Tag Archives: outer space

Book now with the Exoplanet Travel Bureau

(You may have a wait while the technology for your flight is developed.)

A lot of my first reading as a child was astronomy books and magazines. When I was little, my brother told me there was a black hole under his bed (to keep me from snooping—nerd children fight dirty), and after that, I had to know more about the enigmatic and alarming properties of the universe.

One of the things I remember was the hunt for the first exoplanet, that is, the first confirmed planet outside of the solar system. Scientists were quite sure they should exist (why wouldn’t they?), but the equipment and techniques thus far hadn’t shown them. I remember reading about some of the first exoplanets in the hazy early 90s. They were massive, close to their stars, and had outrageous properties that inspired wild imaginings.

Now confirmed exoplanets number in the thousands. And poking around the internet on an unrelated chore the other night, I found this gem: the Exoplanet Travel Bureau. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (the extremely prestigious and awesome JPL) made travel posters for four exoplanets in the style of retro travel posters. Each of them features characteristics of their planet. I promptly printed out three and hung them in my guest room. I’m still ecstatic about them; these are the kinds of visions and dreams I had so long ago as a kid, and that I love to chase in my own art. These are awesome, and I love them, and you can download them at full size. Tell all your friends, and print your own! Here they are!

Click on the image for more image sizes. Images by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Click on the image for more image sizes. Images by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Click on the image for more image sizes. Images by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Click on the image for more image sizes. Images by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Fun Science: Vacuum and Pressure

Pressure is caused by collisions between particles. Scientists use the term “vacuum” when there are few particles, and thus few collisions. Air in our atmosphere is dense with particles; atmospheric pressure is very high compared to lab vacuum or the vacuum of space. Scientists use vacuum in many ways. Vacuums were used in lightbulbs and vacuum tubes (such as the old CRT or cathode ray tubes of old TVs and computers). Vacuums are used for depositing materials in clean environments, such as on silicon wafers for microcircuitry. Vacuums are used for separating liquids that have different evaporation points. In scientific labs, we can produce pressures billions of times lower than atmospheric pressure, but the pressure in space is still lower.

Atmospheric pressure: Every cubic centimeter (also called a milliliter) of air contains 2.5 x 1019  air molecules. That’s 25,000,000 trillion molecules, where the US debt is roughly $12 trillion, and a terabyte (TB) hard-drive holds a trillion bytes of information. That is a lot of particles causing a lot of collisions. The average particle travels only 66 nanometers before colliding with another particle. That’s only about 200 times the size of a nitrogen molecule.

On top of Mount Everest: Pressure is roughly 1/3 of the pressure at sea level, and there are 8 x 1018 molecules of air per cubic centimeter. The average particle travels 280 nm before colliding with another particle.

Incandescent light bulb: The pressure inside a lightbulb is 1 to 10 Pascals (pressure at sea level is 100,000 Pascals). There are still about 1014 molecules/cm3, or 100 trillion molecules. The average particle travels a mm to a cm before a collision. This pressure is too low for plants or animals to survive.

Ultra high lab vacuum: The most sophisticated lab vacuum equipment can produce pressures of 10-7 to 10-9 Pascals, yielding about 10,000,000 to 100,000 molecules/cm3, respectively. Particles travel an average distance of 100 to 10,000 km before colliding with another particle. Such extreme vacuums require highly specialized equipment, including specialized pumps and chambers. Only certain materials can be used; paint, many plastics and certain metals can release gases at very low pressures, making them unsuitable.

Space vacuum: The vacuum of space depends on what part of space you mean. The pressure on the moon is 10-9 Pa, or roughly our highest lab vacuum, with 400,000 particles/cm3. The pressure in interplanetary space (within the solar system) is lower yet, with only about 11 particles/cm3. It is estimated that there is only about 1 particle per meter cubed in the space between galaxies. Still, some microorganisms have survived exposures of days to space vacuum by forming a protective glass around themselves.

Going the other way, there are pressures much higher than the pressure of our atmosphere.

At the bottom of the Mariana trench: Pressure is about 1.1 x 108 Pa, or about 1100 atmospheres. A variety of life has been observed in the Mariana trench.

