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.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Red Planet, Red Dragon And The Red KBO

Since the Pluto flypast on July 14 2015, New Horizons has been hurtling through space at approximately 32,000 mph, heading for its next rendezvous - Kuiper Belt Object MU69.
The report I linked is a tad speculative, as recent attempts to observe the object drew a blank - it remains uncertain whether it is a single object, or a cluster of smaller space rocks - all that is known for sure is that it is red.
Although which particular shade remains uncertain...
Artist impression               ©NASA/JHUAPL/SwRi

Regardless, New Horizons powers onward through the bleak vastness of space, aiming for a rendezvous on New Years day 2019
I must set my alarm...
Seriously though, I'm still trying to get my head around the sheer distance being covered.
That's another year and a half at 32,000mph.
Travelling 24 / 7
Without even a pitstop.

Speaking of things that move quickly...
Elon Musk may or may not have permission to build a hyperloop between Washington D.C. and New York.
Transporting people at 700 mph  would certainly ease the pressure of road traffic and the carbon footprint of flights...
staying with the innovative Elon Musk, his Dragon outfit are reworking their Mars landers.
This was reported widely as a complete withdrawal from commercial landings, but apparently it's just a re-design...

Meanwhile, those pesky alien signals...

The latest on the signal from Ross 128, is that it comes from a geostationary satellite.
However, there are still uncertainties .
At least it's not the microwave oven , this time...

Meanwhile, on Mars...   ©NASA/JPL

It has been asked of NASA, whether there were ancient civilisations on Mars.
Personally I hope the answer is yes, and the atmosphere vanished due to unchecked global warming...

Apologies for that outburst.
No more politics, or conspiracy theories...I promise !
Well, that's what the martians said...


Saturday, 15 July 2017

Pina Coladas, Dusty Basements, And Signals from Stars

Okay, I said not so much of the space stuff, but I got a tiny murmur of excitement with news that a mysterious signal has been heard from a star
Cue eyes rolling heavenwards , mutterings of: 'Not that old chestnut, again...'
'Lets pray it's not the microwave this time', etc
Okay, this time, the intrepid astronomers are determinedly downplaying the signal , saying that it is probably interference from an overhead satellite
But !
I'm interested because
A) they are so keen to dismiss it, and B)
They're checking again today
and C)
 Professor Abel Mendez has a Pina Colada waiting for a positive result...

In Other News...

They recently found some old nasa computers in a basement in Pittsburgh.
As you do
The engineer concerned obviously thought they were worthwhile mementos
Nasa were underwhelmed
The only other connection which I know with Pittsburgh is that George Romero* made his first zombie film there (in which the undead were infected by some weird virus from space)...

George. A. Romeros first 'zombie' film 1968
Last week, I posted a piece entitled 'Retro-Causality, Foreshadowing and Entanglement' - which was essentially about the weirdness of quantum science
Within days of my post , there was news of an experiment involving entanglement by China, and the transporting of information to space.
I suddenly felt vindicated.
' ...Foreshadowing, and Entanglement'
I rest my case.

I find the world of quantum to be fascinating, but challenging- this link is for an excellent piece by Dr James Wootton, a scientist who wants to simplify quantum principles, without 'dumbing down ' .
I'm very pleased that there is such a thing as ' Quantum Error Correction ' .

Meanwhile, back in space...

I recently heard that there is renewed interest in ' Tabbys' star - remember the colossal mega- structure in space that almost certainly isn't ?
Turns out the dimming is happening again, albeit less dramatically.
Some twelve observatories have been taking measurements- whatever it is, it's not a regular thing...

...and on that vague and unscientific note, I shall take my leave...

Have a good week !


* I learned of the passing of director George A Romero the day after publishing this post. R.I.P. - and thanks for virtually creating the whole zombie film genre
G. 17 . 07. 17.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Retro-Causality , Foreshadowing, and Entanglement

I decided that I wanted to move away from the 'space-centric' stuff,
and return to what this blog used to be, which was more of a general reaction to events.
Then I learned of a new theory that supports retro causality: the idea that an event could generate its own cause .
I got excited.
Sadly my attempts to further research this became quickly enmeshed in fringe theories, with psychokinesis and parapsychology looming large-like ominous foresight.

