April 16, 2004


It's been rather eventful lately if you've an eye towards the heavens.

Using a technique predicted by Albert Einstein, astronomers have detected a planet orbiting a star 17,000 light years away. Think about that for a moment. Now I'm sure some Trekkie will stomp me like a Tribble onstage at Riverdance correct me if I'm wrong, but if I remember rightly, in the Star Trek universe Warp 1 was the speed of light, Warp 2 was twice that, Warp 3 four times light speed and Warp 4 was eight times faster than light.

I also recall that early Federation starships were pretty much maxed out at Warp 4, and I think the Enterprise cruised right around Warp 4 too. Which means that I should never ever be allowed to do math in public when the Enterprise was brand spanking new, it's contemporaries would need 2,125 years to reach that planet at max speed.

Talk about perspective, eh?

Back to the real science:

The discovery marks the first time that the technique, known as gravitational microlensing, has been used to identify a planet moving around a star beyond Earth's solar system.

The technique takes advantage of a phenomenon that Albert Einstein predicted in his theory of relativity and confirmed using the Sun. The gravity of stars or planets can focus light, brightening stars or planets that lie farther away.

Einstein has been front page lately, at least in the Science & Technology section of the paper. Professor Hall presents a nice set of links to information about the Gravity Probe B. This project has been in the works since the 60's, and you'd think that after all that time, someone would've come up with a catchy name. Nothing boring about the mission though, this is cutting-edge cool science.

Gravity Probe B is the relativity gyroscope experiment being developed by NASA and Stanford University to test two extraordinary, unverified predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.

The experiment will check, very precisely, tiny changes in the direction of spin of four gyroscopes contained in an Earth satellite orbiting at 400-mile altitude directly over the poles. So free are the gyroscopes from disturbance that they will provide an almost perfect space-time reference system. They will measure how space and time are warped by the presence of the Earth, and, more profoundly, how the Earth's rotation drags space-time around with it. These effects, though small for the Earth, have far-reaching implications for the nature of matter and the structure of the Universe.

Meanwhile, closer to home:

An Atlas 2 rocket carrying a Japanese communications satellite made a picture-perfect nighttime launch from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, lighting the Atlantic seaboard in central Florida like a shimmering torch.

Pure poetry.

The 8:45 p.m. EDT liftoff followed a perfect countdown and extended the string of successful launches by Lockheed Martin's Atlas to 71, dating back to 1993.

Which is all the more impressive when you recall the rocket accidents and failures suffered in the last few years by China, Japan, Russia, Brazil and the US.

And just 'cause 'tis the season, over at Rocketforge they report on the latest Aldridge Commision Meeting. Here's an interesting little snippet:

The highlight of today's meeting was one of the UAW guys saying that one of the requirements is that sustainability needs bi-partisan support. In the Q&A Bob Walker turns that around and asks the UAW guy if that means that since the UAW has endorsed Kerry, that the UAW will use that clout to get Kerry to stop dissing Bush's space plan? His answer: if he wants our votes he will.

I had a whole lot to say about this, but it's friday, it's beautiful outside and I'm stuck here at work, so the heck with it. Summed up: I don't buy it. Space is just another political chip to both candidates and the players on either side. For the forseeable future, progress in space will be made in spite of, not because of an American President.

There's a nifty new quote over on the right column too. Look for the Tagline label.

Update: Changed the original tribble joke to something I think is funnier.

Posted by Ted at April 16, 2004 06:29 AM
Category: Space Program

It's tribble-stompin' time!

Warp factor was a cube of the speed of light: WF1=C, WF2=8C, WF3=27C, WF4=6C, and so on.

Live long and prosper.

Posted by: Victor at April 16, 2004 06:35 PM

Thanks Victor. :)

Posted by: Ted at April 16, 2004 08:21 PM
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