Down but not Oort?
Comet ISON, presumed dead after its sun-grazing trip yesterday, may have survived … maybe. Something survived, anyway. This NASA image from the SOHO satellite shows a smaller, diffuse tail reforming on Nov. 29th:
Frankly, comet-watchers are pretty stumped by ISON. That’s ok. Science is messy. Considering that this particular chunk of frozen space stuff has been hanging out in the Oort cloud for a few billion years, we’d be forgiven for not knowing everything about it.
Phil Plait has all your updates and background on the ISON undead-comet saga, and future, at Bad Astronomy.
Who’s up for renaming this thing “Comet Icarus”?
(Most excellent comic at top via xkcd)
As usual, the science of this orchid story is a little more complicated than made out (check out this post and the great comments to learn why). It’s just as likely that self-pollinating orchids spontaneously mutated and were able to migrate away from their bee lovers. Coevolution is a wondrous thing, but it’s also a bit of messy, and always rather mysterious.
So the sky is blue because short wavelengths of light coming from the Sun (blue, etc.) are scattered more than long ones (yellow, red, etc.), reflecting the short wavelength light into our eyes instead of it passing through the atmosphere as part of white light. Sunsets are red for the opposite reason … but yeah, why isn’t it violet?
Violet has an even shorter wavelength than blue light. So does indigo, whatever that is. There’s a good logical case for a purple sky, right?
Want to know the answer? Why the sky isn’t violet?
The truth is that the sky is both violet and blue. But the color receptors in our eyes don’t see violet very well, so we get the (incorrect) impression that the sky is just blue. Some birds actually see well into the violet and ultraviolet, so the sky must look trippy as hell to them.
Up Goer Five
Neil Tyson once lamented that the Saturn V rocket, a vehicle once heralded as the first generation of a coming era of interplanetary rocket travel, was taken for granted by a world looking to the future. And instead of the first of its kind, it was the last.
We haven’t surpassed the Saturn V. The largest, most powerful rocket ever flown by anybody, ever, the thirty-six-story-tall Saturn V was the first and only rocket to launch people from Earth to someplace else in the universe. It enabled every Apollo mission to the Moon from 1969 through 1972, as well as the 1973 launch of Skylab 1, the first U.S. space station.
Inspired in part by the successes of the Saturn V and the momentum of the Apollo program, visionaries of the day foretold a future that never came to be: space habitats, Moon bases, and Mars colonies up and running by the 1990s. But funding for the Saturn V evaporated as the Moon missions wound down. Additional production runs were canceled, the manufacturers’ specialized machine tools were destroyed, and skilled personnel had to find work on other projects. Today U.S. engineers can’t even build a Saturn V clone.
With this epic, holy-crap-rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-but-also-crying comic, xkcd provides us with a simplified set of plans, in easy-to-understand terms, to build the Saturn “Up Goer” Five/V. Think of it as a swift kick in the pants to get our space-exploration efforts back on the right track.
Sure, what was impossible yesterday can be made possible today, through the hard work and application of science. But we must also remember that if we don’t keep stoking the fires of curiosity, what was possible yesterday can be made impossible today.
Otherwise, much like failing to point the end with lots of fire toward the ground, we will find ourselves “having a bad problem and you will not go to space today”.
The odds of a tie vote, as in perfectly down the middle, in every 2012 battleground state are astronomically small. But they aren’t zero. Let What If? take you on a journey through odds, strange ways of dying, and how tied elections relate to being hit by airborne bales of cocaine, as only Randall Munroe can.
Quattuordecillion is a very big number.