NASA JPL sends word today that image processing lab specialists have assembled a billion-pixel view from the surface of Mars, from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. The 1.3-billion-pixel image is offered with pan and zoom tools here.
It's the first NASA-produced view from the surface of Mars at this resolution, and is stitched together from close to 900 exposures taken by cameras onboard Curiosity, revealing details of the landscape along the rover's route.
The Rotating Snake Illusion is a fun image that makes your brain perceive motion where no motion actually exists. Psychologists understand the factors that make an illusion like this work (and work better) — for instance, breaking up and staggering the colored lines that radiate from the center of the circle creates a much stronger sensation of movement. But they don't know exactly why it works yet, according to Japanese psychologists Akiyoshi Kitaoka and Hiroshi Ashida.
And that brings us to this kitten video.
YouTube user Rasmus posted a video that he thinks might show his cat being tricked by the same sense of motion that catches the eyes of humans who look at The Rotating Snake Illusion. On the other hand, this just might be a cute video of a kitten attacking a piece of paper — which is known to happen.
This is not exactly the soundest experimental methodology ever, but it sure would be interesting to see what happens.
Just a few minutes ago, researchers with NASA's MESSENGER mission announced the publication of data that strongly suggests the poles of Mercury contain significant quantities of frozen water.
On the one hand, this is not exactly new news. The possibility of water on Mercury has been a topic of research for something like 20 years. And scientific discoveries tend to move in little mincing steps, not giant leaps, so there have been lots of previous announcements about evidence supporting the hypothesis of water of Mercury — including very similar announcements from the MESSENGER team in December 2011 and March 2012. Your life will not change in any significant way because there is frozen water on Mercury. You probably won't even make a note to tell your children where you were the day NASA announced that ice most likely existed there.
But that doesn't mean this news isn't damned exciting. And it doesn't mean that the scientists involved shouldn't be giddy about it. We are, after all, talking about a mission that sent a spacecraft into orbit around another planet and has quite likely found frozen water sitting on a landscape that is hot enough to melt lead. What's more, they think that ice is covered in places by a thin layer of some coal or tar-like organic material. That is huge news. It's going to change textbooks. And because the scientists think both the ice and the organic material got to Mercury via collisions with asteroids and comets, it's going to be an important part of our ongoing efforts to understand how life begins on planets like Earth.
All of this makes for a really nice, topical lead-in to an essay Robert Gonzalez published on iO9 today. It's totally reasonable to be frustrated by the recent whiplash of hearing that Curiosity discovered something "Earth-shattering" on Mars, only to have that announcement quickly revised to something "interesting" and/or "not insignificant". But, Gonzalez argues, it's also reasonable for scientists to look at something that is merely not insignificant from the public perspective and see it, from their own perspective, as groundbreaking. In fact, he says, we want more scientists who get excited about their work, not fewer.
Read the rest
What might the Curiosity rover find on Mars? So many cool things. Maybe friends that hug your face! Maybe Nixon's secret tapes! Or maybe even something less easily fit into song lyrics, like significant amounts of Martian methane.
This video, made by Cinesaurus, is a parody of "Dumb Ways to Die", an adorably demented public safety message from Australia's Metro Trains Melbourne. If you've not seen that yet, you should check it out as well.
Thanks to Andrew Balfour and Michael Bernstein!
The Curiosity rover comes complete with a mini chemistry lab. It's designed to analyze the composition of Martian soils and Martian air. And, right now, that particular piece of equipment is at the center of a giddy storm of activity. Curiosity has turned up something important — big enough for Curiosity's principal investigator to tell NPR, "This data is gonna be one for the history books."
What is it? NASA's not telling just yet. Right now, researchers are in the process of verifying said exciting data, in order to make sure they aren't deceiving themselves into thinking they've spotted something that isn't really there. That's pretty good policy, given the recent flap around over-hyped studies about Earth-like planets and arsenic-based life.
On the other hand, if you're trying to avoid overhyping something, might I suggest that "We have groundbreaking, world-changing data that we can't tell you about yet," is maybe not the best way to do it.
Pictured: A 360-degree view of Mars, taken by Curiosity on October 5th, from the location where it first started collecting samples of rocks and dirt. NASA/JPL
This video interview with Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist of the Mars Science Laboratory, is a nice overview of the what everybody's favorite currently operational Mars rover is looking for.
My four year old son painted this at school and told his teacher, “This is Mars. Mars is red. And there is a robot there taking pictures and sending them back to earth.”
Mars Curiosity, eat your heart out.
When a narrow stream, flowing downhill, meets a wide, significantly-flatter valley, you get an alluvial fan — a place where the flow of water spreads out, slows down, and leaves behind all the rocks and sediment it's no longer moving fast enough to carry. At least, that's how it works on Earth.
