Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |

The Sun On April 24th, 2014, imaged  using a Coronado SolarMax II solar telescope and Canon EOS 500D, ISO 800, exp 1/160 sec.

Image credit: Kadri Tinn

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Posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
Scientists have announced the discovery of Kepler-186f - one of the smallest and most Earth-like planet found this far, that rotates in its stars habitable zone and hence might have liquid water and a possibility for life to arise there.

The planet has a slightly bigger circumference - 1.11 times that of the Earth, the mass of the planet isn't precisely known just yet, as it's too far away to get the mass from observing how it influences the star, so it might be quite a lot heavier or lighter. So considering that the planet might consist of mostly ice, it might not really be too much like Earth at all despite it's location and size.

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Posted on Saturday, April 19, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |

Astrolinguistics by Alexander Ollongren

Rating: 7/10

Astrolinguistics is the study of interstellar languages and possibility of communication using an artificially created language that is self-contained and wouldn't include some of the aspects of natural languages.

Although the search for extraterrestrial life has been in running for more than fifty years, ordinary people might still be a little confused as to what kind of signals are SETI scientists looking for with radio telescopes, and might have an impression that all intelligent extraterrestrial life might be sending us messages in plain English.

This false impression will be dealt with as soon as you delve into the science of astrolinguistics and the problem of establishing a language that might enable communication between intelligent creatures that might have tens of thousand of languages that they speak or understand, but would probably not easily understandable to some other civilization via electromagnetic signals

Ollongren introduces the reader in his book Astrolinguistics to LINCOS - a new lingua cosmica, a language system based on applied logic, the understanding of which might be expected from a civilization that has developed technology advanced enough to receive radio emissions.

It is an interesting, albeit a technical look at communication, that might remind one of programming languages, in which the purpose is to make the computer do or understand, what the programmer wants it to do, without any ingrained knowledge of the world.

The book is a bit philosophical as after reading this book one might look more closely at human activity and life on Earth and the way it could be communicated through space, and also whether or not there even might be a need for an interstellar language, and if there is a need for it, would it be like Ollongren's LINCOS?

The book raises interesting questions while showing some of the solutions this far, and also some messages that might be constructed using LINCOS.

It is also interesting to know, that messages in LINCOS have been transmitted to some of the nearest stars via radio telescopes, whether or not there is a receiver, we can’t know, but we are certainly closer to understanding any extraterrestrial signals coming from intelligent civilizations, as they might be using a same kind of system and mathematics as the language, just a avid science fiction fans have read about and seen in the movie Contact.

So Ollongren's new LINCOS has already been more successful or useful, as the previous artificial languages like Hans Freudenthal's Lincos wasn't ever used for any transmissions.

It makes for slow reading to understand the logic and calculus of constructions used as the building blocks for LINCOS, but the appendix in the end of the book is very helpful, and it’s useful to start perusing the book from the appendix and then continue from beginning, when necessary level of understanding has been reached.

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Posted on Thursday, April 17, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
SpaceX, one of the leading commercial space-flight companies has leased the launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center from NASA, which has historic value as the spot from where Apollo 11 launched to the first manned lunar landing.

SpaceX is planning on using the pad as a commercial launch facility, and would be the place where SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket would be launched in the future. Falcon heavy, when finished will be the most powerful rocket in the world, and the first test launch is planned for early next year, about four years after the last NASA mission launched from there in 2011.

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Posted on Thursday, April 17, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
The Cassini spacecraft imaged Saturn's small moon Prometheus in April 2013, and on the image captured a disturbance in Saturn's A-ring.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The disturbance is thought to be the sign of a small icy body orbiting near the edge of the ring.
The object, informally known as Peggy is thought to be about a kilometer across and might give clues to how the icy moons of Saturn formed, but also more importantly how the planets in the Solar system formed in the accretion disk around the Sun, and how they then migrated further away from their birthplaces.

Although the possibility of a new icy object has been known for some time, the science article was published online in the end of March 2014 and the details of observations on April 14th, 2014.

The scientists hope that they might get more information about Peggy in the end of 2016, when Cassini will move closer to Saturn's rings, and might make it possible to directly image Peggy. At this time Cassini is too far away to see such a small object, the presence of which can only be guessed by the gravitational disturbances in Saturn's rings.

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Posted on Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
Watch yesterday's total lunar eclipse here:

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Posted on Sunday, April 06, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |

Stardust, Supernovae and the Molecules of Life by Richard N. Boyd

Rating: 7/10

What connection do we as humans and living beings have to supernovae, besides being excited about noticing a bright "new star" in the night sky?

The molecules that our cells are made of consist of atoms, some of which began their existence in the Big Bang nucleosynthesis, such as Carbon and Oxygen, others, like elements up to iron were forged inside the stars, but there are some that only exist on Earth and the cosmos because of supernovae – huge explosions that some stars end their lives with, some of the rarest and radioactive elements are formed there. How exactly do the elements form, can be read in this book.

Boyd’s book shows the reader first the beginning of atoms and molecules, and how they formed, and then continues with the intriguing question of chirality in molecules, and in amino acids in particular.

Chirality means handedness – you have a left hand and a right one, they’re similar, but mirror-images of each other and there’s no way to make them look exactly the same. There are molecules that also have the same characteristic, and are used for making up the organic compounds.

Life on Earth seems to be using a lot of left-handed molecules, and not right-handed ones, despite the fact that in laboratory conditions both left- and right-handed molecules are formed at the same rate.

In case of some medicines we know that only one kind of chiral molecule helps us fight a disease, while the other might do nothing, or cause unwanted side-effects.

Why is it then that life tends to prefer one kind?

In this book we go on an expedition in search for locations and events that might produce only one kind of chiral molecule, and we find out whether there might be a connection with these locations and life on Earth.

There are several hypothetical models for how chiral molecules can form – circularly polarized light being one example. It has been thought that circularly polarized light from the Sun has an effect on some of the chiral molecules and not others, hence making one sort of chiral molecule more abundant than the other.

Also chiral molecules might form near other stars in interstellar space, and it might be a more efficient way of producing them as the photons are more energetic if they don’t have to pass through an atmosphere. But there are also several other models that one can read about as well.

In addition to the chirality of molecules and how chemical elements form one can also read about supernovae, which have an important part in this book. What happens to amino acids when they happen to be near a supernova explosion?
In this book you’ll be reading about biology, chemistry and astrophysics, all of which are presented in an easily understandable way with several schematics and images to explain some of the concepts.

Boyd’s Stardust, Supernovae and the Molecules of Life presents an interesting topic, that is certainly exciting and informative for the general reader, showing connections between various fields of research, and different astronomical objects and life on Earth.

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