Monday, 13 November 2017

Is Quantum The New Shrödingers Cat ? Should We Not Look ?

In this age of hi-technology and lo-brow clickbait , it pays to read between the lines - whilst not being clickbait, the latest publicity release from MIT is a little underwhelming.
The photograph of what appears to be a full 50 qubit quantum computer got me excited...the article sounded great - but, tucked away at the end, was the sad reality that IBM had not submitted their cutting edge creation for peer review before issuing the press release.
Don't get me wrong - IBM are a heavy hitter, with all the credibility that implies...but.
It seems that we are involved in an ongoing propaganda battle as various factions attempt to claim the first kudos for genuine quantum computing.
It's becoming increasingly like ' Shrödingers Cat'*.
Or the Emperors New Clothes...

The first image I saw was the shot of the D -Wave machine, followed  by controversy over its true nature, and allegations that it was no better than a 'mere' super-computer
Let's stop right there, though - we are now belittling super - computers.
Yes, we're in that place.
My worry is that 'quantum supremacy' will become an everyday phrase even before we see any actual quantum computing ....

* Perhaps we are creating the observer effect, just by reading the publicity...

Meanwhile, back on Mars...

Nothing much - but as part of a new, self-empowering drive, here is a link to the Curiosity Analysts Handbook !

Curiosity 'Arty' selfie   8.11.2017   NASA/JPL/Caltech   

Here is another link to an extensive archive of images from Rosetta / Osiris

Meanwhile, near Saturn...

The buzz around Saturnian moon Enceladus increases with a new model which tells us that its core may be fluid and permeable, generating heat and potentially life supporting conditions in the sub - surface ocean of the little moon...
Enceladus lines upclose....Cassini/ NASA

Monday, 6 November 2017

Sunscreen Rains , The Cameras of Mars, Rogue Worlds And Tiny Suns

I love seeing the sand dunes of Mars, frequently pictured by the MRO.

Beautiful 'linear gullies' on Mars      MRO/NASA/JPL

They  have found a giant planet orbiting a tiny sun , 600 light years away, in the obscure constellation of Columba.
What makes it notable is the bizarre scale (a planet the size of Jupiter orbiting a dwarf star so closely that its year only lasts two days)
Technically, the giant world should not exist at all, especially in such close proximity.
I favour the idea that it is a rogue world, somehow captured by the dwarf sun.
Without an observatory in my vicinity, it's guesswork, but there appear to be a few 'rogue' stars in the constellation.

The Hubble telescope just spotted an exoplanet where it rains sunscreen. At 5000 degrees farenheit, the titanium-oxide rain would hardly be protective...

There is a good deal of excitement at the latest object (A/2017 U1) spotted in our universe -mainly because it appears to have come from another solar system

Indications are that the object is red , similar to Kuiper Belt Object MU69
In which case, is mu69 from another sun , too ?
I find it oddly comforting to know that people are determined to identify and archive these things
 ( thanks to Pedro Lacerda for that link I stumbled across )
The other side of this coin is that we didn't see the asteroid coming, so there is no planned 'sortie' , Bennu style, to gather information about its composition / origins.
Researching this piece led me to this thread from Reddit, which re-affirms my faith in humanity as a curious, knowledge - hungry species...

Red asteroids don't exist- at least, in our solar system- so this points towards A/2017 U1 being an icy, KBO-like object. Why, then, didn't it develop a cometary tail as it passed by the sun? It's honestly confusing. Perhaps the billions? of years it flew through interstellar space drove away all its volatiles?
Clearly there's a lot about the surface composition of interstellar asteroids that we don't know!
[–]FaceDeer 9 points  
I'm very happy to have made it to a portion of history where investigating the composition of interstellar asteroids is a thing.

I also learned about the designation which changed from C2017 U1 to A2017 U1 - from a comet to an asteroid, as it did not exhibit a 'tail', outgassing as it passed the sun.
Apparently this unique little red rock will never pass this way again, it came in from the direction of the constellation Lyra, and was heading out towards the Kuiper Belt .

