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Curiosity adds to evidence that water once flowed on Mars

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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Headline of the year: "Buddhist ‘Iron Man’ found by Nazis is from space"

The only way this Nature News headline could be any better is if the Nazis themselves were from space.

A Buddhist statue brought to Germany from Tibet by a Nazi-backed expedition has been confirmed as having an extraterrestrial origin. Known as the ‘iron man’, the 24-centimetre-high sculpture may represent the god Vaiśravaṇa and was likely created from a piece of the Chinga meteorite that was strewn across the border region between Russia and Mongolia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to Elmar Buchner, of the University of Stuttgart in Germany, and his colleagues.

The paper this article references is here: "Buddha from space—An ancient object of art made of a Chinga iron meteorite fragment," in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

The Shuttle Shokunin, and Kennedy Space Center's 50th anniversary


Discovery launch. Source: NASA.

This past weekend, I accompanied Miles O'Brien to the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Space Center. In attendance were present and past KSC directors, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, astronauts and space heroes of all eras—from Thomas Stafford to Cady Coleman—and many of the so-called "pad rats" who built spacecraft from the Apollo era through the Shuttle era. Miles delivered an amazing speech dedicated to those pad rats.

If you're familiar with traditional Japanese craftsmanship culture or you've seen the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you'll know why he calls them "The Shuttle Shokunin."

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My night with the International Space Orchestra: Jasmina Tesanovic


The International Space Orchestra in front of Vacuum Chambers, NASA Ames Research Center. Photo: Neil Berrett.

I never dreamed I would be in a NASA base in California, singing and playing music.

The Ground Control Opera performance by Nelly Ben Hayoun, presented the International Space Orchestra, 50 local technicians and scientists, playing in the city of San Jose at the Zero1 Biennial 2012. The opera reenacts the first minutes of Neil Armstrong's landing on the Moon. It's dedicated to the memory of the recently gone cosmonauts and astronauts, and the endeavors of scientists at ground-control stations, still trying to make our 20th century dreams of spaceflight come true.

My daughter asked me when she mis-heard that I was singing for "NASA": Mom why are you singing to "NATO?" NATO bombed us in Serbia in 1999! I said my dear this is NASA, not NATO, they have planes and rockets but not bombers and missiles! They are searching for habitable planets with the Kepler space probe! Maybe there are other space controllers somewhere out there!

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Shuttle Endeavour flies over California today, en route to LA retirement


Photo: Shuttle Endeavour's final landing at Edwards AFB. September 20, 2012. By Todd Lappin

If you're in California today, Friday, Sept. 21, you may have a chance to see space shuttle Endeavour's historic flyover of the state as it heads for the California Science Center in Los Angeles for retirement. Here are more details from NASA Dryden on the exact route and planned times.

The orbiter, atop its 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), is scheduled to fly over northern California and a large area of the Los Angeles basin beginning at about 8:15 a.m. PDT. NASA originally planned the transit for an earlier hour, but rescheduled to increase the odds of good visibility for Bay Area residents—fog is a factor there in the early morning.

"During the four-and-a-half hour flight, social media users are encouraged to share their Endeavour sightings using the hashtags #spottheshuttle and #OV105, Endeavour's vehicle designation," according to NASA, and there's a Flickr group for space fans. The official account for NASA is here. At 11 a.m. EDT (8 a.m. PDT), NASA TV will air Endeavour's departure for the flyover.

NASA Ames' Twitter account is a good one to follow today, as is Boing Boing pal Todd Lappin, who shot the gorgeous photos in this post. SpaceFlightNow is liveblogging, and they're also great to follow on Twitter today.

Snip from the NASA press release:

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Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012

NewImage

This is M51, the "Whirlpool Galaxy." The image is by Martin Pugh who won the Royal Observatory Greenwich's Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012.

One Google query = one Apollo program's worth of computing

Here's a thought:

"It takes about the same amount of computing to answer one Google Search query as all the computing done — in flight and on the ground — for the entire Apollo program."

(Quote from Seb Schmoller’s "Learning technology – a backward and forward look," attributed to Peter Norvig and Udi Mepher of Google on hearing of the death of Neil Armstrong)

I remember hearing that the processor in a singing greeting card had more capacity than all the electronic computers on Earth at the time of Sputnik's launch, though I can't find a cite for it at the moment. Exponential processor improvements are pretty wild.

Learning technology – a backward and forward look (PDF)

(via Memex 1.1)

Three Space Shuttle flight decks (photos)

Ben Cooper of Launch Photography has photos of the flight deck from all three Space Shuttles, Endeavour (fully-powered), Atlantis and Discovery.

"Endeavour [shown here] looks particularly spectacular, in all its glory, just as it had been in space during a mission," he writes.

