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The following text is from space.com which was written during the time of discovery of the first dark spot on Uranus:
During the past decade, many bright spots have been seen on Uranus in both red and near-infrared filters. But this is the first dark spot ever seen on the planet. A team led by Lawrence Sromovsky of the University of Wisconsin and including Kathy Rages of the SETI Institute, Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute (Boulder, CO), andPatrick Fry of U. Wisconsin, observed the dark spot on Aug. 23 using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).
What was the nature of the bright spots? How were they formed? Was it some form of storm or vortex? I couldn't find any information anywhere regarding this.
Near-infrared pictures from the 8.1-meter Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii discovered a bright spot on Uranus. The spot is likely a tall methane cloud that reached high enough to become visible due to sunlight being scattered by its icy particles. The Uranian cloud is similar to an anvil cloud, a type of cumulonimbus cloud that's associated with severe thunderstorms. The cloud is also at a lower latitude on Uranus that could mean the spot is a storm that has migrated south.
Nobody knows how were the storms created. Some has speculated that the planet's tilt is the reason for such storms.
As Uranus is tilted on its axis is tilted, it virtually rolls around the Sun on its side. For half the orbit's period, the northern hemisphere is directed towards the Sun and the other half, the southern hemisphere is turned towards the sunlight. At two points in its orbit, known as the equinoxes, the Sun shines equally on both hemispheres. At these equinoxes, storms appear to become more frequent in Uranus's disturbed atmosphere. Stormy weather has been observed a number of times in recent years, thus creating a notably bright spot appearing in 2014.
Michael A. Phillips' Astro Blog
I had to spend some time on this one, but I'm very happy with the results.
I use Ubuntu Linux, but I'm sure this will work for any distribution that supports screenlets.
3) Create a new .html from the attachment and save it into the
/.screenlets/Widget/widgets/ folder. You may wish to edit the site for your specific location. I had to browse the img source to find the proper URL.
4) Use screenlets to add the new CSC to your desktop and then change the widget to the newly created CSC.html file.
Also note that I set the widget to a meta refresh of 2 hours too.
Spectrum Scientifics' Store Blog
For a long, long time it seemed like the parts of our solar system were pretty well fixed and decided. Since the discovery of Pluto not much was changed. Sure, we discovered more moons around Saturn and Juptier when various probes flew around them, and discovered less prominent rings around gas giants not named Saturn, but for the most part things did not change. That is, until we started discovering a bunch of trans-Neptune objects and a lot of conventions went out the window: Pluto was demoted to Dwarf Planet status and despite people holding popularity contests to re-instate it as a planet it has remained a Dwarf Planet
But this sort of thing is actually nothing new. In fact the history of Solar System astronomy from Galileo to the present day is riddled with odd controversies like naming conventions, egoism, nationalism, lost chances, new classifications & credit-stealing that have dogged the history of local astronomy. Here are just 10 incidents or controversies to make realise that the reclassification of Pluto wasn’t anything new.
10) Nationalism rears its ugly head: Uranus was discovered in 1781 and its discoverer, Herschel, wanted to name it after King George III. So he
“Named after a mortal King? How gauche!”
termed it ‘The Georgian Planet’. English sky almanacs listed it this way for decades, but needless to say it was not a popular convention outside of England. Other suggestion made were to name it after Herschel, or call it Neptune(!). The final decision was not made until 1850 to name the planet Uranus.
9) Egoism rears its ugly head: Neptune, the furthest planet from our Sun (now that Pluto is a Dwarf Planet), was discovered by astronomer La Verrier in 1846 (he did not actually first observe it, he did the
“At least you were named after a King!”
calculations as to where it could be found). Once discovered, La Verrier wanted to name the planet after himself. To support this naming convention, France released almanacs that listed Neptune as La Verrier and Uranus as Herschel. This did not placate England (who felt that their astronomer, Adams, deserved credit – more on that later) much less the rest of the astronomy world. The name Neptune was suggested, and Laverrier as a planet name lasted only a short time (Georgian Planet, however, lingered).
8) I’m a planet! No, I’m not! Pluto’s demotion is not a new thing. The asteroid Ceres was discovered
in 1801 and was quickly classified as a planet. But less than a year later more asteroids were discovered and classifying them all as planets was problematic. It took a while for the convention ‘asteroid’ to be accepted and Ceres was listed as a planet for decades. Now with the new classification of Dwarf Planet, Ceres has been promoted from an asteroid to a Dwarf planet as it fits all the criteria given for that designation.
7) Almost got it! Galileo almost discovered Neptune. In his notes he observed the distant planet while observing Jupiter. The two planets were very close while he was observing. However, Neptune was undergoing its retrograde
motion (where the planets go backwards in the night sky because of the motion of the earth around the sun) and appeared motionless. Galileo considered it to be a fixed star and ignored it. His telescope was not good enough to show details that might indicate it was not a star. Centuries later, an examination of his notes and diagrams was done because someone realized that when Galileo was observing Jupiter when it was in Conjunction with Neptune. Sure enough, it turned out that Galileo was the first human to view the distant planet due to some pure luck, but he couldn’t determine what it actually was.
