The First Comet Landing

One of the most interesting and informative TED talks I’ve seen in awhile, Fred Jansen, the manager of the Rosetta mission shows that landing on a comet is as easy as rocket science. Events like this push our limits by uniting individuals of all scientific communities together in an effort to discover the major breakthroughs of modern day science. The Philae lander of the Rosetta mission landed on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November of 2014. The level of science and technology that went into calculating this landing is truly an enormous feat. Said best by Jansen himself, “We had to know the velocity of Rosetta much better than one centimeter per second, and its location in space better than 100 meters at 500 million kilometers from earth.”

So what was the significance of all this? Why did the scientists of the Rosetta mission all come together just to land this lander on some comet in space? The answer lies in a theory behind the creation of the galaxy and Earth itself. Based off of measurements collected from Halley’s comet and Comet Hyakutake, there is evidence behind the theory that comets brought water and organic material to Earth during the early days of the galaxy. If this is actually the case, then studying the composition of a relatively younger comet can give very important information on the scientific history of the universe.

Above is the sound of the first ever comet landing. Philae was equipped with all the instruments possible in order to extract as much scientific information as we can comprehend currently. According to sources from space.com Philae has discovered organic material on this comet which gives further evidence for the theory behind comets contributing the earliest sources of life to Earth.

If this is truly the case then the implications for this are huge. Further scientific research and discovery in terms of comets are absolutely boundless. This gives more grounds for understanding the possibility for extraterrestrial life as well as other homes for humans. While we are awaiting more information to come from Philae as it is logging back on to its servers, this feat really is as amazing as it sounds and the opportunities it provides in the future are countless.

67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko Photo taken by Rosetta Mission before landing.

What does all this have to do with the African Cosmos? Below is a photo an old African stamp that depicts Halley’s comet passing through the sky.

Old stamp collected from Malawi. Matthew V. Cassetta. 2012.
Old stamp collected from Malawi. Matthew V. Cassetta. 2012.

This shows that cultural African astronomy has seen and understand the presence of comets. It is even more important that they realized that Halley’s comet was important enough to feature on a postal stamp. It is left for us to wonder what sorts of explanations and tales that were inspired by the sight of Halley’s comet which passed about every 75 years. Now that we actually have data and information because we have landed on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, it would be interesting to compare what we know and what the cultural astronomers of Africa believed.

Sources:

Burtnyk, Kimberly M. “Did Comets Bring Water to Earth? | EarthSky.org.” EarthSky. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Cassetta, Matthew V. “Cosmos Diary.” Cosmos Diary. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

Kramer, Miriam. “Philae Lander Sniffed Out Organics in Cometu0027s Atmosphere | Space.com.” Space. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Mack, Eric. “Hear the Sound of the First Comet Landing – CNET.” CNET. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Phillips, Tony, Dr. “How to Land on a Comet – NASA Science.” How to Land on a Comet – NASA Science. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Advertisements

The Big Bang Theory Truly Is Just a Theory

A scientific theory holds that it is an explanation of some aspect of the physical world through repeated testing and evidence, until that evidence is proven wrong. The theory which aims to explain the creation of the universe, just might suggest that there is a fault in the evidence behind the Big Bang. A new model which combines quantum physics with Einstein’s theory of general relativity suggest that maybe the universe actually had no start. This would change the way that science views what was once thought to be a 13.8 billion year old universe proposed by the Big Bang theory. Below is an image of an artist from NASA’s reproduction of the expansion of the universe under the assumption of the Big Bang theory.

http://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html. Lisa Zyga. Credit: NASA
http://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html. Lisa Zyga. Credit: NASA

However, why is this new model even being considered to replace what we think we know about the Big Bang? Many supporters of the theory would claim to argue that scientists have proven that they can see the singularity of the Big Bang if the look at the light traveling in the universe. Thus, if we can see it, shouldn’t it be true? Evidence from the new quantum model suggest that maybe our eyes can mislead us. Up until recently the evidence for the Big Bang has been strong. That is, until scientists try to explain the actual singularity.

According to Ahmed Farag Ali at Benha University and the Zewail City of Science and Technology, “The Big Bang singularity is the most serious problem of general relativity because the laws of physics appear to break down there,”
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html#jCp

Not only does the new model explain this problem better, but quantum mechanics also seem to explain other puzzling phenomena such as dark matter/energy and Hubble’s Law.

This post is meant for us to question the constant regeneration and disposal of knowledge. What we once thought to be true has time and time shown that there is still much to learn about the universe. Even theories we once thought were irrefutable run into obstacles. However, as a community so based in science, we should celebrate these new discoveries. My question is that why has news of this not spread more widely? The Big Bang theory is one which would shock the world if evidence came to disprove it. If it is the case that there is actually a new explanation behind the beginning of the universe, this could be as monumental a revolution as when humans realized the Earth was not flat.

