Poor Pluto

Do you know your planets? All nine? No, all eight!!! As a lover of astronomy, one of my goals in life is to make sure that everyone has rudimentary knowledge and is updated on changes in the field. My love of space has prompted me to write this blog and do what I can to promote the subject. I conduct fundraisers, for example, to provide the money for literature and special events.

Some of the old brochures are still lying around, and guess what? They contain the defunct planet, Pluto. They have to go. Hundreds of them. It is kind of sad, but it was an exciting moment in astronomy to recategorize the former planet to minor or “dwarf” status. These kind of significant and earth-shattering discoveries are rare. Sure, we know more about the universe all the time and have some new theories of the big bang. But most people are unaware of what goes on in the science labs. Suddenly, with the demotion of poor Pluto, the world took notice of astronomy. Kids had to relearn the basics and tear up the old solar system posters that adorned their classroom walls. I hope they were replaced promptly.

I wonder if the teachers had a shredder when Pluto was first removed from the big nine. Fortunately, my group does, and we will be able to now destroy the outmoded brochures and bag up the stuff for the trash. Shredding is so efficient and fast with the latest models from https://www.shredderlab.com. It is a definite waste to have to do this, and we will be sure to look into recycling. Whatever the case, it is a happy problem as progress has been made in understanding the universe. In future blogs, I will relate some of the new things we have learned. For the moment, Pluto is a symbol of what can happen when man uncovers the secrets of the solar system. It is a noble undertaking indeed. There is nothing more exciting than knowing the origins of the earth and its fellow planets.

Pluto, as mentioned, is a minor planet and actually the largest member of the Kuiper Belt. This is a group of icy bodies, and the former planet was recategorized in 2006 to great fanfare. It now has a new role and the word, planet, has been redefined, but it is still worthy of study today. To quote the words of the International Astronomical Union, a planet is “a celestial body that orbits around the sun, (has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.”

Did you get that? This is your astronomical blog lesson for the day. Come back soon for more.

Outer Space on a Fan

Astronomy is a serious subject with great implications for all of mankind in the modern era. So much has been discovered and there is much more to learn. I am one of those devotees who want to make it accessible to the public so they understand its full import. It needs a lot more public attention than it gets. It is all about the origins of the solar system not to mention the entire universe. It is a diverse and overwhelming enterprise. It permeates every aspect of my life. I have been known to practically drown myself in emblems of my field. I have all kinds of decorative objects on my desk and throughout my home that reflect my interest in the planets. When my little nephew gave me a gift of miniature planets, I was thrilled that he recognized my passion at his young age. It was a great opportunity to give him a lesson. I can’t help myself sometimes. There is an instructor deep within. I like to take him to the planetarium as often as he likes; hence his appropriate gift as a thank you. I treasure it with all my heart. It is the perfect memento of his love and the kind of present I would easily bestow on someone else.

The theme of planets and stars was my choice when I was his age. I think I knew in my soul what I wanted to be when I grew up. Most kids think about this after prompting from parents and family. I didn’t know how to answer exactly not knowing anything about careers in the field of astronomy. My mother must have sensed something from the books I selected at the book store. She painted one wall black and overlaid it with small orbs and a sprinkling of stars. This is how I first learned about constellations as she included a few of the basic ones. I looked at the every night before I fell asleep so that I would dream I was in outer space. In my head was an odd replica of a space capsule, the pure fantasy of my imagination.

My father installed an inexpensive ceiling fan that he found at https://www.ceilingfanchoice.com/best-cheap-ceiling-fan/ because it looked nice and had a central light fixture that I could dim when I wanted to see the glow-in-the-dark paint on the “planet wall.” It wasn’t so pricey that I couldn’t decorate it as I wished. It is no surprise that I wanted to make it look more interesting. As young as I was, I personally did all the work. I added more glow-in-the-dark paint to the sleek blades and replaced the pull chain with a new one that has a little planet earth on it. It was so cool and a real coup to find. I am glad my dad choose this old-fashioned method of turning on the fan rather than a remote control (I actually had both). My school friends loved to visit. We spent a lot of time gazing into our idea of space.

Stinky Space Chair

Remember us? The astronomy and science lovers’ blog? We are back with the issue of the day. This time it is a practical matter that we want to discuss that relates to college life. I found a great secondhand armchair for my dorm and I chose it because of the fabric. It looks like the item once belonged in the cockpit of a space shuttle—maybe an old-fashioned one! How cool, I thought, and grabbed it for a song. I toted it back to the dorm, with some help from a pickup truck, and immediately noticed a terrible smell. Now that is a problem you might have encountered. So what do you do in this situation? You don’t want to take such a nifty item back; you bought it for a good reason.

