Category Archives: History

15 Days in January – Day 7

(NOTE: The following is a fictionalized account of the 15 days in January 1986 leading up to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. The character’s account is fictional; however, the details of weather and Space Shuttle events are based on known historical facts.)

Titusville, Florida
Monday, January 20, 1986
High Temp: 66° F Low Temp: 48° F

Challenger atop the Boeing 747 on April 18, 1983

We are now four days from the launch of Challenger on the STS mission 51L. The decision was made to push back the date to Friday the 24th. I think that will be a great way to end our week. 

Challenger is our second space-qualified Orbiter. Columbia was the first. Challenger has been responsible for nine of 24 completed missions, and at times Challenger has been challenging.

Challenger rolls out to Launch Pad 39A for maiden voyage (8 DEC 1982)

While most civilians know Challenger by its name, we know it as OV-099 (technically:  Orbiter Vehicle-099;) however, that was not its original designation because initially it was not intended to fly.

Because of the lack of computer simulations, STA-099 (Structural Test Vehicle-099) was built to be a full-scale test model to determine if the design would meet stress expectations without failing. The contract to build it was awarded on July 26, 1972, but construction didn’t begin until November 21, 1975. After a year of testing was decided that it would be quicker and less expensive to refit STA-099 for space flight rather than rebuild the original air-flight test vehicle we know as Enterprise (OV-101.) The conversion of STA-099 to OV-099 began on January 28, 1979, which, in eight days, will be exactly seven years ago.

Repairing/replacing Challenger's main engines before its maiden flight

Challenger rolled out of the Palmdale assembly facility on June 30, 1982 and arrived at KSC on July 5th. Challenger was prepped for its first flight, which was scheduled for January 20, 1983, but while it sat on Launch Pad 39A testing revealed a hydrogen leak in one of the main engines. Subsequently, Challenger had to have her main engines removed for repairs while sitting on the launch pad. One of the engines had to be completely replaced.

Challenger problems did not end with the engines. A severe storm contaminated the payload while she sat on the pad. The payload had to be decontaminated. Challenger finally was successfully launched on her maiden flight on April 4, 1983, 51 months after the conversion began.

More on this ship’s history tomorrow.

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15 Days in January – Day 5

(NOTE: The following is a fictionalized account of the 15 days in January 1986 leading up to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. The character’s account is fictional; however, the details of weather and Space Shuttle events are based on known historical facts.)

Titusville, Florida
Saturday, January 18, 1986
High Temp: 70° F  Low Temp: 61° F

STS-61C Columbia lands at night at Edwards AFB

Today was a good news/bad news day. The good news was that Columbia is back on Earth. The bad news that it didn’t come home. It’s sitting at Edwards AFB, which means it will add about a week to the turnaround time before it flies again. We just can’t seem to catch a break. The landing took place after dark after they waited as long as they could for a KSC landing attempt.

Our next launch is still scheduled for January 23, and I still don’t know how we can make it. I’m not sure anyone will be ready, but there are a bunch of smart people in air-conditioned rooms that must know more than the rest of us. Of course, Challenger won’t fly if we are not ready.

To give you an idea of the schedule we are looking at, here are the launches scheduled for this year:

1986 Space Transportation System (STS) Missions

  • January 12 (KSC) – Columbia (STS-61C) - Deploying a satellite and experiments (Completed)
  • January 24 (KSC) – Challenger (STS-51L) – Deploying satellites and experiments
  • March 6 (KSC) – Columbia (STS-61E) – Astro 1 mission
  • May 15  (KSC) – Challenger (STS-61F) – Deployment of Ulysses satellite
  • May 20 (KSC) – Atlantis (STS-61G) - Deployment of Galileo satellite
  • June 24 (KSC) – Columbia (STS-61H) – Deployment of 3 satellites
  • July 1 (Vandenberg) – Discovery (STS-62A) – Dept. of Defense mission
  • July 22 (KSC) – Challenger (STS-61M) - Deployment of TDRS-4 satellite
  • August 18 (KSC) – Atlantis (STS-61J) - Deployment of Hubble Space Telescope satellite
  • September 4 (Vandenberg) – Discovery (STS-61M) - Dept. of Defense mission
  • September 27 (KSC) – Challenger (STS-61I) - Deployment of Intelsat-4 satellite
  • September 29 (Vandenberg) – Discovery (STS-62B) - Dept. of Defense mission
  • October 1 (KSC) – Columbia (STS-61K) – Mission information not released
  • November 1 (KSC) – Atlantis (STS-61L) - Mission information not released
  • December (Vandenberg?) – Challenger (STS-71B) - Dept. of Defense mission

One down, 14 to go. 1986 is going to be a big year for NASA!

