Are We Reaching Satellite Saturation Point?

Satellites surrounding the earthWe all like our satellite navigation systems and mobile phones, Google maps and BBC World when we find ourselves in hotel rooms, but a report just published by the US National Research Council claims that we are on the brink of clogging up space to the point of no return.

A couple of years ago 2 satellites collided destroying both of them, one had already been decommissioned but the other was a communication carrier that was still in use. Also recently, astronauts had to get in to the emergency escape capsule on the International Space Station as debris passed close by.

There are about 22000 big pieces of debris floating round the Earth and many more smaller but potentially equally damaging pieces, and the problem is the lack of international agreement upon the use of near space. Almost everything from Sputnik onward is still floating about up there. The Chinese military destroyed one of their disused military satellites in an experiment in 2007 but that just created thousands more potentially dangerous pieces. More of a political action than a potential solution.

Now maybe we can live with the odd collision now and again, but a related and really serious problem and the underlying cause, is our reliance on this technology. Scientists talk about potential damage from solar flares and the likes, that might even knock the entire system out for an undefined period of time. This would have catastrophic effects on the world, no Satellite navigation means no aeroplanes, ships navigating by the stars, emergency services having to rush out and buy maps of the city, UPS and their competitors losing their way, and even worse than all this Sainsbury’s not being able to deliver Mrs French’s vegetables on time.

Easy to take lightly but really quite a serious problem.

Dependence is a difficult thing to overcome, but scientists are experimenting with bringing old satellites back to Earth. A sort of Kite is being trialled that once attached to its objective slows it down so that it enters the atmosphere and burns up, but this must be seen against a backdrop of more satellites being launched every month. They are both commercially and militarily extremely important.

Who has the right to govern space though? Competition rules and it is big business.

For a more detailed incite have a look at these postings on the Bassetti Foundation website.

Is your computer damaging your eyes?

Do computer screens do any real and lasting damanage to our eyes? There is a lot of debate on this issue, which I am going to explore in this article.


A healthy looking eye

There is no escaping them, screens are everywhere. At home, many of us choose to use computers, games consoles, and televisions – although they all seem to be merging into one.

At work we often are forced to spend hours each day staring at screens in order to get our job done. Word and Excel vs the dreaded filing cabinates, it’s an easy decision for many of us! In schools, many children now use computers more than they use pens and paper. Even when we are on the go, many of us carry phone with us, to keep us up to date and in sync, whilst we are out and about.

Eyes

One must therefore consider: are there any potentially dangerous side effects of using all these devices? We all get headaches from time to time, and computers are probably the cause of some of them. Often, when working at a screen for prolonged periods of time, many of us also get eye strain.

The short term effects of using a PC are unquestionable, but are there any dangerously irreversible long term effects on our eyes? Well according to my research, no, there aren’t. However, there is the possibility for long term effects for other parts of our body.

UPDATE: This article was written in 2011, and whilst there is still no conclusive evidence that suggests prolonged exposure to screens can cause irreversable damage to the eyes, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that looking at screens too closely and for too often may well cause eye problems in later life.


The eye of someone staring at a computer screen

Posture

Our back and neck are especially vulnerable, due to the large amount of time we spend sitting down in one position. Even with good posture, sitting in the same position for hours on end is not good for your body, that’s why we have muscles, bones and joints!

Repetitive strain injury is also a big issue. Many office workers will at some point experience this, in either their wrists or hands, due to the nature of typing and using a mouse.

In fact, repetitive strain injury is such a big issue, it is estimated that its annual cost to UK industry is between 5 and 20 billion pounds! In the US, the figures are also similar.

Despite its potentially harmful effects on the body, computers cause no proven long term damage to your eyes. Symptoms like sore eyes, blurred vision and a change in colour perception are usually only short term, and clear within hours of leaving the screen.

To help yourself avoid the short term computer-related symptoms of eye strain, my best advice is take regular breaks. Get a drink, go to the loo or just have a wander around every 30-40 minutes and you should be able to avoid such symptoms altogether.

Why not have a break now? Go on, get up from your desk and go and have a wander. 🙂 If you are using a tablet or are on your mobile, take five minutes off and then read another article. 😉

Why not? Your eyes will love you. 🙂

Want to do your bit for science? LHC@home

What on earth is LHC@home?

LHC@home stands for Large Hadron Collider at home. LHC@home is a new project involving your PC and the Large Hadron Collider. But why do they need your PC?

Too much data

Basically, the Large Hadron Collider throws particles around a 27km tunnel underneath the Swiss Alps and then smashes them into each other. The process is much more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

All this creates astronomical amounts of data, far too much for the projects computers to cope with. So how are the scientists ever going to make sense of the data they have gathered? The answer: you.

LHC@home 2.0

Way back in 2004 there was the idea to use the computing power of willing members of the public, to help analyse the data collected from the collider. This project was called LHC@home. To say the least, it didn’t really work out as planned, which is why project LHC@home 2.0 is now underway.


LHC@home 2.0 is an improved and updated version of LHC@home. Home computers are now much more powerful than in 2004 meaning that they are more likely to be able to cope with the complexity of simulating highly complex particle collisions.

The public aren’t going to be doing all the work, the Large Hadron Collider has it’s own massive supercomputer network, however by harnessing the spare capacity on (hopefully soon to be) millions of peoples home PC’s worldwide, then data can be analysed much faster.

SETI@home

LHC@home isn’t the first project of it’s kind however. SETI@home is another project which users can get involved in. All you do is install a screen saver and then when you are not using your PC, it starts to help in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence!

SETI@home screen saver

The SETI@home project screen saver

Do your bit for science!

Why not do your bit for science and offer your PC to help the LHC@home or SETI@home project?