A Long, Long Way from Pluto


We have passed the half way of this year and considering what we have gone through so far, one hopes that the year would end sooner than expected. But before that, when it comes to the topic of science and space, 3 things would have made the year 2015 very sweet indeed.

One would be the NASA spacecraft New Horizons

NHHopkinsPoster_posterSize

(Poster source: http://www.theplanetstoday.com/)

The spacecraft which had reached the planet Pluto (yes, it is a planet) is now one of the fastest man made craft with relative velocity of 49,600 km/h – the record is still held by Voyager 1, currently traveling at 61,720 km/h relative to the Sun. And frankly speaking Pluto never looked so beautiful before this and with radio signals taking four and a half hours to travel between the spacecraft and Earth, the spacecraft can only transmit data at 1 to 2 Kbps, which means that the transmission of all data (for last 10 years) will require sixteen months (source: Wikipedia).

And that 16 months is only on the download of data and not excluding the months, even years of data analysis. And if you had watched the documentary on New Horizons, the journey to Pluto is no small feat either – the journey itself took almost 10 years (to be more accurate – 9 years, 5 months and 25 days) and a journey of 7.5 billion kilometers and avoiding the various mechanical and debris that could have disabled the spacecraft on the spot.

This mission was a big success indeed and that is not the end of the story

Gladman said the chance of it visiting a third object after that is “pretty slim” as the density of objects in the Kuiper Belt falls off further away from the sun. However, there is one last thing scientists hope New Horizons will explore — one of the boundaries of the solar system.

The boundary of the heliosphere is where the sun’s magnetic field and solar winds lose their power. New Horizons is expected to reach that boundary in about 20 years, with a much more complete set of instruments than the Voyager 1 spacecraft did when it hit the edge of the heliosphere in 2013. While many of Voyager’s instruments had failed by that point, Green says, New Horizons’ instruments are “very healthy” and are expected to be able to take very good measurements of the solar wind as it exits the heliosphere.

(Source)

The next thing that is going to make this year really, really sweet is the next installment of the Star Wars and one that brings back very familiar faces (we will miss Master Yoda though).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is expected to hit the local cinemas sometime in December 2015. It is set 30 years after the events in the Return of the Jedi. I am huge fan of Star Wars franchise and even though I missed watching the original movies in cinema, I made sure I watched them again when George Lucas released them again – the special edition ones. I lost count the number of times I watched the first Star Wars movie – probably more than 50 times over the years. And I have done the same for all installment of Star Wars movies todate. It is going to be the same coming December.

And finally, the discovery of Earth 2.0

earth 20 large

(Image source: NASA)

With more discoveries that we expect to make in the near future and planned man journey to Mars, we are going to have very interesting time sending spacecrafts and understanding of the universe.

Scientists on the hunt for extraterrestrial life have discovered “the closest twin to Earth” outside the solar system, NASA announced on Thursday.

Working off four years’ worth of data from the Kepler space telescope, researchers from NASA, the Seti Institute and several universities announced the new exoplanet along with 12 possible “habitable” other exoplanets and 500 new candidates in total. The new planet, named Kepler 452b, is “the closest twin to Earth, or the Earth 2.0 that we’ve found so far in the dataset”, said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for Nasa’s mission directorate.

The research suggests 452b has five times the mass of Earth, is about 1.5bn years older, and has a gravity about twice as powerful as our own. About 1,400 light years away, Kepler 452b orbits a star similar to our sun, and at about the same distances as Earth orbits the sun, meaning it has a similar length year and exists in the “habitable zone” where liquid water can exist on a planet.

(Source)

I too have been traveling lately but I did not miss catching up on the latest on the scandal involving Najib & his wife (yes, the one who admitted that the account that had RM2 million belonged to her). Some politicians are claiming that it is nothing but attempts to bring down a democratically elected government. But seriously think about all the nonsense that the current government have done when it comes to management of taxpayers money and you will seriously doubt it’s innocence.

To be frank, there have been too many smoking guns – from Sarawak Report, the Edge, WSJ, opposition politicians and even from the Task Force themselves and one cannot simply ignore it. After all, despite of all the very damaging expose, Najib or his wife have yet to bring any civil suit against Sarawak Report, the Edge or WSJ. The request for information on the WSJ was rebuked by WSJ by asking the lawyer acting for Najib to go and read themselves the articles which they say is “self explanatory”. One only have to say “ouchhh!!”. There was plenty of psychological warfare at both ends and to some extent it did create plenty of confusion. There were even 2 bankruptees in the picture.

However, the fact that Najib & Rosmah neither denied that the accounts belonged to them or took swift legal actions, this seemed to imply that the allegations may not just be allegations. One just hopes that the investigators are hard at work to bring to bring out the truth. After all, no one is above the law.

And the latest expose came from The Edge and the media statement from the publishers of the The Edge nails the aspiration of the people who are tired with the rampant daylight robbery and abuse of taxpayers money & trust. Read the main report here

And for those people who like to use the Non Malays (especially the Chinese) as the bogeyman for all things wrong in this country, you need to re-read the media statement again and again to know that it does not matter if you are a Malay, Chinese, Indian or others, we are all in the same boat and in the same situation. We can close one eye to it and wait for it to come back and bite us on the back or take proactive action and this includes reading and getting all information in place and when the time comes to pick the right people, make your vote count for the right reasons.

