#Cosmos E7: So Fresh & So Clean Clean

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

Episode 7 of Fox's Cosmos, entitled "The Clean Room", covered the search behind the age of the Universe. Meteorites found on the Earth surface contain a certain amount of lead, which is actually a decayed form of Uranium.  Thus, by measuring the amount of lead, one can determine the age of the rock, and this can be extended to the age of the Earth. Clair Patterson had to build a "Clean Room", a lab that was free of lead contamination so that he could accurately measure the amount of lead in a meteorite.

Lead was a popular ingredient in many products in the middle of the 20th century, from paint to gasoline. Patterson's work help to show that the amount of lead in the environment has been increasing over time, and this helped many industries (such as oil and petroleum) to stop using lead in their products, since it was known to be poisonous.  Of course, these industries did not go down without a fight, and hired their own scientists to push their agenda.

Check out Outkast's video for "So Fresh, Co Clean" below, as well as the Storify of the live tweet of the episode.

#Cosmos E6: How Deep? Put a Star To Sleep

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

The sixth episode of Cosmos aired on Fox , and I held my usual live tweet which is shown below. But first, let's check out some videos from the episode.

Check out the complexity of "life in the dew drop", which features two life forms, Paramecium and. Dileptus, in an epic battle. It's amazing how much goes on within the smallest things that humans can observe.  As Tyson puts it, the dew drops has its own little cosmos within it.

 

Check out the advanced, underground chamber that the Japanese built to detect the neutrino. It had to be far underground so that other molecules wouldn't make it through the layers of Earth. A array of light detectors surrounded 50k tons of distilled water is the trap.

Finally, see how the finite speed of light prevents us from seeing farther back in time than 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

 

Check out the live tweet below!

#Cosmos E5: Spectrum shaker

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

The fifth episode of Cosmos aired on Fox, and it is was all about the light spectrum, and how scientists from different countries (Joseph von Fraunhofer from Germany, Mozi from China,  Ibn al-Haytham from Iraq, Isaac Newton from England)  and time periods help us arrive at our current understanding of light. Most of the light that we see is white, and appears to have no color. However, white light is actually composed of ALL colors.  When light is translated through a different medium at exactly the proper angle, the colors separate and make a rainbow.  This happens with a prism, as well as with raindrops.

Interestingly enough, there is more light than in the visible spectrum.  Radio waves are a form of light, as well as X-rays that you've likely seen in the hospital.  Those are a few examples of other forms of light in the section beyond visible light, called the infrared spectrum.

Check out the live tweets below!

#Cosmos E4: There Is a Light That Shines

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

Episode 4 of Fox's Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson focuses on the Herschel family of scientists, Einstein's theory of Relativity, and the speed of light as nature's fundamental constant.

Patrick Stewart voiced astronomer William Herschel, who was one of the main scientists in this episode. William, and his son John, contributed to our understanding of stars and the light that they give off. Light from distant objects takes a while to reach us on earth, so the light that we see is very old - we are effectively looking back in time. The light from stars that we see are probably already dead.

The only issue I had with this episode was that they didn't mention Caroline Herschel, who was an amazing astronomer in her own right. Otherwise, this was my favorite so far in the series.

To see the light in a different path, check out Common's hit single "The Light" from the Like Water for Chocolate album (2000).


For more, check out the Storify below!

#Cosmos E3: Know The Ledge

(For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

For the next 12 or so Sundays, join me on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) as I livetweet the show Cosmos.  The most recent episode "When Knowledge Conquered Fear", deals mostly with comets. Ancient civilizations saw comets as messages from God of impending doom. It took scientists like Robert Hooke, Edmond Halley, and Isaac Newton to prove that comets were a part of the solar system whose travel patterns can be predicted with startling accuracy.

Knowledge is power, and also inspires great music. Check out Eric B and Rakim's "Know the Ledge" off of the soundtrack to the movie Juice. After that, check out the Storify of my tweets below!


Check out the tweets below!

Last Night a #Cosmos Saved My Life

Last night the series premiere of Cosmos, a miniseries exploring the universe, debuted on Fox. Its a reboot of the original 1980s series which was hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan, and is one of the most widely watched miniseries in history. I saw part of the original series in the mid and late 80s, but I was still young and didn't fully appreciate it.

Last night, a Cosmos saved my life.

After graduating college, my good friend Raymond told me about Sagan's book Cosmos, which was made after the TV series gained in popularity. I immediately recognized the name as the series that I watched so many years before, but I did not know that the book would become one of my favorites of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Sagan has a way of describing complicated topics such as the length of time since the big bang in terms that can be grasped by a variety of folks. His Cosmic Calendar - where the entire history of the universe is placed in a calendar year - remains one of my favorite ways to explain exactly how new humans are to the universe. All of recorded history takes place at the very, very end of the calendar. Puts things into perspective.

I had so much fun watching Cosmos and participating in the discussions that followed on and offline. Be sure to check me out on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) every Sunday at 9pm Eastern as I tweet about Cosmos during the show. A sample of my tweets from the premiere are shown below via Storify.

MAVEN, Mars and Bumper Cars

This week, NASA launched a  new mission to investigate the red planet. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission will orbit Mars and study the upper atmosphere.  The theory is that Mars used to have a thick atmosphere and liquid water, and this was removed by the Sun's solar activity.  

Getting to Mars is not easy. Think about the most awesome night of bumper cars you've ever had. You're slamming into folks left and right because you're predicting where they are going to be seconds from now.  Now, let's see you needed to know where a bumper car would be a minute from now.  Or a month. Or 10 months.

Bumper Cars

 Both Earth and Mars are traveling in elliptical orbits, at diferent speeds, around the sun.  So MAVEN has to be launched from a moving earth and predict where Mars is going to be 10 months later when the craft arrives. Even the closest distance between Mars and Earth (the opposition) changes - it can be anywhere from 33.9 from 62.7 million miles until 2020. 

Image credit: Universe Today

Image credit: Universe Today

Once you predict where Mars is gonna be, you can't just travel in a straight line. The most optimal path often involves changing your direction ever so slightly to take advantage of both the Earth's gravitational pull and that of Mars. To that end, MAVEN has five trajectory correction maneuvers (TCMs) that use tiny bits of a fuel to change the direction of the spacecraft ever so slightly.  

Check out more about MAVEN by reading the following documents:

 - MAVEN Fact Sheet

 - MAVEN Frequently Asked Questions

 - University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)

 

Space Is Not Friendly to Myopic Idiots

"You don't get to go live on the space station because you're a myopic idiot. So you don't need to treat the people that are speaking on behalf of the program as if their myopia and inherent idoacy will constantly cause them to say bad things."

Successful communication of your ideas can be just as important as the idea itself.

There is a stereotype that scientifically inclined people have communication problems. Scientists are seen as folks that can only speak with other scientists, either because they lack the basic communication skills or because they view themselves as above other non-scientific people. I've definitely seen both cases of this, but it's a small minority. Part of the mission of this blog is to eliminate this stereotype.

The above quote about myopic idiots by Chris Hadfield, former International Space Shuttle (ISS) Commander, speaks to the importance of opening our space research to all. The scientists and others involved with getting machinery and humans into space and back again should be trusted to share the awesomeness with others.  Astronauts in particular are trained to do incredible things - why not share it to as many people as possible? 

It's so funny to see Hadfield participate in a video chat from Earth. He's been a prolific fixture in audio and video chats during his time in space, so I'm used to seeing him in a spacesuit.  Check out the Google+ hangout below where Hadfield speaks about the space program and the need to be open and communicate the value of NASA and other government organizations.

 

Sciencestagram: Get Up On It

(Editor's note: I'm happy to announce that that ShareefJackson.com has won the 2013 Black Weblog Award for Best Science and Technology Blog, Thank you for your support!)

