We Are Star Stuff

As a celebratory “I just moved my blog to a better format base than Blogger.com” post, I’m bring with it a double whammy of awesome in the Scientific Field…

It was 76 years ago today that the late Carl Sagan was born. For those that don’t know who Carl Sagan is, it might be better for you to do the following:

  1. Get a large rectangular piece of paper.
  2. Fold said paper into a conic shape.
  3. Place conic shaped paper upon head.
  4. Sit in corner and ignore the rest of the educated world.

Anyway, Carl Sagan is one of the most influential astronomers, astrophysicists, authors, and cosmologists in the last century. He has written numerous books, hosted a well-earning and popular science program called Cosmos, and was one of the key figures in the creation of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrail Intelligence). The list of greats he was involved in doesn’t stop there of course. He was THE pioneer of exobiology (also called astrobiology), advocate of skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, and his 1985 book Contact was later adapted on film.

Carl Sagan was a wonderful figure of his time. He successfully captured audiences and renewed faith in science to the general public. His voice was captivating and inspiring, as the following video shows.

He not only showed us the frailty of human life, but the minuteness of it. He showed us that everything we have accomplished is still so tiny in the vast expanse of time and space. He brought our attention to the world of nuclear war, and our possible extinction by it, and inspired us to find ways in which we might realize that this is our only planet, our only home, and to destroy it through nuclear arms would be the single greatest tragedy of our time. His words on nuclear arms still today rings a bell, though the threat may have lessened, it is echoed in nation’s vying for nuclear arms, and through environmental changes through human action. The following, is his words on Nuclear War.

Carl Sagan unfortunately died too soon for our time at the age of 62 on December 20, 1996 after a long fight with myelodysplasia, though the cause of death was actually due to pneumonia. His legacy still lives on in several ways. Symphony of Science, by John Boswell, a musical production featuring scientists auto-tuned to amazing songs, includes Sagan as the only scientist in everyone of the videos. There are at least three awards dedicated to his honor, including the Carl Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science.  More recently, in 2009, the first annual Carl Sagan Day was made in his honor; it will most likely be a yearly endeavor as they again held it in 2010.

So, Sagan, I wish you a happy birthday, and many more, perhaps billions and billions.

In a slightly related event and part two of the Double Whammy happening today (related in the idea that it has to do with the Cosmos), scientists at CERN, the organization responsible for the Large Hadron Collider, have successfully created a miniature big bang.

That’s right. Scientists at CERN have actually managed to reproduce the very thing that they believe started our own universe. This raises certain eyebrows from me; Did they in the process create a universe as well that was so tiny and minute that it popped into and out of existence too quickly to notice?

Probably not, but it does seem that whatever their findings are as of this moment they’re being very hush hush about it. All they’re willing to say is that they created the same starting conditions as our own universe at 0.00000000001 seconds after the Big Bang, an interval when “protons and neutrons can’t even stay whole.”

An anti-LHC organization called the Heavy Ion Alert also protested the experiment, stating it would cause a chain reaction that would destroy the planet. They were discounted, and as always nothing happen.

I’ll leave you with Symphony of Science – We Are All Connected.


Virgin Galactic – Can you hear me Major Tom?

It seems we won’t have to wait too far to be shot up into space, or I suppose the better word would be flown. Virgin Galactic, a branch of the Virgin Group owned by Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson, plans to start flying people into space by 2015 for a measly 200,000$. Ok, so maybe it’s not THAT measly, but considering it’s going to be one of the first commercial airlines (or spacelines?) to fly you into space, it’s not that ridiculous.

The vehicle they’ve developed, titled the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two, is a very science fiction looking aircraft designed to be hauled by the WhiteKnightII, another aircraft shaped strangely like a WWII bomber.

The Galactic II
The WhiteKnightII seen dropping the Galactic II.

The total cost will run 200,000$ with a 20,000$ deposit. The actual flight plan consists of a 3.5 hour flight total, with about 6 minutes of weightlessness.  NASA in February of 2007 also signed a memorandum of understanding, showing a possible collaboration between the two companies.

It seems the 2015 date is still on schedule as Virgin has successfully flown the Galactic II on it’s first solo flight as of last night. It was still carried 45,000ft. into the air by the White Knight II, but last night was the first successful flight where it was released from it’s carrier. It flew for a solid 11 minutes unaided by the White Knight II before landing.
Makes me wonder though if Virgin Records will have any say in some music on the flight. It’d add a little bit of charm I think, so long as you’re not playing Bowie’s Space Oddity… something about playing a song about a crashing spacecraft on a spacecraft that doesn’t sit well with superstition.
…maybe that’s just me.
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