And as expected, the reaction from the Government was lame and predictable. A number of people who had reported and questioned on the dealing have been barred from leaving the country and possibly under investigations themselves, possibly for conspiring to topple a democratically elected government under section 124 of the Penal Code. And The Edge now faces 3 months suspension for reporting on the 1MDB:-

A letter from KDN stated that the two publications’ reporting of 1MDB were “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest”.

Failure to stop publication for three months will result in the withdrawal of the publishing permits, the KDN letter said. The Edge Media Group publisher and chief executive officer Ho Kay Tat expressed disappointment with KDN’s decision.

“We don’t see how exposing the scam to cheat the people of Malaysia of billions of ringgit can be construed as being detrimental to public and national interest,” said Ho. “This is nothing more than a move to shut us down in order to shut us up.”

(Source)

One have to wonder how one topples a democratically elected government or prejudicial to public order & security to by exposing what went wrong and who did wrong. Which is of the two the bigger evil – this needs to be answered.

And that reminded me of the movie “Sivaji The Boss” which I saw back in 2007 and saw again last week on my flight back. The opening scene is the hero is led to the prison by the police and with the face hidden and amidst huge protest from the public and anger from corrupt politicians & businessmen. In the prison cell, the man in the next cell asks why the hero is in the prison. He ask if the hero had murdered anyone or whether he had cheated the public or whether he had taken sex movies and released them in the internet. The hero will say no to all three suggestion. The man then ask why he is in prison then. The hero will say that he had try to do good for the public. The man then says that the hero deserves to be in prison.

We are going through the same predicament and one just hopes that Malaysians have a clear mind on what need to be done for the country and clean up the system from down to top and not be influenced or involved in cheap politics by people with wrong agenda and purpose. One case stupidity in play was the recent riot at Low Yat. It had nothing to do with race but a small incident of crime unfortunately turned into a major fiasco.

We already missed to boat for a developed nation by the year 2020. It probably will take another 50 years to make this dream to come true.

We already placed the wrong priorities on learning Mathematics and Science by not teaching them in English

We already thinking very little on national unity and the riot at Low Yat simply enforces that notion that people in this country remains divided on petty things

We already ranked up one of the biggest financial scandals in the country’s history and yet no one had resigned or made accountable (despite arrests and travel bans)

This country and its people deserves something much better than the sickening and cheap politics and scandals after scandals. We as humans are making good ways in science and space and this year alone, we had made big leaps in this area. But unfortunately we had hardly moved from our narrow minds in this country. There is a rule of law in this country and adherence to good governance and uploading of fair treatments for all. We may have lost out in picking the right people to administer this country in the last general elections but it should not stop us from making the right decisions in the next one. The country’s good name have taken a good beating in the last 2 years and it has seen it’s share of tragedy which included lost of 2 planes. It’s time to make things right and put things in order.

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Next Stop: The Red Planet?


Read these as well:-

Given the state of the country as at now, you can safely say that when we celebrate the year 2020, this country would not have achieved the status of a “developed country”. So Dr M’s Vision 2020 will remain a vision and will not become a reality, at least in 2020.

For one, religion had taken precedent in key areas of the country and have caused a mismatch of priorities. Instead of us busy with human resource development and preparing the country for a “developed” status, we are busy on which law to use and how holy or religious one must be. And I saw this in play when I went to a shopping complex one fine day and decided to drop by a bookstore as my son wanted to buy a science book. We walked around and realised that there was more books on religion than on science and mathematics. I was hardly surprised – there were more people at the religion book section than at the science & mathematics book section.

Vision 2020 is also doomed to be nothing but fancy slogan because we still place high importance on racial based policies (we still calling ourselves as Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc instead of Malaysian) and on cheap politics. But come year 2020, all is not all lost though. Year 2020 would mark the start of activities that would eventually place humans on the planet Mars by year 2026.

Imagine a human colony on another planet and we don’t have to look another 100 – 200 years for that. We will see that in the next 10 years and it is very exciting news indeed. The company that is taking the exploration one step ahead is Mars One – is a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands that has put forward plans to land the first humans on Mars and establish a permanent human colony there by 2027.

NA_384397_MADD_mars

(It may not look much now but imagine a lot more people on the surface and with high end technology which allows them to come back to the Earth and back to Mars again? Image source: Mars One)

It may sound far fetching at first and Mars One have been on the receiving end of many as nothing but a scam. Some even question the USD6 billion budget of sending humans to Mars but remember India sent its spacecraft to Mars for mere USD73 million. But think of the feasibility. Think of the possibility.

Mars One lists out the mission feasibility of a human colony in Mars in the following manner:-

Permanent settlement

The Mars One crews consist of people that want to settle on Mars. Absence of a return mission reduces the mission infrastructure radically. No return vehicle, return propellant or the systems to produce the propellant locally are required. Permanent settlement also reduces the required technology development; vehicles that can take off from Mars and return to Earth are currently unavailable and untested. Since the vehicle returning to Earth and the accompanying systems are mission critical for a return mission, they will also require backups adding to the infrastructure that needs to be delivered to Mars. More importantly, to attain a somewhat acceptable risk level, the return mission would need to be tested in a complete unmanned return trip before the first crew even departs the Earth. Even after a full test of the return system is successfully performed, the risk for a crew that will ride the first return rocket would be very high: 126 rockets launched from Earth since 1990 failed to deliver their payloads in the correct orbit.

