Fade To Indigo

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So many billions of shades of color. Not to mention the infrared, ultraviolet, radio, and gamma rays.

Is someone on Proxima Centauri B looking up a their sky with the same sense of wonder and awe at the beauty of it?

Not to be a buzzkill, but probably not. There’s an excellent Twitter thread by Dr. Kathryn J Mack (@AstroKatie) which you can read here even if you don’t have a Twitter account. The short version is that because there are so many hundreds and thousands of variables that we have no data on, the odds are massively stacked against Proxima B actually being inhabited or actually “habitable” by anything resembling us.

Proxima Centauri is a dim, red star. Proxima B is orbiting in its “habitable zone,” which is defined as the region around the star where it would be warm enough to have water on the surface not freeze solid, and cool enough so that it doesn’t boil away. For obvious reasons, this is also commonly referred to as “The Goldilocks Zone.”

Being in the “habitable zone” doesn’t make a planet actually be “habitable.” To hold life similar to ours, it would still need an atmosphere, water that is busy being neither frozen nor boiled, and probably a magnetic field to protect the planet from solar flares. We can’t tell if Proxima B has any of those things.

But the odds are against it. Because Proxima Centauri is such a dim, cool, red star, its habitable zone is much closer in than the Sun’s is. This has a couple of likely scenarios, mostly bad for life as we know it.

First, the planet is likely to be in tidal lock with one side always facing the sun and one side always in darkness. (This is very similar to the way Earth’s moon is tidally locked, with one face always turned toward the Earth.) With a sun and a planet, you’ll get one hemisphere boiling and the other freezing. You might have a strip along that terminator that would be tolerable, but that combination of heat on one side and cold on the other would drive hellacious straight-line winds, quite possibly hundreds of miles an hour.

Assuming you have an atmosphere. The atmosphere on Mars, for example, is thin and getting thinner by the millennium due to the planet’s lack of a magnetic field. The magnetic field blocks all or most of the worst effects of the solar winds. Left unabated, the solar wind over time will carry away the atmosphere and leave a planet looking like the moon or Mercury.

Can we tell if Proxima B has an atmosphere or a magnetic field? Not at the moment – but we’re close. The James Webb Space Telescope (which I saw being assembled here last year) could directly image the atmosphere, and radio telescopes or other instruments in the next decade could determine if there’s a magnetic field. Also, if there is an atmosphere and a magnetic field there should be aurora, which the JWST could look for.

Should we say it’s too hard and give up? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous.

Should we have newspaper and website headlines screaming about “Earth’s twin” being “right next door” and “habitable?” Of course not, don’t be ridiculous.

How about if we stay cool, breathe a bit, get excited about the prospect, work to get some actual data – and in the meantime rest assured that even if there isn’t someone on Proxima B looking at their sunset (probably through a 200 mph wind!), it’s an unbelievable huge universe and even with the long odds that life faces, there are almost certainly some things some where (and probably billions of some things on billions of some where planets) staring in awe at their sunsets.

They just might not be 4.25 light years away.

Or they might!

Let’s find out.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Jackson Browne Said It Best

Running On Empty” – yep, that’s about it. I remember listening to that song and knowing EXACTLY how it felt, back when I was in college, taking a full load of courses as a physics major and working a full-time graveyard shift job to pay for it, plus a second part-time job in the summers.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. But now, while my brain might still think I’m twenty years old, my cells aren’t always jumping onto that particular bandwagon.

It’s not fair.

On the other hand, Jackson Browne also wrote “The Load Out,” so that can make everything better real fast.

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Like Sauron’s All-Seeing Eye

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First use a five-year drought to turn everything to tinder. Next toss in any random spark in order to fill the sky to the west of us with megatons of smoke.

Repeat as necessary so there are so many fires burning across the state that they can’t possibly fight them all as aggressively as they would like. This leaves fires like this one that are out in the middle of nowhere in the mountains to just be allowed to burn for the most part while the bulk of the firefighters and planes are trying to save tens of thousands of homes elsewhere.

Sort of a brute force way to get spectacular sunsets, but it seems to be working well!

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Filed under Los Angeles, Photography, Weather

Slacker!!

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Look at that pathetic performance on the 6th, 7th, and 8th! What the hell was I doing all day?!

Oh, yeah, I was chained to a series of desks trying to get enough done so I could go off to The Big Apple for eight days.

Without looking back at the panoramas for that week, can you guess which days I:

a) walked all over Central Park for hours, only to realize that I had still only seen maybe 20% of it?

b) walked all over Liberty Island, Ellis Island, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and did the Bataan Death March through a huge chunk of Lower Manhattan?

c) started the day by walking the Brooklyn Bridge?

Sure. I knew you could.

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Filed under Health, Running, Travel

No Context For You – August 22nd

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Hint: Neither the surface of Pluto nor Enceladus

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The Airshow Working Me

As much as I might be in (serious, world-class, overwhelming, all-encompassing) denial about getting older, I might be getting too old for this shit.

Another lovely day, albeit another 13 hour plus day. First thing tomorrow, starting the week a half lap or more behind on sleep, the new week starts.

How was your weekend?

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Filed under Photography, Health, Flying, Airshows, Panorama

Working The Airshow

Working the airshow is not quite as much fun as just going to an airshow. But it was a good day, even if I did have a 15 hour day there.

¬†Tomorrow will probably be another 12+ hour day, so if you’re in SoCal, feel free to come out and say howdy!

Gates ooen at 10:00, flying starts at noon and goes until about 16:30. If you’re there, wander by the CAF hangars & chat. Don’t sweat finding me – just ask anyone working at any of the CAF booths there and they’ll track me down.

See you there, maybe?

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Filed under CAF, Airshows