December 25th, 2014
Alexander Gerst's Earth timelapses video is mesmerising. Watch it in full-screen mode on the biggest display you have: you won't regret it.
It's a beautiful video and well worth a look, but I did have just one small quibble when I first saw it…
Early in the video, I found myself getting frustrated that more than once we saw crew or supply vessels attached to the docking arm, with the arm moving to line them up to dock or undock. The thing was, each time the image would cut away to a different view before the capsule docked/undocked. Somehow it just didn't feel right to not get to see the full sequence. In fairness, I suppose the teasing build-up made it that much more gratifying towards the end when we finally got a shot of the docking arm moving a capsule into position and this time we stuck around long enough to see the capsule undock and move away from the ISS on the way back to Earth.
What I can't decide is whether Gerst was just being a savvy editor, deliberately including truncated docking sequences so as to build anticipation for the later full sequence? Or was I just being weird to have got so fixated on the docking sequences, whilst every other viewer would have been enjoying the gorgeous images of aurorae seen from above and nighttime lightning storms illuminating the land below them and clouds and cityscapes and so on?
November 30th, 2014
Wanderers, or, Life in the Solar System. Someday.
July 17th, 2014
It's good to get a sense of perspective about the size of the human race's footprint in our home galaxy. One day we're going to have to apologise to the rest of the Milky Way's residents for inflicting Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Baywatch on them, but by the time anyone else notices the chances are there'll be nobody left on this planet who even knows who those people were.
July 2nd, 2014
xkcd: Surface Area
Space Without the Space
The Solar System's solid surfaces stitched together
May 18th, 2014
A new Earthrise over the Moon, courtesy of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter:
Be sure to follow the first link to see the whole image.
April 7th, 2014
What if the Moon was a Disco Ball?
That looks so downright bizarre that we just have to make it happen some day. Think of the advertising potential.
October 16th, 2013
Headline of the Week/Month/Year candidate, courtesy of Popular Science:
Space-Born Jellyfish Hate Life On Earth.
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 Parlor 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.
May 13th, 2013
Two spectacularly colourful images: one looking up into the sky, the other one looking down from space:
May 6th, 2013
One day I'll get tired of sequences of time lapse images taken from the International Space Station. Not today.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
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.
April 13th, 2013
Emily Lakdawalla has posted a fascinating account, translated from the Russian original, of how a group of space enthusiasts combed images of the surface of Mars. Their aim: to find the Mars 3 lander that managed to transmit radio signals for 14 seconds back on 2 December 1971 before falling silent.
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.
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]
October 10th, 2012
For thousands of years the Borg cubes tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across – which happened to be the Earth – where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire Borg battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.
Misquoted from Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
The real story is a tad less dramatic, and nobody needs to get assimilated. The cubes are actually amateur radio satellites deployed from the ISS:
NASA have released photographs of the amateur radio CubeSats TechEdSat, F-1 and FITSAT-1 taken by an Expedition 33 crew member on the International Space Station (ISS).
The small satellites were transported to the ISS in the HTV-3 (Kounotori 3) cargo vessel that blasted off on an H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center on Saturday, July 21 at 0206 UT.
The cargo vessel arrived at the ISS on July 27 and the ISS Canadarm2 robotic arm was used to install the HTV-3 to its docking port on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony module at 1434 UT. The CubeSats were then unloaded by the Expedition 32 crew.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
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.
May 13th, 2012
The flight of a Space Shuttle as seen from a Solid Rocket Booster. I've posted links to this sort of film before, but in this film instead of providing a musical accompaniment to the SRB's descent, Skywalker Sound enhanced the sound from the SRB-mounted cameras; stark, bright images and the sound of a rocket tumbling from the upper atmosphere combine to mesmerising effect.
[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]
April 12th, 2012
Yuri's Planet, as seen from the ISS.
April 8th, 2012
Fifty years on from NASA's Project Gemini, the Atlantic has a fantastic collection of photographs taken during the project's four year run.
What strikes me is how small the Gemini capsule was; more or less the size of a small car. When they wanted to try a spacewalk, the astronauts would just suit up, then wind down a window to get direct access to space.