Lots Of  Tantalizing Tid-Bits’ From the World of Astronomy and Space

1 Nearly every astronaut experiences some space sickness, caused by the wildly confusing information reaching their inner ears. In addition to nausea, symptoms include headaches and trouble locating your own limbs. Just like college, really.


2 And those are the least of your worries. In weightlessness, fluids shift upward, causing nasal congestion and a puffy face; bones lose calcium, forming kidney stones; and muscles atrophy, slowing the bowels and shrinking the heart.


3 At least you’ll be puffy, constipated, and tall: The decreased pressure on the spine in zero-g causes most space travellers to grow about two inches.


4 Lab rats sent into space during mid-pregnancy, while their foetuses’ inner ears are developing, spawn some seriously tipsy babies.


5 No humans have yet been conceived in space, so we can only imagine.


6 So that’s what it takes: A 2001 study showed that astronauts who snored on Earth snoozed silently in space.


7 But astronauts sleep less soundly; 16 sunrises a day throws a major wrench into their circadian rhythms.


8 And Ziggy played guitar. At the start of the workday on the space shuttle, mission control in Houston broadcasts wake-up music, usually selected with a particular astronaut in mind. On the all-work, no-play International Space Station, crews wake to an alarm clock.


9 If you are ever exposed to the vacuum of space without a suit on, don’t hold your breath: Sudden decompression would cause your lungs to rupture.


10 In addition, water on the tongue, in the nose, and in the eyes would boil away. This actually happened in 1965, when a space suit failed during a NASA experiment and the tester was exposed to a near vacuum for 15 seconds.


11 Contrary to Hollywood, though, you wouldn’t explode. Lack of oxygen in the blood is what would kill you, but it would take about two minutes.


12 John Glenn found it hard to choke down his food, but not because of the lack of gravity: Early astronauts relied on aluminium tubes of semiliquid mush, food cubes, and dehydrated meals.


13 Today astronauts can spice up their meals with salt and pepper-in liquid form. Sprinkled grains would float away, tickling noses and clogging vents.


14 Missing something? Those vents on the space shuttle and International Space Station serve as the lost and found, sucking up anything that’s floating about unsecured.


15 The shuttle commode requires that astronauts align themselves precisely in the dead centre of the seat. A mock-up of the shuttle toilet, complete with built-in camera, is used to train them how to position themselves.


16 NASA tried building a bathroom into its space suits-a fitted condom attached to a bladder for men, a moulded gynaecological insert for women-but gave up and passed out nappies (diapers) to all.


17 Returning astronauts report extreme difficulty moving their arms and legs right after touchdown, one reason why they call landing “the second birth.”


18 But some long-duration cosmonauts report that the hardest thing to readjust to about life on Earth is that when you let go of objects, they fall.


19 Better just to stay up there? Eighteen people have died on space missions, but never in space-always on the way up or the way down.


  • Mars is the current focus for most planetary exploration.  Mars’ diameter about half that of the Earth and its atmosphere is very thin, about 1% as thick as Earth’s. Because it is farther from the Sun, Mars is a cold and barren world. It has thin seasonal ice-caps and frequent planet wide dust storms. Mars has the tallest mountain in the Solar System –Olympus, an extinct volcano which is 400km wide at its base and three times higher than Mt Everest at its peak.
  • Most life on Earth depends on the Sun for its survival. Our Sun’s diameter is 1.4 million kilometres, compared to Earth’s puny 12, 750km – but it is actually a small star as stars go. Astronomers classify it as a yellow dwarf star. Some stars are a hundred times bigger!
  • Our Solar System is basically divided into two halves. The inner half includes Earth and Mars, which are known as the rocky planets, and are quite small, made of rock and have thin atmospheres or none to speak of, in the case of Mercury. The outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are known as the Gas Giants, and are all huge and made mainly of gas. Pluto, on the outer extremity of the Solar System, is small and made of rock and ice.
  • Our Milky Way Galaxy’s diameter is about 100,000 light-years. This means that at the speed of light (300,000 kilometres per second), it would take 100,000 years to go from one side to the other! It contains somewhere between 100 billion and 400 billion stars
  • Venus used to be called Earth’s sister planet. Size aside, Venus is very unearth-like with an atmosphere of almost pure carbon dioxide, clouds of sulphuric acid droplets, and a temperature of 900 degrees Fahrenheit! The few Russian spacecraft that landed there lasted only a few hours before being baked and crushed! Venus rotates backward on its own axis. The rotation is so slow, that a Venusian day (243 Earth days) is longer than its year (224.7 Earth days)!
  • Jupiter is the largest planet in the Solar System. Like the other Gas Giant planets (Saturn. Uranus and Neptune), it doesn’t have a solid surface that we can see; rather, we see the tops of its complex atmospheric cloud system. The most prominent feature of Jupiter’s atmosphere is the Great Red Spot –a huge red-coloured cyclone bigger than the Earth. Galileo first saw the Great Red Spot almost 400 years ago, so it has been going for at least that long if not more.
  • Saturn is the planet with the famous rings. The planet is made mainly of gas with a hidden rocky core. Saturn’s overall density is very low. If you had a body of water big enough to put it in, Saturn would float!
  • Uranus & Neptune are” twin worlds” about four times the diameter of Earth. Their blue/green atmospheres are dominated by strong winds blowing at up to 2,000 kph –the fastest winds in the Solar System! Pluto is small and made entirely of ice. A spacecraft was launched in 2006 and will take about 10 years to get there.
  • The Voyager 1 and 2 probes that visited the Gas Giant planets are still working and sending back basic data from deep space. They each carry an LP record made of gold-plated copper, containing sounds, pictures, music and messages from Earth. Maybe someday, someone will find these probes and find out all about us from these LP records!
  • The closest star system to Earth is the Alpha Centauri system, about 4.2 light-years away. Alpha Centauri is actually a binary star system, made up of two stars very similar to our Sun. There is a third, much smaller star, called Proxima Centauri in the same vicinity.
  • Scientists believe that a giant black hole lives at the core of our galaxy. It is estimated to weigh millions of times more than our Sun. But that’s nothing –some other galaxies have central black holes that weigh billions of times more than our Sun!
  • A big question of modern physics is what will be the eventual fate of the Universe? Will it keep expanding forever, or will it eventually stop, or will it start to re-collapse, leading to the opposite of the Big Bang? Most research indicates that the Universe will not only expand forever, but it will get faster and faster with time.
  • On a clear night, the human eye can see between 2,000 and 3,000 stars in the sky. The farthest you can see with the naked eye is 2.4 million light years away! That’s the distance to the giant Andromeda Galaxy.
  • Most astronomers believe the Moon was formed when an asteroid almost the size of Mars hit Earth and shot debris into orbit.
  • Astronauts are a little taller in space than on Earth. There is less gravity in space, so their bones are not as squashed together as they are on Earth.
    For more space info and a free astronomy newsletter visit www.davidreneke.com            Email: davereneke@gmail.com

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