A History of the Magellanic Clouds and How They Got Their Names

The Magellanic Clouds are a pair of dwarf galaxies that are bound to the Milky Way. The Milky Way is slowly consuming them in Borg-like fashion, starting with the gas halo that surrounds both Clouds. They’re visible in the southern sky, and for centuries people have gazed up at them. They’re named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, in our current times.

But they weren’t always called that.

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Remembering Don Arabian, the ‘Mad Genius’ Behind NASA’s Apollo Engineering Team

One of the truly unsung heroes of the Apollo program has passed away at age 95. Donald D. Arabian, Chief of the Apollo Test Division, headed the Mission Evaluation Room (MER), which was responsible for solving in-flight problems during the Apollo missions to the Moon.  

His nickname was “Mad Don,” and anyone who had the privilege of meeting him or working with him described Arabian as “one of a kind,” “colorful,” and “completely and totally unforgettable.” But in the book “Apollo: Race to the Moon” authors Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox designated Arabian as one of four people responsible for the success of the Apollo Program. 

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Martian Features Were Carved by Glaciers, not Flowing Rivers

Orbiters are giving us a chance to study the surface of Mars closely, and some of the features that pop to prominence are dry river channels. There are over 10,000 of them. But a new study suggests that glaciers on ancient Mars are responsible for many of them.

According to the study, those glaciers and the water flowing under them are resonsible for carving out some of those riverbeds, rather than free-flowing rivers.

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Five Space and Astronomy Activities to do at Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak

We’re in uncharted territory as the world faces the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While the medical community is on the front lines of dealing with this, as well as others who provide critical services in our communities, the best thing many of us can do is to stay home (and wash our hands).

If you’re looking for ways to keep occupied, keep your kids in learning-mode while school is canceled, and expand your horizons — all at the same time — luckily there are lots of space and astronomy-related activities you can do at home and online. We’ve compiled a few of our favorites, including this first one, one that just became available yesterday.

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3 Billion Years Ago, the World Might Have Been a Waterworld, With No Continents At All

Artist's depiction of a waterworld. A new study suggests that Earth is in a minority when it comes to planets, and that most habitable planets may be greater than 90% ocean. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Evidence from an ancient section of the Earth’s crust suggest that Earth was once a water-world, some three billion years ago. If true, it’ll mean scientists need to reconsider some thinking around exoplanets and habitability. They’ll also need to reconsider their understanding of how life began on our planet.

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Who was Aristotle?

Philosopher, polymath, educator, synthesist, founder. These are just some of the words used to describe Aristotle, the 4th century BCE Greek luminary who (along with Plato) is known as the “father of Western philosophy.” With subjects ranging from physics, biology, and astronomy to logic, ethics, politics, and metaphysics, there is scarcely any field of study or subject that he did not have a significant and lasting impact on.

In fact, within the realm of astronomy and physics, Artistotle would be one of the leading authorities whose work would be considered canon for over two thousand years after his death. From Classical Antiquity to the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages and the Rennaissance, Aristotle would be considered the authoritative source on countless subjects.

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The Apollo 1 Fire: Excerpt from “Eight Years to the Moon”

Editor’s note: Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts during a routine test on the launchpad. The test was a dress rehearsal for the Apollo 1 crew — Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The goal was to check out the command module, NASA’s first spacecraft that would take astronauts to the Moon.

Following is an excerpt about the fire from the book “Eight Years to the Moon: The History of the Apollo Missions” by Nancy Atkinson. The book tells the unique personal stories of over 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make the Apollo program possible, and is filled with stories of the dedication and perseverance it took to overcome the challenges, hurdles and conflicts of doing things that had never been done before. It provides a glimpse into the lives of some of the hundreds of thousands of people who made it possible to land humans on the Moon. While many of the stories in the book are fun and heart-warming, this excerpt shares the incredibly heart-breaking event that shocked the country and halted the Apollo program as NASA scrambled to figure out what went wrong.

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The Story of the Apollo Guidance Computer, Part 3

During the development of the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) by the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (see Part 1 and Part 2 for the complete backstory), an inauspicious event occurred sometime during 1965-1966, while the Gemini missions were going on.

The Gemini program helped NASA get ready for the Apollo Moon landings missions by testing out rendezvous and other critical techniques and technologies. Ten crews flew missions in Earth orbit on the two-person Gemini spacecraft.

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The Story of the Apollo Guidance Computer, Part 2

In the late 1950’s, before NASA had any intentions of going to the Moon – or needing a computer to get there — the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory had designed and built a small prototype probe they hoped would one day fly to Mars (read the background in part 1 of this story here).  This little probe used a small, rudimentary general-purpose computer for navigation, based on the inertial systems for ballistic missiles, submarines, and aircraft the Lab had designed and built for the military since World War II.

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