The Nazi Sun Gun: Death from Above?

Nazi Germany created many unusual, horrific weapons during World War II. One incredible weapon, however, failed to materialize. What was the Nazi Sun Gun?

What was the Nazi Sun Gun?

What was the Nazi Sun Gun?
Description: “Hermann Oberth presents the Hermann Oberth award to Dr. Wernher von Braun at a banquet hosted by the Alabama Section of the American Rocket Society (October 19, 1961).”
Attribution: NASA
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Birth of the Nazi Sun Gun?

In 1929, a German physicist named Hermann Oberth wrote Wege zur Raumschiffahrt (Translation: Ways to Spaceflight). The book described Oberth’s vision of a manned orbital space station created from prefabricated parts. He also described a way to create electricity using a 100-meter wide concave mirror. The idea was to concentrate sunlight onto a single area and use steam turbines to convert the heat energy.

While Oberth’s mirror was designed to create useful energy, Nazi scientists saw another use for it. Namely, an orbital weapon called Sonnengewehr…or Sun Gun.

Launching the Sun Gun into Space

Plans for the Sun Gun were worked out by Nazi scientists at Hillersleben. They proposed creating a giant three-kilometer square mirror out of metallic sodium. Then they wanted to break it apart and launch the individual pieces into an orbit of 8,200 kilometers. In order to do this, the Nazi scientists hoped to use the Aggregate A11.

The A11 was a multistage rocket intended to deliver people and/or small payloads into low Earth orbit. At the time, it was being designed by Wernher von Braun (who later became chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle via Operation Paperclip, which helped land Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on the moon).

Oberth’s original plan was to send an unmanned rocket into space, containing six long cables. These cables would then unreel themselves, eventually covering a vast area. Nazi astronauts would then fly into space and attach pieces of the giant movable mirror to the cables.

How did the Sun Gun Work?

According to Life, Nazi astronauts would live inside the rocket, using large greenhouses to maintain fresh oxygen. They would remain in space, waiting for orders from radio or wireless telegraph. Upon receiving orders to attack, they would use rocket thrusters to move the mirror into position. The mirror would focus the sunlight, causing incredible devastation in the process.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Fortunately, the Sun Gun never went past the theoretical stage. In fact, newspaper articles from 1945 say it would’ve taken 50 to 100 years to harness the sun’s energy in this fashion. However, Oberth disagreed, claiming it would take just 10 to 15 years. Oberth admitted the original mirror’s design might not have worked. However, he came to believe that a larger mirror would’ve done the trick.

“If the mirror were double the size mentioned, however, the irradiation would be four times as strong, and so on. The temperature on the surface irradiated by the double-sized mirror would be 200° C (392° F).” – Hermann Oberth, Man into Space (1957)

Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. So, 392 degrees would’ve been plenty hot…perhaps hot enough to change the course of the war itself.

The Lost Apollo 11 Engines?

Apollo 11 Launch

“At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the swing arms move away and a plume of flame signals the liftoff of the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle and astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A.”
Source: NASA

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 launched from Kennedy Space Center, sending Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on a date with destiny. In the process, two massive F-1 engines were jettisoned into the ocean, seemingly lost for all time. Now, after a year-long expedition, billionaire Jeff Bezos has salvaged this history-making technology.

Salvaging the Apollo 11 Engines?

We first reported on this story in March 2012, calling it one of the most incredible salvage efforts of all time, ranking up there with Robert E. Peary’s search for “The Tent.” The cost of the recovery and restoration remains unknown but according to NASA, the engines will be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum as well as Seattle’s Museum of Flight, respectively.

Who owns the Apollo 11 Engines?