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15 Days in January – Day 4

(NOTE: The following is a fictionalized account of the 15 days in January 1986 leading up to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. The character’s account is fictional; however, the details of weather and Space Shuttle events are based on known historical facts.)

Titusville, Florida
Friday, January 17, 1986
High Temp: 72° F  Low Temp: 62° F

STS-61C launches a satellite from cargo bay

For the second day in a row weather caused Mission Control to cancel Columbia’s landing. Weather was better here, but it was cloudy both here and at Edwards. They really have to land it here at KSC if we have any hope of getting the program back on schedule.

I wonder if the suits in the control room are being too cautious. The pilot has some of the most sophisticated navigation tools available in the world and he doesn’t even actually fly the Orbiter until just before the approach and landing. He just monitors the computers, and if he wanted the computers could land it for him. Visibility should not be a reason to wave off a landing.

My guess is the caution is due to the VIP on board. Nobody wants to make a bad call when a politician life is at stake and I’m sure he’s perfectly happy to have extra time in space. Still, we’re not running a tourism service and I think everyone knows Columbia has to get its wheels back on the ground as quickly as possible.

STS-61C Columbia-Representative Bill Nelson peels grapefruit

We are scheduled for 15 missions this year and no one really expects that is possible. I would guess that we could do 12 missions, but even that will not be possible if we keep having these delays. Our next launch is scheduled for next Thursday, but with the delays, I don’t see how we can be ready. 

This year is when we ramp up the program to go from exploring to occupying space. Orbiting outposts that are living and working environments are next in America’s advancement into to space. From there, bases on the Moon and Mars are not far behind. The Space Transportation System (STS) program will pave the way and I’m excited to be a part of it. We just have to get our ‘sea legs’ on launches and landings and it will all fall into place. We have 24 successful STS missions (assuming Columbia ever comes home) and the next launch will be our 25th. Space travel may never be routine, but we’re starting to understand what it will take to be the space port for the world.

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15 Days in January – Day 3

(NOTE: The following is a fictionalized account of the 15 days in January 1986 leading up to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. The character’s account is fictional; however, the details of weather and Space Shuttle events are based on known historical facts.)

Titusville, Florida
Thursday, January 16, 1986
High Temp: 69° F  Low Temp: 52° F

They waved off the Columbia landing today. Weather conditions here and at the backup landing site at Edwards AFB were unacceptable. It was drizzly here today and cloudy in California. Personally, I think that landing at Edwards should only be an emergency. When an Orbiter lands at Edwards it costs over $1.5 million dollars to get it back here and we lose a week in turnaround time. If we can’t land because the weather at Kennedy Space Center we could wait for several days and still save money and time on the recovery of the Orbiter.

Atlantis (STS-61-B) was the last mission and it landed at Edwards on October 7th and it was October 12th before it was back here. Once it got back here we had the fastest turn around in the history of the program. Atlantis was out to the launch pad by November 12th. Had it landed here at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) it would have been ready to go by November 7th. The only reason to land at Edwards is if the next launch for that vehicle will be from Vandenberg AFB, and our first launch from there isn’t going to happen until July.

STS-61-B Atlantis landing at Edwards on October, 7, 1985

Of course, delays have their costs, too. Every time we scrub a landing or launch we are wasting money because we all get paid whether the Orbiter comes or goes,…or doesn’t. Still, if we are going to prove the value of the program we need to be able to get the Orbiters back in the air as quickly as possible, and that means landing at KSC.

Fortunately, tomorrow will be warmer and hopefully dryer. It should be a good day for a landing. Columbia has been a pain in the neck. It should have been up and down by Christmas and now were almost a month later and still waiting for it to land. Once Columbia is back home we are scheduled to launch Challenger next week.  

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15 Days in January – Day 2

(NOTE: The following is a fictionalized account of the 15 days in January 1986 leading up to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. The character’s account is fictional; however, the details of weather and Space Shuttle events are based on known historical facts.)

Titusville, Florida
Wednesday, January 15, 1986
High Temp: 64° F  Low Temp: 43° F

STS-61-C Launch on January 12, 1986

STS-61-C, or Columbia is coming back tomorrow, pending good weather. We should have Challenger ready for launch a week after Columbia lands. It was scheduled for launch at 2:42 PM EST on the 22nd, but when they had to scrub the December launch of Columbia, they moved Challenger’s launch back a day to the 23rd.

