MarsCon 2018 - One Week Later

A week ago, I attended MarsCon 2018 and was on 10 panels. I also attended a couple of other panels. Two such panels I was able to take notes on: "Mysterious Minnesota: Unwrapping Urban Legends and Ghostly Tales from the Dead" and "Planetarium Star Show."

Mysterious Minnesota: Unwrapping Urban Legends and Ghostly Tales from the Dead

Where humanity leaves footprints, paranormal activity will follow
— Adrian Lee

Adrian Lee, founder of The International Paranormal Society (TIPS), is an author, radio show host, ghost hunter, and historian. When I arrived at the panel, many interesting factoids were presented, including that the 5th Floor of the Minneapolis City Hall were once used for hangings (the last one there took place in March 1898), the suspected witches of Loon Lake Cemetery in Jackson County, Minnesota, the ghosts of Redwood County Poor Farm in Redwood County, Minnesota, and the haunting of Fairlawn Mansion in Superior, Douglass County, Wisconsin. Lee works with historical societies and does actual historical research with historians - he appears to debunk urban legends. These can be recounted in his book Mysterious Minnesota: Unwrapping Urban Legends and Ghostly Tales from the Dead as well as his other works.

During the panel, Lee said that he is a psychic; he then proceeded to debunk local lore with historical facts. After that, he talked about his Structured Light Sensor camera and the several hours of Electronic Voice Phenomenon recordings that he has. This led him to talk about residual hauntings and detecting them.

Note: Both SLS cameras and EVP recordings provide forms of pareidoliaapophenia, and equipment artifacts. It's pseudoscience.

Planetarium Star Show

The Planetarium Star Show was a lot of fun - my friend, Michelle Chmura, with the Bell Museum of Natural History, took us on a journey from Earth to the edge of the observable universe.

By the time I arrived, we were talking about our neighbor, Mars.

Northern Ice Cap of Mars
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars is like Northern Minnesota - cold and dry. We learned that volcanic rocks are perfect for checking polarity when looking for magnetic fields, and that Mars looks more brown from the surface. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury predicted the existence of Iron on Mars (and is a wonderful book - Michelle and I both love this book; I suggest that everyone read it, and Michelle loves the role is played in Mars discovery). As life (as we know it) needs water, we send our rovers to the Northern Hemisphere to explore. Both poles consist primarily of water ice; the Northern Hemisphere (the larger ice cap) has frozen carbon dioxide accumulation that is about 1 meter thick during the winter, while the Southern Hemisphere (the smaller ice cap) has a permanent dry ice cover about 8 meters thick.

We were treated to beautiful images of Mars, including Olympus Mons - a volcano that is 3 times bigger than Mount Everest and is the size of Texas. It is so massive that the volcano has sunk into the ground. Also, there is an upcoming seismographic mission to Mars - there are no signs of plate tectonics in our solar system (outside of Earth), which may indicate that the other planets cooled down faster. Or perhaps Mars and the other rocky worlds each are all on one giant plate that moves together? Hopefully the upcoming mission can shed some light on this mystery!

Phobos in Orbit around Mars
Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI)

Another mystery is that Mars once had a magnetic field. Perhaps the core of Mars became totally solid, causing the field to go away? Geodynamics is interesting and still leaves us with some questions - we're not 100% certain what happened to Mars (Earth is one giant dynamo).

As for the rovers that are being sent to Mars, the 2020 rover will have a new wheel design that will improve it’s durability in the great desert. Someone at the panel asked why the rovers don’t use legs for mobility - legs require more energy than wheels to move around (and there’s only so much power to go around on a rover), legs are heavy, and legs are unstable (when compared to wheels); if the rover were to trip, no one would be able to set it back upright, and the dust storms would likely cause the joints to eventually become inflexible and stop working. Fortunately for the rovers already on Mars, the dust storms (to our general surprise) keep the solar panels clean, increasing their lifespans.

Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute (IKI) Venera-D mission concept.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Moving away from Mars, the presentation made a stop at Venus. Russian missions through the corrosive atmosphere showed that our probes can last for at least more than an hour now, instead of the expected lifespan of 30 minutes. With these missions, we were about to discover that the volcanoes on Venus are very close to the ground (perhaps due to the heat), and that there are rivers of lava (the lava on Venus is similar to that found on Hawai’i). The thick atmosphere, however, has about the same pressure as being under 10 kilometers of water here on Earth.

This composite of enhanced color images of Pluto (lower right) and Charon (upper left), was taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passed through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015. This image highlights the striking differences between Pluto and Charon. The color and brightness of both Pluto and Charon have been processed identically to allow direct comparison of their surface properties, and to highlight the similarity between Charon’s polar red terrain and Pluto’s equatorial red terrain. Pluto and Charon are shown with approximately correct relative sizes, but their true separation is not to scale. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC).


From Venus, we went out to visit the Pluto/Charon binary dwarf planet pair. Though we didn’t spend much time here, we did cover a few topics. One topic that we discussed was why Pluto is no longer a planet but rather a dwarf planet (and I agree with that sentiment), - it was also pointed out that there are a multitude of other former planets in our star system, including Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta, Chiron, Charon, and Eris (all discovered, called planets, and then had the status of planet removed from the 19th - 21st centuries). Both Pluto and Charon have a lot of water on them, Pluto with a subsurface ocean estimated to be 100-180 kilometers thick, while Charon has a smaller amount (but is estimated to be 45% water ice). It is difficult to send probes out this far for research, as there is a 12-hour communications loop to overcome.

This artist's concept puts solar system distances in perspective. The scale bar is in astronomical units, with each set distance beyond 1 AU representing 10 times the previous distance.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After looking at the beauty of the planetary edge of the Sol System, we traveled beyond the Oort Cloud, into the great beyond to see the Cosmic Background and Multiverse (click here for an article on observational evidence of the Multiverse). After discussing why we can only see so much of the observable universe, we made the trek back to our own galaxy, passing near Andromeda and M33 (the Triangulum Galaxy). Though our Milky Way is due to collide with the Andromeda Galaxy in about 4 billion years, the numbers may be skewed because Triangulum creates a third body to factor into the problem, and the 3-body problem is one of the hardest problems in physics (and is a wonderful sex joke, if you’re a fan of XKCD).

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