Permanent settlement also solved the challenge of the astronauts entering into Earth’s atmosphere after having spent about two years in reduced or zero gravity environments.

Use of In-Situ resources

Mars has resources that can be used for a sustainable settlement. Water is present in the soil and can be made available to the settlement for hygiene, drinking, and farming. It is also the source of oxygen generated through electrolysis. Nitrogen and Argon in the Martian atmosphere can be mined to be the inert part of the atmosphere inside the habitat. Martian soil will cover the outpost to block cosmic radiation. Carbon dioxide can be taken from the atmosphere if the plants take in more than the humans expel.
The systems to mine water from the soil and to mine Nitrogen, Argon, and Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere have never been tested in space. Mars is however not space because there is gravity and a thin atmosphere. Additionally, the processes are all more than 100 years old. The water can be collected from the soil by breaking up the soil with a drill and harvesting the resulting debris. Argon and Nitrogen can be collected from the atmosphere by removing the Carbon dioxide through a phase change.

Solar panels

The Sun is a reliable, robust, and plentiful energy source. Using solar panels is the best choice for Mars One since it takes away the requirement to develop and launch a nuclear reactor, thereby saving time and money while avoiding the risks and concerns of the use of a nuclear power source.
Thin film solar (photovoltaic) panels will power the Mars One settlement. These are less efficient than those more commonly used in aerospace, but have the advantage of being extremely light, and are thus easily transportable. The first settlement will install approximately 3000 square meters of power generating surface area.

Existing technology

No new major developments or inventions are needed to make the mission plan a reality. Established suppliers can build each stage of Mars One mission plan. While most of the components required are not immediately available with the exact specifications, there is no need for radical modifications to the current component designs.

Every effort was made to design the mission with as little complexity as possible. The choice to send permanent settlers removes the need for a heavy lift launch vehicle, which does not currently exist. Permanent settlement makes the landing module small enough to land with current technology. A pressurized rover will not be sent to Mars until large enough rockets exists. No water recycling in the transit habitat will be present because the trip to Mars takes only 210 days. Instead, all required water is stored in tanks that also function as radiation shielding. Storage of waste that is not easily recycled is available in the settlement until more technology is available.

(Source)

And just look at the number of people who shown interest in the Mars One project:-

Mars One applicants come from over 140 countries; the largest numbers are from the United States (24%), India (10%), China (6%), Brazil (5%), Great Britain (4%), Canada (4%), Russia (4%), Mexico (4%), Philippines (2%), Spain (2%), Colombia (2%), Argentina (2%), Australia (1%), France (1%), Turkey (1%), Chile (1%), Ukraine (1%), Peru (1%), Germany (1%), Italy (1%) and Poland (1%).

(Source)

The first 3 nations are well known for their eagerness and competition in space exploration. Out of the three, US and India already have rovers and space crafts orbiting Mars. And I am pretty sure the Chinese will do so soon as well although these guys are busy exploring the moon (hmmm, they know something we don’t?). And Malaysia is involved in Mars One in 2 areas – our own Angkasawan, Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor is an ambassador for Mars One and three brave explorers from Malaysia including a woman.

SPACE: India Mars mission

(It’s only cost USD70 million to launch a space craft to the Red Planet. Trim down the money spent on wars, religion conflict and corruption and you can send hundreds of the space craft to many part of the solar system. Image source: engtechmag.wordpress.com)

Mars One is an one way trip as there is no way (presently) to bring the space explorer back. The environment is harsh and there is no guarantee, despite the mission feasibility, that the colony will succeed, especially when the next human civilization is million kilometers away (230,000,000 km to be exact) and in case of emergency, one cannot simply dial up 999 and ask for help. Rescue mission if it is to be done, will take months to prepare and execute and by then, any rescue mission would have been redundant.

Mars One itself can go bankrupt and may not be able to bring the next set of explorers to add to the colony. Anything can happen. After all, it took a lot of research, time, risk and money to send man to the moon, so what more another planet and that too for one way trip. But there are good reasons to make this trio to Mars, namely:-

To give our kids new Hope, careers and Dreams — beyond merely surviving in a world of growing terrorism, more “police state” responses, with increasing resource and energy scarcity ultimately leading to endless global wars

By finally opening up unlimited solar system resources — be it exotic fuels, new planetary minerals or endless solar energy – dramatically alter the “have not” competition between the First and Third Worlds here on Earth … the ultimate source of increasing global terrorism

By greatly accelerating these radical technologies — from “black” energy systems and propulsion to autonomous robotics, from desktop “super computers” to their ultra-broad band communications (essential to conducting “routine operations” on the Moon and Beyond) – dramatically accelerate overall national and global productivity, with startling increases in GNP and GWP

