ellestra: (cosima)
Today in bizarre American date writing system is 3.14 which makes it Pi Day (3.1416 is a rounding of Pi). It's a day to celebrate it, admire its many graphical representations, write "pi-kus" and "piems". Happy Pi Day.

Today ExoMars mission has successfully launched. It's an European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos mission to hunt for signs of alien life on the Red Planet. The mission’s 2016 phase includes a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) that’ll search for methane and other compounds of possible biological origin in Mars’ lower atmosphere, and a Schiaparelli entry, descent, and landing module, which will demonstrate complex landing technology for a larger, ground-based ExoMars rover slated to ship off in 2018. Already on Mars Curiosity is switching to a new mission. It's going to look for signs of life too.

Today is also the day when we are only month away from new Orphan Black episode (it's going to be on Thursdays now) and we have a new trailer.
ellestra: (lightning)
So today is the Winter Solstice and the days will finally start getting longer. I'm hoping that this is the reason behind me being so sleepy and tired all the time. This and the weather change. The season started with pouring rain and the beginning of heatwave (for winter). It's 10 pm and it's still 16oC (60F) outside and it's only going to get warmer. Also coming - more thunderstorms. I need to decide witch summer dress to wear for Christmas Eve. Tomorrow, I'm thinking capris since I'm going to spend 3 hours in the cinema (yes, I'm finally going to see Star Wars) and it might be cold inside. How is global warming treating you?

The third episode of The Expanse is on Syfy today but you can watch it and the 4th one on the Syfy website today. I saw all 4 of them and I love it so far but I'll write down the details after it shws up on TV. Also the shows you can see early are the occupied LA of the future drama Colony and Frankenstein-inspired cop drama Second Chance. I'm glad we are no longer playing the "leaked" pilot game and they just officially put them out early to get people interested in the shows (NBC Universal cable channels especially). It turns out that if you give people a way to watch thing legally that what they'll do - Netflix took over torrent as the main internet traffic hog by far this year. But this is still just US solution - the rest of the world is still left catching up on that other internet. Unless you don't care that much and wait for it to show up on TV. I remember that for shows I liked but didn't care to stay current on AXN channels, Fox and Universal were doing pretty decent job on staying current.

Meanwhile on real Mars Curiosity has drilled some more holes. We got detailed pictures of the real Ceres; some even in 3D (almost as pretty as Pluto). And Yutu shows that the Moon is more geologically complex than we knew. And here on Earth the robots are slowly taking over... raindeer jobs. Lucky us they don't fly yet or Robot Santa would come for us all.
ellestra: (tiger)
The Martian crew worked pretty closely with NASA (including the interface design) and NASA now compares the science in the movie to the real thing on their tumblr. Another, more detailed look, at he science in the movie is on io9. Mika McKinnon gives grades to the different parts of movie science. Of course the big thing is the storms as with the book but some of the problems came with the changes they made for the movie. And here's the Rich Parnell manoeuvre in detail. And just saved for last here are some real pictures of Mars - straight from Curiosity.

And if you have enough of Mars here are photos from the Apollo program. Right there with Earth rising over the horizon and footsteps in the dust. Makes you wish this was something that's still happening, doesn't it?
ellestra: (sunrise)
I saw The Martian today. It was great. Just like with Gravity it shows science and space travel as something gripping but unlike Gravity it's all positive. Gravity's message was stay home. This says no matter the odds we can do it and get there if we put our minds in it. It's all for the space travel and exploration. The best advertisement for going out there ourselves.

It obliviously doesn't have the same level of detail that book has - so most of the gruelling part of problem solving and Mark explanations are gone. This loses some of the science and humour but we get the beautiful views instead. In 3D it was almost like the Mars Explorer vieweven if it's Wadi Rum instead.

We all know what happened the last time a British director left Matt Damon stranded on a planet. And once again the spaceship air lock gets blown out. The guys obviously bad luck. He even got Jessica Chastain all upset again. Luckily, Mark Watney does much better stranded on a hostile planet than that other man. He sciences the shit out of it (literally sometimes).

The best part of the book is the humour and they do capture Watney's childish and sometimes gallows humour pretty well. Space is not friendly and nothing there helps you survive - the only thing we have are our brains and all that they made - science and technology. And this is what he uses to find a way to solve his problems. This and little help from his friends. Because the other thing we have are other humans. This is movie about science but also about cooperation. Mark is alone and far, far away from all other human beings but those other human beings still save him. The teams in NASA and JPL and Chinese space program and, of course, the crew of Hermes.

