October 12, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different (Part Two)

Jeff Patterson conquers the solar system.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:50 PM

September 05, 2008


Irene Klotz is hosting the latest carnival of space, with a different theme.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:44 PM

August 11, 2008


It's that time of year again. They peak tonight (or rather, early tomorrow morning). Be sure to get out of town, though. You won't see any but the very brightest with city lights around.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:47 AM

August 05, 2008

Hope Remains

...for life on Mars. Actually, there are a lot of people who should hope that we don't find life on Mars, if we ever want to colonize it ourselves.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 03:14 PM

August 02, 2008

Big Deal

I have a new piece up on this week's non-discovery of water on Mars.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:15 AM

July 31, 2008


Is this really as big a deal as NASA is making of it?

Data from recent missions to Mars has been building toward a confirmation of the presence of water ice. However, "this would be the first time we held it in our hands, so to speak," says Bryan DeBates, a senior aerospace education specialist at the Space Foundation. Evidence from other locations in the solar system, including Earth's moon, Saturn's Enceladus moon and Jupiter's Europa moon, have strongly hinted at the presence of water--NASA confirmed a liquid lake on Saturn's Titan moon on Wednesday--but no direct observation of water has been made.

Haven't we been pretty certain for years that there was ice on Mars (and outer planet moons, and comets)? What's the big deal here? If there's a story at all, it seems to me that it's about the amount of water available, not the fact that we have "direct confirmation."

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:43 AM

July 28, 2008

Smart Robotic Space Explorers

This is the future of space exploration. Which is why we have to stop talking about "exploration" as a justification for humans in space.

[Update in the evening]

Commenter Paul Dietz recommends >Saturn's Children as a relevant book on the subject. If it's like most of Stross' work, it's hard to go wrong.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:08 AM

July 03, 2008

Space Carnival Time

Now with 43% more Tonguska.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:41 AM

June 25, 2008

Blogtalking Space

Sorry I didn't mention it yesterday so you could listen live, but hey, the ability to download and listen at your own convenience is one of the features of the Interweb. Last night I did a one-hour interview with Rick Moran on space stuff. Download it here.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:47 AM

June 13, 2008

Good Spacy Linkage

Over at the latest Carnival of Space.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:34 AM

June 11, 2008

GLAST Headed To Orbit

It looks like Boeing had a successful Delta 2 launch (delayed by twenty minutes) today. I guess that since it doesn't need any specific orbit, as is needed for an ISS launch, there was no critical launch window. I went outside to watch, but as usual, saw nothing. The only launch I've ever seen from the house is a Atlas night launch.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:35 AM

May 30, 2008

Carnival Of Phoenix

Well, it's actually the latest Carnival of Space, over at the Lifeboat Foundation, but it's pretty Phoenix-centric.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:13 AM

May 27, 2008

Phoenix Descending

I have some thoughts on this weekend's successful arean invasion, over at PJ Media.

[Update at 7:40 AM EDT]

Some less lofty thoughts over at Althouse's place, particularly in comments.

[Mid-morning update]

Jeff Foust writes about a second chance for an underdog, over at The Space Review.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:16 AM

May 25, 2008

The Cosmic Ghoul Missed One

Congrats to JPL on the successful (so far) landing of the Phoenix. Interestingly (though almost certainly coincidentally), it happens on the forty-seventh anniversary of Kennedy's speech announcing the plan to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

And (for what it's worth--not much, to me, and even more certainly coincidentally) it's the thirty-first anniversary of the initial release of Star Wars in theaters. I didn't see it that day, but I did see it within a couple weeks. I remember being unimpressed ("the Kessel run in twelve parsecs"...please), though the effects were pretty good. But then, I was a fan of actual science fiction.

[Update late evening]

It's worth noting that (I think) this was the first soft landing on Mars in over twenty years, since Viking. Surely someone will correct me (or nitpick me) if I'm wrong.

