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: (slingers)
Syfy has put the first episode of The Expanse TV series online. You can watch it through almost anything - Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, Syfy's own website etc. Below is youtube version (most likely geolocked - sorry - I'm sure you can find it somewhere)

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.

Red globes

Sep. 28th, 2015 11:21 pm
ellestra: (sunrise)
The biggest news today is free flowing water on Mars. Google has a doodle already. And it's been on all the websites and news and late night shows. In perfect timing all of those also run the commercials for The Martian. It's almost as if that movie PR planned it for the marketing campaign.

It was suspected before with a photos that looked like a streams but we needed to be sure.
This time we knew where and when to look and here it is. Multiple photos and spectral analysis. Just like previously suspected it is very high in salt which is why it stays liquid in Mars cold atmosphere.

And for those of you who like me couldn't see it or were just asleep last night here are photos of the Supermoon Lunar Eclipse. It's pretty in red (although the previous ones I remember and in my dads description from Poland it's more brown in real life) but all I could see through clouds was this:
ellestra: (sunrise)
So the autumn is almost here and the temperatures dropped and the fall TV is slowly starting. I'm watching The Bastard Executioner and I feel like I'm an oracle as I know what will happen long before it does. Just like that witch. Or maybe it's just so full of clichés that one simply knows what will happen next. The whole thing with the evil baron, dead pregnant wife and revenge plot was so obvious I didn't even have strength to feel upset by the fridging (but he came to live on the land of the guy who schemed to get him killed in the war how could it end well). It surprised me for a moment when the soldier let her live but then he was obviously killed by that guy who was with the witch (the secret was so obvious they only kept it for one episode - at least they don't pretend it's a real mystery and we don't spend the season trying to figure it out). And that the witch did it to force him to his destiny. Even the future romance with the baroness is so obvious I knew it was going to happen before they ever met (and rolled my eyes when they looked at each other first time). Also the evil gay (bisexual? - he obviously wants the baroness for himself and is jealous already but it's probably because he wants to marry her for power) chamberlain who is so evil he even kills his brother (because he saw him fucking a servant? made gay jokes? I'm not sure). At least setting this in Wales is somewhat original for American production and gives us some different sounding names (Matthew Rhys can finally just be Welsh). I'm also trying to decide if I should qualify this as fantasy as it seems we are supposed to take the supernatural elements seriously but they were kind of cheesy.

So the best thing I saw today was the collection of Scott Kelly's photos from space. Look how beautiful Earth looks. That I could watch it all day.
ellestra: (sunrise)
So I'm back in US after two extra hours spent in Toronto due to storm delays. Poland was beautiful as this is the time of year when everything is blooming (I went from lilacs and lily of the valley through the whole azalea and rhododendron blooming season all the way to pseudoacacia) and the weather was behaving perfectly. I got new visa. I met family. I replanted plants. And I (traditionally) got sick. I was too busy to write. Now I'm hiding from the heat as I came back straight into 35C (95F) and above weather (it's supposed to be 37 (99F) for the next 4 days straight). I resent the thought of going outside. I thought the 29-31C (84-89F) weather I was leaving in Poland was bad enough.

Also back - Philae lander. It just contacted Rosetta and the mission control. After 7 months of hibernation due to cold and lack of sunlight it's awake again. Just in time for the summer. It's just like a bear. Everyone's excited. It's been trending on twitter and xkcd has updated the Landing strip.


May. 19th, 2015 11:51 pm
ellestra: (sunrise)
On May 20 Planetary Society is sending the first test solar sail into Earth's orbit. You can watch the launch here tomorrow.

This first one is destined to burn in the atmosphere but this is the prototype for a actual launch next year. But they still need to secure additional founding so they have their own Kickstarter. They already almost 3x their goal but when both Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are asking nicely how can you not donate. Especially for something this awesome. It's like making science fiction happen yourself.

ellestra: (muppets)
It's May the Fourth so of course a lot of Star Wars so we finally got to meet the bad guys. The photos of Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o and Adam Driver's characters have been released. Or at least Driver's character without mask for the first time. Lupita's character seems to be all CGI as she is just there in the motion capture gear (but she owns a cool castle). And anyone can be inside that, admittedly very cool, Gwendoline's character armour. The best part of this is the Vanity Fair cover. Almost make me want to get the magazine...

For an actual film with the space battles you can watch now here's SMBC Theater's Starpocalypse (with space pope learning all about the things science explained)

There's also picture the cast of Suicide Squad in costume. I still don't care. So have Bruce Timm's reaction instead.
ellestra: (tiger)
Remember that "impossible" drive that everyone agreed cannot work but few labs made it work? Sceptics said that it wasn't really working. That thrust was just natural thermal convection currents arising from microwave heating or some other environmental conditions external to the drive. So NASA used it in vacuum and it still works. The physicist are very aggravated as noone understands how it works. It's like something out of an sf novel. I hope it's really true. Not just because space travel but also because there a whole new branch of physics that will need to explain this. And maybe other impossible things are possible too - like wormholes at reasonable energy levels.