Columbia’s main mission was to launch a communications satellite and that was a success. They have had a bunch of experiments, most of them are in the Shuttle bay, but they will have everything wrapped up for tomorrow’s landing.

Personally, I’ll be glad to have Representative Bill Nelson back on the ground. I’m not sure it’s a great idea to have the people who champion our budget in Congress to take the risk of flying in space. One mistake and we could lose all our financial support and the STS program would be over. I guess the PR people must know what they are doing.

Representative Bill Nelson with on board experiment

The next mission (STS-51-L) is also going to be a high-profile flight. We have the first ‘official’ civilian on the Challenger trip. She is our first ‘teacher-in-space.’ I wonder if this is going to be a regular thing from here on out. I understand we need the public’s support and I guess this is the best way to get it. Still, I think people just need to accept that our leadership in space makes us technologically superior here on Earth. Let us do our jobs at NASA and our country will reap the benefits in advanced scientific and engineering knowledge.

We had some fog today, but this morning was a little warmer. Yesterday’s low was too close to freezing for Florida. Our farmers don’t like it when we get that cold. Hopefully, we’ve had our cold snap for this winter.

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15 Days in January – Day 1

(NOTE: The following is a fictionalized account of the 15 days in January 1986 leading up to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. The character’s account is fictional; however, the details of weather and Space Shuttle events are based on known historical facts.)

Titusville, Florida
Tuesday, January 14, 1986
High Temp: 63° F  Low Temp: 37° F

STS 61 C Crew - Columbia - Launched January 12, 1986

At least we have Columbia in the air. These delays are frustrating. Columbia was supposed to be launched on December 18th and since then launch attempts on December 19th, twice on January 6th, and January 7th, 9th, and 10th were all scrubbed for one reason or another. Finally, we got them off Sunday. At least the launch went well, but we have Challenger waiting in the wings.

Columbia is supposed to come back on this Friday, the 17th, but that’s going to push back the launch of the Challenger. There’s talk of bringing back Columbia early so we can move up the Challenger launch. Hopefully, we’ll get the official word tomorrow.

Charlie Bolden is the pilot on the Columbia on this flight. This is his first flight. Coincidentally, he’s from Columbia, South Carolina. He was the first guy we put in the slidewire basket to test the launch tower escape system. We didn’t kill him, which is at least on measure that it must work. 

We’ve also got a politician on board the Columbia. Representative Bill Nelson is one of the payload specialists. God I hope nothing goes wrong on this flight. That would put a quick end to the program. For all my complaining I have to say it’s pretty exciting to be part of the launch pad team right now. There’s a lot of pressure, but we’re doing something no one else in the world can do and I wouldn’t trade my job to anyone.

It was chilly this morning. It felt like we were in Denver. I didn’t take my jacket off until late this afternoon. Tomorrow should be warmer and maybe we can get back to more normal temperatures.

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Dates of Historical Note in 2012

Missile sites in Cuba (1962)

April of 2012, will be the 100th anniversary of the launch and sinking of the RMS Titanic.  In 2012, Louisiana will celebrate its bi-centennial, while New Mexico and Arizona will mark their centennial. This upcoming Leap year will also note the 50th year since the Cuban Missile Crisis and America’s successful efforts to have a human orbit Earth. In addition to the October crisis in Cuba, 1962, is notable for the multiple conflicts between Russia and the United States that almost put the planet into a nuclear holocaust. Here are those, and other significant 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 300, 500 and 800 year milestones coming in 2012.


  1  - The Republic of China was established (1912) as were the Navy Seals (1962)

  3 – Pope John XXIII excommunicates Fidel Castro (1962)

  6 – New Mexico became the 47th State (1912)

10 – Avalanche in Peru kills almost 4,000 (1962)

23 – Estimated 7.0-7.8 earthquake strikes near New Madrid, Missouri (1912 – 3rd powerful earthquake in 6 weeks)

26 – Ranger 3 (Moon Probe) is launched (1962)

28 – Ranger 3 misses Moon by over 22,000 miles (1962)

31 – Asteroid 433 Eros will pass near Earth, well 16.6 million miles (2012)


John Glenn in Friendship 7

  3 – The United States begins an embargo on Cuba (1962)

  6 – The Diamond Jubilee of the crowning of Elizabeth II (1952)

  7 – An estimated 7.4 to 8.0 earthquake strikes New Madrid, Missouri (1912-4th powerful earthquake in 2 months)

  8 – Winter Olympics are held in France (1992) and Utah (2002)