Rearview from Curiosity    NASA/JPL

23 Cameras for the next Mars Mission

In keeping with our current trend for pictures everywhere, the next Mars rover will have 23 cameras - including 3D .
Opportunity rover has a pair of B/W cameras mounted in front to produce stereo images , and another two mounted on the rear of the rover, presumably to monitor bad drivers behind.
The Curiosity rover has 17 camerasThis means that , including the MRO  and Opportunity, there are already 24 cameras on Mars - with another 23 enroute, it won't be long before we have pictures of rovers photographing rovers taking pictures of Mars...

Speaking of rovers armed with cameras,  way back in 1971, the Apollo 17 mission rover had only two cameras and even a compartment for spare film magazines- bulky payloads in the days before Micro sd cards  (although, at least they didn't get so easily lost).
Spare a thought, though, for the nightmare of moon dust in the lens...

Apollo17 Lunar Buggy with ominous ' Secondary life support system'

Please excuse the format problems, I plead ignorance of cut 'n' paste procedure.


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Skycranes Above Mars, Lunar Lava Tubes, Symbiotic Stars and Junocam

Sky-crane being assembled for next Mars mission     NASA/ JPL
After a slight delay, the next Mars mission, InSight, is due to be launched in May 2018.
Its landing will be via 'skycrane', the alternative to impractical and outdated airbags.
The last use of a skycrane was the tense, fraught landing of Curiosity on Mars. At the time it was a  new thing, and given the many previous unsuccessful landings, it was a long shot.
I found myself rooting for the thing to land safely, having heard of the incredible new method - mainly because faulty airbags had been blamed for previous failed landings, including Beagle2, which had that great eccentricity about it - I always root for the underdog, after all.
Fortunately, eleven years after its landing, Beagle2 was spotted on Mars, (and the airbags were not at fault - the solar panels failed to open properly).
So near, yet so far.
For me, the greatest tragedy here was that the inventor of Beagle2,
Professor Colin Pillinger , died in 2014, the year before the rediscovery of his lost lander..

A self tapping probe will plant itself beneath Mars    NASA/JPL/Caltech

I am looking forward to the launch of InSight , which is scheduled for May 2018.
For those who wonder, Insight will be a stationary lander, tasked with drilling beneath the surface, seeking knowledge on the internal geology of Mars .

On the subject of 'beneath the surface' there has been a lot of noise surrounding the recent discovery of lava tubes on the moon, one of which is estimated to be large enough to sustain a city.

Lunar lava tube large enough to contain Philadelphia...                  pic by D. Blair

The illustration uses Philadelphia as an example, but there is clearly enough room for at least one more city, possibly two.
I think there should be an artificial sun powered by nuclear fusion, suspended in the centre

Which gets me wondering-is the whole world contained in a giant lava tube?

In a distant constellation, a pair of stars are permanently entwined in a symbiotic relationship, R Aquarii is an unusual combination of white dwarf and red giant stars.
First recognised a thousand years ago (with the naked eye, apparently).
They have been most recently imaged by Hubble, trapped in their orbiting cycle of 44 years, with the red giant sun being stripped of energy by the hungry white dwarf.
I was going to wax lyrical about a cosmic waltz, but instead, here's the Hubble image , which has been processed by citizen astronomer Judy Schmidt 

                                                        credit: Hubble/Judy Schmidt

Anyone who wishes to try their hand at processing images, here is a link to Juno cam, which has a slew of raw, Jovian imagery for processing !

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

When Stars Collide, Hyperloop Pods, Propellors and Quantum Catapults

Apparently, half the missing matter in the universe has been found.
I breath a sigh of relief, as I'm sure we all do.
Personally, the idea of dark matter and black holes gives me a sense of deep dread.
All that nothingness...(shivers)

One hundred and thirty million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, two neutron stars collided.
In August, the signals from that event reached Earth, and became the first ever visual and gravitational record of such a cosmic cataclysm.
The visual and gravitational records arrived within 17 seconds of each other, which is pretty damn good for a journey spanning aeons* of time...

The image below looks underwhelming, but don't forget that you're looking at an event that took place long before we existed...