Foreshadowing occurs frequently in visual media, comics,  films and t.v. - an event or image which alludes to future developments.
This is commonly accepted as a plot device.
Almost as though we want to learn precognition.
I'd go further and say it's accepted as normal.
Are we learning to harness pre-cogniton ?

The Phantom Menace

Which brings me back to retro - causality.
The only way that an event could create its own cause would require the ability to transcend time.
Then I got excited again, because Tachyon particles travel faster than light , therefore they travel through time.
I had to remind myself that Tachyons are hypothetical particles - after all, they contradict accepted notions of physics.
Which is my problem really; who gets to define what is accepted ?
The more I pondered this, the more I realised that quantum mechanics subvert accepted models, but they are already in use.

MRI machines operate on quantum principles*

MRI machines involve quantum ideals , affecting the spin of protons in the body to allow for precise imaging at a microscopic scale.
And flash cards used for storage on our phones / laptops etc
The most obvious application utilising quantum knowledge is the silicon chip - found in every computer.
From computers, we get the internet - which, to my mind, is a good example of quantum tunnelling.
I'm using the term loosely of course - but it is surely true that miniature particles breach physical barriers...
In terms of quantum computing, using qbits and computing on a tiny, atomic scale is a little beyond us, even now.
The largest quantum calculation yet managed is 3x5 =15
Which sounds underwhelming , until you realise that this calculation was done using  five atoms.

Quantum even allows for storage and retrieval of info from a single atom.
The difficulty is with the interference from the outside world.
Maintaining the equilibrium of fragile quantum systems is hugely problematic.
For this reason, alternatives are already in development- we may well be using molecular computing before quantum systems exist.

Despite the obvious problems, quantum mechanics exist and function .
A dramatic example would be touch screen technology - which allows us to alter 2d to 3d...
Perhaps the most dramatic effect that exists is the process of fusion on the sun.

Meanwhile, back online...

I mentioned the internet as an example of quantum tunnelling - it allows us to transcend physical and spatial boundaries.
Its normal state is passive-aggressive, with content jostling for position and preferential treatment - mostly memes , cats and trolls.
However, it is also a place where ideas are exchanged at lightning speed, and language is constantly (d)evolving, being refined / reduced to acronyms and symbols, which are more immediate and easily understood.
It seems obvious that the online world is a new paradigm with its own behaviours and mores
Sure there's the hive - mind that seems to drive things, especially on 'social media ' - it's almost frightening to go against the grain of popular opinion at times.
'Social media', however, is only one aspect of the online universe.
Away from the surface world of emojis and trolls, the internet is more like a neural network.
I view it as a series of islands linked by cables carrying power.
Being quantum, however, the cables are switching constantly with connections being made and broken.
the 'information islands' are always there, like little libraries or archives.

I could reduce this to the political , because the constant efforts to restrain and undermine the online world by the ' old guard '** are there for all to see.
Demonise and marginalise are very obvious tactics used by the powerful against their enemies.
Knowledge is power, after all
It wouldn't do to have it just being given away...


* My personal experience with MRI machines led to my being diagnosed with P.P.M.S. , so I reluctantly thank quantum mechanics for that.
**'old guard'/ status quo / establishment

Friday, 30 June 2017

Signs and Portents, Asteroids And Omens

Today is Asteroid Day, so yay for strange lumps of rocky debris hurtling through space , occasionally appearing as shooting stars and leaving trails of omens and wonder in their wake !

An asteroid that appeared on St Andrews day 1300

Coincidentally, today is also the hundred year anniversary of the Tunguska incident, when a mysterious something exploded in the air above Tunguska, an isolated part of Russia, with the force of many megatons in 1907- it was an explosion that birthed a myriad of conspiracy theories, and continues to do so to this day.
Tongue in cheek advice from bygone days...