10 – A Russian spy is exchanged for Francis Gary Powers (1962 – CIA U-2 spy plane pilot shot down over Russia)

11 – British Airways is privatized (1987)

14 – Arizona becomes 48th State (1912)

20 – John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit Earth (1962)


  1 – 1st KMart opens (1962) and the United States invades Afghanistan (2002)

12 – Girl Scouts of America founded (1912)

24 – Disney and France sign contracts to build Disneyland Paris (1987)

26 – 7.7 earthquake destroys Caracas, Venezuela (1812)

27 – Tokyo, Japan gives Washington, D.C. 3,000 cherry trees (1912)

30 – Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother died at 101 years old (2002)


Titanic leaves on its maiden voyage

  6 – New York slave revolt kills nine white people (1712 – 21 African-Americans were arrested, found guilty, and executed)

10 – The unchristened RMS Titanic sets sail on maiden voyage (1912) and 1st major league baseball game played at Dodger Stadium (1962)

14- RMS Titanic strikes iceberg (1912)

15 – RMS Titanic sinks killing 1,514 people (1912)

17 – US & South Korea to split command of forces in that country (2012)

20 – Baseball’s Fenway Park and Tiger Stadium open (1912)

23 – Ranger 4 (Moon probe) is launched (1962)

26 – Ranger 4, with failed electronics, crashes into the Moon (1962)

30 – Louisiana is admitted as 18th State (1812)


Path of Annular Solar Eclipse of May 20, 2012 (click to see larger map)

  1 – 1st Target store opens (1962)

12 – World Expo opens in South Korea (2012)

20 - Annular Eclipse across western United States (2012)

22 – An in-flight bomb brings down Continental Airlines Flight #11 (1962)

24 – Scott Carpenter is the 2nd American to orbit Earth (1962)

26 – Planetary probe Odyssey finds evidence of significant water on Mars (2002)

28 – 19 year-old West German lands plane in Red Square (1987)


  3 – Air France 007 crash kills 130 (1962)

  5 – Venus transits the Sun. The next transit will not be for over 100 years (2012)

11 – 3 escape from Alcatraz (1962)

12 – President Reagan, in Berlin, tells Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!” (1987) and Napoleon invades Russia (1812)

18 – War of 1812 (US and Britain) begins (1812)

19 – Supreme Court rules that Creationism can’t be required teaching in schools  (1987)

22 – 2nd Air France flight in June kills 113 (1962)

24 – France (Napoleon) invades Russia (1812)

25 – Supreme Court rules that mandatory prayers in school are illegal (1962)

28 – Iraq uses mustard gas on its own people (1987)


  2 – 1st WalMart opens (1962)

10 – The Great Fire of 1212 burns London and the structures on the London Bridge (1212)

11 – World population estimated at 5 billion people (1987)

17 – Last US atmospheric nuclear test (1962 – Nevada)

21 – WorldCom (MCI) files for bankruptcy (2002)

22 – Mariner 1, a probe intended to go to Venus, was destroyed soon after launch (1962)

27 – London opens its 3rd Summer Olympic Games (2012)


  4 – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rescinds the Fairness Doctrine that required balanced news reporting (1987)

  5 – Marilyn Monroe dies (1962)

27 – Mariner 2, a probe to Venus, is launched (1962)


Kennedy at Rice University

  2 – USSR agrees to send arms to Cuba (1962)

10 – Switzerland joins United Nations (2002)

11 – USSR warns that any attack on Cuba or on Soviet ships sailing to Cuba would be an act of war (1962)

12 – Kennedy gives, “…we choose to go to the Moon…” speech at Rice University (1962)

27 – Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring is released (1962)


  1 – 1st African American student is admitted to the University of Mississippi…escorted by Federal Marshalls (1962) and Johnny Carson joins the Tonight Show (1962)

  2 – Congress gives President George W. Bush authorization to go to war (2002)

  5 – 1st Beatles single is released (1962)

11 – 2nd Vatican Council begins ((1962)

14 – Former President Theodore Roosevelt shot, but not seriously injured, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1912) and a U-2 flight is made over Cuba (1962)

15 – Based on U-2 photos, the United States confirms that Soviet offensive missiles are being built in Cuba (1962)

19 – United States forces put on High Alert (1962) and Black Monday (1987)

22 – John F. Kennedy gives a television address regarding the situation in Cuba (1962)

26 – The United States goes to DEFCON 2 (1962)

28 – After secret talks, Russia backs down and the Cuba Missile Crisis deescalates (1962)


  1 – 1st exhibit of the finished Sistine Chapel (1512 – Michelangelo’s work)

  3 – First use of the term ‘personal computer’ in the media (1962)

  5 – Republicans gains control of House, Senate, and Executive Branch (2002)

13 – Iraq agrees to United Nations demand to disarm (2002)

17 – Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. is opened (1962) and Tsunami hits Alaska (1987)

25 - Philippines hit with a Category 5 hurricane (1987) and the Homeland Security Act is signed into law (2002)

29 – Britain and France agree to jointly build the Concorde airplane (1962)


  7 – Iraq complies with United Nations requirement for filing a list of weapons (2002)

  8 – New York City newspapers go on strike (1962)

  9 – Windows 2.0 released by Microsoft (1987) and United Airlines declares bankruptcy (2002)

12 – 12/12/12 at 12:12:12 PM

14 – Mariner 2 flies by Venus and sends back first data on the planet (1962)

27 – Spain passes the ‘Leyes de Burgos‘ (Laws of Burgos) governing the Spanish treatment of the native people of the Americas (1512)

This article first published as
Dates of Historical Note in 2012



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Writing My Obituary

NOTE: Today is my 54th birthday.  This is not a significant birthday; however, I have decided that this is a good time to tempt fate and write my obituary. I should note that I have no death wish and I hope I live for at least a few decades more, but without further ado, my obituary:

Attitude, attitude, attitude

Paul was born on December 19, 1957, in the evening at a small hospital in Craig, Colorado. His birth interrupted a card game being played by his mother some of her friends. He was the fourth son by his mother, Frances, and father, Vernon, both of whom have passed. His surviving siblings are Ken, Mike, and Roy who still do not understand how someone with Paul’s political belief’s and attitudes could have been born to two nice conservative parents.

Paul Kiser, on the phone, mouth open, per usual

Paul grew up in Craig and spent summers as a young child with his family camping at various work sites where his father was a heavy equipment operator for a local business known as Henderson Construction Company. These summers at Hahn’s Peak in northwestern Colorado and Bridger’s Peak in southwestern Wyoming gave Paul an appreciation for spending time outdoors. He also loved the times that his father would let him ‘walk the Cat’ from one work site to another, or use the Backhoe to dig really deep holes.

Paul and his brother Roy spent many summer afternoons at Hahn’s Peak digging and chipping quartz crystals out of boulders near the family’s summer camp, and built miles of toy-sized roads and canals around the stream that ran by the Airstream Trailer that was the summer home to the Kiser clan.

The bike, the car, 1968

Throughout his childhood Paul participated in the annual rituals of deer and elk seasons that involved large hunting camps, long, cold stretches of sitting on a rock overlooking a valley, and gutting, dragging, and hanging animals on a nearby tree. Eventually the animals were butchered into packages of white, waxed butcher paper that would be labeled with the type of animal and year killed, then placed in one of two freezers.

Paul was taught that while guns in the field were appropriate if used correctly, loaded guns in populated places were never acceptable and later in life found gun proponents concept of gun ownership with the hope of having a legal opportunity to kill another human among the most anti-Christian of conservative thought.

Paul was not a great athlete in his youth; however, he was a better than average cross-country runner in high school, but not by much. He did excel at Frisbee playing late in High School; however, he found that being a cool Frisbee player does not impress small town girls, ….nor should it.

Prom 1976

Paul left Craig after graduation in 1976, and attended the University of Northern Colorado for three years. He was a Student Advisor (SA) in Wiebking Residence Hall for his second and third years to help pay for his college. After changing majors more than his hair style, he left Greeley to live in Colorado Springs for a year where he met his first wife while he worked in Penrose Hospital’s Staffing Office.

Paul moved to Denver shortly before his marriage to work for a temporary medical staffing agency. It was there that he would live the next fifteen years. During that time he worked for two different hospitals in Human Resources. It was also during this time that his two daughters, Kelli and Katy were born. Paul and his first wife divorced after eight years of marriage.

After being laid off in the late 1980′s Paul was given a severance package that included outplacement counseling and testing. Paul was told that he scored in the 90th percentile for logical thinking and independence, but in the 10th percentile in ability to conform. He was advised to seek a career in the arts.

New Year's Eve 2001

Paul worked several jobs in retail and management until he met his second wife, Saralinda. who had a theater degree.  Paul and Saralinda moved to Reno, Nevada in 1995 where he finished his first degree in Business Administration and began his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre. It was during this time that he and Saralinda started a theater company that taught theatre and produced plays and musicals for both children and adult actors.

