Archive for category Space Science


Posted by on Thursday, 15 January, 2015


Planetwide Lights Out



Solar storms come and go. Usually they’re not too bad. But a couple of summers ago we near had our heads taken off.  A double “mass ejection” from the sun’s corona smashed past us.

We were on the far side of our orbit, conveniently out of the way.

A few days earlier? It would have been brutal.

The power grid, along with most electronics and computers, would have been made useless. We would have been back to the good old days when streets were lit with oil lamps and the houses were lit with flickering candles.

Except, who’s got oil lamps anymore? Who’s got candles?

In a paper in the journal Nature Communications Dr. Ying D Lieu and Janet G Luhmann estimated how long it would have taken to recover from our “sun spot hangover”. A long time, – years probably- before the lights would be back on everywhere.

The cost? In the trillions of dollars. The effect on our world?

No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine!

Here’s the thing.

These solar ejections happen pretty often. Once-in-a-while there’s a big one. There was one about this size in 1859 when there weren’t any computers. The worst thing was some problems with the telegraph system; some operators got electric shocks.

If this latest “big one”, the 2012 mass ejection, had caught us dead center, it would have taken out our TVs, computers, phones,  vehicles, and all the rest of our high tech equipment. Even my furnace would have been creamed. My furnace has a computerized controller board which runs the controls; it also talks to me over wifi and sends messages to my phone. A disturbance  92 million miles away on the surface of the sun would have had me burning logs. My whole life would have changed.


There isn’t much we can do to keep the sun from being the sun. Stuff will keep flying off the sun and, someday, a mass ejection will have our number on it. What we can do, is get serious about monitoring for these conditions. With sufficient warning, maybe we can take steps to minimize the damage.

– – – – –

The drawing is mine.

Not finding life all over the place

Posted by on Sunday, 28 December, 2014
Not finding life everywhere




If you’re going “Enough with life on Mars”, I’m sorry.


I know there’s too much not finding life  going on.

You lost interest in life-finding years ago, right? But who cares? We keep not finding it, right?

Recently, we didn’t find it on Mars. Also, we recently didn’t find it on Titan or on Europa or on Io.

Not to mention the exoplanets, planets circling other stars, where, it so happens, we also haven’t had much luck. Plus, very excitingly, we now know there’s a dwarf planet called Ceres. Ceres is fairly warm, probably has oceans full of water and isn’t that far away.

We didn’t find life there too.

Not finding life is pretty much everywhere these days and, you know what? We’re just starting.

No life out there? Don’t get used to it

I hate to squash the hopes of the “Not Lifers” but things don’t look that good for them, in the long run. The Mars rover, Curiosity, has finally made it to Gale Crater where it has analyzed the rocks and found organic molecules and “puffs” of methane. Organic molecules are (often) a sign of life. Puffs of methane? Same thing (although that isn’t for sure either). Philip Gillet (Earth And Planetary Sciences Laboratory) says a meteorite from Morocco (but once from Mars) has organic chemistry that is “probably” biologic.

While these latest discoveries may turn out to be another Didn’t Find It Moment, that can’t go on forever. Sooner or later – sooner, in my opinion, we will find a microbe somewhere – somewhere besides our own silly planet.

Unless something unmistakably alive walks by one of our cameras, we probably won’t have a “That’s it!” moment for life on Mars. Maddening as it is, that’s the system. As the evidence grows, life becomes “more likely”. One day, maybe the evidence for life elsewhere will be “accepted”. If you’re a Not Lifer, you’re in for a surprise, not a shock.The idea of life “out there” will, I think, just gradually work its way into our heads as the evidence grows.

– – – – – –

The drawing is mine.

NASA to send unconscious astronauts to Mars

Posted by on Tuesday, 14 October, 2014
Sleeping to Mars




NASA needs a refresher course in being human. Its latest idea is just too “cold”.

One of NASA’s contractors, Spaceworks Engineering, has proposed turning Astronauts into popsicles. The plan would keep Astronauts on a Mars mission “on ice” – hypothermia – to conserve supplies and to shrink the size of the spaceship. The unconscious astronauts would be fed intravenously and maintained by medical equipment.  Like in sci fi movies, they would be in “hibernation”. Doctors have been doing similar stuff for heart attacks and head injuries. Believe it or not, it works well.

If it works for heart attacks, why not for astronauts?


First some background.

