Big science for a big planet

Published 6:54 pm Sunday, July 3, 2016

I’m a science nerd that’s way too late to the party, born without mind enough to totally grasp what’s going on in the realm of physics, but knowing enough to be blown away by what the science conceptualizes.

For example, I don’t understand exactly the science behind the Higgs Boson Particle — referred to as the God Particle — but I understand what it “means” to science and what it means to unraveling the biggest mystery of the universe: how we all began.

In the interest of even fuller disclosure I should say I’m a math and science idiot. I see the equations scientists write out to try and explain things like quantum entanglement, black holes and dark energy but I have no idea what they mean. Really, it could be just as easy to throw out random numbers, tell me what they mean and I could only nod like a bobble head — because really, how am going to know the difference?

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It’s not like I’m going to raise my hand and ask, “But how does the gravity well surrounding neutron stars affect the time-space continuum?”

I don’t even know if that makes sense, although looking back, I suspect it doesn’t, but you get my point.

What I’m most likely to do is ask what the squiggly line means and “didn’t I see that symbol on ‘Stargate: SG-1?’”

See, I’m useless to science, but nevertheless, the idea of discovering the secrets of the universe we are floating through captures the imagination. With telescopes, satellites and observatories revealing more and more of space, it all comes a little more into focus.

What I’m really excited about is being witness to a very large, as it were, moment in history. I’m not involved in anyway, though if scientists are listening, I would be more than happy to just push any kind of button if I can make laser, “phew, phew” sounds.

This week NASA’s Juno mission is set to make contact with Jupiter. And by contact, I mean the closest we’ve ever actually gotten to the biggest planet in our solar system.

Juno’s very simple-sounding mission is to improve our understanding of our solar system’s beginning by attempting to explain the origin and evolution of the gas giant, though “simple-sounding” is entirely relevant.

Juno left earth in Aug. 5, 2011, on a five-year journey to Jupiter where it will orbit for 20 months. Mind-blowing fact about the big guy — in those 20 months, Juno will orbit 37 times.

That’s a lot of planet.

Juno will be orbiting in the upper layers of Jupiter’s atmosphere where the obiter will map the magnetic and gravitational fields along with a host of other things.

This is not only exciting for scientists and scientific hobbyists, but for humanity in general because of the access Juno will give us, provided the orbiter survives the mission, which is incredibly hazardous.

We may not know the intricacies of Jupiter’s magnetic field, but we do know it’s much stronger than Earth’s not to mention the radiation Jupiter is pumping out. There is also a lot more other hurdles Juno will navigate, but if all goes well scientists will have looked deeper into Jupiter’s atmosphere than ever before.

It’s about learning something new, learning something about ourselves and learning something about our home. There is no room for walls on our pale blue dot, so famously coined by Carl Sagen and likewise there should be no room for walls in our understanding of our cosmic neighborhood or the universal community.