Kennedy Space Center 2006

Paul joined Rotary in July of 2001 and was an active member until 2010. After closing the theatre in 2003, Paul worked for the University of Nevada and then an IT company in Sparks. In 2005, Alexander, Paul’s third child, and first with Saralinda was born. Both of Paul’s daughters married and Alexander is uncle to three nieces and one nephew. Paul once noted that life is enriched by your children and they are also the only legacy that counts in the end.

Late in his life Paul began writing extensively, as well as traveling for business, which he enjoyed. One of his favorite trips was taken in July 2010 when he went to observe the final launch of the Space Shuttle in Florida.

Kelli, Kelli, Husbands Ellery and Austin, and Grandchildren

Paul aspired to be George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Unreasonable Man’ and his articles often reflect a rejection of the status quo and sought to challenge the paradigms created in the past in favor of adapting to the realities of the present. This almost always caused significant irritation and conflict with those who were comfortable with current methods and ideas.

Paul favored the concept of multiple universes as proposed by string and M-theories, believing that of all possible realities, that he lived one of, if not the best, reality.

Paul Kiser, dead at 54…or not.

Paul Kiser

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Are We Missing an Ice Age? (Part III of III)

PART III - Should We Be In An Ice Age Now? 

IMAGE 1.0 - The Northern Hemisphere at the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago)

RECAP: In Part I of this series, we looked at how scientists have determined that Earth has experienced regular cycles of cold climates followed by brief periods of warm climates during the last 400,000 years. We learned that the current cycle has been different because the warm period has persisted when past warm climates have rapidly dropped back into a cold climate. We also discussed how the Sun acts as a ‘battery charger’ for Earth’s climate.

Part II of the series explained that Earth’s orbital relationship with the Sun also follows a cyclic pattern and that almost 100 years ago, a Serbian named Milutin Milanković  proposed possible mechanisms related to Earth’s tilt and orbit that could be the root cause of the regular cycle of Ice Ages.

PART III – Should We Be In An Ice Age Now?

No one can say for certain whether or not that we should be in an Ice Age today. Past Warm Ages have typically collapsed back into a cooler period within a few thousand years followed by a complete return to an Ice Age within about 10,000 years. If Earth past climate history is correct then our planet should be in a cooling period, if not into a full-scale Ice Age. Instead, Earth is warming. The Milankovitch Cycles don’t all concur on this issue, but there is some intriguing evidence that suggests we have missed a cooling period based on Earth’s orbit and tilt. 

Consider the factors discussed in Part II of this series.

Orbit Eccentricity or Circular to Ellipse
Our orbit eccentricity is about one-third the way from our lowest level, meaning Earth’s orbit is becoming more circular. It’s cycle is about the same as Earth’s climate cycle, so it could be a significant factor. Interestingly, the eccentric peak of .02 during the current cycle was half to one-third of the peak past three cycles (.04 to .06.)¹ Could that be a factor in the prolonged warm period? Possibly, but why? Earth just passed the peak a few thousand years ago so, does a low peak eccentricity result in a prolonged Warm Age?

Paul Kiser

Obliquity or Earth’s Tilt On Its Axis
Earth is about halfway between our high and low peak tilt angles.  Our planet’s tilt, or obliquity is on an approximate 41,000 year cycle, so we were just passing through our highest peak obliquity at the start of this Warm Period. If high tilt angle is a trigger for a Warm Age, then we should be cooling down, unless obliquity must be coupled with another factor to trigger a cooling period.

Axial Precession or Earth’s Wobble
Earth’s axis wobbles and it takes 26, 000 years to complete one cycle. It is hard to see a connection with the slow regression of the seasons and Earth’s climate, but perhaps the cycle of axial precession couples with another factor to trigger a cooling period, or sustain a Warm Age.

IMAGE 1.1 - Apsidal Precession - The Creep of the Seasons in Earth's Orbit

Apsidal Precession or The Hulu Hoop Effect
Apsidal precession is factor has some interesting possibilities on how it might impact Earth’s climate. Currently the Summer in the northern hemisphere occurs when Earth is farthest from the Sun (aphelion.) Our closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) occurs during Summer in the southern hemisphere.

IMAGE 1.2 Land Masses in the Northern Hemisphere

IMAGE 1.3 - Land Masses in the Southern Hemisphere

Earth’s northern hemisphere is about 40% land and 60% water. The southern hemisphere is about 20% land and 80% water. Land that is not covered with ice absorbs more energy than water because water reflects more of Sun’s energy back into space. In Part II we learned that the hemisphere that is in summer during perihelion receives 23% more solar radiation. Because of the greater land mass, the northern hemisphere will retain more of the summer Sun’s energy in 10,000 years (when perihelion occurs in July) than the southern hemisphere does currently.