I quickly asked Patrick for help to see if we could deodorize it and lighten the intensity of the odor. We put our heads together and had to do a bit of research. We would approach the problem with a scientific perspective. First, we read up on No More Smoke Smell about the chemical components of cigarette smoke to find out why they linger and do not dissipate over time. It seems that certain molecules cling to fabric. We thought we could just air out the chair in the yard for a couple of days. It didn’t do much. The smoke was there to stay. The covering was in good condition and it didn’t seem right to reupholster it given that we liked the look. We continued our efforts as good scientists do.

We bought some sprays from various manufacturers that guarantee success with cooking and pet odors—so why not smoke. It didn’t work that well and left a perfumy residue instead. I called the fire department—the smoke experts. They suggested we use eucalyptus essential oil in a mixture to dilute it. We placed it in an empty plastic spray bottle we use for water when we are ironing (which isn’t often). It was happy to be of use.

Wow. It worked quite well. The smoke was better but then we were left with a chair that smelled like a tree in heat. We aired it out once again in the yard and waited for more than a week. We were getting close. It had a pleasant scent now, and no more. It was in acceptable condition to move into the dorm. People thought they smelled a sachet of some type when entering the room. How bad is that? Many people light candles or use plug-ins to deodorize a room. Now we had a permanent version.

I don’t think our ability to dissipate smoke will go down in the annals of great science, but we were happy with the end results. We got to keep the cool chair, which garnered a lot of attention, and we were proud of our team effort. We found a home remedy, however, that is worthy of at least a blog.

Can You Vacuum in a Vacuum?

When it comes to astronauts and space travel, I wonder this and that. I wonder how they survive in a closed craft and not get claustrophobia. I wonder how they eat, sleep, and attend to personal needs. How does the toilet work? Do they eat their meals raw? Are they comfortable in their space gear and when do they get to take it off? I wonder if they call home and I wonder if they ever get bored. I wonder if they are comfortable and if the spacecraft gets dirty. Given weightlessness, does debris float up into the air. How do they clean it up?

Yes, I have a lot of questions. It’s fun to speculate and almost put yourself in their shoes. I know they have much to do wile in space what with all the scientific experiments. Is there anything mundane that goes on? When they get to the space station, do they need to clean any part of it up? I am into cleaning today having just vacuumed my house. Oddly enough, I am picturing two guys in spacesuits maneuvering a cheap Hoover like the ones at https://www.thevacuumchallenge.com/best-cheap-hoover-vacuums/. There is no maid service so everything galls to them. They are not too proud to do chores. Ha!

I could get more technical and ask about the operation of the spacecraft and how much they do compared to the engineers on earth. What happens when there is a malfunction? How has space exploration helped other industries? I think the answer will bore you. It is more fun to see astronauts in their work environment. I would love to create “a day in the life” scenario, beyond vacuuming. Ha!

I would start with the fact that while they orbit, every 24 hours, the astronauts will get to see 15 dawns. This is amazing. How do they cope with a different cycle? Is it hard to deal with? I guess they have fixed schedules that work with normal circadian rhythms. I wonder if they get jet lag? Now there’s a question! Also, do they dream about weightlessness?

I know they sleep in bags hooks to the spacecraft wall. There is regulated airflow using special filters so the crew doesn’t become inundated by their exhaled carbon dioxide. More facts: some astronauts have likened their experience to living inside a giant vacuum cleaner because of the noise. (There is that vacuum issue again.) I doubt if they could sleep floating free? What do you think?

I imagine that they do not sleep in work clothing. I have read that they have disposable garb; hence no washing machines needed. Facilities are limited to washing with wet towels. They need it since they work hard. More facts: shaving is difficult as water and shaving cream get stuck to the face. Using an electric shaver is no better as you need a suction fan to keep hairs from floating away. Fascinating, but why shave at all?

My last question: what do they do after work for fun? Do they exercise? You bet. I learned that the human body loses bone and muscle in space. They also enjoy DVDs, using a ham radio, writing home, etc.