At the center of the sun: Pressure is about 2.5 x 1016 Pa, or 2.5 x 1011 atmospheres, or about 100,000 times the pressure at the core of the earth. This pressure is sufficient to fuel the fusion process of the sun, where hydrogen is combined to form helium.

At the center of a neutron star: Pressure is about 1034 Pa, or 1018 times the pressure at the center of the sun. Here, pressure is so high that normal atoms with electrons around a core of protons and neutrons cannot exists. Nuclei cannot exist in the core of a neutron star.

Read about other science topics on my fun science page.

Soviet Holiday Cards

Boingboing had a cool post yesterday about Soviet “Christmas” cards. Actually most of the cards say “s novum godom”– “to the new year”. I love all the science and rocketry themes. I also find it interesting how many things we associate with Christmas have been co-opted for a holiday the soviets found safer: New Year’s. You can find the original website for the cards here. Below are a few of my favorites, which can all be found at www.mazaika.com/postcard01.htm.


Board game in progress

I am designing a board game. This is kind of new territory for me, so we’ll see how it goes. Right now I have a beta edition of the board (a little piece below) and a portion of the rules written. I have a vague idea of the rest, but I will need to get it onto paper. Yesterday, I printed the first copy of the board onto 13″ x 19″ paper. After I finish the rules and the cards, I will test it. It is a space-based game, but in the image below you can see the background is still white. I assume some of the details will need to move, so no need to fill in the background just yet. I’ve been throwing this idea around for a little bit, so it’s exciting to share the progress. It still has no name, but it is a game about space travel, perhaps loosely related to my Zish and Argo stories.

boardgame zoom

What inspired your writing?

As I feverishly worked these last few weeks setting up this website and my new Etsy shop, motivation was a topic strongly on my mind. Motivation flows from inspiration, and so I pondered my sources of inspiration, specifically as a child.

I think my single biggest inspiration was the TV series Babylon 5. In middle school I hit a rough patch. I did not want to do homework or chores. I was grounded, forbidden from TV, computer, no allowance, etc to encourage a reversal. I missed TV most of all. Once a week, my brother watched Babylon 5. I could hide on the staircase and watch it through the rails. At first I scorned it; where are the transporters, I said. But desperation for electronics forced me to watch (in secrecy), and eventually I really got into it. Unlike any show I’d ever watched there were little connections to other broad topics.

I started to read the Babylon 5 books, as I’d read the Star Wars books when I was younger. In the scifi section at the bookstore I happened to see the name “Alfred Bester” on the spine of a book. This is the name of an excellent character in B5, so wondering if it was another B5 book, I bought it. Little did I know Alfred Bester was a classic 1950’s science fiction writer; the character was named after him. I loved the book, and went on to read everything I could find of his. Bester wasn’t very prolific, so this didn’t take too long, especially with no homework. I moved onto other classics of science fiction and started scouring the Hugo awards of years past.

B5 is chock full of other references, and I chased these down as well. Babylon 5 led me to read Tennyson and Yates (where I’d never liked poetry), and Michael Moorcock’s Elric series. Harlan Elison consulted on B5, so I read his stuff too. And I went on to read B5 creator JMS’s comic books. I think B5 promoted a sort of inspiration to learn in me which middle school could not.

There are, of course, so many other sources of inspiration I could list over the years. I loved “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle, and I also read a ton of kiddie SF I could hardly name anymore. I started watching Star Trek around age 3; I was especially obsessed with Voyager when that came out. I think the female captain intrigued me. I can’t remember a time at which I didn’t adore astronomy. But B5 still stands out amongst the others.

So enough of my thoughts. What inspires your work (and what is that work)? What first kicked it off, and is it the same thing that still motivates you? Does your motivation ever falter, and how do you handle that?

Current work: Zish and Argo

Earlier this week I finished the line work for my next project, “The Galactic Adventures of Zish and Argo“.  Zish and Argo is about a little girl named Zish who steals a spaceship named Argo. They travel deep into space and encounter many strange and wonderful situations. Along their adventures, scientific concepts relevant to the story are touched upon.

You can find ongoing updates about this project under the current projects tab, or through the link. I expect to complete painting early next year. The first Zish and Argo book introduces their situation and their first adventure. The illustrations will be water-color paintings, like the one below: