Crank it to 4K and go full-screen to feel as if you're floating through the International Space Station. It's cool to think about how quaint this technology will look someday, like a wooden sailing ship, but for now, it's still mind-blowingly cool. Read the rest
NASA released a color image of the Schiaparelli Mars landing site that illustrates the descent speed issue quite nicely.
"Composite of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module elements seen by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on 1 November 2016. Both the main impact site (top) and the region with the parachute and rear heatshield (bottom left) are now captured in the central portion of the HiRISE imaging swath that is imaged through three different filters, enabling a colour image to be constructed. The front heatshield (bottom right) lies outside the central colour imaging swath."
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Five years ago, Derek Deville launched an amateur rocket into the stratosphere in less than a minute. It still stands as a remarkable achievement, and the onboard camera gives a dizzying sense of the speed and height. Read the rest
YouTuber Barb Ackue (get it?) was kind enough to upload an important moment in US history: Commander John Young complaining about flatulence while Apollo 16 was on the lunar surface. After working through some technical issues, Young says: Read the rest
Recent revised estimates upping the number of galaxies in the universe seem even more mind-boggling when contemplating this image released from Hubble this week. It shows NGC 362, one of about 150 globular clusters on the outskirts of just one galaxy, our own Milky Way. Read the rest
Are you jonesing for a dose of optimism and possibility? In the mood to contemplate the cosmos? Want to experience a musical message for extraterrestrials the way it was meant to be played? The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, a project I launched with Timothy Daly and Lawrence Azerrad, is a lavish vinyl box set containing the contents of the phonograph record launched into space in 1977 and now 13 billion miles from Earth.
Our Kickstarter ends at 8pm PDT tonight (Thursday). Once we fulfill the rewards from this campaign, we'll never produce this deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition again.
We are so thankful enthusiasm and excitement about our project and the incredible Voyager interstellar mission. The curiosity and support is infectious. We're deeply grateful that a project that has been on our minds for so long has resonated with so many people around the world. Ad astra!
For more on the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, please visit our Kickstarter page here.
And here's an excerpt from an interview with me about the project, from The Vinyl Factory:
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Ultimately it was a utopian vision for Earth as much as an actual attempt to communicate with extra terrestrials… Wasn’t it?
Yeah I think the idea is that if there is a civilisation that is intelligent enough to actually intercept it, they’ll be able to follow the instructions on how to play it. And I think that’s true. In some ways though, it doesn’t even really matter if it’s ever played or not by an extra-terrestrial civilisation.
Gaia is an interactive 3D map of the galaxy, coded by Charley Hoey and sourced from the eponymous mapping satellite's data: click, drag and scroll/pinch to change the viewpoint. It took a long time to load even on my desktop PC, but the results speak overwhelmingly for themselves.
The Gaia satellite by the European Space Agency is currently orbiting 1.5 million kilometers beyond the moon, twirling through the heavens and dutifully marking down the positions of every point of light it sees. I've processed the program's first batch of data to determine the 3D position of about 2 million stars. Click and drag to orbit, or scroll/pinch to zoom in and out, zoom all the way in to see our sun, just one star among millions. WebVR enabled!
Hoey explains in "torrenting the galaxy" what it took to model two million stars in the browser. Here's an official ESA image made from the same dataset; as beautiful as it is, the enormity of the data it represents seems absent.
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In this wonderful animation, billionaire Russian physicist and investor Yuri Milner explains his effort to launch tiny probes, powered by 12 foot solar sails, on an interstellar mission to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, within two decades. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are on the board of Milner's group, called Breakthrough Initiatives. The project builds on decades of work by scientists Carl Sagan, Louis Friedman, and Bruce Murray who pioneered solar sail technology through the Planetary Society, the fantastic citizen-funded space advocacy and research organization they co-founded in 1980. Indeed, Friedman is an advisor to Milner's Starshot effort.
For more on solar sailing, check out the Planetary Society's LightSail project and their blog post earlier this year about Milner's far out project.
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Kim Stanley Robinson, whose seminal Mars trilogy (coming soon to TV?) changed the way we talk about our neighboring planet, says that Musk's Mars colonization plan "is sort of the 1920s science-fiction cliché of the boy who builds a rocket to the moon in his back yard."
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In the 1990s, Hubble surprised astronomers by revealing just how packed the universe is with galaxies: they estimated some 200 billion of them based on its observations. But now we know these estimates were wrong. There are at least 2 trillion.
Conselice and his team reached this conclusion using deep-space images from Hubble and the already published data from other teams. They painstakingly converted the images into 3-D, in order to make accurate measurements of the number of galaxies at different epochs in the universe's history. In addition, they used new mathematical models, which allowed them to infer the existence of galaxies that the current generation of telescopes cannot observe. This led to the surprising conclusion that in order for the numbers of galaxies we now see and their masses to add up, there must be a further 90 percent of galaxies in the observable universe that are too faint and too far away to be seen with present-day telescopes. These myriad small faint galaxies from the early universe merged over time into the larger galaxies we can now observe.
"It boggles the mind that over 90 percent of the galaxies in the universe have yet to be studied. Who knows what interesting properties we will find when we discover these galaxies with future generations of telescopes? In the near future, the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to study these ultra-faint galaxies, said Conselice.