From a standpoint of apsidal precession, Earth should be in the coldest period since we are closest to the Sun when the smallest percentage of our land mass will absorb the energy or insolation

Orbital Inclination
The tilt of Earth’s orbital plane off of the invariable plane is on a 100,000 year cycle, which coincides with Earth’s climate cycle. Since  higher angles of our orbital plane result in a higher obliquity and magnify the effect of land mass absorption differential between the two hemispheres, it could be a factor in triggering the Ice/Warm Age cycles; however, it is unclear how this factor could contribute to the prolonged warm period.

Are We Missing an Ice Age?
Earth’s climate cycle does not follow a perfect 100,000 year pattern. Most people would be happy if we never went into another Ice Age; however, if we have missed the trigger of the next Ice Age, what does that mean for our climate? Will Earth’s delicate climate balance be ruined leading into a runaway warm period or will the next Ice Age come in a rapid onset like in a disaster movie?

The Sun charges Earth’s climate ‘battery’ and variations in how much solar radiation our planet absorbs dramatically affects the environment for all life. It will be important for scientists to discover what is happening to our climate and why. Life on Earth exists in a narrow band that is not to cold and not to hot and we have no practical methods to reinforce or siphon off the Sun’s energy in a crisis.

While scientists to continue to examine this issue there are other issues that should be considered beyond climate. At least for the past 400,000 years, the Warm Ages have been relatively brief periods. It is during those brief periods of warmth that life has flourished, then the Earth has been cleansed with the next Ice Age. What will happen as insects, reptiles, and bacteria continue to  evolve and expand without an Ice Age to push back their spread across the globe? Is it possible that too much life will threaten human existence?

These are all questions that have to be answered as long as the Earth continues to avoid the next Ice Age.

PART I – Should We Be In An Ice Age Now?

PART II – Understanding the Milankovitch Cycles, Clues to Earth’s Climate Changes


¹Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia. (2011). Milankovitch Cycles. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from


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Are We Missing an Ice Age? (PART II of III)

PART II - Understanding the Milankovitch Cycles, Clues to Earth’s Climate Changes 

RECAP: In Part I of this series, we looked at how scientists have determined that Earth has experienced regular cycles of cold climates followed by brief periods of warm climates during the last 400,000 years. We learned that the current cycle has been different because the warm period has persisted when past warm climates have rapidly dropped back into a cold climate. We also discussed how the Sun acts as a ‘battery charger’ for Earth’s climate.

Milutin Milanković  proposed possible mechanisms related to Earth’s tilt and orbit that could be the root cause of the regular cycle of Ice Ages. His theory, outlined in several papers from 1912 to 1920, is now referred to as the Milankovitch Cycles¹. This theory outlines four factors that change the amount of solar radiation received by the Sun, which could explain why Earth experiences dramatic changes in its climate over a 100,000 year cycle. In addition, there is a fifth factor that has been added to the Milankovitch Cycle theory, which also follows a 100,000 year cycle and may also be contributing triggering our Ice/Warm Age cycles.

Eccentricity or Earth’s Orbit – From a Circle to Oval and Back

IMAGE 1.0 -Earth's Orbit: High Eccentricity vs. Low Eccentricity

Earth’s orbit changes from a nearly perfect circle, to an oval (technically, an ellipse) over a period of thousands of years. The cause of this elongation or eccentricity of our orbit is due to the gravity influences of Jupiter and Saturn, which are much farther away from the Earth than the Sun, but exert enough pull to periodically stretch our orbit out of its circular shape.

In an orbit that is a perfect circle the amount of energy the Earth receives is relatively constant throughout the year, assuming the Sun is generating a constant amount of energy (which it doesn’t.) However, when Earth’s orbit is an ellipse (or more eccentric) the Earth receives more energy when it is closer to the Sun than when it is farther away.

Paul Kiser

Earth’s orbit eccentricity varies from .005 (low) to .058 (high) and the cycle of low to high eccentricity is roughly 100,000 years. Our orbit had major peak eccentricities of .04 to .06 at approximately 120, 220, 320 thousand years ago. These peaks fall about 10,000 to 20,000 years before the start of the last three Warm Ages.

