Saving the Mission with Fusion

On December 7, 1995, NASA’s Jupiter probe, of the Galileo mission, entered Jupiter’s atmosphere at 47.4 kilometers per second, about 29.5 miles a second or over 106.03 thousand miles an hour, making it the fastest man-made object of its time. As NASA expected, it immediately began to burn through the carbon phenolic heat shield. This is a process called ablation, meaning simply that the outside material was made so that it would be burned at a controlled rate, absorbing the brunt of the heat, and protect the ship itself. What NASA didn’t expect was that the heat would be over double the temperatures of the sun’s surface; the probe measured over 28,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Atoms were split and plasma was formed. The plasma decimated the probe’s heat shield, nearly destroying it.

The tests that NASA had preformed were flawed, because they lacked a heat source great enough to truly test the limits of the shield. For a long time they used lasers, high powered jets, and basically anything hot enough to disintegrate the heat shield, but as we’ve seen, this wasn’t quite enough. However, recently two people, Eva Kostadinova from Auburn University and Dimitri Orlov who works on a fusion reactor in San Diego, have come up with a solution. They’ve began shooting small carbon phenolic pellets into plasma filled fusion reactors, called tokamaks, to test the current heat shield and other potentially better materials. 

Fusion reactors are certainly notmade for this purpose; nuclear fusion is an atomic reaction of, essentially, smashing atoms into each other to create a chain reaction of other atoms fusing to each other. Physicists say this bring virtually unlimited electricity, making it accessible anyone in the world.

Though it cost them over half a million dollars for merely one day of these tests, it could keep them from wasting the half a billion dollar planetary probe that they are working to protect. It may not seem like a big deal, but NASA is currently scheduling a similar trip to Venus, the DAVINCI+ mission, for the next few years and are determined not to make the same mistake again. After the semi-failed attempt in Jupiter, NASA realized how much more they could learn if they’d had a lighter, more efficient heat shield that didn’t take up over half of the weight of the entire probe, which could have been used for vital equipment.

Shedding Some Light on Black Holes

Some people are under the impression that black holes are the absence of matter, that they are void of color because they cannot absorb light, simple because it is called a black hole. This is utterly false. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. According to NASA, a black hole is “a star ten times more massive than the sun squeezed into a sphere approximately the diameter of New York City.” 

Another misconception about black holes is that the gravitational pull around one sucks  in anything and everything around it. While this is partly true—anything that falls into its center instantly gets squished, but more on that in a second—, black holes actually have the same gravitational pull as the star that it once was. It definitely seems like it sucks in every object in its pull, seeing as how nothing could get remotely close to it while is was a live star, but it is the exact same. Except in the center.

When a black hole is created, the dead star gets compressed into almost infinite density. This is the center, and it is called a singularity. From here to a few miles out, the gravitational pull is so strong that it does pull in everything around it. Don’t get confused here—a couple miles is completely different from the entire gravitational pull, which would probably be a couple million miles depending on the black hole. Because the density of the center is near-infinite, a strange phenomenon happens while the star is collapsing. It is a thing that I still don’t fully understand called the event horizon. As the star compresses, the escape velocity—the speed at which an object would have to travel at to “escape” the black hole’s gravitational pull—increases. So the event horizon occurs when the escape velocity exceeds the speed of light. From what I understand, this means that the event horizon is just the part of a black hole’s surface that doesn’t let anything—including light, since Einstein’s theory of special relativity says that the speed of light is the fastest something can travel through space—out.

Let’s say for a second, that, somehow, you manage to fall—or more accurately, get sucked into—a black hole. As I mentioned, you would never escape. The extreme gravity, which is also almost infinite at the center or event horizon, would instantly stretch you vertically and compress you horizontally because of a process that scientists legitimately call spaghettification. Of course we don’t actually know what would happen since it never actually has happened. But scientists expect that the way you would perceive space and time would be completely different.

Although a person has never had an encounter with a black hole, scientists have seen and created advanced simulations of stars entering black holes. You may be surprised to hear that though some get ripped to shreds, there have been several instances of the star entering, warping and being slightly compressed, but managing to exit the gravitational pull fully intact.

Works Cited:

To learn more about black holes in general, visit:

To learn more about a black hole’s event horizon, visit:

To learn more about and see simulations of when a star nears a black hole, visit:

Dune: to Read or not to Read?

Shortly after the Ducal family Atreides arrives at the desert planet of Arrakis, called Dune, they find themselves caught by their political opposition, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. They are then forced to fight through the barren waste land that surrounds them, and fit in with the native culture, as the Duke’s son, Paul Atreides, soon to be known as Muad’Dib, slowly finds his place again.

Though not as action packed as our 21st century novels, Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi series, Dune, quickly became a classic through its original writing style and sense of wonder. It is one of the first books to use what writers call “Third person true omniscient” since it shows each scene from multiple characters eyes and thoughts at once giving it the sense that every character is the main protagonist. Herbert’s completely new universe uses a mixture of futuristic technology and ancient magics, and combines fantasy suspense with political schemes for power and control. This universe became a classic for the ingenious creativity in the technology and scientific advancements, which eventually inspired the desert planet of Tatooine in A New Hope. However, although being a great novel in general, there were a few issues, in my opinion. The plot is not noticeably established until about two thirds in, making it seem go on chapter after chapter with little to no progress, even through the most intense scenes. Because it is an absolutely original world, the amount of new information can, at times, become a bit much to process. As previously said, the writing style is one of a kind, but this can cause some confusion from the slightest difference in compound sentence structure to the immediate change in character viewpoint. It is quite obvious that Herbert did not want much action. Several scenes had potential to escalate, and they did, but as a background to a different a character’s viewpoint.

Over all, Dune is absolutely worth reading, even with the few issues it arguably has. So, if you happen to have 12 hours of free time and don’t mind a book mostly based around political schemings of a fictitious universe, then this may be your cup of tea. Or for those who have already read it, your spice coffee.