6) Credit where credit isn’t due: La Verrier wasn’t the only astronomer to lay claim to discovering Neptune. English astronomer Adams also claimed that his calculations led to its discovery. This of course
caused butting of heads between English and French nationalist astronomers. Finally it was agreed that they would share credit as co-discoverers. However, over a hundred years later, serial credit denier Dennis Rawlins claimed that Adams did not deserve credit for co-discovery as his calculations were way off and almost more harmful than useful (The actual poisition of Neptune was 1 degree from where LaVerrier claimed and 12 degrees from where Adams claimed). It turns out that Rawlins was correct in this case. International astronomers examined the evidence and found Adams should not deserve credit for the discovery. LaVerrier is now considered Neptunes sole discovered. This decision was not made until the late 1990’s.
5) “But, we’re not of Greco-Roman Origin!” The planets are named after Roman gods, which where stolen wholesale from the Greek gods. But Greco-Roman culture did not permeate the entire word. What about Asia? Africa? Native Americans? Indians? Arabs? Well, on the bright planets all of these cultures have their own names. But when it came to the outer planets they were surprisingly clever at adhering to the naming convention. Most cultures, for example, name Neptune after their own historical sea-gods. If they didn’t have a sea-god they would name them after sea monsters. Uranus was a bit trickier as it was a sky god and many cultures do not have such a equivelant diety, so names like ‘Sky King Star’ or ‘Sky God Star’ become the convention.
4) Vulcan, the non-planet (No, we are not talking about Star Trek): When an odd pattern in Mercury’s orbit was discovered in 1859, Newtonian physics could not explain the problem. A solution was suggested that another planet between Mercury and the sun existed that was exuding gravitational force on Mercury. Did we mention this was suggested by LaVerrier, the Neptune discoverer? He suggested this planet be named
Vulcan and requested astronomers search for it. Soon after this was proposed many folks started claming to see this theoretical planet either transiting the sun or with direct observation. Most of these observations were unfounded or unreliable, but one done by astronomer Lescarbault was enough to satisfy Laverrier and he announced its discovery in 1860. Many astronomers were skeptical, and there were many false alarms with sunspots being mistaken for Vulcan. But the problem of Mercury’s orbit remained. Laverrier died and the search for Vulcan waned. In 1915 Einstein solved the problem as being an effect of the strong gravitational effect of the sun having a relativistic effect on Mercury that was much diminished on further planets.
3) Canals on Mars: In the later 19th century, several astronomers reporting seeing ‘channels’ or ‘canals’ on the surface of Mars. Some of them were even mapped. It was even suggested that these channels were artificially dug canals that showed intelligent life on the red planet. As telescope optics improved it was noted that reports of canals dropped off. It turns out that seeing canals on Mars was actually an optical illusion that was an artifact of lower-grade optics. A few adherents stuck with these old canal reports until Mariner 4 mapped the martian surface and showed no such features.
2) Planet X: LaVerrier (again!) noticed some oddness in the orbit of Uranus in the 19th century, this was confirmed by several other observations. It was proposed that a large planet, designated ‘Planet X’ existed past Neptune that was causing this
I’m not Planet X, but I have a heart!
orbital issue. When Pluto was discovered it was hoped that it was the answer, but Pluto turned out to be too small. Several other searches for Planet X were made but turned up nothing. Some crazies got a hold of the idea and imagined it was doing ludicrous things like hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet. Eventually the Planet X hypothesis was abandoned when space probe data revealed the error in Uranus’ orbit was caused by a overestimation of the mass of the planet.
1) Phaeton & Titus-Bode Law: You doubtless know of Newton’s Laws of Gravitation, and have probably heard of Kepler’s laws of Planetary Motion. But have you ever heard of of the Titus Bode-Law? (someties just called
“Everything is fine so fa….awwww”
Bode’s Law). This was a Law that stated that each planet orbiting the sun will be approximately twice the distance from the previous planet. So Venus will be twice the orbit of Mercury, Earth twice the orbit of Venus, etc. This Law got a boost when it was used to find Ceres, which filled the gap between Mars and Jupiter. Since Ceres was not an impressive planet, some proposed it was actually part of a broken or exploded planet they dubbed Phaeton (and idea still suggested by pseudo-scientists today). The discovery of more asteroids lent hope to this idea, but the total mass of the asteroids later found was not enough to make a ‘real’ planet. Bode’s Law got a boost with having an approximate location of Uranus, but flopped badly when used for predicting Neptune’s location. The Law is now obviously discredited.
