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...