Science is everywhere and it looks good!  It's pretty easy to find science on websites (hello), by following people on social media (hello), or by viewing television / radio shows by luminaries like Neil deGrasse Tyson.  However, one lesser known place has some amazing stuff - Instagram!  

Instagram is a lot more than selfie-obsessed tweens and people that can't cook worth a damn. The beauty of science is that a picture is truly worth a thousand words. I'm happy that science resources are using social network to push information to where people actually are, instead of waiting for people to come to their individual sites. Check out the story below at Read Write Web for 10 instagram accounts that you should be aware of!  

As you can tell, my favorite Instagram account from the list is the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. They update often and deliver stunning images. ,They have a larger, higher quality selection on Flickr but the social networking aspect of Instagram means that I'm on there a lot more than I am on Flickr.

Space Living: Now and the Future

Astronauts are currently enjoying space living and travel via the International Space Station (ISS), but what about the future? If the answer is on a government owned site, we're all lost. Almost all government websites and social media accounts are offline due to the government shutdown here in the good old United States. Luckily, the inefficiency of Congress doesn't reach out to Earth orbit, because past and present astronaut bios are still online (probably hosted on a non-government server), and the astronauts in the ISS are still tweeting!  Check out this wonderful shot from astronaut Luca Parmitano (@Astro_Luca)

Luca and others are living that space life. Former astronaut Garret Reisman visited the Q&A website Quora to give us some insight on what it's like to transition into life in space. Via Quora:

At first it's just weird.  
All kinds of things are happening to your body.  Your vestibular system is all messed up - your inner ear isn't working at all and it's sending garbage signals to your brain.  Your heart, which is used to pumping against gravity to do its most important job, delivering oxygenated blood to your brain, is now pumping too much and your head gets all puffed-up.  (I woke up in the middle of my first night in orbit and wondered why I was standing on my head for a few seconds, until I realized, no - I was just in space.)  When you close your eyes to go to sleep, you see lightning flashes inside your eyeballs.
And you have a hard time just moving around.  The first day is filled with apologies as you inevitably kick or elbow your crewmates as you thrash around like a fish out of water.
But eventually you get the hang of it, and for those of us who were lucky enough to do long-duration missions, about a month into flight you finally really get used to it.  Then you wake up in the morning, float out of your sleeping bag, shoot across the space station like superman and turn a few somersaults on the way to the galley for breakfast. 
Now you are a real spaceman!

It's pretty amazing that it takes a month to get used to it.  It usually takes me a few days to get over something as simple as jetlag if I'm flying across the country.  Then again, I may be at home in space since here on Earth I'm already known for inevtiably kicking or elbowing people close to me due to my clumsiness.

Below are a few more interesting videos from the Quora thread. Former ISS Commander Sunita Williams gives us a walk through in Nov 2012 before she departs back to Earth.  On the second video, YouTube user VSauce speaks about how long it may take us to truly live amongst the stars. Check them out!

Gravity + Neil deGrasse Tyson = Awesome

I like space. I like movies. I like space movies. Contact is one of my favorite movies of all time, and introduced me to Carl Sagan. Moon is a lesser known flick that I've recommended to many folks. And Apollo 13 was better than most Tom Hanks movies.

I saw Gravity this weekend and it left a huge impression on me.  The acting and dialogue was good, but the breathtaking portions involved little to no dialogue and facisnating shots of the Earth, stars, floating astronauts, and satellites that may or may not survive.  

There was even a Shareef in the movie! Ok, a Sharif.  Close enough. 

The movie was extremely fun, and there were some great scientifically accurate parts (i.e. sound can't carry in space so there is no sound). With that said, it is a movie, and some things are exaggerated for truth.  Everyone's favorite astrophysicist Neil deGrasse tyson does his best job to ruin the party.