DNA, RNA, Genes, Chromosomes, and the Code of Life
Young Astronomers Blog, Volume 29, Number 8.
Recently, a large rover named Perseverance landed on the planet Mars. Perseverance is searching for signs that Mars had life, or at least the conditions for life, sometime in the distant past. Fundamental to life is something called DNA.
We have also been dealing with a pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which can produce a disease called COVID-19. A virus is a germ made up of genetic material (DNA or RNA). It takes over the body’s cells and uses them to replicate. The first two vaccines available in the United States use genetic material (mRNA) to fight off the COVID-19 virus.
Given all this, I thought it would be interesting to understand a bit about DNA and RNA.
Proteins and Amino Acids
Proteins make up a large portion of our cells and form the basis for much of a cell’s structure and function. Proteins are composed of “polypeptide chains” of amino acids, which are bonded together using what are called “peptide bonds”. Each amino acid has a common structure consisting of a central carbon/hydrogen, a carboxyl group (COOH), an amino group (NH2), and a variable “R” group that defines the specific amino acid.
While there are only twenty unique amino acids that bond together to create proteins, there are thousands of different proteins found in our cells. Proteins can be classified based on their function (cell structure, transportation of other molecules, enzymes to enhance chemical reactions, or communication/coordination of cell activities). They are also classified based on their structure
- Primary: sequence of amino acids
- Secondary: “a or b fold”
- Tertiary: 3D shape
- Quarternary: linking of multiple amino acid chains
DNA and RNA
Different forms of RNA construct amino acids (and proteins) from our DNA. Therefore, our starting point for all this is the extremely important molecule found in all living things, Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). DNA contains the instructions that tell our cells how to function. A similar molecule Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) carries instructions from the DNA in a cell’s nucleus to the rest of the cell and is used to create amino acids and proteins.
DNA is a long string of smaller molecules called nucleotides. Each nucleotide is composed of three parts.
- (Nitrogen) Base molecules create the genetic code found in all living things. DNA has four distinct base molecules cytosine (C4H5N3O), guanine (C5H5N5O), adenine (C5H5N5), and thymine (C5H6N2O2).
- The sugar deoxyribose (C5H10O4) is found in the backbone of DNA.
- A phosphorus group (PO4) attaches to the sugar molecules in the backbone.
The base molecules link together in pairs forming DNA into a double helix. Cytosine (C) always pairs with guanine (G), and adenine (A) always pairs with thymine (T).
RNA has a similar structure. However, the base molecules are singular, and its backbone is built from the sugar ribose (C5H10O5). It also contains the base molecule uracil (C4H4N2O2) rather than thymine. There are different types of RNA.
- mRNA (messenger RNA) is the molecule that carries information from the cell’s DNA.
- tRNA (transfer RNA) translates the mRNA information into amino acids.
- rRNA (ribosomal RNA) is a component of ribosomes where the transfer takes place.
Courtesy: National Human Genome Research Institute
Individual nucleotides are strung together into long complex DNA molecules. This sequence of base pairs is the code of life. Subsections of the DNA molecules, called genes, define various traits or characteristics and provide instructions to our cells. A complete set of genes is found in every cell, but only certain ones are “turned on” depending on the cell’s function. Humans have around twenty to thirty thousand genes. A single gene can have a few thousand to a million or so base pairs.
Genes have been cataloged and assigned symbols. For example, the gene OCA2 plays a role in determining the color of one’s eyes. Genes, however, are only a small portion of the overall DNA molecules and the three billion base pairs in the human genome. The remaining sections of “uncoded DNA” are not completely understood but appear to play a role in how DNA is processed within the cell.
Transcription and Translation
Our genes (sequences of genetic code) are copied from DNA molecules to mRNA molecules through a process called transcription. During the process, thymine (T) is converted into uracil (U). The resulting mRNA molecule is a sequence of several three-letter codes (codons).
In a process called translation, the mRNA molecule is “sandwiched” between the “large subunit” and “small subunit” of a ribosome, which is built from rRNA molecules. A specific three letter tRNA code (anticodon) is matched to each mRNA codon and a corresponding amino acid is added to an amino acid polypeptide chain. This process continues for all three letter mRNA codons that were transcribed from the original DNA gene. Eventually, the complete polypeptide chain of amino acids becomes a protein.
The mapping from codons to amino acids is unambiguous, but redundant (degenerate). There are a total of 61 unique codons associated with twenty specific amino acids. For example, codons GGU, GGC, GGA, and GGG translate into the amino acid glycine. In addition to the 61, there are three codons (UAA, UAG, and UGA) placed at the end of the mRNA sequence that represent the stop command. They tell the process to stop the translation when the sequence is done, and the protein is complete.