[Monday morning update]

OK, not exactly wrong (it has been over twenty years), but it's thirty years. I'm pretty good at math. Arithmetic, not so much.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:43 PM

May 24, 2008


I find it amusing that these folks were clueless as to the purpose of the Google Lunar Prize when they signed up:

In my first blog, I wrote why Harold Rosen formed the Southern California Selene Group. In short, he and I registered our team to compete for the Google Lunar X PRIZE to demonstrate that a low-cost space mission to the moon could be accomplished and could lead to lowering the cost of some future robotic missions to planetary moons. Plus, we intended to have fun! Harold and I both are strong supporters of space science and robotic space exploration. (For one, I'm an astronomy and cosmology enthusiast.) We love the kind of work that JPL is doing, for example. But we most definitely are not in favor of human space missions. That is not our goal, nor do we support such a goal.

The Team Summit turned out to be a real wakeup call. In the Guidelines workshop that I attended just last Tuesday, the cumulative effect of hearing all day from Peter Diamandis, Bob Weiss and Gregg Maryniak that the "real purpose" of the Google Lunar X PRIZE was to promote the so-called commercialization of space (which I took to mean highly impractical stuff like mining the moon and beaming power to the earth, as shown in one of GLXP kickoff videos), humanity's future in space, etc. etc., took its toll. I couldn't help but think "what am I doing here?" When I spoke to Harold about it on the phone later, he agreed - no way did he want to be involved in promoting a goal he does not believe in.

So, what does this mean? It sounds to me like it's not just a goal they "don't believe in" (which is fine--they could not believe in it and still want to win the prize for their own purposes), but rather, a goal to which they are actively opposed, and don't think that anyone should be pursuing. I'm very curious to hear them elaborate their views, but it sounds like they're extreme Saganites. For those unfamiliar with the schools of thought, you have the von Braun model, in which vast government resources are expended to send a few government employees into space (this is Mike Griffin's approach), the Sagan model ("such a beautiful universe...don't touch it!), and the O'Neillian vision of humanity filling up the cosmos.

So when they say they don't support such a goal, does that mean they oppose it, and would take action to prevent it from happening if they could? Sure sounds like it. And they take it as a given that lunar mining is "impractical," but is that their only reason for opposing it, or do they think that it somehow violates the sanctity of the place, and disturbs what should be accessible only for pure and noble science? I'll bet that they'd prefer a lot fewer humans on earth, too.

[Via Clark Lindsey]

[Update late morning]

Commenter "Robert" says that I'm being unfair to Carl Sagan. Perhaps he's right--I was just using the formulation originally (I think) developed by Rick Tumlinson, though Sagan was definitely much more into the science and wonder of space than were von Braun or O'Neill... If anyone has a suggestion for a better representative of the "how pretty, don't touch" attitude, I'm open to suggestions.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:27 AM

April 28, 2008

Happy Anniversary

It's been a year since Henry Cate kicked off the Carnival of Space. He's asking for entries for the anniversary edition:

Fraser Cain, the current organizer of the Carnival of Space, has graciously asked me to host the anniversary edition of the Carnival of Space.

Could you:

1) Consider sending in an entry to the carnival? Send the link to a post about space to:
carnivalofspace@gmail.com. It is helpful if you include a brief summary of your post.

2) Encourage your readers to also send in an entry?

You could direct them here.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:35 AM

April 24, 2008

Carnival Of Space

Number 51, over at Astroengine.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:03 AM
Are We Real?

Phil Bowermaster (along with Jerry Pournelle) has some thoughts about Intelligent Design, panspermia and simulated universes. How would one go about looking for the easter eggs, if they exist? Sagan had an interesting one, in Contact.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:39 AM

March 04, 2008

Don't Know Much About Gravity

...or at least as much as we think we do. Does the gravity model need to be adjusted?