You can buy prints! I want huge prints of all three, one for each wall of my office.

As space shuttle Endeavour retires in LA, 400 trees to be removed, four times as many to be planted

To make room for the space shuttle Endeavour as it is transported from Los Angeles International Airport to The California Science Center, some 400 trees must be removed from the city streets. The shuttle is just too damn wide. An agreement was today reached between the Science Center and South LA neighborhood groups to plant four times as many trees as will be removed. (photo and articles: Los Angeles Times.)

Astronaut Neil Armstrong remembered in nation's capital today

America said goodbye today to Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on another world beyond Earth. "The powerful of Washington, the pioneers of space, and the everyday public crowded into the Washington National Cathedral for a public interfaith memorial for the very private astronaut," reports the AP. Armstrong died last month in Ohio at age 82. He walked on the moon in July 1969. "He's now slipped the bounds of Earth once again, but what a legacy he left," former Treasury Secretary John Snow said at the services this morning at the National Cathedral. Here, his fellow Apollo 11 crew member Michael Collins remembers him.

Thumbnail: L-R, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Annie Glenn, astronaut and former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, and singer Diana Krall, during the opening processional. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

Toothbrush bodge used to fix ISS


Here's a picture of the now-famous improvised bolt cleaner that astronauts on the ISS created out of a toothbrush to use during a recent spacewalk. ABC's Gina Sunseri describes the hack:

A $100 billion space station saved by a simple $3 toothbrush? It was the brainstorm of astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihido Hoshide and NASA engineers on the ground: a tool to clean a bolt that gave them so much trouble during a marathon 8-hour spacewalk last week.

They were trying to replace an electrical switching unit, but on Thursday they couldn't bolt it to the outside of the station.

What to do if there is no hardware store in the neighborhood and the next supply ship is months away? Build it yourself -- so they attached a simple toothbrush to a metal pole and voila! They were able to clean out the bolt's socket today and finish the job. Shades of Apollo 13 -- when engineers threw parts on a table and brainstormed a solution, which saved the crew.

Spacewalking Astronauts Fix Space Station With Toothbrush (via Beyond the Beyond)

Explore Japanese Space Science with Google Maps

From the Google Maps blog:

September 12th is 'Space Day' in Japan, and we are celebrating by releasing new, comprehensive Street View imagery for two of Japan’s top scientific institutions: the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan). With panoramic imagery in and around these locations now available via the Street View feature of Google Maps, space enthusiasts around the world have a more complete and accurate sense of what it’d be like to virtually swap places with an astronaut.

More here. (Thanks, Nate Tyler!)

Astronauts fix the Space Station with a toothbrush

When NASA's Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide couldn't seem to get a bolt attached to the outside of the space station, ground crews came up with a clever solution: Fix the problem with a toothbrush. At Space.com, Denise Chow explains the details:

On Aug. 30, Williams and Hoshide completed a marathon spacewalk that lasted more than 8 hours, but the astronauts were thwarted by a stubborn bolt and were unable to finish connecting the so-called main bus switching unit (MBSU). The stuck bolt forced NASA to add [yesterday's] extra spacewalk.

But, following last week's unsuccessful attempt, flight controllers, engineers and veteran spacewalkers worked around the clock at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to devise a solution to the problem. Using only the supplies available on the space station, the teams came up with creative new tools for Williams and Hoshide to use to install the MBSU.

One was a modified toothbrush that was used to lubricate the inside of the bolt's housing after debris and metal shavings from inside had been removed. Another improvised instrument included a cleaning tool that had been made from wires that were bent back to form a brush, explained Kieth Johnson, lead spacewalk director at the Johnson Space Center.

Read the rest of the story at Space.com

Watch the Sun "burp"

Check out this great NASA video showing a coronal mass ejection—a burst of plasma thrown off the surface of the Sun—from several different perspectives. It happened on August 31 and it's really gorgeous. It's also rather huge, as far as these things go. Luckily, it wasn't pointed directly at Earth. Coronal mass ejections can affect our planet's magnetic field. There's a risk of large ones screwing with everything from our electric grid to radio waves.

Read more about coronal mass ejections on Wikipedia

Help name an asteroid!

In 2016, NASA will launch OSIRIS-REx, an unmanned mission to an astroid called 1999 RQ36. It is, to say the least, not the most inspiringly named object in space. That's why MIT, the University of Arizona, and the Planetary Society are sponsoring a contest to rename it. If you are under age 18—and are capable of the official asteroid naming guidelines—then you can enter the contest! Too old? (Or too incapable of coming up with a non-offensive asteroid name?) Then post your idea here!

1967 JPL employment ad, remixed: now with more Mars Curiosity "Mohawk Guy"

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.