Because there are more codons than amino acids, there are only 31 distinct tRNA anticodons. Anticodons bond with codons in a way similar to the base pair bonding in DNA. Cytosine (C) bonds with guanine (G) and adenine (A) bonds with uracil (U). However, these strict rules hold only for the first two nucleoids. The third paring can “wobble” – it does not have to be exact. In this case, guanine (G) can bond with uracil (U).
Also, a fifth anticodon inosine (I) can bond with uracil (U), adenine (A), or cytosine (C). Inosine is formed from the base hypoxanthine (C5H4N4O) and ribose, and sometimes is referred to as hypoxanthine (I) rather than inosine (I). For example, codons GGU, GGC, and GGA can all bond with a single tRNA anticodon (CCI). In all three cases, the amino acid glycine results.
A complete DNA molecule is found in a chromosome. Each chromosome contains a unique DNA molecule with a few thousand genes. Chromosomes come in pairs and each chromosome pair holds a different DNA molecule with a different set of genes. For example, the OCA2 gene is found on the 15 th chromosome pair. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46 chromosomes. One chromosome in each pair comes from the father and the other from the mother. Each of the two chromosomes in a pair has the same DNA molecule and set of genes, although specific “alleles” might differ (e.g., brown eyes vs. blue eyes). The exception is the 23 rd pair, where females have two X chromosomes and males have a X and Y chromosome.
Courtesy of MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine
Cell Division (Mitosis and Meiosis)
When cells divide through a process called mitosis, the chromosomes duplicate, creating a copy for each of the new cells. Within the chromosomes, the DNA molecules unwind and split apart. Each of the nucleotides pair up with a new base molecule and two complete DNA molecules are formed. As the cell divides, one DNA molecule goes with each new cell.
During reproduction, a process called meiosis takes place. First, the cells for each parent divide. In this case, the chromosomes “crossover” and intermingle creating chromosomes with a mix of DNA from both chromosome pairs. After a few more steps, four cells are created, each with a single set of 23 chromosomes (haploid cells). Later, a cell from the father and one from the mother combine resulting in a cell with the full 46 chromosomes (diploid cell). In this case, the chromosomes are again paired up with one of each pair coming from the father and the other from the mother.
Your chromosomes (genes and DNA) determine your heredity traits. Everyone receives two genes for each trait, one from your father and one from your mother. Each of the different versions is called an “allele”. Some traits (and genes) are dominate alleles (you only need one of the two for a particular trait), other traits are recessive alleles (you need both for the trait). Gene pairs that are the same are called homozygous. Gene pairs that are different are called heterozygous.
As an example, let’s consider the gene for eye color, although, this is a simplified example. There are actually several genes that determine eye color. Let B be the allele for brown eyes (dominate) and b the allele for blue eyes (recessive). Below are the eye color options shown in a “Punnett Square”, where the father could provide B or b (across the top) and the mother could provide B or b (down the column on the left). Their children would have some combination of BB, Bb or bb. Because B is dominate, combinations BB and Bb result in brown eyes. Only the combination bb results in blue eyes.
Selected Sources and Further Reading
Lawrence C. Brody, Ph.D. “Amino Acids.” National Human Genome Research Institute (NIH). (accessed March 2, 2021). https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/Amino-Acids
Regina Bailey. “What Are Proteins and Their Components?” ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/proteins-373564. https://www.thoughtco.com/proteins-373564
Tim Newman. “What is DNA and how does it work?” Medical New Today. January 11, 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319818.php
“Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Fact Sheet.” National Human Genome Research Institute. (accessed February 20, 2021). https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Deoxyribonucleic-Acid-Fact-Sheet
“What is DNA?” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (accessed February 20, 2021). https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/basics/dna
Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. “The Differences Between DNA and RNA.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/dna-versus-rna-608191. https://www.thoughtco.com/dna-versus-rna-608191
Susha Cheriydath, M.Sc. “Types of RNA: mRNA, rRNA and tRNA.” News, Medical Life Sciences. Updated January 21, 2021. https://www.news-medical.net/life-sciences/-Types-of-RNA-mRNA-rRNA-and-tRNA.aspx
Heather Scoville. “Transcription vs. Translation.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/transcription-vs-translation-4030754. https://www.thoughtco.com/transcription-vs-translation-4030754
“What is the Wobble Hypothesis?” Biology Exams 4 U. (accessed March 18, 2021). https://www.biologyexams4u.com/2013/03/wobble-hypothesis.html
Saloni Hombalkar. “How Can Multiple Codons Code For the Same Amino Acid?” Science ABC. Updated September 23, 2020. https://www.scienceabc.com/pure-sciences/how-can-multiple-codons-code-for-the-same-amino-acid.html
“What is a gene?” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (accessed February 20, 2021). https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/basics/gene
“What is a chromosome?” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (accessed March 1, 2021). https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/basics/chromosome/
“Genes.” (list of Genes) MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene
Regina Bailey. “Understanding the Genetic Code.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/genetic-code-373449. https://www.thoughtco.com/genetic-code-373449
“Biology for Kids: Hereditary Patterns.” Ducksters. Technological Solutions, Inc. (TSI). (access September 7, 2019). https://www.ducksters.com/science/biology/hereditary_patterns.php
First Humans in Space
Young Astronomers Blog, Volume 29, Number 7.