Up till now, “manned” space trips have consisted of stiff legging it around the moon or orbiting in space hardware like the space station. The planets were considered out of reach to humans.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad never had a problem with the way things were. We’ve sent all kinds of “probes” to the planets. And we’ve explored the heck out of Mars while humans stayed mostly in earth orbit. There have been some deaths and injuries in our space program but we’ve done a lot of science without many casualties. Now there’s a big push to get humans out to Mars to “fulfill our destiny”.

This isn’t because people are a better deal then robots .

They’re not.

It’s much more expensive and much riskier to send people. Radiation is intense out there -really intense. A space ship big enough to carry people and supplies and provide some radiation shielding for such a long trip would be hard to create. Sending humans on a long journey makes everything more complicated.

For a while, I wasn’t worried. Let them lobby Congress about getting humans to Mars, I thought. Let’s face it, Congress will never bite. What’s bad about the “frozen astronaut” idea is that, with the lower costs, Congress might actually fall for the idea.



Look, it is is true that doctors have been succesfully cooling people who might die otherwise. It’s risky but it’s worth it. It takes a while to recover from a heart attack, or a busted head. Slowing things down by cooling the patient gives the body a chance to catch up with the healing process.

Astronauts aren’t dying though. The only thing wrong with their heads is that they take crazy risks. They’re in great shape. Keeping them chilled, asleep, and on intravenous lines for that long is dangerous. All kinds of bad things can happen to their hearts, their lungs, their circulatory systems, etc.  Induced hypothermia is okay in a medical crisis.  But it is not okay in the name of smaller, cheaper space ships.

We’ve been getting good science done on Mars with our rovers. And Robots will only get better – if we don’t use up too much robot money tossing men and women at the problem.

An analysis of the space shuttle indicated that 99 out a hundred flights would succeed. The one in a hundred that would fail? Believe me. You don’t want to know!

The shuttle was  just a space taxi. It was a complicated mess but making a shuttle is nothing compared to making a Mars mission. It’s too early to say what the “risk analysis” would be for a Mars mission but there’s nothing about traveling a zillion miles through intense radiation, relying on fragile systems to protect you for months and maybe years, that sounds safe. Nobody has explained how we would safely reduce levels of radiation to anything near acceptable. And do you know a bookie who would like the odds for surviving the trip and landing safely?

If they do get there, they will have absorbed way too many “rads”. They would still look like astronauts but inside that space gear would be people who were actually nasty medical experiments plunging into the abyss.

Irresponsible? You said it!

I’m not picking on NASA.  Well –  maybe I am – but, mainly,  I’m just pointing out that we should resist the irrational urge to “head for the stars”. It would be cool to see people in space suits up there (if they weren’t wretching and dying, of course) but robots are safer, cheaper, and better.

– – – – –

The drawing is mine.

The “Welcome to Earth” generation calls it quits

Posted by on Thursday, 28 August, 2014
A generation without aliens

The “No Aliens” Problem


Aliens were somewhere. Not  on the moon but probably Mars.

Maybe Jupiter and Saturn too.

Astounding Science Fiction wasn’t the greatest place to get your science but in high school, we relied on it. Astounding told us about the caves that aliens lived in,  the mean things they did,  and the methods of transport they would use to land on Earth.

Myself,  I was very pro alien. I had high confidence that they weren’t going to eat us. And –  more important – that they wouldn’t get all the girls.

By college,  Earth was still alien free. I had Dr. Medicus for physics. Aliens were the least of my worries.

Ten years later,  there was still nothing .This was a surprise. Not a single visit from a single planet. The first American had landed on the moon but no extraterrestrials had returned the favor. We were headed for space but space wasn’t headed for us.

By now, we were launching probes to the planets. The more we saw of the planets, the more obvious it was that there weren’t any cities up there. Venus was hot and shrouded in vaporous clouds of sulphuric acid. Mars was colder than Antarctica and its surface was full of craters. And Saturn was gaseous with rings of rocks and ice.

Scientists were fascinated, of course.

Me?  I couldn’t BELIEVE it! Where were the damn cities? Alien life wasn’t as common as my generation had thought it would be or as Astounding Science Fiction had (more-or-less) promised.

For quite some time – since 1960 – radio astronomers on earth have been looking for signals. By 1977, we thought we might have heard from our first alien. That signal is now called the “WOW” signal because of the exclamation scribbled across the stripchart.

