Stocks and News
Home | Week in Review Process | Terms of Use | About UsContact Us
   Articles Go Fund Me All-Species List Hot Spots Go Fund Me
Week in Review   |  Bar Chat    |  Hot Spots    |   Dr. Bortrum    |   Wall St. History
Stock and News: Hot Spots
  Search Our Archives: 
 

 

Dr. Bortrum

 

AddThis Feed Button

http://www.gofundme.com/s3h2w8

 

   

01/19/2005

Two Jobs Well Done

Christiaan Huygens was quite a guy. He discovered polarized
light (you may have a pair of Polaroid sunglasses), developed the
wave theory of light (from which the laws of optics were
derived) and invented the micrometer (an instrument used to
measure small dimensions such as the thickness of a wire, a hair
or a sheet of metal). He was also the first to use a pendulum to
regulate a clock and worked on improved lenses for the newly
invented telescope. It was 350 years ago, in 1655, that he
pointed one of his telescopes at Saturn, wanting to study its rings.
Huygens was surprised to see not only the rings but also a large
moon orbiting Saturn. Today, his namesake rests on the surface
of that moon.

In last week’s column, we talked about the outstanding
accomplishments of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and
their mentors, the dedicated workers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL). Last Friday (January 14), the JPL crew and especially
their counterparts in the European Space Agency (ESA) and the
Italian Space Agency could celebrate another spectacular
success. The Europeans have waited for over seven years to
learn the fate of their Huygens space probe. It was in October of
1997 that NASA launched the Cassini-Huygens mission. The
Cassini spacecraft (designed and built by JPL) had been cruising
around Saturn and its moons for some time when, on the day
before Christmas, it turned loose ESA’s Huygens, a 705 pound
space probe named appropriately after Titan’s discoverer. Last
Friday, Huygens, which is shaped like a wok, deployed its
parachute and floated down through the thick, murky atmosphere
of Titan.

Last week, we discussed JPL’s early problems with the Spirit
rover on Mars not waking up on schedule and how it was finally
brought into line. With Huygens, there was no second chance. It
had to wake up upon entering Titan’s atmosphere, snap pictures
and take data on its way to impact on Titan’s surface. It was
hoped that Huygens would continue to snap pictures and collect
data for at least a few more minutes after impact. Huygens
performed beautifully, sending back data for about 2 hours
while descending through Titan’s atmosphere, which is mostly
nitrogen. Clouds of methane were detected at an altitude of
about 12 miles and a fog consisting of methane or ethane was
observed near the surface.

Huygens hit the ground at a speed of about ten miles an hour and
the ground was found to have the consistency of wet sand or clay
with a thin crust. The ground was identified as a mix of dirty
water ice with hydrocarbon “ice” of various organic compounds.
Huygens gathered its data and transmitted it back to Cassini for
transmission back to Earth. A January 18 report from ESA
indicates that Cassini got an hour and 12 minutes of excellent
data from Huygens on the ground before Cassini disappeared
over the horizon out of contact with Huygens. Radio telescopes
on Earth continued to track the Huygens signal, however, and the
plucky probe was still transmitting away for at least three hours
after landing.

It seems fitting that, 350 years after the discovery of Titan,
Huygens sent back some 350 pictures. It was hoped that 700
pictures might be returned but one data channel succumbed
before this could be accomplished. Otherwise, Huygens
performed so valiantly that there were tears in the eyes of some
of the European workers.

Titan is unique among the many moons of our solar system in
that it has a significant atmosphere, which is even denser than
ours on Earth. The atmosphere of nitrogen mixed with methane
and other hydrocarbons and organic compounds, is thought to
have a composition much like that of early Earth billions of years
ago. However, Titan is a frigid place, with surface temperatures
around minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit, way too cold for liquid
water to exist. (By way of comparison, Embarrass, Minnesota
reported a near record temperature for Minnesota this week of
minus 54 degrees Fahrenheit, the record being a minus 60
degrees, a veritable heat wave compared to the temperature on
Titan.)

Titan is not a small moon and is actually bigger than the planets
Mercury or Pluto. Pluto, you may recall, is having some
difficulty maintaining its status as a planet after the recent
discoveries of other large bodies such as Sedna out there in the
far reaches of our solar system. However, after just a day of data
from Huygens, some were talking of Titan as a “planet” or a
whole new “world”.

What does Titan look like? You must have seen pictures on the
front pages of your newspapers of what look like rocks that are
possibly chunks of water ice less than a foot in size. On ESA’s
or NASA’s Web sites (esa.int and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov), you can
see the rock picture in color. The sky is orange while the surface
and the rocks look to me as being a light pinkish color. Titan has
canyons, shorelines, what look like drainage ditches, possible
seas and islands. It’s almost like here on Earth except that any
“seas” are composed of liquid methane or other organic
compounds. Hopefully, more pictures will be shown at an ESA
press conference scheduled for January 21.

