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Notes & Queries 1/5/08

Studying people on Earth is one way to learn how long-duration space missions may affect the human body. The Human Test Subject Facility at the Johnson Space Center is looking for test subjects in a series of ‘bed rest’ studies that will be conducted over the next ten years. A head-down tilt bed is used, with extended periods in which the participants stay in bed with their body tilted slightly downward (a minus six degrees incline). The longest stretch involves 90 days lying in bed, hard to imagine, but those interested in volunteering for these compensated studies should have a look at the Human Test Subject Facility background page.
Both of Saturn’s poles — and not just the southern one — seem to be home to a set of hot cyclonic vortices. That’s a bit of a surprise given the earlier belief that sunlit conditions contributed to the south pole hot spot. But the north pole has been out of sunlight since 1995. Just what are these apparently long-lasting vortices? Leigh Fletcher (University of Oxford) says this:

“The hot spots are the result of air moving polewards, being compressed and heated up as it descends over the poles into the depths of Saturn. The driving forces behind the motion, and indeed the global motion of Saturn’s atmosphere, still need to be understood.”

Indeed. Remember that Saturn’s north pole is also home to the odd polar hexagon, which frames the newly discovered vortex. The hexagon seems to be higher than previous studies indicated, extending to the top of the troposphere. The Juno mission, scheduled for a 2011 launch and 2016 arrival, will eventually tell us more. See Fletcher et al., “Temperature and Composition of Saturn’s Polar Hot Spots and Hexagon,” in Science Vol. 319, No. 5859 (January 4 2008), pp. 79-81 (abstract).
Those of you who have been running SETI@home are part of a group of some five million volunteers who have signed up since the project began eight years ago. At present, according to this UC-Berkeley news release, the actual number running the software seems to be 170,000, working with 320,000 computers. But new receivers at Arecibo now generate 500 times more data for the project than before. The new data amounts to 300 gigabytes per day, which is why SETI@home could use more volunteers.

Says chief project scientist Dan Werthimer:

“Earthlings are just getting started looking at the frequencies in the sky; we’re looking only at the cosmically brightest sources, hoping we are scanning the right radio channels. The good news is, we’re entering an era when we will be able to scan billions of channels. Arecibo is now optimized for this kind of search, so if there are signals out there, we or our volunteers will find them.”

For more information and software, visit the SETI@home site.
The 35th Carnival of Space is now up at Music of the Spheres. Particularly useful this time around is a compendium of space books published in the last year, gathered by the CollectSPACE site. My problem with such lists is that keeping up with Centauri Dreams leaves me little room for lengthy titles, so immersed do I find myself in much shorter papers and news releases. But there’s plenty of good reading here, particularly the titles by Ed Belbruno, Michael Michaud, Giancarlo Genta, and the excellent Living Off the Land in Space book by Gregory Matloff, Les Johnson and C Bangs.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Starfleet commander January 6, 2008, 6:55

    RE: Seti@home. I’ve got my dual core crunching away on new Arecibo data!
    Unfortunately i only have the one computer.

    I was wondering a way to maybe get alot more data crunching power. What about all the stores selling computers. They usually have banks of computers just sitting there with boring screen-savers. Even if one big chain like Dixons signed up to use the seti@home software it would add tens or hundred of thousands of computers to the workload. And maybe someone like Dell would actually have it loaded onto any new systems they ship. Hell, they load all kind of uselss packages onto most new computers..why not seti@home? Even if only 10% kept in on their system it would be a big boost.

  • Administrator January 6, 2008, 8:40

    SETI@home would probably get some flack from some of the other distributed computing projects if Dell or a similar outfit started equipping new machines with the software. I love the concept, though, and it’s fascinating to see how distributed methods are being put to use at the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing:


    Look at all the applications in the life sciences, climatology, mathematics! Anyway, using otherwise undedicated computer cycles is a great idea, whether for SETI or whatever. And yes, if you can talk a big chain with computers on display to run a SETI screensaver, I’m in your camp!

  • Starfleet commander January 7, 2008, 7:54


    Gosh yes, is even science not immune to the horrors of politics? No need to answer :-)

  • ljk January 8, 2008, 10:01

    Don’t alienate yourself: SETI@home needs you!

    EE Times Jan. 3, 2008


    With 500-times more data streaming
    in, thanks to the recent addition of
    seven new receivers to the world’s
    largest radio telescope in Arecibo,
    SETI is trumpeting its need for more
    users to offer their computers for
    use in the supercomputer cluster
    after hours by signing up with…