Looking up and looking down

May 13th, 2013

Two spectacularly colourful images: one looking up into the sky, the other one looking down from space:

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Time-Lapse | Earth

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]

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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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Mars 3 Nil, Mars 1

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.

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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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Space, the tiny frontier

October 10th, 2012

CubeSats and Earth

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.

CubeSats and ISS solar panels

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]

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A Toy Train in Space

September 22nd, 2012

A Toy Train in Space: 1

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. The pedant in me can't resist pointing out that 18 miles up is nowhere near the internationally-accepted definition of "in Space." I'm pretty sure that 4 year old Stanley, his father, at least 4,049 YouTube users, and everyone reading this post would tell me that's really not the point.

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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]



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 Sound1 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.2

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

  1. Yes, they are part of LucasFilm.
  2. Be sure to keep an eye on the figure recording the speed the booster is going at. Not so much for the rather impressive peak figure it reaches, but for how suddenly the SRB sheds speed on the way down at around the 6 minute mark.

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APOD: 2012 April 12

April 12th, 2012

Yuri's Planet, as seen from the ISS.

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