We never heard it again nor have we received any other credible signals since. If we do hope to find some form of intelligence, we are going to have to look harder. And further.


In the late 80s, we learned about “exoplanets.” An exoplanet was a planet that was going around some star other than our own sun; maybe we would find evidence of life by analyzing the atmosphere of an exoplanet. The first of these things was discovered in 1988 circling Gamma Cephei. We have found hundreds of them by now. They’re very common. There are hundreds of billions in our galaxy. Many, many trillions across the universe.

If you’re a fan of aliens, this makes you happy.


I am in my seventies. I have spent almost an entire lifetime waiting. Nothing has turned up and I don’t think anything will.  The horrible fact? We are completely alone in the solar system and aren’t hearing from anybody in the “neighborhood”.

Will we ever find life?

Some day we will find microbes . The hunt for “bugs” is more intense than ever but, as far as locating our “co-equals” out there is concerned?  We really haven’t heard from any other technical civilizations. Not when I was a kid. Not when I was an adolescent. And not during my ridiculously long life.

Not one.

If there are alien civilizations, radio isn’t a handy way to prove it. The nearest “civs” are probably too far away for radio round trips. It takes too long to get an answer back and the signals would probably be hopelessly drowned out by noise.

Want more?

It seems the “broadcasting era” is a short one for a technical civilization. We’ve been switching to buried optical fiber cables. The “other guys” would have done the same things too after a very short time so there are b-i-g problems capturing a signal that’s probably not even “out there”.

No signal, no contact.

Even more?

Even if, by some miracle of cosmology, we did get ourselves a signal, many experts say we would “never in a million years” be able to extract the meaning. This is because of the problems of how the signal would have been modulated, because of digitization schemes, and, of course, figuring out a (very) foreign language from a (very) foreign culture.

Here’s what it comes down to. For my generation, big eyed aliens are off the menu. If they’re out there, they’re way out there.

They might as well not exist all.

There won’t be any warm embraces with un-Earthians. No White House tours. No revelation of the wisdom of the ages.

Maybe bugs though.

Is this fair?

Doesn’t my generation deserve better?

I think so.

On behalf of my generation, this is MISTER ScienceAintSoBad bidding goodbye to the aliens who never showed up.

– – – – – –

The drawing is mine.



Posted by on Saturday, 5 October, 2013

Round trip to Mars


The United States is under pressure from Congress to to reduce costs wherever it can. Can we really afford a project to send humans to Mars? Is the payback worth the expense and the risk?

Lawrence Klauss is a  physicist from the University of Arizona. He’s great at the lecturn. I like to watch him debate.  He’s smart and funny. For some time now, he’s been pushing the idea of humans on mars. To get around the main objections (cost and risk) he says make the trip to Mars one-way. In an interview on NPR’s “Science Friday”, Klauss  discussed robots to assist human settlers. He said that robots will keep getting better and, by the time we are ready for a manned trip, they may be almost as good as the human astronauts.

So that’s what we should do, right? Send robots?

Well no. Instead of reaching the “obvious” conclusion, Klaus  feels Mars needs a human space colony.  Making it a one way trip would lower the overall cost of the project and the space ship could use less shielding against potentially deadly radiation since the total exposure to the passengers would be cut in half. Lawrence Klauss’ idea now has an organization behind it. The Mars One Project which has the goal of putting humans on Mars by 2023.

 ScienceAin’tSoBad respectfully doesn’t get it.

I don’t want to sound like a broken blog, but the idea of sending humans to Mars keeps coming up and I keep saying forget it. The idea is ridiculous! What about the unbelievable ethical implications of exposing a crew to HALF of a fatal dose of radiation? After the first joy-filled months will some of them get sick and die? How would you feel if that happened? Would the colonists that survive have kids? With two severely radiated parents, can you imagine what the first native Martians would look like?

The Mars colony idea is probably too expensive for congress. But what if it were to fund it? Would that justify putting people at such risk? Shouldn’t our focus be on building great robots that may someday  enjoy  watching the sun set over the earth?

Let’s go to Mars. But let’s go vicariously.

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The image is by me.


A New Space Craft: A Few Laptops To Do The Work Of “Mission Control”

Posted by on Sunday, 15 September, 2013



A few days ago, I wrote about a brainier dune buggy . It does a lot of the work that ground based scientists used to do.

