Messages from Inside

Inside meaning the inner part of the Solar System. Messages meaning the new pictures from MESSENGER spacecraft.

MESSENGER is short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging. Now you and I know that they spent a bit of time coming up with the unpacking of the name, wanting of course to have the name MESSENGER because that’s what the Mercury of mythology was – the messenger of the Gods, among his other duties. Nice. However I’d have been really impressed if they’d managed to call it QUICKSILVER, and found a way to unpack that – any takers?

Anyway, I digress. In more news showing the triumph of the wisdom of relatively cheap unmanned exploratory craft, MESSENGER sent some wonderful pictures of Mercury this week, along with lots of other scientific data that will help us learn a great deal about the innermost planet. Here’s the one that’s been going around a lot (click for impressive larger version):

mercury by MESSENGER

Image credit to NASA. Caption taken from a space.com article reads: This photo supplied by NASA shows […] Click to continue reading this post

Mars Attacked?

A little over a month from now, Mars might be hit by an asteroid! There’s a 1 in 75 chance (due to uncertainties about the exact trajectory), according to the people tracking the object’s progress right now. The 50 metre wide object is due to pass within 300000 miles of Mars at about 6 a.m. EST (3 a.m. PST) on Jan. 30, 2008. Quoting quite a bit from the press release from JPL/NASA: […] Click to continue reading this post

A Kick From Sputnik

sputnik1Today’s the 50th anniversary of an event that might be thought of as an extreme way of nationally getting really serious about Science education. Sputnik was launched by the USSR. The little pioneering satellite passed overhead several times a day, sending a powerful beeping signal over a radio channel. America immediately became scared, worried and paranoid and essentially declared it a national emergency to respond by a focus on better education in some science and technical subjects. Songs were written. The entire culture was changed.

Fear and paranoia are certainly not the ways I’d like to see us come back to recognizing the value and urgency of improved science education (not the least […] Click to continue reading this post

I’ve Got Next

Ok. So I want to make this post timely, but it means that it will begin to let a cat out of the bag. We’ll see how much I can save for a later post as I write1.

So, as I walked to the subway this morning (yes, they have one in LA), I went through my little checklist of things I take on self-assigned assignments of this sort.

Notebook for scribbling: Check
Pen for scribbling: Check
Camera: Check
Phone (now with decent back-up camera): Check
Spare battery for camera: Check
Decent excuse/reason for being spectacularly late: Check
Water: Check
Good footwear for endless walking back and forth: Check

By now you get it. I’m either doing one of my parade reports, or perhaps a street fair/party, museum exhibit, or some random science fair, object or installation or other. Yes, but which? Well, apparently I was going to the future:

nextfest visit photo

The scene: The Los Angeles Convention Center. The event: The NextFest, brought to […] Click to continue reading this post

From the Earth to the Moon

Well, I’m reporting on this as part of a longer blog post about an event I attended today at the Los Angeles Convention Center, but since it’ll take me a while to finish, and it will be buried in all the other stuff (including pictures and so forth), I’ll snip out a bit of what I’m saying there to inform you of this interesting development:

google lunar x-prize posterSo what were some of the big ticket items, at least in terms of where all the regular press were? Well, the biggest was of course the X-prize. There was a long movie with lots of stuff about space, and dreams about our future in space, and animations and things of roving robots on planetary surfaces, and all that good stuff…. very nice, I thought, and began to wander off…. and then there was a round of applause from everyone and I came back as a voice announced “The Google Lunar X-Prize”, and various other people showed up on the stage (like one of the founders of Google – forgot his name, and later, good ol’ Buzz Aldrin, who seems to be required at these sorts of events). The Google co-founder guy began his speech by acknowledging all the Google engineers… and announcing that they’d just launched a new version of the moon. Applause. (I’m pretty sure that they mean Google Moon, by the way.)

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Monolith Not Spotted, Yet

iapetus flyby image by cassiniDrat.

Well, maybe on the next flyby. Flyby page here. AP (via Yahoo) story by Alicia Chang here. Interesting extracts:

The international Cassini spacecraft went into safe mode this week after successfully passing over a Saturn moon that was the mysterious destination of a deep-space faring astronaut in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

..and intriguingly: […] Click to continue reading this post

They’re Out There (Probably)

alien from the movieLet’s talk about aliens. I don’t mean people coming across the borders of whatever your country happens to be (although I did giggle a decade ago when I was given an official “alien number” by the powers that be back then – though I always regretted bypassing the “alien with extraordinary ability” status that the O1 visa gives you), I mean living creatures from beyond planet earth (it’s also interesting to consider the possibility that the seeds for life on earth may also have come from elsewhere).

It’s one of my favourite topics to consider, which is why I like to follow a lot of the remarkable things we are learning about our neighbouring planets (and other bodies like moons, asteroids, comets, and, yes minor planets like our old friend Pluto), and of course the ever-increasing variety of extra-solar planets (the ones we are discovering orbiting other stars). Overall, it gives one the sense that it is overwhelmingly likely that we are not alone (to use the tired old phrase), which to me is tremendously exciting.

I think we’ll find lots of compelling evidence that there’s lots of simple life on other bodies relatively soon, and I think that when people on the street hear of this, they’ll find it interesting enough. But I suspect that this will completely different to an […] Click to continue reading this post