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Fly Past of Ceres

Images of dwarf planet Ceres, taken from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft and made into a movie. (Via Astronomy Picture of the Day, 10/6/15.)

An Asteroid with a Moon!

Apparently on Monday an asteroid passed very close to the Earth-Moon system, just over three times the Earth-Moon distance away. NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna array tracked it by radar.

There’s a video of this on the JPL site. The moon is clearly visible. Astounding stuff.

I found this via Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Titan’s Lakes

A movie showing liquid on the surface of a world other than Earth?

Yes indeed. This is Saturn’s moon Titan and its methane/ethane lakes in a digital compilation of still radar images from NASA’s Cassinni satellite. The liquid is deep blue, the higher land tan coloured.

The video featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day on 24/11/14.

A Dangerous Neighbourhood

Below is a video of a solar coronal mass ejection on 9/5/14 as observed by NASA’s IRIS satellite.

The eruption occurs at 1.5 million miles per hour. You don’t want to get in the way of that.

The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales

Whippleshield Books, 2013, 80p.

This is the second in the Apollo Quartet, the first of which, Adrift on the Sea of Rains, has just won the BSFA Award.

Once again we have an Altered History. Here, Alexei Leonov was the first man on the Moon but the Russians quickly gave up going there to concentrate on Space Stations. Our hero, Brigadier General Bradley Elliott, USAF, though, was the first – and only – man on Mars, in 1979. What he found there drives the plot as he is recalled to NASA twenty years later to undertake a faster than light trip to Gliese 376 to investigate what has happened to the colony there.

As in Adrift, there are two strands interleaved with each other (which is not unusual) and tricks with typography but again the Glossary which follows rounds out the tale – even if one part of it appears to contradict a piece of dialogue in the text. That latter could have been a deliberate misdirection, though and a Coda explaining the central conception and the FTL drive is a less successful addition to the formula.

With his utilisation of the glossary Sales seems to have found a new way to tell the space exploration story. It is of course a species of info dumping but he has arguably turned the necessity into a strength.

He is very good on the nuts and bolts of space travel, especially if you can thole the alphabet soup of NASA terminology. A list of abbreviations is given to help with this. Elliott is a complex enough figure though the other characters are less fleshed out; but in an 80 page book only 47 of which are actual story it could hardly be otherwise.

Virtual Vesta

This is from You Tube via Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Its an animation using images and height data from NASA’s Dawn mission to give an illusion of overflying the minor planet (or asteroid as they used to be called) Vesta.

Aurora Video

This is cool.

Via the Astronomy Picture of the Day for 23/9/11 and NASA, here is a video of a Southern Aurora taken from above by the crew of the International Space Station.

Squids in Space?

Yes, you read that correctly.

NASA is sending squids (well, squid embryos) into space to observe the effect of microgravity on said embryos.

I picked this up from Charlie Stross’s blog.

Isn’t life strange?

From The Earth To The Moon.

The Signature Edition. HBO, 1998.

This box set was one of the presents I received in December. I think it was for my birthday, though, rather than Christmas. I missed it when it was transmitted in Britain.

The series is Tom Hanks’s eulogy to and elegy for the Apollo programme. Said actor appears only in the last episode in a frankly ridiculous and unnecessary role as assistant to Georges Méliès whose early film Le Voyage Dans La Lune, disgracefully stolen by Thomas Alva Edison for US distribution, was the first to depict such a trip. Hanks does, however, introduce the other eleven in a walking shot at the start of each. He has a writing credit for episode twelve and part wrote some of the others.

All aspects of the US end of the space race from Kennedy’s decision to initiate the endeavour to the last Moon mission are covered.

Cleverly, or annoyingly depending on your point of view, the episodes do not all focus on the hardware and the voyages in space; though they necessarily have their place. In broader takes on the times one episode reflects on the upheavals of 1968, one on the changing attitudes of journalists, and another focuses on the astronauts’ wives. NASA expected them to shield their husbands from any domestic worries while at the same time acting as clothes horses in public and generally being uncontroversial. (Few of the marriages managed to survive in the long term. But that could be true of most US marriages, of which I believe 50% end in divorce.)

In passing we have the casual smoking of the 1960s, the unconscious sexism, and the sheer scale of the programme’s achievement which was so very shortly after unappreciated.

That’s actually not quite right; it was so quickly unappreciated that it was regarded as a commonplace by the time the last three Apollo missions flew.

The most interesting to a scientist was the episode in which the astronaut’s training in geology was outlined, a training which bore fruit during Apollo’s 17’s landing when they found a piece of anorthosite, in which an unmanned probe would likely have failed.

Each episode is prefaced with Kennedy’s still inspiring, “We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things; not because they are easy but because they are hard,” speech, making the series an homage to the men and women who took part in, supported, or built the equipment for the enterprise. In this it is perhaps a reflection of the belief that no such challenge faced Hanks’s generation, unlike those of their fathers (Apollo) and grandfathers (WW2.)

In all, it’s a worthy memorial to the participants in the Apollo programme and a sad reminder that in 40 years we haven’t gone back to the Moon.

I could have done without the syrupy music, though.

Edited to add:- There is a fifth disc containing trailers, behind the scenes and special effects “featurettes,” histories of famous astronomers and a history of the Moon; but I haven’t bothered to look at any of that one.

Comet Hartley 2 Reprise

Someone has put together the photos of NASA’s EPOXI Mission fly-by of Comet Hartley 2, made them into an animation and loaded them up to You Tube.

This comet is a weird beast, as last Monday’s Astronomy Picture of the Day points out.

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