Ground control to Major Tom.
In a week that Mercury went into retrograde (we think), our thoughts turn skywards. What’s up there waiting for us, in every sense? This week, our regular launch into the EcoSalon archives takes a celestial flavor as we look at space – the key to so many of our earthly problems.
Space Is How We Fix Our Own Planet. Remember the incredible image of Earth-rise, described by photographer Galen Rowell as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”? That’s a gift the space program has bestowed upon us – ecological self-awareness. We know how fragile our world is because we can see it, bright and alive against the backdrop of the most profound emptiness we know. The help to our planet is technological, too: For example, you may have heard of a little invention developed for spacecraft called solar panels.
The more fuel efficient flying machine Aurora researchers envision (illustration, above) would be designed to cruise at mach 0.72 instead of the industry standard of mach 0.8. It would not have to use composite materials (which are lighter weight and used in the newly tested Boeing 787 Dreamliner) but it could use conventional aluminum and manufacturing technology, while still saving substantial amounts of fuel.
25% of costs for a typical airliner are spent on fuel, studies show. So the environmental benefits should deliver economic benefits, too.
Can the same efficiencies apply to space travel and space ships? As an industry, commercial space travel is too nascent to “go green,” Parrish says. But it is starting with a very ecological-minded entrepreneur, Richard Branson, along with pioneering spacecraft designer Burt Rutan.Branson famously supported and financed the development of alternative, renewable energy and signed the Clinton Global Initiative in 2006.
There are around 900 satellites up there, busily keeping the world connected. They’re immersed in a sea of spacecraft fragments and garbage nicknamed space junk. There are parts of rockets, fragments of destroyed satellites (some of them very fresh indeed), gloves…even, would you believe, an astronaut’s tool bag that can occasionally be spotted whipping across the night sky (and here’s how it got up there). Around 18,000 pieces are larger than 10cm and can therefore be tracked and avoided. The rest? An estimated 580,000 further objects above 1cm in diameter. And all of these are hurtling round at orbital velocity, with enough kinetic energy to punch through spacecraft armor, destroy systems worth millions of dollars and endanger the lives of astronauts. It’s way beyond being a nuisance and makes a shocking picture.
If there’s one way to feel how precious and fragile our tiny blue-green planet is, it’s to watch the stars wheel as the world turns on its axis. When I eventually settle down and have kids, I’ll be taking them for long trips away from the city lights, and encouraging them to squint through a telescope, and pointing them towards online astronomical resources such as the pupil-dilating beauty of the WorldWide Telescope project, and all the other forms of amateur astronomy that gave me such a sense of the wonder of Nature when I was a child.
The thing about the Geminids is that they’re unlike other meteor showers in that their “shooting stars” do not come from our passing through the tail of a comet, but rather from a “weird rocky object” called 3200 Phaethon. This smallish rock with an odd orbit is believed to have come from an impact event with asteroid called Pallas. In any event, there’s a ton of strange and unique features to this show, many of which remains a mystery to scientists. Its big deal though, is, well, its bigness.
Whether you actually buy into planetary politics (we’re reserving judgment), the cosmos are a fun and convenient foil for a range of bad behavior and bum luck. Your astrocartography, on the other hand, is something that should be taken very, very seriously. That’s right, your astrocartography, a.k.a. locational astrology, meaning you are where you live. That’s what the experts say, anyway. And you, my dear Leo, could very well be living in the wrong ZIP code.
Pack your bags. Here’s where you should be living according to your star sign.