In the one probe the researchers did not confirm a noticeable anomaly with, MESSENGER, the spacecraft approached the Earth at about latitude 31 degrees north and receded from the Earth at about latitude 32 degrees south. "This near-perfect symmetry about the equator seemed to result in a very small velocity change, in contrast to the five other flybys," Anderson explained -- so small no anomaly could be confirmed.

The five other flybys involved flights whose incoming and outgoing trajectories were asymmetrical with each other in terms of their orientation with Earth's equator.

For instance, the NEAR mission approached Earth at about latitude 20 south and receded from the planet at about latitude 72 south. The spacecraft then seemed to fly 13 millimeters per second faster than expected. While this is just one-millionth of that probe's total velocity, the precision of the velocity measurements was 0.1 millimeters per second, carried out as they were using radio waves bounced off the craft. This suggests the anomaly seen is real -- and one needing an explanation.

Well, gravity just like evolution, is (in the words of anti-evolutionists) only a theory. It's not reality--it's simply an attempt to model it. And for most purposes, it does a pretty good job. But one of the reasons to do space, I think, is that it gives us new laboratories to make new discoveries about basic physics, the potential of which is unforeseeable.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:39 AM
Looking Back At Home

This is a pretty cool shot.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:28 AM

February 22, 2008

Space Carnival

Chris Lintot has the forty-second edition.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:22 AM
A New Take On An Old Subject

Jason Bellows muses on life without the moon. Asimov had a much longer essay on this topic, decades ago, in which he speculated not only about its impact on the development of life, but on the development of intelligence, science and civilization.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:41 AM

February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Tonight

There may be an opportunity for a red moon. Last chance in the US for almost three years. I think it's going to be cloudy here, though.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:01 PM

February 13, 2008

No Peak Oil

Scientists have apparently located a deposit of hundreds of times as many liquid hydrocarbons as all previously known earthly reserves. Unfortunately, they're on Titan.

I don't expect this announcement to have much impact on the petroleum futures market.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:34 PM

January 24, 2008

Commercial Space Roundup

Dale Amon has some thoughts, though as I note in comments, Mercury is an unlikely prospect for prospecting.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:27 AM

September 20, 2007

Orbital Turkey

Fellow Austinite and Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg is quoted by Ker Than, space.com saying that the space station is "an 'orbital turkey.' I could almost say no science has come out of it."

Perhaps our space efforts should be about settlement instead?

Posted by Sam Dinkin at 12:54 PM

September 13, 2007

If You Call That Living...

You can't imagine my relief to learn that the earth will "survive" the end of the sun (whatever that means).

Frankly, the thought that the earth wouldn't "survive" being engulfed in a red giant six billion years from now hasn't been keeping me staring at the ceiling all night, and to me, absent life, the earth doesn't have much value. I'm not sure why these folks think we would care whether or not there's still a big spherical sterile rock pile here.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 01:09 PM

September 04, 2007

Sharper Pictures Than Hubble Can Take

From the ground.

One of the problems with proposals for space applications is that it turns out that many of them can be done without leaving the planet. But I suspect that the far side of the moon will still always be better for radio astronomy than earth-based telescopes.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:25 AM

August 27, 2007

Don't Forget The Lunar Eclipse

Early tomorrow morning. Best viewed on the left coast and west, since it will be too close to dawn in the east.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:32 PM

August 11, 2007

Space Show This Weekend

No, not the one with David Livingston.

I'm up in northern Michigan, away from the city lights, and it should be good viewing of the Perseids, which peak tomorrow night. There was no moon, to first order, so it should be good viewing this year. I actually saw a couple last night driving, up, one of which was a fireball over the northwestern Detroit suburbs.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:01 AM

April 21, 2007

Go Watch A Shower

If you can get out of town, and the sky is clear tonight, the Lyrid meteors are peaking.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:55 AM

April 18, 2007

Space Science Bull

Thomas B. Pickens III gave the luncheon speech at the Space Investment Summit yesterday. He thinks that SpaceX and Rocketplane-Kistler are the "Toyota trucks" of the space infrastructure and that Space Hab will make a good business of packing science payloads to send to the Space Station. He is interested in ISS racks but can do free floating experiments and also work with Bigelow. I asked him afterwards if doing his "due diligence" as a board member before taking over as CEO he talked to the customers. He said that every customer said that they were interested if it were cheaper, more reliable and standardized.

