Tag Archives: technology





Having praised “Citizen Science” in a previous post, I believe it is wise to call attention to one of the latest undertakings from the individuals at COSMOQuest.org.  It is called Vesta Mappers; the aims of the endeavor are to map outstanding features of the “mini-world,” Vesta.

Vesta is found in the asteroid belt and it is one of the larger known bodies.  It is known to be a rocky body; and also, known meteorites, from Vesta, have been found (on Earth).  Vesta behaves somewhat like a “small, small planet”–it is nearly spheroidal and possesses a rotational period of approximately 5 hours and 10 minutes.  The composition (according to  JPL) appears similar to “lava flow-type” rock.  I must emphatically emphasize–no one currently understands  with certainty–how this “type” of mineral came to be in the middle of the asteroid belt.  It is widely regarded that asteroids, such as Vesta, are  remnants of the early Solar System.  One little known fact is that the “body” of Vesta could fit into the entire Pacific Ocean–(amazing and cool)!

COSMOQuest link is found here:  http://cosmoquest.org/mappers/vesta/

NASA  link is found here:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/ceresvesta/index.html

JPL Dawn mission here: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/


“Overview:” The Perspective-Altering Effect of Seeing Earth from Space

“Overview:” The Perspective-Altering Effect of Seeing Earth from Space.

The link listed above is an excellent perspective of the Earth from space. Much thanks is due to those at CosmoQuest.org, UniverseToday.com and The Overview Institute

The Sun as We Would Want to Know It–Maybe?

Credit: Wikipedia and U.S. Department of Interior


John Jaksich

The Sun is perhaps the most under-rated object in the sky; fact being, sometimes people think of the Sun as it was at the moment of their first sun-burn. (Kidding aside . . . ) Because so many associate the Sun with the passing of seasons, the Sun gained much respect during humankind’s history. The Anasazi aboriginals at Chaco canyon placed much significance upon the Sun (although a complete narrative is not known)–their markings upon the butte seemed to be for ceremony purposes.

Centuries later, Galileo upset Catholic Church dogma by stating that the Sun was not blemish-less. Currently, the Sun is studied extensively by many countries of the World and for many reasons other than the weather.

What are the facts—that make the Sun so attractive to study as a viable energy source? It has been shining for about 4.5 billion years. This stability makes it attractive to computer model and attempt to reproduce in a controlled manner. Harnessing solar fusion has been a topic of great importance to all—in fact, the concept has been researched for at least the past 60 years. But, with no major success in fusion research, getting a better understanding of the Sun might be the better route.

The Sun’s stability is a result of equilibrium between two competing forces: its own gravity and the outward pressure of the gaseous plasma. However, how are energy scientists attempting to reproduce the Sun for energy purposes? Currently, the differences between the Sun’s processes and fusion energy are like “night and day.” Professional assessments on fusion research conclude that it may take another 100 years before total completion of work. So, why is research continuing? see the following two links about  research on solar fusion: The Promise of Fusion: Energy Miracle or Mirage? by Alex Salkever: Yale Environment 360 and  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/07/opinion/sunday/a-big-laser-runs-into-trouble.html?smid=pl-share

As with a lot of research, “the path may be more important than the final goal.” The major differences between pure research and applied research can be like “night and day.” But, common ground is found when the researchers are able to utilize intermediate results—the space program of the 1960s was successful for many more reasons than the final result. It drove the world economy in many positive directions, as well as; giving more research problems for others to solve. In short, the research continues to perpetuate positive outcomes for the information age. 




John Jaksich

SETI app

Computational Citizen Science owes its origins, in part, to SETI.at.Home –the computer screen saver that dared anyone with idle computer time to utilize it for the pursuit of searching for signs of E.T. To the few astronomy-literate individuals not familiar with it, this simple adventure commenced with a single computer server in a cramped closet at the University of California, Berkeley in the mid-1990s. This inspirational endeavor born out of the silicon boom, has spawned dozens of well-meaning and educational endeavors. If allowed to continue to evolve, it may solve some of the more pressing problems faced today. Currently, the list of endeavors may be found here. The folks at Berkeley kindly developed the software so it could be adapted to different types of problems. Presently, the software is known as BOINC—or Berkeley Open Infrastructure Computing—and it is free for all to use.

One well-conceived off-shoot to the traditional screen saver has appeared. This undertaking is Cosmoquest.org which was launched in 2011, and is currently headed by five talented individuals in the astronomical community: Dr. Pamela Gay, Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, Scott Lewis, Georgia Bracey, and Joe Rhea. This is, perhaps, one of the more intelligent endeavors to prosper from the citizen science movement. The reason being—in my opinion, is their focus is precise while still having a large following. In mid-2012, the internet forum—Bad Astronomy-Universe Today joined the endeavor, and the group of “internet-inspired intellectuals” has produced a smart, vibrant community.

Although it may sound as if I am “tooting a horn” that may not need publicity, I speak because I have participated in the above endeavors. Why? For the same reason that I feel public outreach and education are the logical path of social networking.

SETI.at.HOME may be found at:  http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/

BOINC may be found at this link:: http://boinc.berkeley.edu/

COSMOQuest.org may be found here: http://cosmoquest.org/

Considerations on Astrobiology



John Jaksich

amino acid mirror images

Source:  Wikipedia

Figure 1

Mirror Images of an Amino Acid

An illustration of chirality (handedness)


Chirality is a term familiar to the scientific community, but not as familiar to the lay-public.  The word, chiral, is from the ancient Greek language for hand; and it bears significance because of life’s unique fingerprint.  Our proteins are (for the most part) made of left-handed amino acids.  What does this mean?  In the hunt for extra-terrestrial microbes, finding microbes beyond Earth that do not possess any resemblance to our own would be revolutionary.  It would be one small answer to an age-old question:  is human life the only chemistry of life–or if we are not alone why have we not seen anyone else?  Perhaps our bio-chemistry is so unique, we did not know where to look?

In Figure 1, we can discern a certain asymmetry between the molecules; they are mirror images of one another.  Pasteur made early contributions to the science when recognizing that a molecule may possess a mirror image of itself.  Furthermore, he recognized that–on occasion– mirror images may possess different properties.  In his experimentation, he separated mirror images of tartaric acid crystals.  By today’s standards, his methodology may be considered crude, but it was a complete stroke of genius for his time.  Painstakingly, Pasteur separated the right-handed crystals from the left–with a magnifying glass and tweezers.

crystal illustration

Source:  Wikipedia

Figure 2

Tartaric Acid Crystals

It is often said that individual mirror image molecules differ in bio-physical properties, the difference serves as the basis for the debate on why our type of life favors left-handed amino acids.  Biologists have argued that life would not have evolved without the current preferences seen in bio-molecular systems.  Others have argued for a physical basis for a left-handed preference among bio-molecular systems.  In any light, the scientific basis for chirality falls into two hotly contested areas: (1) the physical universe confers a preference for left-handed molecules, (2) left-handed molecules were favored on the Earth through an unknown process.

Experiments have been performed to simulate conditions that molecules experience in the Solar System; under those conditions, 50 percent mixtures of amino acids became an excess of left-handed amino acids. In the year 2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) will land its probe (from the Rosetta mission) on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko; it will sample the molecular constituency of the comet.  Hopefully this will give a better answer to the question of handedness in the solar system.  In fact the ESA probe will have visited a few solar system objects by the 2014 rendezvous date (see Figure 3 for probe trajectory).

Rosetta Probe

Source: Wikipedia

Figure 3


Trajectory of ESA probe:  Rosetta


For information regarding Rosetta: