Title: The World’s Easiest Astronomy Book
Author: Hitoshi Nakagawa
Publisher: One Peace Books, Inc.
Many children and adults are interested in space. We may think of outer space as the Heavens, or a source of exploration with infinite possibilities, or a place where discoveries are waiting to be made. According to : “Astronomy is defined as the scientific study of matter in outer space; particularly the positions, dimensions, distribution, motion, composition, energy, and evolution of celestial bodies (planets, stars) and other phenomena.”
The World’s Easiest Astronomy Book is a must have for anyone whose imagination is peaked by the universe. It is especially a must for those with children or grandchildren. Nakagawa covers a number of topics including: do aliens really exist; living at light speed; temperature in space; is there wind in space; the centrifugal force of the earth; and so much more. And, he explains the topics with easy to understand content.
This 111 page book is jammed packed with tidbits of information about space. Information that I find fascinating and I know my very young grandsons, when they’re a bit older, will enjoy learning about also. One of the most interesting topics, to me, was, Everything We See is in the Past. The author explains that: “The speed of light is 300,000 km (186,000 miles) per second, meaning that light could circle the Earth seven and a half times in a single second. Even at this incredible speed it still takes light from the Sun 8 minutes to reach the Earth.”
So, how does this relate to the title of the topic? Well, according to Nakagawa: “Light is reflected by objects, and shortly afterwards arrives at your eyes allowing you to see it. The same is true even for this book. Hold this book 12 inches from your eyes and you’re looking at an image of this book 0.000 000001 seconds in the past.”
Nakagawa also touches on man-made space debris and space station garbage. It appears we are not only polluting the Earth, but we’ve managed to bring pollution above and beyond. The debris from satellites and launching rockets is not only littering the heavens, it can also be problematic for spacecrafts and satellites. Debris between 1 cm and 10 cm can do damage to a spacecraft if it hits. Fragments larger than 10 cm are even more dangerous and are tracked by The Space Control Center, part of United Stares Strategic Command.
The World’s Easiest Astronomy Book sheds light on some very complex subjects with easy to understand explanations. While one or two topics, at the most, could have used a bit more clarity, and the book does not have an index, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and highly recommend it.
About the author: Hiroshi Nakagawa is a former JAXA space exploration officer. After studying in America he returned to Japan and taught in an American university before assisting the Japanese space development program. He now lives in Osaka and teaches at a High School.
I was a skeptic when I was first introduced to astrology. The position of the bodies in the sky certainly made sense from an astronomy point of view, but deriving characteristics and predictions out of them seemed a bit much. Then I actually looked into. Once I did, I was fairly shocked at how often things seemed to align.
My journal into astrology started the same place as many of the male designation do – a girlfriend. I was living in Russia of all places and, well, astrology is very big in that country. A young lady I was dating was eternally after me to tell her my birth date. The reason? She wanted to do get a chart reading. Why? Our general signs were not a good match, so a more detailed chart reading would tell her if we were truly doomed as a couple. I should’ve just know from the general signs, but that is another story!
Ultimately, I agreed to a chart reading. Sure enough, we were doomed as a couple. Much to my surprise, she took it to heart and ended our relationship within a day. I responded in the usual irrational male way and decided I would look into this nonsense if only to prove it wrong and perhaps win her back. That’s when things got a bit weird.
The more I read each of our charts, the more I realized they definitely would not make a good match. More baffling was my chart described me more or less to a “T”, even aspects of myself that I don’t reveal to many others. She eventually admitted that her chart predicted the same regarding some of her more private aspects. We tried to carry on, but ultimately it didn’t work out. There were many reasons, but it definitely made me wander more than a bit.
Since that time, I’ve read more than a few horoscopes. To be honest, I don’t find them all that accurate at least not specifically so. Individual chart readings, however, I’ve found to be uncomfortably accurate. I’ve talked numerous friends in to getting them and the results have almost always been accurate enough if you can go by the facial expressions of people. It is rather amazing.
Astrology has been with us since the Babylonians. For it to last this long, it certainly seems as though there must be something to it. My journey into astrology certainly makes me think so.
Once upon a time there were two adjacent planets orbiting a run-of the-mill star in one of the arms of an unremarkable spiral galaxy. Both were warm, both were wet, both had substantial atmospheres, both had vulcanism, both had oceans, seas and rivers, and both were in or on the edge of their star’s habitable zone. Life, we are certain began on one, but on the other – well we’re not too sure. The planets in question are of course the Earth and Mars.
