Today (Tuesday) saw me up at 6:30am to prepare for an 8:00am call time for a shoot on a special episode of – wait for it – Deadliest Space Weather. It is original programming for the Weather channel, and before you dismiss it because of the title, it turns out that it is not a bad idea for exploring various scientific concepts. The first season ended a few weeks ago. I’d not realized it was airing until recently, and actually those recent demos I told you about were used in examinations of planetary conditions on Venus and on Mars. (Two separate episodes.) The idea seems to be to consider what it would be like on earth if the conditions were like those on Venus, or consider what what happen if you went outdoors on Mars.
So you might think it is silly, but if done well, it is actually an opportunity to
explain some science to an audience who might not have been the usual science audience…in which case I’m happy to be on board! In addition to spectacularly showing what happens when sugar and sulphuric acid meet, I got to show how to boil Continue reading ‘Tales from the Industry XXXIX – Magnetic Weather?’
It has been quite the busy period the last few days, so much so that one is tempted (but not overwhelmingly) to neglect to take note of wonderful things like the discovery of a planet in the Alpha Centauri system, or the awesomeness of my group of students in my graduate electromagnetism class who all did quite well in the midterm I set them. But I took Continue reading ‘Subway Guy’
You’ve no doubt heard about some of the images coming from the newly landed Curiosity device on the Martian surface. Above is a 360 degree panorama (from NASA/JPL) assembled from lots of smaller images, showing its surroundings in the Continue reading ‘Looking Around’
So, if like many people, you are excited about the (late) weekend landing of Curiosity (the roving Mars Science Laboratory) on Mars, and/or if you want to know more, Kenneth Chang has an article in the New York Times all about it here. (Image right is an artist’s impression done for NASA/JPL.) The sequence of operations that have to go right for Curiosity to, er, stick the landing* is quite amazing, and so let’s all wish them good luck. Have a Continue reading ‘Curious about Curiosity?’
This weekend is the JPL Open House! You might recall from my visits there in the past (or, at least, my reports on them – see e.g. here) that it is a fun and informative time. I recommend it. It runs from 9:00am to 5:00pm today and tomorrow, and you can go along to see what’s up with various JPL/NASA missions, hear about future missions, learn the science and technology behind various equipment and the various science goals, and much more.
The exo-planet hunting craft Kepler has found 1235 candidate planets orbiting other suns so far. The APOD site has a lovely composition by Jason Rowe showing representations of all of those suns with the spots on them that represent the planet transiting in front of them (that’s how they are found by Kepler). They are all nicely Continue reading ‘Kepler’s Eggs’
So you’ve probably heard the news, but just in case I thought I’d mention it here. The Kepler observatory, up there in orbit keeping an eye on things for us, has found a bumper crop of planets orbiting a sun-like star a mere 2000 or so light years away. It is amazing what you can see if you look closely. Every now and again the star’s brightness dips ever so slightly, and that tells you something has passed in front of it – another planet. Or in this case, once you’ve analyzed the pattern of dips, as the team of astronomers did, six planets!
[Update: That really hurt. Hard on the neck. And could not even find the moon... I think there's left over moisture haze high up. ]
I just learned from Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog that apparently there’s a great opportunity to see Venus right in the middle of the day, and today is rather optimum for it. I’m going to try and see if it works. At about 1:00pm (sorry those of you for whom the sun has already gone way past that), look for the sun and then the thin crescent moon will be about three fist-widths to the left of that (if in the Northern hemisphere – right otherwise). Venus will be visible just to the right of that crescent. Phil has a diagram up on his site, here. This is all supposed to be possible with the naked eye, and I imagine you can help things a lot by holding your palm up against the sun to stop the brightness from that direction, and then waiting a bit for your eyes to relax into the viewing of the area of the sky I mentioned. Phil also mentioned binoculars. I’d seriously suggest trying without them, if you can, since accidentally looking at the sun with them is something I want to strongly urge you to avoid. (If you must use them, put something like a building or a large tree trunk in front of the sun and don’t change your footing…)
Good luck! I’m going to try in a couple of hours. Let me know how it works out for you, if you like!
Amy Mainzer has shared and discussed the first released picture from the WISE project that was launched (you’ll recall) not so long ago. It looks marvellous. Press release here.