After all there are other planets out there. We discover more and more everyday and now you can name them. The International Astronomical Union started a NameExoWorlds contest were you can propose popular names for 15 stars and 32 planets. Just remember you need to explain your choices.

So if we are getting ready to space travel maybe also same better power storage system. Tesla just made new batteries. Not just for cars - for houses. Right now if you generate your own power (solar, wind, etc.) you cannot really store it. You can sell it back to the grid but it's usually at the times when it's least necessary (solar) or it's unpredictable (wind). But if you could store it for the night and cloudy days it wouldn't go to waste. That's what these are supposed to accomplish. And they come in different colours.

And something needs to run the calculations for all that space travel and new physics. Good thing that IBM just made a crucial breakthrough in quantum computing. They found a new method for correcting errors on a quantum circuit. Unfortunately quantum bits are prone to spontaneous flipping between 0 and 1 or changing the sign of the phase relationship. Those two types of quantum error (called bit-flip and phase-flip) that will occur in any real quantum computer. IBM found a way to detect them both at the same time which should allow for greater reliability of quantum computers which should finally make them usable.
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: (slingers)
It turns out the strangest thing about black holes isn't the event horizon that nothing, not even light, can escape. It's not their mass. It's their density. It turns out that adding mass to a black whole doesn't work the same as normal matter. When you add mass to black holes the radius of the black hole grows at the same rate and that means the volume gets bigger to the 3rd power which means the density become less by the cubic root. A black hole with the mass of 387 million of our suns would have the average density of water. So Interstellar was right to pick a gargantuan black hole. Not only you don't get spagettified (pulled apart when you are falling into it) but you may also find inside like a big swimming pool.

The first flexible brain implants are being developed to replace metal ones. They will not only be able to deliver electric impulses but also drugs and record brain activity at the same time. This is how the Matrix starts.

What makes biology work is sequence - just like DNA's ATGC - that codes the information and structure - the 3D folding. It's important for DNA as it influences whether the information in it can be used or not (the inactive parts are folded and inaccessible) but it's most important for the enzymatic activity. Ribosomal and transfer RNA can only produce proteins when they are folded into right shapes. Proteins can work the same even with sequence change (amino acid substitutions) if the shape (and catalytic centre) stay the same. Temperature destroys that shape and many proteins cannot go back to the same shape. This is why fever above 42oC is so dangerous. This is what happens to boiled eggs. But now a way to unboil egg whites has been developed by liquefying the whites with urea (main ingredient of pee) and then use vortex fluid device to make them fold back to right shape. The most important part is that it can be used for many other proteins. Like the ones used in medicine.

Disneyland became a ground zero for a measles outbreak in California and it's due to the rising numbers of unvaccinated children that serve as repositories of the disease. It can than spread to people with lowered immunity, too young to be vaccinated and the ones who lost their immunity - like elderly as it lowers with time. A lot of those populations are particularly susceptible to complications. There is certain level of disgust I feel for people who are wilfully ignorant and defend their ignorance even at the cost of other people health and lives. And they defend it as a safe choice and protecting their children. Even though they really endanger them. But if it was just them and their children it'd be just wrong. The despicable thing is the part there they also endanger others - all the people who would otherwise never got sick. This is one thing I wish people who do this could be sued for endangering society and costs of healthcare.

It's not only El Niños that is going to happen more frequently now but also La Niña. The Pacific hot/cold water oscillation leads to extreme weather patterns all over the Pacific basin and influences global weather patterns so they are going to become even more unpredictable than they already are.
ellestra: (slingers)
It's the end of the year and it's time to sum up this year in science and that's a much better story than news. Multiple sites have than their pick of th best and most important science and technology stories this year - from weird to futuristic, from space to new element and quark combinations, from new biological organs to synthetic chromosomes and from Nature to Science. And Wired. And New Scientist. And Scientific American.

There are things that only just happened so I didn't get a chance to write about them yet and they didn't land on any list - like the strange fish that lives 8 km deep in the ocean and looks more alien than most science fiction creatures ever will (although it kind of reminds me of Falkor). Scientists learning how to speak monkey. Venus is hell (hot, hot, hot and full of sulphur) but NASA Research Center has plans to put cloud cities on it high in the Venus atmosphere where it's not too bad - apparently living just above hell is doable just as long as you don't fall. And you can name a crater on Mercury.