Sixty years ago, humans from the planet Earth left their world for the first time and journeyed above the atmosphere.
On the morning of October 5, 1957, the world awoke to something new. For the first time in human history an artificial satellite was orbiting the Earth. The satellite was Sputnik 1, and it was launched not by the perceived technologically dominate United States, but by the Soviet Union. The western world was in shock. We had been beaten and a communist satellite was travelling over the United States.
On November 3, 1957, the Soviets followed with Sputnik 2. This time, it carried a passenger, the dog Laika. Things were not looking well for the United States and their infant space program.
President Eisenhower decided the U.S. had to respond. He turned to the Navy and project Vanguard. On December 6, 1957, Vanguard TV-3 roared into life. It rose a few feet, fell back to the launch pad, and exploded. All of this was on live TV in front of the world. Soon, Vanguard was referred to as “Flopnik”, “Kaputnik”, “Puffnik”, and “Stayputnik”.
The U.S. then turned to the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama and on January 31, 1958, Explorer 1 was launched into orbit by a Jupiter C rocket. With this, the United States joined the space race. However, it wasn’t long before both the United States and the Soviet Union started to think about sending a human into space.
In the beginning, the U.S. efforts in space were led by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). But efforts were spread out among the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Eisenhower preferred a civilian agency to lead the charge, and on October 1, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed.
Around the same time, Project Mercury was created and on April 9, 1959, the first seven U.S. astronauts were introduced to the public. They were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, and Alan Shepard. Three of the seven were later “officially” chosen for the first manned mission, a suborbital flight. Unknown to the public, Alan Shepard was the actual choice with Gus Grissom scheduled for the second flight and John Glenn the backup for both.
Image Credit: NASA
Before they could fly into space, the spacecraft and rocket booster had to be thoroughly tested.
The first few tests used a rocket booster called Little Joe launched from Wallops Island off the coast of Virginia. Little Joe 1 was first. On August 21, 1959, as the countdown was proceeding. People were slowing moving to safe locations for the launch. Then around a ½ hour before launch, the escape tower ignited. This sent the spectators scrambling for safety. The escape tower worked as planned, although it was supposed to fire after the spacecraft launched, not before. Little Joe 2 and Little Joe 1B were more successful sending two rhesus monkeys (Sam and Miss Sam) on short test flights.
The next test flights were with a Mercury capsule launched by a Redstone booster. MR-1 was scheduled to take off on November 21, 1960. The Redstone engine ignited. The vehicle rose a few inches and settled back down on the pad. The escape tower fired and landed 400 yards away, which is what it is supposed to do. However, it did so without taking the spacecraft with it. With the escape tower gone, the capsule’s parachutes all deployed, and the green die marker used when landing was released. All this is, of course, while it was still attached to the launch vehicle and sitting on the pad. MR-1A followed on December 19, 1960. It was more successful, reaching a height of 130 miles and a weightless period of over 5 minutes.
On January 31, 1961, NASA launched the first Mercury Redstone crewed flight (MR-2). The “pilot” was Ham, a chimpanzee. The flight had a few problems. It flew higher and landed farther down range than expected. Despite the problems, the mission was successful, and the path was now open for a human to go next. Alan Shepard could become the first man in space.
On the other side of the world, the Soviet Union was developing its own space program. The man at the helm was Sergei Korolev. At the time, little was known about Korolev. Fearing for his safety, he was referred to only as the “Chief Designer”. Korolev had a very rocky road before becoming the head of the Russian space program. He fell out of favor with Soviet leaders and spent several years in a Russian gulag. However, at the end of World War 2, his engineering prowess was recognized, and he began working on Russian rocketry while still confined in the gulag. After his release, he led the design of the first Russian ICBMs, including the R-7, which was the rocket that launched Sputnik.
Korolev and the Soviets soon directed their attention toward human spaceflight. The first group of twenty cosmonauts were selected on February 25, 1960. Unlike the Americans, who were instant celebrities, the Russian selection was kept secret. Three months later, six cosmonauts were chosen for the upcoming Vostok program, although two were eventually replaced. Finally, in January 1961, three, Yuri Gagarin, Gherman Titov, and Grigori Nelyubov, were selected as finalists for the first flight. The remaining three (of the six) were Andriyan Nikolayev, Pavel Popovich, and Valery Bykovsky. Nelyubov later left the program, but the other five flew Vostok missions. A few years later, a second group of cosmonauts were selected including five women.
