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Monday, July 20, 2009


Hanging like a giant cue ball in space, Uranus has hidden its secrets in frozen gases. The icy planet Uranus is a smaller version of Jupiter and not the small rocky bodies like Earth. It have faint rings and a number of moons. Uranus takes some 84 years to orbit the sun. It rotates on its side and so half the time one pole is toward the sun and then the other making each of the four seasons last about 20 years. The faint bluish color of the planet is because the methane gas in the atmosphere absorbs red light and reflects blue light.
On March 13, 1781, an English astronomer named William Herschel discovered the planet but thought it might have been a comet. More observations and calculations by Herschel and others confirmed that it was indeed a planet. Since it was the first new planet found, Herschel had the honor of naming it, so, Herschel's Planet became Georgium Sidus (George's Star) after King George III of England.
Knighted for his many astronomical contributions,
Sir William Herschel was born Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel in Hanover, Germany on November 15, 1738. Due to poor health he moved to England in his teens where he changed his name to William. He was an accomplished musician as well as an astronomer. His sister, Caroline, faithfully helped record his nightly observations. See more about Women in Astronomy here.
After the astronomer's death the planet was changed to Uranus as suggested by German astronomer Johann Bode. He thought that since Saturn was Jupiter's father then the next outward planet should be called Saturn's father, Uranus. Uranus is the only planet called by a Greek name rather than a Roman name, however, most of the moons of the various planets are named from Greek mythology. See below for
Planet Myths and Lore.
New Moon for UranusObservations of Uranus taken in Chile in August, 2002, with the 4-meter Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory Blanco telescope have revealed a probable new moon for Uranus. The object is likely 7 to 19 kilometers across and would be the 16th moon orbiting Uranus. Five moons were known before the
Voyager 2 Mission which found 10 more totaling 15. All of the planets' natural satellites seem to be about 50% water ice, 30% rock, and 20% carbon and nitrogen materials.

When the legend announced his Deafness


One of the most surprising facts about Ludwig van Beethoven is that he was deaf. How can a musician, a composer, lack what we would imagine to be his most important sense?
The first people he confided in were those who were gorgraphically far from him, but in whom he had absolute confidence: those who lived at Bonn.
When he could no longer hide his handicap, Beethoven used notebooks in which visitors could write what they wanted him to know, or equally ask what they wanted to know. Because of this, we lack, of course, the most important part to understanding better his personality.

Beyond the fact that Beethoven's deafness was exaggerated and dramatized, it is important to note that it was not complete deafness from the start. To be true, it was an infirmity that established itself slowly, and also developed itself quite erratically. What was really dramatic indeed, was the moment in which the young and successful composer and virtuoso had to accept that he was suffering from a chronic, incurable illness with which he will have to live. And that was going to get worse.
Later no, when he could not hide his deafness anymore, he accepted it. It was in the midst of his heroic period and it was documented by himself, in a quote written in the margins of the Razoumovsky Quartets.
We could safely state that even to the end of his life, there were days in which he could hear a bit. Many many others in which he was stone deaf. Then finally when the communication difficulties became really great, --more or less around 1818-- Beethoven got to use leafs of paper, or tablets, where his friends and visitors could write what they wanted to tell him, or ask him. These are known now as the "Conversation Books". Naturally we lack the answers the Master provided to the questions written there. except for a few cases, all we can do is guess what he might have said.

This blog provides a more detailed learning about Bethoven's biography. To accses, click here.


Saturn is the next biggest planet in the solar system. Saturn and some of its moons can be seen in the composite image at left. Four more moons were found in late 2000 and 9 more were discovered recently for a total of 31. Scientists are tracking more objects that may be additional moons.
The Voyager missions found winds, magnetic field, auroras and lightning on the planet similar to Jupiter. Also, the planet has light colored cloud bands (zones) and darker bands (belts) like the larger gas giant.
The facinating ring system observed by Galileo in 1610 is only begining to be understood. At first thought to be a solid ring it is now known to be thousands of water ice particles with some chunks as big as a small car. The rings are held in place by moons that "shephard" the particles and keep them in a series of ringlets. Some gaps like the Casinni Division separate the ringlets called the "A Ring", "B Ring" and so on. The Cassini/Huygens spacecraft will pass through between the "F" and "G" rings on its way to orbit Saturn.


