Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Beatles in space, Shuttle Launch, ISS


Hi all,

1. "Across The Universe": To celebrate the 50th anniversary of NASA, and other anniversaries, NASA is broadcasting the Beatles' famous song of exactly 40 years ago, to Polaris, 431 Light Years away. There's nothing wrong with a publicity stunt, but this one seems rather misdirected. Literally. Even ignoring the fact that the inhabitants of any other planetary system are rather unlikely to speak English (and even some here who do speak it didn't understand all the lyrics!), why Polaris? There is absolutely no evidence of a planetary system around that star. It's not even a Sun-like star. In fact it's a Cepheid variable, albeit with a very small amplitude. But as far as we know, the amplitude of variability was greater in the past, which means that, even if there are earth-type planets around it, it's highly unlikely that life could have evolved to an intelligent stage, or could have survived long enough, to pick up the signal now (or in 431 years).

   And as it's 431 light years away the signal will be incredibly faint by the time it gets there, making it very unlikely that it could be picked up there. And if by some incredibly remote chance it is picked up by intelligent life there, and they send a signal back, it will be so unbelievably faint by the time it gets back to Earth that we may not be able to pick it up! Quite apart from the fact that it will be at least 862 years before any reply could be received.

   There are lots of stars in the galaxy known to have planetary systems, and quite a few that are a lot closer than Polaris. So why not send it to one of those instead? The signal would be stronger when it arrives there, the return signal would be stronger too, and we wouldn't have to wait nearly so long for any reply.

   All in all, it seems a totally daft choice. And worst of all, it's politically incorrect. The worst example of hemispherism that you could possibly imagine!

Two months after their launch had to be postponed by fuel sensor troubles, the seven astronauts of the crew of Atlantis have returned to the Kennedy Space Centre for another launch attempt. Countdown has begun for a planned liftoff on Thursday. The primary mission aim is to attach the European Space Agency's Columbus research lab to the space station. The module represents Europe's first manned module in orbit and promises to open a new era of international research with Japanese lab modules scheduled to follow in March and April.

See: http://spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts122/status.html
3. The ISS is currently making  very bright evening passes over Ireland, and if the Shuttle launches on schedule on thursday, we should be able to see it too, as it closes in on the ISS for docking. See www.heavens-above.com for all the details and predictions for your own location.

Clear skies,

Terry Moseley

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