The Russians were also going through a series of unmanned flights designed to test the rocket and spacecraft. These test flights were known as Korabai-Sputnik missions. The first four met with partial success. Korabi-Sputnik 2 carried two dogs, who became the first animals to fly in orbit and land successfully. The last two unmanned missions in March 1961 (Korabit-Sputnik 4 and 5) were the final test of the human rated Vostok. Both were sent up with a dog and mannequin for a single orbit. Both landed successfully. This opened the door for a Soviet manned mission, possibly in early April.
After Ham’s MR-2 flight, Wernher Von Braun, the head of the Marshall Space Flight Center, felt that one more test flight was needed. MR-BD (“Booster Development”) took off on March 24, 1961 and reached an altitude of 113 miles. Everything went well. Now the door was open for the first manned Mercury Redstone flight in late April or early May.
If MR-BD had been a manned mission, Alan Shepard would have been the first human in space. It was, however, not to be. On April 12, 1961, Vostok 1 launched from what would become known as the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on board. He landed after one orbit becoming the first human in space. Although he did eject from the spacecraft and parachuted to the ground.
Alan Shepard (Freedom 7) followed Gagarin into space with a short 15-minute suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. He reached an altitude of 116.5 miles and landed 303 miles down range from Cape Canaveral. However, just as the Russians were first with Sputnik, they were first putting a man into space and into orbit.
Image Credit: NASA
Gus Grissom (Liberty Bell 7) repeated Shepard’s short flight on July 21, 1961. His flight was successful however, his post landing experience was not. As Grissom was waiting for a helicopter to pick him up, the hatch on his spacecraft blew open while the craft was floating in the ocean. Water poured in and the spacecraft sank to the bottom of the ocean. Grissom was, fortunately, rescued.
Not to be outdone, on August 6, 1961, Gherman Titov rode Vostok 2 into orbit and stayed there for a full day completing 17 orbits of the Earth.
The United States caught up to the Soviet Union, to some extent, with their first orbital mission on February 20, 1962. John Glenn (Friendship 7) completed three orbits of the Earth before returning safely. This was followed by three more missions: Scott Carpenter (Aurora 7 for three orbits in May 1962), Wally Schirra (Sigma 7 for six orbits in October 1962), and Gordon Cooper (Faith 7 for 22 orbits in May 1963).
The Soviets continued their dominance of long duration spaceflights and completed four more Vostok missions ranging in duration from 3 to 5 days. Andriyan Nikolayev (Vostok 3) and Pavel Popovich (Vostok 4) flew simultaneously in August 1962. Valery Bykovsky (Vostok 5) and Valentina Tereshkova (Vostok 6) repeated with a similar mission in June 1963.
Valentina Tereshkova was the first cosmonaut from the Soviet’s second group to fly in space and the first woman in space. It would, however, be many years before another woman would fly beyond the atmosphere.
Sadly, Yuri Gagarin, who became a national hero in the Soviet Union, died when a plane he was piloting crashed on March 27, 1968.
Selected Sources and Further Reading
Roger D. Launius. “Sputnik and the Origins of the Space Age.” NASA History Division. Updated February 2, 2005. https://history.nasa.gov/sputnik/sputorig.html
Stephen C. Smith. “Vanguard Revisited (Part I). Space KSC. January 1, 2011. https://spaceksc.blogspot.com/2011/01/vanguard-revisited.html
Robin McKie. “Sergei Korolev: the rocket genius behind Yuri Gagarin.” The Guardian. March 12, 2011. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/mar/13/yuri-gagarin-first-space-korolev
John Uri. “60 Years Ago: Soviets Select Their First Cosmonauts.” NASA History. February 25, 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/60-years-ago-soviets-select-their-first-cosmonauts
Roman Colas “In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on.” Phys.org. April 7, 2021. https://phys.org/news/2021-04-russia-legend-cosmonaut-gagarin.html
Uliana Malashenko. “The First Group of Female Cosmonauts Were rained to Conquer the Final Frontier.” Smithsonian Magazine. April 12, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/first-group-female-cosmonauts-trained-conquer-final-frontier-180971900/
Loyd S. Swenson Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander. This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury. NASA Special Publication-4201 in the NASA History Series. 1989. https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4201/toc.htm & https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4201.pdf
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- “MR-BD Is not MR-3.” https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4201/ch10-7.htm
- “Last-Minute Qualms.” https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4201/ch11-3.htm
- “Vostok Wins the First Lap.” https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4201/ch10-8.htm
- “Shepard’s Ride.” https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4201/ch11-4.htm
- “Second Suborbital Trial.” https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4201/ch11-7.htm
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Matt Blitz. “The Mysterious Death of the First Man in Space.” Popular Mechanics. April 12, 2016. https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a20350/yuri-gagarin-death/
James E. Oberg. Red Star in Orbit, The Inside Story of Soviet Failures and Triumphs in Space. Random House. New York. 1981.