The exact ownership of the engines remains unclear to me. I’m sure the U.S. government claims ownership. However, this would appear to fall under the Homesteading Principle. In essence, governments cannot legitimately own private property, since everything they have (including tax dollars) has been, in effect, taken with force. Even if you disagree with that assessment, NASA abandoned the engines, making no plans to ever recover them. Thus, I would argue no one owned the engines prior to discovery. Bezos Expeditions, on the other hand, is the rightful owner of its own labor. By salvaging the engines, it added its labor to the engines and thus, became the rightful owner.

Here’s more on the discovery of the lost Apollo 11 engines from Jeff Bezos at Bezos Expeditions:

What an incredible adventure. We are right now onboard the Seabed Worker headed back to Cape Canaveral after finishing three weeks at sea, working almost 3 miles below the surface. We found so much. We’ve seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program. We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and have now recovered many prime pieces. Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.

Many of the original serial numbers are missing or partially missing, which is going to make mission identification difficult. We might see more during restoration. The objects themselves are gorgeous…

(See the rest at Bezos Expeditions)

SETI: The Search for Aliens comes up Short?

Will SETI ever find Aliens?

Will SETI ever find Aliens?
Description: Alien attacks the warship Thunderchild
Attribution: Illustration by Henrique Alvim Corrêa for The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1906 Edition)
Source: Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

SETI’s latest search for aliens has come to a disappointing conclusion. Part of the problem is our own technology. We just aren’t that advanced. SETI is only capable of searching for Type II civilizations, who utilize and channel an energy source equivalent to the sun. So, yeah…there probably aren’t too many of those.

The other problem is even more challenging to overcome. Searching for aliens has always struck me as a long-shot. Sure, the galaxy is vast but so is time. And the odds of our civilization overlapping with a similar one (actually a much more advanced one) on a distant planet have got to be miniscule. Here’s more on the latest SETI search from Ian O’Neill at Discovery News:

In an effort to search for intelligent extraterrestrials, SETI astronomers have completed their first “directed” search. Unfortunately, it turned up no evidence of transmitting aliens. But that’s hardly surprising.

By focusing the Green Bank radio telescope, located in West Virginia, on stars hosting (candidate) exoplanets, it is hoped that one of those star systems may also play host to a sufficiently evolved alien race capable of transmitting radio signals into space. But in a study headed by ex-SETI chief Jill Tarter, the conclusion of this first attempt is blunt: “No signals of extraterrestrial origin were found.”

(See the rest at Discovery News)

Tweeting…to Aliens?

On August 25, 1977, Dr. Jerry Ehman detected an odd radio signal that appeared to be of alien origin. He circled the signal and wrote “Wow!” next to it. Now, almost 35 years later, mankind is finally preparing a definitive response to the Wow Signal.

The Wow Signal

A copy of the Wow Signal
Attribution: The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Replying to the Wow Signal?

National Geographic has a new TV series coming out called Chasing UFOs. The series will feature investigators reexamining old, unexplained alien encounters. As part of the publicity, National Geographic plans to collect all tweets from 8pm EDT on June 29 to 3am EDT on June 30 that are marked with the hashtag #ChasingUFOS. The messages will be rolled into one message and beamed back at the constellation Sagittarius.

We first wrote about the Wow Signal back in February. Simply put, Dr. Ehman recorded the signal while working on a SETI project. It was extremely intense, some 30 times more powerful than ambient radiation. It also appeared to originate from outside the Solar System, specifically from the constellation Sagittarius, close to the Chi Sagittarii star group. However, it was a one-time thing and even Dr. Ehman eventually began to question its suggested origin.

Incidentally, this isn’t mankind’s first attempt to reply to the Wow Signal. But it’s definitely the most complex.

“We are working with Arecibo Observatory to develop the best way to encrypt the transmission. Earlier transmissions have focused on simplicity, whereas this one will rely more on creating a complex but noticeable pattern, hopefully standing out from other random, natural noise.” ~ Kristin Montalbano, Spokeswoman for the National Geographic Channel, Possible Alien Message to Get Reply from Humanity

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, will an alien race receive the transmission? And maybe even respond? It’s impossible to be sure. But just in case, you might want to head over to Twitter on June 29 or June 30 and add your two cents. We’ll see you there!