They go through the same cycle of defeat and try again to solve this problem. And just like with the book (Andy Weir, blogged his book and crowdsurced some of the solutions), if you have enough minds working on something one of them can have the right idea. Of course we are human so they sometimes disagree and have to play politics and being not careful enough or too careful - Teddy I'm looking at you - but it's hard to make decisions when you know that if you fail the whole humanity will watch a man slowly die. In a way I feel like the NASA team on Earth is in bigger stress than Mark. I wish there was a little more Mitch and Mindy and Annie but it was already pretty long film - almost 2.5 hours long - so it's OK.

At least we got Elrond meeting. I was so happy I wasn’t drinking anything at that Lord of the Rings joke with Sean Bean. It was already glorious when Sean Bean started to explain the Council of Elrond being a secret meeting but I really lost it when Kristen Wiig’s character asked “How did you know that?”. I almost screamed “Because he was there!” but I was too busy laughing. It was in the book but it's so much better with Sean Bean there and Ridley Scott wanted to take it out. This is one instance of Fox executive meddling I'm very happy about.

Even though the Hermes time is very limited they managed to let us like the rest of the Ares 3 crew. Lewis and Martinez are the main focus and Martinez is the most likeable but we Vogel gets crucial role in getting the plan and blowing stuff. Johanssen does her computer fu and Beck does a lot of EVA and we get a glimpse their romance romance (and for some more meta, now in Marvel - Sue Storm and Bucky Barnes get together - who wants to check if that pairing rises in popularity now?). I was a little disappointed they changed the story so that Lewis goes for Mark but movies love to make it personal and commanding is not very cinematic.

It did have so minor issues. As most people I assumed Mindy Park was of Korean descent and instead she was played by Cameron from Halt and Catch Fire. Venkat/Vincent Kapoor thing is apparently due to last minute casting because the actor they wanted had scheduling conflict right before filming started.

They walk on Mars like it Earth and so they do in spinning section but then that's might be because they muscles have already atrophied a bit after being in lower gravity for so long. Why Mark didn't make double layer seal on the blown out door (in case it was pierced by a stone)? And of course everyone points out the storm but Andy Weir admitted this was one thing he messed up but needed for the whole thing.

But neither of these things really matters because there is fun to be had and places to see.

It's funny how two films I liked best this year are all about the deserts. And they both show them in such a beautiful detail. Even though they get even more inhospitable I still want to go and see. Let's go to Mars and see for ourselves. Or at least watch some more Curiosity photos.
ellestra: (tiger)
Two years ago a group of students sent a camera and a phone to stratosphere to film Grand Canyon. Due to the fact that large portions of this wild land are still missing the connection to civilisation (like cell phone coverage) it got lost. Luckily it has just been recovered and now we can all see it. It also proves the superiority of memory cards over film - just as good after two years in the desert.

If you watch a time travel TV pilot in the future when you know it didn't happen is it proof the time travel is real. This is OK but very, very predictable and feels like a rehash of many past shows so I can see why Syfy gave it a pass but it proves you can never trust a cyclon - especially Four (Matthew Bennett the Canadian sci-fi go to bad guy).

Google wanted me to watch it and it's interesting but I haven't managed to get through all 3 parts yet. The interludes between the stories are so very pretty.
ellestra: (charlie jade)
LHC was supposed to be back in operation after two years of upgrades but it short-circuited during booting so we'll still have to wait for that dark matter explanation a little longer. They need to opposite of vacuum it first by flushing it out with high-pressure helium gas.

For the first time since MIR there will be someone living in space for a year. Or rather two someones. One is Russian and the other is American and a part of real life re-enactment of the famous identical twins experiment. The one when one stays on Earth while the other is in space. Identical twins and space. No near relativistic speeds this time so age difference will be unnoticeable but there are plenty of other things to learn. The last cosmonaut in this mission crew will be only staying for standard 6 months but that will allow him to become the person who spent the most days in space ever nevertheless.

Curiosity discovered another compound that's connected to life as we know it - nitric oxide. Most people think about it as laughing gas but it only has that effect because it's an important signalling molecule that triggers a lot of metabolic pathways. It can also be the result of lightning or meteor impact so it doesn't mean much by itself but might be also another clue in Curiosity's search for life. Meanwhile her landing marks fade.