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Power Up! Distant Uranus Sees A Storm Surge Of ‘Monstrous’ Proportions
Who can imagine Uranus as a quiet planet now? The Keck Observatory caught some spectacular pictures of the gas giant undergoing a large storm surge a few days ago, which took astronomers by surprise because the planet is well past the equinox in 2007, when the sun was highest above the equator.
“We are always anxious to see that first image of the night of any planet or satellite, as we never know what it might have in store for us,” stated Imke de Pater, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley that led the research.
“This extremely bright feature we saw on UT 6 August 2014 reminds me of a similarly bright storm we saw on Uranus’s southern hemisphere during the years leading up to and at equinox.”
Astronomers say the brightest of the storms is “monstrous” and reminds them of a dissipated feature nicknamed the “Berg”, since it looked a bit like an iceberg.
These two pictures of Uranus — one in true color (left) and the other in false color — were compiled from images returned Jan. 17, 1986, by the narrow-angle camera of Voyager 2. Image credit: NASA/JPL
The Berg, which might have been there when one of the Voyager spacecraft flew by in 1986, moved between the southern latitudes of 32 and 36 degrees between 2000 and 2005. After getting brighter in 2004, it moved towards the equator and got even stronger, where it remained until falling apart in 2009. (You can see pictures of it here.)
“The present storm is even brighter than the Berg. Its morphology is rather similar, and the team expects it may also be tied to a vortex in the deeper atmosphere,” Keck stated. Based on how bright the storm appears, researchers believe it must be reaching high into the atmosphere, perhaps approaching the tropopause (just below the stratosphere)
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This Artical is about Neptune and its Discovorers
Neptune is a planet of many wonders. From high winds to cold temperatures, it is also a very peculiar planet. Almost everything about it is different than the other planets. For example, its moon, Triton, is one of only three known moons that have atmospheres. Also, Neptune has clouds that are made of ammonia and ammonia hydrosulfate. Sometimes, Pluto is in front of Neptune. Neptune creates two times the energy that it gets from the sun. Not counting Pluto, Neptune is the farthest planet from the sun. Basically, Neptune is a planet that is interesting and weird planet. Neptune is the eighth planet from the sun. Its day is sixteen hours and seventeen minutes long. It is the fourth largest planet in the solar system. Neptune is three and nine tenths times bigger than earth. It is smaller but more massive than Uranus. Its diameter is 49,528km and it is 30,775sqmi. Its density is 1.6 Grams per square centimeter. Neptune is not perpendicular to its orbit. It is 4.5billion kilometers from the sun. Therefore, it cannot be seen by a telescope. Every 248 years, for twenty years, Pluto is closer to the sun than Neptune. Neptune was named after the Roman god of the sea.
Neptune&rsquos position was predicted by two astronomers and mathematicians. Their names were Urbain J.J. Le Verrier and John C Adams. Adams was an English astronomer and mathematician whose equations got rejected in 1844 by George B Airy because Airy did not have trust in him. Le Verrier was a French astronomer and mathematician. His equations were similar to Adams&rsquos. His were read and tested by Johann G Gale. He became the first person to observe and study the planet. Later, Le Verrier thought that he should name the planet and it should be named after him. France had a problem with this. They thought they had the right to name the planet. Also, England was arguing because Adams was an Englishman and they thought they also had the right. This dispute went on until it was named Neptune after the Roman sea god. Neptune is known for its high speed latitudinal winds. These are caused by an internal heat source. Latitudinal winds are winds that move with the planet&rsquos x axis. Some of these latitudinal winds reach up to a bone breaking 700 miles per hour, the fastest in the solar system. These winds sometimes create storms. For example, the Great Dark Spot which was a storm half the size of the Earth. It rotated as fast as 2000kmph. The storm was obviously a big storm especially compared to Earth&rsquos storms. The storm suddenly disappeared in 1994, though.
Neptune has a magnetic field. However, Neptune does not have molten iron, cobalt or nickel in its core as Earth does. This is possible because the pressure is high enough to make water a conductor. Neptune&rsquos magnetic field is twenty times bigger than its own radius. Neptune&rsquos magnetic field is offset from its core. Also, it is also tilted 47degrees. Neptune has a temperature of -355degrees Fahrenheit or -215degreesCelsius. It has an internal heat source. This internal heat source supplies Neptune with the radiation twice as strong as the energy that it gets from the sun. Neptune gets 1/9% of the sun light that Earth. It has been compared to a dark cathedral on a cloudy day. Neptune has a dense core of rock and ice. More towards the surface, Neptune&rsquos mantle is made up mostly of liquid Hydrogen. With at least -252.8 °C, it is cold enough to knock a person dead. The atmosphere consists of Hydrogen, Helium and Methane. This is thought to be because when the sun was formed, the denser compounds stayed closer to the sun than lighter compounds. There are white clouds of ammonia and ammonia hydrosulfate. These deadly-to-human compounds are just sitting there in large amounts. Some of these white clouds might be plumes which are columns of smoke or ice crystals.