We are no longer so superstitious regarding the meaning behind shooting stars, yet there is still an almost primal fear of complete annilhation, such as the sudden event of another death-dealing comet.
Not really something to worry about - most comets are known and tracked.
It's just the ones we haven't seen yet that cause the most worry...

This article is a good 'primer' on comets etc, but please be aware that it dates from 2006 - there is another piece in this blog which is outdated, but then so are most predictions - as I am only too aware, when I spent the millenial new year in a deep bunker, and don't even ask about 2012*...

 The idea of impending apocalypse is buried deep in the human psyche.
It is marked in a symbolic way with the passing of the seasons, and the fire ceremonies which aim to bring light into the growing darkness...

Up Helly Aa marks the end of Yule      

In the lore of comets, we have fire from the sky.
Luckily we have an early warning system in place which is pretty accurate - well, better than anything the dinosaurs had.
Our knowledge of asteroids has increased hugely - in 1868, there were one hundred asteroids identified ; today, there are half a million.

In days of old, we had signs and portents. 
According to Ptolemy, comets signified wars , hot weather, and unusual disturbances.

With our recent achievement of landing on a comet and monitoring it for some time, the sky-born fireballs (once referred to as the flowers of the skies) have lost some of their superstitious allure.
Personally, I'm still in awe - the timeless journeys of these things can encompass the very beginnings of the universe, and the thought of where they'd travelled is enough to make me feel small and insignificant-
I still 'wish upon a star' occasionally; the old tradition that dates back to ancient Greece, and the belief that the gods would occasionally gaze down towards the Earth, out of boredom.
Whilst doing so, they would accidentally knock a few stars out of the sky, and as the stars were considered the souls of ancestors, to wish upon a star was to invite good luck.

The Hoba stone , Namibia

Possibly one of the greatest shooting stars to actually land on Earth, was the Hoba stone.
It is the largest meteorite in the world.
Weighing 60 tons, and flat on both sides, it skimmed the Earths atmosphere before blazing its way to the surface, where it now rests in Grootfontein, Namibia.
There is no evidence of a crater, and it is estimated to have fallen within the last 80,000 years -  it's also believed that it entered the atmosphere at a relatively sedate 720 mph.

Comets and meteors are different things, but I love both; although my observations of the Perseids and other meteor showers have been sadly tempered by city living with street lights casting a sodium glare and limiting the visible stars.
Deep sigh
On the plus side, it means that I am agog with wonder whenever I find myself in the countryside, gazing up at the all - encompassing blanket of stars.
I am forever grateful for this world we live in - as a youngster, I could only gaze in awe at the distant stars, and wonder about those tiny pinpricks of light.
Now I can click on live streams from the Curiosity Rover on Mars, or marvel at high definition images from so many worlds and moons in our solar system
I'm both humbled and amazed by this.
To think that such things once seemed so far away...
Sometimes I think we have become blasé about so many things.

This missive has been subject to the usual gremlins, but here it is, albeit in a shortened form than was originally planned.
I am publishing it now, and will add to it over the weekend-
however you intend to spend Asteroid Day, have a great one !


* I'm joking - but they only have to be right once...

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Heatwaves, Lava Waves and Flying Eyeballs

Today is the longest day of the year, and we have a heatwave here in the uk .
In light of which, I decided to write about other hot spots in our neighbourhood.
Just to put things in perspective

The 2018 NASA probe to the sun is to be named in honour of  Eugene Parker, who first theorised that there was a solar wind.
It should give us information on many aspects of our sun, before it succumbs to the inevitable meltdown...

Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun     John Hopkins University

A newly discovered exo-planet is as hot as a star.
So close to its own star that it is tidally locked - but even the side in permanent darkness is a blistering 900 degrees.
Could there be life in such extreme conditions ?
Don't forget there is evidence of a microbe that thrives at 100 degrees c

Saturns north pole  NASA Image processed by Jason Major

The first true colour images from Saturns north pole are pretty nice, having been processed by dedicated citizen scientists, they reveal an almost balmy, tropical look - but don't be fooled, with winds of up to 2000 kmh , this is no tropical paradise - and the air is a mixture of hydrogen and helium.
Looks great though.

thermal anomaly on Europa gives us evidence of sub aquatic conditions which might easily give rise to extremophiles.