While Curiosity is still only beginning her journey Opportunity has just finished a marathon. It's been more than 10 years and 42km and it's still going. Maybe xkcd is right. Maybe she's marking what hers. Unless amnesia gets her first.

I thought that starfish ripping themselves apart were horrific enough but now octopodes are eating their own arms. In next Syfy movie this will be an alien virus that just goes up the animal kingdom all the way to humans. The trick is to invent even more horrific form of self mutilation than those already described.

Graphene light bulbs because what is leaving in the future worth without it being made of science fiction materials.

Artificial ants working together just like the real ones
ellestra: (tiger)
This is how one orbit lap looks like from the space station - the sun going the full round. This one was going parallel to terminator so the sun never sets/rises. It just makes the full loop.

This is so awesome - real space videos always are.

Venus the least welcoming of our rocky neighbours as runaway greenhouse effect turned the place into hell - almost 500 oC and clouds of sulphuric acid that hard to survive by even the most advanced of our equipment. The Venera program manage to put the probes there after few first got crushed by the incredibly dense atmosphere. Now the Venus Express probe will start a series of dives into the Venus atmosphere - something it'll probably won't survive - to record conditions in a largely unstudied region. It already has served as Venus weather satellite and now it will give us information about the atmosphere from the inside.

We made a new type of rock - plastiglomerate. It is made of solids of volcanic origin, sand, shells and plastic. It's most likely the plastic that got to close to the fire on beaches, melted and bound the beach minerals together. The new substance appears to be persistent, destined to stick around for a long, long time. I hope you are all proud of yourselves.

There is a first chatbot that managed to convince 1 in 3 judges that it was a 13-year-old non-native-English-speaking Ukrainian boy. I'm not sure if that's really passing the Turing test as everyone says but it shows the programs are getting better at this. Soon all your porn chats will be completely human free.
ellestra: (slingers)
The Opportunity rover mission was supposed to last 90 days. It just finished a decade of exploration of Mars and it's still going. Think about 10 years - it's 40 times longer then it was planned to work. Without any repairs and all the engeenirs on a different planet with minutes delay.

The Spirit rover that landed three weeks earlier stopped responding in 2010 but Opportunity is still sending us more and more information and along with Curiosity it's letting us learn more and more about Mars warm, humid past.

There are more anniversary videos on the jpl you tube channel and they are all worth watching. Like this recording of the life feed celebration talks:


Dec. 11th, 2013 10:17 pm
ellestra: (tiger)
Today is 11-12-13 and it's the last date like that in this century. So happy last sequential day to all who got married today to make it easy to remember. But of course dates are just an artificial construct made even less important by the possibility that the whole Universe might be just a hologram. It's of course a theoretical physics stuff so the fact that the math is sound doesn't make it real but it is a way to give one explanation to both quantum physics and Einstein's theory of gravity.

Another thing that may help reconcile quantum theory may lay with wormholes made by entangled black holes. Entanglement is a term usually associated with quantum particles when two of them, no matter how far apart behave as one and the same particle. It's been used to teleport particles before. Black wholes are points where gravity is so strong nothing can escape it - not even light and the time stands still. In this scenario wormholes — understood as shortcuts between connect distant points in the universe - are black holes that are linked with entanglement. Still doesn't explain how we can use them to travel. I want my space vacations.

I already have to live with the disappointment of now comet in the sky. There was a very brief moment of hope that some part of the ISON comet might've survived but it's now official - it's gone. That what happenswhen you don't listen to the all the warnings and fly to close to the Sun. That can happen when you are made of ice. We should've called it Icarus or Frosty. What will we do now when the ISON project discovers another comet - call it ISON 2?

But at least Curiosity didn't disappoint and brought us evidence that there was a fresh water lake where it now threads. A small portion of the Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed last year, was once covered by an ancient Martian lake that could have supported life as we know it for long stretches — perhaps millions of years. It existed there about 3.7 billion years ago so millions of years wasn't a long time but it was about the time that life appeared on Earth so it might've also existed on Mars. Or even it some theories are right it did show up on Mars and then travelled all the way here.
ellestra: (slingers)
A year ago Curiosity landed on Mars. So this time to celebrate and NASA has its interactive list of Top Five Science Discoveries. New Scientist listed their pick of five coolest finds.