NGC 4993     When Stars Collide                   NASA/Swift
Personally, I'm still reeling with the simple fact that telescopes are time machines...
What we need is a quantum catapult, enabling us to cross the vast divide of space and time.
I'm working on it, but I need more elastic for the catapult.
It's a minor inconvenience - I'm sure Elon Musk could sort it out - speaking of whom, in a recent discussion of his hopes to use rockets as glorified 'airliners' on Mars, he displayed a masterful use of terms like 'rapid unscheduled disassembly' (rocket explodes) , and ' ...getting somewhere in thirty minutes by rocket...will be negatively affected if ...' you might die', is on the ticket.'
Fear not, though, as current tests for his (Earthbased)  hyperloop system are exceeding their own speed records, and it won't be long before intercity journey times are vastly reduced.

Google have expanded their maps to include places in our solar system: enjoy, but please don't confuse them with your own GPS...

'Propellor' imaged by Cassini    NASA

Remaining with our own corner of the cosmos, I found this article interesting, as it ponders a few discoveries of the belated (do we use this term for a spacecraft? ) Cassini, particularly the interesting 'propellors' created by moonlets in Saturns rings.
A world with moons named from figures of Greek mythos , including Janus, Pandora, Atlas, Dione and Prometheus is always worth revisiting, although my personal favourite is the little oddity known as Pan...

35km wide Pan...

Don't forget there is a little time left ( closing November 1,2017 )  to include your name on the Insight flight to Mars - get your boarding pass here
Not sure if I got a wing seat, knowing my luck, I'm probably in baggage...

...but I'll  see you there

* Using aeons as a fluid measurement

Friday, 6 October 2017

Dusty Stars, Colonies On Mars, And The University That Wasn't

Eugene Cernan, last lunar mission, Apollo 17, 1972

Continuing from last weeks thread about developments in space travel and the race to Mars, it seems that the Trump™ administration has pressured NASA to go with lunar projects, as a 'stepping stone' for Mars.
Given the commercial edge introduced by Elon Musk, it should make for a busy and fruitful time. It's good to see progress - after all, it's been over forty years since the last moon landing.

My Mars boarding pass! Send your name to Mars! Follow the link !

In a blow to the ' Dyson Sphere' theory of the mysterious dimming of Tabbys star, this article tells us of a possible dust-cloud which could have the same effect
Mildly disappointing, but I'm glad that the mystery seems to be solved, rather than wasting time entertaining fantastical theories; speaking of which, a popular conspiracy theory which tied in with cyberpunk 'The Matrix', was the idea that the world we live in is only a computer simulation. Not so, according to physicists at Oxford University. The argument (based on the computational requirements) is convincing. My problem with it is the fact that 'Oxford University' is a matriculation body which oversees the exams for all the colleges in Oxford, it is not a 'university' at all; so the theory that our world does not really exist is disproved by a university that does not really exist.

Dione          (pic by Voyager 2)

Interesting article here about the proliferation of potential ocean worlds in our solar system - including some love for the sadly overlooked Saturnian moon Dione, which was overshadowed by the discovery of plumes of water on Enceladus and Europa.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Moon Colonies, Telescopes On Volcanoes, And Ancient Collisions

It's all systems go for Elon Musk, who is eager to get people on Mars.
His latest suggestion, the BFR (no prizes for guessing the acronym) can accomodate 100 people and will be used to create a lunar staging post , apparently.
His words appear designed to steal a march on NASA, whose SLS was to be similar - but their hands are tied , certainly in regard to funding and bureaucracy.
The flipside of that coin is pressure from the Trump™  government to accelerate the process of putting people on Mars.
Taking a step back from the politics, I'd say that having a proven player in the field ( Musk has multiple succesful landings and relaunches of the Falcon 9 rockets to his credit, as well as the Space X cargo missions to the ISS) can only be a good thing.
My confusion stems from the 'space race' angle - given that NASA have already announced a joint mission with Roskosmos : I'm pretty sure that this is just muscle-flexing as a demonstration of the prowess of Space X, and the fact that NASA are no longer the only game in town.
After all, it can't possibly be a  new space race, given that Trump™ and Russia are allegedly on the same side...

The downside of this posturing is the lack of any realistic plan for a sustainable colony.
Colonising the moon would surely be the logical first step. Recent discoveries point to the existence of a great deal of water which could sustain life systems and provide fuel for further planet hopping.

Enough of my idle conjecture - the spirit of the Space Treaty of 1967 looms large in this picture
The moon is to all intents and purposes, a dead world-on the surface...which brings us to the mystery of the subterranean lava tubes, and a possible sub-surface body of water.