New Cassini eye candy: the changing seasons of Saturn

Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader and director of CICLOPS in Boulder, CO, writes:

For no other reason than that they are gorgeous, the Cassini imaging team is releasing today a set of fabulous images of Saturn and Titan...in living color...for your day-dreaming enjoyment. Note that our presence at Saturn for the last 8 years has made possible the sighting of subtle changes with time, and one such change is obvious here. As the seasons have advanced, and spring has come to the north and autumn to the south throughout the Saturn system, the azure blue in the northern winter Saturnian hemisphere that greeted Cassini upon its arrival in 2004 is now fading; and it is now the southern hemisphere, in its approach to winter, that is taking on a bluish hue.

[B]ack here on Earth, the Cassini mission was recently given rave reviews by a panel of planetary scientists and NASA program managers for its contributions to our understanding of the solar system, a circumstance that bodes well for a well-funded continuing mission over the next 5 years. Despite the fact that we can't know exactly what the next five years will bring us, we can be certain that whatever it is will be wondrous.

Photo above: "A giant of a moon appears before a giant of a planet undergoing seasonal changes in this natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft."

More beautiful images from Cassini here.

Hellooooo, new desktop.

Steve Jurvetson, on the recurring nightmare Neil Armstrong had for two years leading up to Apollo 11

Venture capitalist, photographer, and master-level space fanatic Steve Jurvetson has been digging in to his archives for snapshots and relics related to the life and legacy of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong. For instance: above, a vintage 11”x 14” X-ray of Armstrong's lunar EVA spacesuit boots dated 7-7-69, only 9 days before the launch.

You can scroll through more photos here, on Steve's Facebook page.

Steve shared some amazing conversations with the "First Man," from what I can tell. Here's one:

Tang is a farce. That was the first thing Neil Armstrong told me last night. “We did not use it on the Apollo missions.”

I asked him, of all of the systems and stages of the mission, which did he worry about the most? (the frequently failing autopilot? the reliance on a global network of astronomers to spot solar flares in time to get the warning out? the onboard computers being less powerful than a Furby?....)

He gave a detailed answer about the hypergolic fuel mixing system for the lunar module. Rather than an ignition system, they had two substances that would ignite upon contact. Instead of an electric pump, he wished he had a big simple lever to mechanically initiate mixing.

That seemed a bit odd to me at first. So, I asked if he gave that answer because it really was the most likely point of failure, or because it symbolizes a vivid nightmare – having completed the moon mission, pushing the button... and the engines just wont start.

He responded that he had dreams about that for two years prior to the launch.

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About the cameras on Curiosity: "Taking pictures on Mars"

At the Economist, Glenn Fleishmann writes about the 17 cameras on board the Curiosity rover on Mars. That's "seven more than any previous exploratory vehicle," he writes. They "store images in a raw, unprocessed format and initially beam back tiny thumbnails (which NASA uploads as they come in). The scientists working on different aspects of the mission meet daily to determine which of the thumbnails to download in higher resolution. The 'health and safety' of the rover takes priority. After the deliberations, which can last over an hour, instructions are dispatched to Mars."

The profound beauty of the night sky

“At the dead hour of the night, when the world is hushed in sleep and all is still; when there is not a sound to be heard save the dead beat escapement of the clock, counting with hollow voice the footsteps of time in ceaseless round, I turn to the Ephemeris and find there, by calculations made years ago, that when that clock tells a certain hour, a star which I never saw will be in the field of the telescope for a moment, flit through and then disappear. The instrument is set; the moment approaches and is intently awaited—I look—the star mute with eloquence that gathers sublimity from the silence of the night, comes smiling and dancing into the field, and at the instant predicted even to the fraction of a second, it makes its transit and is gone. With emotions too deep for the organs of speech, the heart swells out with unutterable anthems; we then see that there is harmony in the heavens above; and though we cannot hear, we feel the ‘music of the spheres.’” — Matthew Fontaine Maury, in an 1849 presentation to the Virginia Historical Society. Maury was superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Read more about Maury and other retro scientists in Caren Cooper's guest posts at the Scientific American blogs.

Video: Yosemite Nature Notes on night skies and light pollution.

The first recorded human voice transmission from Mars

Snip from statement of Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking via broadcast from the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars: "The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater, will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future."

Watch Neil Armstrong narrowly escape a 1968 training accident

This silent film clip, posted at the Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine blog, is one of the most amazing things I've seen in a while.

First off, it shows a 1968 test run of a lunar landing research vehicle—a practice version of the lunar module that would later carry Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the Moon. It's weird and surreal and very, very awesome to watch an LLRV rising, lowering, and swooping through the sky from the vantage point of someone standing on the ground. In general, a great reminder that we make UFOs right here on Earth.