By federally subsidizing the creation of a whole new generation of consumer industries — through pioneering a literal “Second age of Space” — dramatically increase the historical “return on investment” from past NASA spending … from 23 to one to more than 100-to-one; thus, for every billion dollars invested in this New Space Program, over a hundred billion will return to the national and world economy

By finally providing accessible new sources of raw materials and energy “off planet,” processed in lunar and orbital industrial facilities, naturally reverse over a century of planetary degradation and pollution … including global warming

By accelerating fundamental solar system exploration with human beings, return equally fundamental, radical scientific information – ranging from comparative planetary data which will assist preservation of the Earth’s environment through new space installations, to answers to the origin of the human race itself

(Source)

Yes, money and human resource is important but aren’t we been busy wasting them on wars, corruption and wastage as well. Save up on those and you will plenty for the science exploration, I am sure.

Many of us, including myself are from the generation that grew with science fiction movies like Star Wars and Star Trek. Still remember ” to boldly go where no man has gone before”? It is in our nature to explore and find new worlds and the more we explore, the more we will push the boundaries of technology, science and human endeavor. And there is the prospect of rich natural resources that could be mined for humans (there was even plan to start a mining colony in the moon).

For those reasons alone, Mars One mission should succeed.

Direction of a Nation


(Sorry for missing out on blog posts for couple of weeks now. I have been tied to work rather overwhelmingly and I still have a long way to go)

Sometimes when you see what happens around the world and see how much mankind have moved forward since, since I don’t know – perhaps since he climbed down from the trees and learned to walk on his own 2 feet hundred thousands of years ago, you get this amazing, proud happy feeling.

One recent example is this:-

Many congratulations to the Rosetta team at ESA for successfully landing the lander module on a comet. It was not an easy thing to do, after all, the comet is flying past in space at more than 130,000 km/h. It will be interesting to wait and see what discoveries that we will find from this mission on a comet. Perhaps confirming or disapproving the theory that all water on this earth was brought down by a string of comets striking the earth millions years ago.

And last month, it was the India’s Mars Orbiter which made serious news and it was for a good reason too:-

The Mars Orbiter Mission cost Rs. 450 crore (£46 million) in comparison to NASA’s Maven orbiter costing £413 million, which also successfully inserted itself into the Martian orbit on Monday 22nd September 2014.

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, even stated: “Our program stands out as the most cost-effective. “There is this story of our Mars mission costing less than the Hollywood movie Gravity. Our scientists have shown the world a new paradigm of engineering and the power of imagination.”

(Source)

Whether you like it or not, the world have become very technologically advance. It has become small too – it is possible to go to any country in the world within a day (compared to months or years 200 – 300 years ago). Information these days is at one’s finger tips literally and connected to the world wide web 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Sir Ken Robinson in his talk in TED once said that as early as the 17th century, the industrial revolution drove the education blueprints of many nations towards science, engineering and mathematics. And that had given birth to some of the greatest minds that the world have seen. That industrial revolution plus two world wars that came later however had not stopped the advancement of mankind towards science and technology and whoever who do not embrace it at this age would be left out high and dry. Same thing happened to many companies in the 1990s who failed to embrace the digital age. Still remember Polaroid? And even Nokia, once a world leader in the telecommunication sector is no longer is in existence (after it was taken over by Microsoft).

That is why, the country as whole should emphasize more on science and technology instead of religion. Religion which have always been the scourge of science (or the other way around) should be left to individuals and should not form the backbone of a country. Think about it and take a good look of events around the world. There have been more people died and suffered in history due to religion indifference compared to people who died from say science experiments. There have been more dark ages brought by religion than by science. Some of the biggest tragedies in the recent times were done by twisted culprits claiming supremacy of religion and they continued to make an ass of themselves and the better aspect of a religion – such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Syria & Iraq.

And back home in Malaysia, we too been taking all the wrong steps. First we decided to teach Science and Mathematics in Bahasa instead of the accepted language of science and mathematics which is English. The lame excuse that was given was that the country needed to promote the national language and there was not enough teachers who can speak proper English. Unfortunately, despite the obvious reasons and calls from many quarters including the former Prime Minister, this decision have not been reversed to this day and the damage to the nation continues to this day.

But instead, we are entrenching ourselves with trivial issues like this:-

Non-Muslims in Kedah need not be worried or confused over the recent amendment to an 1988 enactment that bars non-Muslims from using Islamic religious words and terminology. State exco member Mohd Rawi Abd Hamid said no non-Muslim had been arrested in the state under the enactment for using terms that are exclusive to Islam and Muslims.

Mohd Rawi said non-Muslims could still use the words in their daily conversations, but not in their own prayers, public speeches or in religious publications.

“If you say you want to go to a masjid (mosque), why not? If you ask me where that masjid is, there’s no problem with the usage of that term,” he said yesterday

(Source)

Earlier, the whole nation seemed to be busied itself with someone who had organized a “want to touch a dog” event and after that, of an image on a water bottle.