By the way, I hope you’re following Amy’s blog to learn more about the mission now it is in full swing. She’s giving you a window into the science as it breaks and the excitement of doing the science itself, seeing a project come together Continue reading ‘Eye on the Sky’
My friend, The Universe co-contributor, and colleague Amy Mainzer (JPL) is rubbing gloved hands together in the chilly night air up at Vandenberg. Well, ok, if not this very moment, she probably will be at various points this evening and into the wee hours of the morning. The launch pad for WISE (the mission on which Amy is deputy project scientist) is set, and everything is ready to go! See my earlier post about what Continue reading ‘Imminent Launch’
Once again I’m excited about a new piece of machinery. This time it is a space mission again. There have been several remarkable missions launched (many in very recent years), doing all sorts of excellent science, helping us discover all sorts of things about our universe, near and far, young and old. I’ve spoken about (and sometimes followed live) the launches of some of them here on the blog, or spoken about the science results they’ve helped produce. See the graphic on the right for some of them.
Well, very soon (possibly as early as December 9th), there will be the launch of WISE, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer! I learned from my friend, colleague and fellow presenter on History Channel’s The Universe, JPL’s Amy Mainzer, who is a senior scientist and the deputy project scientist on the WISE mission, that they made a series of exciting videos about WISE for you to learn about the science that WISE will do and how it will go about Continue reading ‘Get Wise to WISE’
Aha! So you were thinking the mission last month was a bit of a failure, right? Because there was no big splash (literally) of a plume for the press to gush about? I’m talking about the October LCROSS mission on October 9th that smashed an impactor onto the moon’s surface (at the Cabeus crater) to create a cloud of dust for analysis. I remember people thinking, encouraged by various reports, that the event was rather a damp squib, since it did not produce a Hollywood-style flash and plume. See an NPR report on the mission here from back then.
Well, science is known for being able to carry on steadily even if there are no overt special effects and a catchy soundtrack. Today, NASA announced that their analysis of the data produced from measuring the dust cloud’s properties has shown very definite signs of water (confirming and strengthening the results accumulated by other missions (India’s Chandrayaan-1 and NASA’s Deep Impact and Cassini probes) that I Continue reading ‘Wet Moon’
Well, I’ve been somewhat neglectful of lots of space and astronomy type noticing (here on the blog) in the last couple of months or more, but it is not unusual for me to re-balance my foci a bit as my interests and available time permits. However, I’ve been meaning to point to the quite astonishing results that are being discussed in recent days… The confirmation of what appears to be a remarkable amount of water on the moon. It is an indirect set of measurements, using spectroscopy, (using results from three separate spacecraft) and is quite an interesting story. Happily, Phil over at Bad Astronomy has just put up a rather splendid summary of the story and I’m simply going to recommend that you pop over there and have a read. (There’s also a Space.com story by Andrea Thompson that is nice too.) Very interesting in the whole thing is the discussion of how the water got there, and why it is rather more mobile than you might expect (clue: the sun might be involved).
I’ve been wondering why over the last day or two I’ve been getting email about various apocalyptic scenarios. I’ve now figured out why, I think. On Tuesday, several scientists, myself included, played with the idea of how to destroy the earth! Well, it was on the History Channel in an episode of the show the Universe, (it was recorded back in June and July) entitled “Ten Ways to Destroy the Earth”. Of course, these are not scenarios we envision happening any time soon, but rather an excuse to talk about various kinds of science (from spontaneous symmetry breaking and the early universe, through planetary science, solar physics, and of course black holes and more). We list various favourite ways that were chosen to be discussed, and each physicist (although they called me an astrophysicist) picks a favourite. Fun stuff.
Well, ok… Boom is not quite accurate, but the idea is that there will be ten kinds of blasts/explosions/major_energetic_events discussed tonight on the History Channel’s The Universe:
The Universe is full of explosions that both create and destroy. The Chicxulub impact on the Yucatan peninsula, which may have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, was two million times more powerful than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated on Earth. But guess what? That’s only good enough for the very bottom of the Biggest Blasts top ten list. This episode works its way up through supernova explosions and gamma ray bursts all the way to the blast that started it all–the Big Bang.
Sounds good doesn’t it? There’s a lot of good people contributing again, so I know it’ll have some good material and explanations.
In addition, I’m reasonably confident I play a role in this one…This one was a blast (sorry) to film. You saw some posts earlier reporting on some of the filming. Assuming they used the material I did with them, you’ll get to see why I was at the Continue reading ‘Ten Things That Go Boom!’
