Sunday, February 21, 2016

Quick Post: Ammonites and Meteorites

Lucy examines the wares of an interesting gemologist from Hawaii
Today Lucy and I went to the "Treasures of the Earth" gem and mineral show at the Convention Center in Hampton. One of the Center's halls was filled with booths displaying jewelry, stones, fossils and other mineralogical goodies from within the Earth--and without! Part shopping expedition, part museum, and a nice way to enjoy a Sunday afternoon. Lucy ended up finding an ammonite ring which almost exactly matched her earrings and pendant, and I walked away with yet another Campo del Cielo meteorite fragment for my small collection. We thought about the cast of a Mosasaur jaw, but decided against it as potentially furniture-breaking as well as hideously expensive; even so, we had a good time!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Wings of Daedalus

Daedalus First Stage Separation
Project Daedalus was an engineering study carried out by members of the British Interplanetary Society to determine if interstellar travel is possible using current (1970s) technology. The concept developed was an unmanned space probe which would detonate helium and deuterium pellets using electron beams fired from diodes located around the base of the engine nozzle. This near-continuous series of fusion detonations (approximately 250 per second!) would provide thrust to accelerate the probe for it's half-century voyage to Barnard's Star, a fast-moving red dwarf star only 6 light-years distant. With no way to decelerate the Daedalus would streak through the Barnard's system in a matter of days. (Quite a similar mission to NASA's New Horizon probe to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt...except that Daedalus would take fifty years to reach its target rather than ten!)

I'm a huge fan of such studies as Daedalus and the somewhat similar Orion program (an actual practical R&D effort by General Atomics in the late 50s-early 60s); these amazing flights of fancy reflect hard-headed science and engineering in an ivory-castle fantasy world where budgets are inconsequential and no R&D program is ever canceled by Congress.

Someday we will reach the planets, and perhaps even the stars...maybe someone will dust off the Orion or Daedalus plans when the time comes to make that next "Giant Leap".

Daedalus with a Saturn V for scale

Quick Post: Night At The Museum

Last night was the once-monthly laser show/star party at Virginia Living Museum's (VLM) Abbitt Planetarium, and I was quite happy to help out.  For a change, however, instead of being outside manning a telescope I was inside the Education Center lobby with my orrery set up on a solid table, talking to guests about my little brass object of obsession, the history of such model solar systems, and planetary science in general.  I had a blast, and for once didn't tempt pneumonia by being out in the 17 degree f weather outside!

Everyone has a "happy place", and mine is at the VLM sharing the wonders of the Universe with visitors to the Museum. That'll work!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Quick Post: Planetary Parade

After a long dry spell...

A few minutes ago Lucy and I stood on our back porch, bundled against the morning chill (18f), and enjoyed the parade of planets (including Mercury) in the pre-dawn sky. Weather and distance have kept us from viewing them together up to now.

Worth the wait, I think!

(Simulation produced using Stellarium freeware planetarium)