Currently the eccentricity of our orbit is .017 and it is falling from a minor peak of about .02. That means that Earth’s orbit is about one-third the way from our lowest eccentricity and becoming more circular. The eccentricity of Earth’s current orbit creates about a three million mile difference between its closest and farthest approach to the Sun. Earth at perihelion (closest to the Sun) is 91.4 million miles away from the Sun. At aphelion the Earth is 94.5 million miles away.

Obliquity or the Severity of Earth’s Tilt

Currently the Earth is tilted at 23.44 degrees from the Sun’s orbital plane, but that is not constant. The Earth’s tilt or obliquity is decreasing from the high obliquity (tilt angle) of 24.4° towards the low of 22.1º. It will take Earth about 10,000 years to reach the low point in a 41,000 year cycle.

For comparison, Mars’ current obliquity is 25.19° and varies from 10° to 40° over hundreds of thousands of years. Venus’ obliquity is 177.4°, which means that the planet is so tilted that its ‘north’ is facing south. That may seem strange to have an obliquity greater than 90°; however, since Venus’ rotation is retrograde (Venus turns in the opposite direction of Earth) scientists consider its ‘up’ side to have been literally turned upside down.

IMAGE 1.1 - Tilt or Obliquity of the '8' Planets and Pluto

Higher obliquity is believed to result in the Earth absorbing more solar radiation (insolation) because the higher latitudes receive more sunshine in the summer. Earth’s current Warm Age began at about the same time as our peak obliquity, so there is evidence that this theory is valid.

Axial Precession or Earth’s Wobble

Image 1.2 - Earth's Wobble is called Axial Precession

Currently the north pole, or axis, points towards the star called Polaris. That is temporary because the Earth wobbles. This wobble is called the Axial Precession. Over time our north axis will no longer be aimed at Polaris, but instead will leave us without a ‘North Star’ until Earth’s north axis points to Vega, Deneb, or another bright star or galaxy.

It takes about 26,000 years for the wobble to complete one full cycle and during that cycle the Earth’s wobble will cause a slow change in the seasons. This is because the axis wobble alters the direction of our tilt during every orbit of the Sun. When the Earth returns to the same relative position in its orbit, the axis will point to a slightly different place than it did the prior year. The axis will have reached that point earlier, so our seasons slowly move backward.

Apsidal Precession or The Hula Hoop Effect

IMAGE 1.3 - This graphic shows Apsidal Precession (Click to Activate)

One of the more interesting factors is Apsidal Precession. If you think of Earth’s orbit as a hula hoop and your waist as the Sun (no, it’s not that big,) as the hula hoop goes around, the ‘orbit’ shifts. Any particular point on the hula hoop will move from being closest to your waist and then it will shift to be the farthest away from you waist. Our seasons do the same thing as Earth’s orbit slowly shifts or precesses.

Currently, summer in the northern hemisphere occurs when the Earth is the farthest away (aphelion) and in winter we are closest to the Sun (perihelion.) In the southern hemisphere it is exactly opposite. During the summer in the southern hemisphere (Earth at perihelion) it receives 23% more solar radiation than the northern hemisphere does during its summer, which occurs at the aphelion. It takes about 21,000 years for the Apsidal Precession to cause the seasons to make a full cycle, so in about 10,000 years, the northern hemisphere will experience summer at perihelion. 

Orbital Inclination or Our Orbits Tilt From the Orbital Plane

IMAGE 1.4 - Earth's Orbital Plane from the Solar Systems Invariable Plane

By averaging the orbits of the eight planets scientists have created one plane that is considered the invariable plane. Jupiter is almost on this invariable plane; however, Earth and the other six planet’s orbital planes are tilted or inclined from the invariable plane.

Not only is Earth’s orbital inclination 1.57° off the invariable plane, the amount of tilt changes on a cycle that repeats every 100,000 years. Earth’s variance during that cycle can be as much as 3° off the invariable plane, which is additive to Earth’s obliquity or tilt on its axis. That means that increased orbital inclination magnifies the effect of Earth’s obliquity.

This factor was not part of Milankovic’s original theory; however, scientists have added it to the Milankovitch Cycle because it impacts the amount of insolation the Earth receives and because it follows the 100,000 year cycle.

In Part II, we have discussed five cyclical factors that change the amount of insolation the Earth receives and where Earth is in all five cycles. In Part III we look at how Earth’s climate seems to be on a hair-trigger and why we should or should not be in an Ice Age now.

PART I – Are We Missing An Ice Age?

PART III – Should We Be In An Ice Age Now?

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¹Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia. (2011). Milankovitch Cycles. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from


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