I think that this market may not be as big as Bigelow and Space Hab are hoping. It remains to see if a business can be made. The Bull I prefer is Space Tourism. Space Hab did say they could do logistics missions too. Glad to have you as part of the industry, Thomas B. Pickens. Best of luck.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at 12:42 PM

March 30, 2007

The Plot Revealed

I don't have any particularly profound thoughts about the hexagon on Saturn (though hexagons are not unknown to nature, even if not on this scale), but Alan Henderson does.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:40 PM

January 03, 2007


Here's a cool movie, displaying the variation in lunar distance and angle from the earth. It's explained here.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:01 AM

November 16, 2006

Light Shower Forecast

The Leonids are this weekend.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:47 AM

November 06, 2006

Don't Give Up Hope

Paul Spudis writes that there's still a good possibility of lunar ice.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 10:17 AM

October 23, 2006

Losing Face

Mars Express has delivered a nice animation of the Cydonia region. Needless to say, Richard Hoagland's lunatic fans will be disappointed. Or rather, they should be, and would be if they weren't nuts. As it is, they'll probably, along with Hoagland, decry the conspiracy to hide the truth, and claim that now ESA has become part of NASA's cover up.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:23 PM

August 20, 2006

I Blame George Bush

Jupiter's spots may be disappearing, as a result of climate change.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 04:38 PM

August 12, 2006

Sky Show

The Perseids peaked last night, but you should still be able to see them tonight if you get out of the city. Unfortunately, the moon is still bright.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:24 PM

April 05, 2006

Tweaking The Drake Equation

Planet formation may be much more common than previously thought:

Scientists say the latest finding should shed light on how planetary systems form.

"It shows that planet formation is really ubiquitous in the universe. It's a very robust process and can happen in all sorts of unexpected environments," said lead researcher Deepto Chakrabarty, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:43 PM

March 09, 2006


A number of news outlets are indicating that NASA will be making a "big announcement" on life in the solar system this afternoon.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:33 AM

March 03, 2006

Order Up A Few Terratons

...of Accutane. Jupiter is developing a new red spot.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:25 PM
Blackhole Sun

In this month's Journal of Fusion I am told by Prof. Manuel of U. of Missouri-Rolla, you can read about evidence for a neutron star at the center of our very own sun kicking off nuclei to power it instead of via hydrogen fusion as we thought. There is some controversy about Manuel's theory. If true, they might have to change the name of the journal to Journal of Fission.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at 01:25 PM

February 22, 2006

Devilish Weather

We've lost a lot of probes in the attempt to explore Mars (though the Soviets and now Russians, have had even worse luck--have they ever had a successful Mars mission?). There even used to be grim jokes in Pasadena about the "Great Cosmic Ghoul" who ate Martian-bound robots.

But interestingly, once a mission is successful, it tends to be very successful--the rovers that landed a couple years ago were only designed (and expected to last) for three months, but they're still going strong. Michelle Thaller has an article that explains why bad weather is good for Martian explorers.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:39 AM

February 02, 2006

Extrasolar Planet Next Steps

SpaceToday.net has a good summary of the recently discovered extra solar planet massing only five times as much as ours.

My recommendation for the planet finders is to start looking for wobbles on the wobbles of the super massive planet orbits to see if they can find smaller planets or Moons. Or wobbles on cold binary stars that circle near the hab zone of hotter primaries that may also turn up lower mass planets.