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Jupiter takes about 12 years to orbit the sun and rotates in about 10 hours. This short Jupiter "day" is amazing since the planet is roughly 11 Earth diameters wide.
Unlike the rocky planets, Jupiter is a ball of dense hydrogen, helium, water, nitrogen and other gases over a tiny rocky core. Powerful winds dominate the atmosphere with criss-crossing jet streams, lightning and huge hurricane-like storms like the Great Red Spot. This storm has been raging for over 300 years and is about 2 Earth diameters wide. The Great Red Spot can be seen on Jupiter along with four moons: Io (smallest), Europa, Callisto and Ganymede in this NASA image.
The planet had 39 known moons at the time of this image and a slight ring of smoke-sized particles and dust. The planet contains 71% of the planetary matter in the solar system and so its huge gravity pulls every object toward it. In fact, most of its moons were captured rather than forming with Jupiter. Scientists watched in awe as comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke up and smashed into Jupiter making explosions the size of the Earth.
New Moons for JupiterScientists keep finding more moons orbiting Jupiter. In May of 2002 Scott S. Sheppard and David C. Jewitt of the University of Hawaii announced the discovery of 11 new moons around the planet. As of March, 2003, Jupiter had 52 confirmed satellites. These newest moons are all no more than 2 to 4 kilometers across (if their surfaces are very dark), they all have retrograde (backward) orbits, and take somewhere between 557 and 773 days to orbit. These latest moonlets were announced by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on Circular number 8089. In April, 2003, 8 more moons were confirmed for a total of 60 moons with the possibility of more as the search continues.
The box below shows how the four main satellites or moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) of Jupiter would look in realtime (right now). If you have binoculars or a telescope you can see the moons as tiny points of light. If you look the next night you can see for youself that they move.

Saturday, July 4, 2009



If you want to test your logic skills and have fun, then this is the right place! You can tackle some of my favorite brain teasers. The puzzles are sorted by category including optical illusions, lawyer jokes and beyond.


There are two options for processing an asteroid:
bring back raw asteroidal material, or
process it on-site to bring back only processed materials, and produce fuel propellant for the return trip.
It appears most likely we will choose option 2 because the equipment required to process asteroidal material is simple. The question is: How much we will process the material? Do we want to return only metal granules and ices? At what purity?
The next few sections cover only processing of asteroidal material. Transport of the asteroidal materials was covered in the web section on transportation, but it's notable that fuel propellants would be one product of asteroidal materials. If chemical rocketry is chosen then hydrogen and oxygen will likely be produced from water when needed. Likewise for alternative propulsion methods, e.g., instead of using chemical rocketry, use steam rockets which consume only water without any further processing.


A solar vehicle is an electric vehicle powered by a type of renewable energy, by solar energy obtained from solar panels on the surface (generally, the roof) of the vehicle. Photovoltaic (PV) cells convert the Sun's energy directly into electrical energy. Solar vehicles are not practical day-to-day transportation devices at present, but are primarily demonstration vehicles and engineering exercises, often sponsored by government agencies. Solar cars combine technology typically used in the aerospace, bicycle, alternative energy and automotive industries. The design of a solar vehicle is severely limited by the energy input into the car (batteries and power from the sun). Virtually all solar cars ever built have been for the purpose of solar car races (with notable exceptions).
Like many
race cars, the driver's cockpit usually only contains room for one person, although a few cars do contain room for a second passenger. They contain some of the features available to drivers of traditional vehicles such as brakes, accelerator, turn signals, rear view mirrors (or camera), ventilation, and sometimes cruise control. A radio for communication with their support crews is almost always included.
Solar cars are often fitted with gauges as seen in conventional cars. Aside from keeping the car on the road, the driver's main priority is to keep an eye on these gauges to spot possible problems. Cars without gauges almost always feature wireless telemetry, which allows the driver's team to monitor the car's energy consumption, solar energy capture and other parameters and free the driver to concentrate on driving.
Solar cars depend on PV cells to convert sunlight into electricity. While the sun emmits 1370 +/-3.4% watts per square meter of energy, 51% of it actually enters the earth's atmosphere and therefore approximately 700 watts per square meter of clean energy can be obtained.
[1]Unlike solar thermal energy which converts solar energy to heat for either household purposes, industrial purposes or to be converted to electricity, PV cells directly convert sunlight into electricity. [2]When sunlight (photons) strike PV cells, they excite electrons and allow them to flow, creating an electrical current. PV cells are made of semiconductor materials such as silicon and alloys of indium, gallium and nitrogen. Silicon is the most common material used and has an efficiency of 15-20%.



Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and is commonly referred to as the Red Planet. The rocks, soil and sky have a red or pink hue. The distinct red color was observed by stargazers throughout history. It was given its name by the Romans in honor of their god of war. Other civilizations have had similar names. The ancient Egyptians named the planet Her Descher meaning the red one.
Before space exploration, Mars was considered the best candidate for harboring extraterrestrial life. Astronomers thought they saw straight lines crisscrossing its surface. This led to the popular belief that irrigation canals on the planet had been constructed by intelligent beings. In 1938, when Orson Welles broadcasted a radio drama based on the science fiction classic War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, enough people believed in the tale of invading Martians to cause a near panic.
Another reason for scientists to expect life on Mars had to do with the apparent seasonal color changes on the planet's surface. This phenomenon led to speculation that conditions might support a bloom of Martian vegetation during the warmer months and cause plant life to become dormant during colder periods.
In July of 1965, Mariner 4, transmitted 22 close-up pictures of Mars. All that was revealed was a surface containing many craters and naturally occurring channels but no evidence of artificial canals or flowing water. Finally, in July and September 1976, Viking Landers 1 and 2 touched down on the surface of Mars. The three biology experiments aboard the landers discovered unexpected and enigmatic chemical activity in the Martian soil, but provided no clear evidence for the presence of living microorganisms in the soil near the landing sites. According to mission biologists, Mars is self-sterilizing. They believe the combination of solar ultraviolet radiation that saturates the surface, the extreme dryness of the soil and the oxidizing nature of the soil chemistry prevent the formation of living organisms in the Martian soil. The question of life on Mars at some time in the distant past remains open.
Other instruments found no sign of organic chemistry at either landing site, but they did provide a precise and definitive analysis of the composition of the Martian atmosphere and found previously undetected trace elements.
The atmosphere of Mars is quite different from that of Earth. It is composed primarily of carbon dioxide with small amounts of other gases. The six most common components of the atmosphere are:
Carbon Dioxide (CO2): 95.32%
Nitrogen (N2): 2.7%
Argon (Ar): 1.6%
Oxygen (O2): 0.13%
Water (H2O): 0.03%
Neon (Ne): 0.00025 %
Martian air contains only about 1/1,000 as much water as our air, but even this small amount can condense out, forming clouds that ride high in the atmosphere or swirl around the slopes of towering volcanoes. Local patches of early morning fog can form in valleys. At the Viking Lander 2 site, a thin layer of water frost covered the ground each winter.
There is evidence that in the past a denser martian atmosphere may have allowed water to flow on the planet. Physical features closely resembling shorelines, gorges, riverbeds and islands suggest that great rivers once marked the planet.
Temperature and Pressure
The average recorded temperature on Mars is -63° C (-81° F) with a maximum temperature of 20° C (68° F) and a minimum of -140° C (-220° F).
Barometric pressure varies at each landing site on a semiannual basis. Carbon dioxide, the major constituent of the atmosphere, freezes out to form an immense polar cap, alternately at each pole. The carbon dioxide forms a great cover of snow and then evaporates again with the coming of spring in each hemisphere. When the southern cap was largest, the mean daily pressure observed by Viking Lander 1 was as low as 6.8 millibars; at other times of the year it was as high as 9.0 millibars. The pressures at the Viking Lander 2 site were 7.3 and 10.8 millibars. In comparison, the average pressure of the Earth is 1000 millibars

Balanced Eco-system

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