How Our Moon Helped Create Humanity and (Hopefully) Allow Us to Escape to Space

Posted in CATS on January 23, 2013 by badhex

Were it not for the Moon, we wouldn’t exist to see the Universe. Life on Earth would probably be no more advanced than the simplest of multi-celled organisms (if that). We may indeed be very rare sentient life because without the relative sizes and distances of our Planet and Moon system, with their almost perfect balanced orbit and gravity, tidal conditions and crustal distortions could have been too severe to allow us temperate enough conditions to develop. So finding another Earth size exoplanet by itself, at the right distance from its parent star to be the right temperature will not point to a planet with complex life unless it also has a satellite analogous to our Moon. Bearing in mind we are the only world of four close to our star with such a large Moon, created by a fluke impact with just the right sized planet to produce the Moon, maybe our system is pretty rare.

It’s believed life may well have formed in tidal pools, with constant replenishment of new water, with oxygen stirred into it in the shallows, allowed the pools to breathe and the chemicals in them mix. By holding the Earth in a steady spin, so it doesn’t waver about chaotically, the Moon gives us stable zones of temperature and the tides help to blend the zones, averaging out any global temperature extremes. The gravity of our Moon also allows us to have Plate Tectonics so our continents can move about, this allows species to roam the planet over millions of years and help provide the stress of subtle change over time forcing evolution to further develop the myriad of species. If populations of living organisms don’t move occasionally the gene pools ‘stagnate’ meaning in breeding and biodiversity suffers as a result. It has been these changes producing mutations within us that have assisted us to develop larger brains, then language with of tools. It was a mutation just over 2 million years ago that altered the way our brains are wired for the language and speech that has allowed us to communicate with a complexity that gave us a tremendous advantage over any other species and become the dominant one. It’s a pity it couldn’t have given us a few more I.Q. points for all to appreciate the importance of our custodianship of our planet rather than the mere plundering of its resources.

The Moon has some very large craters from the not that distant past. It has certainly drawn off some of the asteroids and comets that would otherwise have caused global extinctions, setting back the progress of evolution by many millions of years. I’m not aware if there’s a crater on the Moon that equates to a four kilometer body impacting on it in the last 32.5 million years but wouldn’t be surprised if there were something close to it at some time in the last few tens of millions. If the Moon hadn’t taken that hit for us, maybe our evolution would have been delayed by however many millions of years and so this article be delayed until the year 32,002,013AD (now even I’ve got a head ache).

In terms of our future in space, the Moon may act as a staging post, providing the bases and materials to build ships which could then escape the Moon’s gravity with far more ease than from the Earth, making manned space flight far more efficient.


Simply Watching Our Neighbour.

At the beginning of writing this on January 12th, the Moon is a slender crescent in the south-western sky shortly after Sunset (about 2% lit) and it then quickly follows the Sun over the horizon this evening. As the days go by its crescent will broaden. The thin crescent shortly after the Moons reappearance from conjunction with the Sun is known as ‘The New Moon in the Old Moon’s Arms’. Many of you will have noticed that during the crescent phase, you can see the dark side of the Moon, the Moon’s remaining disc as a subtle dark grey against the backdrop of the more, bluey, still glowing, twilight skies. This is known as Earthshine. Where the Crescent is light reflected off the Moon originating from the Sun, Earthshine is a reflection of the light from the Earth falling on the Moon. If you look carefully you can just about see lighter and darker areas, much more so with binoculars.

The Crescent broadens (this is called a waxing Moon) until it is seen as a hemisphere and this is the First Quarter Moon. Typically this is when it is still high enough in the sky for us to catch it from the Observatory in our evening sessions after 8pm. The Moon will be just shy of First Quarter on Friday 18th January, so if you want to see it you’ll need to get to the Observatory by 8pm as it sets behind trees not long after. The following day it has climbed higher and so is available for longer.

On the weekend starting the 25th January the Moon has climbed to a much higher elevation and more to the south, as it heads towards Full Moon. That weekend the Moon is visible throughout each of our entire sessions.

Full Moon is on the 27th and not worth looking at apart from watching it rise in the east as the Sun sets in the west and you see it placed against landmarks that make it a sensational visual sight. Telescopically the Full Moon is poor though, with the Sun bearing straight down on it, there are no shadows and the disc is just a very bright bland disc.

Everyone imagines the Moon is bigger at this point because it really does look bigger. ‘It’s the light being refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere that makes it bigger’…actually no, Patrick Moore once did a Sky at Night, where they cut a disc in cardboard and placed it at a precise point away from the camera and then filmed the Moon, exactly filling the hole, rising over some buildings. They followed the Moon across the sky with the same ‘Moon mask’ kept at the same distance from the camera. Now if the Moon really had been bigger at the beginning when low down, it would have got smaller throughout the evening as it climbed and so bit by bit, the Moon would have become smaller than the hole. However this did not happen, so proving the Moon had not changed size as it climbed.