Even if we never directly detect low mass planets, big hab zone planets may be like Jupiter or Saturn and have lots of moons, some of which have comfortable gravity and an atmosphere.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at 01:05 AM

January 23, 2006

Life As We Don't Know It

Ken Silber has a review of what look to be an interesting new book on exobiology.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:15 PM

December 02, 2005

A Lot Of Crab

Jay Manifold has some interesting statistics on the latest spectacular image from Hubble of the Crab Nebula.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:56 AM

October 06, 2005

Twinkle No More

Alan Boyle (who is on his way to check out the rocket racing exhibition in New Mexico), talks about advances in adaptive optics, with a spectacular picture of a sunspot.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:42 AM

October 05, 2005

Space Sponge

Check out this spectacular picture of Hyperion from Cassini. The imaging technology has come a long way since the first Rangers.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:37 AM

July 09, 2005

Robots vs. People

USA Today is in favor of the Cylons conquering space. They cite Van Allen. My reply to him is here. For the debate, check out Space Politics.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at 07:48 AM

June 13, 2005

A New Earth?

I've been told by someone at NSF that there may be an announcement today of an extrasolar "earth-like" planet (in terms of mass) at 1 PM. We'll keep an eye out.

[Update at 11:30 AM EDT]

Here's a link to a webcast on it, coming up in an hour and a half. The person who notified me of this writes:

"I believe, based on the level of media they're expecting that it will be an earth-size and mass planet outside of the solar system.

Let's keep our fingers crossed."

[Update at 2 PM]

OK, it's "more earth like than anything previously found," but still not that earth like. It masses several times as much as the earth, at a distance of only a couple million miles from its star, with a year of only two earth days. Sounds more like a large "Mercury-like" planet.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:58 AM

February 25, 2005


Alan Boyle has the story.

Cassini has been delivering spectacular results, and we can continue to look forward to much more (barring technical disaster, or a collision with a ring particle). I remember when I was in college, and we were just starting to anticipate the pictures that would be coming in from Voyager in a few years. Today, I suspect that most young people take this kind of imagery for granted. It's just part of the background tapestry of twenty-first century life, like powerful desktop computers, iPods, and affordable air fares.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 06:01 AM

February 24, 2005

Is It Out There?

Exobiology isn't an area of as deep fascination to me as it is for some, but if it is for you, Derek Lowe has a thoughtful post on the subject.

[Update at 8:30 AM EST]

Here is some encouraging news for those looking for life off planet--bacteria that have survived being frozen for over thirty thousand years.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 05:16 AM

October 27, 2004

A Bust

That's what the eclipse is in Boca Raton. Just as it was starting to really happen, it shyly hid behind a thick cloud, and has yet to emerge.

[Thursday morning update]

It wasn't a total bust. We got some breaks in the clouds during totality. Our biggest problem was staying up late enough. We gave it up about 11:30, while it was still fully in the umbra. It was a beautiful for a while, though.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:12 PM
Don't Forget

There's total lunar eclipse tonight, visible from most of the US (assuming clear skies, of course) at a reasonable hour. Last one until 2007.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 07:32 AM

September 04, 2004

ET Found?

Jay Manifold offers his assessment of a potential SETI discovery.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:55 PM

August 12, 2004

Interesting results from cluster spacecraft

Recent results from Cluster shed some light on the mechanism that brings particles from the solar wind into the Earth's magnetosphere, creating the Aurora and radiation belts. The basic mechanism is vortices generated in the sheared flow region between the magnetosphere and the solar wind. The mechanism behind the vortices is called the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, and it's fairly generic to low velocity sheared flows, as the discussed in the article.

The same mechanism will affect any craft powered by mini-magnetospheric plasma propulsion (M2P2), but the particle transport will be the other way - from inside the magnetic bubble to outside (since the inner particle density will be higher than the solar wind particle density, at least in the tail region). This will cause loss of ions from the bubble, and may turn out to be the limiting factor for M2P2.

