Not much happening in the weather today so more time for news and other things. High temps will be about 10 to 15 degrees below normal from today through Sunday (15 to 20 range) then rebound back up into the mid 30s by the middle of next week. Not much precipitation is in the forecast. An Alberta Clipper could bring a dusting of snow on Friday night to much of the area and up to an inch in the far south. Then we could experience some light rain and snow by the middle of next week. The longer term trend looks about normal for late February and early March. A couple of storms could move through our area during that time frame. No huge warm-ups and no extreme cold.
I wanted to get back to space news today because of another side-effect of the satellite collision last week. Yesterday I mentioned that this collision (and all of the millions of pieces of junk orbiting the earth) could be bad news for private space flight. It could pose a significant danger. It could also pose danger to the Hubble Space telescope. Prior to the satellite collision that produced at least 500 new pieces of junk, the odds of Hubble running into space junk was 1 in 185. Now that risk is much higher and it might be high enough that NASA cancels a repair mission scheduled for next year. Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars repairing Hubble if it is going to get whacked by space junk in the near future.
One thing Hubble has not found is alien life, but one leading astronomer – Alan Boss - estimates there are millions of earth-like planets in our galaxy. This means the chance of discovering life on other planets should be greater than estimated previously (which of course again brings up the Fermi paradox – why haven’t we seen anything yet?). I think the search for alien life is exciting and I hope we turn something up soon whether it be little microbes or something more intelligent. Michael Hanlon thinks the hunt for alien life should be NASA’s top priority. I would say it should be close to the top, but I still think human space travel should come first. The two could go hand-in-hand. I know that sending robots is cheaper than sending humans out into space but there is something about real physical exploration that lifts the human spirit – more than just sending virtual eyes and ears. Getting humans off the planet could also help the species survive in case there was ever a whole-earth catastrophe.
In the endeavor to find extraterrestrial life NASA and ESA have to prioritize expensive missions and they recently picked a winner for the next trip to the outer planets – next stop: Jupiter and its moons. I am sure scientists would like to go to more places (like Saturn and Titan again) but budgets are tight. I have discussed Jupiter’s moon Europa in the past and it does seem like a tantalizing place to explore (another article about the decision). If there is life on the planet, it will likely be found under the ice that envelopes the planet. In order to get under the ice, any probe will need sophisticated equipment to get through. If you remember last year, a team of astrobiologists came to Madison Wisconsin to test a probe that could melt through ice. This is a good start but there could be a problem with this method of getting through the ice sheet on Europa. What if there is some sand or rocks embedded in the ice? If the probe is only equipped with an ice-melting device then it could get stuck. Ok, here is the problem. Any new missions to the outer planets (in this case to Jupiter and Europa) will not get going until 2020! and not arrive until 2026! And that is if everything goes according to plan. What the heck is up with that?! I will be an old man by then. There was once a time when our space program went from nothing to landing on the moon in less than a decade – and we sent human beings! How hard can it be to send a robot to Jupiter? I guess an economic downturn changes societal priorities and timelines. If we hope to see signs of life elsewhere in the universe then we will have to rely on space telescopes for a few more years – telescopes such as James Webb, COROT or Kepler.
A couple other tidbits: How about some eye candy for all of you amatuer astronomers. Here is an article about the amount of dust in the galaxy and it contains a neat picture of a dusty double star. It looks so symmetrical it is hard to believe it is real.
Lastly something interesting stated in this article about physical models of the early universe. The author actually uses the term “theoretical” when talking about the big bang. Theories about the beginning of the universe abound, but most are shut out of the conversation in favor of the big bang. True, past data did seem to overwhelmingly support the big bang theory, but the more we learn about the universe the more we have to modify our assumptions about its beginnings. It is nice to see a writer finally acknowledge the not-so-iron-clad-theory of the big bang. Have a good Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under Space, Winter Weather
This post was written by jloew on February 19, 2009