Tonight’s 9:00pm episode of the History Channel’s The Universe ought to be interesting. It is all about objects that fall to earth from space. It’s a good opportunity to learn things about the universe (both near and far) from the perspective of things we glimpse arriving here on earth. You’ll get to learn about the earth as well, and how it (and life on it) has been affected by these things. There’ll be asteroids and planetary science of course, and maybe other things. I know from hearing some chatter of the program makers that there’ll be lots of demos using impacts and collisions and so forth. I know some good people were involved in making it, such as the writer/director Laura Verklan, and my friend and fellow regular on the show, JPL’s Amy Mainzer (who has an excellent blog here). Continue reading ‘It Fell From Space…’
I just learned from Phil’s blog that the Galileoscopes I mentioned to you some months back (remember? International Year of Astronomy? Not just Darwin year?) are ready for shipping. There were issues with production at first, but now they are ready. The key issue right now seems to be that they are in danger of having to stop production of these lovely things if they don’t get lots of orders by May 31st. Ack!
So please please consider sending in a order for one or a few. Imagine what a delightfully unusual gift it would make for someone. Either someone you know, or someone you don’t know like a neighbour, your local school, church (yes!) or community center, or… even that special someone who you’d like to get to know – what an icebreaker, eh? Here’s a picture from the site of what a happy owner’ll have after assembling it:
I had a lot of fun at this year’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)open house. I’m happy to report that there were, once again, lots of people wandering around looking at the displays and demonstrations, asking questions, hanging out, and so forth, and an impressive turnout of JPL staff answering questions and being very enthusiastic about the science (something which is easy to do because it’s such an excellent topic!). I’ve made a video for you that is coming up at the end of this post. (Click on stills for larger views.)
There was the usual huge emphasis on planetary exploration with rovers and robots and so forth – this seems to capture the imagination of everyone, so why not? – but I was more than a little surprised to find virtually no showing for the Planck mission. There was one poster somewhere, but no booth, no model, no description of the truly amazing science that it will do in unlocking more about the origins of the entireContinue reading ‘Yesterday at JPL’
Over on Bad Astronomy, Phil has a nice article entitled “Ten Things You Don’t Know About Pluto”. It is nicely illustrated, and indeed, some of those things he mentions might be new to you. Go and have a look and see.
This post would be better suited to three weeks from now, but the subject item is so very good, so here goes…
Astronomers Declare February No Longer a Month
Emboldened by their success in declaring Pluto not a planet, the International Astronomical Union determined this week by a close vote that February is too short to be considered a true month. It has, however, been granted the newly created status of “dwarf month.” It shares this dubious distinction with several other calendar time spans, including Labor Day Weekend, Christmas Vacation, and the Time Between When You Were Supposed to Get Your Oil Changed and When You Actually Did.
I learned* that the Kepler craft (NASA artist sketch on right – this is the device that will look for “other earths” – see below) is all go to try for launch later today! Extract from an announcement that went around:
On 6 March (EST, 7 March in UTC) there are two opportunities for a launch into the Earth trailing orbit. The first window is at 6 March, 10:49:57 p.m. EST (UTC: 7 March, 03:49:57) and the second window is at 11:17:44 p.m. EST (UTC: 7 March, 04:17:44). If Kepler is not launched tonight there is a another possibility at approximately the same time tomorrow night.
Countdown will begin 3 hours before launch and Kepler separation into Earth trailing solar orbit will take place 3709 sec into flight. First contact after separation is expected 4640 sec into flight.
I noticed that Amy Mainzer is over at the Kennedy Space Center to see the launch. She begins to talk about it here on her (excellent) blog. You might want to check back there in case she does a nice report on it. Check out Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog for more on this too. He says he’ll be tweeting and all. (Yes. Tweeting. There, I have used that word in its recent new context/meaning in a sentence for the first time. I feel a bit silly.)
Sheril reminds us that it is 40 years to the day that this photograph was taken (by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission), and invites us to ponder how much has happened to and on it over the last 40, and how it might be in 2048. A good end of year meditation.
Happy Holidays to all!
[Update: A very good NPR piece on the mission and the photo is here, with audio and partial transcript.]
As you may have heard, the Phoenix craft on Mars (remember? seven minutes of terror?) which had already been running beyond its design lifetime, has probably sent its final message from Mars. There is not enough daily solar energy (now that it is Winter) coming in to support its energy needs.