Meanwhile, waves of lava have been observed coursing across loki patera, the huge lake on the Jovian moon Io.
Sounds almost idyllic,doesn't it ?
Apart from the blistering heat.
Io is the most geologically active moon in our solar system,
its proximity to Jupiter affecting its orbit and tidal forces.
Tides of molten lava.
Average temperatures 700 - 1.200 c
Not for surfing, then.
I don't think there's even a sunscreen factor for that.

Io - horseshoe-shaped Loki Patera visible    pic NASA

Its a very hot , and lively solar system out there - a far different place than the desolate rocky outpost of my childhood.
It makes me glad that our technoogy has advanced so rapidly, that I can view almost immediate and constant images from Mars, for instance - it feels odd that there was such a gap from the moon landings of the Seventies...

Infra red Jupiter gif

In other news, time travel is again possible , after previously being denounced as impossible due to our linear chronology or something.
Personally I find it all a bit bewildering after all, didn't we invent the concept of time?
Which means that it's our idea, and we can do pretty much anything with it.

Finally, back on Earth...

A sign of the times with a bbc report of a solstice gathering at Stonehenge where drones were banned.
I wonder what our pagan ancestors would have thought of drones - and does it mean that these sixties images were prescient ?

A tribute to the old school flying eye ( Kim LaRoc)
On that note, with even my trusty fan blowing hot air, I say goodbye for now

Sunday, 14 May 2017

From Hardware To Vapourware, Our Imagined World

A fascinating article , centred on a paper by Jason Wright which asks whether there were advanced races before us but they may be extinct and we didn't notice.
Apparently, the answer lies with awareness of techsignatures - i.e. radio signals from deep space.
I take a deep breath and wonder whether this pondering includes the ancient mythical Lemurians or the citizens of Atlantis or Mu; our history is full of myths and legends regarding highly evolved beings that were decimated by natural disasters , or by their own technological folly ( for further reading see any number of dystopian sci-fi books / films.)
One of my personal moments of questioning awareness came when I read Chariots of The Gods .
The world was turned upside down.

Suddenly ancient engravings, sculptures, structures and writings were imbued with hidden meanings
I was young, and naive enough to believe that maybe just maybe, spacemen had implanted the seeds of our civilisation.
I still believe that it may be true - albeit in terms of panspermia, rather than extraterrestrials.
My point is this - what does Jason Wrights paper / thesis tell us that is not already widely known?
He says that radioactive isotopes may give us evidence of materials that were not native to the environment , and so on .
This means you would look for objects that were obviously not a natural part of the locale.

One example of anachronistic objects in the environment would be the 80,000 copies of  E.T. The Game , which were used as landfill in New Mexico.
Leaving aside content, this would be a magnetic media, a plastic/metal hybrid object with a magnetic iron ferrule system for the preservation of information.
The clunky graphics could only be seen with the correct equipment, so the reality would be a slender plastic shell containing a magnetic core.
As technology  progresses, we are moving away from even simple mechanisms- (floppy disks,what are they?) .
I got to thinking of the V.R. headsets which are now in evidence.
Taken literally, they are content - delivery devices, and a 'future'  human would be hard pushed to discover the exact nature of the content.
Unless they could access the content which is almost certainly stored in the Cloud, now.
This trail would ultimately lead to an endpoint, a physical server containing the information.
Which means that , to a future mind, most of our data is vapourware .
And a box with pretty lights and cables.