But the real crazy bit happens at the end of the video, when Neil Armstrong—who was piloting this LLRV—bails out just before the craft plummets to the ground and explodes.

No, seriously. And it leads to this amazing story, which is, in itself, a brilliant tribute to Armstrong.

In his Armstrong biography First Man, author James Hansen recounts how astronaut Alan Bean saw Armstrong that afternoon at his desk in the astronaut office. Bean then heard colleagues in the hall talking about the accident, and asked them, “When did this happen?” About an hour ago, they replied. Bean returned to Armstrong and said, “I just heard the funniest story!” Armstrong said, “What?” “I heard that you bailed out of the LLTV an hour ago.” “Yeah, I did,” replied Armstrong. “I lost control and had to bail out of the darn thing.” “I can’t think of another person,” Bean recalls, “let alone another astronaut, who would have just gone back to his office after ejecting a fraction of a second before getting killed.”

Read the rest at the Air & Space Magazine blog

NOTE: We couldn't get the embed code from Air & Space to work for some reason, so we've embedded the same video, but from YouTube, rather than their site.

Curiosity Mars Rover descent footage interpolated from 4fps to 25fps (video)

[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)

Miles O'Brien on Neil Armstrong

"He was really an engineer's engineer -- a modest man who was always uncomfortable in his singular role as the first person to set foot on the moon. He understood and appreciated the historic consequences of it and yet was never fully willing to embrace it. He was modest to the point of reclusive. You could call him the J.D. Salinger of the astronaut corps. He was a quiet, engaging, wonderful from the Midwest kind of guy... But when it came to the public exposure that was associated with this amazing accomplishment ... he ran from it. And part of it was he felt as if this was an accomplishment of many thousands of people. And it was. He took the lion's share of the credit and he felt uncomfortable with that."—Miles O'Brien, space and science journalist, speaking on CNN Saturday.

Pink Floyd moon landing space jam, 1969: "Moonhead"

[Video Link]

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my new obsession with early to mid-era Pink Floyd oddities. Following the death of astronaut Neil Armstrong this weekend, the NYT Lede blog points to a special rarity: a moon landing jam session the band recorded at a BBC TV studio during the descent of Apollo 11, the first time human beings ever set foot on another world. David Gilmour in the Guardian:

It was a live broadcast, and there was a panel of scientists on one side of the studio, with us on the other. I was 23. The programming was a little looser in those days, and if a producer of a late-night programme felt like it, they would do something a bit off the wall. Funnily enough I’ve never really heard it since, but it is on YouTube. They were broadcasting the moon landing and they thought that to provide a bit of a break they would show us jamming. It was only about five minutes long. The song was called Moonhead — it’s a nice, atmospheric, spacey 12-bar blues.

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Rocket ship/doll house


The Educo Discovery Rocket is one of those toys I see in gift shops around the world and always think, huh, if that thing wasn't so big and unwieldy, I'd probably take it home. It's basically a nicely built doll-house shaped like a handsome modernist rocket ship. I just spotted another one and went off and read some reviews by people who own 'em, and it sounds like it holds together well, too. I'm thinking Christmas.

Educo Discovery Spaceship and Lift-Off Rocket

Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012: One Giant Loss for Mankind

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon or any other world beyond Earth, died today. The former test pilot and NASA astronaut recently celebrated his 82nd birthday, and underwent heart surgery just weeks ago.

He commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, and radioed back to Earth the historic line, "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." He walked on the moon for nearly 3 hours with fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

He died today of complications following his cardiac surgery.

That's one giant loss for mankind. Godspeed, Sir.

Via Miles O'Brien, a statement from Armstrong's family released through their website:

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Mars Curiosity rover: HD video of landing, and an image of her first drive

[Video Link] Above, HD video of the Mars Curiosity Rover's landing on Mars. And below, an image of her first drive. (via @tweetsoutloud)

Sending messages from Mars: Interplanetary broadband

Glenn Fleishman writes in the Economist about how Curiosity sends messages home from Mars: "NASA'S Curiosity has the fastest modem on Mars. Since its only competition is an oldish bit of kit aboard Opportunity, one of two rovers dispatched in 2003, that is not saying much, at least in terms of what internet users on Earth have learned to expect. Curiosity's ability to capture images and other data easily outstrips its capacity to beam it all back home. Nonetheless, it delivers vastly more information from the red planet than any previous mission did."

Beautiful blown glass retro rocketships



Artist Rik Allen makes beautiful blown-glass and metal sculptures of retro rocketships, with so much personality and detail. And tiny chairs. Every one of these evinces a ZOMG WANT reaction from me.

Blown Glass Rockets, SCFI & Mixed Media Sculpture of Rik Allen (via Super Punch)