Obviously we are getting our priorities all wrong and that is why for reasons like this, we will not going to be a developed country in 6 years time. Forget achieving vision 2020. We are too worried on what we can say and do in the name of religion. We are not worried about building more schools, getting our children to embrace science and mathematics in the most convenient way (by learning in English) and push for greater space and opportunities for citizens to speak aloud and to agree or disagree with the establish norms. One wrong say or act in this country can make one run foul of the dreaded Sedition Act and the authorities. We cannot advance if we confine ourselves to very few options and old rules. We even banned Darwin from this country.

And that is why, the country as whole need to wake up to reality of things and what is important for the society survival? And if one still have doubts as to where the nation should be moving, perhaps this will give a food for thought:-

Science is the engine of prosperity. Economists have said that a third to a half of U.S. economic growth has resulted from basic research since World War II. The cars and trains that got us here today, our smart phones, the energy that lights this chamber, the clothes we wear, the food we eat: All of these were developed and improved through research.

And so it is. Science is a system for exploring, and for innovation. It can fuel our nation’s economic growth. It can form a path for our young people in a competitive global marketplace. And it can fire our imagination.

(Source)

And mankind seems to be heading that direction too and probably in a greater pace due to the wealth of information available on the internet:-

Religion will become extinct by 2041 as the world becomes more developed and wealthier,, proclaims a new study by a noted author and biopsychologist Nigel Barber.

Barber makes the claim in his upcoming e-book, Why Atheism Will Replace Religion, which will be available next month. The Irish author says Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and all other types of religious beliefs will be wiped out by atheism.

Barber notes there is a direct correlation between religious or atheist beliefs with economic development and level of education. The more educated and wealthier a society is, the less religious they are and vice versa. Barber adds that religion is most popular in underdeveloped countries.

(Source)

Religion is important but it should be something personal and it should never mix with the state of a nation. Science on the other hand is going to be the stepping stone for many things to come to make a country strong, capable and flexible. Something for us all to ponder especially for the next generation of Malaysians. Good governance helps too but let’s start with something simple – give more focus on science and mathematics and put this country on the path of it’s own industrial revolution if you may. There must be a new paradigm of vision and a greater power of imagination. As I have said, religion is important and let’s not discard it from our life but not to a point that it drive the state backwards and into the dark ages. We just need to look into history and move forward.

Have a good weekend ahead…

2012 Updates: It’s This Week, Folks!


mayan calendar

(The Mayan Calendar ending on the year 2012 could have been due to this reason – who knows – and we are freaking out for no good reason in 2012. Image source: http://www.abovetopsecret.com)

Mayan’s Long Calendar will end this Friday and thus end of the world as we know it, so believed by many doomsday believers.

However, it is very likely that we will make it to next week (and the coming months) without any major incidents. After all, I am sure all of us have made major plans to do things and go places in the coming years and we expect to get things done as planned. We have yet to see any news on the discovery of any large asteroid heading directly towards the planet or the appearance of the mysterious Planet X which will collide with planet Earth on 21st December 2012. And so far no one had pressed the doomsday panic button – not from any Government officials, space agencies, well-known public figures or NGOs. Although we have been seeing more than usual earthquakes and typhoons (such the recent Typhoon Bopha which hit the Philippines and caused more than 1000 casualties) in the past months, that has not been something that we have not seen before (and yes, we have seen worse).

But then again, it does not mean we can just stand-by and take all things in complete ignorance of any dangers to the civilization as we know it (you seriously think that we are all alone in the universe and the planet Earth is completely immune to all types of dangers from in and out? Dream on, brother!). There is always of 0.0001% chance of something creeping up on us when we least expected. It has happened in the past and it can always happen again in the near future. Whatever said and done, we should never stop prepping for the future.

doomsday ark

(The doomsday ark in the movie 2012 – in the movie, an ark ticket was sold for 1 billion Euro. I wonder what would be the cost if doomsday scenario is real and a real ark is built with limited seat for all and whether the smaller, poorer nations will even be eligible for a place in such ark. Image source: http://www.whatsonxiamen.com)

Think this as a possible conspiracy scenario – what if all the heads of Government have been called for a secret meeting and been forewarned of an impending danger to the planet say some 3 – 5 years ago (if you had been keeping an eye for interesting rumours, you would have heard about the letter from a “Norwegian politician”) and a consortium of companies have been selected to built a doomsday ark of sort in secret (with each Government contributing based on their allocation of a place in the ark for their people) and as the ark is being built and the list of survivors being drawn up, they are told to keep the whole thing hush-hush to avoid a massive global panic. Yes, in the same way the Government covered up in the movie 2012. And just imagine watching CNN on the eve of doomsday at your local mamak stall, having your teh-tarik & roti canai when the news of the impending danger is officially announced to the masses and in the background, you catch a glimpse of the Fat Mamma entering the ark with all her shopping bags. It may or may not happen.

Consider the fact that we simply do not have the resources and time to scan the entire sky for any changes to the alignment of the star and planetary system in our galaxy that may have put gravitational force on the planet Earth (that may set mega earthquakes and tsunamis) or asteroids such as 4179 Toutatis that flew past us last week (you were aware of it? we have about 1,325 of them on watch list and the number is growing) or the so-called dark comets that may have been missed previously and is hurling towards the planet undetected. We have probably spent more money into military expansions, mismanagement of the economy and corruption than on astronomy and space explorations. Yes, we have NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russians, the Chinese and not forgetting our very own Angkasawan that manages anything that related to space exploration and astronomy but it does not mean that they have unlimited budget, time and manpower to get their tasks done. Even the powerful, well-funded and equipped NASA is relying on amateur astronomers to look out for asteroids. The question is are we looking at the right spot in space and how much of it is under our radars.