 

Neil just can't help being a scientist.  I don't blame him at all. I couldn't even bring myself to criticize the movie though because I LOVED it.

 

Despite Shutdown, Astronauts Still Run Up Walls

The current government shutdown has severely impacted NASA. According to The Verge: 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will see over 90 percent of its civilian workforce immediately furloughed: 17,701 out of 18,250 total employees, according to the shutdown plan the agency filed last week. As President Obama put it in an emergency address last night, "NASA will shut down almost entirely, but Mission Control will remain open to support the astronauts serving on the Space Station."

The shutdown plan link in the article no longer works, since all of NASA's websites and social media accounts have beeen shut down. The good news is that the astronauts on the ISS will be supporrted.  One way they can deal with the stress is to run up a wall! 

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Creepy photo, huh? I took the above photo of the treadmill that astronauts use to stay in shape while on the International Space Station (ISS) during my trip to NASA Mission Control in Houston, TX earlier this year.  Using the port and starboard nautical terms for left and right, the treadmill is essentially on the wall.  But in a weightless environment of space, the terms up, down, left or right have no absolute meaning. 

Here's a photo of the actual treadmill, which was named after Stephen Colbert after he won a naming contest. As you can see his smiling face in the photo above, the treadmill is officially called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT).

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Astronaut Karen Nyberg posted this video recently of her experience on the treadmill. She needs to be tethered so she doesn't float off, and the treadmill itself can't be fixed completely onto the wall - it needs to be able to move so that the forces put on the treadmill by the runner don't affect the flight path of the station.  Remember, this is space, and there is no drag or wind resistance to prevent movement - any little push can seriously set you off course. 

The video is set up so that it looks like the treadmill is on the "bottom" of the ISS, but if you look closely at the orientation of other objects, you can see that we are actually on the "wall". 

In addition to seeing the treadmll, I was fortunate enough to meet Karen and the other current residents of the International Space Station before they departed on their trip as Expedition 36. Of course I'm right next to Karen because she loves me.  Here's one of my favorite pics ever!

Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg, me, Luca Parmitano  

Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg, me, Luca Parmitano


 

NASA Shut Down, But We Still Celebrate 55 Years

(Editors Note: Most of the NASA links are inactive because of the government shutdown. Yay Congress.) 

In the midst of the Cold War, the US government created NASA in 1958 to gain an edge in space exploration. It was partially a defensive move agains the Soviet launch of the first Earth satellite, Sputnik, in 1957.  NASA superseded the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was formed in 1915 to pursue aeronautical research.

In the past 55 years, NASA has grown beyond its iniitial goals to be part of a global initative in support of space travel and harnessing its benefits for Earth. Check out the following infographic to get a sense of accomplishments as well as future endeavours. My hope is that this blog will be around long enough to cover each of the "things to come"! For more info, click on the infographic or visit this site.

 

Some more detail is available on NASA's site:

We’ve sent 12 humans to walk and work on the moon, sent four rovers and four landers to explore Mars and sentVoyager into interstellar space.
We’ve studied our home planet, every other planet in the solar system, and the sun at the center of it all.
We’ve peered deep into the distant past of the universe with Great Observatories like HubbleSpitzer and Chandra.
We’ve built an International Space Station larger than a five-bedroom house and sent humans to live and work off the planet continuously since November 2000. 
We've flown 30 years of space shuttle missions to launch and repair Hubble, build the space station and perform science in Earth orbit.
We've developed experimental aircraft and tested technologies that make today's airplanes safer and greener
We’ve produced hundreds of innovations that enable current and future NASA missions and improve the daily lives of everyone on Earth, from life-saving medical technologies to advances in telecommunications, weather forecasting, robotics and emergency response.
There’s way too much to list it all … and we’re not done yet.
We plan to land humans on Mars in the 2030s. We're getting set to send MAVEN to Mars and OSIRIS-REx to an asteroid, and we'll be watching as Juno arrives at Jupiter and New Horizons arrives at Pluto. We’ll launch the James Webb Space Telescopeto follow Hubble in the quest to understand our universe, looking all the way back to the first luminous glows after the Big Bang.   We’ll continue looking at the home planet from our unique perspective in space, improving air travel and developing cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of all mankind.