Huygens sent back not only photos but also the sounds of Titan.
On the ESA web site you can actually listen to the sounds
recorded as the probe fell through Titan’s atmosphere. It’s a
kind of swooshing sound as if Titan is saying shhhh. I heard that
after Huygens landed it extended a microphone and actually
picked up the sound of a brisk wind blowing on the surface of
Titan. Hopefully, that recording will also be available on the
Web site. How neat is that, to be able to hear the wind blow on a
place over 700 million miles away?! Bravo, Huygens!

While reading about Huygens in our newspaper, the Star Ledger,
I found a story about another spectacular astronomical discovery
involving a spacecraft named after a famed scientist. Some years
ago, I wrote about a Nobel Prize winner named Chandrasekhar
and his calculations showing that a massive star would collapse
to form a black hole. Later (column of 7/27/1999), I mentioned
that an X-ray satellite, called Chandra in his honor, had been
launched and that one of its missions was to study X-rays emitted
by material being sucked into black holes.

What Chandra found is an unusual formation of two monstrous
cavities surrounded by hot gas in a distant cluster of galaxies.
The cavities are each about 650,000 light years across. A light
year is about 6 trillion miles so you get the picture that these are
indeed huge! The cavities, though humongous, may not impress
you but perhaps the cause of them will. It’s the biggest
explosion ever recorded, except for the Big Bang itself. And
what caused the explosion? It’s the gobbling up of material by
an equally humongous and ravenous black hole, precisely what
Chandra was sent up to study. Another job well done.

Ohio University’s Brian McNamara, lead author on an article in
the January 6 issue of Nature, says he “nearly fell out of his
chair” when he saw the Chandra data. The explosion involved
the black hole gobbling up the equivalent of 300 million suns!
McNamara is quoted on Ohio University’s Web site as saying
that this 300 million suns is almost as massive as the black hole
that swallowed it. I conclude therefore that the black hole now
contains at least 600 million suns’ worth of stuff. This means
that if the center of the black hole were our Sun, the hole would
encompass our entire solar system. That’s one huge black hole!
Thankfully for us, the explosion occurred about 2.6 billion light
years away from Earth or we would all be toast!

What about those cavities? Jets of stuff from the vicinity of the
black hole erupted to push back gas around the black hole to
form the cavities. According to the Chandra Web site at Harvard
University (chandra.Harvard.edu), the mass of gas pushed back
is more than that of all the stars in our Milky Way! The
explosion is so powerful that the energy from the explosion
extends over a volume in space 600 times that of our whole
Milky Way galaxy.

We have our earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis, with their
disastrous consequences but, thankfully, our local black hole at
the center of our galaxy is much better behaved than its distant
gluttonous cousin. Otherwise, we might not be here to talk about
it.

Allen F. Bortrum



AddThis Feed Button

 

-01/19/2005-      
Web Epoch NJ Web Design  |  (c) Copyright 2016 StocksandNews.com, LLC.

Dr. Bortrum

01/19/2005

Two Jobs Well Done

Christiaan Huygens was quite a guy. He discovered polarized
light (you may have a pair of Polaroid sunglasses), developed the
wave theory of light (from which the laws of optics were
derived) and invented the micrometer (an instrument used to
measure small dimensions such as the thickness of a wire, a hair
or a sheet of metal). He was also the first to use a pendulum to
regulate a clock and worked on improved lenses for the newly
invented telescope. It was 350 years ago, in 1655, that he
pointed one of his telescopes at Saturn, wanting to study its rings.
Huygens was surprised to see not only the rings but also a large
moon orbiting Saturn. Today, his namesake rests on the surface
of that moon.

In last week’s column, we talked about the outstanding
accomplishments of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and
their mentors, the dedicated workers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL). Last Friday (January 14), the JPL crew and especially
their counterparts in the European Space Agency (ESA) and the
Italian Space Agency could celebrate another spectacular
success. The Europeans have waited for over seven years to
learn the fate of their Huygens space probe. It was in October of
1997 that NASA launched the Cassini-Huygens mission. The
Cassini spacecraft (designed and built by JPL) had been cruising
around Saturn and its moons for some time when, on the day
before Christmas, it turned loose ESA’s Huygens, a 705 pound
space probe named appropriately after Titan’s discoverer. Last
Friday, Huygens, which is shaped like a wok, deployed its
parachute and floated down through the thick, murky atmosphere
of Titan.

Last week, we discussed JPL’s early problems with the Spirit
rover on Mars not waking up on schedule and how it was finally
brought into line. With Huygens, there was no second chance. It
had to wake up upon entering Titan’s atmosphere, snap pictures
and take data on its way to impact on Titan’s surface. It was
hoped that Huygens would continue to snap pictures and collect
data for at least a few more minutes after impact. Huygens
performed beautifully, sending back data for about 2 hours
while descending through Titan’s atmosphere, which is mostly
nitrogen. Clouds of methane were detected at an altitude of
about 12 miles and a fog consisting of methane or ethane was
observed near the surface.

