Saturday, November 29, 2008

Toasts. Not the buttered kind.


Anyone who knows any Russians knows about their crazy toasting habits. To Russians, American parties are exceptionally bland. At most, we might, once or twice in a night, mumble "Cheers" or "To us", but that's about the extent of it. Russian drinking follows a lengthy, set pattern of toasts.
I read the following and smiled. It's obvious that our astronauts have spent some time drinking with their cosmonaut comrades.


"We decided to propose a toast," Pettit said. "So here's our cup filled with tea, and Steve has a cup filled with tea, and again, this is using the contact angle wetting phenomenon that rocket engineers use in fuel tanks in rockets to make a tea cup. And what we're going to do is propose a Thanksgiving toast on orbit.


Both astronauts tipped their cups and took a sip of tea.


"And now we're going to propose a toast to Thanksgiving, wishing everyone on Earth and off Earth a good Thanksgiving," Pettit said.


The astronauts took another sip.


"And now we're proposing a toast for future explorers."


The astronauts took another sip.


"And finally, we're proposing a toast just because we're in space and we can!

Even though Pettit sort of violates the rules of toasting (the first toast he makes is rather generic - he doesn't really toast anything - he just informs us that he's going to toast), he is following the pattern of repetitive toasting.

Here's a rough guide: The first toast is to the occasion, the second to the hosts, the third to our spouse. (Traditionally, to "the woman we love." After all, shots are historically a male thing, surprise surprise.)
After that, knock yourself out, but keep it interesting. It's also customary to toast world peace when you're among foreigners.


Russian toasts are usually accompanied by a story/joke. It's not uncommon for the pre-toast story to last quite a few minutes. Here's one of the shorter ones:


There were two best friends, Ivan and Sergey. One day, they were walking down the street. "Hide me!" yelled Ivan suddenly. "Why?" asked Sergey. "Do you see those two women walking up the street? That's my wife and she's walking with my girlfriend!"

"No it's not," said Sergey. "That's MY wife walking with MY girlfriend."

To best friends!

Friday, November 28, 2008

More fun facts.

Our Sun is so big that if you hollowed it out, it would hold 1,300,000 Earths.

If you hollowed out the star Antares, it would hold 64,000,000 of our Suns.

A star in the constellation Hercules is so big that, if hollowed out, it would hold 100,000,000 Antares stars.

The largest known star, Epsilon, is so big that if hollowed out, it could hold several million Hercules stars or 27,000,000,000 of our Suns.

Consider the thickness of a standard sheet of paper. Imagine that the thickness of one sheet of paper represents the 93,000,000 mile distance from the Earth to our Sun.

If every sheet's thickness represents 93,000,000 miles, how high would the stack of paper have to be to represent the distance from Earth to our next-nearest star, Alpha Centauri?
That stack of paper would need to be 70 feet high to represent that distance.

How high would the stack of paper be, with every sheet's thickness representing 93,000,000 miles, to represent the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy?
That stack of paper would have to be 310 MILES high.

How high would the stack be if we wanted to represent the distance to the edge of the known Universe from Earth?
That stack would have to be 31 MILLION MILES high.

Fun Facts.

An average sandbox (whatever that is) has been said to contain as many grains of sand as the Milky Way has stars.

If every person on Earth had a sandbox, the amount of sand grains contained therin would still not approach the number of stars in the Universe.

A teaspoon contains as many grains of sand as stars you can see on a perfectly clear night.

The Milky Way is bright enough to cast your shadow on a perfectly clear night.

Most of the Universe is empty. The space between stars contains less than one atom per cubic centimeter. In contrast, at sea level, one cubic centimeter contains a billion trillion atoms.

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the Universe will increase by 100 trillion cubic light-years.

And the award for "Most Airheaded News Crew (Non-National)" goes to...



Congratulations, guys. Well-deserved. No one else was even close.