Lets expand the scenario;
you come from some far distant future and you uncover a horde of ancient treasure.
When finally transcribed, it looks like this:

E.T. The Game - well, it was 1983

In fairness, it was 1983, almost 35 years ago.
With amazing advances in technical and graphic ability, we now have:

The face of a Creeper from Minecraft

Which brings me to the end of this truncated blog post.
Apologies for the delay in posting, and the lack of graphics.
My computer has been hacked / compromised, and my images are being manipulated at the point where I wish to attach them to this blog.
I suspect 'script-kiddies', but given my lack of computing knowledge, there is little I can do.
My micro blog is hardly a national emergency.
It seems to be the case that when you're engaged in doing something creative / productive, that there's always someone lurking in the background, waiting to trip you up, and steal your ice cream.
Of course, it could just be the 'gremlins' in the machine.
They're everywhere, these days.

Despite the best attempts of trolls and haters,
See you soon



It is now Monday evening, and those kind folks at Blogger have rescued my blog from the pit of doom, and restored picture capability, so yay, and many thanks.
I've left the last paragraph intact, by way of explanation, but hopefully no more creepers round here...

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Mastodons, Missing Ancestors, and The Rings Of Saturn

This week,  the discovery of some very old (130,000 years) Mastodon remains which appear to indicate that humans occupied North America much earlier than previously thought.
The discovery indicates that a group of human ancestors reached North America where the Mastodon remains were found, over 100 000 years before the accepted date; it is obvious that the creature was 'processed' using tools, as opposed to being devoured by carnivores.
However, there is no trace of any civilisation in the area.
So who were they ?
Where did they come from?
And why just leave a single mastodon, then vanish ?

Fossil mastodon bone                                    San Diego Natural History Museum

This thread led me to a piece which reminds me that all fossilised human remains discovered worldwide thus far could be carried in a small pick - up truck.
Which gives an idea of the problem
Without any further evidence, we may never know.
It's a tantalising tale that will interest palaeontologists / anthropologists for years to come.
My further attempts to research the prehistory of the Otay Mesa brought me to a piece on the recent discovery of a fossilised mastodon and a whale - showing how dramatically the area changed over time.
I then looked at some vague maps of the area, but ended up reading of how yellow go - cars can be used to explore San Diego.
Returning to thoughts of the original find , I wondered how such a random discovery could be used as evidence of no further civilisation.
Did they dig up the whole area ?
When the fossils were discovered, did they halt construction of Route 54 to expand the search ?
Which is sad, but it's fairly well known that there was no developed architecture at that time - and it's almost certain that these hominids were nomadic.
Don't forget that this was an era marked by mini-ice ages and changing sea levels.
It's almost certainly the case that any further evidence is now elsewhere.
We'll probably never know who they were.
Despite the excitement, without digging up huge swathes of land around route 54, there is still a huge gap of time between our mysterious ancient mastodon hunters and human settlers.

Meanwhile, in space...

Leaving behind the ancient history of Earth, we discover that scientists at the university of Arizona are developing a large ' polytunnel' , specifically geared towards growing crops on Mars.
Simultaneously, experiments have shown that martian soil can be compressed into bricks, and may provide a realistic building material , without costly consignments being shipped from Earth

Cygnus approaches ISS, image by Thomas Pesquet                      NASA / ESA
The above image left me stunned when I saw it earlier this week,with the approaching Cygnus craft looking small and insignificant against the majestic backdrop of Earth.

Meanwhile, above Saturn...

Cassini has begun its final manoeuvres, executing 22 dives through the rings of Saturn .
 Images are already reaching us,showing close ups of the gas giant, and its moons.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Space Waste and an Aurora Called Steve...