Huygens hit the ground at a speed of about ten miles an hour and
the ground was found to have the consistency of wet sand or clay
with a thin crust. The ground was identified as a mix of dirty
water ice with hydrocarbon “ice” of various organic compounds.
Huygens gathered its data and transmitted it back to Cassini for
transmission back to Earth. A January 18 report from ESA
indicates that Cassini got an hour and 12 minutes of excellent
data from Huygens on the ground before Cassini disappeared
over the horizon out of contact with Huygens. Radio telescopes
on Earth continued to track the Huygens signal, however, and the
plucky probe was still transmitting away for at least three hours
after landing.

It seems fitting that, 350 years after the discovery of Titan,
Huygens sent back some 350 pictures. It was hoped that 700
pictures might be returned but one data channel succumbed
before this could be accomplished. Otherwise, Huygens
performed so valiantly that there were tears in the eyes of some
of the European workers.

Titan is unique among the many moons of our solar system in
that it has a significant atmosphere, which is even denser than
ours on Earth. The atmosphere of nitrogen mixed with methane
and other hydrocarbons and organic compounds, is thought to
have a composition much like that of early Earth billions of years
ago. However, Titan is a frigid place, with surface temperatures
around minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit, way too cold for liquid
water to exist. (By way of comparison, Embarrass, Minnesota
reported a near record temperature for Minnesota this week of
minus 54 degrees Fahrenheit, the record being a minus 60
degrees, a veritable heat wave compared to the temperature on
Titan.)

Titan is not a small moon and is actually bigger than the planets
Mercury or Pluto. Pluto, you may recall, is having some
difficulty maintaining its status as a planet after the recent
discoveries of other large bodies such as Sedna out there in the
far reaches of our solar system. However, after just a day of data
from Huygens, some were talking of Titan as a “planet” or a
whole new “world”.

What does Titan look like? You must have seen pictures on the
front pages of your newspapers of what look like rocks that are
possibly chunks of water ice less than a foot in size. On ESA’s
or NASA’s Web sites (esa.int and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov), you can
see the rock picture in color. The sky is orange while the surface
and the rocks look to me as being a light pinkish color. Titan has
canyons, shorelines, what look like drainage ditches, possible
seas and islands. It’s almost like here on Earth except that any
“seas” are composed of liquid methane or other organic
compounds. Hopefully, more pictures will be shown at an ESA
press conference scheduled for January 21.

Huygens sent back not only photos but also the sounds of Titan.
On the ESA web site you can actually listen to the sounds
recorded as the probe fell through Titan’s atmosphere. It’s a
kind of swooshing sound as if Titan is saying shhhh. I heard that
after Huygens landed it extended a microphone and actually
picked up the sound of a brisk wind blowing on the surface of
Titan. Hopefully, that recording will also be available on the
Web site. How neat is that, to be able to hear the wind blow on a
place over 700 million miles away?! Bravo, Huygens!

While reading about Huygens in our newspaper, the Star Ledger,
I found a story about another spectacular astronomical discovery
involving a spacecraft named after a famed scientist. Some years
ago, I wrote about a Nobel Prize winner named Chandrasekhar
and his calculations showing that a massive star would collapse
to form a black hole. Later (column of 7/27/1999), I mentioned
that an X-ray satellite, called Chandra in his honor, had been
launched and that one of its missions was to study X-rays emitted
by material being sucked into black holes.

What Chandra found is an unusual formation of two monstrous
cavities surrounded by hot gas in a distant cluster of galaxies.
The cavities are each about 650,000 light years across. A light
year is about 6 trillion miles so you get the picture that these are
indeed huge! The cavities, though humongous, may not impress
you but perhaps the cause of them will. It’s the biggest
explosion ever recorded, except for the Big Bang itself. And
what caused the explosion? It’s the gobbling up of material by
an equally humongous and ravenous black hole, precisely what
Chandra was sent up to study. Another job well done.

Ohio University’s Brian McNamara, lead author on an article in
the January 6 issue of Nature, says he “nearly fell out of his
chair” when he saw the Chandra data. The explosion involved
the black hole gobbling up the equivalent of 300 million suns!
McNamara is quoted on Ohio University’s Web site as saying
that this 300 million suns is almost as massive as the black hole
that swallowed it. I conclude therefore that the black hole now
contains at least 600 million suns’ worth of stuff. This means
that if the center of the black hole were our Sun, the hole would
encompass our entire solar system. That’s one huge black hole!
Thankfully for us, the explosion occurred about 2.6 billion light
years away from Earth or we would all be toast!

What about those cavities? Jets of stuff from the vicinity of the
black hole erupted to push back gas around the black hole to
form the cavities. According to the Chandra Web site at Harvard
University (chandra.Harvard.edu), the mass of gas pushed back
is more than that of all the stars in our Milky Way! The
explosion is so powerful that the energy from the explosion
extends over a volume in space 600 times that of our whole
Milky Way galaxy.

We have our earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis, with their
disastrous consequences but, thankfully, our local black hole at
the center of our galaxy is much better behaved than its distant
gluttonous cousin. Otherwise, we might not be here to talk about
it.

Allen F. Bortrum