Curiosity, from the eyes of one of its creators

I cannot imagine having had a single project for seven years that culminates in a seven minute Schrodinger’s Cat where your work either failed or succeeded. I cannot imagine the magnitude of relief or heartache or joy or sorrow that might have come from either result. This gives me the same sort of minute glimpse of the triumph felt by its three thousand engineers and physicists and mathematicians responsible for this project, as when I watched the live feed for the control room during the landing.

If you are unmoved by this video, you might want to check your pulse.

Curiosity, from the eyes of one of its creators

NASA press conference: first color photos from Curiosity

Awwwww yeah, science baby. You need to check out this Youtube video to see — in high-def, if you choose to view it in that resolution — the entirety of Curiosity’s first day on Mars.

Fabulous. And the technology that we managed to safely deposit on another planet is simply the best way to actually examine this planet. I expect great things from this project. Even if it turns out there’s nothing special about Mars, even if it turns out to be nothing but a rust ball, we’re actually exploring and collecting data on another fucking planet. That’s… big. That’s astronomically big. Hells yes.

NASA press conference: first color photos from Curiosity

Curiosity successfully touched down on Mars

The terror is over. Our first 256×256 snapshot of the surface of Mars after the utterly terrifying touchdown sequence.

Eight years to plan and build this rover that’s bigger than your car and taller than you.

36 weeks of travel across 562 million kilometres of space travel.

And it missed its mark by a mere couple hundred metres.

Science rules.

Heard on the live NASA TV stream: “Holy shit!” I concur, good sir. I concur.

Curiosity successfully touched down on Mars

Curiosity piqued, tonight at 2:31am!

Atlantic Daylight Time, of course. So 05:31 UTC.

Remember Curiosity and its Rube Goldberg-like planned landing? That happens tonight. Tomorrow morning, technically, for some of us. Phil Plait has details on how to participate in the fun:

If you want to watch the proceedings live, I have a few things you can do.

1) Fraser Cain, Pamela Gay, and I will be doing a Google+ Hangout on August 5th starting at 03:00 UTC on August 5/6 and running until 07:00 – note that for the US, this starts on the evening of the 5th at 23:00 Eastern time and runs through 03:00 in the morning. We plan on having special guests, a live feed from NASA, and more. The Hangout is being sponsored by Google itself, CosmoQuest, and the SETI Institute, which has a strong astrobiology mission and therefore is very interested in Mars. Our coverage will be complete, intense, awesome, and fun. Promise! There’s more info at Universe Today, and we have an events page set up on G+ to help you out. There’s also a Facebook events page, too! Use the #marshangout hashtag on Twitter to follow along, too.

2) You can always watch NASA TV. They’ve posted a schedule of events for media.

3) If you are in the Pasadena California area, then join the party! Literally: The Planetary Society is throwing a bash to celebrate and watch the landing at the Paseo Colorado – Garfield Promenade on Saturday, August 4. Attending will be TPS blogger (and big pal o’ mine) Emily Lakdawalla as well as Bill Nye (yes, THE Bill Nye). You can get more info on Emily’s blog, and get tickets online. If I could, I’d go there too! But I’ll be at home and quite busy myself (see #1 above).

4) The Planetary Society is holding PlanetFest at the Pasadena Convention Center on August 4 and 5 – it’s again a celebration of planetary exploration. It looks like fun!

X-Box 360 users will also be able to live-stream the landing. My sleep schedule has been completely screwed by work for a very long time, so I’m planning on staying up myself. I’m trying to figure out if the PS3 browser can handle Ustream, but I’m not having a lot of luck with it myself. Anyone know of a good way to stream to PS3, given that’s my primary media centre?

Curiosity piqued, tonight at 2:31am!

CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios

Another of the three panels I was on, audio only unfortunately. Do let me know if the questions from the audience aren’t audible, I might be able to normalize the volume some. I’m not terribly experienced with Audacity, but I’m willing to play with it some more if you have problems.

Also on the panel were biologist and medium-calibre blogger PZ Myers, sci-fi author Adam Whitlatch, math professor and zombie afficionado Robert Smith? (yes, the question mark is part of his real name), and The Skeptical Teacher Matt Lowry (who tried to bite PZ’s head and whapped me about with a CONvergence schedule — I’m just saying).
Continue reading “CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios”

CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios

Robots with rock-vaporizing lasers on Mars!

Ohhhh, this is just too damn cool. I had no idea Curiosity was so kitted out!

On its way to the Gale Crater, right now, is NASA’s Curiosity rover, the most sophisticated robot in the history of space science: a dune buggy equipped with a set of tools and instruments to shame Inspector Gadget. Curiosity can vaporize rock, analyze soil samples, gauge the weather, and film in HD. It’s due to touch down in the Gale Crater on August 5, completing an eight-month journey through the local solar system. Once it lands, the rover will begin a slow ascent up Aeolis Mons, the mountain in the crater’s center, probing its layers for signs that Mars once supported life. It will also collect new data about the surface of Mars, which NASA will use to determine the feasibility of future manned missions there.

A few weeks ago I visited NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to talk with Michael Mischna, a planetary scientist who works on the Curiosity team. What follows is our conversation about Curiosity’s mind-blowing technologies and what those technologies might tell us about the history of Mars.

Think about what we’re actually doing this for: to find water on Mars. To find, potentially, evidence that life once existed — or exists now — on Mars. Because we’re CURIOUS.

Of course, first it’ll have to survive seven minutes of terror:

This is ambitious. This is crazy. This is the sort of thing science alone can achieve.

Robots with rock-vaporizing lasers on Mars!

Supermoon: what it is, and what it definitely isn’t (a repost)

A repost, apropos of this weekend’s supermoon and the fact that people are going bugnut over it… yet again… and Taslima seemed lonely in being the only other FtBer covering this one. My original post is here, published March 17, 2011.

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a SUPERMOOOOOOON!!

I have written at some length about the moon, with its wobble called libration, and how its elliptical orbit means that it varies in its distance to us between roughly 360,000km and 406,000km. That’s a difference of ~46,000km, or about ten percent of its distance at apogee. Apogee is what you call the moon’s furthest point in its orbit, and perigee the closest. As the moon orbits us about once a month (thus the lunar cycle), that means that during a predicted perigee, the moon is about two weeks away from apogee.
Continue reading “Supermoon: what it is, and what it definitely isn’t (a repost)”

Supermoon: what it is, and what it definitely isn’t (a repost)

On this day in space history

On March 22, 2001, an outer main belt asteroid provisionally named 2001FB10 was discovered by David Healy, founder of the Junk Bond Observatory. Its official name is 153289 Rebeccawatson.

That’s right, it was named after the woman probably most famous for making a whole lot of very insecure men very angry about having their sense of entitlement questioned. Rebecca Watson has an asteroid named after her, and you do not. U JELLY?

Additionally, it’s grossly unlikely to end humanity, despite certain howler monkeys’ protestations.

On this day in space history

Supernova in M-95

Awesome. In an extremely close galaxy, one we’ve studied quite a bit previously, we’ve apparently just spotted a supernova and have started grabbing as much scientific data as we can manage. Of course, this is millions of light years away (estimated 38 million in fact), so unless you subscribe to the idea that everything “happens” from a geocentric fixed time frame, this supernova is already long since blown out into a nebula of some sort.

Phil Plait has more.

Supernova in M-95