Opportunity heat shield         NASA

There is a crater on Mars , recently imaged by the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter, which contains detritus from the 2004 landing of Opportunity.
I got to thinking that we have already begun leaving our waste on other worlds
The moon has over 70 space vehicles, including buggies and landers, golf clubs, discarded boots, flags, and various - over 100,000 pounds of debris.
I looked for statistics regarding waste on Mars, but beyond this list, it gets into alien conspiracy territory, so I quickly back-tracked.
Let's not forget the ring of debris orbiting our own planet - some 500,000 pieces (according to NASA in 2013).
Add to this the many Russian Verbera modules on Venus - although I imagine they've been cremated and crushed to a pulp, so at least there should be no trace...
Mercury didn't escape so lightly in 2008 , when the Messenger craft impacted, creating a whole new crater.
Mercury imaged by Messenger               NASA
Currently surveying Titan for the last time, Cassini will eventually descend into Saturn, although given the toxic nature of the atmosphere, it will almost certainly be destroyed - and let's not forget the two Voyager craft, heading into deep space, followed by New Horizons, which achieved the most distant rendezvous yet with its flypast of Pluto, and following its encounter with MU69 in 2019, will become so much hi-tech driftwood floating through the heavens.
Our faltering steps into space have already left quite a trail , like a bored passenger tossing trash out of a car window on a long drive.
We humans are a messy bunch, but until we get the bill from the Intergalactic Sanitation Engineers, we'll be none the wiser.

On a lighter note , a new discovery in the majesty of the aurora ; a trail of green and purple lights which have been given the name of Steve.
No mushrooms required.


Saturday, 15 April 2017

Venusian Field-Trip, A ' Virtual ' Ride On Mars , and a Black Hole In Your Pocket

Apparently, scientists have created a fluid with negative mass.
Normally, I'd be sceptical, but with the increasing quantum strangeness, I find it perfectly believable.
It will be some time before we get 'real world' applications of this oddity .
In other news, the areas of the brain connected with dreaming have been identified, and appear to be connected with our physical selves - so if you dream that you're falling and manage to stop yourself by waking up, then you probably did.
Phew, eh ?


There is speculation of a field trip to Venus , and an orbiting space station as a possible practice
for any manned mission to Mars.
Speaking of Mars, this excellent video was created by Sean Doran, from thousands of expertly assembled jpegs.

Ceres gif -                         NASA/JPL-Caltech / UCLA/ MPS /DLR/IDA/PSI

Apparently the transient atmosphere of planetoid * Ceres is linked to the activity of the sun
The exact mechanism is unknown, but surely the implication is that Ceres has a magnetic field attracting and enhancing solar activity..
That's my conjecture anyway.

Last week there was a live-stream from NASA, which suffered from all the usual gremlins -  sound and image dropped out , were subject to delays , and the presenters struggled to maintain a semblance of gravitas.
I gave up and sourced the information elsewhere.
The whole thing was underwhelming , and essentially told us little of any real importance.
Even so, here is a link to a downloadable poster of the watery worlds in our solar system.
Reading between the lines, I decided that NASA were saying that Saturns moon Enceladus was a stronger contender for alien life than Europa.
Which is possibly true, but our best chance for further information from the little moon is now entering its final days.
Cassini is heading for its grand finale, a swan dive through Saturns rings - infact twenty two dives, each one furthering our knowledge of the gas giant , until the final swoop in September 2017.
Cassini launched in October 1997 and has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004 , giving us an incredible wealth of information .
At the point where you think it should be winding down, perhaps taking retirement, it is going out in a blaze of glory.
April 26th 2017 is the date for the beginning of the end for Cassini.

An immense x-ray burst has been observed erupting from a galaxy some 10.7 billion light years away.
Its exact cause is unknown, but it was observed briefly by the Chandra observatory.
Theories include a black hole swallowing a star , which is a tenuous link to this piece about what it would be like to have a black hole the size of a coin in your pocket..

The news that the New Horizons craft is now halfway to its destination made me laugh - with memories of long family car journeys '..are we there yet ? '
'Yes , dear - only 486.19**mllion miles to go...why don't you have a nap - we'll be there when you wake up'
Let's not forget that we know nothing of the mysterious object , other than the fact that it is apparently bright red .
I'm surprised we can't have a general peek around at the colours of all the other debris in the Kuiper Belt by way of comparison...if I was there, I'd be wiping the little porthole window and craning my neck to peer out at the lumps of rock around us.
Actually, if I was there, I'd be squashed up due to the lack of space in New Horizons.