And who knows, perhaps we already have an alien mother-ship hovering on our atmosphere in an unknown stealth technology waiting for some countdown that ends on 21st December 2012 (remember the movie Independence Day?). One can just hope that they have a good appetite for corrupt and greedy politicians and businessmen and they will leave the solar system once they have “cleaned up” the planet.

Yellowstone_SuperVolcano

(A sleeping giant that may wake up one day. Image source: http://www.cuttingedge.org)

We still have the time bomb lurking under the vast Yellowstone National Park which some say will wipe most of America out with estimated 100 million dead, leaving the sole super power in the world (to some degree) in ruins and incapacitated. And if you think we all in Malaysia will be safe as we are far away from this hotspot, think again – a cloud of ash & debris will linger on the atmosphere for months if not years, bringing down the global temperature and creating major havoc on agriculture all over the world. Imagine the steep cost of food and breakout of famines around the world. Imagine with the US out of the picture, guess who is going to fill up the power vacuum as far as Malaysia is concerned? Well, be prepared to shed the National language and English from our schools and use Mandarin (or who knows, Hindi) on full time basis instead. With rogue countries like North Korea and Pakistan in the picture, doomsday scenario will be more realistic than ever.

And some scientists are expecting that the planet Earth is long due for a major geomagnetic reversal (for some also known as the polar shift). Will it happen this week or in the coming weeks? The scientific community as whole seems to concur on the theory that changes in geomagnetic happens over a long period and does not change all too sudden. But what if it does? What it means to us when it happens?

If a large pole shift could happen suddenly, the redistribution of land and water it caused would be nothing short of cataclysmic.

In the short term, it would mean earthquakes, strange weather patterns, massive tsunamis capable of drowning parts of continents, and possibly gaps in the planet’s magnetic field — our shield against harmful cosmic rays. In the long term, the redistribution of land and water in the tropics, subtropics and poles would fundamentally alter ocean currents and the heat balance of the Earth, resulting in widespread climatological shifts.

Ice caps might melt and reform elsewhere, or remain melted, driving sea levels down or up.

(Source)

And most 2012 doomsday websites are talking about the more obvious and realistic danger to the world (and I am thinking the same) – a major solar storm that will bring down the power grids and leaves millions without electricity for months. And for a society that is so dependant on electricity for almost everything that it touches, from running the computers, pumping fuel, running the water supply to homes and businesses, etc, without electricity, this society would simply breakdown. A real doomsday threat, no thanks to our own growth and over reliance in technology. But then, again we had gone through the sun’s 11 years cycle many, many times before and we somehow had survive it without much fuss and danger to our power grids. Will we see the “big one” any time soon?

Think about it – some doomsday scenarios can be far-fetched but does it mean it will never happen? Anyway, it is just a food for your thoughts, considering that all the hype on the Mayan Long Calendar coming to an “end” this Friday. But as I mentioned before, it is very likely that we will make it to next week (and the coming months or years) without any major incidents. However don’t stop prepping and keep one eye opened for any eventuality as the world as we know it will eventually end one day. It may not happen this Friday or next year or next 10 years or not in our lifetime – we just do not know when and how but there is no harm to be prepared and educating our kids to be prepared as well.

Have a good week ahead, enjoy the “fireworks” on this Friday and I will see you next week, same time and at the same place.

Neil Armstrong: 1930 – 2012


(The first man who will step on the moon -Neil Armstrong. Image source: The Hindu/NASA)

“This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”

Although he was not the first in space (that credit goes to a Russian, Yuri Gagarin who unfortunately died of a young age) and as the LM commander (and the pilot), he just happen to be the first to step out, we shall not forget the famed statement that Neil made after stepping on the Moon in July 1969 The moment was historic to all mankind who for ages have been fascinated by the Moon both spiritually and scientifically.

There is certain aura and mystery of the Moon – for one; it is not clear how the Moon was formed. The best theory is the giant impact hypothesis which states that the Moon was formed out of the debris left over from a collision between the Earth and a body the size of Mars, approximately 4.5 billion years ago. And without the Moon, the planet Earth would not have tidal motion which is generated by the gradient in intensity of the Moon’s gravitational pull from one side of the Earth to the other. And the Moon also stabilizes Earth’s wobble, which led to a more stable climate (otherwise we will have extreme weather every few months) and probably helped life evolve. So, was it by chance or by design we have a Moon for close companionship?

And whatever the reason, landing on it seemed to be dream that eluded us for many years until Apollo 11. Man’s exploration of the Moon ended with Apollo 17 in December 1972 and the planned exploration in recent times under the Constellation program have been cancelled in favour of a manned asteroid landing by 2025 and a manned Mars orbit by 2035. The Moon is moving away from Earth at the rate of 3.78cm per year but it will take billions of years before we can feel any drastic impact from this and who knows, perhaps by then we would have already landed humans on the planet Mars and travelled to other galaxies and managed to stabilize Moon’s shift from the planet Earth.

