Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Space and Beer

A few astronomical questions.

Philo asks,

"What are the odds that we will send humans to Mars and either
1) return them safely to Earth, or
2) successfully colonize Mars
by 2057 (the Sputnik Centennial)?"
I say the odds are very slim that we'll ever send a human to Mars. Manned spaceflight is expensive in terms of time, money, and resources that could be dedicated to lots of real science that isn't getting done. Further, with robotics there isn't that much advantage given the excessive price.

Carl Sagan decades ago famously discussed the possibility of planting dark vegetation on Mars to capture heat and hold water, create an atmosphere and biosphere to make it habitable for humans, but the the odds it would work are small and the need does not seem pressing to colonize another planet.

Mars came back up a few years ago because the Hubble's fate was uncertain. It required major repairs and the Bush administration was trying to avoid making them because young Earth creationists hate the Hubble and all of its evidence that the universe is more than four thousand years old. In a classic misdirection move, Bush proposed going to Mars with one hand to seem as bold as Kennedy, garnering lots of "look, he's pro-space" headlines, while using the other hand to kill one of NASA's most beloved projects. As soon as the possibility of Hubble's demise became public, the storm made abandoning it untenable and Mars-talk went away, too.

Brock asks,
"Will jokes about Uranus ever stop being funny?"
No. But on a serious note, there are deep and interesting questions about the outer planets, so make sure to try hard to wrap your head around Uranus.

C. Ewing asks,
"Is there an important difference between a stout and a porter?"
According to Michael Jackson, the term "Porter" for dark heavy beers came into being first, most likely to define a mixture of the three types of beer brewed at the the time -- ale, beer, and two-penny. It became popular around the time that mass transit first started and the name "Porter" became attached to it most likely because it was popular with manual laborers. As these became more widely appreciated, different approaches to Porter started to develop and those with a fuller, deeper body were termed stout porters. At this point, the names are generally used interchangeably.