Interestingly psychologists have carefully looked into this effect and suspect it is to do with our perception of size of objects in relation to each other. As the Moon rises, the foreground objects we are used to seeing as ‘sizeable’ appear to be dwarfed by the Moon. However when the Moon is high in the sky, we don’t see it in relation to anything and by virtue of it being ‘isolated’, it appears smaller. This is quite difficult to get ones head around and although I can understand it, I can only hope what I’ve said makes sense to you.

Between First Quarter and Full and then Last Quarter, the shape of the Moon is ‘Gibbous’. So towards full it’s called a waxing gibbous Moon and then past full, waning gibbous. Once someone misheard my description of a past first quarter Moon at the Observatory and sent me an e-mail saying… ‘what was that I’d said about waxing gibbons’….ouch, painful imagery!

Shortly after the Moon has entered the waning gibbous stage, it rises too late for us to see it from the Observatory during our session. Although the Moon can be seen during most nights of the month, we only see it for the time we’re not asleep, this creates the illusion it is only around for a fortnight each Lunation (Lunar cycle).

I suppose the dawn, waning crescent with its Earthshine could be called ‘New Moon with the Old Moon Desperately Trying to Hold On’…you heard it here first.

So this explains why we only see the Moon for four of our eight sessions in each month (precluding any cloud that ensures some months we don’t see it at all). If you download the free planetarium software called Stellarium (type this into your preferred search engine) it allows you to surf the sky each night and see what the Moon is up to. After a while of following it (the same is true of the planets) you develop a sense of the time it takes for all these neighbours of ours to move around the sky and after a while you can develop a sense of where they are without needing to check.

“The fool on the hill, sees the Sun going down, and the eyes in his head, see the world spinning round” – Beatles.

You could change ‘the Sun’ for ‘the Moon’ and it would work even better because not only do you see the world spinning around but you can work out how the Moon circles the Earth each Lunar month and because it spins exactely once on its axis for each orbit around us, we are condemned to always see the same face.

Happy Lunacy,

Simon.

P.s. Promised a 2013 Highlights a while ago….coming soon (before 14, promise)….watch this space….or that one…..or that one….

THIS BLOG HAS MOVED

Posted in neverbeengood with tags , , , on May 3, 2011 by badhex

Greetings, fellow Earthicans.

I’ve moved my blog over to http://neverbeengood.com (which is my excuse for why there have been so few posts of late), so from now on, I won’t be updating this one. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while and now it’s finally happened. Mmm, can’t beat that self hosted flavour.

You can subscribe to my new blog here:

http://neverbeengood.com/feed/

So please update your RSS readers or whatever new-fangled feed-reading shiznips you use, and look out for new posts in the next few days.

Thanks all!

Peace 😉

A monstrous white Y in the sky

Posted in neverbeengood, Space, Tech with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by badhex

So, it can’t have escaped everyone’s notice that last week was the final touchdown of Shuttle Discovery on STS-133, the third-to-last mission for the Space Shuttle program as a whole. As readers may know I’m very interested in space, and in particular the human exploration of (read: manned missions to) space – but I’m a little worried about the future of these missions.

I love Shuttle. It’s brilliant. Liftoff is just as good every time I see one, and I watch as many as I can. It’s particularly impressing these days when we can sit at our computers looking at websites like NASA HD TV or Spaceflight Now, and watch realtime as Shuttle takes the first precarious, powerful step on the latest sojourn into orbit.

The craft itself is truly awesome – beautiful, graceful and a sheer feat of humankind’s ingenuity and perseverance in our many scientific endeavours (no pun intended). Watching it in action is a pleasure, and things like the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, it looks almost unreal. Thousand of minds and man-hours have gone into creating and maintaining one of our greatest achievements, a craft that “can launch like a rocket, go into orbit, change into a spacecraft and then land as a hypersonic airplane” – and the only craft which can do so.

But just because we can do it, does not mean that we should.

When I was a kid, I happened to be in Florida when Shuttle Discovery took off on mission STS-48. At that time, to me the shuttle was a thing of true, flawless wonder, and in my head that’s what I thought of when people said ‘NASA‘. Of course I had read about past missions, regardless of which nation had undertaken them, and had obviously heard Neil Armstrong’s famous words, and seen pictures of the various Apollo vehicles – but Shuttle was the spacecraft of my generation. As I grew older I learnt more about space, and the other methods by which we have travelled there, and still Shuttle remained to be an awesome thing. Then, one day, everything changed for me. A drastic turnaround of my thoughts and opinions occurred, and my heart sank.