NASA Fermi: You Won't Like Me When I'm Angry

Hulk
Gamma rays helped turn Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk

The Hubble isn't the only telescope floating in orbit around earth - NASA also has the Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope. Fermi turns five this week.

Why gamma rays? The visible light that we see is a small part of a much larger electromagnetic spectrum. The Fermi telescope uses gamma rays, which travel very fast with a very high energy (i.e. they have a high frequency). Faster, high energy waves have a better chance of detecting hard-to-see objects in the universe such as black holes. Check out the following description of the spectrum from Science Company.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

The chart makes it apparent that lower energy light on the left of the visible spectrum such as radio, microwave, and infrared are what we see in our everyday lives.  Several of these waves are passing through your body as you read this, but since they are low energy no damage is done. The higher energy gamma rays on the right can only be used safely because the Fermi telescope is in space, away from human contact.

From the NASA Fermi mission site:

The Large Area Telescope (LAT), the mission's main instrument, scans the entire sky every three hours. The state-of-the-art detector has sharper vision, a wider field of view, and covers a broader energy range than any similar instrument previously flown.
Fermi's secondary instrument, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), sees all of the sky at any instant, except the portion blocked by Earth. This all-sky coverage lets Fermi detect more gamma-ray bursts, and over a broader energy range, than any other mission. These explosions, the most powerful in the universe, are thought to accompany the birth of new stellar-mass black holes.

Check out a five year retrospective of the Fermi telescope below.

All this news makes the Incredible Hulk happy, and he celebrates by beating the mess out of Loki in this scene from the Avengers movie.

A Curious Year for NASA

Curiosity Rover's First Anniversary  (201308060002HQ)

When you think about government accomplishments in the past year, many of NASA's achievements get overlooked. As entertaining as constant partisan deadlock between the legislative and executive branches can be, let's not forget about our tech success! Despite the end of the space shuttle program, NASA has been steadily moving toward exploring space.

This week marks a year since NASA landed the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. You can check out the multiple posts that I did last year on the "7 minutes of terror" landing process here. For some new media, relive the landing with the crew in the following 4 minute video from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) site. And yes, that is Mohawk guy (MSL systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi) front and center.

A longer, in depth video celebration by NASA is below. It clocks in at about an hour.

An Awesome Poster on Social Media for Space

One of my space geek Facebook friends has recently taken it to the next level. Remco Timmerman put together a poster on social media and the space industry. If my tons of NASA posts haven't let you know already, social media has played a huge impact in furthering the public impact of space research.

Remco's poster,  "Social Media for Space",  was presented at the International Space University ISU alumni weekend poster session last weekend. According to the ISU Facebook page, "ISU provides an interdisciplinary education in the context of an intercultural and international environment to support the development of future leaders." They always have a great YouTube channel chock full of space stuff.

Check out the poster below. A higher res version is available for download here. 

 

#NASASocial Overview - Join the Fun!

I've been lucky enough to attend a few NASA Social events, where I've been able to meet up with other space enthusiasts at NASA buildings such as NASA Headquarters in DC,  Goddard Flight Center in MD and Mission Control in Houston.  Check out Susan Bell's awesome presentation recap of her NASA Social experience using Prezi!

For more information, check out the main NASA Social website. Maybe I'll see you at a future event!

Smithsonian #TimeNav Event: Tweets & Photos

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Below are my tweets and photos from the Smithsonian Air & Space  Museum's Time and Navigation exhibit which opens Friday, April 12th. The exhibit features navigation the evolution of navigation technology from the sea, to the air, to space, and now in our smartphones. Yesterday's preview has more detail.  Check out the photos below!