Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Thrilling News from Space

  • The first pic is from today's solar eclipse, but with a twist: It was taken from the International Space Station, looking down at the moon's shadow on the Earth's surface.
  • The second pic is another Cassini image, this time of the moon Rhea in front of the rings. The rings are overexposed, to bring out some details of the moon's shadowed surface.
  • In other Cassini news, researchers have found a handful of 100-meter-scale moonlets embedded in Saturn's A ring. Their paper's in the current issue of Nature, so if you (unlike me) are a subscriber, you can find the paper here. This raises the question of how small can something be and still deserve to be called a moon and given its own unique name. The researchers suggest there might be millions of objects this size lurking in the rings, and giving each one a name would obviously be impractical. Anybody who's enjoyed watching the argument about whether Pluto and 2003 UB313 are planets or not is going to really enjoy this one. There's nothing scientists love better than arguing over nomenclature. Or at least it seems that way sometimes.
  • The great Polish SF author Stanislaw Lem has passed away at age 84. He was best known for his novel Solaris, but I've always preferred his robot stories collected in The Cyberiad, and his Ijon Tichy books. Rest in peace.
  • The once-cancelled Dawn mission is back in business. Yay!
  • You may have seen the first images from the shiny new Mars Reconaissance Orbiter that were released a few days ago. The HiRISE camera team's promising a new batch of pics next Thursday, April 6th.
  • Also coming up in April, the ESA's Venus Express probe should arrive in orbit around Venus on April 11.
  • Meanwhile, the MESSENGER probe will fly by the planet on October 24th, on its long road to Mercury.
  • And if you can't wait for Venus images, today's your lucky day. These sites offer archives of old Soviet Venera images from the surface of the planet, enhanced and cleaned up using modern image processing techniques. Very cool! Although I still don't really want to visit the place in person.
  • It turns out that 1991 VG, the #1 easiest asteroid for a probe to rendezvous with is actually an alien probe. Wow. Who knew? And what kind of third-rate aliens are they, that they could come all this far and that's the closest they can get to actually landing, or even going into Earth orbit? Lamers. Here's what the object's discoverer had to say about it. But then again, he's posting from a .gov domain, so there's just gotta be some kind of evil conspiracy or coverup going on, right?
  • Further afield, you might enjoy the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, which tries to keep track of all planets discovered outside our solar system. Two more gas giants were announced right after March 14th's big "ice giant" announcement. For the latest two, there wasn't even a press release. My, how jaded we've gotten.
  • Here's at least one fundie who argues today's solar eclipse is a sign people need to repent. I'm sure I could find others, but he does a bit of numerology to link eclipses with the number 666 and the coming Apocalypse on (you guessed it) June 6th, 2006, so I'm hereby declaring him "TEH WINNAR".
  • In contrast, BrokebackBlokes notes that "many of  the countries that could view the total eclipse  today have a poor or abysmal  relationship with their homosexual community." Although you could probably say the same thing of any eclipse, or anything else that encompasses large swaths of the Earth's surface.


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