Measuring The Speed of Light

More than a measure of distance the speed of light is a measure of time – once that makes sense, a light will shine on the cosmos. Most of us have experienced mind drifting time outs, that perceptible moment of realization when eyes glaze as confusion sets in – light speed exasperation needn’t be one of them.

Light travels at 300,000 kilometers per second – multiply the number of seconds in a year by distance light travels per second and you have a light year – approximately 9.5 trillion kilometers. Such daunting distances lend themselves to glassy eyes, so astronomer Robert Burnham Jr. devised the measure of AU (Astronomical Unit – 1 AU being 150 million kilometers, or the distance from Earth to the Sun ). One AU is about 8 minutes – the time it takes sunlight to reach Earth. One light year is equivalent to 63,000 AU. By mind blowing coincidence, there are 63,000 inches in a mile.

Scaling the astronomical unit at one inch, here are distances to various stars, star clusters and galaxies:

Alpha Centauri: 4 miles

Sirius: 9 miles

Vega: 25 miles

Fomalhaut: 25 miles

Arcturus: 37 miles

Antares: 600 miles

Pleiades open star cluster: 440 miles

Hercules globular star cluster (M13): 24,000 miles

Center of Milky Way galaxy: 27,000 miles

Great Andromeda galaxy (M31): 2,300,000 miles

Whirlpool galaxy (M51): 37,000,000 miles

Sombrero galaxy (M104): 65,000,000 miles

Distance established, what about time? Brian Cox of BBC’s Wonders Of The Universe said – “the speed of light is the speed limit of the universe, built into the very fabric of space and time”, “the further away an object is, the further back in time we see it”. Starting to glaze over? Relax, take a deep breath, spend 3 minutes watching this video. I promise you’ll feel better –

USTREAM and Other Cosmic Diversions

Each of us has our “thing”, mine happens to be cosmic. Hair on the back of my neck stands at attention when I stumble upon an outstanding interpretation or presentation of the cosmos.  Cosmic diversion doesn’t have to be your thing, but if you feel inclined – take a moment to ponder my thing.

Linked below, USTREAM – a live feed from the International Space Station.

SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) a joint European Space Agency and NASA project dedicated to all things space weather. A one stop wealth of information covering real time images of the sun to intricacies of space weather – a great place to learn.

Heavens Above – rather than waste time with enthusiastic babble – take a moment to explore it yourself. –

HubbleSite –


“The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars, but now we can transcend it.” – Stephen Hawking
This afternoon, a press conference at One World Observatory in New York solidified intent to pursue interstellar exploration.”Intent” is far too modest – stitch together Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, Mark Zuckerberg and Stephen Hawking’s visionary spark – voila, Breakthrough Starshot is off and running. I can tell you what Starshot is, but won’t claim to understand the science.
Starshot is a spacecraft unlike any seen before. Ponder a vessel no larger than your cell phone, load hundreds into a “mother-ship” and launch that ship into space. Next, open the hatch. Witness a transformation from chrysalis to butterfly, as each craft unfolds wafer thin “sails”. Blink in wonder as laser beams fill those sails, in less than 2 minutes 600,000 mile away traveling at one fifth the speed of light. 4.37 light years away the Alpha Centauri star system beckons – that’s 40 trillion kilometers, a 30,000 year journey using conventional technology. Starshot nanobots could do it in 2o.
With projected launch capabilities in 20 years, plus another 20 across the cosmos, Alpha Centauri won’t be realized in my lifetime. Much as I’d like to lay eyes on Alpha Centauri, today is one of my happiest days. My children will realize Apha Centauri and beyond, my grandchildren might set foot on a planet or moon in Alpha Centauri’s solar system. I know in my heart anything is possible.
The announcement coincides with the 55th anniversary of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin’s Vostok 1 mission in 1961. ( Yuri Milner was named in honour of Gargarin) –
“The human story is one of great leaps,” Milner said in a statement. “Fifty-five years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Today, we are preparing for the next great leap — to the stars.”

Bible State

Last week a vote of 19-8 in the Republican controlled Tennessee Senate, approved a Bill to make the Bible  Tennessee’s official state book. Bill sponsor Senator Steve Southerland took the floor moments before the vote, reiterating his position – “honoring the Bible’s historic and cultural contributions to the state” as only Tennesseans can, followed by ( I kid you not ) – a Jewish friend of his agreed the Bible was a historical text.

Urgency to declare an official State book strikes me as curious – since when do states have official books? In 2003 Massachusetts “designated” Make Way For The Ducklings as the official children’s book. In 1990 Minnesota proposed Little House On The Prairie as official book, but it never became law. So why in 2016 is Tennessee compelled to disregard the First Amendment, which stipulates – “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”?

This isn’t the bill’s first kick at the can – in 2015 legislative action was delayed when state Attorney General Herbert Slatery wrote an opinion pointing out the obvious constitutional short comings (linked below).

Unfazed by technicalities, Southerland focused attention on a 2005 Supreme Court decision allowing the Ten Commandments to hang on walls of the capital building in Austin, Texas. Never mind another decision declaring those same commandments in Kentucky courthouses a violation of the Establishment clause.

Now we wait for Republican Governor Bill Haslim – to sign, or not to sign is anyone’s guess. Tennessee boasts a whopping 81% who identify as Christian, half of them proud evangelicals. The way I see it, America has two choices – stick your heads in the sand, or call bat shit on uppity religious nincompoops.

How To Get To Mars

Planets don’t circle the sun, their paths follow elliptical orbits. Think of them as race cars on separate tracks traveling at different speeds – sometimes they’ll whiz past each other, other times they’re far apart. Planetary distance is measured from the Sun, orbital point closest to the Sun is perihelion, furthest away is aphelion. The closest point between Earth and Mars happens when Earth is at aphelion, Mars is at perihelion, and both planets are on the same side of the Sun – this is called opposition. In theory, at true opposition Earth would be 54.6 million kilometers from Mars. I say theory because it hasn’t happened in recorded history, 2003 marked the closest nod in 50,000 years at 56 million kilometers.

So how do you get to Mars? Roughly every two years Earth/Mars orbits are close enough to contemplate interception. With current capabilities it takes approximately 250 days, all science has to do is calculate where Mars will be  when rovers come knocking. Take 6 minutes to ponder a clip from the 2006 IMAX documentary Roving Mars –


I need help understanding why some are incapable of exchanging points of view without making personal attacks. Why do so many lack the ability to debate without hate? Why are some of us born with open minds while others simply switch off at suggestions of  different points of view? How is it that some people repeat only what they hear, never stopping to ponder logic or offer opinions of their own? What triggers the closing of minds –  ignites suspicion, fear, bigotry and exclusion? Help me understand.

Strong opinions from politics, religion, environment to my silly dog; I make myself abundantly clear – writing from the heart without mincing words. No intention, other than matching word to thought.. What you see is what you get; this is who I am. Along the way I’ve met people with vastly different viewpoints – people who present their side of an issue thoughtfully, concisely and without malice. People I respect and consider friends, people willing to “agree to disagree”.  This I understand.

I encounter closed minds – those wishing myself or family harm; people full of hatred. These are the people quoting opinionated broadcasters verbatim, people choosing to spew unsubstantiated rhetoric, people without an original thought or perspective to cloud their venom. Help me understand.

If I didn’t possess a fundamental belief in humanity, my ability to function without despair would have collapsed years ago. I shake my head, scrape my jaw off the ground and carry on. That said – at times the weight of closed minds becomes unbearable. Help me understand – what would it take to strip the blinders from millions of scared, angry people?