New Horizons - note the lack of viewports

* is this an actual designation , or should I stick with ' dwarf planet ' ?
** This was accurate on April 1 , 2017 - not an April Fool

Monday, 3 April 2017

Psychic Dinosaurs, Ancient Burrows and Spuds in Space

Tread lightly, dear reader, for this post has been assembled following April Fools Day.
I've done my best to eliminate scurrilous nonsense, and have double checked sources, but even so , doubts remain !

Recent discoveries in Brazil give me a new word - paleoburrows.
I  am amazed and humbled that I didn't even know that such things existed.
My inner cynic wonders why the disoveries are not more widespread.
At this point, I apologise for the links to speculative blogs, as opposed to hard science.
Further examinations led me to a treatise published in 2009, which makes me feel less of an ' April Fool ', but then the virtual burrow of the internet  provided pictorial evidence...ahem

Giant Sloth remains - human for scale
I stopped to ponder the science behind pictures of girls posing with fossils, decided there wasn't any, and carried on.

I pondered the issue of giant mammals creating underground caverns.
Was there evidence of a prehistoric landscape in Britain, carved out by huge badgers ?
And what of the were-rabbits ?

There were no prehistoric telegraph poles...
In other strange news...

As we head for the exploration of worlds containing large bodies of water, inevitably we consider the strange reality of cephalopods, and their very alien consciousness.
A charming tale of an intelligent octopus making a break for freedom.
Aquatic communications have been observed between dolphins, and on a larger scale, the cries of whales can cross vast distances underwater.
Recent discoveries point to a possible 'sixth sense' emanating from external body plates on dinosaurs which enabled more effective hunting of prey.
Another form of consciousness is used by mycelium, allowing for communication over large distances underground , even warning of predators.

Meanwhile , in space...

The final candidates for the planned ExoMars landing have been selected - Oxia Planum and Mawrth Vallis , areas which were once water-saturated.

The Trace Gas Orbiter is already in place , although its companion, the Schiaparelli lander, bit the martian dust, to coin a phrase .
Its follow up, the ExoMars rover is scheduled for launch in 2020

Speaking of Mars, in on-going tests in Peru , a single potato plant is growing in conditions which emulate Mars, but have nothing to do with Matt Damon.

In other news, apparently Pluto has been reclassified as a planet.
I say apparently, as this news emeged not long after April Fools Day, and I could only find two sources of info.
Personally, I hope it is true , as poor old Pluto is a very interesting world, and deserves a proper designation.

Which brings us to the end of this rambling missive - until next time , be careful out there !


Friday, 24 March 2017

Tunnels on the Moon, Martian Landscapes, and the Storms of Jupiter

Investigations have revealed a network of tubes beneath the lunar surface , and arguments abound on whether to explore / inhabit them.
Personally, I think that moment has gone, as all eyes appear to be on Mars...speaking of which -

The diligent Mars explorer Curiosity still rumbles on, but is now showing signs of significant wear and tear on one of its wheels.
Fortunately we can view Mars from afar - this incredible animation was painstakingly pieced together from  available images.
Images from Hubble bring us two distant, interwoven galaxies
Juno is on its fifth Jovian flyby , with some  stunning results

Image from Juno , details here

Recent images from ESA show the many changes on comet 67P, indicating an active geology, surprising for a lump of icy rock in space..
I'm constantly impressed by the quality of images from space, and it's about to get better-
Nasa are working on a system of  ' broadband' for information packets from space.

 ESA have shared this , for those who might want to imagine themselves in the area of a black hole...

A Rant About The New Religion of Atheism

This week, I found myself debating atheism on social media, and being surprised at the arrogance on display -let's not forget that, when connected to the 'Big Bang' , atheism is nothing more than a faith - based belief system - i.e. you have faith that one day, someone will prove the theory.
I'm not impressed by the current wave of 'populism' , short on thinking and long on memes and soundbites, which allows people to parade half - truths as fact.
Ultimately, it harms the very mindset that claims to be advancing the 'clear light' of science,
and it smacks of  'the one true path ', a form of delusion which is normally found in religious zealots.
Science is meant to be a questing thing, a continual search for fact - based evidence, not an endgame.
For instance - has anyone actually managed to replicate a black hole under laboratory conditions ?
No ?
Their existence, then, is a matter of belief / faith...
The whole point of my rant (and thank you for bearing with me), is that quantum  mechanics looms larger by the day, bringing with it a whole new realm of chaos to upset science - from the very notion of 'entanglement' , which Einstein called ' spooky action at a distance', to a  theory that there was no big bang and the universe is eternal.
Regardless of its validity (further debate / testing needed) , it's a new idea, born of quantum science, not an extrapolation of extant physics.