Technological Advancements in Kenya

As one of the countries in what is is commonly seen as the most underdeveloped continent as a result of its image in international media, Kenya shows promise with its recent advancements in technology and challenge this negative stereotype. According to sources, a Kenyan renewable energy firm called SteamaCo has begun a solar microgrid project to provide dependable power to an outpost beyond the reach of power lines called Entasopia. Although Entasopia only has about 4,000 residents, SteamaCo’s project is an optimistic and groundbreaking advancement that is changing the icon of Africa. Below is an image of the concept of a microgrid project and its impact on a community.

Source:  US DOE, October 2011
Source: US DOE, October 2011

The use of renewable energy is currently trying to be adopted by the rest of the world but it seems like Kenya has begun doing the same. According to SteamaCo’s website they currently have 23 microgrids operating in Nepal and Tanzania.

Not only has the use of renewable energy found its place in Kenya, but SteamaCo has linked customers’ phone numbers with their local power hub, allowing for residents to prepay for electricity with their phones. Seeing that 95% of Kenya uses mobile phones, this solves much of the problem for much of the country’s energy crisis.

This project contradicts the stigma of Africa in the international spotlight which is one of the main focuses of the African Cosmos Stellar Arts exhibit. Whereas the arts exhibition aims to show the rich historical knowledge of the different cultures of Africa, the renewable energy project is a symbol of Kenya’s current technological status. Furthermore it goes to show that there is still a large amount of diversity present in the large continent of Africa. From those enjoying power by mobile devices to the others who have close to no personal possessions, this is an area full of potential and growth.

Sources:

http://steama.co/

Nicholson, Chris. “An Oasis of Connectivity in Rural Kenya.” The New York Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 15.

Waruru, Maina. “Microgrids and Mobile Tech Bring Solar Power to Rural Kenya.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Earth’s “New Moon”

Arguably the single most well known celestial object in the universe by us humans is the moon. But which one? Growing up, we all learn that Earth has a single moon that orbits us every day. However, a moon is simply defined as a natural satellite that orbits Earth. Much to my surprise, it turns out that Earth has more than one natural satellite. Introducing Cruithne, our second moon.

Frames from the GIF were acquired from the GFDL-licensed Celestia program in the form of screen shots. Screen captures were converted into an animated GIF using GraphicConverter’s batch edit feature by Jecowa.

Although no bigger than a few kilometers wide, there is no doubt that this asteroid currently orbits the Earth. What makes this moon so different from the moon we all thought we knew is its unique orbital pattern. Cruithne’s orbit is an interesting “horseshoe” shape. This same shape is also seen with many of Saturn’s moons. This asteroid/moon makes an ellipse around Earth at about 364 days per cycle; almost the exact same time it takes the Earth to orbit around the Sun. The video below gives more insight towards the dimensions of Cruithne’s orbit around Earth.

Scientific advancements like this change what we used to know into what we now. This discovery begs many other questions that can be further explored. How many other natural satellites are currently orbiting Earth that we do not know about? Surely, with greater technological and scientific advancements, we will find out a number of new things about the universe around us. Furthermore, if it took us this long to find out about something so close to us, and the universe is so expansive, how can we even begin to interpret what is out there? These are all questions that seem impossible to answer right now, but keep in mind that there was also a time when it was “impossible” for Earth to have two moons.

Although the African cultural astronomers obviously did not know about Earth’s second moon, they believed in the idea of lunar enlightenment. For example, in Luba culture the moon plays a large role in the way ceremonies and spirituality is viewed. Not only are twins considered “children of the moon” – ironic because now we have two moons – but white pigment is added onto their faces during ceremonies to symbolize moonlight.

Female figure Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo Mid- to late 19th century Wood, quartz Felix collection
Female figure
Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mid- to late 19th century
Wood, quartz
Felix collection

The piece included in the exhibit indicates a woman with a quartz crystal embedded in her crown. The quartz captures and reflects the moonlight which is associated closely with the divination and enlightenment during dreams. It is interesting to think about the difference it would have made on Tabwa and Luba culture had they known that we had two moons. Surely, the tales and beliefs would be different, but perhaps understanding the natural satellites of Earth would hold a deeper meaning in their cultures that outsiders can not truly understand.

Source:

Forgan, Duncan. “The ‘Second Moon’ You Didn’t Know Earth Had – The Crux.” The Crux. N.p., 02 Mar. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Jacoo vs. Neustetter

While completing work with Spotify shuffle on, I came across the song above entitled “Aurora” by Jacoo. As the song continued it began to remind me of the work created by South African artist Marcus Neustetter, commonly known in the African Cosmos for his work entitled “Chasing Light” in which he projected the sounds of the aurora borealis as a piece of art through shining lasers through vibrated water. The picture is as follows:

Marcus Neustetter b. 1976, South Africa Chasing Light 2010 Digital projection

For most people, it does not seem that there is a clear connection between this song and Neustetter’s work other than the word “aurora” in the title;  however, it soon hit me that both Neustetter and Jacoo have similar goals in creating this art.

