Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

December 8, 2012

New space book an excellent reference

When I was a youngster, there were a number of books on astronomy that I really enjoyed. Aside from college textbooks, most books had few diagrams or photos, save a central section where a number of photographs were bunched together.

Now with the advent of computers and elaborate graphics programs, most books have diagrams or images on each page. Such books don’t have to be read one page after another, but sampled and appreciated. Dorling Kindersley, a worldwide book publisher has a number of science books with very creative illustrations.

“Space: One Million Things” by Carole Stott is one of the best designed books on outer space with many interesting facts about space exploration and space travelers. The first three parts on the universe, stars and planets are outstanding as well.

Here are some surprising facts about space flight from the last two sections of “Space: One Million Things.”

Putting remote controlled telescopes in space has allowed astronomers to image objects that would impossible under the Earth’s atmosphere which allows only light and radio waves to penetrate.

Gamma ray detectors allow imaging of extremely hot objects, such as the residues of exploded stars. Infrared telescopes allow studies of the center of our galaxy and other galaxies. These regions are shrouded in dust clouds, which infrared telescopes can penetrate.

But on Earth, giant telescopes are being built that can be driven robotically, allowing sky surveys to be done in years that would have taken decades with conventional telescopes. A very important need is the detection of Near Earth Objects, rogue asteroids that may collide with Earth.

   As for space probes, one can learn about Juno, a spacecraft which will have a polar orbit about Jupiter to better study Jupiter’s atmosphere. Gaia will look at a million stars in our galaxy, allowing a 3-D map of our galaxy.

The James Webb space telescope will have a mirror nearly twice as large as the Hubble Space Telescope and will mainly view in the infrared, allowing better studies of the most distant galaxies, whose light is highly reddened.

  There is a fascinating section on a Day in the International Space Station (ISS). There are 16 sunrises a day as seen by the ISS, so a standard 24-hour clock time is used.

Breakfast is at 6 a.m. Food is in pouches so that it goes right into one’s mouth, lest it float around in the weightless environment. (The Earth’s gravity on the ISS is about 90 percent as strong as on the Earth’s surface but no weight is felt as the ISS and its contents are falling around the Earth as they complete their 90 minute orbits of the Earth.)

7 a.m. is personal hygiene time when each crew member gets two wipes, one for rubbing all over and the second for drying. Washing hair is done by rinseless shampoo. Teeth are cleaned using toothpaste that the astronauts can swallow. Elimination of liquid and semi-solid wastes is by a vacuum device that pulls material into a reservoir.

At 7:30 a.m., there is a video conference with Mission Control in Houston on the astronauts’ duties for the day. 8:15 a.m. is exercise time to reduce weakening of muscles and to engage the cardiovascular system. At 10 am. the work day begins, using numerous checklists. 1 p.m. is lunchtime.

At 2 p.m., it’s back to work.  At 5 p.m., it is time to exercise again. There are two treadmills, two recumbent devices and a multipurpose device similar to a Bowflex exerciser on Earth. At 6 p.m., work time resumes. At 7:30 p.m. there’s a dinner break. Fresh fruits, especially oranges are a treat (these are brought up by supply ships).

At 8:30 p.m. there is another conference with Houston as well as a briefing on the next day’s activities. At 9:30 p.m. leisure time involves floating around the ISS living areas, reading ebooks, watching DVD’s or using Skype to see/talk with their Earth families on their laptops.

At 10 p.m., it’s sleep time where the astronauts wear blindfolds, cross their arms while attached by loose restraints (to prevent them from floating around).

  The ISS crew dress is informal — polo shirts, loose pants or shorts that are changed every 10 days. Underwear and socks are changed every 2 days. Exercise or workout clothing is replaced every three days.

Each astronaut has two pair of shoes, one for the treadmill and the other for the exercise bike. Dirty clothes are put aboard a Progress supply ship which upon descent burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere. A typical tour of duty aboard the ISS is from three to six months.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: The moon is now seen in the a.m. skies, where each morning it appears slimmer and closer to the sun. Tomorrow at 6 a.m., you will see the crescent moon below and to the right of the planet Saturn.

On Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. the crescent moon will be just below and to the right of the brilliant planet Venus. The planet Mercury may be seen below and to the left of Venus.

Early Thursday morning Dec. 13 is the best time to spot the Geminid meteor shower. These meteors will be seen all over the sky. This shower is so named because the meteors flight paths can be traced back to the star group Gemini. As many as 90 meteors an hour may be seen.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, a slender crescent moon will be seen to the right of the planet Mars low in the southwestern 6 p.m. dusk.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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