Everyone is fascinated by Mars. From an earlier less-informed age, science fiction by Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs, or the imagined canals of astronomer Percival Lowell has fired our imagination, and has ensured that the Red Planet now has a special place in both our hearts and popular folklore.
The real Mars is even more fascinating however, and the planet’s formation and history can be the subject of some fascinating speculation. Mars is still one of the few places in the solar system that humans can think realistically about exploring on foot.
Did life arise on Mars in its early past like it did on Earth? Even more speculative, did life arise on one planet, only to be transported by ejecta to the other after an asteroid impact? Many scientists think that life, well microbial life at any rate, protected from cosmic rays and a fiery entry into the Earth’s atmosphere inside a space rock can traverse the vast distances between planets.
One of the meteorites discovered on the snows of the Allen Hills of Antarctica showcased by NASA in 1996, and confirmed as Martian by isotopic analysis, contains tantalising crystal structures that may be either chemical in origin or fossilised bacteria (albeit very small bacteria!). Meteorite ALH84001 may surprise us yet.
Will future geologists as they explore Mars discover fossils in the sedimentary rocks that are so indicative of the planet’s wet and warmer past? Did creatures swim in the seas and rivers of Mars – were they washed up on the now high and dry fossilised Martian beaches that we’ve identified with our Mars orbiters?
Did they take the ultimate white-knuckle ride over waterfalls to dwarf Niagara in the Vallis Marineris, a gargantuan canyon the width of North America? As the late NASA astronomer and planetary scientist Carl Sagan (1994) speculated, “Now that would be a world to explore – unfortunately we are four billion years too late!”
Whether such speculation turns out to be confirmed, things started to go wrong about 3.8 billion years ago, about the time life got started on Earth. Mars is about half the size of the Earth so its interior began to radiate heat to space much more quickly and its core began to solidify.
Without a molten iron core acting as a dynamo, any magnetic field surrounding the planet started to dissipate exposing the atmosphere and surface to the Sun’s charged particles. Any tentative carbon cycle would grind to a halt too — despite having the largest volcano in the solar system (Olympus Mons), vulcanism would cease, and with it any possibility of recycling the planet’s carboniferous rocks.
In addition, with its gravity and hence escape velocity only 40% that of the Earth, and with no protective ozone layer, ultra violet radiation would pummel the Martian atmosphere disassociating water and carbon dioxide molecules into their constituent atoms with hydrogen and oxygen drifting off into space.
With steadily decreasing atmospheric pressure, the Martian greenhouse effect would be thrown into reverse. Temperatures would plummet, the planet’s remaining water would freeze either in permafrost or subterranean glaciers, and life, if it had existed would be forced to retreat into the last protected under- the-surface niches and habitats.
Is it still there, hiding in the caves of Mars or in the subsurface soils, clays and rocks, away from the desiccated, radiation-fried environment above? Is this the cause of the methane out gassing detected by NASA – or does this possible bio-signature have chemical or volcanic origins?
We know from a plethora of studies in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth such as Antarctica, deep in the oceans, in sulphurous volcanic springs, even in nuclear reactors and in solar radiation-saturated NASA hardware brought back by astronauts from the surface of the Moon that extremophiles are tenacious in the extreme! Once life has a foothold, extinguishing it is phenomenally difficult.
However, NASA/JPL’s’s two Viking spacecraft that touched down in mid-1976 gave inconclusive results in their analysis of the Martian soil. Gases were exchanged when a nutrient soup was added to the soil, but no organic molecules were found on the Martian surface.
However, the Vikings were designed to detect only a small subset of possible life – that found on the Earth. There’s no guarantee that extraterrestrial bugs will adhere to terrestrial rules.
NASA/JPL’s Mars Science Laboratory is slated for launch in 2011, and with a battery of on-board tests and equipment may start to provide some more substantial tantalising evidence of the signatures of life. Previous unmanned spacecraft have participated in NASA’s “follow the water” initiative –both the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers have found abundant evidence of sulphate rocks formed in water and stratified sedimentary rocks exposed on the Martian surface. The Mars Phoenix lander found copious amounts of water ice underneath its landing site, and evidence of perchlorate-saturated water condensed on its legs.
Mars is still a fascinating, enigmatic and lovely world with wonders aplenty to keep our robot emissaries, and eventually astronauts busy for decades and centuries to come. Its river channels, waterfalls, lakes and seas may now be desiccated, and its warmest days may be barely above the freezing point of water, but finding life on the Red Planet has been a dream of humanity for centuries. And sometimes dreams come true.
Sagan, C., Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, Random House, (November 1994)