A Brief Visit to the Eighth Planet, Assisted by Tonight’s Crazy Arkansas Weather

The sky bursting full of rapid and illuminated clouds, rushing bright blue against an indigo background, made me feel I was looking up at the planet Neptune, stretching from one horizon to the other. I went inside, to get my phone, to snap a picture, but, when I got back out, the eighth planet above had been replaced — by a stormy-but-normal third-planet sky. I came back inside with no images, except in memory.

(Image source: NASA / JPL / Voyager 2 / this website.)

I’m Walking on an Active Volcano at Yellowstone National Park

At the time my wife took this picture, I did not yet realize that we were walking around on an active volcano when we recently visited Yellowstone National Park. The outgassing behind me, which I had just walked through, should have clued me in, since it had a strong smell of hydrogen sulfide mixed with hydrochloric and sulfuric acids. At a gift shop, I found a book by Greg Briening called Super Volcano: The Ticking Time Bomb Beneath Yellowstone National Park. It explains the science of Yellowstone, and makes a strong case that the volcano that created Yellowstone will blow up again, possibly soon, with cataclysmic consequences worldwide.

“Spiders Aren’t Animals!” Well, Actually….

spider 240px-Kaldari_Phidippus_audax_01

Over the years, literally hundreds of people have told me that spiders are not animals. This seems to happen the majority of the times that the topic of spiders comes up in conversation.  When I reply that spiders are, in fact, animals, the usual response is “Spiders are insects!” This gives me headaches, because (1) spiders aren’t insects, and (2) insects are also animals.

Spiders happen to be my favorite animal, so this is quite confusing to me. Hopefully, this screenshot from my Google-search for “animal definition” will help spread the word that spiders are, indeed, part of the animal kingdom.


[Spider image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phidippus_audax. Also, I added the red arrow and ellipse to the Google-screenshot, using MS-Paint.]

The Moon Unit Proposal

moon unit

I propose that 384,400 km (238,855 miles), the average distance from the Earth to the Moon, be called a “moon unit.” Example: “The mileage of my car is over one moon unit.”

The C-320 Fullerene Polyhedron

The duals of the geodesic domes are polyhedra with hexagonal and pentagonal faces. This particular one has 320 vertices, with those vertices representing carbon atoms in the molecular version of this solid. Here is C320 as a polyhedron.

C320 Dual of Geodesic Icosa

The next image shows this molecule as a ball-and-stick model.

C320 ball and stick.gif

Finally, here it is as a space-filling molecular model.

C320 space filling.gif

All three images were created with Stella 4d: Polyhedron Navigator. This is the page to visit if you want to try Stella for yourself: http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php.

A Proposal: An Ice-Tunneling Lander to Explore Extraterrestrial Sub-Surface Oceans

We have found compelling evidence for the existence of several sub-surface oceans in various places in our solar system. The most well-known of these bodies of liquid water is under the ice crust of Europa, a moon of Jupiter, with others located elsewhere. These oceans are logical places to look for signs of past or present extraterrestrial life. However, we have yet to obtain a sample of any of these oceans for analysis. It is time for that to change, but not without taking precautions to avoid damaging any such life, should it exist.


Europa (source: NASA)

What follows is my idea, freely available for anyone who wishes to use it, to safely obtain and analyze such samples. These ice-tunneling probes could be ejected from a larger lander, or simply dropped directly onto the surface from orbit. This would be far less expensive than any sort of manned interplanetary exploration. Exposure to vacuum and radiation, in space, would thoroughly sterilize the entire apparatus before it even lands, protecting anything which might be alive in the ocean underneath from contamination by organisms from Earth.

Tunneling LASSO Probe (Lander for Analysis of Sub-Surface Oceans)

In this cross-sectional diagram, the light blue area represents the ice crust of Europa, or another solar-system body like that moon. The ice-tunneling lander is shown in red, orange, black, yellow, and green. The dark blue area is the vertical tunnel created by the probe, shown shortly after tunneling begins. As the probe descends, the dome shown in gray caps the tunnel, and stays on the surface, having been previously stored, folded up, in the green section of the egg-shaped probe. The gray section is designed as a geodesic dome, with holes of adjustable size to allow heat to escape into space. An extendable, data-carrying tether connects the egg-shaped tunneling module to the surface dome. Solar-energy panels and radio transmitters and receivers stay at the surface, attached to the gray dome.  

The computers necessary to operate the entire probe are in the yellow section. The black section that extends outward, slightly, from the body of the tunneler would contain mechanisms to obtain samples of water for analysis. The orange section is where actual samples are stored and analyzed.

The red part of the tunneler is weighted, so that gravity forces it to stay at the bottom. It is designed to heat up enough to melt the ice underneath it, allowing the entire “egg” to descend, attached to its tether. Water above the tunneling probe re-freezes, sealing the tunnel so that potentially-damaging holes are not left in the ice crust of Europa. The heating units in the red section can be turned on and off as needed, to slow, hasten, or stop the probe’s descent through the crust.

Oceans in other places in the solar system might require certain adjustments to this design. For example, Ganymede, another moon of Jupiter, is far rockier than Europa. If this design were used on Ganymede, the tunneling probe would likely be stopped by sub-surface rocks. For this type of crust, the probe’s design could be modified to allow lateral movement of the tunneler, in order to go around rocks.


Ganymede (source: NASA)

On Europa, Ganymede, and elsewhere, one limitation of this design is imposed by the maximum length of the tether. We would not want to go all the way down to the subsurface oceans with the earliest of these probes, though. A better strategy would be to only tunnel part-way into the crust at first, capturing liquid samples of water before refreezing of the ice. After all, this ice in the crust could have been part of the lower, liquid ocean at some point in the past, and it should be analyzed thoroughly before heat-tunneling any deeper. The decision to make the tether long enough to go all the way through the crust, into the subsurface ocean itself, is not one to make lightly. It would be best to study what we find in molten crust-samples, first, before tunneling all the way through the protective crusts of these oceans.