'...nothing is written in stone.'                     pic:    Charlton Heston as Moses

I think the fractious, defensive noise we hear from some corners is insecurity - after all , there are people who have dedicated their lives to proving theories like the big bang.
Those who are genuinely curious either way, await the revelations from the James Webb telescope, which should be able to see as far back in space/time as the afterglow of the alleged Big Bang.
The telescope will be launched into orbit in October 2018.
At least until then, nothing is written in stone.
Including the Ten Commandments and the Big Bang Theory.*


* In this universe, it is equally true that The Big Bang Theory is a comedy show about a group of geeks , and The Ten Commandments  is a film by Cecil B DeMille.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Whole Earth Telescope, Snarky Submersibles, and Actual Spaceports

Further proof that we are living in the future with the normalisation of the sci-fi phrase ' spaceport '.
Not quite on a par with Mos Eisley, but slowly...
Canada is working towards its first ever spaceport , to be created in Nova Scotia.
Meanwhile NASA is re-purposing Cape Kennedy as a commercial spaceport , capable of supporting multiple launches from private companies .

Messier 87 imaged by Chandra xray observatory

The origins and appearance of black holes beyond supposition and CGI are totally unknown , but soon, we may have an actual image of one.
Using a group of ten telescopes known as EHT, scientists plan to finally get a look at the black hole at the centre of our galaxy .
They are so confident that they predict any image will be in the top ten of all time.
Whether that's the top ten of black hole images, I'm not sure - after all , there's no competition.
Enough of my cynicism , though - if that's not enough, they also aim to image the supermassive black hole (don't you just love these superlatives) at the centre of galaxy M87 .
This monstrosity is equal to 6.6 billion of our sun , and has eaten another galaxy in the last billion years.
Luckily, it's 50 million light years away, although, on a cosmic scale, that's probably too close.
The Event Horizon Telescopes should be functional from next month, April 2017, as soon as telescopes in the Antarctic and the Altacama desert are added to the circuit .

High in the Atacama desert, Chile, a lone rover scours the scorched plains in search of life.
With an average rainfall of less than 1mm a year, the Atacama is the driest place on Earth.
The intrepid rover has to drill into the surface to find those elusive microbes...
The signs are good for the probe KREX 2 , but will it be superceded by PUFFER ?
The rather nippy little ' puffer ' drones would surely be ideal foils for Krex2, or the slow, lumbering, Curiosity rover on Mars...
...speaking of Mars, it appears there may be health problems for humans travelling there.
Scientists are worried about the potential danger of long distance, deep space flight.
Even ' locally ' there could be health issues. 
Esa have started looking into the creation of living units for Mars...
By the way, if you are in the 'Twitter-sphere', a good source of images and entirely spurious / snarky comments is The Sarcastic Rover

Mars - a barren wasteland, or prime real estate ?

High above Mars, the joint ESA / Roskosmos endeavour , the Exomars Orbiter, has commenced its year long aerobraking which will enable it to settle into a circular orbit , some 400 km above the surface.

On the icy Saturnian moon Enceladus, there is evidence of heat beneath the surface in the South Pole - possibly an ocean which interacts with the moons core.
The obvious exploration candidate would be an AUV, possibly working with a surface - based probe as a signal relay.
Perhaps a different name though, eh ?

Apparently, in naval terms, a submersible is also considered a boat, so the name Boaty McBoatface is perfectly acceptable, although I personally prefer ' Big Metal Floaty Thingy'