The Western Lines

September 19, 2010

The Universe – Total Eclipse

Copyright David A. Hardy

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present episode seven of the fifth season of the History Channel’s outstanding documentary series – The Universe.

In this instalment we look examine an astronomical phenomenon that has inspired awe and wonder throughout the ages – The Total Solar Eclipse.

Once they were dreaded and thought to be dragons eating the sun but, modern science has dispelled mythology and we now look forward to total Solar Eclipses as one of the most spectacular phenomena in the heavens.

A look at the movements of the Earth, the sun and the moon during solar and lunar eclipses; how humans, if alone in the universe, may be the only intelligent creatures to witness these events; and how astronomers discover planets in other star systems that partially eclipse their stars.

The Universe – Total Eclipse


September 5, 2010

The Universe – Asteroid Attack

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the sixth episode of the fifth season of the highly acclaimed documentary series “The Universe” currently airing on the History Channel.

The latest instalment of the series looks at the asteroids and the impact they have or had on life now and before. What can spacecraft tell us about these vermin roaming through the solar system? Will human civilization one day colonize the Asteroids and use them to voyage to the stars?

We have all heard of massive boulders hurtling toward our planet, but could we be heading straight into one instead? Find out whether President Obama is sending the next manned space mission to an asteroid.

Author’s Note: In the past year there have been three separate impact events on Jupiter.

The Universe – Asteroid Attack

September 1, 2010

The Universe – Secrets of the Space Probes & Alien Planet

Daedalus star probe design from a British Interplanetary Society study completed in the late 1970s. Credit: © David A. Hardy at

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present a double video feature concerning the future of those pathfinding and intrepid robotic explorers known as Space Probes.

Space probes are the robotic scouts of space exploration and are paving the way for the age when humans eventually venture forth and explore the other worlds of our solar system and beyond.

They have discovered water on other planets, and snatched the actual building blocks of life from a comet’s tail. But can space probes find a new Earth or even make contact with alien life?

In the twenty-first century, space probes are currently photographing, drilling the crust and even sniffing the air of alien worlds in the quest for life, and scanning thousands of distant suns trying to detect Earth-like planets. It’s only a matter of time before space probes unlock the secrets to extra-terrestrial life and the universe itself.

Today’s feature documentaries are the fifth season episode of the highly acclaimed documentary series “The Universe – Secrets of the Space Probes” currently airing on the History Channel and the highly acclaimed Discovery Channel Special “Alien Planet” which premiered on May 14, 2005.

Alien Planet is a ninety-four minute documentary about two internationally built robot probes searching for alien life on the fictional planet Darwin IV. It was based on the book “Expedition”, by sci-fi/fantasy artist and writer Wayne Douglas Barlowe, who was also executive producer on the special.

The Universe – Secrets of the Space Probes

Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s Alien Planet

August 25, 2010

The Universe: Mars the Red Planet

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present episode two from the first season of the highly acclaimed documentary series “The Universe” which has been airing on the History Channel for the past five seasons.

The focus of this documentary is the fourth planet in distance from the Sun, the Red Planet – Mars.

Humanity has had an enduring love affair with this planet for the past one hundred and fifty years ever since the Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli set into motion a series of events which galvanised people’s attention on that distant world.

In 1877, during the “Great Opposition”, when Mars was closest to Earth, he announced that he observed a dense network of linear structures on the surface of Mars which he called “canali” which in Italian, means “channels” but which was mistranslated into “canals” in the English language.

While the latter term indicates an artificial construction, the former has the connotation that it can also be a natural configuration of the land. From this incorrect translation, various assumptions about life on Mars erupted like mushrooms overnight, as the “canals” of Mars soon became famous and gripped the popular imagination, giving rise to waves of speculation and folklore about the possibility of life and sentience on the distant red planet.

Among the most fervent supporters of the artificial canals was the famous American astronomer Percival Lowell who spent much of his life trying to prove the existence of intelligent life on the red planet.

Lowell theorized that an advanced but desperate civilization had built the canals to tap Mars’ polar ice caps, in a frantic bid to save their inexorably drying planet.

This was to was to bring forth the romanticised vision of Mars of as revealed by the pens of H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein which culminated with humanity’s exploration of space and a vigorous program of robotic exploration of the planet Mars in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

This enduring love affair continues unabated. It has been fifty years since humanity first took its first tentative steps out into the cosmic ocean of space, but Mars’ greatest secrets have yet to be revealed. In fact it is one of the stated goals of the current administration in Washington and within NASA to by pass any attempt to return humans to the Moon and venture headlong towards the red planet.

This may indeed prove to be a fool hardy policy. Yet, Mars does have its enticing allure.

Mars is indeed the one world in our solar system most similar to Earth. Mars is currently a world griped in a perpetual ice age, but this was not always the case. The surface of Mars as revealed by our orbital reconnaissance spacecraft shows us that Mars was once a warm, wet world flushed with the promise of life.

Yet, if Mars was once a potential abode of life in the past, what major calamity so drastically transformed its environment into the dry and fridge world we see today?

Rumours of existent and past life on Mars have yet to be substantiated as NASA’s orbiters and rovers discover new evidence of frozen water just beneath the rust red soil. Did alien life exist there in the past? Does it exist there today?

These are just a few of the questions we hope to answer during the course of our explorations of that world.

Now, as our world and civilization struggles with the effects of global warming and environmental degradation, we look forward to the possibility that Mars may one day become a second home for humanity.

Can humankind one day take life to Mars and bring Mars to life? In other words can Mars be terraformed?

