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Carnival of Space 152

May 2, 2010

Welcome to The Martian Chronicles and the 152nd edition of the Carnival of Space! As always, we’ve got a great bunch of space-related posts from across the blogosphere, ranging from life on Mars to the age of the universe to Science Ninjas!

I’ll get things started with a pair of posts from right here at The Martian Chronicles. A couple weeks ago I went on a cool geology field trip in the El Paso/Carlsbad area along with a whole bunch of other martian and terrestrial geologists. Among other things, we learned that printed Mars panoramas make good raincoats, that graduate students are ideal for menial labor like counting hundreds of thousands of layers of rock, and that ancient reefs have a surprising amount to teach us about stratigraphy on Mars. Check out my summaries of Day 1 and Day 2 of the field trip! Day three is coming soon, with lots of pretty pictures of Carlsbad Caverns!

Speaking of rocks and Mars, Paul Scott Anderson at Planetaria has a post about another Mars meteorite that might have evidence of life! He includes a few very nice electron microscope images of the meteorite for your consideration. Personally, I’m not convinced, but I’m also not an expert on this corner of Mars science. Take a look for yourself!

Ian O’Neill at Discovery News also has been thinking about martian microbes, and whether germs from Earth might have hitched a ride on our rovers, set up camp on Mars and wiped out the locals. It would sure be disappointing if we discover life on Mars only to learn that someone at JPL forgot to wash their hands! Of course, there are also those who think we should stop bothering with all this planetary protection business and deliberately seed Mars with Earth life. What do you think?

While we’re on the topic of our potentially infectious little rovers, Stuart Atkinson has some beautiful pictures from the Opportunity rover. Oppy is slowly making her way across the Meridiani Plains, and has a tantalizing view of the distant hills that are her ultimate destination. As Stu says, “The far horizon is calling…

But this is the Carnival of Space, not the Carnival of Rocks and Bugs and Rovers, so let’s get on to the more “spacey” stuff! I’m a big fan of stuff, and so is Steve Nerlich at Cheap Astronomy! This week they have a great podcast about “stuff” in space and the surprisingly limited number of shapes in which it can be found.

A radar "image" of an asteroid and its two tiny moons. Credit: NASA / JPL / GSSR / Emily Lakdawalla

While we’re on the topic of stuff and its various shapes, I should point out that radar is a great way to find out the shape of stuff in space like asteroids. If you’ve ever seen one of the “images” of an asteroid taken by a telescope like Arecibo and wondered how a radar antenna can be used to take a picture, then wonder no longer! Just take a look at Emily Lakdawalla’s post about radar imaging and all your questions will be answered.

If radar images are not your cup of tea, then maybe you’d prefer to learn about an old-school optical telescope: the Radcliffe 1.9 meter telescope. Markus shares the joy of handling the massive old wrought iron telescope in this post at Supernova Condensate.

Not a fan of old school ‘scopes? Well, perhaps I can interest you in some futuristic  Hypertelescopes? Next Big Future also has some cool posts about even more far-out ideas like Dyson Swarms and Dyson bubbles and “statites” – structures that hover above a star by balancing its gravitational force with its radiation pressure.

We’re a long way from that level of engineering, but solar sail technologies are getting more advanced. Centauri Dreams has a post about the Japanese IKAROS mission: an interplanetary solar sail that also uses its sail as a solar panel to generate electricity! I hadn’t heard of this mission, but it sounds really cool!

Whether you’re talking about star-enveloping Dyson spheres or relatively simpler missions, you have to wonder what drives exploration, particularly since big steps forward like the Apollo program come so rarely. Well, 21st Century waves talks about the idea that what we’re really dealing with is a chaotic system in this post on how complexity drives exploration.

Of course, sometimes it’s just the brilliance of one person that makes the difference, and lights the path forward, and Robert Goddard is a great example. Over at Music of the Spheres, there’s a great post about Goddard that takes a look as some of his earliest thoughts on space and also some of his inventions, which are now available online thanks to Google Patents.

Weird Sciences contributed three posts this week: First up, some thoughts on why Stephen Hawking is wrong about aliens and the threat they pose. Also, some thoughts on the implications of self-replicating machines. And third, visualizing the fourth spatial dimension.

Speaking of weird, what does Weird Warp have for us this week? Why it’s a nice, informative (and actually not very weird!) post all about the ins and outs of comets, everyone’s favorite icy visitors to the inner solar system.

