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The Countdown, Episode 11 – Ticket to the Moon, Earth at Night, Ebb and Flow, Mayan Unpocalypse, Green Bean Galaxies

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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[The text below is a modified transcript of this video.]

Story 5

For all those who have been dreaming of venturing into space, now is the time! For as little as… $750 million dollars, you could be the first person to step on the moon in 40 years.

Golden Spike, a private spaceflight company, announced that by 2020, it will be ready to take tourists to the moon. The company is proposing to take two-person teams and banking on already existing rockets and capsules to do the task. Even though no existing space vehicles are currently capable of a lunar landing, Space X’s soon-to-be-launched Falcon rocket might fit the bill.

Currently, the company is targeting foreign countries who could send a team of two representatives, either for research or national pride.

Story 4

On December 5th, NASA released a cloud-free animation of the Earth at night. It was created by stitching together two months worth of data from VIIRS, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite satellite.

Story 3

NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, better known as GRAIL, has mapped the gravity field of the moon, revealing that the orb is even more battered than it looks to the naked eye.

For the GRAIL mission, twin probes dubbed Ebb and Flow flew over the moon’s surface in formation, measuring how mountains and craters changed the distance between them. The satellites even detected changes in the lunar soil density. In addition to producing a colorful gravity map, GRAIL’s findings reveal the moon’s crust is thin and porous, probably due to being pulverized by many ancient impacts.

And if the young moon took a lot of hits, chances are that Earth and other planets in our solar system suffered a similar beating.

Story 2

In the comments from the last episode of The Countdown, YouTuber purplefeistygirl820 asked about the whole Mayan apocalypse nonsense. Apparently, a TV show stated:

“….the earth is going to end on 12/21/12… because the sun is in alinement [sic] with the earth and there are solar flares going on…..”

First, there’s no end to the Mayan calendar. It’s in the shape of a wheel, with one long cosmic cycle. The cycle does end on the 21st, but when you’ve gone all the way around, you just give the wheel another turn and start a new one.

Second, the sun and the moon line up with the Earth all the time. It’s a phenomenon called syzygy and it happens twice a month. All of the planets come close to lining up about every 500 years, but this isn’t going to happen on the 21st.

As for solar flares, they are part of the sun’s normal activity and get stronger over an 11-year cycle. Fortunately, we’re protected from them by the Earth’s magnetosphere, although they can cause problems for satellites.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought from NASA engineer Don Yeomans, who has investigated these rumors:

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since the beginning of time there have been literally hundreds of thousands of predictions for the end of the world, and we’re still here.”

Story 1

Astronomers have discovered a new kind of galaxy that glows bright green. In many galaxies, the energy from a central black hole makes the gas around it glow. But in the adorably named “green bean galaxies,” the black hole is in the process of switching off. As it dims, the black hole’s energy disperses, lighting up gas throughout the galaxy. It’s a radioactive echo that will eventually fade as the radiation passes out into space.

When scientists first glimpsed an entirely glowing galaxy through the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, they were floored. They had to travel to the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope to find out more about this object, named J2240. Then, they had to go to a third telescope, Gemini South, to confirm the existence of more green beans. It turns out that these new galaxy types are incredibly rare. If you drew a cube with sides 1.3 billion light-years long, it would contain only a single green bean galaxy.


- Portions of the script above written by Sophie Bushwick, Eric R. Olson & Isha Soni




About the Author: Eric is multimedia journalist and producer who specializes in science and natural history. His work has appeared on the websites of Scientific American, Nature, Nature Medicine, Popular Science, Slate and The New York Times among many others. He is a former video producer & editor for Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @EricROlson.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. alan6302 9:30 pm 12/13/2012

    Nostradamus and Isaiah are predicting a 700% solar storm for 7 days that will wipe out the food supply . Near this time period. A genetic bomb , nuclear war and flood follows.

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  2. 2. granador 4:25 pm 12/14/2012

    Why does everybody insist in showing the Aztec solar stone (also known as the Aztec Calendar) when talking about the Mayan “Armaggedon” predictions? Although contemporary to each other, Aztecs and Mayans were two different extraordinary pre-columbian civilizations, each with their own particularities. These type of flaws are missinformative and inadmissible for what is to be considered a serious publication such as Sciam.

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