Just Playin’ Around

I love speculating about life on a spacecraft. What do the astronauts do for fun while in space? I want to know. I have already investigated what they eat, where they sleep, and how they take care of personal needs. I don’t suppose they just sit and talk during a lull. No doubt they are talking or testing someone back home, usually a spouse. If this isn’t enough to fill the time, they can listen to music, watch videos, or play games. Each one probably takes turns deciding for the group if they want to stick together. Do you think they want alone time? I guess they are the type given the isolation of the space experience. Fortunately, there are ample photos to tell us what happens.

I started making up things for them to do that I will eventually submit to NASA if I dare. This nonsense is how I have fun so give me a chance and don’t abandon this blog just yet. I am going to give it great thought. Last weekend, I happen to watch a soccer game and thought this might work for a change of pace. I bet they have played baseball at one time or another. I read that one even ran the equivalent of the Boston Marathon. Now that’s something! Soccer it will be in my upcoming proposal. It is a hugely popular sport, even in the U.S. If they weren’t fans before, they can become new ones. I can see it now: the best soccer ball (after all, it’s NASA and they can afford the best), flying around at the touch of a foot in weightless gravity. Now that would be a challenge. The public relations aspect of it would boost the game in the eyes of the world, especially in America. It is already at its height in Europe and South America. The French, Germans, Italians, Spanish, Mexicans, Argentinians, and English are raving fans. Well, we can use more. It can be a real mania. Let’s let the astronauts in space put the game on a different footing (to make a groan-worthy pun).

Playing with a soccer ball in space would change the shape and size requirements no doubt. They already vary a little depending upon the players’ experience. I would have to do math calculations to test for the right features. Who then would provide the perfect ball? Of course, there will be many takers like Nike, Wilson, and Adidas. Public relations again rears its ugly head. Does anyone do anything with a profit motive and the goal of self-promotion? It’s the way of American business, my friend. Meanwhile, I am crafting a letter to NASA with just the right words. If they like it even a little bit, I will get busy on my calculations taking gravity into consideration. I may need some expert help in this regard. Meanwhile I must design some cool logo jerseys. Will they knee cleats, socks, or shin guards? There is a lot to do for this project.

Water is a Precious Resource, Especially in Space

I have been into astronomy since I was a child. My interest grew and expanded to the realm of astronauts in outer space. I wanted to know everything about them as people, including their education, hobbies, and families, and also about how they lived on less during space travel. I know that science has made it more than possible to exist normally on dried, but edible, food and recycled water. The space race is expensive but in the long run it is a boon to mankind as it has impacted so many fields such as engineering, medicine, geology, and more. Something as simple the reverse osmosis systems for water purification that I was reading about at https://www.homewaterhealth.com/best-reverse-osmosis-system-reviews/ are thanks to the geniuses who have sent men to Mars.

I imagine that taking anything into space is cumbersome, takes up a lot of room, and is difficult to maneuver. It is therefore expensive. Did you know that water is one of the heaviest elements on board the space station? Of course, to replenish supplies, it is not economical or reasonable to ship tanks to the ISS. Therefore, you will find a complex water system in place to provide sufficient drinkable water right on board. What happens is that the astronauts make do with a filtered mixture of recycled shower water, old astronaut sweat, and pee. I am not kidding. If you can desalt ocean water, you can filter just about any liquid. I read that the station keeps about 530 gallons in reserve for emergency purposes. You can see that the engineers had to think it all out. As my blog title states it, water is a precious commodity, especially in space.

According to the woman who manages the ISS system from the Marshall Flight Center in Alabama, the recycled water is just fine. It tastes like bottled. The only flaw in the system is the psychological impact of knowing of what your water is made. It is not so bad that some of it comes from condensate out of the surrounding air. Astronauts are well trained not to balk at such conditions. They know it is all about waste and conservation. If they can eat dried, tasteless food, they can drink this new age water. Scientists are no doubt working on more advanced forms of reverse osmosis to make the space water more palatable.

What is interesting is that the ISS is split into a US and a Russian section, and they each have a different water system. That was news to me. What was more heartening was the fact that the NASA astronauts often go over to the Russian side for the urine they don’t use. I hope you savor this little tidbit of information. I will add that NASA has started using iodine to disinfect water, but it has to be filtered to prevent thyroid issues. Russia, on the other hand, uses silver to disinfect its water since 1986—when Mir was launched.

Space Age Clothing

I want to know everything about space flight and I don’t mean how the craft operates. This can get super technical and complicated. Of course, I do want to know about aeronautics basics. I try to absorb as much as I can. When it comes to the astronauts inside, I am all ears. It fascinates me how they function so well in space in a confined area. Everything is so practical and well thought out from the food and water to the bathroom facilities. It may not be anyone’s first choice of a short lifestyle, but it is exciting. What we have learned from the space program has helped many fields. I would never say a peep about the massive expenditure. It has been well worth it in so many ways, not just the ability to know more about the universe. Of course, that is key and our knowledge is ever expanding.