Artist impression - Alamy stock 'photo'

A fourth gravitational wave has been detected using the two observatories in the USA, and Virgo, an observatory in Italy - giving an image of the 3D shape of the wave, and allowing triangulation for the precise location of the event (the collision of two black holes 1.8 billion years ago).
Personally, I wish I could remember the location of objects I put down five minutes ago.

P.S. As I finish this piece, I learn that the creators of  LIGO have just deservedly received the Nobel prize for physics
  Solar activity affecting Mars     image NASA/GSFC/Univ. of Colorado

Recent solar flare activity caused fluctuations on Mars, and a resultant worry about safety for future explorers.
I wonder whether gravitational ripples contain similar disruptive potential - the one mentioned above involved a combined mass of 53x our own sun, a stupendous amount of energy .
At a distance of 1.8 billion light years, any effect here would probably be negligible - would you notice a tremor on a single sheet of paper on your desk ?

The James Webb Telescope has been pushed back to a spring 2019 launch, which, considering the original proposed date was 2011, is a wee bit late...
Staying on the subject of controversial telescopes, a proposed new telescope has fallen foul of indigenous Hawaiians. The dormant volcano Manua Kea is the proposed site for the telescope which will be capable of seeing 13 billion years into the past.
Despite protests, the telescope is going ahead.

Final image from Rosetta

Monday, 25 September 2017

Tilted Worlds, Tilted Beds, Little Green Men, And Solar Probes

Uranus - natural colour

First planet to be discovered by telescope, Uranus is a strange world.
Tilted at almost ninety degrees, it rolls around the sun like a big frozen ball
An ice giant like Neptune, it exhibits quirks which imply that unknown processes are at work. deep within.
The best images which we have date from 1986 when Voyager 2 flew by, yet no probe / lander is proposed until 2030, by which time, we'll be well established on Mars- there are already six explorers / orbiters on Mars,  (and some publicity boosts in the form of popular films) *
It has been suggested that we could inhabit lava tubes on Mars, at least at first...hmmm, what could possibly go wrong?

NASA are already looking into ways to reduce journey time to Mars - with some innovative proposals on the table .
Various tests are underway for the human response to space travel ; recently subjects emerged from eight months of isolation and bed tests are underway for a sixty day period, with subjects being tilted downwards for that whole time.
It's a busy time, but there is room for more, with a serious discussion asking why we don't have at least one orbiter around each world in our solar system.
I just wonder when we will reach the ultimate military / space crossover point - i.e. when one of our orbiters gets shot down by disgruntled extraterrestrials who don't want their world to be streamed live...

Artists impression  The binary asteroid 288P. Credit: ESA/Hubble, L. Calçada, CC BY 4.0

Regardless of the planets of our solar system, let's not forget that NASA are sending a mission to the sun.
Set for launch in 2018, the Parker Solar Probe will endure blistering temperatures of 1200 degrees centigrade: if that sounds rather trifling for a solar temperature, don't forget that the probe will be some 3million miles from the sun...hopefully, it will survive long enough to transmit its discoveries on this one-way mission.

Australia are set to have their own space agency - and why not ?
After all, there's plenty of wilderness for launches and landings.
Then again, large untamed spaces are  a rarity these days, and I wondered why we can't avoid the
monstrous amount of fuel wasted in reaching escape velocity from Earth.

* Okay, so the old little green men / alien invaders trope is hardly flattering but no publicity is bad publicity. Besides, with our robot Mars explorers, we are the alien invaders...

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Cassini, Future Missions, And The Paradox of Time-Travel

Jean Dominique Cassini 1625-1712 first discovered four of the moons of Saturn

Cassini is no more, a moment I watched with a glass of Absinthe - the cloudy liquid resembled the swirling atmosphere of Saturn - that was my excuse, anyway.
It lent a strange ambience to the last hour of the mission, and I sensed the bittersweet feels of those who had spent so much time on the amazing voyage of discovery.
But enough - I could go on at length, about how its discoveries had been attended and enabled by so many dedicated people that it really felt like the perfect antidote to world-weariness, how it left me with a sense of pride in the potential of our eternal curiosity, and thirst for knowledge.
With this in mind,further missions to Saturn and its moons are being considered, with two contenders earmarked for Titan and Enceladus, the possible life - bearing moons.
Here is a link to a pdf of the Cassini legacy
Sadly, the next proposed launch to Saturn is a few years away - but don't forget Juno is in orbit around Jupiter*, the next Mars probe will leave next year, and Bennu / Osiris- Rex is also already underway-the daring mission to collect and return with a sample from an asteroid.
Don't wait up for the sample - it won't be back on Earth until 2023.