While we’re back on the subject of “things that are in the inner solar system”, let’s take a look at Astroblogger Ian Musgrave’s post about how to use the moon to find stuff in the night sky. Ian even provides some scripts for the free programs Celestia and Stellarium!

Once you have rounded up your friends and family and taken them on a tour of the night sky using the moon as your guide, you’re bound to start getting pelted with questions. Luckily, “We are all in the gutter” has started a new “how do we know” feature. Their first post in the series is an answer to the question: “How do we know how old the universe is?” Do you have other “how do we know”-type questions? Contact the “We are all in the gutter” folks and get your answer!

Our penultimate post is from Steinn Sigurdsson, who reports on the unfortunate incident of the Nuclear Compton Telescope: a balloon-borne telescope that crashed in Australia during an attempted launch earlier this week. Condolences for those on the telescope team; it’s painful to watch so much work fall apart at its culmination.

And finally, on a (much) lighter note, what you’ve all been waiting for. Toothpaste ingredients! Which of course, logically, lead us to discover Amanda Bauer’s secret alter ego: the Science Ninja. This post makes me wish that a) all products had ingredient lists like the one on that toothpaste, and b) that I, too, was a science ninja.

Update: one late addition to the carnival! Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today is working on a series of posts entitled “13 Things that Saved Apollo 13“. The main article has link to the rest of the articles. Very interesting stuff!

Update 2: One more latebreaking addition! Out of the Cradle has a nice review of the book “The Big Splat, or How the Moon Came to Be”.

Phew! Well, that does it for this week’s Carnival of Space! It’s been a wild ride, as always. Thanks again to Fraser for letting me host, and thanks to all the space bloggers who contributed!


Be a Martian!

November 17, 2009

Fact #1: As a Mars scientist, I am incredibly spoiled. There are so many missions to Mars right now sending back so much data, that even if they all went silent tomorrow, it would be decades before we managed to look at all the data and figure out what it’s telling us.

Fact #2: There are lots of people out there (I’m looking at you, loyal readers!) who would love to be able to actively participate in exploring Mars. I mean, have you seen the stuff that the folks at UnmannedSpaceflight have managed to put together? They do more with the data from Mars than a lot of scientists!

So, given those two facts, you can see why I think the new “Be a Martian” collaboration between NASA and Microsoft is a great idea. Check out this excerpt from the press release:

Drawing on observations from NASA’s Mars missions, the “Be a Martian” Web site will enable the public to participate as citizen scientists to improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet.

“We’re at a point in history where everyone can be an explorer,” said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With so much data coming back from Mars missions that are accessible by all, exploring Mars has become a shared human endeavor. People worldwide can expand the specialized efforts of a few hundred Mars mission team members and make authentic contributions of their own.”

How cool is that? It’s a really brilliant idea, and I hope it goes well. A similar project was pioneered by galactic astronomers who had way too many pictures of galaxies to deal with, so they opened up the database to the public in the form of GalaxyZoo. It was a tremendous success, with thousands of people helping to classify millions of galaxies.

I just created my account and played around a bit, and it looks like a very user-friendly introduction to Mars science. You can contribute in two main ways: aligning images to contribute to a global map, and also counting craters. Both of these tasks can sort of be done by computers, but humans will always be better.

There’s more to the Be a Martian site than just work though, there are also lots of goodies like videos and Mars wallpapers, and great information about Mars. There is even a “movie theater” where you can watch the first few episodes of a series of videos called “The Martians”, that focus on people from all over the country who are involved with Mars, ranging from members of the rover teams to enthusiastic amateurs to actors putting on a play about Mars! There are more episodes on the way, and I encourage you to keep watching… you might see someone you recognize. ;)

Bottom line, it looks like a great site, and a great way to get involved in Mars exploration and learn about everyone’s favorite Red Planet and the people who are fascinated by it. What are you waiting for? Head on over and sign up! I’ll see you on Mars!


Weird Rover Prototypes

May 18, 2009


Last week when the news about Spirit being stuck in the sand came out, my friend Lisa Grossman, a science writing intern at Wired, contacted me to see if I had any ideas for a fresh angle on the story rather than just repeating the press release. I suggested that she check out some of the awesome rover prototypes that JPL is working on and find out how future rovers will deal with tricky terrain. She did, and her excellent article went up at Wired today! Go check it out!

15 Awesome Space Projects

January 20, 2009

Here’s a great post from one of my favorite blogs, Web Urbanist: 15 Cool Space Projects for Today and Tomorrow. The post has a bunch of awesome images, and gives a good overview of the current plans of space agencies across the globe. Check it out!

