Hit Parade

Hey, Hello There.
Nice of You to Stop By

Dear readers: Thank you. For some crazy reason, Colltales’ readership hits are kissing the sky today. Since I haven’t done anything to spike the stats, I assume it’s some kind of fluke, some search engine going awry and drawing people to come and visit. So, welcome you all.
Still, if you have any idea, feel free to speak up. I see that our dear people in Turkey are leading the way, so perhaps something in Istanbul or Ankara is driving attention to our humble site. Well, now that you’re all here, make yourselves comfortable and take a good look around.
Let me tell you a little bit about ourselves. We’ve been on for four years, give or take, and our posts, as you can see, cover a wide variety of subjects. So, after scrolling down for a little bit, perhaps you may want to look up favorite themes through our own search engine (middle bottom left).
Our guess is that among, say, five choices of issues you’re interested in, we have at least one post about or related to one of them. That’s because there are over 1,300 hundred articles on this site, including news stories, curiosities, current affairs, and even non fiction.
Try Children, or Space, for instance. Maybe Brazil, or Poverty, Cats, even Religion. There are headlined stories and opinion pieces, as the Curtain Raiser series. Hope you enjoy it. We put a lot of effort on this space, which you probably noticed, is independent and ad free.
Of course, we could never compete with a giant such as the Huffington Post. Or Justin Bieber. Compared to them, over 600 hits in a single day is no big deal. But as we say, if this blog were about people taking the NYC subway F line at 10am, everyday, it’d be a smash hit.
Then again, how would we be writing about the Amazon Rainforest? or the mysteries of space and time? Even the NYC subway F line. To each, its own, then. We hope you make stopping by here a daily habit; there’ll be always something new to be discovered in these pages.
Thanks again for the nice feeling you’ve given us. Specially you, Turkey. It’s almost like having a warm meal in your belly after going hungry for so long. Almost like an early Thanksgiving, without the family fights. Feel free to tell your loved ones about this friend you now have in New York. Hey, we may even hit the 1000 mark today. And leave your comments, so we know you’re there. All the best to everyone. WC

Falling Junk

Long Life for
Our Star Trash

Since ancient times, people looked up at the sky and dreamed about the future, new worlds, or whether it’ll rain or shine. These days, they look out for something else: space junk. Statistically, the 60 to 80 tons of metal garbage we’ve once sent aloft and now comes back to Earth every year has little chance to hit anyone, personally.
Which doesn’t mean it can’t. Most actually get burned while entering our atmosphere. A lot dive straight to the sea, which covers most of the planet’s surface anyway. Then there’s the stuff that falls in deserted areas, and few even notice it. That leaves a small, tiny, teeny percentage of flaming rocks that, yes, can crush you to death.
We don’t want to worry you too much. After all, if this was Saturday, we’d be doing better featuring cat pictures. But think about a lottery, for instance, and the buck you risk weekly, hoping to change your life with a struck of a number. Well, chances of hitting the jackpot are roughly equivalent to chances of being hit by falling debris. So.
Let’s take a quick look at what’s up there, what may have reached its expiration date some time ago, and what’s getting closer and closer to reentry, shall we?
The straight dope: right now, there are about 500,000 known pieces of space junk in orbit, including items 0.5 inches wide, and 21,000 objects larger than four inches in diameter, all currently being tracked by the Department of Defense’s U.S. Space Surveillance Network.
But if that makes you relax, you don’t know what’s coming at you at 17,500mph: once an object larger than those four inches reenters the atmosphere, it’s virtually impossible to know where exactly it’ll land.
A few years ago, a 2.5-ton scrap, left over after disabled German satellite Rosat reentered the atmosphere in October, missed Beijing and millions of residents by a matter of minutes. The 21-year old Rosat fell instead on the Bay of Bengal a few moments from the Chinese city.
Given the size of that thing, it’d have been, of course, a major catastrophe. But at that kind of speed, size is not really that relevant. There have been collisions in space between debris and operating satellites, or even misguided attempts at destroying them in orbit. That only increased the amount of high-speed junk circulating the Earth.
The International Space Station has had to dodge debris several times and even has a procedure for astronauts to adopt in such an event. And they did have to evacuate the ISS under the threat of a collision a couple of times. As you know, even a tiny bit of racing metal can disable the station and they’d have to abandon it for good.