The possibilities are endless – all we need to do is to take that one giant leap.

Real Mission to Mars


In case you have missed this important event last week…

(Photo note: An image taken by the Mars rover Opportunity, shown by NASA during a press conference Thursday, Oct 7, 2004, shows a bizarre, lumpy rock informally named Wopmay on the lower slopes of Endurance Crater. Scientists believe the lumps in Wopmay were formed by one of two processes. Either they were caused by the impact that created the football field-sized crater, or they arose when water soaking the rock dried up, said the scientists)

(Photo note: The Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), a camera on board the Curiosity designed to take photos during the descent to Mars, took this image of the heat shield plummeting to the Martian surface)

(Photo note: A close-up of one of the rover’s wheels. Curiosity is currently driving around the Gale Crater, a place NASA scientists believe could harbor signs of microbial life, from the past or present)

(All text and images sources and for more images, click here and here. Copyright NASA)

NASA successfully landed the latest of its Mars Rover called Curiosity in Mars last week. With this, they have 3 rovers (Spirit and Opportunity which landed back in 2004) on the planet exploring the surface and geology. The mission’s scientific objective was to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars.

The much-celebrated Mars rover Curiosity is headed for Mount Sharp, where it will help scientists explore the question of life on Mars as it climbs up and up. Meanwhile, however, NASA’s budget for planetary exploration is slated to go down, down, down.

Scientists are basking in the success of Curiosity’s stunning landing earlier this week, proving that a complicated system involving a parachute and a sky crane can safely deliver a 2,000-pound vehicle to Mars. The $2.6 billion Curiosity will spend years roaming the planet, snapping photos and gathering scientific data.

Given the budget constraints facing the space agency, however, there are limits on what the rover, and NASA, will be able to do on the surface of the Red Planet. Although astronauts brought back thousands of moon rocks during the Apollo Mission, there’s never been a sample of Martian material returned to Earth. Such a mission is considered a priority, so scientists can do more detailed chemical analyses.

(Source)

After the Moon, we have been eyeing Mars as the next frontier and a place where humans may be able to adapt as their next home. Who knows what lays thereafter – new mining colonies perhaps or as a “jumping stone” to explore other planets? And inspire future generation of space explorers and scientists to think beyond and ahead. And with 2 rovers on the planet, why we need another rover on the planet?

From Associated Press:-

NASA’s new robot rover named Curiosity landed safely early Monday in a huge crater near the equator of Mars and will soon begin its scientific studies. This marks NASA’s seventh landing on the red planet and is its 19th Mars mission, including those by orbiters and other spacecraft.

Why Mars Again?

The big unknown remains. Scientists want to know if any form of life ever existed there, and that means microscopic organisms. Curiosity is the most ambitious effort ever to burrow into that question, though it is not equipped to look for actual microbes. During its two-year exploration, it will try to answer whether the giant crater had the right conditions to support that type of life.

What will Curiosity do?

Curiosity carries a toolbox of 10 instruments, including a rock-zapping laser and a mobile organic chemistry lab. It also has a long robotic arm that can jackhammer into rocks and soil. It will hunt for the basic ingredients of life, including carbon-based compounds, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen, as well as minerals that might provide clues about possible energy sources.

And talking about the mission to Mars, if you recalled in 2010, President Obama talked about a manned mission to Mars by year 2030 whilst at the same time, cancelled the project to return to the Moon citing that the project was too costly, “behind schedule, and lacking in innovation”. With the latest successful landing of the Curiosity Rover, it will be interest how this mission to take man to the Red Planet going to take place in the next few years. It is also going to be very interesting how we are going to push the current innovation to make space exploration cheaper, safer and longer lasting.

(Our very own Planetarium Space Theater – it is a good platform to generate keen deep interest on space exploration and science. The other is the Langkawi National Observatory which has good stellar and solar telescopes. Image source: National Planetarium)

Looking back at Malaysia, no doubt we started with the wrong foot with teaching of Science and Mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia instead of the more “universal” language of English (we still have a chance to correct this mistake) but it is good that we have also started to expose Malaysians (especially the young ones) on the science of astronomy, mechanical, robotics, computing and others that is crucial for future space explorations. The sight on a greater exploration of the space should be there for all and we should start with the right language of science and mathematics.

P.s. Have a nice weekend and happy holidays to all. Hope that you will miss the madness at the highway and arrive safely at your destination.

2012 Updates: Solar Flares


Some “2012” updates for your weekend reading…

(Solar storm is a serious threat around 2012. Both NASA and ESA confirmed the next huge solar storm between September 2012 and May 2013. We all heard about the big one in 1859 and it looks like we are not far away from another one coming our way. Source: Youtube)

From Survive2012:-

Lawrence E Joseph, Patrick Geryl and myself would probably be the 2012 catastrophists that have reached the most people. Something we all proclaim is that our Sun is the most likely source of a 2012 disaster:

We each understand that a solar storm could wipe out power grids and potentially melt down nuclear facilities, leading to many millions of lost lives. That late 2012/ early 2013 is probably the peak of this solar cycle fits well with all three theories.