The Mysterious Space Plane?

On March 5, 2011, the U.S. Air Force launched the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle into low Earth orbit. After more than a year in space, it’s finally returning to Earth. But what was it doing up there in the first place?

The X-37B Space Plane

The X-37B Space Plane in its encapsulation cell
Attribution: US Air Force
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What is the X-37B Space Plane?

The current X-37B mission is scheduled to end in mid-June. It’s the second of at least three such missions. The first one took flight on April 22, 2010 and landed December 3, 2010. A third mission is expected to launch later this Fall.

We don’t know much about the X-37B. We know it generates power via a solar panel. We also know its payload bay is roughly the size of a pickup truck bed. We know it contains new technologies which are being tested. But its exact purpose and the nature of its payload remain a mystery. In fact, no one outside the Air Force seems to know what it’s doing in space. But hey, at least we know it’s been a success.

“Although I can’t talk about mission specifics, suffice it to say this mission has been a spectacular success.” ~ General William Shelton, Commander of Air Force Space Command

So, there’s that. Anyway, numerous conspiracy theories regarding the X-37B’s true purpose have arisen to fill the void. Here’s just a few of them:

  1. Space Bomber: This would seem like the most logical choice. However, the X-37B is an orbital vehicle, not a suborbital one. And shifting orbital planes apparently requires a great deal of thrust and thus, fuel. Then again, the X-37B has been floating around for over a year so this might not be such a big deal.
  2. Spy Plane: In January, an article in Spaceflight magazine claimed the X-37B was secretly spying on China’s Tiangong 1 space laboratory. However, this has been widely criticized. They only cross orbits in two places. So, if the X-37B is spying on Tiangong, it’s pretty limited. At the same time, some conceptual artwork of the space plane shows a small telescope. And the X-37B’s orbit takes it over numerous countries in the Middle East. So, a spy plane seems like a decent possibility.
  3. Testing Spy Satellites: This is an offshoot of the “Spy Plane” theory. It’s bolstered by the fact that the X-37B passes over the same region every four days, a pattern suggesting “U.S. imaging reconnaissance satellites.”
  4. Anti-Satellite Technology: According to Bill Sweetman, editor-in-chief of Aviation Week’s Defense Technology International, the X-37B might include “more than one way to put an enemy satellite out of orbit.” He specifically mentions the possibility of spraying an enemy satellite with black paint, and thus causing it to overheat.
  5. Space Experiments: Perhaps the X-37B is just an experimental vehicle, testing materials to see how they operate when exposed to space.

Of course, the X-37B could also be something else entirely, something completely outside the realms of our imagination. There’s just no way to be sure. So, for now, all we can do is continue to speculate as to the X-37B’s true purpose…as well as why it requires such intense secrecy.

Get Ready…for the Ring of Fire!

Later today, a solar eclipse will block out a large portion of the sun. For people in East Asia and the western U.S., this will appear as a strange “Ring of Fire.” People in the middle of the U.S. as well as in Canada will see a partial eclipse, but will miss out on the Ring of Fire. Unfortunately, those of you on the East Coast will miss out entirely since the sun will set before the eclipse takes place.

What is the Ring of Fire?

What is the Ring of Fire?
Description: Astronomers Studying an Eclipse
Attribution: Antoine Caron (1571)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

 The Ring of Fire?

Eclipses are documented throughout history. Some were viewed with fear and consternation. For example, sometime between 2128 BC and 2134 BC, the Chinese Emperor Zhong supposedly beheaded two astrologers named Hsi and Ho for failing to foresee an eclipse. Other eclipses were viewed with awe. One example of this is the eclipse predicted by Thales of Miletus in 585 BC. Supposedly, this brought about an end to the war between the Medians and the Lydians.

Check out Space.com’s eclipse skywatching guide for good viewing locations as well as times. And enjoy!

