#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!

#Cosmos E2 - Cooler Than A Polar Bear's Toenails

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

The 2nd episode of Cosmos, entitled "Some of the Things that Molecules Do", was awesome! Host Neil deGrasse Tyson took us through a journey of evolution, first looking at the establishment of villages after the first ice age, and how wolves began to rely on eating leftover food from humans.  This eventually led to certain wolves being favored by the humans (yes, including the "cuter" wolves"). This is known as artificial selection, or selective breeding - humans decided which wolves survived and reproduced, and thus all of the breeds of dogs that we know today come directly from our ancestor's hands.

She used to be a very vicious wolf.

She used to be a very vicious wolf.

Next, Neil deGrasse Tyson shrunk his spaceship to the size of a molecule to go inside of a polar bear, to analyze the mutation that caused a polar bear to turn white. (This reminded me of the movie Innerspace , where Dennis Quaid was made small enough to go into Martin Short's body.) The white bears had an advantage to sneak up on prey during the ice age. Eventually, this mutation won out, and polar beats were all white after generations of evolution. And then they ended up on the Lost island. Poor Black bears.

Outkast forever.

Outkast forever.

 

I'm almost blind, but at least I have eyes. Underwater organisms used to have no eyes - then a mutation led them to become sensitive to light. These organisms were able to detect night and day cycles and more accurately avoid prey and hunt for food. After generations of mutations, the sensitivity became concentrated at points near the front, which become eyes.

Neil deGrasse Tyson covers the five main apocalypses of history, where a significant amount of life on Earth was eliminated. Only one form of life survived them all - the Tardigrades. I need to roll with them. And of course, the cycle of disasters will continue - just a matter of when. I doubt it will be something where John Cusack is driving over fault lines and saving the world, but it will happen.

Check out the live tweeting Storify 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.

White House Recognizes STEM Champions of Change

This week, the White House is continuing its Champions of Change series with a focus on science.

 

From the press release, via The Urban Scientist:

 

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, the White House will honor ten local heroes who are “Champions of Change” for their innovation in creating diversity and access in STEM fields. These champions are creating opportunities for young people typically underrepresented in STEM industries by using unconventional approaches to enhance student exposure ranging from photography and film, to Hip Hop music, to coding competitions and community-based workshops.

 

Besides the fact that it seems weird to see "hip hop music" in an official government communication, I'm always excited to see science be rewarded.  I'm especially excited to see folks that I've previously featured on my blog be honored. In my post "Wu-Tang and Science are for the Children" (props to you if you get the reference), I talked about Christopher Emdin and the hip hop science competitions that he helped organize in New York. I'm happy to see Chris be honored!

 

Christopher Emdin, Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education, Columbia University
New York, NY
Christopher Emdin, Ph.D is an Associate Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is also a fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Research Institute at Harvard University. In these roles, he prepares teachers for STEM classrooms, conducts research in urban science education, and coordinates both the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. and the #HipHopEd social media movement. The Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. are focused on bringing attention to transforming teaching, learning, and engagement in science by using hip-hop culture to create science competitions among youth in New York City Public schools. The #HipHopEd movement focuses on engaging the public in conversations about the intersections of hip-hop and education. Dr. Emdin writes the provocative “Emdin 5” series for the Huffington Post. He is also author of the award winning book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation.

 

In my post "Hey Science? Respect Matters", I discussed how the scientific community has no room for discrimination, especially gender based. I've spoken with Danielle several times and met her in person, so I was thrilled to see her featured as well.

 

Danielle N. Lee, Biologist on Animal Behavior
Stilwater, OK; Ithaca, NY
Dr. Danielle N. Lee is a biologist who studies animal behavior. Her current research examines the natural history and individual differences of African Giant Pouched Rats. Her science outreach efforts emphasize sharing science to general audiences, particularly under-served groups, via outdoor programming and social media. She blogs about her research, evolutionary biology, as well as diversity and inclusion in the sciences at The Urban Scientist hosted by Scientific American Scientific American Blog Network. She is also a founder of the National Science and Technology News Service, a media advocacy group to increase interest in STEM and science news coverage within the African-American community.

 

Congrats to Chris, Danielle, and the rest of the folks being honored today!

Science Experiments ... Eggscellent!

Peace to Sheldon.

Peace to Sheldon.

I like eggs. Usually scrambled, with cheese. I don't like my eggs too runny. I don't do many science experiments with my eggs besides the chemical reaction between my stomach and the egg when I swallow it.  That's why I'm happy that YouTube user Taras Kul shows a ton of science experiments with eggs. He has a great sense of humor and shows that every science experiment doesn't have to be a success to learn something. Science is about the journey, after all.

Awesome moments from the video include how to make an egg float in the middle of a glass of water, telling whether an egg is boiled or not by the rotational speed, and a hilarious attempt to walk over crates of eggs without breaking them. Enjoy!

Future City: I Believe the Children Are Our Future

Our kids rock! But you wouldn't know that if you listened to the doom and gloom that's often reported in the mainstream news. Disparity sells, and there are always more stories about kids doing bad in school and failing tests than there are with our kids achieving.  Positive programs never get the attention that they deserve, even national ones with a great track record like Future City. From the website:

The Future City Competition is a national, project-based learning experience where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade imagine, design, and build cities of the future. Students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models with recycled materials; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February. 

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure to serve as a judge for the Wisconsin Regional finals at the Kern Center for the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).  It's a beautiful gym and it was fun to see all of the students carrying their city models that they built out of recycled materials into the center. Here's a pic from the outside at the wonderful time of about 7:30am. The white truck in the background is from a Fox news van that was covering the event.

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The judges sat in a room and teams would come in and give a short presentation and Q&A session. The teams spoke about their ideas on how to solve transportation using the model that they built, and had moving parts and visual aids. The models themselves were quite cool as they were made of recycled parts - everything from Starbucks cans to computer speakers.

