Bad Luck for Kepler

Steinn has a nice post about the sudden ending of the Kepler mission, due to a crucial component failure. As he notes:

“Kepler has discovered almost 3,000 planetary candidates, of which about 100 have been confirmed through a variety of techniques, and, statistically, most of the rest are likely to be real planets.

Kepler has not quite found earth like planets in the habitable zone, yet.
It is heartbreakingly close to doing so.”

Sad to see, especially at a time when science is being hurt so badly by continued […] Click to continue reading this post

Chasing Tail…

At around 11:15pm, after driving for a while toward the general area, we spotted it. The tail, poking high above the trees, gas station, and power lines, with people walking purposefully groups with only two flows of pedestrian traffic: to or from something that must be a viewing spot. I quickly (and in retrospect, miraculously) found a nearby parking spot (at a prohibited time for that spot, like for all the other cars, but I figured even the parking enforcers were looking at other things at this time) and we walked over to where we saw the tail to find places where we could see the whole craft. And there it was, the space shuttle Endeavour, the youngest of the fleet of re-useable spaceships, the one from which they did the historic and crucial spacewalk that repaired the Hubble telescope that allowed us to see so much about the universe in which we live… parked next to the Randy’s Donuts donut. After a back view of the engines, we found an even closer view, from the side, where most of the people were, and marveled for a while.

[caption id="attachment_12629" align="aligncenter" width="499"] The Space Shuttle Endeavour on its road trip from LAX to the California Science Center, close to midnight on Friday 12th October. Just about to cross Hwy 405. (Click for a larger view.)[/caption]

(There’s something interesting about the whole business of being in a crowd and […] Click to continue reading this post

Flyover!

[caption id="attachment_12548" align="aligncenter" width="499"] Space Shuttle Endeavour and escort, flying over the California Science Center, its new home where it will soon be on display.[/caption]
Wow, that was amazing. So a group of us (Aimee, Amy, Tameem, and myself) decided to go down to the Rose Garden, across the street from the USC campus and in the grounds of the Califorina Science Center where the Shuttle will be housed. Of all the places in LA where there will be a flyover, surely we ought to get a good view from there. Also, the Rose Garden gives access to a large piece of sky, so even if it does not come super-close, we ought to get a good chance… That was the thinking. (A major landmark here was that this is the most USC people I’ve ever seen in the lovely Rose Garden – not counting people on their way to a game at the Coliseum…)

[caption id="attachment_12549" align="alignleft" width="300"] Shuttle Endeavour and escort, with the Natural History Museum just in view below. It is approaching the California Science Center.[/caption]Well, it worked far better than we imagined. The shuttle eventually appeared from the West, and people began to cheer and wave, and snap pictures and so forth… We all felt very lucky that they did that pass…. you could see the fighter plane (?) escort, and there it was appropriately (sort of) over the buildings where it will live out its days… We’d talked about what it meant to see the very last transport flight of a shuttle, the end of the shuttle program, the future of manned spaceflight, and so forth. We, and the […] Click to continue reading this post

Endeavour to Look Up!

The Space Shuttle Endeavour will fly (or will be flown by its carrier plane) over Los Angeles this morning, paying special attention to various LA landmarks. Don’t forget to look up! I’ve heard it will be around 10:30am, but double check since I might have heard that time incorrectly. I plan to start looking out by 10:00am, down on the USC campus, since the California Science Center (across the street) where the Shuttle will be housed, is one of the places it will specially fly over… More here.

Enjoy!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Curious about Curiosity?

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 […] Click to continue reading this post

Happy Birthday Hubble!

It is the 22nd Anniversary of the launch of the Hubble space telescope today! As you know, this instrument has produced a wealth of scientific information over the years, as well as lots of wonderful pictures for everyone that broadened and deepened our sense of wonder about this remarkable universe we find ourselves in. The Hubble site is here.

Phil Plait has re-posted his 2010 post “Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble”, […] Click to continue reading this post

We’ll have a Shuttle!

Space Shuttle EndeavourThere was a rather great piece of news last week that I did not get around to mentioning at the time of the announcement. Not only will we shortly have the Expo line, a new branch of the subway (or light rail) system down at USC and the city’s California Science Center, Natural History Museum, African American Museum, and so forth, all along Exposition, we’ll have…. A Space Shuttle! NASA announced where all its retired space shuttles will go to pasture, and the California Science Center will be one of the museums around the country chosen for this. It’ll be the Endeavour that comes to town. (I like the fact that the spelling with the “u” in it is the official one. Not noticed that before. Excellent.) (Photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett.)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

I, For One, Welcome Our New Arsenic-Replacing-Phosphorus-In-DNA Overlords

mono_lakeYeah! This is just the sort of thing I’d hoped that we (human beings) would find soon, in order to strengthen the idea that in looking for forms of life elsewhere, we be not just open to the idea that the basic chemistry for that life may be very different from what we are used to on earth (easier said than done), but that it is maybe even probable that this is what we could find first. Now, given the news today (announced by Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team in a NASA press conference today and reported on in a paper to appear in Science) we know that it is not just a theoretical construction, but already a reality right here on earth. The researchers have identified a life form with a striking difference. The bacterium (which lives in Mono Lake – see NASA image above right) has DNA (and some other important complex molecules) with a major difference from all other forms we know. phosphorus has been replaced by arsenic!

periodic_tableThis works, by the way, because arsenic is in the same chemical family as phosphorus, being directly below it in the periodic table. Note that this is exactly the sort of thing that has been speculated about a lot in the classic days of science/speculative fiction concerned with alien life, remember? :- Silicon based life forms instead of the Carbon based ones that we know and love on earth. Silicon is again in the same column as […] Click to continue reading this post

Time Travel a Click Away

cvj_with_wormholeI just noticed that last week’s episode of The Universe on Time Travel, which I told you about here and here, is available online on their website. Click here to learn more about the ins and outs of it, and I show you how to make one too! Kind of.

It is a difficult subject to explain, and one that must be tempting to […] Click to continue reading this post

Babies!

hobys_rosette_05 This is a wonderful infrared image (please click on it for lovely larger view) of a region of star formation called the Rosette Nebula.

It comes from the Herschel space observatory, which was launched (along with the Planck observer) by the European Space Agency (ESA) almost a year ago, you may recall.

From the ESA website, here’s a bit more about what this is: […] Click to continue reading this post