The Shuttle program was a failure.

You’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about the terrible Columbia disaster, and indeed I am – but it was not that fated day on which my thoughts occurred, it was some time later, after the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board had been published. I read an amazing, eye-opening article in a broadsheet (I can’t remember which one) which had a detailed synopsis of these findings, and it was this that made me change my mind. I have since read a lot more on the subject and watched numerous programs and documentaries, and all of these sources say the same thing: the disaster was caused by an initial problem with the technology, and furthermore massive organisational failings in NASA management – and this cause rings true for both Columbia and the Challenger disaster as well.

Now, I could go on for hours about the various findings of the reports in terms of the managerial failings that should have been dealt with or should never have happened, but I’m only going to touch on these. There are many many books, articles and documentaries which cover the minutiae a lot better than I can. If you want to (and I suggest you do), go and look it up. Read the various Wikipedia (and other) articles I’ve linked to, watch the documentary, or read Richard Feynman’s book What Do You Care What Other People Think? (which I haven’t read but is on my list).

I’m going to talk about the technology, because that is where the fundamental problem lies. This excerpt from David ‘Doc’ Searls blog is actually an article written by him in 1986, and was sent to me by my good friend Pete Sigrist. If you only read one of the links in this post, read this – it inspired the (admittedly rather grotesque) title of this blog post and gives a good summary of what I’m talking about:

Consider for a moment that the shuttle program is, after all, the bastard offspring of a dozen competing designs, and constrained throughout its history by a budgetary process that subordinates human and scientific aspirations to a variety of military and commercial interests. And consider how, as with most publicly-funded technologies, most of the Shuttle’s components were all produced by the lowest bidder. And consider the fact that many of the Shuttle’s technologies are, even by NASA’s admission, obsolete. If we had to start at Square One today, we’d probably design a very different program.

The Shuttle is brilliant, but ultimately flawed – a technology so precariously balanced and tightly strung that in the words of many NASA engineers, scientists and both shuttle disaster investigations, it is a genuine surprise (albeit a welcome one) that there have been so few accidents. What your average person does not realise – and what I didn’t realise as a child – is that most shuttle launches have been far from problem free, and this is not unknown by NASA management either. Both the O-ring failure in Challenger and the ‘foam shedding’ which saw the demise of Columbia and its crew had been categorised by NASA as “normalization of deviance” – acceptable risk – despite the fact that this conflicted with supposedly stringent design and safety specifications. Ultimately, in many cases one single failure in myriad vastly complicated, intricate systems, all depending on each other to work, would be the undoing of any launch. This is unavoidable with such a complex machine as the Shuttle – it is simply too complicated to be considered a truly safe mode of transport into space – and astronomically expensive to run.

Of course, the reason we don’t think about any of this is because of the way shuttle has been portrayed over the years, as day-to-day, routine – and this portrayal is by no means accidental. Physicist Richard Feynman played a large role in the Rogers Commission Report and was aghast at the disparity between the reality of the perilous balance in which Shuttle sits, and the view of NASA management that the Shuttle was almost infallible:

“It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask “What is the cause of management’s fantastic faith in the machinery? It would appear that, for whatever purpose, be it for internal or external consumption, the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product, to the point of fantasy. For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

Feynman’s beef was mostly and rightly with NASA which is well illustrated in that quote – but the most salient point for me is that the technology is not as reliable as we have come to take for granted.

Of course there have been major advances and changes in both Shuttle design and NASA strategy; there have been multiple contingencies devised for crew rescue in case of disaster and from STS-114 onwards (the return-to-flight mission two years after Columbia) procedures implemented to safeguard against the ‘foam shedding’ problem, such as the R-Bar or Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver I mentioned earlier, but ultimately these are just patching holes  in a too-flawed system. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly glad to see it go and I revise the thinking that Shuttle is a failed experiment; but an experiment it is, and it has proved not to be the correct path.

So we move unto the future, and Shuttle is simply not what we need any more. However, in the wake of the cancelled Shuttle program, we have very little in place for our next move, and a lot of questions as to what that move will be. The NASA pilots themselves seem to be asking the same questions. I’m no qualified scientist so I can’t say what is the best course of action, but Medium and Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles (MLLV and HLLV) as an initial method seem to be the best option. Cheap, reliable, and proven. The Soyuz rocket is the most frequently used, and most reliable launch vehicle in the world – over 1700 launches since the mid sixties with a tiny percentage of failures – and is very low cost. I might also add that it was the only thing we used to resupply and perform crew changeovers for the International Space Station during the time when Shuttle was grounded after Columbia.