Today I’ve got another one. A smarter rocket ship.

Why have a room full of humans  hunched over computers to control a space launch? Isn’t that from another era? If a dune buggy can be made smarter,  why not a space vehicle?


A rocket  should be able to do its own  instrument checks  asking for a “consult” only when necessary.

The Japanese  Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) read my mind. A few days ago, it launched a 3 stage rocket and, according to Science Recorder (Ellen Miller), the whole thing was controlled with just two  laptops. The rocket handled the nitty gritty, allowing the human controllers to concentrate on higher order decisions.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad was impressed.

Meanwhile, NASA’s beaming about its new “21st Century Control Center”.  It has replaced those bulky old workstations with newer “cleaner” computers But, you know what? I think NASA should have a look at what its Japanese counterpart is doing.  NASA launches more and bigger vehicles but isn’t this the direction that it should be headed?

What do you think?

– – – – – –

Drawing by me



Posted by on Saturday, 3 August, 2013
Balloons for Google



I mentioned (last post) that Google defies gravity. Its latest gravity defying stunt, Project Loon, is cool, cool, cool.


I said.. what was it? – flip,  flip,  flip – here it is –  I said Google would disappoint you just like all the others. Nobody pumps out miracles forever. Google will crush your hopes. Again and again. Because Google is uninhibited when it is in creative mode. It doesn’t give a fig what you think. Nor does it care if it gets egg goo on its face either. It’s looking into the far future, something that twitchy investors don’t like much. And over that dark horizon there are some real wonders. One of them: Google’s Project Loon.

(That’s an n on the end. Project Loo was discontinued.  Image problems. This is Loon as in balloon. Okay?)

Where was I?

Google’s boundless ambitions to connect to every mud hut on the planet had hit a wall. There’s no Internet service in MudHutVille and not much hope of it any time soon. No fiber,  no copper,  no satellites,  no money to buy same.  No Google,  no Android,  no Adwords,  no Chromebooks.

What to do?


With enough balloons and a lot of google-ish ingenuity, thought Google,  maybe the Internet could reach all over the world without rockets and satellites .

Less, anyway

A  simple villager freaks out

How would this work?

That’s the elegant part. Google was looking for a way to get up there without all the muss and fuss of booster engines, without the ear splitting noise,  and without dumping the CO2 equivalent of 43 Detroits into the atmosphere. Google’s “Loons” are delicate, light, whispy things; they drift quietly through the air and are steered by rising or descending into prevailing air currents which do the pushing. Of course, balloons don’t get nearly as high as satellites. But with enough of them in the right locations, they can form a big network and do the job, can’t they?

Maybe. But this is an iffy proposition. Balloons can fail,  prevailing winds sometimes don’t blow right,  electronics packages go flooey. Lots can go wrong.  This atmospheric dance of the balloons would have to be able to compensate for all kinds of screw ups with extras of everything which can be deployed just as needed.  Still with Google’s great  experience running its many Internet “properties”, wouldn’t it be a  logical choice to pull this off?

The project is in a very early stage right now. Google will take its time  and try to make sure that whatever system it creates will work as well as its other fine efforts. There’s no guarantee that the project will ultimately succeed though MISTER ScienceAintSoBad thinks it has a great chance of doing so.

If  you live in a mud hut,  sweep the floor and figure out where to put your sit down log. You’ll be surfing before you know it.


– – – – – – – – – –

 Image creds:  The first image is from a video Google posted online. The second one – the line drawing – that’s by me (copyright 2013, D Chidakel)


Posted by on Wednesday, 9 November, 2011




Remember how Doctor Spock and Captain Kirk, in the Enterprise, were always running into alien life forms? I don’t believe they ever explained, exactly, how the plug uglies they encountered happened to be up there (or maybe I missed that episode). Did they evolve from monkeys just as we did? Very homely ones? Were their planets colonized by refugees from Earth who, under the constant bombardment of gamma rays on Alpha Four, began to look like they had a case of bad stage makup?

Maybe there’s another explanation for how alien civilizations get their start. Two researchers at the University of Hong Kong say the “building blocks of life” are everywhere, waiting for the deft touch of nature (or, if you prefer,the finger of God) to turn them into living cells.

They (the researchers) say stars make a petroleum like substance which is full of complex organic molecules. Aromatic rings, even. This  “Star Goo”, eventually, spreads throughout space.