Neustetter takes a more scientific approach by using the sound waves generated by the actual aurora borealis in order to project in a sense what he visualized the Northern Lights to be in his own perception.

It seems that Jacoo had the same objective in his mind, except he wanted to give his audience more space for imagination. Through this song, Jacoo has projected his perception of the aurora as this song that audience listen too. By listening to the song, Jacoo is trying to give the audience the stimulation of his own product in order for them to be able to visualize their own individual perceptions of the aurora borealis.

Whereas Neustetter  has tried to portray the aurora visually, Jacoo has done the same through sound. Although appealing to different senses, the significance of the art is similar. That being said, Neustetter’s piece is also accompanied by the sound which he captured when he couldn’t see the lights. In a sense, the sounds that Neustetter captured are what the northern lights literally “sound” like in strictly scientific terms. However, it is interesting to compare this scientific sound with the interpretation that Jacoo provides with his creative interpretation.

An interesting idea to pursue from this post would be to match the video captured by Neustetter to the soundtrack of this song and see how the two overlap and how they are able to complement each other.

Advancing The World By Studying Nigeria’s Past

A typical ancient wall painting in southeastern Nigeria, which portrays astronomical information. Photo: Johnson Urama

As a fan of TED talks, I recently came across an interesting and relevant topic about Nigerian astronomer Johnson Urama. He argues that African cultural astronomy has been passed down vocally for many generations, and can have great value to its contributions to science. The picture above is described by Urama as: “A typical ancient wall painting in southeastern Nigeria, which portrays astronomical information.”

This is very interesting because of its direct ties to the African Cosmos. To me this is a unique approach because it is one of the very few times that science can be extrapolated from art. I compared this to Karel Nel’s work, The Collapse of Time, that is shown in the African Cosmos exhibition.

Karel Nel The Collapse of Time, 2008 Sprayed pigment & chalk on bonded fibre fabric
Karel Nel
The Collapse of Time, 2008
Sprayed pigment & chalk on bonded fibre fabric

This work exemplifies how science and art go hand in hand in understanding the significance of the piece. For example, in order for these works to be created, science had to have been discovered and contributed for the the artwork to made, as well as understood for the artwork to be understood and interpreted. Also, it is important that Urama claimed that this was a “typical” painting. This shows that the African cultural astronomy knowledge is deep and widespread. Furthermore, it has a lasting impact on understanding African cultural.

As part of Urama’s knowledge, he believes it is his duty to gather the verbal knowledge that has been passed down throughout generations in order for him to incorporate them into Western astronomy. He furthermore urges others to come to Africa to study its indigenous knowledge. Urama concludes that there are over 200 ethnic groups in Nigeria alone, and each contain their unique contributions to astronomy. In other words, the indigenous groups of Africa are a gold mine of astronomical information that is simply unknown by the rest of the world.

Sources:

Eng, Karen. “The Moon’s Path Is Full of Thorns: Fellows Friday with Johnson Urama.” TED Blog The Moons Path Is Full of Thorns Fellows Friday with JohnsonUrama Comments. N.p., 01 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

Personal Perceptions of Astronomy and African Astronomy

Image credit: NASA
Image credit: NASA

Some of the earliest thoughts that I can remember extend back to my questions about space and what lies beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Ever since learning the existence of space I have always struggled with the concept that universe cannot be contained but yet still continuously expands into something else that we can not even observe. In my opinion, the ideas behind astronomy such as the big bang theory required an aspect of human creativity to discover and comprehend.

As a student, I have primarily focused on the three major physical sciences growing up, which definitely adds to my bias when studying the African Cosmos. That being said, I do believe that most theories, science cannot explain all aspects of the universe. After all, science itself is based on the principal of the “scientific theory” which implies the idea of a continual growth and change of information based off of new discoveries. For example, we can examine the contradiction which arises between classic Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics. Widely accepted, Newtonian physics has been the foundation of many aspects of modern day science. A bit more recently, research in quantum mechanics have also proven to answer many of the questions we were previously unable to comprehend. When looking at the universe, both theories can be used to explain certain phenomena; however, the calculations of these different theories can come to contradict each other. One of the purposes of this blog will be to highlight these contradictions with the new discoveries made in modern day scientific advancements.

As far as actual knowledge in astronomy, it is the least known topic that I have in science. I believe that learning from such a basic level as well as comparing my knowledge to what African cultural astronomy believed will help enhance the link between the creative liberal arts and the scientific side of modern discoveries. There is still much to learn about the universe, and the more we can discover, the faster we will be able to reap the benefits of knowledge.