Cybernaut 

The Huygens has landed

Whatever your feelings on the overall expense and scientific value of space programs, there’s something unspeakably awesome about the whole concept of sending probes three billion kilometres across the Solar System to land on another planet or the moon.

On Thursday of last week the $3 billion Huygens space probe landed on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, parachuting to the icy surface with a series of experiments on board. The probe’s twin, Cassini, orbited the moon and relayed the probe’s discoveries back to researchers at the European and Italian space agencies with a delay of approximately an hour and seven minutes between communications.

It took seven years for the probe to get there, travelling at about 18,000 kilometres an hour.

Scientists believe Titan has the same general gas and mineral composition as the earth, albeit one that is locked in a deep freeze, and that results could help us to better understand how our unique atmosphere formed. It’s also the only moon in our solar system with an atmosphere, which is intriguing in itself.

While some can argue that the $3 billion spent on the probe could have been better spent on earth-bound science, space probes do have a way of capturing the public’s attention.

If appreciating our own unique and fragile environment means sending probes to uninhabitable moons orbiting far-off planets, then it’s worth the expense – we need to understand just how unique and fragile Earth is before we have a hope of saving it.

Whistler astronomer John Nemy will be giving a presentation on Alien Worlds for the Whistler Naturalists on Thursday, Jan. 20 at Millennium Place, starting at 7:30 p.m. For those who have been to Nemy’s presentations before, it promises to be another spectacular evening of music, narration and slides, including several pictures taken by Nemy himself. The presentation will also feature images from the Hubble Telescope and Cassini Mission to Saturn.

If you’ve never been to one of these presentations, get there early – seats are hard to come by.

For more information on John Nemy and the Pacific Observatory, visit www.nemy.com.

Spray-on power cells a massive breakthrough

A project by University of Toronto researchers discovered a nano-technology process that allows solar cells to turn the sun’s infrared rays into power, potentially increasing the efficiency of solar cells by 500 per cent.

Solar technology is currently too expensive to be cost-effective with other power sources, and although cheaper plastic cells are becoming available, they are considerably less efficient than expensive silicon-based systems.

This new plastic material pioneered at UofT will be inexpensive, efficient, and could have a far-reaching impact on the way we produce power while weaning us off our dependency on limited and harmful fossil fuels.

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