The last time we watched life get started – um that would be the first time too – it happened in the wink of an eye. A cosmic eye, anyway. Since we know there are lots of planets and lots of water out there and, now,  thanks to Kwok and Yong Zhang , we know that every star in every galaxy contains  an E Z STARTER KIT FOR LIFE , it’s a good bet that there are plenty of living creatures to be found.


Doesn’t that just suck?  Living creatures inhabiting biological niches throughout this busy universe, and, yet, we continue our lonely existence with no practical way to know who or what is out there? Life everywhere but “not a single drop to drink”?

As it were.

For a while, the SETI Project seemed like it might come up with something but it’s beginning to dawn on some that we’re probably barking up the wrong antenna. Our own civilization sends out very few stray radio waves anymore.  More underground cables. Less antennas. If it’s like that, upstairs, this is bad news for SETI.

Sad, I suppose, although, maybe it’s good for us to figure things out on our own. And, maybe, we’re better off without yet another higher power. Heaven KNOWS we’re having enough problems with the lower ones.

Get this though. There may BE a way to sniff out another civilization. Wouldn’t aliens, independently, come up with the idea of artificial light? Just like we did? It makes sense.   Abraham Loeb and Edwin Turner think so. Loeb (Harvard) and Turner (Princeton) feel that a well lit alien city could be detected with a sensitive telescope. It would have to be  more sensitive than anything we have now but, with the right filters, a new generation of telescopes might do the trick.

At least, that’s the theory.


Image by Mister SASB


Posted by on Thursday, 22 September, 2011


Maybe you hate Google.

Some do.

But you gotta admit, the big G is creative. Ideas fly out of Google  faster than films out of Bollywood – Picasa, YouTube, Maps, Panoramio, Android, Earth, Bookmarks.. Always something new.

How long can creativity like that last?

Well, recently, Google announced that it is trying to be  more focused. The  workers were having too much fun. Too much fun is never good. It annoys the investors. Hence, going forward, there’ll be no more throwing piglets at walls to see what sticks. According to Larry Page, there will be “more wood, less arrows”. (Larry’s the CEO and gets paid to maintain order). To get the wood properly aligned with the arrows, Google flipped through its multitudinous projects  to see what could go. Some projects were closed down, some remained. And some got combined. Just  in case the “we’re serious dudes now” message wasn’t clear, Google Labs, itself, got the ax.

Is creativity finally wrung out of Google’s guts? The time  spent on “go crazy” projects  (which used to be 20% of the work week) has been reduced to .. Well.. 20%. No change at all. So I guess creativity isn’t eggzactly a thing of the past. Just reducing the arrows is all. This, supposedly, keeps “The Street” happy.

One  project that was killed  is aardvark. Which you probably never heard of. It works like this.

Say you finally dumped the Subaru.

“Google,” you say, ” I finally sold my 1995 Subaru. What do I do now?”

Good question. I’m  on this.

I’m thinking “Subaru. This person probably shops at Whole Foods, wears natural fabrics, and wishes the Tea Party would drop dead!  He.she  should probably be looking at a Prius. Or a Mini.”

Well, dear reader,  aren’t I smart! In fact, I’m smarter then Google’s famous search engine which would choke on that question. And WHY am I so smart? Because I got DNA in me. I’m a human. Maybe Google Search will be that smart some day.

Don’t be a breath holder.

Well, a while ago,  Google Labs (rest in peace) realizing the problems of  “natural language” ,  decided to  waste an arrow. Maybe Google could come up with a way to get humans in the loop for certain questions.



The idea with aardvark was to “social up”. Users get to check off particular areas of knowledge. They become volunteer experts. They become the blood and bones of the animal.

As it were.

Mister ScienceAintSoBad (in his human guise) was such a user. He claimed to know about science.

Questions began to show up. Most were dopey.

As someone who works almost every day, is to stay in shape with little time? 

Sounds like a fortune cookie, doesn’t it? He was probably looking for an efficient way to exercise. No WONDER it came to me. Probably because I checked off physics.

Another on-target question:  What is the best way to tell my girlfriend I love her in every-way possible, and I don’t think she is annoying or anything she says bad about herself. 

Whatever! I don’t consider myself an expert on this subject. If I were qualified to give advice on romance, would I wear these thick glasses and dress funny? Anyway, his syntax is off. If English is his second language, I’m impressed. If it’s his first one, he needs a new dictionary.