This is quite remarkable. There’s actually been an image (see left) taken of a planet orbiting another star. There are hundreds of known extrasolar planets in orbit around other stars (see lots of earlier posts), and evidence for them has been indirect, since they are too tiny and too dim (having no light of their own) to image directly. You can learn of their existence by their effects on their parent star, and/or on the light it casts. (The image left is courtesy of the Gemini Observatory. The University of Toronto scientists used the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and its adaptive optics technology to make the image.)
Have you been keeping track of what Phoenix has been finding on Mars? There’s been lots of digging of holes, baking, peering at things under microscopes, and so forth. And, wonderfully, it has all been guided, monitored, and watched from here on earth. From all of this, there’s now very direct evidence for ice, for example. (Dig a hole, find white flaky chunks which disappear after exposure to sunlight…) (Image left (click for larger) is from the mission (credit: JPL/Caltech/NASA) and shows the before and after. Keep your eye on the darker corner, blown up in the inset.)
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) felt the need to reclassify Pluto in the light of ongoing scientific discovery – it’s just one of probably thousands of small objects out there beyond the orbit of Neptune. This area of science is very much alive- we’re learning a lot about the solar system and other planetary systems. (See my post entitled “Clues in the Blood Splatter Patterns”.) The “demotion” led to lots of angry opinion, you may recall.
One of the Phoenix images that has most captivated has been the one that shows the rest of the background of that startling image of the parachute part of the landing phase that was taken by the Reconnaissance orbiter’s HiRiSE camera. I showed it a few days ago here, and it is amazing, for all the reasons I said back then and more. I’m still buzzed by the idea that we have cameras from another craft photographing the landing of a new craft. Well, a while later, the mission released the photo showing the larger backdrop to that image. There’s the (giant 10 km) Heimdall crater in the background! (See the little inset bottom left showing where the previous image focussed; credit: NASA/JPL).
Marvellous. It is good to get the chance to use the word in its most basic sense, and fully mean it. You know how there’s a lot of reliance on artist’s impressions to depict aspects of space missions (such as landing) that we can’t get photos of because, well, there’s nothing else there to take the photo (unlike the movies and TV)? Well look at this:
It may not look like much to some, but I’m really impressed with this. It is a first. It is the Phoenix lander during the act of landing during the “Seven Minutes of Terror” yesterday! NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was in the right position to take a Continue reading ‘Photo Finish’
16:56 or so: Yep. That was a tense seven minutes. But it is over and they are getting signals. I watched the live feed from the JPL control room. Wow. Who knew this could be so exciting from so far away?! Anybody else watch it?
The phoenix lander making (we all hope) a soft landing on Mars – Artist’s depiction by JPL Mars program artist Corby Waste
Remember the launch of the Phoenix spacecraft last summer? I mentioned it in earlier posts (including talking about the mural for it – see here and here) and Phil did a lovely post on the launch here. Have a look at the mission website. Here’s a space.com article that gives an update on the mission so far.
Well, today’s the day it approaches and (it is hoped) lands on Mars!! So, the landing. The landing, the landing the landing. It’s all about the landing. The craft has to slow down from 12500 miles per hour to make a soft landing on the surface. In a matter of Continue reading ‘Seven Minutes of Terror’
I went last year and had a great time and so I strongly recommend it. Go along for your own interest, of course, but if you have any kids, take ‘em along*. If interested, have a look at my detailed post from last year entitled “JPL the new Disneyland?”
The next Categorically Not! is on Sunday April 27th (upcoming). The Categorically Not! series of events that are held at the Santa Monica Art Studios, (with occasional exceptions). It’s a series – started and run by science writer K. C. Cole – of fun and informative conversations deliberately ignoring the traditional boundaries between art, science, humanities, and other subjects. I strongly encourage you to come to them if you’re in the area. Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones. See also the links at the end of the post for some announcements and descriptions (and even video) of previous events.
The theme this month is Loops Here’s the description from K C Cole:
When you come right down to it, just about everything is loopy: planets, proteins or life stories, things have a way of coming around again, always with a slightly different spin. This month’s Categorically Not! was conceived as a tribute to Douglas Hofstadter’s new book, I am a Strange Loop, which uses Continue reading ‘Categorically Not! – Loops’
Not quite as (juvenile) funny as the equivalent phrase when rings were discovered around the seventh planet, but it’ll do as a post title. I’ll tease you with the image here Continue reading ‘Rings Around Rhea’