The two of us who write this blog work in a planetarium and love astronomy so our interests are extensive. We love being part of an exciting and open-ended science. Today, it’s about astronauts once again because we want to mention the inventions necessary to help those maneuver in space. There are fabrics and they wear, for example, when in and outside the spacecraft. Space-grade materials fascinate us including their launch suits and their “walking in space” gear. The components of these materials are first quality all the way. They can get common wear and tear and survive intact. Now that would be useful in camping clothing, for example. It would be something waterproof and heat resistant for sure.

I bet you could fashion a knee sleeve for basketball like these ones – https://www.ballersguide.net/best-knee-sleeves-for-basketball/ with these techno-fabrics. I play and use a typical Ace bandage. I slide on the tight stretchy band and can last longer during the game. A better sleeve would function optimally and not lose its elasticity. This is just one small example in our everyday world where technology can make life better. I am going to research other uses of space innovation in modern living and let you know soon. I know the field of medicine has been greatly impacted.

As I play my favorite sport and get a twinge in my knee, I long for some real support. While the current options are fine, they could be better. At least, the manufacturers need to make more sizes for men and women. We are certainly not all the same. Some like a tight fit and others not. In any case, we want a support system that really does the job. As for space age clothing, I would love to see some samples. No doubt just because of my obsession with astronauts, I would buy a few pieces. How about a rain parka that folds up into a tiny square to fit neatly into your backpack. Umbrellas are always tearing and breaking. We could use some help here. Forget cotton, rayon, wool, and fleece: give me something that represents space travel.

Buying a Telescope

Astronomy, the study of celestial objects, space, and the universe, is a pretty awesome subject. You can learn a lot about space from books and the internet. However, you can also go outside and take a look up at the sky. Since we can only see so much with our eyes alone, we need telescopes to help us see the things that are really far away. While they can get pretty expensive, even a budget model can help you see some really cool things. In today’s post, we’re going to talk you through what to look for when you buy one for yourself.

There are three basic classes of telescope:

  1. A Reflector uses a mirror to direct light toward the eyepiece. These tend to be the cheapest models. They show no excess colors; bright objects won’t have a colored fringe around them like they can with other scopes.
  2. Catadioptric (compound) telescopes use mirrors and lenses to send images to the eyepiece. This does not require a large tube so they are small and compact.
  3. Refractors gather light with a lens at one end and focus the light at the eyepiece at the other end. These are often the largest and most expensive telescopes. They also typically have the best image contrast.

Regardless of the magnification, the best indicator of a good telescope is going to be the aperture. Telescopes work by gathering light, so the larger the aperture (the hole allowing the light through), the better.

Once you know which type of telescope is right for you, you need to buy a mount. This is just as important as the telescope itself. A good mount will be easily transportable, sturdy, and allow the telescope to move easily when you want it to. A bad mount will wobble in the even the lightest breeze, causing images on even the best of telescopes to shake or even cause the lenses/mirrors to fall out of alignment. There are several types of mounts—some motorized and some manual. Reflector telescopes are almost always paired with a Dobsonian mount that allows you to move the telescope up and down (altitude) and side to side (azimuth). There are also Equatorial mounts, which are typically motorized to compensate for the Earth’s movements. A much newer development are Go-to mounts. These mounts are motorized and work with a computer to find and track any celestial object you choose.

If there is an astronomy club in your area, go along on an observation. This is the best way to try out a variety of equipment. You can ask questions and get a practical feel for what telescopes work best for you.

Keep in mind that no matter the quality of the telescope you buy, you’re not going to get the same quality as someone would using observatory instruments or fancy cameras. You’ll still be able to see some amazing sights, though!

The Planets!

Have you ever stared up into the sky at night and wondered about all you see up there? Us too! One of the things we always were curious about as kids was the planets.  What made them planets? How were they different from stars? Is there life on other planets? Can we see any with a telescope? We’ll try to answer all these questions, plus give you a little more info on those great wanderers known as planets, below.

First things first. What makes something a planet? Scientists from all over the world got together in August of 2006 to answer this question. They decided that it has to be something that revolves around the sun, is big and heavy enough for its own gravity to make it fairly round, and has to be big enough to “clear its neighborhood” of smaller objects in its orbit.