For me the two most important things that happened in science was - one - all the progress at organ replacement and prosthetic - from new ways to create stem cells and 3D printing organs and growing replacement ones in a vat - like vaginas to creating new, better fitted, cheaper and cooler, prettier 3D printed prosthetics and reconecting nerves in paralysed to advances in cybernetics that allows for mind-controlling the artificial limbs and feeling the objects you touch (bionics is real and cyborgs are no longer sf). Two - all the comet stuff - the Rosetta mission most of all - from the Philae drama to water that's different from the one we know (so comets are not the source of our oceans) - but also the Siding Spring pass of Mars.
ellestra: (sunrise)
Orion test was successfully and you know because people like these are all about that space travel
ellestra: (slingers)
The last week in life of Philae lander was full of danger and excitement. I was waiting with this post until we know more about its ultimate fate and not as good as we hoped but not as bad as it seemed for a while. It did land, it's still on the comet and it sent a lot of useful data but for now it's in hibernation and it may never wake up.

It all started very well - perfectly documented in the xkcd comic of the day (here's frame by frame version). Philae landed perfectly on the chosen spot. I managed to time my day perfectly to be able to see the moment of landing. I wasn't the only one watching - comet landing was trending everywhere and people were pretty positive about it. I remember how happy and relieved they were in mission control - dropping the mike and everything - when it turned out the Philae landed. Then I returned to work and when I looked at it again the news weren't as good. But the harpoons didn't fire and Philae jumped and then jumped again. For next day everyone was worrying if it'd even be able to stick to the comet. This is how its jumps looked from Rosetta.

Eventually it stopped moving and was still on the comet. Unfortunately, it stopped in the shadow of a cliff and only gets 1.5 hours of sunlight per 12 hour comet day. This meant its batteries weren't able to recharge and the scientists scrambled to get it to sent as much data as possible before the battery died. They also risked detaching from the comet just before battery run out to get at least result from one drilling (hoping that if it make it jump again the next site might get more sunshine). That didn't happen but they managed to rotate the bigger solar panel to the sunny spot. Maybe once the comet gets closer the sun the battery would get enough charge again. But for now Philae sleeps.

But we did land on a comet in a mission that took 10 years and were only off by few tiny jumps. And we have stunning pictures from the surface of the comet and Philae sent the results from the landing and subsequent test. Just today it was announced that there is proof of carry organic compounds and they could've seeded Earth with them. And of course Rosetta mission continues as the probe travels with the comet towards the sun it will sample and analyse the gases and dust coming out of 67P.

ellestra: (slingers)
Today everyone celebrated the end of a war that started 100 years ago. My family back home is just finishing a 4 day weekend. They saw light show yesterday but today, on the actual holiday, they obviously stayed home. There is nothing like "patriots" celebrating Independence Day by destroying the capitol to want to avoid celebrating.

So let's concentrate on something better. Middle of the night for me and early morning in Europe Philae will detach from Rosetta and start his descent towards the comet. The whole thing will take about 7 hours and will be transmitted on the web so, if you can, you can have it play in the background at work. He can't wait. Let's hope he succeeds.
ellestra: (tiger)
Every year Science organises the Dance Your PhD contest. Here are all the finalist from Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Social Sciences categories. And this is the winner:

Science isn't always easy to portray in art and it's rarely accurate but Interstellar had it's own science advisor Kip Thorne is Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena design some of it's special effects. New Scientist has spoiler-free guide to the science of Interstellar. Space ships and science - two things I really like together.

And here is first teaser trailer for season 3 of Orphan Black - just in time for Orphan Black Friday
ellestra: (winged)
I know I said I'm done but then today I was discussing rockets with my boss and we started talking about space travel and he couldn't remember how Virgin Galactic flight was to work so he googled it and the first thing we saw was the news. It was BBC article about the crash - it was published just 37 minutes before. Out of all the things we could've talked about...

But of course it wasn't completely accidental. We got there because we started talking about Anteres explosion. And then we got to other ways of going to space (or at least somewhere close to it) and then we saw what happened. This is not a good week to try to go to space.

At least Antares rocket was deliberately destroyed after it became apparent there was a problem to make sure it won't fall on populated area and no one was hurt. Tragically, in the SpaceShipTwo crash one of the pilots died and the other is injured.

It makes one rethink the wisdom of a contest that promises to take you on suborbital flight for a cinema ticket and remember how brave the people who go to space are. This is still a very dangerous job. (But I still want to go)


Oct. 30th, 2014 09:51 pm
ellestra: (once upon a time)
The Rosetta mission sent the probe towards comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko more than five times Earth’s distance from the Sun. The Rosetta orbiter will rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and remain in close proximity to the icy nucleus as it plunges towards the warmer inner reaches of the Sun’s domain. At the same time, a small lander will be released onto the surface of this mysterious cosmic iceberg.

Rosetta has reached it's destination earlier this year and now it's preparing to land Philae lander on it in two weeks. And it's not easy as Alexander Gerst shows in space:

The short film directed by Tomek Bagiński I mentioned a week ago is also about this mission

It really makes me wish he did make Jacek Dukaj's Ruch Generała (General's Move) into a film. This would be a perfect look for it.

I promise this is the last science one for now.

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