Breaking out of Low Earth Orbit – a hitherto unaccomplished task for humans – is what most people (including myself) seem to think we should be doing, and there are some plans afoot for a manned mission to Mars. But how are we going to get there? The cancelled Moonbase plans leave us without a, well, base of operations from which to launch longer duration missions, which would seem to be the sensible thing to do;  the ability to construct, or at the very least refuel craft outside Earth would help us a lot on our outward journey as it would be much easier to launch from the Moon than Earth itself. This of course is easier said than done, and creates a whole load more questions, like how we get the raw materials up there in the first place. Still, I would have really, really liked to see a Moonbase in our time.

So, finally, we find ourselves on the edge of space in need of a method for the next step – but I’m glad it’s not Shuttle – lest we end up with another monstrous white Y in the sky.

She’s the last of the G5s!

Posted in Computing, Projects, Tech with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2011 by badhex

“Kick it in the guts Barry!”

Okay, okay – so some of you won’t know what I’m on about, and some of you will – but I’ll explain.

I have just recently acquired and set up… wait for it… another machine.

This is probably not that surprising – but what might be surprising to people who know me is that this machine is a Mac. A PowerMac G5 2.5GHz Quad Core: the last of the G5s, in fact.

I’m a big fan of Mad Max – at least, the first two films anyway – so upon hearing myself say to Clare that it was “the last of the G5s”, I immediately thought of that great piece of dialogue referring to the iconic black Pursuit Special in the first film.

I love the naming process for new acquisitions, and I always try to think of something that is in some way apt; thus, the obvious choice for a name had become clear – the Pursuit Special.

After sticking in as much PC2 4200 DDR RAM as I have spare (5GB), I’ve given it fresh install and updated it to OS X 10.5.8 which is the highest version PPC based Macs can handle. I’m currently pissing about with SSH access and tunnelling VNC protocols, and have it set up in such a way that I can use Wake On Lan via the Internets to remotely wake it up using this great utility, which is fun. Sweet magic packets. I’ve gotten hold of a few nice free utilities, plus a nice chap has given me a paid copy of TechTool Pro which comes with the AppleCare support plan. I also plan to put in a second-hand airport card if I can get my hands on one for a few quid.

Of course, this is not entirely necessary as it has a wired gigabit connection, but I want to pimp it out as much as possible. It’s an old machine and has undoubtedly been worked very hard during its life, but despite this I want to make the best of it. No point having a Mac if I’m not going to soup it up as much as possible, right? Just like the (real) Pursuit Special.

As I have previously written, I currently dual-boot my netbook into Ubuntu and WinXP. The point really of all these OS shenanigans is that I need to work on my Mac and Linux/UNIX skills. OS X uses Darwin as the UNIX underbelly of the beast, so ever the fan of the humble CLI, I hope that it will help me with both in a sort of two-pronged learning attack. I’ve been working more and more with the Macs at work in an attempt to become the sort of go-to guy for Mac support, as previously it’s always been a hole in my knowledge. My career in standard Windows desktop support looks increasingly bleak, so it’s high time I did something about that.

So, that leaves us with just one question:

When do we go for a ride?

HTTP 204: No Content

Posted in General Chang, neverbeengood with tags , , , on January 28, 2011 by badhex

Well, I’ve been rubbish and not posted anything for ages, aside from the numerous posts I have started. I know, I know. Neverbeengood.

Sorry about that. Anyway, needless to say, I’ve been pretty busy and there’s been a lot going on (plus, Fallout New Vegas. Just sayin’). Normal service will resume shortly, when things have settled down.

Peace.

Bad News about Good Crabs

Posted in Decapods!, Nature, neverbeengood with tags , , , , on October 28, 2010 by badhex

I’m sad to say that poor Nebula passed away just after a moult last Saturday. A shame, he was looking like a right bruiser after this latest moult, his claws were huge. I’m not sure there’s a lot I have done wrong, hopefully it’s just bad luck. I’ve kept the tank cycling so I don’t have to start again, but I’m just decided what to do/where to go next. I might get another, maybe a few biggish shrimp too. Either way, I need a little time to have a think.

On another note, I’m sorry for my lack of posting, I have been quite busy of late, but I do have a few posts lined up. Maybe I will have one ready to post again tonight.

