Time to seek out a car wash. And some water would be good.

August 21st, 2014

No doubt about it, the Curiosity Rover has totally lost that showroom shine.

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

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Life imitates the movies imitating life.

June 7th, 2013

Zed Lopez noticed an interesting detail in this article, written prior to astronaut Chris Hadfield's recent trip to the International Space Station:

"The Larrivée Parlor1 on the ISS was purchased at the local Guitar Center in Southern Florida and there are actually two of them," Larrivée told SPACE.com. "The other stays on the ground at NASA so they know what's up there."

They really are prepared for a "We gotta find a way to make this fit into the hole for this using nothing but that." scene!

Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. It's just odd – or should I say, distinctly reassuring – to be reminded of just how careful NASA are, even now after so many astronauts have visited the ISS.

  1. That's a model of guitar, for the benefit of those of us who aren't musicians.

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Pluto weather forecast

May 4th, 2013

It looks as if when NASA's New Horizons probe arrives at Pluto in 2015 it's going to find weather that is both relatively simple and yet quite difficult to predict:

To establish context: Pluto, like Earth and Titan, has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. It's a very thin atmosphere, its pressure measured in microbars. Earth's atmospheric pressure is, of course, about one bar. Titan's is 1.6 bars. Mars' is a hundred times more tenuous, less than 10 millibars. Pluto's is about a hundred times more tenuous again, less than 100 microbars. Which is really thin; but it's way thicker than the essentially airless exospheres at Mercury and the Moon. Pluto has plenty enough atmosphere for the world to have wind and weather and clouds, just like Venus and Earth and Mars and Titan.

Nitrogen in Pluto's air is in equilibrium with nitrogen frost or ice on the ground. Broadly speaking, when Pluto warms up, ice sublimates to gas, and the atmospheric pressure goes up. When Pluto cools, you get frost and a lower atmospheric pressure. Changing seasons remove ice from the summer pole, and may re-deposit it at the winter pole.

Emily Lakdawalla's post goes into much more detail about why it's so hard to predict what New Horizons will find, even taking into account what we know from probes to destinations elsewhere in the solar system. Which, as she notes, is exactly why it's necessary to send a spaceship out to Pluto – to tell us which theories are right and which are wrong (and in turn to fuel a couple of decades-worth of scientific papers figuring out whether the theories that gave the right answers did so for the right reasons.)

In the meantime, New Horizons will be heading on out to the Kuiper Belt, which promises to be interesting in an entirely different way.

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Nostalgia

April 3rd, 2013

Twenty Awesome Covers From The US Space Program. My favourite is the cover for the manual for the NASA/Grumman Apollo Lunar Module: nothing else looks like the LM.1

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

  1. Who, reading the documentation these covers contained back in the 1960s and even the early 1970s, would have believed that forty years on manned space travel still wouldn't have ventured further out into the solar system than the Apollo missions did? Don't get me wrong, I know the human race has plenty of robots exploring various interesting corners of the solar system and peering out into the wider universe. That's all well and good and I love reading about the things they're finding, but let's cut to the chase: we're running way behind schedule if I'm to live out my retirement years in a modest little cottage with a view out over the Mare Crisium!

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A Different Angle on Mars

March 25th, 2013

Posting at The Planetary Society, Bill Dunford found A Different Angle on Mars by looking back at images from the Mars Global Surveyor:

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.

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Pre-surrendered?

September 5th, 2012

I wonder how many science fiction writers have drafted stories where this phenomenon is a deeply meaningful, possibly even elegiac, symbol of … something or other…

While the $5.50 nylon flags are still waving on the windless orb, they are not flags of the United States of America anymore. All Moon and material experts have no doubt about it: the flags are now completely white. If you leave a flag on Earth for 43 years, it would be almost completely faded. On the Moon, with no atmospheric protection whatsoever, that process happens a lot faster. The stars and stripes disappeared from our Moon flags quite some time ago.

Alternatively, this is just another attempt by NASA to drum up support for another series of moonshots:

Mr President, we can't let the next passing alien invasion fleet think we've surrendered. We must go back and plant a pristine flag at Tranquility, oh, every decade or so.

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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1 minute to go…

August 6th, 2012

It turns out that as Curiosity was coming in for a landing this morning, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was watching.

[Via Nicholas, commenting at this Making Light thread]

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Let's see where Curiosity takes us…

August 6th, 2012

Stages of Guilt.

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APOD: 2012 June 17

June 23rd, 2012

Jupiter's Rings Revealed.

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.

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76 PYROTECHNIC DEVICES

June 22nd, 2012

I've seen CGI simulations of Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror before, but it does no harm to be reminded of just how insane a ride the Curiosity rover is going to have on the 5th of August when it lands on Mars.

I know there's no way NASA could afford to do it, but it's a shame that they couldn't have landed a smaller, simpler lander in the vicinity of the landing site just before Curiosity is due to descend from orbit. A lander with just one job: providing us with real-time moving pictures of Curiosity coming in to land. Fail or succeed, it's going to be quite some spectacle, and it's a damned shame that we're never going to get to get a proper look at what happened.

[Via MetaFilter]

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