Up or Down – Cats in Space

By Anupum Pant

Cat’s righting reflex

Cat_fall_150x300_6fpsThanks to the Vestibular righting reflex, animals like cats are able to land on their feet after a fall. This is great because it helps them avoid injury. In fact, it helps them avoid injuries in a very counter-intuitive manner.

In a study done in the year 1987, researchers found that cats falling from 6 storeys or less usually have greater injuries than cats falling from places higher than 6 storeys. There have been cats who have survived a fall from as high as 32 storeys. It’s so absurd, I had to mention that.

Also cats have been often found falling from high rise buildings due to a phenomenon known as the high-rise syndrome. This happens because cats mostly have a natural attraction towards high places, often get distracted by a prey and fall.

Cats In Space?

All said, there’s no doubt that cats can right themselves pretty well. But to do it, they need to have a sense of what is up and what is down. That sense, of course comes from gravity. What happens to them in micro gravity? A little kid asked me that and I had no answer. Who would have tested that, I thought.

So I checked. To my surprise, cats-in-zero-gravity-tests (simulated weightlessness) have actually been done previously by the USAF medical division and Russian cosmonaut training centre. Here’s an interesting old video of how cat’s natural reflex to right itself by spinning longitudinally fails in a simulated zero-G environment. The video also has confused pigeons flying upside down in zero-G. The whole film can be seen here.

Through experimentation it has been found that when it comes to animals in space, there are three different kinds of behaviours seen among various animals.

The first ones are the kind of animals who freeze in zero-G and wait for the weightlessness to go away. There are others, like cats and pigeons, who start moving about madly, trying to figure out which side is up. In fact, pigeons in zero-G have been seen flying upside down too. And the third ones are who stay calm and find the best way to move around.

Geckos have been seen to take on a free-falling stance in zero-G. Fish and fruit flies are some of the creatures who can deal with zero-G very well.

And if you wish to see some long slender legs before you go, here is a video of frogs in space. The video also talks about aliens entering the earth – tadpoles born outside the earth were brought back. Technically they were aliens and they entered earth!

$20 Parking Ticket to NASA for Parking on an Asteroid

By Anupum Pant

Michael Stevens from Vsauce never ceases to amaze me with his facts. Recently, while watching a video on the channel, I noted this interesting story.

About 11 months before NASA’s ‘NEAR Shoemaker’ spacecraft landed on the asteroid 433, Eros, Gregory W. Nemitz claimed its ownership. He somehow got it registered and waited for the NASA’s probe to land on the near earth asteroid.

The asteroid was estimated to hold several million billion dollars of platinum. When NASA landed their spacecraft on Eros, Nemitz prepared an invoice of $20 and sent it to NASA. According to him, the parking rates on his extra-terrestrial land were $ 0.20 per year and he had decided to charge them to cover the next $ 100 years of parking.

NASA of course refused to pay and sent him a letter denying the payment. In the year 2003, Nemitz filed a case against NASA, saying that they had defaulted his payment.

The judgement was of course against Nemitz as he wasn’t able to prove the actual ownership. There’s no way he could have. Michael explains why…


Daft Punk – Contact – The Radio Broadcast Mystery

By Anupum Pant


Since the day Daft Punk’s album RAM (Random Access Memories) came out last year, I’ve been listening to it at least one time every day. I don’t have a time-table sort of thing that makes me listen to it. But, since the tracks are played on shuffle, nearly all of the tracks from RAM are played at least once by my Media Player.

Every one of those tracks is wonderful. The best part, I think is their retro-styled fluid basslines (that phrase is what comes to my mind). We hardly come across such basslines in Dance music these days. But I’m not a music critique and let me stop messing around with random words to describe its bassline. I’m here to talk particularly about a track from that album that is about space – Track 13 Contact. I’m here to talk science.

The Track

The song starts with a broadcast. Pretty soon, with the eerie bassline (again) playing in the background, you are convinced that the radio broadcast is related to space – the broadcast sounds as if taken from a real archived tape. The combined effect of both the broadcast and the music playing creates a very mysterious setting. This is what the person talks in the track –

Hey Bob I’m looking at what Jack was talking about and it’s definitely not a particle that’s nearby. It is a bright object and it’s obviously rotating because it’s flashing, it’s way out in the distance, certainly rotating in a very rhythmic fashion because the flashes come around almost on time. As we look back at the earth it’s up at about 11 o’clock, about maybe ten or twelve diame…Earth diameters. I don’t know whether that does you any good, but there’s something out there.

The guy talking in it describes a “bright flashing object” which he sees in space and ends with a sentence that makes Goosebumps appear on your skin. A heavier bassline ensues. And the following thoughts start rushing into your mind.

Was that an alien ship the man saw in space? Is this some sort of a classified broadcast that got leaked and Daft Punk found it? With all sorts of government and UFO stories floating out there, it seems pretty plausible.

That is what I thought. So I decided to find out.

What is it really?

The astronaut that speaks in the broadcast is the commander of Apollo 17, Gene Cernan.  Disappointingly, it is not an alien ship being described here. Moreover, it isn’t even a leaked tape or something like that. NASA gave this recording to Daft Punk for using it in a track.

The object Gene Cernan describes on the radio was a discarded upper stage of the Saturn V rocket. As a rocket lifts up, discarded parts are normal things. This one, as things in space would, was spinning rhythmically and was reflecting sunlight at regular intervals. That explains, “Because the flashes come around almost on time”.

Yes, that’s all. Indeed, the track makes it sound very interesting. Probably that ability, to make seemingly mundane things sound appealing, is what makes Daft Punk so popular.


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