|Science Fiction or Science Fact?|
|Here’s a short quiz to test your knowledge of what’s real and what isn’t in the area of space travel and the search for extraterrestrial life.
Are we alone?
1. We have strong evidence that that our solar system is not the only one; we know there are many other Suns with planets orbiting them.
Improved telescopes and detectors have led to the detection of dozens of new planetary systems within the past decade, including several systems containing multiple planets.
One giant leap for bug-kind
2. Some organisms can survive in space for years — without any kind of protective enclosure.
A small colony of the common bacteria Streptococcus mitis stowed away for nearly three years aboard Surveyor 3, an unmanned spacecraft that landed on the moon in 1967. The crew of Apollo 12 recovered the organisms and brought them back to Earth under sterile conditions. This unplanned experiment proved that certain microorganisms can survive years of radiation exposure, the vacuum of space and deep-freeze, without any nutrient, water or energy source.
Hot real estate
3. Organisms have been found living happily in scalding water with temperatures as high as 235 degrees F.
More than 50 heat-loving microorganisms, or hyperthermophiles, have been found thriving at very high temperatures in such locations as hot springs in Wyomingճ Yellowstone National Park and on the walls of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Some of these species multiply best at 221 degrees F, and can reproduce at up to 235 degrees F.
Has E.T. already phoned home?
4. We now have evidence that some form of life exists beyond Earth, at least in primitive form.
While many scientists speculate that extraterrestrial life exists, so far there is no conclusive evidence to prove it. Future missions to Mars, the Jovian moon Europa and future space telescopes such as the Terrestrial Planet Finder will search for definitive answers to this ageless question.
To infinity, and beyond!
5. We currently have the technology necessary to send astronauts to another star system within a reasonable timespan. The only problem is that such a mission would be overwhelmingly expensive.
Even the the unmanned Voyager spacecraft, which left our solar system years ago at a breathtaking 37,000 miles per hour, would take 76,000 years to reach the nearest star. Because the distances involved are so vast, interstellar travel to another star within a practical timescale would require, among other things, the ability the move a vehicle at or near the speed of light. This is beyond the reach of today’s spacecraft — regardless of funding.
Fellowship of the rings
6. All of the gas giant planets in our solar system (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) have rings.
Saturn’s rings are the most pronounced and visible, but they aren’t the only ones.
May the force be with you
7. In the “Star Wars” films, the Imperial TIE Fighters are propelled by ion engines (TIE stands for Twin Ion Engine). While these spacecraft are fictional, real ion engines power some of todayճ spacecraft.
Ion propulsion has long been a staple of science fiction novels, but in recent years it has been successfully tested on a number of unmanned spacecraft, most notably NASAճ Deep Space 1. Launched in 1998, Deep Space 1 rendezvoused with a distant asteroid and then with a comet, proving that ion propulsion could be used for interplanetary travel.
A question of gravity
8. There is no gravity in deep space.
If this were true, the moon would float away from the Earth, and our entire solar system would drift apart. While itճ true that gravity gets weaker with distance, it can never be escaped completely, no matter how far you travel in space. Astronauts appear to experience “zero-gravity” because they are in continuous free-fall around the Earth.
Beam me up, Scotty!
9. The basic premise of teleportation — made famous in TVճ “Star Trek” — is theoretically sound. In fact, scientists have already ҴeleportedӠthe quantum state of individual atoms from one location to another.
As early as the late 1990s, scientists proved they could teleport data using photons, but the photons were absorbed by whatever surface they struck. More recently, physicists at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, for the first time teleported individual atoms using the principle of quantum entanglement.
Experts say this technology eventually could enable the invention of superfast “quantum computers.” But the bad news, at least for sci-fi fans, is that experts donմ foresee being able to teleport people in this manner.
Good day, Suns-shine
10. Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s home planet in the “Star Wars” films, has two Suns — what astronomers would call a binary star system. Scientists have discovered recently that planets really can form within such systems.
Double-stars, or binary systems, are common in our Milky Way galaxy. Among the more than 100 new planets discovered in recent years, some have been found in binary systems, including16 Cygni B and 55 Cancri A. (But so far, no one has found a habitable planet like Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine.)