That's good for about 700 billion trillion stars, and heaven knows how many planets. (Previously) Read the rest
In a CNN op-ed, President Obama outlines his plan for the United States to partner with private companies to get humans to Mars (and back!) by the 2030s.
I still have the same sense of wonder about our space program that I did as a child. It represents an essential part of our character -- curiosity and exploration, innovation and ingenuity, pushing the boundaries of what's possible and doing it before anybody else. The space race we won not only contributed immeasurably important technological and medical advances, but it also inspired a new generation of scientists and engineers with the right stuff to keep America on the cutting edge...
This week, we'll convene some of America's leading scientists, engineers, innovators and students in Pittsburgh to dream up ways to build on our progress and find the next frontiers. Just five years ago, US companies were shut out of the global commercial launch market. Today, thanks to groundwork laid by the men and women of NASA, they own more than a third of it. More than 1,000 companies across nearly all 50 states are working on private space initiatives.
We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we're already well on our way.
"Barack Obama: America will take the giant leap to Mars"
(above: NASA image of Mars from the Viking Lander, 1977, via Wikipedia) Read the rest
Here's the last image from Europe's space probe Rosetta, taken 50m from the surface of 67P. Read the rest
The always-engaging George Pendle (Strange Angel, The Remarkable Millard Fillmore) has a fascinating piece on Atlas Obscura on the history of space art and NASA's (and the government's at large) current awkward relationship with the art world.
Yet when the NASA scientists asked the attendant artists to refrain from posting pictures of the meeting on social media, it seemed to sum up both a generational and a temperamental mismatch. (In an email, a NASA spokesperson said that "participating artists are free to discuss their attendance.")
From a NASA perspective, the secrecy was a budgetary imperative. In 2003, the renowned performance artist Laurie Anderson was appointed NASA’s first “artist-in-residence” with the remit of creating art about the agency’s exploration of space. Republican congressmen quickly seized on the move as a sign of wanton profligacy. “Mr. Chairman,” sputtered Representative Chris Chocola of Indiana on the floor of Congress, “nowhere in NASA's mission does it say anything about advancing fine arts or hiring a performance artist.” There has been no artist-in-residence since and the reverberations were no doubt part of the reason why NASA’s workshop at Grace Farms seemed tentative and vague.
In the not-so-distant past, though, space and art intermingled happily. Artists were crucial to NASA’s development, at times outpacing the science of space travel itself. What happened?
The above illustration is NASA concept art of a moon landing, from 1959. Read the rest
The largest all-sky survey of celestial objects ever made by humans was released this month, using data from The European Space Agency (ESA)'s Gaia satellite.
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Over at National Geographic, Nadia Drake's feature on Elon Musk's plan for millions of people to live on Mars is the best explanation (and contextualization) of this far out vision that I've read. From Nat Geo:
The rocket would deliver the crew capsule to orbit around Earth, then the booster would steer itself toward a soft landing back at the launch pad, a feat that SpaceX rocket boosters have been doing for almost a year now. Next, the booster would pick up a fuel tanker and carry that into orbit, where it would fuel the spaceship for its journey to Mars.
Once en route, that spaceship would deploy solar panels to harvest energy from the sun and conserve valuable propellant for what promises to be an exciting landing on the Red Planet.
As Musk envisions it, fleets of these crew-carrying capsules will remain in Earth orbit until a favorable planetary alignment brings the two planets close together—something that happens every 26 months. “We’d ultimately have upward of a thousand or more spaceships waiting in orbit. And so the Mars colonial fleet would depart en masse,” Musk says.
The key to his plan is reusing the various spaceships as much as possible. “I just don’t think there’s any way to have a self-sustaining Mars base without reusability. I think this is really fundamental,” Musk says. “If wooden sailing ships in the old days were not reusable, I don’t think the United States would exist.”
"Elon Musk: A Million Humans Could Live on Mars By the 2060s" by Nadia Drake (National Geographic, thanks Tom Andres for the video tip!)
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Astronomers working with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope have captured images of what might be water vapor plumes erupting from the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. “This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes,” reports NASA. “ The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.”
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I’ve launched a very special Kickstarter with two friends, Timothy Daly and Lawrence Azerrad. A year in the making (and many more years on our minds), the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition is the first vinyl release of the stunning golden phonograph record launched by NASA in 1977 aboard the Voyager spacecraft, one of which is now traveling through interstellar space. The deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition box set will only be available through October 20 on Kickstarter.
The original Golden Record was a gift from humanity, an introduction to our civilization for any extraterrestrials who might encounter the spacecraft, perhaps billions of years in the future. But it was also a gift to humanity.
The Voyager Golden Record contains the story of Earth expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth's greatest music from myriad cultures and eras, from Bach and Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, Senegalese percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Dozens of natural sounds of our planet -- birds, a train, a baby's cry, a kiss -- are collaged into a lovely sound poem. There are spoken greetings in 55 human languages, and one whale language, and more than one hundred images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are. Etched on the record’s gold-plated aluminum jacket is a diagram explaining where it came from, and how to play it.
Astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan chaired the visionary committee that created the original Voyager Golden Record forty years ago. Astronomer and SETI pioneer Frank Drake was the technical director, writer Ann Druyan was creative director, science writer Timothy Ferris produced the record, artist Jon Lomberg designed it, and artist Linda Salzman Sagan organized the greetings. Read the rest