The only thing certain about this dangerous by-product of our space adventures is that it’ll all eventually fall back to Earth, and there isn’t much that can be done about it. NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office has been trying to address the problem for quite some time now.
The program’s main goal is to find ways to avoid collisions, specially when launching new satellites that, ultimately will also contribute to the pile. Or soon, there won’t be a way to safely launch them up at all. But NASA is historically plagued by budget concerns anyway.
The same goes, by the way, to its Meteoroid and Orbital Debris Program Offices. All both programs can do is to track some of the objects. There isn’t any practical plan to do away with the problem which, in the case of meteorites, has the potential to end our civilization.
But before the hawks who like to blame the government for incompetence start to croak, see if there’s any initiative from the private sector to deal with the issue of space debris. Or with errant meteors, for that matter. That’s because there isn’t.
And to show that in matters of space, we’re really falling behind, while we argue about government spending and earth-bound priorities, the Swiss has come up with a way. Expensive, lengthy but better than nothing. Let’s see if it gets off the ground. We hope it does.
Even sexier programs, such as space travel, have a hard time finding deep pockets to get off the ground. So, like education, health care, defense, and individual freedom, either the government steps in or it’s every man for himself. That’s how it already looks like anyway.

Two dramatic examples, coincidentally both Russian-made crafts, underline the need for us to, well, at least keep an eye on the sky. The $160 million Phobos-Grunt satellite, and the $65 million Meridian communications satellite both malfunctioned either in orbit or right before reaching it and crashed back shortly after launch.
Besides the huge amount of money literally burned with the failed projects, and the effect they had on Russia’s once proud space program, there’s something else about them: they both could’ve hit a major city and caused a catastrophic event. Not this time, thank goodness.
Before we forget, let’s quickly address the one-track minded, shoot from the hip, Monday quarterbacks out there who have one ‘solution’ to this problem: to blast it, either with lasers or some other video-game-inspired solution. Well, let’s us be the ‘Nth’ party to tell you all: it does not work, either with satellites or meteorites.

China already tested in 2007 this disastrous theory, which has even its own name, the Kessler Syndrome, when it blasted an aging weather satellite, only to create about 2,500 pieces of new debris. It happened again two years later, though, in a head-on collision between U.S. Iridium satellite and a defunct Soviet Cosmos spacecraft.

Add another 1,000 pieces of trackable debris to the space landfill tally up there. And so on. The consequences of blasting a meteor in outer space, supposedly using nuclear power, as many advocate, are unpredictable and, most likely, absurdly devastating. But, if the rock’s really heading toward us, who knows?
With over 50 nations now actively launching rockets to space, the traffic jam is obviously increasing. And speaking of nukes, some of these do have nuclear powered engines, and are not any safer than the usual sources of propulsion. That was the case in 1978, with a secret spy Soviet satellite.
The Cosmos 954, which had compact nuclear reactors for each of its radar antennas, spiraled out of control and fell to Earth, shedding debris across the frozen ground of the Canadian Arctic. It required a major cleanup operation, obviously motivated by its military purposes.
The number of space debris is projected to triple by 2030, and if today there are probably 10 times more objects in space than we’re able to track with our current sensor capability, imagine how it’ll be then.
There’s growing awareness of the problem and spacecraft built nowadays are relatively superior than those launched before, in what they use lighter materials, are more energy efficient, have longer life spans, and can more easily be tracked and even brought back to Earth for recycling, instead of just crash-landing.
That being said, and even if unrealistically, we’d consider stopping launching anything else to space, there’s still the problem of what’s already there. Perhaps in a 100 years or so, if we’re still around, we’ll send some kind of space-age, small-planet sized shredder to turn it all into something we can reuse. Stardust, anyone?
But that’s, well, a fairy-dusted way of imagining the future. Just like imagining the you’ll hit the lottery someday. Which doesn’t mean we don’t want you to, just don’t forget us. Or the fairies. And, for crying out loud, take at look at the sky above you, every once in a while.

* Originally published on 8/15/2011.