Goldstone, which rec'd the signals from Cassini

Speaking of distant worlds (okay, that's a tenuous link), in a turnaround for the world of radio telescopes, it has been determined that Earth is in the visual sightline of at least nine exo-worlds, so they could be watching us...**
Pointless trivia perhaps, but it shows the sort of thing that occupies the mind of bored scientists.

Intrepid engineers at the University of New South Wales have developed the 'flip-flop' quantum qubit, which could be controlled electrically rather than magnetically, allowing for the speedy development of silicon - based quantum computers.
The most impressive aspect for me is the fact that the entangled particles can be manipulated whilst remaining entangled.

I decided that the occupants of the ISS are technically, time- travellers.

It transpires that time travel is possible, but only forward, really (to avoid all those pesky paradoxes  - as explored in films like Back To The Future- i.e.if you went back in time and killed your grandfather, then you would not be born so you couldn't travel back in time, etc)
To keep everything tidy, then, only future time travel is allowed.
Except, apparently, if you could manipulate a wormhole - then it would be theoretically possible to travel back in time, but only as far back as the beginning of the wormhole.
Could quantum entanglement be used to create a nano-wormhole between two entangled particles ?
I decided that whilst it may be possible in the quantum realm, it could never be upscaled for common use.
Then it was time to lie down quietly in a darkened room...

Until next time


* Jean Dominique Cassini was also first (with Robert Hooke) to observe the Great Red Spot on Jupiter

** It has already been pointed out to me that they would be looking at dinosaurs. Thank you, Pedantic Interwebbers

Monday, 11 September 2017

Countdown For Cassini, Plumes on Enceladus, And The Pale Blue Dot

The Countdown for Cassini nears its end - only a few days now to its 'Grand Finale' , following an epic twenty years of exploration in the Saturnian system, and some truly amazing finds-
as well as releasing the furthest ever man- made probe to land on another world (when Huygens landed on Titan), Cassini has also relayed a treasure trove of new knowledge about the mysterious gas giant and its moons - eye opening stuff, like the amazing plumes of water on Enceladus - tantalising and interesting enough to have sparked further exploration
The proposed Enceladus Life Finder- ELF mission is a possible contender in 2020 - the other being LIFE, which is intended to bring samples back to Earth - but we all know how that plays out......

Cassini dived through the water plumes on Enceladus in 2015

Not to be out done (by themselves), NASA simultaneously released the news that the Hubble telescope had seen water plumes on Jupiters moon Europa.
The legacy of Cassini will be covered in its final moments, more thoroughly than I can, so I will restrain myself from further outpourings - but I am proud and humbled to see such wonders in the heavens - proof of what can be achieved when humanity sets aside the petty politics and squabbles that consume so much energy.
The final 'swan-song' dive will furnish us with further science, and for that, I am grateful.

It's forty years for the two Voyager craft in space, and with Voyager1 now travellimg outside our solar system (40,000 yrs until the next star) , it's up to New Horizons to clinch the next rendezvous as it fast approaches the mysterious object MU69 - ok, so fast is relative with MU69 penciled in for a flyby in 2019, but in space terms, that's soon.
It also promises to be the closest flypast yet.

The journey of the Voyagers has blazed a trail, forcing us to upgrade our listening capabilities as they get further away, and let's not forget that the Voyager craft also produced the first images of planets in our solar system that were more than fuzzy blobs - and also the famous image of Earth known as the 'pale blue dot', taken by Voyager One in 1990:

'The Pale Blue Dot' -    Feb 14 1990  NASA/JPL

Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Asteroid With Two Moons, Water On Mars, Distant Sounds, and The Octopus Invasion

A couple of days ago, a large asteroid named Florence flew past Earth, frighteningly close.
I didn't panic though as ' frighteningly close', in space/media terms is apparently 4.4 million miles away.
Phew, huh?
The media made much of the fact that it was the largest ever asteroid to pass by so close, and no doubt, some cultists and survivalists prepared for the Endtimes.
NASA even got footage that shows the asteroid had two moons !
I never thought that an asteroid would have any form of moon, but I suppose it depends on the size of it, and the strength of its gravity/magnetic core.