There are eight celestial bodies who fit the description, listed in order by their distance to the sun (starting with the closest): Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Here are some interesting facts about them:

  • Mercury is composed of mostly heavy metals, which makes it the second densest planet (Earth is first).
  • Venus is the hottest planet, with temperature shovering at 863°F. It has a very dense atmosphere, which traps heat really well.
  • Venus and Uranus rotate clockwise on their axis. The other planets go counter-clockwise.
  • Water has only been found on Earth so far, which is amazing considering we have so much of it—70% of the surface of our planet is water. This also means that Earth is the only planet able to support life.
  • Mars is home to the tallest mountain in the solar system: Olympus Mons. It’s 88,600 feet high, and scientists think it could still be an active volcano!
  • Jupiter is the largest planet in terms of size and mass.
  • Although Saturn is the second largest planet, it is the least dense because it consists mostly of hydrogen.
  • Saturn’s rings are small pieces of dust and debris mixed in with billions of tiny particles of ice. The fact that ice is reflective is what makes it visible to telescopes here on Earth.
  • Scientists think something collided with Uranus, causing it to rotate the other way. It also has rings, which scientists think is made up of pieces of a moon that was destroyed when something hit it.
  • Neptune travels 164.8 Earth years to make its trip around the sun. It has only completed the trip once since it was discovered back in 1846.
  • Neptune also has a moon called Triton, which scientists think may have been a dwarf planet that was dragged into Neptune’s orbit, mostly because it orbits in the opposite direction of Neptune. Triton is the coldest known object in our entire solar system, with a -391°F recorded temperature.

So what makes a planet different than a star? We’ll give you two reasons.The biggest is that stars create their own light, while planets reflect it. Stars create this light through nuclear fusion, something planets cannot do. Stars also rotate around the center of their galaxy, unlike our planets (which rotate around the sun, which is a star).

There are a few planets you can see with the naked eye. The big giveaway is this: the light from stars comes to us from so far away that it bends, creating a twinkle effect. Planets are much closer, so they don’t usually twinkle. If you know where to look, you should be able to see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. If you have really sharp eyes, you might be able to spot Uranus, too!

What is Life Like for an Astronaut?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an astronaut, and get to travel to places that are literally out of this world? We do! We got to meet a real astronaut recently, and we asked him a bit about what it was like being on the International Space Station. Here is a little about what we were told:

Most astronauts from the U.S. have a military background. They go through extensive training before being selected for the space program, and again after admission. It can be a grueling process because life in space is very different than here on Earth!

For example, a bathroom in space is nothing like the one in your house. Especially the toilet! Astronauts need to use leg restraints to keep themselves on the toilet. The toilet itself has to work like a vacuum cleaner to suck air and waste into special tanks. The process is a lot harder than at home!

Their ‘kitchen’ also looks different. Some food has to be stored and prepared differently. You can bring an apple with you into space, but you can’t have a salt shaker—salt and pepper have to be in liquid form because otherwise, it would just float away when you tried to put it on your food. Some foods are dehydrated to make it easier to store. Some need to be heated, so there is an oven, just like at home. However, there is no refrigerator in space. Astronauts need to be careful about how their food is stored so that it doesn’t go bad. Nutritionists make sure that each astronaut eats the proper diet while they are in space.

One of the things astronauts must do every day is exercise. Without the effects of gravity on their bodies, astronauts are in danger of bone and muscle loss. They use specialized equipment that can provide them with the workout they need to stay fit in space. On a typical day, astronauts spend about two hours exercising.

In addition to exercising, astronauts have work to do aboard the space station. They conduct science or medical experiments and also perform maintenance on the station itself. They do things like make repairs and update computers, cleaning, and other basic tasks.

Of course, they don’t work all day. They get time off for things like holidays and weekends. They can use their free time to read, watch movies, listen to or play music, compete against each other in card games, or other recreational activities. They can even communicate with their families back home! One of their favorite pastimes is looking out the many windows on the space station and checking out that awesome view.

Because there is no day or night in space, they have scheduled hours for sleep. Typically it is for eight hours at the end of each mission day. Because there is no real gravity, astronauts can sleep however they want, even standing up! They have to secure themselves to something so that they don’t literally “drift off” while they are asleep and accidently hurt themselves. They have their own small crew cabins where they can sleep.

We hope this answered some of your questions about what life is like in space, and that you enjoyed reading this as much as we did learning and writing about it!