Galileo’s Dream”. The theme of Galileo having a peep into the future he, along with other great scientists created the basis for, is intriguing to me.

As a final note, here is a quote attributed to Galileo Galilei :

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

Colliding Planets !!

The Spitzer InfraRed Space Telescope, launched a few years ago, has , more or less by accident found the remains of – not one – *but two* rocky planets around a star about 100 light years away.

The two planets, one estimated to be in the order of Earth sized, the other Moon sized , appear to have collided probably a few thousand years ago, very recent in astronomical terms.

More detail can be found at Bad Astronomer Blog

This is, as far as I know, the first, however indirect, evidence of Earth/Moon sized planets.

That is not all : A few days ago it was reported that the Kepler Space Telescope, launched this year, had detected the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star

Exciting times indeed.

Science and imagination

I just stumbled over an article in the “Bad Astronomy” blog, a reply to someone claiming that science is devoid of imagination.

I particularly like the “boiled down” version of the reply :

“Without imagination, science is a dictionary”

since without imagination science (and technology would never have brought us anywhere, certainly we would not be discussing the topic on the Internet.

Majel Barrett Roddenberry has passed beyond “The Rim”

I have been off the net for a few days, so here is my entry on this : Majel Barrett was the widow of Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, and passed away on December 18 at the age of 76. Her family was there with her. More details at the official homepage.

For me Star Trek was a breakthrough in Science Fiction on TV and gave rise to a new trend – stating social issues in SF on TV. Actually, it was, at the time, the only way of tackling issues as racism, discrimination etc in TV series, by disguising it as “alien versus human” encounters. Majel is best known by SF fans from a multitude of roles in the Star Trek universe, and a single beautiful role in Babylon 5.

While it is sad to see someone pass beyond the Rim we should also remember the things she gave to us , in Star Trek : “Number One” from the original pilot, Nurse Chapel from the original series, Lwaxana Troi in The Next Generation, and the computer voice in all the “new” series, and from Babylon 5 the Lady Morella, seer and a wife of the deceased Emperor of the Centauri Republic.

With Starstuff I will quote the wonderful line she was given by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski : “There is always choice. We say there is no choice only to comfort ourselves with the decision we have already made. If you understand that, there’s hope. If not ..” – Lady Morella, Babylon 5, »Point of no return«

Rest in peace Majel Barrett, and may you meet your Gene in a place where no shadows fall.