In other news, a further cluster of radio signals known as FRBs have been detected .
Emanating from the source FRB121102, a galaxy some 3 billion light years distant, the significance and origins are unknown - although one fanciful idea is that they represent the launch of deep space craft.
If that is true, then they left when our world was just beginning to host single - celled life forms...
by my own calculations, if they have been able to maintain their course, then technically, they are here already.
In which case, our only hope of survival is that they forgot why they left their home galaxy 3 billion years ago.

Meanwhile, in the rings of Saturn...

We are getting close to what's billed as the 'Grand Finale' , when Cassini plunges into the atmosphere of Saturn , bringing to an end its incredible voyage of discovery.
I shall be watching on September 15th, until we lose contact.
I'll miss the news from Cassini.

Is it a thing that we now humanise robot explorers ?
I feel a simiar empathy with Curiosity.
I remember the tense landing, billed as 'seven minutes of terror'.
Since then, I've been acutely aware of the reality of the lonely rover which is tirelessly cataloguing the environs, atmosphere and geology of Mars

Lest we forget:     Image from Opportunity           Sol 4824

Curiosity even has its own Twitter feed (shameless plug also for the Sarcastic Rover, which blends world - weary cynicism with wry political comment).
As well as Curiosity, let's not forget Opportunity , still trundling around Mars, long after landing on the 'Red Planet'.
Landing in 2004, both Opportunity and the Spirit rover had a projected three months of exploration on Mars.
Spirit lasted six years, and Opportunity, not to be upstaged by Curiosity, is still trundling around the Endeavour crater.
The next Mars launch will be Mars Insight, a static explorer tasked with sub-surface examination, which will launch in May 2018, followed by the Exo-Mars rover in 2020.
It's all systems go for Mars, we'll soon have many explorers / orbiters in action there, spurred on by the fact that water, one of the key ingredients for life, has been spied on Mars.
Let that sink in.
'briny water-flow' on a Mars hillside    NASA/ JPL / Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

Meanwhile, back on Earth...++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The largest x-ray machine in the world recently started up in a 38 mile complex of tunnels beneath Hamburg.
Boasting 37,000 pulses a second, it will be used to examine the process of photosynthesis, unravelling the mystery of how light becomes energy - also how antibiotics are formed, and what happens deep inside the sun.

Apparently, octopus (octopi?) are taking over the worlds oceans 
On the subject of water, scientists have apparently succeeded in quantum communication in sea-water.
Okay, so the test was only over a ten foot distance, but even so ...

Sunday, 27 August 2017

The Conspirati Walk Among Us !

Clearest image of a star that is not our sun  Betelguese - Xavier Haubois


In the spirit of the age ( looking at you, Flat - Earthers, Creationists, etc), I have come over all conspiratorial  - did you know that members of ESA  recently took part in a sea - training exercise in China ?
All very innocent I'm sure, but is this not preparation for landing on a watery moon- looking at you, Europa - and Ganymede, Titan and Ceres , and possibly our very own moon...
On a similar conspiracy tip, it seems that getting Information under the FOIA from NASA is virtually impossible.
Well, what do you expect - after all, they must be too busy answering queries about how they are hiding SOMETHING
Something BIG, like:
Where does the money come from to allow them to have a rover wandering around the Nevada desert all day ?

Man in spacesuit working on Curiosity - online PROOF   (of pareidolia)

It's okay - I took my meds now ... sorry if that reference triggered anyone.


It's odd that, as our understanding of the world and the universe around us advances, we seem to regress.
Is there a comfort zone where we can all remain in denial ?
If so, why ?
After all, what is frightening about the fact that a black hole can delete the universe ?

In the interest of a peaceful conclusion to the sheer terror of the UNKNOWN
Here is a link to a universe simulation thing

* It appears that, yes, we are actually exploring Mars, and the Conspirati are devoting themselves to pareidolia, seeing (ludicrously small) people in the debris-strewn landscape (and the occasional alien crab / squirrel).
Keeps 'em quiet, I suppose...