I’m looking for a excel spreadsheet app for ipad 2 that can use imported email documents that are excel spreadsheets already from a computer.

Okay, bubs. That’s legit, I guess. But kinda lazy. Ever hear of the App Store?

And here’s a guy who really doesn’t “get” natural selection: While some species ascend high in the atmosphere it seems as if birds do not fly too high for their safety. Do they, and if not how to they know what are safe altitudes for them? Why does say a magpie not have a go at flying up to geese migration heights?

That same day I received: How can you use only two fours to equal 4? Well, I passed on that one. Too deep for me. Maybe, the submitter isn’t originally from this solar system.

I also asked aardvark some questions of my own. I wanted to know if the minuscule vibrating strings that string theory’s based on can run out of gas. In other words, are they subject to the second law of thermodynamics?

In string theory, all “particles” are comprised of vibrating strings. The associated energy and mode of vibration of the string determines which specific particle the string will be. My question: does the energy of the vibrating strings decay over time? Do the laws of thermodynamics (entropy, in particular) apply at this level?

I got this response:

Well, I’m no expert, so feel free to restate the question when the answer is unsatisfactory. I believe a string will change its energy and mode only when it comes into contact with another string. This would be the same for conventional objects, except that the objects around us come into contact with other object all of the time, hence the decay in vibration energy.

He’s “no expert” but he BELIEVES that a string.. Always good to have someone share his opinions, I guess. I did wonder why he didn’t let the question pass  to someone who KNEW the answer. But I was polite.

I thanked him.

I believe you are right though that’s what I hope to confirm. You refer to “conventional” objects. I assume you meant things that are, by convention, particles in the Standard Model (quarks et al).

Goes out on a limb:

No, they don’t apply at that level.

As I suspected but I was hoping for a bit more explanation. I thank him politely and ask why.

Sorry, I can’t help with more explanation

Can’t tell me with why. I don’t like this. If you know what yer talkin’ about, you can defend yer answer, right?

Just to clarify. You’re saying you know that the rules of thermodynamics don’t apply at that level but you don’t know why? If you don’t know why, may I (respectfully) ask why you’re so sure of the answer?

He, bravely, goes another round.

Thermodynamics is about macroscopic variables. String theory is about particle physics. I’m sorry if this doesn’t help and hope someone else can give you a satisfactory answer.

This is nonsensical (but it didn’t fool you, did it?)  Anyway, I knew there wasn’t any more juice to be extracted. In the interest of civility, I was probably hypocritical:

In fact, that confirms my own understanding. Sorry to be pushy but I couldn’t tell from your very brief statement if you were just “playing” at aardvark as, unfortunately some do. I’m not sure what motivates people to do things like that (pretend to know when they do not) but it forces you to make a judgement about whether a responder is reasonably knowledgeable. Actually, you seem at about my own scientific level and I appreciate your thoughts on this.

I suspect that what’s going on at the string level is that a string is, in essence, a quantum of energy. Without an additional energy transaction, it is eternal. Maybe I will hear from a physicist who knows.

Later that month I tried to clear up my understanding of the way that separate particles get tangled up with each other over vast distances.

Does quantum entanglement transmit information faster than the speed of light (virtually instantaneous)? Some things I’ve read say that useful information can’t be sent this way. Others seem to suggest that this is an open question.

My answer came back:

Depends on your interpretation of “transmits information”. Unmeasurable things, such as a quantum state and phase, change instantly. But measurable things, things that are within the reach of experiments, cannot be used to transport information faster than light. Quantum physics has this loophole that some physical quantities are unmeasurable, out of reach for any kind of detection. That’s why Quantum theory can play this trick on us: a physical measure changes faster than light, but not a measurable one.

Thanks, Dan, for a knowledgeable and understandable answer. ( Not your fault that quantum mechanics is so damn nuts!)

I knew we were looking for radio signals from “ETs”. I wondered how far are we looking?

SEARCH FOR EXTRATERESTRIAL LIFE: I realize that the SETI program, itself, is currently mothballed, but I’m curious about something. What are the realistic distance limitations on this kind of radio search before noise is likely to overcome even a strong signal? Are their expectations of being able to identify (not translate, just identify) an intelligent signal beyond, say, 1000 light years? Further?

The answer arrived:

ask Carl Sagan

According to Brian Greene (and others), strings are under great tension but are not necessarily anchored at the ends. What force, then, balances this tension?