Perhaps with some ingenuity humankind can take what it learned from its current and inadvertent geochemical experiment, that is steadily and adversely altering our planet’s climate, and use these same lessons in a deliberate attempt to transform the red planet into a green and blue orb that may one day become an abode for terrestrial life and consciousness.

The Universe: Mars the Red Planet

August 23, 2010

The Universe – Time Travel

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the fourth episode of the fifth season of the highly acclaimed documentary series “The Universe” currently airing on the History Channel.

The latest instalment of the series looks at the possibility of time travel and how it could one day become a reality.

Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity both allow for the possibility of travelling through time. Travelling into the far distant future is a definite certainty within special relativity. All you need to do is travel very fast at speeds that are a significant fraction of light speed and time slows down for you. This relativistic effect is known as time dilation.

This effect is a well established fact and has already been proven experimentally here on Earth and in space.

One only has to look at the behaviour of a short lived subatomic particle known the muon. A muon only has a lifetime measured in microseconds (μs).

If one comparers the lifetimes of two muons at different speeds we see some very surprising results. In the laboratory, slow muons are produced, and in the atmosphere very fast moving muons are made when cosmic rays bombard atoms in the tenuous upper atmosphere that exists on the very fridges of outer space above the Earth’s surface.

A muon’s lifetime at rest in the laboratory is 2.22 μs, the lifetime of a cosmic ray produced muon travelling at ninety-eight percent of the speed of light is about five times longer, in perfect agreement with calculations made using the theory of special relativity.

In this experiment the “clock” is the time taken by processes leading to muon decay, and these processes take place in the moving muon at its own “clock rate”, which is much slower than the laboratory clock.

Time dilation would make it possible for passengers in a fast moving space vehicle to travel further into the future while aging very little; since their great speed slows down the rate of passage of on-board their spaceship.

Thus the very first astronauts who venture forth to the stars will also be the first bona fide time travellers.

Yet, even more bizarre would be the mind-boggling paradoxes that would arise if travelling to the past ever became possible.

The Universe Time Travel

August 11, 2010

The Universe – Mars The New Evidence

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the second episode of the fifth season of the of the History Channel‘s highly acclaimed documentary series The Universe with a new look at the evidence for life on the planet Mars.

In today’s instalment we take a look at the evidence of life on Mars which provides many clues that it now, or once had supported it; from the remains of lakes and rivers that once flowed on the surface; to the water ice frozen at the poles; to the seasonal changes in methane gases that may prove bacterial life still thrives underground.

The Universe – Mars The New Evidence

August 2, 2010

The Seven Wonders of the Solar System

Filed under: Alex Michael Bonnici,Astronomy,solar system,The Universe — ralphbuttigieg @ 7:05 am

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the fifth season opening documentary of the History Channel’s highly acclaimed documentary series The Universe with a grand tour highlighting the magnificent “Seven Wonders of the Solar System”.

In this newest instalment of the Universe we take a close look at seven of the most astonishing wonders of our solar system, such as the geysers of Enceladus; Saturn’s majestic rings; Jupiter’s awe inspiring Great Red Spot; and scale the heights of Olympus Mons on Mars.

The Universe – The Seven Wonders of the Solar System

April 22, 2010

The Universe – Saturn Lord of the Rings

Filed under: Alex Michael Bonnici,Astronomy,Saturn,solar system,The Universe — ralphbuttigieg @ 7:05 am

Are the rings of Saturn a real celestial phenomenon or merely a cosmic Illusion? Technology allows the experts to get closer to the furthest planet visible to the naked eye. Old questions are answered and new ones arise. Does Saturn hold the key to Earth’s weather and will one of its moons supply us with all the oil we’ll ever need?

The Universe – Saturn Lord of the Rings

March 29, 2010

The Universe – The Edge of Space

The great visionary and science fiction writer Robert Heinlein was once quoted as saying “Once you’re in low Earth orbit (LEO), you’re halfway to anywhere.” Today on Discovery Enterprise we explore this realm close to home which is the gateway to the rest of the solar system and beyond.

Low Earth Orbit, 120 miles (193 kilometres) above sea level, is where the majority of space exploration has occurred and new commercial endeavours are being developed.

It will also be staging ground for the next ultimate thrill of your life – Space Diving.

This 1,100 mile (1,800 kilometer) band around Earth is where – for a cool $20 million – any private citizen can take the vacation of his or her life on the International Space Station. Commercial prospects for LEO are huge; but dangers lurk for any individual willing to travel here – radiation, cosmic rays, and space debris numbering in the thousands threaten any spacecraft traveling in orbit. It’s the new frontier, or the final frontier… and the possibilities are endless if you are willing to travel to the edge of space.

The Universe – The Edge of Space

March 24, 2010

The Universe – Secrets of the Sun

Filed under: Alex Michael Bonnici,Astronomy,Solar Physics,Sun,The Universe — ralphbuttigieg @ 7:05 am

Today on Discovery Enterprise we explore the secrets of the parental star of our own solar system and the main source of our home world’s light and warmth – the Sun.

It is a fireball in the sky, a bubbling, boiling, kinetic sphere of white hot plasma, exploding and erupting. Its size is almost unimaginable–one million Earths would fit within its boundaries.

In this violence is born almost all the energy that makes existence on Earth possible, yet, its full mysteries are only now beginning to be understood. From Sun spots to solar eclipses, solar flares to solar storms, the birth of the sun to its potential death, discover the science and history behind this celestial object that makes life on Earth exist.

The Universe – Secrets of the Sun

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