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Brain-teasers for blog birthday

NASA / SDO

Sunspot region 1476 points toward Earth like a loaded gun in this picture from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Experts say the active region is capable of generating major X-class flares.


We're not only closing out the week — we're closing out the first 10 years of Cosmic Log. It was on May 13, 2002, that I first began noting the follies and mysteries of science, space and society in this space. To mark the occasion, I'm presenting not just one, not just two, but three sets of brain-teasers.

The first puzzle has already played out on the Cosmic Log Facebook page. I asked Facebook followers to figure out which four-digit number is best associated with the picture above, and it just took a couple of minutes for multiple commenters to come up with the answer: 1476, the designation for the active region that's currently front and center on the sun's disk and capable of throwing X-class flares in our direction.


Mitch Siff was the first to put it all together, and I'm sending him my last pair of sun-viewing safety glasses, suitable for watching the May 20 annular solar eclipse from his home in Colorado. Michael J. Tiano was also quick on the draw, and he'll be getting my second-last pair of 3-D glasses, along with a scary 3-D picture of yours truly.

It's worth noting that a solar storm was one of the first topics tackled in Cosmic Log 10 years ago.

Space Needle unscrambler
Earlier in the week, I reported on the finals of a "Space Race 2012" competition at Seattle's Space Needle that resulted in Arizona law-school student Gregory Schneider winning a future suborbital trip into outer space. The final test was to solve a series of 10 brain-teasers while walking around a narrow ring-shaped platform just outside the Needle's 520-foot-high observation deck. I mentioned a couple of sample questions on Wednesday, but in honor of Cosmic Log's 10th birthday, here's the full set of 10 questions. The first commenter to give the correct answers to all 10 teasers — in a single comment, not a series of comments — will be eligible to receive my last pair of giveaway 3-D glasses.

Unscramble the five following words:

1. PALOLO

2. IODEATSR

3. VGATIYR

4. OEREMTETI

5. EFCRCAPTSA

6. How many stars are in the Big Dipper?

7. For the Space Needle's 50th Anniversary, the roof was painted which color: Orbital Orange, Galaxy Gold, Meteor Melon, Re-entry Red.

8. True or false: The planet Venus rotates clockwise. It is the only planet to do so.

9. Which is NOT the name of a NASA shuttle: Atlantis, Voyager, Discovery, Endeavour.

10. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first men to walk on the moon in which year: 1968, 1967, 1969, 1966.

Cosmic Log history lesson
Finally, here are some trivia questions about the past 10 years of Cosmic Log. First person to get all the answers correct in a single comment will be eligible to receive a signed copy of my book "The Case for Pluto." (I'm not holding my breath.) 

1. Where did the name "Cosmic Log" come from? A space mission? A TV show? A comic book? Or did I just make it up?

2. Which "Star Trek" actor was interviewed for Cosmic Log? Nichelle Nichols? Leonard Nimoy? William Shatner? George Takei?

3. Which would-be celebrity astronaut was interviewed for Cosmic Log? Lance Bass? Mark Burnett? James Cameron? Victoria Principal?

4. Which Apollo astronaut was NOT interviewed for Cosmic Log? Buzz Aldrin? Alan Bean? Pete Conrad? Harrison Schmitt?

5. Which magician has been interviewed for Cosmic Log? The Amazing Randi? The Amazing Kreskin? David Copperfield? Penn Jillette?

6. Which medium/channel/psychic has been interviewed for Cosmic Log? Mary T. Browne? Theresa Caputo? Allison Dubois? JZ Knight?

7. Which TV show has been the subject of Cosmic Log postings? "American Idol"? "Dancing With the Stars"? "The X-Files"? All of the above?

8. What is the "CLUB Club"? A hangout for Cosmic Log fans in Seattle back in the early days? A concept I proposed for an anti-theft device? A list of book recommendations? A members-only gallery of cosmic pictures?

9. What kind of celestial object got its name in part because of Cosmic Log? Asteroid? Comet? Crater? Mountain?

10. Who was the object named after? Douglas Adams? Alan Boyle? Stephen Hawking? Robert Heinlein?

I'll provide the answers to both of the 10-question teasers on Sunday, the 10th anniversary, and if I'm in a generous mood for the start of the next 10 years, I may give away a book even if no one gets all of the Cosmic Log trivia questions right.

Answers to questions:
Space Needle unscrambler: APOLLO, ASTEROID, GRAVITY, METEORITE, SPACECRAFT, seven stars, Galaxy Gold, true, Voyager, 1969. BigBenAlaska solved all the puzzles and richly deserves a pair of 3-D glasses.

Cosmic Log history: To get the answers to some of these questions, you have to go back to the deep archive at Multiply.com. Julia Cline got all the answers right and is eligible to receive a signed copy of "The Case for Pluto."

1. Cosmic Log's name was inspired by a 40-year-old quote from a character in Weird Mystery Tales #1: "My name is Destiny, and it is my Fate to walk alone throughout eternity and observe the follies and mysteries of mankind, and to note them all in the cosmic log." Among the rejected names: Quanta, Penultimate Questions and the Blog at the End of the Universe.

2. William Shatner was our guest for a Cosmic Log chat on Oct. 14, 2002. 

3. Although Lance Bass was the subject of frequent Cosmic Log items in 2002, I never did talk with Lance himself. I did, however, chat with James Cameron a couple of times about his space aspirations. 

4. I've had items in Cosmic Log about Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 12's Alan Bean, Apollo 17's Harrison Schmitt and other astronauts from NASA's glory days. I interviewed Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad before his death in 1999 for a story about his Universal Space Lines venture — but that was before Cosmic Log got started. So Pete Conrad is the answer to this one.

5. The Amazing Kreskin was the focus of a 2002 Cosmic Log item about his UFO stunt in Nevada.

6. JZ Knight (who says she channels a 35,000-year-old warrior spirit named Ramtha) was the subject of an extended interview in 2010. I haven't yet checked in with Theresa ("Long Island Medium") Caputo or Allison Dubois of the "Medium" TV series, but I do stay in touch with my cousin Mary T. Browne, "the Wall Street psychic."

7. All of the above: Who hasn't written about "American Idol," "Dancing With the Stars" and "The X-Files"?

8. The CLUB Club is the "Cosmic Log Used Book Club." Since 2002, we've been highlighting books with cosmic themes that have been out long enough to become available at your local library or secondhand-book store. Even though I haven't been providing book club selections as often as I used to, the CLUB Club archive still makes for a pretty good reading list. 

9 and 10. Back in 2003, I discussed the procedure for naming asteroids and solicited suggestions for folks who should have an asteroid named after them. Douglas Adams, the humorist behind the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series, was one of the prospects mentioned — and I noticed that there was an asteroid out there that almost literally had his name on it. The space rock known provisionally as 2001 DA42 included the date of Adams' death (2001), his initials (DA) and the answer to the ultimate question from the Hitchhiker's Guide (42). Astronomer Brian Marsden, who headed the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center at the time, thought it was a great suggestion and helped make it so in 2005. You can get the full story here.


Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.