Once upon a time, it may have worked that way on Mars, too. Yesterday, NASA announced that the Curiosity rover had documented geology that looks very much like an alluvial fan and rocky deposits that also look very much like what would be left in an alluvial fan on Earth. You can see the comparison of some of those in the image above. In these Martian geological features — as in an Earth-bound stream bed — you find smooth, rounded pebbles and conglomerates, masses of pebbles cemented together over time. The rocks photographed by Curiosity are also too large to have been blown into this sort of arrangement by the wind.
All of this adds to the long string of evidence that Mars once had flowing water on its surface. In fact, reading up for this post, I was surprised to see how much evidence there actually is for this, some direct and some indirect, stretching all the way back to the Mariner 9 orbiter mission in the early 1970s. And, of course, there is water on Mars right now. It's just not flowing water. Previous probes have measured a small amount of water in the Martian atmosphere, and the planet's polar regions contain both frozen carbon dioxide and frozen water. Viking 2 took pictures of frost on the ground in the late 1970s, and in 2008, the Phoenix lander literally dropped out of the sky onto a patch of ice.
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I'm sitting in on a NASA Jet propulsion laboratory teleconference for science journalists, with an update for the world on the Mars Curiosity rover's mission. Curiosity completes her "checkout" phase today. Including an "intermission" of 13 sols, and one remaining sol to inspect the rover's robotic arm, 26 sols have been devoted to so-called checkout duties. Today is sol 37. Rover is currently facing a Southeast direction. Temperatures on the rover are between 7 and 33 C. She has covered a little over a football field's distance on the surface of Mars. Ability to move the arm has been confirmed, and the ability of the rover to perform sampling is confirmed.
Curiosity has so far driven 109 meters from its original landing site, and engineers are driving her about 40 meters per sol. The first drilling into the surface of Mars is expected to occur about a month from now, following various surface activities (scraping rock surfaces, and so on).
Three speakers in the teleconference: Jennifer Trosper, JPL; Curiosity mission manager. Ralf Gellert, University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada; principal investigator for the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer instrument (or APXS) on Curiosity. Ken Edgett, Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego; principal investigator for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (or MAHLI) on Curiosity.
At the top of this blog post, the first Mars image of the day (larger size here):
We spent $2.5 billion to put
Helvetica Arial on Mars (and incidentally, an SUV-sized robotic science rover), and yet not a cent was devoted to kerning. The Curiosity rover carries a calibration target for its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), an adjustable focus camera designed to take close-up pictures. It's one of 17 cameras on the rover, but it's the only one that has its own target for testing a photo against known colors, brightness, and scale. (Update: The sundial on top of the rover has color swatches for the mast cameras.)
But as a former typesetter, I had to poke fun at the kerning in the word "Target", where the "a" in any design software would be neatly tucked underneath the "T".
NASA is old-school in type, too, as this is Helvetica, not Helvetica Neue. (Update! Readers note this is Arial, as the angle terminators on the upper-case C give it away! Go, go, Microsoft fonts!)
The calibration target includes a 1909 penny as a homage to the practice of using a coin for scale in images. One of the scientists bought the penny from the first year Lincoln appeared on its front, and sent it on its merry mission. The target is now lightly dusted with Martian soil, but still useful for its purpose.
A full size image is available from NASA.
On Sol 32 (Sept. 7, 2012) the Curiosity rover used a camera located on its arm to obtain this self portrait. The image of the top of Curiosity's Remote Sensing Mast, showing the Mastcam and Chemcam cameras, was acquired by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The angle of the frame reflects the position of the MAHLI camera on the arm when the image was taken. The image was acquired while MAHLI's clear dust cover was closed.
That's from NASA's description of this great Curiosity self-portrait.
What really stuck out to me, though, was the use of "Sol 32". Sol is what you call a "day" on Mars. We use a different word because the length of time is also a bit different. One Martian Sol is equal to 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds. Sol 32 isn't, itself, a date, but simply a record tracking the number of sols that Curiosity has been on Mars—starting with Sol 0, which was August 6th. Every mission to Mars since Viking has kept its own sol count, so you can't really use these sol dates to keep track of history except as it relates to a specific mission.
There have, however, been proposals for a standardized Martian calendar system with a starting point that all dates progress from. NASA includes a Mars Sol Date on its Mars24 Martian clock app. In this case, the count begins on Earth date December 29, 1873 at noon Greenwich Mean Time and MSD represents the number of sols that have happened since then.
Why December 29, 1873? The Mars24 explainer just says that this date was chosen because it precedes all the really good, detailed observations of how time worked on Mars—how fast the planet was spinning, how often it went around the Sun, what the orbits of its moons were like ... that kind of thing. In 1877, the orbit of Mars took it particularly close to Earth, allowing humans—and their increasingly good quality telescopes—to get a really nice view of the planet.
That still doesn't exactly explain the 1873 date, though. But, according to Wikipedia, it's also the birthday of Carl Lampland, an American astronomer. Among other achievements, Lampland would calculate temperatures on the Martian surface, finding a large difference between soltime temperatures, and those at night. That data gave scientists their first clue that Mars had a particularly thin atmosphere, compared to our own.