The Universe


One of the best episodes of this excellent show I've yet seen:

The Universe: Light Speed

Lots of physics, sci-fi speculation on wormholes and warp speed, a scientist stopping light in a gas, moving it to another location and then restarting it, and other fun stuff.

Will be airing again Sunday at 4PM.

Beautiful sky coming up.


December 1st, Jupiter, Venus, and a crescent moon will be adjacent in the night sky.

Western Europe is even luckier - they'll experience a Venutian "eclipse" of sorts, which hasn't happened since 1961 and won't happen again until 2032.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Science and faith.

I note with amusement the description of an article on space.com: "Scientist goes public with his belief in God and the acceptance of evolution."

This is groundbreaking? This is noteworthy?

Sure, but only if you have some grave misconceptions about basic theology.

While I'm not overly impressed with Professor Giberson's defense of his faith (rather weakly conveyed, but hey, we can't all be J.R.R. Tolkien), I am surprised at the fact that the existence of a believer-scientist actually passes for news nowadays. It is simply perpetuating the myth of the uneducated believer, by pointing out that, hey, one of them DOES believe in science!

Let me just touch on one tiny part of the Catholic Church, the Jesuit order.

Contributions to seismology by the Jesuits were so numerous that it became known as the "Jesuit science." 35 craters on the Moon are named for Jesuit scientists and mathematicians.

Jesuits made significant contributions to the development of:
  • Pendulum clocks
  • Pantographs
  • Barometers
  • Reflecting telescopes
  • Microscopes
  • The field of magnetism
  • The field of optics
  • The field of electricity
In addition, they observed, in some cases before anyone else:
  • the colored bands on Jupiter's surface
  • the Andromeda nebula
  • Saturn's rings
They theorized about:
  • the circulation of blood (independent of Harvey)
  • the theoretical possibility of flight
  • the moon's effect on the tides
  • the wave-like nature of light
They were also responsible for:
  • making star maps of the Southern hemisphere
  • the creation of symbolic logic
  • successful flood-control measures along the Po and Adige Rivers
  • introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics

In 2005, Paul Cardinal Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for culture, said the Genesis account of creation and Darwinism were "perfectly compatible" and attacked "fundamentalists who want to give a scientific meaning to words that have no scientific aim." The point of Genesis, he said, was that the universe didn't create itself. The rest is details.

At a Vatican conference on evolution earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI said, "There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences."
Following the Pope's remarks, Stephen Hawking gave a lecture on "The Origin and Destiny of the Universe."

It was the second time the brilliant Hawking (who calls himself "a believer, but not in the traditional sense") has lectured at the Vatican.

Echoing the same thought, the Rabbinical Council of America has stated that "evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a divine creator nor with the first two chapters of Genesis."

Tom Jones (Bachelor of Science, USAF Academy, Ph.D., Planetary Science, University of Arizona), wrote the following about his first flight on the space shuttle:

During one orbital night, Kevin (Chilton, pilot), Sid (Guitierrez, commander) and I gathered on the flight deck for a short communion service. Kevin, a Eucharistic minister, carried the Blessed Sacrament with him, in a simple golden pyx. The three of us shared our amazement at experiencing the beauty of creation, and thanked God for good companions and the success achieved so far. Then Kevin shared the Body of Christ with Sid and me, and we floated weightless on the flight deck, grateful for this comradeship and communion with Christ.

And deist scientists aren't just American, either.

Consider this "Orthodox Encyclopaedia" interview:

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Good morning! We all remember the words allegedly said by Yuriy Gagarin: I went up to the outer space and didn't find any God there. Many years have passed. Does this axiom still work for the modern space explorers?

Valeriy Korzun: I know another phrase, also said by Gagarin: If you haven't met God on Earth you won't meet Him in outer space. This phrase is much closer to my heart. A lot has changed: every crew gets a priest's blessing before the launch now.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Is there a church in Zvyozdny Gorodok?

Yuriy Lonchakov: Yes, there is, it was built three years ago.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Is there a specific saint cosmonauts pray to before the launch? Do you have a heavenly patron?

