Timestream Post: A note from 03/17/2012

17 03 2017

Well, I’m standing in the midst of my 5th year wedding anniversary, and I thought it sensible to send a note forward another five years.  (It seems a nice increment for several reasons… not the least of which is our digits. *grin*)

We’re just hours from a renewal of our wedding vows downtown at a Las Vegas-style Strip-front “chapel,” to be wed by a singing Elvis.

No doubt, this will be a memorable affair. =)

Will we raise the bar for our ten-year renewal celebration?  Or, in the spirit of this experiment I suppose I should ask in the present-tense, are we raising the bar?  What are we doing?

The big difference this year compared to previous years (Elvis aside) is little Grayson!  At the time of this posting, he should be about 5-and-a-half.  …and I’m dying to know all about who the little guy is becoming!

Developmentally everything going okay?  (He seems to be cruising so far!)  Personality?  Does he still hate sleep?

I can only presume the 2012 end-of-the-world hype will go exactly the way of the 1999, 2000 end-of-the-world hype.  The economy is in shambles, particularly in Las Vegas.  Are things now looking up?

Please, tell me all about 2017!

From the Past and with love for my friends and family (Gray!),


Me (proud Dad) and Gray, March 17, 2012.

Looking forward to 2012

4 01 2012

Patch text: AD EUNDUM QUO NEMO ANTE IIT - "To boldly go where no one has gone before." (On my frozen-over field bag in the middle of high-desert winter fieldwork.)

At a year’s close, before looking ahead, one can’t help but become a little retrospective.  2011 was a big one for me.

Looking back, this year included a regular fleet of red-letter firsts:

The wheels, as they say, keep turning, and it’ll take me a while to process it all.  However, in the meantime, there’s 2012 to look forward to!  While many claim it to be an ending (of civilization, the world, etc.,) I find that endings only represent new beginnings, and here are a slew of new beginnings we all can look forward to in the coming year:

There are others, and this list is obviously biased, but my point is that in contrast to the drumming of the apocalyptic marketing machine, there is much to look forward to in the coming year that will set the stage for even more exciting events in 2013.

So, let the doomsayers have their fun.  The venturers will have the last laugh.

Cheers to a safe and prosperous 2012!

Solar System’s “Planet X” lost in space?

21 10 2011

Some researchers have proposed a new planet beyond the Oort Cloud. (Credit: Ben McGee)

Well, the intriguing possibilities affecting the likelihood of a mysterious companion in our Solar System continue to blossom.

First, the actions of comets suggested that there may be a large “Planet X” named Tyche beyond the Oort Cloud.  Then, we discovered planets around distant stars with highly elliptical, highly inclined orbits, giving us more potential places (oblique orbits) to look for distant, cool companions in our own system.

Now, SwRI researcher David Nesvorny recently published research indicating that our Solar System likely did have another giant planet in its youth that was flung into space as the planets matured and settled into their current orbits.

Why?  Well, as it turns out, computer modeling of star systems with only four giant planets, (read: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune,) doesn’t tend to settle into a Solar System that looks anything like our own.  However, adding a fifth, giant icy world into the primordial mix appears to generate systems like ours, though this Planet X is ejected into interstellar space in the process.

So, according to this new research, there may indeed have been a Planet X in our planetary past, though not one that could ever return to fulfill doomsday prophesies.

Might the cold, shadowy deep beyond the prying eyes of our best infrared telescopes conceal large worlds awaiting the heady thrill of human exploration?  Research continues to tease us with the possibility.

I for one believe our star system has big surprises yet in store.  Time will tell.

Solar System has more than one “Planet X”?

12 06 2010

Recent observations of the nearby (44 light-years away) multi-planet star system Upsilon Andromedae have kindled in my mind an intriguing question:  Namely, can our own solar system have one or perhaps many “Planet Xs” hiding in oblique orbits?  Allow me to explain.

New findings show Upsilon Andromedae's planets have oblique orbits. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Field

It has been known for quite some time that the Upsilon Andromedae star system is composed of at least three Jupiter-sized planets (we can’t yet see Earth-sized planets or smaller, yet).  However, research recently presented at the American Astronomical Society suggests that unlike our solar system where the major planets orbit in the same plane, two of Upsilon Andromedae’s three known planets orbit askew with respect to each other to the tune of nearly 30 degrees tilt.  This defies what we have come to know as a “normal” star system configuration of planets.

While there have been many “Planet X” hypotheses in our own star system over the years, including recent research suggesting the possibility of a large, distant icy planet in our own solar system, (see Tyche post here,) astronomers have not yet been able to locate any of these proposed culprits of periodic extinctions or comet peculiarities.

However, planets are notoriously difficult to find, especially the farther away from the Sun they are.  Planets do not intrinsically emit their own light (except infrared), and their reflections get exponentially dimmer with distance.  So, with the recent Upsilon Andromedae findings in mind, perhaps the reason we’ve yet to find any Planet Xs isn’t because there’s no merit to the ideas, but rather that astronomers have been looking in the wrong orbital planes.

Let’s investigate a step further. With “ordinary” planet formation in a young star system, the conservation of angular momentum causes material around a new sun to flatten into a disk, (called a “proplyd” or protoplanetary disk,) and planets form from the material in this disk.  Hence, planets will be found in an orbital plane around a star, just like ours are.  However, when we look closely, we find that there are even notable oddities in our solar system.  Namely, Uranus is tilted almost completely 90-degrees onto its side, and Pluto is not only tilted sideways, but it also orbits obliquely, much like its Jupiter-sized kin in Upsilon Andromedae.  What does this mean?  At the very least, it means that the evolution of any star system is a dynamic process.  At most, this is an indicator that we’ve yet to fully describe our own system.

On this note, Upsilon Andromedae is actually a “quiet” binary star system.  The main star, Upsilon Andromedae A, is a yellow-white star not unfamiliar to human eyes.  However, it does have a dim, red dwarf brother (unsurprisingly called Upsilon Andromedae B) in a wide orbit, far enough away to leave the planets orbiting Upsilon Andromedae A alone, so far as we are able to tell.  However – it does beg the question: Might subtler interactions of Andromedae’s red dwarf or perhaps outer, dimmer planets we have yet to find be responsible for the oblique orbits we see?  And if so, have we found a distant mirror suggesting there might be more places to look for Planet X in the far reaches of our own system?

Food for thought.

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