November 30th, 2013
Courtesy of xkcd, Oort Cloud…
Cue Carl Sagan, reading from Pale Blue Dot.
Best viewed in full screen mode at the highest available resolution.1
Trust me, the full image (which you can go to by clicking on the cropped version above) is well worth a look.1
Full marks for good looking graphics – that shot of the sun shining through Saturn's rings is just glorious. There have been an awful lot of discoveries over the course of thirty-some years that render parts of Sagan's story obsolete or incomplete, but someow I can't see this having the sort of impact Sagan's original series did back in 1980, when there just weren't a lot of well-funded mainstream TV documentary series about space/astonomy etc.1.
In the wake of Brian Cox's career, how much mindspace is there for another epic space documentary series? Come to that, do we really need another series of eye candy? I hope Tyson and his script are up to the challenge and prove me wrong.2
[Via The Planetary Society]
Yes, it's another time lapse video featuring lots of night skies and shining cities. But to my mind the way the images and the music1 combine makes The Game Has Changed a couple of steps up from the average nighttime time lapse video.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
One day I'll get tired of sequences of time lapse images taken from the International Space Station. Not today.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
Like all Mars Global Surveyor shots, these are views of the Red Planet from orbit. What's different here is the highly oblique angle of these images. In each, the powerful Mars Observer Camera is not oriented straight down for maximum resolution, but off toward the horizon.
The result is a set of views that make me think of what it might be like to be at Mars, flying over the planet in person, looking out the window. Be sure to enlarge them, and see if you enjoy them as much as I did.
I reckon the image of Olympus Mons is my favourite, just because it emphasises the sheer scale of the thing.
I know the various space agencies have to choose the sites where they land their probes so as to maximise both the chances of a successful landing and the amount of useful science they can do in their limited lifespan, but it'd be nice if at some point in the future someone could contrive to bring down a lander somewhere near the peak of Olympus Mons. The view from up there across the planet's surface would be a sight to see.
Also on an astronomical topic (sort of), Dark Flight: Meteorwrongs by Ryan Thompson…
Within one of the most well-known collections of meteorites in the world, at the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University, is a collection of rocks of mistaken identity. Once identified by professional and amateur meteorite hunters as meteorites, they were later proven to be of terrestrial origin. 'Dark Flight: Meteorwrongs' is a series of photographs of 21 of these false positives. They range in size from just a few inches to more than one foot in diameter and they all have one thing in common–they are not meteorites. The collection stands as a testament to the evolution of the science of meteoritics and to the limits of human knowledge.
The last time we had a ringside seat for that sort of impact it was a lot further away and nobody but scientists got to watch it live.1 This time, just think of the pictures we'd get, live on the web, from the array of spacecraft we have in orbit and on the surface of Mars.2
Joking aside, I wonder how the sight of a comet impact on that scale, that close to home would affect our views of living in the solar system. Would NASA suddenly find itself with as much funding as it wanted to design and build a comet deflector, just in case, not to mention greatly expanding existing tracking systems aimed at spotting comets while they're still way out there where there's time to nudge them away from Earth? Or would the remote chance of there being two such large-scale cometary impacts on the inner solar system in our lifetimes persuade us that we'd dodged that particular bullet and could leave the problem alone for a generation or two?
Earlier this month Maciej Cegłowski took a trip to Queensland, Australia to see the total eclipse of the Sun:
Tuesday, November 13
I get up early to watch the sunrise, partly because jet lag makes it easy, partly because I want to see what conditions might be like tomorrow, and mostly from my irrational fear that every one of us has done the date math wrong. The eclipse is marked on November 13 in my date book, and while I believe in the International Date Line, I don't believe in it enough to sleep in.
Florian Breuer's Quiver Trees By Night 2 makes for one spectacular image of the night sky over Namibia.
For what it's worth, I prefer the pre-photoshop version of the shot that he revealed in this post discussing how he produced the final image. The tweaked version is more striking, but it's not as if the unedited image is less than breathtaking.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
[Professor Brian Cox...], the former pop star turned particle physicist, wanted to use the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire to listen in to the planet, Threapleton Holmes B, on his BBC2 series Stargazing Live.
"The BBC actually said, 'But you can't do that because we need to go through the regulations and health and safety and everything in case we discover a signal from an alien civilisation'.
"You mean we would discover the first hint that there is other intelligent life in the universe beyond Earth, live on air, and you're worried about the health and safety of it?
"It was incredible. They did have guidelines. Compliance."
Methinks Professor Cox might be stretching the truth just a tad here in the interests of having an amusing anecdote to relate when doing publicity work for his show.
Besides, we all know that the BBC nowadays would be more concerned about a) making sure that the aliens hadn't arranged for their fees for participating in the programme to go via some shady tax-efficient offshore company, b) checking that intercepting radio signals from a distant star couldn't possibly be classed as a form of phone hacking, and c) ensuring that the aliens were wearing a poppy while broadcasting their message.
[Via The Awl]
A partial eclipse of the Sun by Phobos, as seen by the Mars Curiosity rover.
Not the most spectacular astronomical image you'll ever see, and not even all that rare an event,1 but even so it's pretty cool that we have a one ton, nuclear powered robot present on the Martian surface to beam the picture back to Earth.
On August 31, 2012 a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT. The coronal mass ejection, or CME, traveled at over 900 miles per second. The CME did not travel directly toward Earth, but did connect with Earth's magnetic environment, or magnetosphere, causing aurora to appear on the night of Monday, September 3.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
Not one, not two, but three striking images:
[Lightning Storm Formation video via Bad Astronomy]
Also worth noting: Astronomy Picture of the Day has now been publishing for 17 years. I'm a little surprised it's only been 17 years; I felt sure that APOD had been there ever since I first encountered the World Wide Web.