R.I.P. Nebula

I Love Being A Geek: New Techy Projects

Posted in Computing, General Chang, Projects, Robots, Space, Tech with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2010 by badhex

Being a geek is sweet. I get really excited about often quite simple stuff, and moreover stuff that most other people really don’t care about. This usually prompts me to start some sort of techy project, but, alas,  I’m the first to admit they go on a seemingly never-ending, possibly never-completed wishlist. I’d like to change that, and I reckon blogging about stuff might just give me more impetus to make good on my thoughts – if not less time to do them. Irony.

Anyway with that in mind, here’s a couple of mini projects I have on my mind, some in various stages of completion, some merely seeded. Hopefully I’ll do something about them, if I haven’t already.

Reappropriating a LaCie FireWire CD-RW

This little project is now complete, and although really quite simple in the end, it was exactly the kind of thing I love doing.  You can read the full post about the process here.

Telescope Refurb

As per my previous post, I’ve been donated an old Charles Frank 6″ Reflector telescope, which needs a little work. I find any sort of techy work really fun, but don’t get as much opportunity to do much other than computer work, and even that is more limited than I like. This should be a fun little project, once I’ve persuaded my parents to ferry it 200 miles form its current location to my house.

Fitting a hard drive to my old Amiga 600

I’d been thinking about cracking out the Commodore Amiga 600 I’ve owned since being a kid and never got rid of (I still have all the disks!) at some point, possibly looking into a few things I could do to it upgrades wise. I always, always wanted a hard drive for it when I was younger (it was something like 100mb, I think, and external), so I had a little delve. Fortunately for me, it turns out there’s actually a hard drive bracket and IDE connector for a 2.5″ IDE hard drive, ready and waiting inside the thing. Bonus. Thanks to some fantastic resources such as Amiga.org, The Extreme Commodore A600 Upgrading Page and English Amiga Board I’ve prepared an old 1.2gb drive I had kicking around using the awesome but complicated WinUAE and a nice preconfigured Workbench setup called Classic Workbench and now I’m just waiting for the 2.5″ IDE cable, which is taking approximately 17 years to arrive.

[UPDATE: Between writing this bit and posting, the IDE cable arrived – it’s now installed and working. I will write a post about the whole thing soon]

Finding a purpose for new kit

I’ve just acquired a Dell Poweredge 1750 blade server, plus a really gorgeous, well-engineered case with an Intel SE7505VB2 motherboard and dual Intel Xeon 2.4gHz chips, either Prestonia or Gallatin flavour, and I need a purpose for them. I probably need to get a bit of thermal paste for the processors, as the heatsinks had been removed and although I did my best with the paste that was left on, one of the chips is running a good 5°C hotter. I’m really not a  fan (heh heh) of re-using paste anyway, it’s not exactly expensive stuff.

Building a home-made NAS

Easier than you think. I’ve come across a lovely Linux distro called FreeNAS which is brilliant. Extremely easy to install, can live on a bootable memory stick and after a minimum of setup, you can configure the whole thing through a web interface. I’m not really sure why they have a little devil thingy on their logo.

Unfortunately, I’m now of the opinion it might have to wait. Realistically, I can’t really house another box. I’m up to my eyeballs in tech – but then again, I am a kit monster!

Setting up an OSX Server

I acquired a Mac XServe G5 blade some time ago and have been looking for something to do with it. Lovely piece of kit, really just bit too nice to get thrown away. I’ve been thinking of getting some sort of internal web server up and running, at some point – this may be the ideal candidate.

Setting up a Windows Server

See above. Most likely on the Dell, I think. I want to play with/learn Microsoft’s WDS for work, and this would be a great opportunity. I have a couple of spare machines kicking around to act as client machines as well, so I can get the hang of it.

Hackint0shing my Samsung NC10

The original section I started writing here turned into a massive rant/homage to my Samsung NC10 netbook so I ‘ve actually split it off into a new post here. Anyway basically at some point I plan to hackint0sh it. For those of you who don’t know what I’m on about, it means to install Mac OSX on a computer not normally supposed to run it – i.e. not a Mac. Although it’s strictly speaking a bit naughty, I actually own various genuine copies of OSX, so it could be worse.

I’ve done it before to an old Dell, and the principle is the same, so it shouldn’t be too hard. The major issue was that the wifi/network adaptors will not work once OSX is on there, which makes it pretty pointless, but I’ve fixed that by buying and installing a Dell wifi card, which is compatible with OSX.

I currently dual boot it into WinXP Pro and Ubuntu 10.04, and I’ve come across a couple of great articles (gotta love the Tinterweb) about triple booting and hackint0shing the NC10, so with a bit of lateral thinking I think I can meet them in the middle somewhere (read: hope).

Right, that’s it for now, I’ve rambled on for ages, 952 words is enough for today.

Peace out technophiles!

😉