They further argue this based on these facts:-

Our Solar System is at its “solar max”, meaning the Sun is expected to have a change in magnetism and ultimately will trigger a chain reaction throughout the entire Solar System. Every 11 years we play ‘Russian roulette’ with the sun, and sooner or later we are going to lose that bet. According to scientists, we are in the middle of an 11,500 year cycle of when the ice age returns. It was approximately 11,500 years ago that the world saw its last ice age, starting off with a polar shift. Earth doesn’t have to flip an entire 180 to truly throw off the balance of the Eco-systems and have some devastating effects on the way we live life.

They are predicting long term black out. And as we know that modern life without power (coupled with cascading impact on other areas like water distribution sewage system, banking, etc) even for a couple of days would be a disaster (this in addition to the fact that solar storms produce massive amounts of electromagnetic radiation). Imagine the effect over a couple of months or even years:-

NASA-funded study by the National Academy of Sciences entitled Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts. In the 132-page report, experts detailed what might happen to our modern, high-tech society in the event of a “super solar flare” followed by an extreme geomagnetic storm. They found that almost nothing is immune from space weather—not even the water in your bathroom.

The problem begins with the electric power grid. “Electric power is modern society’s cornerstone technology on which virtually all other infrastructures and services depend,” the report notes. Yet it is particularly vulnerable to bad space weather. Ground currents induced during geomagnetic storms can actually melt the copper windings of transformers at the heart of many power distribution systems.

Power outages would be accompanied by radio blackouts and satellite malfunctions; telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation would all be affected. Some problems would correct themselves with the fading of the storm: radio and GPS transmissions could come back online fairly quickly.

Other problems would be lasting: a burnt-out multi-ton transformer, for instance, can take weeks or months to repair. The total economic impact in the first year alone could reach $2 trillion, some 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina.

(Source)

Of course in the US, NASA is not sitting on their laurels, waiting for a disaster to happen:-

Reliable forecasting is the key. If utility and satellite operators know a storm is coming, they can take measures to reduce damage—e.g., disconnecting wires, shielding vulnerable electronics, powering down critical hardware. A few hours without power is better than a few weeks.

NASA has deployed a fleet of spacecraft to study the sun and its eruptions. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the twin STEREO probes, ACE, Wind and others are on duty 24/7. NASA physicists use data from these missions to understand the underlying physics of flares and geomagnetic storms; personnel at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center use the findings, in turn, to hone their forecasts.

But that is in the US. What about Malaysia? How prepared we are to deal with solar storm that may (or may not) hit us unannounced this year? I am not sure if you remembered the major power outage that shut down the national grid for 14 hours in 1996?

It was bad because it happened on a weekend but things went to bad to worse in days. First, we had no electricity which was not so bad because we were staying in an apartment which situated on a hill – so it was not that warm during the night. We could not watch the TV for days but we used that time to catch up on our studies. Then we realized that we had no running water and that took days for the water supply to be back in stages (long after electricity supply was back to normal). I still remember me and my brother hauling buckets of water up 5 floors to our apartment several times when the water truck came visiting us on the second day. I even had to use the toilet and take shower at office for couple of days before we had sense of normality. Guess what is going to happen if the same happens and we are out of electricity and water for months?

A major power blackout in Malaysia is not something new – we had it in 1992, 1996, 2003 and 2005. Some say that it is an act of “sabotage” to allow IPPs to come into the picture with favorable deal but then again, it may not be so. It could mean that the current power generation is simply incapable to cope with the growing demand for more power or we have not taken all the necessary precaution to prevent a major national power blackout.

HOURS after a power failure yesterday, Malaysia’s monopoly power distributor Tenaga Nasional cited a technical fault as the reason for the blackout but said it was baffled as to why it occurred. The three-hour cut in power plunged many buildings in Kuala Lumpur and three southern states in the peninsula into semi-darkness. It was the country’s most widespread power failure since 1996.

When the main busbar malfunctioned, a standby busbar was to have taken over its functions, ensuring smooth transmission of power. But even the backup busbar failed, leaving officials puzzled. There were concerns about whether employees had slipped on maintenance, and Energy Minister Lim Keng Yaik said: ‘We have to find out if there was human error or maintenance not up to the mark.

Tenaga Nasional was ordered to ensure the failure was never repeated. But yesterday it did happen again, though not for long. Datuk Abdul Hadi said, adding that Tenaga Nasional was unhappy it took so long to restore power.

(Source)

The above happened in 2005 and 7 years later, I am sure that Tenaga would have taken even more precautionary steps to prevent another national blackout. It has been some time since we had any major power outage but we should not disregard that we may face a record sized solar storm this year.

The way I see it, the future of our civilization as we know it may head to one of these 2 directions – it will either end abruptly as early as 2012 as mentioned in the Holy Scriptures (or as predicated by the Mayans) or nothing major happens in 2012 and the future will come to a point where the civilization will become so advanced that humans start exploring the universe on a larger scale on warp capable space ships (like in the TV series, Star Trek)

I am hoping for the latter but still we should not ever ignore the possibility of the former and predictions and analysis that comes with it. Happy Tamil New Year.

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