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Annalee Newitz, founding editor of IO9 and former EFF staffer, has a new book out today called Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, and it's terrific.
Scatter's premise is that the human race will face extinction-grade crises in the future, and that we can learn how to survive them by examining the strategies of species that successfully weathered previous extinction events, and cultures and tribes of humans that have managed to survive their own near-annihilation.
What follows from this is a whirlwind tour of geology, evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology and human history, as Newitz catalogs the terrifying disasters, catastrophes and genocides of geology and antiquity. From there, the book transitions into a sprightly whistle-stop tour of sustainable cities, synthetic biology, computer science, geoengineering, climate science, new materials science, urban theory, genomics, geopolitics, everything up to and including the Singularity, as Newitz lays out the technologies in our arsenal for adapting ourselves to upcoming disasters, and adapting our planet (and ultimately our solar system) to our long-term survival.
This has both the grand sweep and the fast pace of a classic OMNI theme issue, but one that's far more thoroughly grounded in real science, caveated where necessary. It's a refreshingly grand sweep for a popular science book, and if it only skims over some of its subjects, that's OK, because in the age of the Net, one need only signpost the subjects the reader might dive into on her own once she realizes their awesome potential.
This is a delight of a book, balanced on the knife-edge of disaster and delirious hope. It neither predicts our species' apotheosis nor its doom, but suggests paths to reach the former while avoiding the latter.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield -- the tweeting, tumbling Canadian astronaut who's a one-dude astro-ambassador from the space programme to the Internet -- has produced and released a video of his own performance of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (AKA the "Major Tom song") on the ISS. He adapts the lyrics a bit to his own situation -- and changes out the whole dying-in-space chorous -- but is otherwise pretty faithful. From the credits, it appears that David Bowie gave permission for this, though that's not entirely clear. I would think that not even a major record label would be hamfisted and cack-handed enough to send a takedown notice over this one (it's been suggested for Boing Boing more than any other link in my memory), but I'm prepared to be surprised.
Moustetronaut is a lovely picture book by Mark Kelly, a former Space Shuttle pilot and husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. It tells the story of Meteor, an experimental NASA mouse who saves a shuttle mission by scurrying into a tight control-panel seam and retrieving a critical lost key. The story is very (very) loosely based on a true story -- there was a Meteor, but he never left his cage, but he did indeed display delight and aplomb in a microgravity environment. The whole rescue thing is a fiction, albeit an adorable one.
What really makes this book isn't its basis in "truth," but rather the amazing illustrations by CF Payne, who walks a very fine line between cute and grotesque, with just enough realism to capture the excitement of space and just enough caricature to make every spread instantly engaging. There's also a very admirable economy of words in the book itself (which neatly balances a multi-page afterword about the space program, with a good bibliography of kid-appropriate space websites and books for further reading). It's just the right blend of beautifully realized characters -- Meteor is particularly great -- and majestic illustrations of space and space vehicles.
I'm pretty fond of the design of the new Canadian plastic $5 note, which is much improved if you draw Spock ears, eyebrows and hairline on old Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
One of the most gorgeous sights we have been privileged to see at Saturn, as the arrival of spring to the northern hemisphere has peeled away the darkness of winter, has been the enormous swirling vortex capping its north pole and ringed by Saturn's famed hexagonal jet stream.Here are the images, in glorious hi-rez [ciclops.org].
Today, the Cassini Imaging Team is proud to present to you a set of special views of this phenomenal structure, including a carefully prepared movie showing its circumpolar winds that clock at 330 miles per hour, and false color images that are at once spectacular and informative.
Last week, Rob told you how scientists announced that they'd found two Earth-like planets orbiting the star Kepler-62. One of those, Kepler-62e, now ranks as the most Earth-like exoplanet we've ever found. Of course, all of this is relative.
What I like about this chart is that it kind of shows you how "Earth-like" doesn't really mean, "Man, that is totally exactly like Earth." Instead, you should translate it more as, "Welp, this is about the closest to Earth that we've found so far." Even Kepler-62e, as you can see, is much larger than the Earth and Mars. And size matters when it comes to actual habitability. As does density — and we don't know what Kepler-62e is made of yet. It's also worth noting that #2 on this list, the infamous Gleise 581g, is really a planet candidate, rather than a planet. We aren't actually certain it exists, just yet.
Popular Science has a neat little breakdown explaining what life might be like on Kepler-62e, if we could go there. But it's worth keeping the context in mind on these Earth-like planets. Don't pack your bags just yet.
On Sunday, NASA launched three PhoneSats into orbit. House in a standard "cubesat" structures, a Google-HTC Nexus One serves as the onboard computer and sensor system, taking photos of Earth. Aamateur radio operators are monitoring the transmissions and picking up data packets that will be recombined here on Earth. According to a NASA press release, the use of commercial-of-the-shelf parts, a minimalist design, and limited mission requirements kept the cost of each satellite as low as $3500. PhoneSat: NASA's Smartphone Nanosatellite
Two of the five planets seen circling a distant star may be capable of supporting life, reports the team operating the Kepler Space Telescope. Relatively close to Earth's size and within their sun's habitable zone, the worlds—1200 light years away—are the most tantalizing yet in a search that began in 2009. [The Atlantic]