Neptune has an incomplete ring system. Instead of the whole rings, it has arcs that clump up at certain points and thin at certain points. Neptune has three prominent rings and one faint ring. Adams is the outermost ring. It consists of three bright arcs which are named Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Next are Galatea and an unnamed ring. They co-orbit each other. Le Verrier is the innermost ring. It consists of Lassel and Argo. The rings are thought to consist of dust and rock. This is not very reflective, and, as a result, the rings are not very bright. Neptune has thirteen known moons. Their names are S/2002 N4. Of all these moons, the most interesting and bizarre is Triton. First off, Triton&rsquos orbit is retrograde to the planets rotation. This suggests that it was captured by Neptune, or became hit by a massive celestial object. Triton is one of three known moons to have an atmosphere. Triton&rsquos atmosphere is made chiefly of a thin Nitrogen atmosphere. The wonders of Neptune are many the winds, the energy, the satellites, the peculiar behaviors and many more. People still have not uncovered all its wonders and mysteries. Yet, they are going to try and learn as much as they can. The more people learn, the more they will know.
Rings of Uranus
The rings of Uranus are intermediate in complexity between the more extensive set around Saturn and the simpler systems around Jupiter and Neptune. The rings of Uranus were discovered on March 10, 1977, by James L. Elliot, Edward W. Dunham, and Jessica Mink. William Herschel had also reported observing rings in 1789 modern astronomers are divided on whether he could have seen them, as they are very dark and faint. 
By 1977, nine distinct rings were identified. Two additional rings were discovered in 1986 in images taken by the Voyager spacecraft, and two outer rings were found in 2003–2005 in Hubble Space Telescope photos. In the order of increasing distance from the planet the 13 known rings are designated 1986U2R/ζ, 6, 5, 4, α, β, η, γ, δ, λ, ε, ν and μ. Their radii range from about 38,000 km for the 1986U2R/ζ ring to about 98,000 km for the μ ring. Additional faint dust bands and incomplete arcs may exist between the main rings. The rings are extremely dark—the Bond albedo of the rings' particles does not exceed 2%. They are probably composed of water ice with the addition of some dark radiation-processed organics.
The majority of Uranus's rings are opaque and only a few kilometres wide. The ring system contains little dust overall it consists mostly of large bodies 20 cm to 20 m in diameter. Some rings are optically thin: the broad and faint 1986U2R/ζ, μ and ν rings are made of small dust particles, while the narrow and faint λ ring also contains larger bodies. The relative lack of dust in the ring system may be due to aerodynamic drag from the extended Uranian exosphere.
The rings of Uranus are thought to be relatively young, and not more than 600 million years old. The Uranian ring system probably originated from the collisional fragmentation of several moons that once existed around the planet. After colliding, the moons probably broke up into many particles, which survived as narrow and optically dense rings only in strictly confined zones of maximum stability.
The mechanism that confines the narrow rings is not well understood. Initially it was assumed that every narrow ring had a pair of nearby shepherd moons corralling it into shape. In 1986 'Voyager 2' discovered only one such shepherd pair (Cordelia and Ophelia) around the brightest ring (ε).
Weather on Neptune
As strong as the winds of Uranus are, they are nothing compared to those found on the other ice giant. Neptune boasts supersonic wind speeds of over 1,300mph , and numerous storm systems. The most famous of these features was the Great Dark Spot which was observed in close up by Voyager 2 in 1989. This huge storm system covered an area roughly equivalent to one sixth of the surface area of Earth.
In the latest Hubble images, a different storm system is visible near the North pole, accompanied by bright clouds of methane ice crystals. The reason these features appear darker than their surroundings is because they are holes offering a view into deeper layers of the Neptunian atmosphere, much like the eye of a hurricane on Earth allows you to see the surface from space.
Neptune seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. - Image Credit: NASA/ESA/M.H.Wong/A.I. H
Like on Jupiter and Saturn, these gigantic storm systems are believed to be powered by heat flowing out of the planet, left over from the planet’s birth some 4.5 billion years ago. Once again, a visit here would be problematic, with similar temperatures to Uranus but double the wind speed. In fact, Neptune is the windiest planet in the solar system.
The ice giants are the most commonly observed type of “exoplanet” – planets orbiting stars other than our sun. If we know more about Uranus and Neptune, we can therefore understand more about planets throughout the universe.
Of course, the ideal plan would be to travel to these worlds. Sadly, apart from the great distance involved, the exceptionally cold temperatures, massive storms and strong winds make them particularly unsuitable for a human visit. So for now, we shall just have to rely on telescopes like Hubble to tell us about our local ice giants.