by Sarah Blunt '17
Have you ever wondered what a black hole looks like? Do you imagine an insatiable dark pit traveling through space, devouring everything in its path? Or do you imagine a tear in the fabric of space and time, replete with wormholes to other universes and the lifeless bodies of intrepid astronauts?
Fueled in part by imaginative portrayals such as these, black holes have become a favorite astronomical conversation topic. The phrase “so massive that not even light can escape” has captured the imaginations of middle schoolers and professors alike, and scientists are anxious to find out more about these invisible gravitational behemoths.
by Katie Han '17
Space is fascinating. Every child is bound to fall in love with the idea of flying on a sleek rocket to journey away from Earth. And at at least one reflective point as a teenager, that child will probably ponder the insignificance of human beings in this vast, endless universe filled with myriads of galaxies and will realize that we are essentially “specks.” Inspired by this sense of wonder, some will carry this passion into their careers, traveling out to space themselves, or building rockets and robots that do so.
One of the leading space agencies in the world, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) currently has over 150 missions that range from monitoring Earth via satellites, sending humans to space, studying other planets in the solar system, and exploring the universe. The technology for launching rockets is developing dramatically over the years, yet sharing of such information between countries has always been sensitive. Affluent, developed countries often join the competitive “space race” to show off their scientific advancement, while the unspoken race for power has aroused a deep fear of application of this knowledge for military purposes.
by Connor Lynch '17
During November, the odds of an intelligent civilization existing somewhere in the Milky Way shot way up. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has been able to identify and analyze a vast number of exoplanets across the galaxy by detecting micro changes in incoming light due to planets passing in front of their respective stars. This is referred to the “transit method” of finding planets. The latest discovery from the new data of Kepler’s images confirms that there may be an Earth-sized planet in the “Goldilocks zone” of nearly 20% of sun-like stars in the galaxy. This would put the number of possibly habitable worlds up to nearly 40 billion. The search now officially commences for a twin Earth, a planet with conditions extremely close to that of Earth which hopefully lies close enough to us to study in detail.
by Connor Lynch '17
The tireless Voyager I spacecraft, launched in the disco era (1977 to be exact) and now more than 11 billion miles from Earth, has become the first man-made object to enter interstellar space, NASA announced on September 12, 2013 (1). Interstellar space, cosmologists now know with certainty, is dense with particles, and hisses at a certain frequency.
There now seems to be enough incontrovertible evidence that NASA’s Voyager I has crossed into a realm where no spacecraft has gone before.
Scientists have long thought that there would be a boundary somewhere out there where the million-mile-per-hour “solar wind” of particles would give way abruptly to cooler, denser interstellar space, permeated by charged particles from around the galaxy.
That boundary, called the heliopause, turns out to be 11.3 billion miles from the sun, according to Voyager’s instruments and NASA’s calculations. As of the writing of this article (November 3, 2013), the Voyager 1 is about 18,939,000,000 km from the Earth and the second Voyager about 15,479,000,000 km from the Earth. These spacecraft are moving at speeds of over 20 km/s and are powered by Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG), which are fueled by a source of naturally decaying plutonium (2).
by Layla Kazemi
This article was written by a student at the Wheeler School. Brown's chapter of The Triple Helix collaborates with the Wheeler School to engage high school students in science journalism.
Does life exist elsewhere in the universe? Could life ever exist in the future and has it in the past? The possibility of other life in the universe has been speculated by the human race for centuries and is one of the most excogitated questions that humans face. Mars has been the focus of much of the research to answer this question because of the planet’s proximity to Earth, and although exploration of the planet began over half a century ago, the possibility of life on Mars is still as pertinent today as it was decades ago.
For the past couple of years, NASA has been working on a car-sized robotic rover named Curiosity to explore the Gale Crater on Mars. The rover successfully landed on Mars aboard the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft on August 6, 2012 and will spend a Martian year (687 days) exploring the planet. The goal of this project is to investigate and assess whether the area has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to life (1). So what exactly is necessary for a planet to be considered habitable? According to NASA, there are three conditions that are crucial for life to exist: liquid water, other chemical ingredients utilized by life and a source of energy (1). To search for the existence of these conditions the rover is using a strategy that NASA Mars exploration has used for years: following water (1). Since every environment on Earth containing liquid water sustains microbial life, this strategy makes the most sense. Researchers believe that the Gale Crater, where the rover landed and where it is conducting its research, was wet at some point (1). The exact location within the crater where Curiosity landed is near the foot of a layered mountain named Mount Sharp, which contains minerals that form in water and may preserve organics (1). This was determined thanks to five years of research by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter prior to the launch of Curiosity, a mission that evaluated 30 potential Martian locations for landing (1).