Unfortunately, as a judge i could not take photos of the individual science models, but below is a photo of the main hall.  You can see quite a few well-dressed kids next to their visual aids, ready to explain the feats that their city accomplishes.

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I left the event pumped and optimistic for the future of science in our country. We are in good hands, but we can't get lazy - we need to encourage this spirit of innovation in ALL grades.  Once kids find out that #ScienceLooksGood, they'll help move us to the next era.

Also, the title to this post refers to one of my favorite songs, the Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston. I had to learn this song while attending the YMCA as a kid.

Not to be outdone, the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America featured a hilarious rendition of Greatest Love of Y'all by Randy Waaaatttttttssssoooooonnnnn and Sexual chocolate.

#CES2014: Gaming, Printing, Excercising

Last week, I was lucky enough to break out of the balmy -20 degree Milwaukee weather and take a trip to Vegas to the Consumer Electronics Show. I had a great time at last year's show, and this year did not disappoint!  

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But let's skip the technobabble. Here are three things that will potentially change the way we entertain, build, and excercise in the next few years. 3D gaming, 3D printing, and fitness.

 

3D gaming

Imagine walking down a street in a video game, and being able to look up, down, left, right.  Now imagine being able to look in back of you. That's what the Oculus Rift. promises to bring to gaming.

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Looks stupid, right? It was. And I loved it.  Reminds me of the horrible virtual reality games in the arcades of the 80s and early 90s. Remember these?

Transient

Also. Display port had an amazing 3 monitor setup. 3 FREAKING HUGE monitors. I couldn't even fit this inside of my apartment, but I want it!

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3D printing

I've blogged about 3D printing in the past, and there was a huge showing at the conference. 3D printing is pretty much what it sounds like - a printer that can print a plastic object such as an action figure, a ball, or a mask.  Tons of cool companies like Makerbot, Kevvox, and Sculpteo were printing small 3D trinkets left and right. Some great examples are below.  3D printing is still a little too expensive ($2000+, plus printing material) to bring into the mainstream, but give it a good 5 years or so and we'll be printing our own toys at a reasonable price. Secret Santa will be even more awesome.

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Fitness

I've been borrowing a Fitbit Flex from Verizon Wireless for review, and it's become my best buddy.  I leave it on my wrist (even in the shower - it's waterproof) and it automatically tracks my steps, active minutes, calories burned, etc.  

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I forget that it's on, which is exactly the point.  The only time I don't forget about it is when I have to charge it by removing a smal part and plugging it up to a computer, which is more often then I'd like (every day or two). For these things to really go mainstream, wireless charging would be a huge benefit. Imagine that I can just throw my Fitbit Flex on a wireless pad like a Powermat. Or even better, placing a wireless charger under my pilow (or make the whole pillow a wireless charger) so that going to sleep instantly charges the device. I know, big dreams, and I could fry my head ... but it would be awesome.

My favorite fitness gadget was the Infomotion 94Fifty - a basektball with a bunch of sensors in it that measure ball rotation, velocity, the arc of your shot, and tons of other variables.  As you dribble, shoot, and pass, you get instant feedback from the voice of a snarky coach.  

For example, when shooting a free throw, you shoudl shoot at an arc of 40 degrees, which is REALLY hard for the average person. All I heard most of the time was the coach saying "Get that arc up" and other remarks. If I had this as a kid, I might actually have been a good basketball player. Maybe it would have helped me grow to 6' tall to.

 

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Keep an eye out on 3D gaming, 3D printing, and fitness gagdgets in the next few years - things are gonna change!

Put Your Money Where Your Drone Is

Amazon is researching Prime Air, the use of small drones to deliver packages to its customers in 30 minutes or less. They're throwing around a "as early as 2015" release date for release, pending FAA regulations.

Seriously.

I'm all for bring science and technology forward, but this seems like an idea in search of a problem. I don't hear many people complain about not getting their packages quick enough from Amazon.  Regular old Amazon Prime (free two day delivery and $4 overnight for $70 a year) seems like it would be good enough for anyone that needs products quickly.  

I get it. Amazon head Jeff Bezos wants to get ahead of small nimble upstarts that may be able to quicker delivery than they can. But I'd rather see these R&D resources go into process improvements, employees, stockholders, charities, SOMETHING. Those suggestions, and others, are plenty of ways to stay ahead of the competition that are a little more grounded.

I don't want these annoying little thinks buzzing all over the damn place. I don't want people jacking my packages. The video shows a nice family in a house with a huge lawn - just imagine if you live in an apartment, or even worse, in a crowded city. Although it may be hilarious to see some drone collisions.

In the meanwhile, check out my favorite flying robots of all time from the 1987 movie Batteries Not Included

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.

 

Les Paul Is a Science God

I recently attended the Time Warner STEMFest at Discovery World here in Milwaukee.  I was floored by the museum's Les Paul exhibit.  Since he is a Wisconsin native, the exhibit is a vast exploration of his life and how his inventive mind literally transformed music.

I knew Les Paul's name from his Gibson guitar line, but I had no idea that he was a true scientific inventor at heart. He grew up learning about sound by using the family piano, studying the rumbles from the nearby train station, and analyzing a record player (phonograph). He built most things that he used, from his original guitar idea that he shared with Gibson to his own recording studio.

 Distortion, reverb, and delay were all terms that Paul mastered within the musical lexicon.  He also helped launch multitrack recording, which enabled him to put different vocals / instruments on different tracks and mix them together.

Check out the pics below from Paul's exhibit and make sure to swing by if you're in the Milwaukee area! 

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

From wikipedia: Les Paul , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track.   

From wikipedia: Les Paul , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track. 

 

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit

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!