There are also videos celebrating 12 Earth months of research in 2 minutes

And Curiosity playing Happy Birthday to itself on SAM

And I took photos of the double when I was in Chicago (it and Opportunity double are going to be in the Adler Planetarium till the beginning of September if your there and want to see it too). The ones with me are for family but you can have the rest.

ellestra: (Default)
So it looks like there will be no announcement of "for history books" discovery on Mars. No organics, life, aliens or even twinkies. I'm not really disappointed because I didn't expect much. He said they need to confirm the results and they were probably unable to. Happens all the time in science. The mission just got started I'm sure it will find a lot of coll things before it's done.

Cool things like ice on Mercury. Real water ice on the planet so close to the Sun it orbits it in 88 days. The image of scorched small planet is so ingrained I sometimes forget how fast and how cold the parts Sun doesn't reach are and that there must be all the temperatures in between. Thank you Messenger for awesome news.

Even bigger news is the biggest black hole ever discovered. It's in the middle of a very small galaxy and it could shake the foundations of current models of galaxy evolution as its mass is much greater then they predict (17 billion times the mass of the Sun). It also takes much more it's galaxy mass then we've ever seen (14% of the total galaxy mass). Maybe Peter Hamilton was right and someone is powering their paradise.

On the opposite end of scale someone finally took a picture of the DNA. Till now we only new how it looks from secondhand sources (like X-ray crystallography) but now it's the electron microscopy time and the helix is clearly visible in all it's glory.

On even smaller scale there is a new transistor that controls the flow of atoms, rather than electrons creating superconductors out of superfluid atoms, flowing with no friction or physical resistance. So take some very cold superfluid and add some lasers and get you can have a transistor. Not very energy efficient but certainly very cool (like 500 nano-degrees above absolute zero).

And BTW do you remember the Niantic Project I mentioned last week? Well, players are having fun but the really cool thing might come out of all the data Google is able to get through this. Everything points to them using it to set up the Augmented Reality for Google glasses. Part of me feels like this is Google taking last bits of privacy and discovery and just mapping the rea into virtual like in some distopian novel and using us to do it with our own hands (and phones) but I don't even care because players enjoy it and I want AR. This is the future I was promised.
ellestra: (tiger)
Space. Somewhere I always wanted to go. Ever since I was a little kid (also London and New York but I already did that). But I don't have spare tens of millions of dollars so I do it remotely right now. Through Curiosity. And she's doing great out there on Mars.

Mars atmosphere, from our perspective is barley more then space but it does exist and it has it's own weather phenomena. The atmosphere is so thin the dust moved by wind can warm it up (more particles can keep more warmth). The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter watches from above and it also studies the atmosphere and the dust storms. It recently took some photos of a storm on the other side of the world from Curiosity. It grew pretty big (big enough that Curiosity detected pressure changes) and warmed up the atmosphere by 25oC.

Mars atmosphere changes density depending on the season as during summer the polar dry ice melts and the released CO2 makes atmosphere thicker on that hemisphere. Then during winter it freezes again. Unfortunately one thing that got damaged during Curiosity's landing was one of the two wind probes. Luckily the other is still working and it works good enough to even detect dirt devils passing by. It also detects sharp fall of pressure when the Sun comes over the crater every Martian day and rise during the night. This is accompanied by radiation dose changes. When the air pressure gets higher radiation levels drop.

It is important to any human who's ever going to g there. Knowledge about how much radiation humans will be exposed on surface is something crucial for any future mission planning. Mars is missing not only dense atmosphere but also magnetosphere that would stop fast, ionised particles from reaching surface. Luckily, it seems the radiation levels are similar to those in low Earth orbit and we already know human can take that for extended periods of time (thank spacestations). Travel there is a bigger problem.

These are, of course, informations we mostly expected. However, Mars Science Laboratory Principal Investigator John Grotzinger teased in an interview that one of the soil samples Curiosity tested recently shows something "earthshaking" and "This data is gonna be one for the history books". He didn't say anything else because they need to confirm the finding but now everyone is speculating. The speculations range from disappointing (more water) to sci-fi (aliens). I hope for organic compounds.

In more space gossip, there are rumours that a private firm is aiming to send astronauts to the moon by 2020. They are not confirming anything but between this and asteroid mining I may yet see real space age in my lifetime.
ellestra: (winged)
Rubber chicken named Camilla has made five trips into space, thanks to a hot air balloon that can reach the highest levels of the Earth’s atmosphere. Now NASA astronaut wants to take her with him to ISS. She just needs certification from the Russian space program and then she's ready to go.

