You can take a free online course in Asteroid Defense 101 courtesy of the Planetary Society. It is one of the first in a series of courses they will be offering, with this one taught by Bruce Betts, author and Planetary Scientist. The course is free, and presented on line.
The best movie this time is a true story: Hidden Figures has to be one of the best films of the year, or last year at least. If you haven’t seen it yet, now is your chance! Mars: Season One is a mini-series presented on National Geographic all about the upcoming Mars Colonization project. Monster Trucks is silly fun for the entire family, a very friendly invasion indeed. And then there is Tangled: Before Ever After Volume 1, an animated prequel; the production values on this one are way below the original films (1930s at the most recent, it appears), but they are at least trying to tell a new story.
In Anime, Is the Order a Rabbit?? – Season 2 brings us lots more silly fun, and Toriko: Parts 1-4 contains the first 50 episodes (4 seasons, or one year, depending on how you prefer to count) of the ultimate food porn combat comedy! I think the streaming service is up to episode 148 or so at the moment, to put that in perspective.
The Western winner this week is Passengers, an excellent character driven romantic drama set against the backdrop of deep space during an era of interstellar expansion. Solace has a psychic doctor assisting a detective in tracking down a serial killer. The only problem is the serial killer is a psychic too, and a much better one than the doctor working with the FBI. It has a world class cast and an interesting trailer, the critical reviews indicate the movie has some serious flaws but the chemistry between the cast makes it work despite them.
In Anime, K: Missing Kings is the movie bridge between season 1 and season 2; there are 7 kings in the world, each with their own special power which they can grant in greater or lesser degrees to their followers. And there is war between the secret kings, with the potential to overturn the mundane world entirely. Ben To: The Complete Series is being released in a S.A.V.E. edition, with a totally different kind of war. In grocery stores across Japan, the battle for half-priced Bento boxes has become fierce.
With the excitement generated by the recent announcement of TRAPPIST-1 with the largest group of potentially inhabitable planets, a lot of people would like to learn more about exoplanets. NASA has a great way to do that, with the Eyes on Exoplanets app. Download and install it, and it will generate a scientifically accurate 3D universe populated by more than a thousand planets NASA has discovered orbiting other stars. Just watching the way the stars change as you go from one planet to another is hypnotic. The app has three modules, besides the Exoplanets database/media center it also includes Eyes on the Earth and Eyes on the Solar System, also very fun and educational programs. Since they are all available for free, you might as well get the entire set.
NASA’s big announcement yesterday makes me hopeful for the future. They found 7 rocky, roughly Earth-sized planets orbiting in (or close enough to with the correct percentage of greenhouse gases in their atmosphere) the Goldilocks Zone, orbiting a single Red Dwarf star. The seven planet’s orbits are spaced very closely together in order to achieve this, but aligned very evenly, and where a star like the Sun has a lifetime of 10 billion years, a Red Dwarf star has a lifetime measured between 1 trillion and 10 trillion years. If I was a Type II civilization, that’s the kind of stellar environment I would want to park my habitable planets in, and looking at TRAPPIST-1 it looks suspiciously like that’s what might be going on there. The range of size and temperature environments each planet is subject to would work particularly well for a multi-species civilization who’s members evolved on different planets.
How will we find out if that is what’s going on here? Without a wildly improbable series of breakthroughs in physics with the associated applied engineering needed to build Warp Drive Starships, or a visit to our solar system by someone who has already done that, we probably won’t find out for sure in our lifetimes. But next year the James Webb Telescope goes into orbit, with a full sensor suite specifically designed to tell us more about everything from the planets of our local solar system, to exoplanets, to distant galaxies. You can believe TRAPPIST-1 has been put high on it’s priority list of the things they want it to examine first. The spectrum’s from each of those planets will tell the tale; if the ones closer in have almost no greenhouse gases, the ones farther out have a lot, and they all show traces of oxygen and organic compounds like Methane, we may have neighbors. Which would pretty much mark this week as the most important one of any of our lives.
If you didn’t recognize the reference to Type II Civilizations, in 1964, Nikolai Kardashev came up with the Kardashev Scale which measured a Civilization by the amount of energy it could utilize, which would in part be a function of its level of technology. On that scale, we are technically a Type 0, although Carl Sagan refined it a bit and considered us a Type 0.7, possibly making it to Type 1 within a hundred years or so, assuming we survive that long. You can learn more about it at David Darling’s Kardashev civilizations or Guillermo A. Lemarchand’s Detectability of Extraterrestrial Technological Activities from way back in 1992 (which explains why the web site looks so primitive). I am also including a video from physicist Michio Kaku that explains it rather well.
I am not a sports fan, but I would love to be at the super bowl this year. Since it is apparently being held in Huston, NASA decided it would be a great place to set up their Mars VR simulator Future Flight. The ride runs for two minutes and takes you through real 360 degree Martian terrain captured by the most recent rovers, and ends with a 90 foot drop (using a carnival ride drop to make it real) for the free fall of reentry on your return to Earth. They have a number of other activities and exhibits set up, including a replica of the Curiosity Rover which gathered the images and is doing some serious science, and a full size replica of the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch next year. If you are in Huston the entire exhibition is free, you should really check it out!