Monday, 21 August 2017

Eclipse, Distant Probes And The Vanishing UV On Venus

Eclipse spex from 1932

Okay, so this post is happening out of sync, but this is often the case in life - today is the day when a total solar eclipse is occuring from coast to coast in the USA, so happy viewing !

London eclipse viewing 1927

In other news, Elon Musk joins over a hundred 'robotics experts'* warning of the dangers of autonomous killer AI, as we head blindly into a future where 'The Terminator' is more than just a movie...I touched on this in a post I made in 2015

* I tried to get clarification, apparently there are over 100 AI and Robotics Experts, but no further details.
Sadly, no advice on how to actually become an 'expert' in the field of robotics.
I'm sure that my past experience with models of Robby the Robot , Gort, Maria from Metropolis, and a Dalek should count...
( pause for a moment as I am corrected that Daleks actually contain biological entities therefore don't count unless you include 'synths' like the 'replicants' from Bladerunner)

Maria - technically a replicant, for pedants of robotics

Meanwhile, far out in space...

Yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2 - Voyager 1 was launched on September 5th , so the official celebrations are next month.
The reason for the lack of orderly sequence was due to Voyager1 being sent on a different trajectory.
This links to a nice piece about those who are still tracking the intrepid Voyagers - which are not due anywhere near another star for 40,000 years...don't wait up

NASA will soon launch a probe tasked with discovering the nature of exactly what is absorbing UV light in the upper atmosphere of Venus - personally, I think aliens love a bit of blacklight rave...

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Clockwork Rovers, Missing Chunks, And The Pending Eclipse

To address the problem of electronics frying in the heat of the Venusian surface, JPL have created an entirely clockwork rover.
This instantly conjures images of a 'Steam-punk' contraption exploring a distant world.
Sadly, the actual design is purely functional, looking like a table with treads, and without the extra gears and embellishments associated with Steampunk (although another prototype appears to have 'spider-legs').
Still, the principle is there, and operating in temperatures of almost 500 degrees c, the risk of warped and damaged parts would be too great...

'Table on Treads' Venus rover mock-up      ©JPL

Since 1994, Venus has been neglected in favour of the exploration of Mars and the outer worlds of our solar system.
Even so, NASA have earmarked money for a mission which may be a joint effort with Russia, whose Venera13 was the last mission to send full colour images from the surface of Venus.
As Venus is close in size and mass to Earth, it may give us valuable information about climate and other mysteries ; one of which is why does it have such a thick atmosphere ?
The thick, hazy atmosphere is partly the reason for a probe being necessary - but it's also the reason for the surface being hotter than Mercury .
As we found with Magellan, it's impossible to clearly see the surface of Venus from above.
On the other hand, if it all looks like this, then we're not missing much...

Venus viewed by Venera 13 . Homely place...      

In Other News...

Let's just take a moment to remember that the plucky New Horizons probe is out there, travelling at over 30,000 mph towards a rendezvous with Kuiper Belt Object MU69.
The latest news tells us that MU69 may be multiple objects, or, rather oddly, just one with a chunk bitten out of it.
I'm conflating and exaggerating, of course, but how else do I make this update interesting ?

Meanwhile, back on Earth...

You may notice that I have barely mentioned the pending Stateside eclipse - not intentionally, although I am a little jealous - the last full eclipse I saw was in London long ago, in 1999...I'd like to say that I 'partied like it was 1999', but ironically, I was working underground at the time, and had to come to the surface just to watch the sky darken...

Eclipse 1999                           picture by Jurgens Mandeldorf

I'm pretty sure that this once in a lifetime total eclipse is well documented elsewhere, I'm sure there will be attempts to follow the progress coast -to -coast, but at only two minutes in each area, that would be a fast road trip !