Hahah! Boing Boing reader William Jaspers saw the 1967 ad for jobs at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory I posted yesterday, which ran in Scientific American—and with a little help from Photoshop, he updated it to feature the MSL space celeb Bobak "Mohawk Guy" Ferdowsi, who works on the Mars Curiosity team at JPL.
Now all they need is a reversal of those devastating budget cuts so JPL can hire more space-dreamers, instead of laying them off, and the vintage ad will really be true again 45 years later. Larger size here.
* Thanks again to reader fdecomite for scanning and sharing the original.
[Video Link] This is a magnificent thing.
YouTuber hahahaspam explains, "This is the Curiosity Mars Rover descent footage interpolated from ~4 frames per second to 25 frames per second. It is playing back in real time. This took me 4 days straight to put together, so I hope you enjoy it! Music: Kevin Macleod."
(via Joe Sabia)
As Curiosity was landing safely on Mars, many of you noted that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers orchestrating the whole thing were eating an awful lot of peanuts. In fact, each workstation boasted a little commemorative jar of peanuts. Seriously, what is up with all those peanuts?
Discovery News has an answer. And it's surprisingly interesting.
Turns out, this is a JPL-specific tradition, dating back to 1964, when the lab's funding was on the line after the Ranger program—unmanned missions to photograph the Moon—weren't living up to expectations. In fact, six Ranger missions in a row had failed.
This was the heritage leading up to Ranger 7. There was talk that JPL should be shut down, that a university-affiliated center couldn’t handle a rigorous spaceflight program. There were suggestions that the program had been sabotaged -- a worker found a small polyethylene bag with 14 screws and a lock washer in one of the sealed electronic modules in Ranger 7’s television subsystem.
Just before Ranger 7 launched to the moon on July 28, mission manager Harris Schurmeier handed out peanuts to ease tensions. He figured chewing or playing with them on the table would give his team something else to focus on.
The full story is pretty neat. You can read the rest at Discovery News
Via Ed Yong
"It comes complete with shout-outs to Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson," reports the Washington Post, which dug into the story behind its creation. Half a million views so far, huh? Best NASA PSA ever.
What a beautiful video by Mark Rober, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "I was able to work on NASA JPL's Curiosity Mars Rover for 7 years. This video is an attempt to capture what it felt like to have 7 years of your life vindicated in the 7 minute landing. Honestly one of the coolest moments of my life so far.
I'm with Steve Silberman, who tweeted this image, taken by the Mars Curiosity rover. Silberman, a science journalist, pointed out how amazing it is to be able to have access to photos of Mars that look totally ordinary, decidedly un-exotic, and even a little dull.
There is a delightful irony here. Think of all the work, all the skill, all the serious intelligence that went into getting Curiosity to Mars. This photo is kind of boring. But it represents something truly wonderful and exciting. It's mundane. But it's the mundanity of M*#&$%*!(*%ING MARS.
I dig it. And I'm a little surprised there wasn't already a Tumblr for it.
As regular readers of this blog will recall, I asked a question of the Mars Curiosity team about imaging technologies during the post-landing press conference at NASA JPL a few days ago.
Related: Digital Photography Review now has an interview with the Mars rover camera project manager. Above, the 34mm (115mm equiv.) Mastcam from the Curiosity rover. This was developed by Mike Ravine and his team at Malin Space Science Systems, a contractor for NASA. Ravine explains how they developed the 2MP main imaging cameras used to transmit those breathtaking images back from Mars.
The slow data rates available for broadcasting images back to Earth and the team's familiarity with that family of sensors played a part, says [Ravine], but the biggest factor was the specifications being fixed as far back as 2004. Multi-shot panoramas will see the cameras deliver high-res images, he explains, but not the 3D movies Hollywood director James Cameron had wanted.
'There's a popular belief that projects like this are going to be very advanced but there are things that mitigate against that. These designs were proposed in 2004, and you don't get to propose one specification and then go off and develop something else. 2MP with 8GB of flash [memory] didn't sound too bad in 2004. But it doesn't compare well to what you get in an iPhone today.'
(thanks, Michael Kammes)
Ain't it pretty? The first color panorama image of Gale Crater, the landing site for the Curiosity rover. Thumbnail versions of images taken by the Mast Camera were combined to form this 360-degree view. From NASA:
Scientists will be taking a closer look at several splotches in the foreground that appear gray. These areas show the effects of the descent stage's rocket engines blasting the ground. What appeared as a dark strip of dunes in previous, black-and-white pictures from Curiosity can also be seen along the top of this mosaic, but the color images also reveal additional shades of reddish brown around the dunes, likely indicating different textures or materials.
The images were taken late Aug. 8 PDT (Aug. 9 EDT) by the 34-millimeter Mast Camera. This panorama mosaic was made of 130 images of 144 by 144 pixels each. Selected full frames from this panorama, which are 1,200 by 1,200 pixels each, are expected to be transmitted to Earth later. The images in this panorama were brightened in the processing. Mars only receives half the sunlight Earth does and this image was taken in the late Martian afternoon.