Remember those youtube channels full of wonderful projects? The Nerdist channel just got even more awesome as it now hosts video version of Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk. Here's the first episode:
ellestra: (slingers)
I've been reading science fiction since the moment I learned how. I was so young when I started that sometimes I had problems to differentiate between fact and fiction (I'm still waiting for the RL to catch up to the way I thought it should be). My imagination was filled with space adventures and alien planets. And the Alpha Centauri name was there so often. That's were all the first missions go. There's a whole history of science fiction living on the planets orbiting stars of that binary system - from Krzysztof Boruń and Andrzej Trepka's Trylogia Kosmiczna (Space Trilogy) to Avatar.

Now we know there is a planet there. And that planet's the smallest we've ever found - mass just 113% of Earth - but very close to it's sun. It is so close to Alpha Centauri B that it orbit's it in 3.236 days and it's surface temperature is at least 1200oC. So not somewhere Zefram Cochrane can live but there might be more planets orbiting either or even both stars. This is so awesome.

Alpha Centauri has been the subject of so many science fiction stories because it's so close. It's an obvious target for the first interstellar trip - just little over 4 light years away it's basically right around the corner in the galactic distances frame. Of course we are still nowhere near speeding our craft to speed that would get us there in a reasonable time (e.g. something faster then millennia). After all our farthest away probe is just getting out of heliosphere (crossing fingers for Voyager entering the interstellar space soon). However there are some ideas how we may get there faster and they may not be complete science fiction. Now that we know there is something to see I may see the solarsail ships.

And if perspective of living with two suns is not enough here's another recently discovered planet that has four of them (wonder if there are weird black flying creatures that come out at night).
ellestra: (telamon)
I realised I haven't written anything about Mars lately and Curiosity has been busy all this time. This weekend she's supposed to take first soil sample and do chemical testing on it. Right now it's just to check if all the elements of her chemistry lab are working properly (including scoop) but even that will give us interesting data about Martian sand.

After all she's just send a photo of something that looks just like a riverbed. From the look of the rocks water there used to ran fast and deep - from ankle to maybe even hip deep. They water flowing through the channel named Peace Vallis rounded pebbles and gravel fragments in a way that could have only been weathered by strong currents. Their shape and orientation shows they were carried by water for a while and signs of many channels indicate the water flowed in this region continuously or, at least repeatedly, for years. So we missed on the rivers of Mars. But, you know, one day.

And recently she posted enough times on Foursquares to become mayor of Mars. One day children will learn about it in history.

So here's panoramic view of View on the Way to 'Glenelg'

And as for what happens next it seems Red Planet wasn't far off base and we may use microbes to help us with making Mars more livable. But not for making breathable atmosphere (at least not yet). For now we are happy for using ones that can make bricks. You just need to pee on them. Peeing bricks - that's the future of masonry.
ellestra: (Default)
Curiosity started moving and now it can really start calling itself a rover. Until now , it was too busy tweeting because, as xkcd teaches us, nothing in RL matters until you can post about it on the internet. Of course, some things are more worth sharing then others. Like pictures of Mars. Or telling people you are celebrating Ray Bradbury's birthday by naming your landing site in his name. So now it's Bradbury Landing and this is what you can see there:
ellestra: (Default)
The move is in free day so quickly:

Curiosity keeps sending us photo like a kid who got a smartphone and facebook access only, you know, from Mars. There's a colour panorama of her surroundings. There's the photo of she took of herself (I'm waiting for the inevitable crude comments about her looks). And there's also a photo a friend took when he was passing over the landing site - that dot in the blue that's Curiosity (colour enhanced so blue is really grey):

And if you wonder what did the Curisity do for us to warrant this celebrity status - it turns out she made quite an impression in the arts. One of the instruments designed for the MLS mission that uses X-ray diffraction and fluorescence to study the composition of rock on the Mars can be also used in art conservation. It allows conservationists to examine the composition of priceless works of art without damaging them by taking samples.
ellestra: (sunrise)
So Curiosity landed on Mars safely. The whole tone of it. With it's superparchute and a jetpack crane. no wonder everyone in mission control just went crazy from joy.

We got a photo form Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter watching it descend (isn't it awesome that we have enough artificial satellites around Mars to get photos like that?)

And it turns out it took photos all the way down (like you're bound to do when you are falling down from space)

It also already sent the first photos from the ground (and look at that mount it's going to climb)

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