I don’t know, but sometimes he himself answers this kind of questions on his facebook page:

on: his personal fb page announcements can be found when he is answering questions (he is very kind)

I admit I got a little testy. For heaven’s SAKE!

If you don’t know, don’t answer. OK?

If you don’t know the answer, don’t respond, OK?

He got testy back and raised me one:

Did you know that you can ask him questions by yourself? What is YOUR problem to talk with me like this? NOT OK! WTF?! You could ignore my ! ANSWER. AND, DO NOT SCREAM AT ME, OK? Keep in mind when you do not know an answer, it’s important to know, who knows it. Thank you.

I gave you a direct link to one of the people who definitely will be able to answer you. Even much more trustworthy then me.

Who could answer your questions better then one of the scientists, who invented all that theories? You make me angry!


no, not you make me angry, not even know you, sorry David.

Rage management, anyone?

My last exchange was with someone who asked:

What are some must-have android apps?

I said:

This one is easy to figure out with Google search. No need for aardvark, really. Lots of articles about “favorite” or “best” or “must have” apps. However, these lists probably tell you more about the writer than anything else. “Must haves” really depend on you and your lifestyle/work style. They also depend on your phone since not all apps work on all version of Android. 

As far as I am concerned, I like to set the home screen on the computers I use to “iGoogle” and then add “gadgets” for Google “tasks” “calendar”, “finance” (stock portfolio), and Google documents. Then, on the phone I set up corresponding apps. This way, all my “stuff” gets synced to all my computers/phones. Other apps I rely on are the kindle ereader app (small, of course, but always with me), note everything, and spreadsheet. Of course, “Navigator”, Google’s GPS system is terrific. Comes with my phone. Yours too, probably.

He already knew:

Ha ha I know. I asked this because I wanted to know how aardvark worked.

Thanks for the ride, aardvark. It’s been real.

Credit for the above image to Abraham Williams and Flickr Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.


Posted by on Wednesday, 10 November, 2010



Got a letter from one of my fans.

MisterScienceAintSoBad, you wrote that the manned space program is “stupid”. I think YOU’RE stupid.  – GottaBeHonest41

OK for you, GottaBe. I appreciate your candor. I guess I have been kinda rough on the manned space program. Quoting myself, quoting myself, I did say (talking about a Mars mission):

I don’t want to sound like a broken blog, but this isn’t the first time I’ve discussed the expensive conceit of sending humans to Mars. Quoting myself, “Throughout NASA’s history, there’s been considerable tension between those who believe in the symbolic importance of getting our human butts out there and those who feel that the astronomical (good word here) costs and barely manageable risks aren’t justified when robots are proving themselves so capable.”

You’re not gonna like this much, GottaBe, but  Sara Yin describes (PC Magazine)  a 1000 day project to send an astronaut-like mechanical gizmo to the moon, inspired by the practical reality that we can’t AFFORD to send humans up there during an economic recovery that most people seem to think is still a recession.

Don’t get me started.

In the past, the human or “manned” program had two things going for it:

1. No other choice since, at the time,  robots weren’t good enough.

2. Very dramatic since death always lurked round the corner.

Kept up the public’s interest, it did. A good thing since politicians could leverage the heroics of astronauts to win more public funding for pet space projects. But not much money in the pot these days and new missions are even more dangerous and problematic. Is it even possible to survive a Mars trip? Politicians are being forced to act (relatively) rational. Skip the heroics. You wanna do space? Here’s what I got. What can you do with it, pal?

NASA, it seems, got the message and it’s up with the hardware, down with the fleshware (hence NASA’s humanoid robot). The robot they came up with looks like a spaceman.spacewoman. A dead ringer for a person that’ll be able to use tools designed for human hands.



So. MisterScienceAintSoBad says we should give the robot a name and enough personality for the public to identify with. Big doe eyes too, okay?

I guess I AM kinda pleased to read that NASA has decided to send a robot to the moon all dressed up like an astronaut. There’re about 76 good reasons to do space explorations with robots instead of people at this point.  It’s cheaper, it’s safer, and it advances the art of robotics.

Must be 73 more.

ScienceAintSoBadRating for robotic space missions in lieu of human ones? Why a 10. Of course.

Drawing credit:

By Walké (Image crée à partir de Image:Bote Boas Vindas2.png) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons