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Posted on Friday, July 18 - 2008

Cosmonaut in Space

Copyright Fortean Times UK

What really happened to Russia's missing cosmonauts? An incredible tale of space hacking, espionage and death in the lonely reaches of space. Midnight, 19 May 1961. A crisp frost had descended on Turin’s city centre which was deserted and deathly silent. Well, almost. Two brothers, aged 20 and 23, raced through the grid-like streets (that would later be made famous by the film The Italian Job) in a tiny Fiat 600, which screamed in protest as they bounced across one cobbled piazza after another at top speed.The Fiat was loaded with dozens of iron pipes and aluminium sheets which poked out of windows and were strapped to the roof. Thecar screeched to a halt outside the city’s tallest block of flats.

Grabbing their assorted pipes, along with a large toolbox, the two brothers ran up the stairs to the rooftop. Moments later, the city’s silence was rudely broken once more as they set to work: a concerto of hammering, clattering, sawing and shouting.
Suddenly, an angry voice rang out; the man who lived on the floor below leant out of the window and screamed: “Will you stop that racket, I’m trying to sleep!” One of the young men shouted back “Sorry sir; the Soviets have launched a satellite and we’re trying to intercept it!” The brothers finished setting up, grabbed their head-sets, twiddled the knobs on their portable receivers, hit the record button and listened… “Comein… come in… come in… Listen! Come in! Talk to me! I am hot! I am hot! Come in! What? Forty-five? What? Fifty? Yes. Yes, yes, breathing. Oxygen, oxygen… I am hot. This… isn’t this dangerous?” The brothers looked nervously at one another. They only fully understood the Russian later when their sister translated for them, but the desperation in the woman’s voice was clear. “Transmission begins now. Forty-one. Yes, I feel hot. I feel hot, it’s all… it’s all hot. I can see a flame! I can see a flame! I can see a flame! Thirty-two… thirty-two. Am I going to crash? Yes, yes I feel hot… I am listening, I feel hot, I will re-enter. I’m hot!” The signal went dead.

From OuterSpace ......

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Posted on Friday, October 17 - 2008

Planet Earth

Copyright DISCOVER Magazine

Gliese 876 is a modest star, just one-third the mass of our sun and only 15 light-years away, but it has a history-making planetary system all its own. In 1998 a team led by Geoff Marcy of the University of California at Berkeley detected the first sign of something interesting there: a giant planet, twice the mass of Jupiter, circling Gliese 876 once every two months, its gravity yanking the star back and forth at the speed of a jet plane.Three years later the same group found a second planet, half the mass of Jupiter and closer in, pulling the star around at the speed of a race car. Although the planets are too faint to be seen directly, their motions cause the star’s spectrum to wobble backand forth across the digital detector of an astronomical telescope.In the past decade, announcements of Jupiter-size planets have become commonplace; about 300 of them have been found so far.

In 2005, however, with the help of improved detection software, Marcy’s team turned up something else orbiting Gliese 876—something truly new. This invisible object added one more regular component to the star’s motion, like the third note, faint and high, of a piano chord.
It was another planet, orbiting in just two days and pulling on the star much more gently, not at jet plane or race car speeds but at a speed a man could run. This planet, dubbed Gliese 876 d, is clearly no Jupiter, Marcy realized. It is no more than seven or eight times as massive as our own: a “super-Earth.” Until then, all the known exoplanets (planets circling otherstars) were big and gaseous, but this one is probably made of rocky materials—the first world like ours found in an alien solar system. Gliese’s super-Earth lies so close to its star that it has just about no chance of being inhabited. If it has an atmosphere at all, it probably consists of dense steam, says Greg Laughlin of the University of California at Santa Cruz, a member of the discovery team. But if we can find one rocky, Earth-like planet right in our galactic backyard, surely there must be many more. Already, the Swiss astronomers who in 1995 discovered the first Jupiter-like exoplanet—and who are the great rivals of the California group in the exoplanet hunt—said in June that they had identified not one but three super-Earths orbiting a single star 40 light-years away. The smallest is just four times as massive as Earth. “We’ll finda......

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Posted on Thursday, March 24 - 2005

Baffled by the expansion of the universe? You're not alone. Even astronomers frequently get it wrong.Big BangThe expansion of the universe may be the most important fact we have ever discovered about our origins. You would not be reading this article if the universe had not expanded. Human beings would not exist.Cold molecular things such as life-forms and terrestrial planets could not have come into existence unless the universe, starting from a hot big bang, had expanded and cooled. The formation of all the structures in the universe, from galaxies and stars to planets and Scientific American articles, has depended on the expansion. Forty years ago this July, scientists announced the discovery of definitive evidence for the expansion of the universe from a hotter, denser, primordial state.

They had found the cool afterglow of the big bang: the cosmic microwave background radiation. Since this discovery, the expansion and cooling of the universe has been the unifying theme of cosmology, much as Darwinian evolution is the unifying theme of biology. Like Darwinian evolution, cosmic expansion provides the context within which simple structures form and develop over time into complex structures. Without evolution and expansion, modern biology and cosmology make little sense. The expansion of the universe is like Darwinian evolution in another curious way: most scientists think they understand it, but few agree on what it really means. A century and a half after On the Origin of Species, biologists still debate themechanisms and implications (though not the reality) of Darwinism, while much of the public still flounders in pre-Darwinian cluelessness. Similarly, 75 years after its initial discovery, the expansion of the universe is still widely misunderstood. A prominent cosmologist involved in the interpretation of the cosmic microwave background, James Peebles of Princeton University, wrote in 1993: "The full extent and richness of this picture [the hot big bang model] is not as well understood as I think it ought to be ... even among those making some of the most stimulating contributions to the flow of ideas." Renowned physicists, authors of astronomy textbooks and prominent popularizers of science have made incorrect, misleading or easily misinterpreted statements about the expansion of the universe. Because expansion is the basis of the big bang model, these misunderstandings arefundame......

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Posted on Thursday, August 26 - 2004

The planet Venus is like Earth in many ways. It has a similar size and mass, it is closer to us than any other planet, and it probably formed from the same sort of materials that formed Earth. For years scientists and science fiction writers dreamed of the exotic jungles and life forms that must inhabit Earth's twin sister. David Grinspoon, a research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, writes in his book, "Venus Revealed," that, through the Mariner 2 and other Venus missions, "we found our 'sister planet' to be chemically alien, as well as hot and dry to quite unearthly extremes. Withthese revelations, the twin-sister imagery quickly disappeared, and the notion that 'Venus is hell' took hold." Only 20 percent of the sunlight that hits Venus makes it through the cloud cover, while the other 80 percent is reflected back into space.

This reduced sunlight doesn't make Venus a cold world, however, because the thick carbon dioxide atmosphere traps the planet's heat. This greenhouse effect on Venus is often cited as a nightmare example of what could happen to Earth if we don't get our pollution under control. In an interview, Grinspoon explains how Venus evolved from a wet planet similar to Earth to the scorching hot, dried-out furnace of today. Then he discusses the possibility that Venus wasonce an inhabited world.Astrobiology Magazine (AM): Just how hot is Venus today? David Grinspoon (DG): It's 735 Kelvin on the surface. So that's pushing 900 Fahrenheit. It's not exactly temperate.AM: You've said there were two separate major geologic transitions on Venus that led to its present-day state. DG: Well, the conventional view has been that there were two separate transitions, but we're suggesting it's one overall sequence.The first great transition in the history of Venus was the loss of the oceans. We don't know that Venus had oceans, but there's every reason to believe it did. All the mechanisms that supplied Earth with its initial water supply also should have worked on Venus, whether itcame. ...

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