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Jumping Lunar Bots, And The Methane Seas of Titan

The mystery 'island' on Titan 

Recent news of complex, possibly life - capable molecules in the upper atmosphere of Titan got me a little excited.
Putting two and two together, and making five, I remembered a brief flurry of interest when images emerged of a vanishing something in the hydro-carbon sea of Ligeia Mare.
This was made even more intriguing by a documentary* about Titan which , in the final moments (start viewing at approx 35.24), examines micro-organisms thriving in Pitch Lake in Trinidad , the  closest thing on Earth to the hydrocarbon / methane lakes of Titan (minus the below- freezing temperatures).
 In the film,Dr Sarah Hörst replicates the conditions of the Titan atmosphere, successfully creating four major components of DNA, and a Dr McKay postures that life in such a nutrient - poor environment may take the form of a large, thin mat, maximising surface area...

Another anomaly on Titan is the cloud which shouldn't exist ( by our understanding, anyway)
These discoveries, and many more, were made by Cassini, the intrepid little probe that's been examining the Saturn system for twenty years ( and makes its final swan dive through the rings of Saturn next month).
The 'impossible cloud' , Titan      image  NASA/ JPL
I feel humbled, remembering the hugely impressive feat of the ESA probe Huygens being sent from Cassini down to the inhospitable surface of Titan in 2005, where it lasted just over an hour.
It remains our furthest landing on a planet in the solar system to this day.
Okay, there was the comet too, but that was just passing through, right ?
We are now agog at the wonders of Enceladus and Europa , both of which appear to contain large amounts of water, and great potential for life - or at least pre-biotic** conditions
Regardless of the possible existence of strange hydro-carbon based life forms , the sheer wealth of information gathered by Cassini has greatly increased our understanding of the Saturn system, and I will be drinking a farewell toast when it finally descends into the Saturnian depths...

Meanwhile, closer to home, a recent competition has resulted in the creation of jumping lunar nanobots.

The article speaks of profitability and rugged design, but I know that secretly, we're gearing up for nano-robot races on the moon !

Coming Soon - for those in the U.S.A. Once in a lifetime total eclipse of the Sun on the 21st August! To be extensively covered by NASA, I just leave this link here

*  Thanks to PlanetDr / SarahHörst for the link

**This seems to be the new buzzword

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Our Watery Moon, The Inevitability Of Life, And The Height Of A Sheet Of Paper

Recent reports tell us that there is an abundance of water on the moon , more than was previously thought
Time for a re-think / return to the moon ?
Sub-lunar bases ?
At a mere 230,000* miles distant, it's a lot closer than Mars - and with possibly as much water as Earth- (beneath the surface), I say that we should go for it.
Not to be outdone, we hear evidence of ancient bodies of water on Mars.

It appears that particles have been detected in the atmosphere of  Titan which could serve as the building blocks of life - speaking of which, this article asserts that life on Earth was an inevitable result of physics, rather than a biological fluke...
upper atmosphere of Titan         Cassini image : NASA/JPL 

On the subject of moons, the first exo-moon has possibly been discovered - it's four thousand light years distant, but hey- its an exo-moon.
My enthusiasm is muted, as I ponder the many unexplored moons in our own solar system.
Still, it's a new thing....even though it has not yet been confirmed -  infact the whole thing was made public on social media by a third party, thus forcing the hand of those involved, and creating a premature media hype.
This is the downside of social media.

A sheet of paper- relevant ...
My personal interest is in the burgeoning world of quantum mechanics.
I'm not smart enough to fully grasp what's going on, but that's part of the wonder.
The fact that it seems to defy accepted laws of physics,
whilst allowing for almost magical interactions,
is what attracts me to it.
The sense that there is much more to come;
that there is a missing key somewhere...
I think we have problems even describing this new ' realm '
For instance :

Excerpt from this article :

Mir Faizal, one of the three-strong team of physicists behind the experiment, said: “Just as many parallel sheets of paper, which are two dimensional objects [breadth and length] can exist in a third dimension [height], parallel universes can also exist in higher dimensions.”

Surely even a humble sheet of paper has height ?
Which means that a sheet of paper is not two-dimensional, technically.
My assertion is that this metaphor is clumsy.
We need to stop thinking in terms of human scale.
Our visual perception is limited
Which is why we have aids to vision;
Spectacles, contact lenses,
Microscopes and telescopes.
I don't think we'll ever truly understand the quantum world
Until we stop making comparisons
And there's the rub - without comparisons, how can we define something enough to understand it ?
Until next we meet...


* Arbitrary figure, unscientifically guesstimated.