The Tunguska Event?

On June 30, 1908, something exploded over what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. Bluish light stung the sky and loud sounds filled the air. A shock wave knocked people askew and shattered windows for hundreds of miles. What was the Tunguska Event?

What was the Tunguska Event?

What was the Tunguska Event?
Description: The epicenter of the Tunguska Event.
Attribution: Vladimir Rubtsov (June 30, 2008)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What was the Tunguska Event?

While the Tunguska Event is a source of intense curiosity today, it was barely noticed back in 1908. In fact, the first expedition to investigate it didn’t take place for more than a decade.

In 1921, Russian mineralogist Leonid Kulik traveled to the area and interviewed witnesses. He determined a giant meteorite impact had caused the explosion. He returned to the region in 1927 and hired guides to take him to the impact site. What he saw shocked him to his core.

Kulik found miles of scorched and uprooted trees (830 square miles according to recent estimates). Since the trees had been knocked away from the explosion, he was able to locate ground zero. However, he was unable to fully determine the cause of the event.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

There are a number of explanations for the Tunguska Event. They range from the bizarre (Nikola Tesla firing an electrical wave from Wardenclyffe Tower) to the fairly plausible (an underground explosion of natural gas).

The most widely accepted theory today is that a meteor or comet exploded 3-6 miles above Tunguska, releasing 10-15 megatons of energy in the process. However, scientists have been unable to decide what type of cosmic object was responsible. Recently, a team of Italian scientists reported the discovery of meteorite chunks in nearby Lake Cheko.

“Seismic reflection and magnetic data revealed a P wave velocity/magnetic anomaly close to the lake center, about 10 m below the lake floor; this anomaly is compatible with the presence of a buried stony object and supports the impact crater origin for Lake Cheko.” ~ Magnetic and seismic reflection study of Lake Cheko, a possible impact crater for the 1908 Tunguska Event

So, does this solve the mystery of the Tunguska Event? Was it caused by an exploding meteor? Possibly. But in 2010, a team of Russian scientists used ground-penetrating radar to investigate a crater in the area. They found evidence that it had been created by a huge piece of ice, indicating an exploding comet. Thus, the Tunguska Event remains a mystery…at least for now.

The Meteor that Changed the World

On December 14, 1807, astonished witnesses watched a giant fireball blaze across the sky. Three sonic booms erupted. Then rocks fell from the air. How did the Weston Meteorite change the world?

What was the Weston Meteorite?

What was the Weston Meteorite?
Description: Benjamin Silliman (1850)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What was the Weston Meteorite?

It might be hard to imagine but meteorite science was practically non-existent in the 1800s. Sure, people had seen meteors for centuries. But they were poorly understood and hardly ever connected to odd stories of falling rocks. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1800s that scientists began to realize these falling rocks were quite different from the ones normally found on the ground.

Within a few days of December 14, Benjamin Silliman and James L. Kingsley traveled to Weston, Connecticut to investigate the phenomenon. They interviewed witnesses and gathered and analyzed specimens. It wasn’t easy. They only managed to find 15% of the meteorite rocks. Many others disappeared into the hands of residents who proceeded to crack them open.

“Strongly impressed with the idea that these stones contained gold and silver, they subjected them to all the tortures of ancient alchemy, and the goldsmith’s crucible, the forge, and the blacksmith’s anvil, were employed in vain to elicit riches which existed only in the imagination.” ~ Benjamin Silliman and James L. Kingsley, Account of a Meteor

After Silliman and Kingsley published their account, the story caught fire. It was reprinted in multiple journals. Their words were read before the American Philosophical Society, the Philosophical Society of London, and the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Still, not everyone was a believer.