There is a nice picture of Kelvin-Helmholtz waves in the Earth's atmosphere here.

Posted by Andrew Case at 06:45 AM

August 08, 2004

And So It Begins

Hubble is starting to fail.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:05 PM

July 31, 2004

Astrononomical Oddity

You know all those things you haven't done in a blue moon? Well, get ready to do them again tonight.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:52 AM

May 20, 2004

Picky, Picky, Picky

The Great Wall of China, a river, whatever...it's all good.

ESA doesn't seem to know the difference.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 03:00 PM

May 08, 2004

A Loss Of History

Jay Manifold has a post about a mindless desecration in Pennsylvania, based on an email I forwarded him from Jim Oberg.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:40 AM

May 04, 2004

Planetary Science in Physics Today

The April issue of Physics Today has a bunch of articles on planetary science, though only two are available without subscription. The Mars water article looks particularly good, and it's one of the free ones.

Incidentally, in the letters section there's a response to a naive letter about the roots of terrorism in a previous issue which hits the nail on the head.

Posted by Andrew Case at 09:10 AM

April 06, 2004

Not Waterworld?

The Martian oceans may yet prove to be a mirage. Scientists analyzing the Martian data may have had a case of mistaken hematite identity:

Although the NASA rover Opportunity has found other evidence that the plain was likely to have been a shallow sea, it has yet to find a single flake of the grey hematite.

"It's not panned out so far in the images we're seeing," said U.S. geochemist Professor Donald Burt of Arizona State University.

Opportunity may be finding the same old red hematite that gives the planet its nickname, eats away at our cars here on Earth and doesn't require nearly as much water to form.

I'm still more interested in the methane, myself.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 12:03 PM

March 30, 2004

Who Cut The Cheese?


They seem to have discovered methane on Mars.

I find this much more exciting than water for two reasons. First, while there are abiological means of methane production (e.g., vulcanism), if there's been any recent (i.e., in the past few hundred years) such activity, this would be the first and only evidence of it, so some form of life is definitely a strong possibility. Water means that life might have once been there. Methane means much more strongly that it might be there now, since it doesn't persist that long.

It's also potentially a source of fuel, though it may be too trace to easily collect.

[Hat tip to "cspackler" at Free Republic, from an amusing thread on this topic.]

[Update a couple minutes later]

The best place to go for in-depth and smart blogging on subjects Martian is probably Oliver Morton's Mainly Martian site. He's all over this one, and has taken the effort to come up with flatulent cow equivalents. He thinks it's just a couple thousand for the whole planet.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 02:33 PM

March 23, 2004

Beachcombing On The Barsoomian Shores

Keith Cowing has a nice essay on the current state of our knowledge of Martian history.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 08:44 PM

August 27, 2003

Very Scary

Jay Manifold's comment on this post:

A few years back, when I lived in Dallas, the director of the planetarium at Fair Park told a Texas Astronomical Society meeting that when the planetarium announced that telescopes would be available for public viewing of the Tue 10 Jun 94 annular solar eclipse, they got calls from people asking why they hadn't scheduled it on a weekend, when more people could drive down to see it.

These calls were from teachers.

...got me to thinking.

His power grows.

How did Glenn manage to schedule the opposition of Mars with his birthday? He moved an entire planet just so he could take the day off from blogging?

Be very afraid.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:22 AM

April 06, 2002

Comet Viewing

If the sky's clear in your area, go check out the comet tonight after sunset. Thanks to Jay Manifold for the link.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 11:34 AM

November 03, 2001

Looking for ET

I have no problem with looking for ET--I just object to making it the holy grail of the agency, while ignoring more practical goals that could make it fasterbettercheaper to not only look for ET, but to actually go out and sing Kumbaya with him, or use a disintegrator ray on him--and to figure out quickly which was appropriate to the circumstances.

Posted by Rand Simberg at 09:17 AM