Valeriy Korzun: Not as such, but we have always considered St. Nicholas the Wonderworker our patron, because he takes care of all travellers.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Do you take icons along to space?

Yuriy Lonchakov: Yes, we take small ones along. I always have an icon of St. George the Victorybearer, because my name is Yuriy, it's a variation of George.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: I have recently been very surprised to learn that a church has been built in Baikonur. Do you know after whom it is consecrated and what services it holds?

Valeriy Korzun: I haven't heard that it's already been built, but I know there is an Orthodox community there, and they used to meet just in a room, and their priests came to bless us before the launch.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Many people now consecrate their homes and cars, ships are consecrated, I even consecrated a theatre. Are rockets consecrated?

Yuriy Lonchakov: I don't know about rockets, but before the crew puts the space suits on, a priest is always invited to consecrate them.

Valeriy Korzun: And the bus that takes them to the launch pad. We don't know about the rockets because we don't deal with them, but they say they do get consecrated.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: This must be wonderful - to fly all around the Earth on a consecrated space ship!
Valeri Petrov, Yuri Gagarin's best friend, has repeatedly stated it was not Gagarin but Khrushchev who said the bit about not finding God in space, and he attributed that statement to the cosmonaut. What Gagarin did say, says Petrov, is, "An astronaut cannot be suspended in space and not have God in his mind and heart."

A scientist who's also a deist? Hardly uncommon, and not exactly earth shattering.
Above: Astronauts and cosmonauts in the Zvezda module of the International Space Station share some repulsive-looking food amongst an Orthodox Crucifix, a painting of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow (built from 1839-1883, destroyed by that p.o.s. Stalin in a couple of hours in 1931, and rebuilt to exact specs a few years back), Our Lady of Kazan, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Christ Pantocrator, and a boyish, adorable Yuri Gagarin.

Sooooo...... like Leona Helmsley.

Too soon?

On this date...


in 1969, Christopher Columbus Kraft, the man responsible for the permanent grounding of more astronauts* than anyone else, was appointed Deputy Director of the Manned Spaceflight Center.
Do not piss off Chris Kraft.
Just don't.

*Scott Carpenter and the entire Apollo 7 crew, just to name a few.



Above: Kraft announces he is permanently grounding his tailor for blatantly violating the standards of good taste.

Now if we could just find an organic spice molecule.

(And an organic "Everything Nice" molecule, natch.)

Glycolaldehyde Found in Potentially Habitable Part of the Galaxy

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In my neck of the woods. (Sort of.)

Beautiful Venus and Jupiter provide a nice backdrop for a time-lapse ISS flyby over Lake Michigan.

How I spent a great portion of my childhood.

This doesn't really have anything to do with anything, but it's really, really cool.
Especially the soundtrack.
(Make sure you pause the Playlist on the sidebar so the Soggy Bottom Boys aren't singing over the video.)

My kind of R&D.

Why did it take 50 years for this?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Apollo 12 landing


On this date in 1969, Apollo 12 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

In stark contrast to the nerve-wracking Apollo 11 mission, Apollo 12 was filled with lighthearted fun.

From Pete Conrad's "Whoopie! That may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me!" exclamation when he first stepped onto the lunar surface to (presumably) the First Porn to the Moon (which was secretly placed into the lunar checklist flipbook by the backup crew), I think it's safe to say that Apollo 12 was the Animal House of lunar missions.

Why spaceweather.com is the best site on the interweb tubes.

Because where else can you see
video of Heidi's toolbag* streaking across the night sky?
Nowhere, that's where.

And if you can find another site where you can enter your ZIP code and find out when and where to look for a
flyby of Heidi's toolbag, I'll buy you a beer.


*By the way, "Heidi's Toolbag" would now be a great name for a rock band.

In a pinch, you can drink it as is.


The urine recycler on the ISS is back on the fritz.

"Hey, does this taste like pee to you?"
"Yeah, it kind of does."
"Dude, I think that thing's broken again."