“I would more easily believe that (a) Yankee professor would lie than that stones would fall from heaven.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

However, Silliman continued to think meteorite rocks had a cosmic origin. He taught this to his students, paving the way for meteorite science in the United States. One of his students, Denison Olmstead, went on to study the famous Leonid meteor storm of November 1833. That storm, witnessed by people all over the eastern United States, was a turning point for meteorite science. But the foundation had been laid decades earlier, thanks to the groundbreaking work done by Benjamin Silliman and James L. Kingsley.

“In Europe I had become acquainted with meteorites and the phenomena that usually attend their fall…. I did not dream of being favored by an event of this kind in my own vicinity and occurring on a scale truly magnificent.” ~ Benjamin Silliman, Life of Benjamin Silliman

Did the Nazis Send a Man into Space?

On October 29, 1933, the London Sunday Referee published a report that a man named Otto Fischer had flown a 24-foot long rocket six miles above Earth. Did Space Nazis really exist?

Did Space Nazis Exist?

Did Space Nazis Exist?
Description: Launch of a V2 Rocket (Summer 1943)
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 141-1880 / CC-BY-SA
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Did Space Nazis Exist?

This story comes to you straight from io9. And it’s a wild one. No, the Nazis didn’t really send someone into space. But there was some truth behind the Space Nazis fiction.

In the early 1930s, the Bank of Magdeburg funded a rocket flight in order to prove something known as the Hollow Earth Doctrine. According to the Hollow Earth Doctrine (of which there are still some adherents today), mankind didn’t live on the outside of the Earth but rather, on the inside. An engineer named Franz Mengering thought he could prove the theory by launching a rocket into the air. If it traveled long enough, it would crash into the other end of the hollow earth, which was believed to be the Pacific Ocean.

The project never gained traction and the loan went to a rocket researcher named Rudolf Nebel instead. He was asked to build a rocket which could carry a man into space. However, the best the rocket could do was a belly-flop about 1,000 feet from the launching pad. The Space Nazis project was eventually abandoned and the rocket was put into storage.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

On a side note, the story was later resurrected in 1935 in a London magazine called Pall Mall. After that, it appeared to vanish from history. So, there you have it. Otto Fischer never reached space (in fact, he probably never existed). Space Nazis never existed. And thus, Yuri Gagarin’s place in history remains secure.

Egypt’s Ancient Astronomers?

Algol, also known as the Demon Star, is a binary system, meaning it contains two stars rotating around each other. Until recently, it was believed this unique feature was discovered by John Goodricke in 1783. Now, we have reason to believe it was detected thousands of years earlier. Did ancient Egyptian astronomers discover and understand Algol?

Did ancient Egyptians discover the Demon Star, Algol?

Did ancient Egyptians discover the Demon Star, Algol?
Description: The constellation Perseus. Algol is the Bright Star in the Gorgon’s head.
Attribution: Johannes Hevelius (1690)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Algol and the Mysterious Cairo Calendar?

In 1200 BC, ancient Egyptian astronomers created a document now known as the Cairo Calendar. They used it to record observations about the sky. Recently, a team of scholars from the University of Helsinki took a closer look at this calendar. In doing so, they discovered the ancient Egyptians weren’t just recording changes in the sky. They were attempting to understand and calculate how the stars worked.

The Cairo Calendar charts at least two specific cycles. One cycle lasts 29.6 days, roughly the same amount of time as the lunar cycle. The other cycle lasts 2.85 days and appears to match the activity of Algol. Currently, Algol dims every 2.867 days, most likely because its stars rotate and block each other’s light.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

But what about that small difference between the two numbers? One possibility is the ancient Egyptians simply made slight errors in their calculations. However, there’s also an intriguing alternative theory. It’s possible Algol’s rotation has slowed over time. If this is the case, it would add evidence to a recent theory that Algol is actually a three-star system.

Interesting huh? Of course, it’s impossible to say for certain, not without a better understanding of how the ancient Egyptians recorded the cycles. Still, at least for the moment, it seems possible that the work of these ancient Egyptian astronomers has shed new light on one of the night sky’s most perplexing puzzles.