News in space

Posted on March 1, 2004

It's amazing that we live in a time period when at any given moment, we could

find out that everything we previously knew about the universe was incorrect.

But so far, it's safe to say that Mars does exist, the sun is at the center

of our solar system and "Space Camp" really wasn't a very good movie.

If you haven't been following the news lately, or maybe you've been busy with

other things, like selling your belt buckles on eBay, let me go over some

of the recent astronomy highlights:

1. Found on Mars ... Regis Philbin: So THAT'S where he's been hiding out!

Actually, the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are still trudging along

the martian planet, looking for any signs of life whatsoever. NASA has scaled

back their working hours, though, to conserve battery power. According

to a Reuters article, the 900-watt-per-day batteries lose over 10 percent of their

life every 50 days. Spirit's upcoming job will be to brush and drill a nearby

crater, while Opportunity is looking at a rock wall that may contain gray hematite,

which commonly forms water on earth. The

NASA Mars Exploration Rover Mission site contains updates and numerous pictures of the Red Planet, and the best

part is you don't have to poll the audience or phone a friend to participate.

2. Dark energy not coming from Darth Vader: It appears that the universe is,

indeed, expanding, but the rate seems to be slower than that of my stomach

after eating dinner at a buffet. U.S.

astronomers are saying a better understanding of dark energy will determine if universe expansion will eventually accelerate

to a speed at which everything will completely deteriorate. Of course, this

won't happen for a few billion years, but when they get the exact date, I'm

going to go ahead and put it on my calendar. Interestingly enough, physicist

Albert Einstein had conceptualized the idea of a non-collapsable static universe

years ago, only to be corrected by astronomer Edwin Hubble a few years later.

With the theory of dark energy, both Einstein and Hubble were both, in part,

correct in their assertions.

3. What is happening to the Hubble

Project?: Unfortunately,

it could be deserted. NASA announced in January the decision to cancel all

future shuttle missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. The reasoning is to

shift funds toward more exploration of Mars and the moon, but it's hard to

tell if this is a good move. According

to its Web site, the Hubble was designed

in the '70s and launched in 1990. The system archives 3-5 gigabytes of data

every day and delivers 10-15 gigabytes to astronomers all over the world. Its

current data archive is over 7.3 terabytes, which is the rough equivalent of

completely filling a PC every day for 10 years. The only thing it can't do

is make toast. They had planned to add this feature until deciding to cut the funding.

4. Other heavenly bodies to visit do not include Melmac: Unmanned

spaceships will be stopping by Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Titan, one or Saturn's

moons, later this year. These trips are much cheaper than sending humans to

Mars and the moon, mainly because robotic spacecrafts do not need extensive

training and do not like to eat very often. Alf said there were plans to view

his home planet of Melmac, but he would continue to make outrageous commercials

with Terry Bradshaw. Also of astronomical note, Venus will pass across the

face of the sun on June 6. This has not occurred since Dec. 6, 1882, which,

incidentally, was Regis Philbin's fifth birthday.

5. Come ride the comet: From

CBC News, Europe has delayed its launch of its

comet-chasing space probe Rosetta until next week, due to a minor malfunction.

A piece of insulation fell off, but the probe itself is in good shape. Officials

say they must launch before March 17 so it can meet up with the comet

67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May 2014. If nothing else, that comet name has

just cemented its history by winning the Longest Word I've Ever Typed in a

Column award.

While there's already a lot going on here on earth