Gas Giant

Neptune’s Anniversary Marks
Its First Orbit Around the Sun

The god of water and sea was discovered in an icy corner of the Solar System, exactly 164.79 years ago, on Sept. 23, 1846.
The crooked number of its first anniversary since it has been detected by Englishman John Adams and Frenchman Urbain Le Verrier, is counted by the years it takes the blue giant to complete an orbit around the sun.
It’s one of the many still mysterious, still foggy things about Continue reading

Fab Four Reunion

Mars, Jupiter, Venus
& Mercury Together!

Martian Summer

A Store That Sells Only
One Book: The Owner’s

Some may say that the publishing industry is all but ready to fold, but authors everywhere are surely not taking the news lying down. After the man who scored a bestselling book without a single word printed on it, add now another, who opened a whole store to sell just one book: his own.
Andrew Kessler wrote “Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission” and Continue reading

New Rock On the Block

Huge Meteor to Zip
By Earth in November

Scientists are excited about it. Doomsayers, not so much. It turns out that a large asteroid is coming to visit our home planet before the end of this year, at a quite respectably close distance: the equivalent of only 0.85 of the distance between Earth and the Moon.
Considering its size, it’ll be an unique, and sobering, opportunity to scrutinize up close an object with the potential to end our civilization.
That’s why scientists are so eager to learn everything we Continue reading

Human Shuttle

Space Center Workers Mark
Program’s 30th Anniversary

Sun’s Hidden Sister?

Giant Planet or a
Speck of Stardust?

Just in time for another solar flares cycle, comes news that a giant gas planet may be hidden in the outskirts of our solar planet. But the possibility that there’s such a hidden heavenly body, which was quickly named Tyche, for the Greek goddess Continue reading

Astro Chimp

First Astronaut Never Told
Anyone About His Experience

In 1961, the U.S. was hopelessly behind the Soviet Union in the space race. The Soviets had already sent the Sputnik and a dog named Laika into orbit and, few knew at the time, were readying Yuri Gagarin to be the first human to fly beyond earth’s atmosphere that same year.
Under pressure, the U.S. couldn’t even find an American born chimpanzee to be trained and flown to outer space. The solution was to use Ham, a French Camaroon-born chimp, who was purchased for $457 for the experiment. His 16 minutes of fame came and went fast, but gave the U.S. some precious time Continue reading

Singing Suns

Music from Another
Quadrant of the Sky

First, it was the sun. A few months ago, scientists at the University of Sheffield, U.K., recorded for the fist time the sound produced by its outer layers. It was a gentle, strange harmony, not likely to be recorded by Lady Gaga anytime soon, but almost as fascinating as her choice of outfits. Now, they found Gemma, a very distant star twice the size of our sun, which also emits its own brand of haunting chord progressions.
You may imagine these two flaming giants harmonizing from extreme opposite sides of the universe until their combined song Continue reading

Up, Up and Away

Space Station Reaches
10 Years of Earth Watch

“The future ain’t what it used to be.” Nothing like the sage of America’s formerly favorite pastime, Yogi Berra, to convey in a few words, a world of meaning. The International Space Station that is completing its first 10 years in orbit (11/02/2000), for example, never became the home away from home its creators once envisioned. Ever since its first crew spent a few uncomfortable days in it, it got much better, but never quite the easy ride of the sci-fi stories. And, let’s face it, it never will.
Then again, perhaps we’re all better off knowing that the envisioned world of The Jetsons and even of Blade Runner was not meant to be. Imagine texting and driving a hyperspeed-flying car? Or sending an ultra intelligent robot to the past, to kill somebody else’s grandfather? And don’t even let us start with all those promised wonderful foods in a Continue reading


Last Blast for
Pioneer Shuttle

JUST IN: NASA decided to postpone the launch of Discovery until at least Nov. 30. The space shuttle was to leave for his last trip tonight. Technical problems led to repeated postponements of three launch.

Just like a veteran actor after almost 30 years worth of risky performances, NASA’s oldest space shuttle, the Discovery, seems to be having the jitters about taking off one last time. The Florida weather was said to be the latest culprit for the delay. But there were gas leaks earlier in the week, an electrical glitch of some kind the other day and heaven knows what else. That’s why those close to the bird are fooled by none of it.
For them, it’s just the natural anxiety that comes from having to


Also read:
Back for Good
Up, Up and Away
Final Shuttle


perform a difficult task one last time, after so many years of a flawless record. After all, the Discovery is the fleet’s busiest Continue reading