Top 100 Space and Astronomy Blogs

December 30, 2008

I just got a nice email from Kelly Sonora of letting me know that they had assembled a list of the top 100 space and astronomy blogs on the internet, and that Martian Chronicles made the list!

Posting will be light here until after the new year, so if you’re looking for something to read, check out some of the blogs on the list!

Mars Art Galleries!

November 10, 2008

Apparently I am not the only person who has had the idea of posting “artistic” images of Mars! In the past week I’ve come across two sites with collections of Mars Art images. So in lieu of posting my own image this week, I’ll point you to these sites who had the idea before me!

First is a site by Jim Plaxco called simply the Mars Art Gallery. It has lots of images, both unaltered and false-colored. He tends to manipulate the images a bit much for my tastes, but some of the results are pretty cool. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the site had been updated recently. Here are a few samples:

Dunes in Proctor Crater

A view of the south polar residual cap “swiss cheese terrain” in a strange color scheme.

The second site is a very nice NASA site that I can’t believe I had never seen before! It is a treasure trove of beautiful mars images in both greyscale and false color form orbiters and the rovers. Here are a couple of examples, but you really should go check out the whole gallery. I’ve got my work cut out for me in later Mars Art posts to beat this site’s gallery!

Granule ripples at Meridiani, as seen by the Opportunity rover.

A false color view of the Meridiani region a few hundred kilometers north of the Opportunity landing site. Red indicates warm rocks, while blue indicates cooler sand or dust.


October 29, 2008

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” – Leonard Bernstein

Starting on Saturday, I will be participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an annual activity in which insane writers attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. The rules are that you can plan as much (or as little) as you want beforehand, but the page must remain blank until 12:00 AM on November 1st. I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but I have the bad habit of editing as I write, which causes me to lose momentum pretty quickly. The point of NaNoWriMo is to get over that urge to edit meticulously and just get stuff written without turning back. Editing is for December!

In any case, I bring this up because I am a mere mortal, so time spent writing a novel means time that I won’t be able to spend here. I will continue to update the blog, but posts may be less frequent as I try to balance research, novel writing, blogging, and “real life”. I am sure you are greatly dismayed to hear that posting may be less frequent here, but there is something that you can do to help: Suggest blog topics!

If you suggest topics, then I don’t have to come up with them and can just focus on writing about them when I have the chance. So if there’s something that you’d like to know about Mars or space exploration (or anything else, really…) just post a comment or send me an email!

Also, fear not, because less writing time will likely mean more pretty pictures! A picture is worth a thousand words, after all. (hmm… can I use that to reach my 50k words for the novel?)

Vote on ScienceDebate Questions

September 22, 2008

Both Obama and McCain have answered the 14 questions posed by ScienceDebate 2008, and now the site has opened up the answers to comments from readers. So go and share your thoughts on the candidates’ science policies. They may not be having an actual debate, but we can!

How to Look at Mars

August 20, 2008

There is so much Mars data out there that it hard to keep track of all of it! Thankfully there are some useful tools that let anyone look easily look at orbital data of anywhere on the planet.

The first is a program called “jmars“. This java-based program distributed by Arizona State University lets you overlay all sorts of global datasets, from MOLA topography to THEMIS nighttime infrared maps to H2O abundance from the Odyssey gamma ray spectrometer. It also shows the location of high-resolution images from MOC, HiRISE and CTX, and lets you either load a low-resolution version of the images right in jmars, or click a link and web-browse to a higher-resolution version. I use this program all the time. Here’s a screenshot of what I’m (supposed to be) working on right now. It shows a THEMIS day-IR map of the Meridiani region of Mars with CTX images overlaid on top and outlines of the locations of all the HiRISE (red) and MOC (pink) images of the area. (click for a bigger version)

I also discovered yesterday that you can generate a 3D view of Mars with jmars also! Check out this view of Valles Marineris (no vertical exaggeration).

The second tool that I often use is Google Earth. “But wait!” you say, “I thought we were talking about Mars!” Oh, we are. The trick is, you just drape earth in Mars data and everything works great! Here’s a link to a website describing how to set up Google earth to display all sorts of Mars data. Follow the directions and soon you too can click and zoom on a globe that looks like this:

Have fun!

Pretty Phoenix Pictures

July 26, 2008

Stuart Atkinson from Cumbrian Sky has just created a second blog to serve as a gallery of cool images from Phoenix that he has put together. Go check it out, he has some really great pictures!