Category Archives: Astromony

Water on Mars

Today, many news agencies reported that the Mars probe called the Phoenix Lander had successfully collected water ice and analyzed it. The ice was brought into a small oven, melted and then “tasted” by the sensors on the probe confirming that it was water.

Confirming water on Mars is a significant discovery and one step closer to gaining definitive proof that life exists outside of Earth. In our current understanding, water is essential to life as we know it. So, we make the assumption that finding water may lead to finding evidence of life.

Over the next several weeks, the water (ice) sample will be further analyzed to look for organic compounds that would indicate life. I’ll be anxious to hear the results.

The announcement is important to me as I believe news like this opens our minds to possibilities that we either have refused to accept or not thought about. Confirming life on other worlds means we are not alone which has the potential to shake many of our belief systems to the core.

We live in very interesting times.

Michael

June Solstice 2008

The June solstice (summer solstice in the northern hemisphere) occurred at 7:59 p.m. EDT tonight. Astronomically, it is the time of year when the length of day and night is the same. The sun is at its highest point in the sky on this day and therefore the most daylight hours occur.

Around the world, and throughout history, the summer or June solstice has been a time of religious and spiritual celebration. The ancient Celts, ancient China, ancient Gaul, ancient Germanic tribes in Europe, ancient Rome, ancient Sweden, Christian countries, the Essenes, American Indians, pagans, neopagans, and prehistoric Europe all celebrated this time of year in some fashion or another.

I find it fascinating that a large diversity of cultures around the world recognize this day as significant and then celebrate it in their own way. We are more linked as a species than many of us would like to believe. We share more similarities than differences.

Five years ago I was able to be at Stonehenge for the June 2003 Solstice celebration. There were over 25,000 people there of all cultures, religions and beliefs. It was an incredible experience to be standing on the spot where ancient man stood and watched the sun rise on this most important day.

So, when you are going about your busy day today, stop and put aside your differences with others. Celebrate our diversity as a species and recognize that we are all connected.

Have a great day!

Michael

Very Cold Starry Night

As I write this, the temperature outside my home is 12oF. The wind chill is predicted to be below zero. This is not the coldest weather I’ve been in, but it’s still really cold.

I had to go outside because I had left something I needed in my car. After bundling up, I ventured out and retrieved the item I was looking for. As I walked up my steps, I looked up and noticed how the moonless night was unbelievably clear. The stars seemed sharp as knives cutting through the cold air making them seem brighter than normal. I love the winter sky for this very reason.

Looking at the heavens has always generated immense pleasure for me. As a young child, I began to wonder what it would be like to travel between the stars. What is out there in the almost infinite space? Where are other civilizations located? What do they think about? Do they look up and wonder like I do? What is it like to travel through a nebula? How much life is spread through the universe?

Still today, when I look up in the night sky, I began to think about these things again. I don’t think I will ever stop wondering. That’s a good thing.

I hope you are warm wherever you are located.

Michael

Most Earth Like Planet Found

The article on CNN, Scientists find most Earth-like planet, describes a planet circling a star system with a red dwarf (20.5 light years away) that is the most earth-like planet found outside of our solar system. The star is called Gliese 581 and is in the constellation Libra. Scientists estimate the planet is 1.5 times the Earth’s radius, has temperatures between 0o and 40o C. (32o -104o F) and is probably rocky with liquid water. About 200 exo-planets have been found since 1995, but all of been the size of Jupiter. This is the first one close to the size of earth, the right distance from its star to potentially have water and thus life as we know it.

I’m always fascinated and uplifted by stories like these. The sense of discovery. The potential for finding something that has never been found. The chance of changing the way we view the universe and coming one step close to the possibility of obtaining proof that we are not alone in the vast expanse of space.

I think that events like this discovery can be a reminder to keep our minds open to new things. We never know what is just around the corner waiting to be discovered or experienced for the first time. If we stay open, we’ll be ready to get the most out of the unique moment when it happens.

Michael

Strange Things on Saturn

Something strange is happening on Saturn. The NASA Cassini mission to Saturn has captured some unusual images on the north pole of the planet. It’s basically a hexagon (6-sided shape) that is 15,000 miles (25,000 kilometers) across. According to the JPL scientists, nearly four earths could fit inside the shape. Apparently this feature was seen on the Voyager 1 and 2 missions over 20 years ago. Cassini has been able to garner much more detail then the previous missions. Please read the full JPL article that includes photos of the hexagon.

“This is a very strange feature, lying in a precise geometric fashion with six nearly equally straight sides,” said Kevin Baines, atmospheric expert and member of Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We’ve never seen anything like this on any other planet. Indeed, Saturn’s thick atmosphere where circularly-shaped waves and convective cells dominate is perhaps the last place you’d expect to see such a six-sided geometric figure, yet there it is.” – Jet Propulsion Laboratories

The JPL scientists have no idea how this geometric shape could form in the high winds that circle the north pole of Saturn. I love stories like this. It really shows how little we know of the universe around us and how often we can be completely surprised. I’m fascinated by what is waiting to be discovered right in our backyard.

Enjoy.

Michael