Tags: astronomy


Can you see me waving?

Oh wow. This unprepossessing image is a colour picture, harkening1 back to Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, of Earth and the moon from the orbit of Saturn. It was taken by the Cassini probe at a distance of 930 million miles from Earth, as you can see in this wider view.

There's something profound to be said about all known life in the Universe (yes, even George W Bush) sharing such a tiny set of pixels, but really I just think it's very cool: empowering and humbling all at the same time.

1 Harkening, or harking? I can't decide now, and the internet is proving unhelpful, suggesting only that "harking" is better than "harping", which I would never have dreamed was correct in any case.


Winter solstice

It's the winter solstice! as this nice astronomy pic of the day shows.

Like most of us, I entirely failed to make an offering to the gods, and I especially forgot to offer them the still beating heart of a small child from atop my ziggurat, but I have high hopes that summer may one day return. You know, in a year or two.


Space Cadets

My brother-in-law force-fed us some Space Cadets last weekend, a show I'd been assiduously avoiding on principle as I was offended by the very idea of conning people into thinking they were off to space.

The show is both worse and better than I'd imagined. Worse because I hate watching people being conned, and I'm so uncomfortable watching I can hardly sit still at times. It's lowest common denominator TV.

Better because the people being conned are mostly a complete waste of space and after a relatively short time you're forced to conclude that they deserve anything that happens to them. I mean, would you seriously believe our local cluster of galaxies is called the Hazelnut Cluster, or that your Russian space shuttle has artifical gravity generators? There's also a certain shameful thrill in seeing whether the programme can actually pull off the ludicrous hoax.

To counter my deep moral reservations about the whole thing, the makers of the programme have cannily got the family and friends of the contestants to approve the practical joke before starting, and there's real astronaut training and a trip on a vomit comet for the contestants when they're done. Also Johnny Vaughan, of all people, treads the fine line between taking the mick and taking it seriously. He knows when to tip his hat to the idea of space travel, or the bravery of the contestants.

Still, overall it's an uncomfortable and very ambivalent viewing experience.

Poll #633920 Space Cadets

Space Cadets is:

A morally reprehensible, creatively bankrupt farce
Superb, the dawn of a new era of quality programming
Something to tide me over until Celebrity Big Brother



New planet found in our solar system. Okay, new Pluto-esque large asteroid thing found. (And as for whether Pluto is a planet, your guess is as good as mine...) The new object is somewhere between 70% and 200% of Pluto's size, and is 51 AU from the Sun, compared to Pluto's 39 AU, and the Earth's 1 AU. That's a looong way. Let's just say it would take a very long time to get a sun tan out there. The new planet also apparently has a strange inclination, but we won't go into that.

In other astronomy news, a frozen water ice lake has been found on Mars. Nice. :-)


Awe inspiring

This is very cool and very beautiful.

It's a series of time lapse images from the Hubble Space Telescope showing a "light echo" expanding through an otherwise invisible dust cloud. It's the kind of thing you only expect to see in the movies, but these are real images. The universe seems very static sometimes, moving on geological timescales, but this is very different.

There's a much bigger image or even better, a time lapse movie (2.14 MB Quicktime) plus others.

I first saw this a while ago, and it stayed with me. Simply awe inspiring.


Woo! First pictures (and data) back from Titan.

Plenty of animated babble on News 24. I have to give them credit for the time they're devoting to it, even if the presenters don't entirely seem to know what to do with the story, or why it's important. Lots of friendly sound-bytes about how Titan's atmosphere may be a primordial soup "time capsule" resembling ancient Earth, but very little context about what Titan looks like, how big it is, where it is, how it compares to other objects in the solar system.

My main niggle so far is that we're getting endless showings of CGI simulations of the mission, but not a single one of the genuinely beautiful pictures of Saturn and its moons which Cassini has sent back to date. Genuine pictures of other worlds. Yes, they're covering the Titan landing and yes, the lander had some British involvement, but from watching the TV you'd think Cassini's only purpose was as a glorified delivery van for a good old British probe.

Still, the enthusiasm of the scientists comes across well, and it's nice to see some scientific "good news" on the television for a change.

EDIT: Oooh, purdy... Have you ever noticed how artist's concepts of bits of the Solar System are always really spectacular, full of jagged pillars of rock and dramatic canyons... and then the actual pictures look like the beach at Scarborough? First the Moon, then Mars, now Titan. Of course, for me I can't help looking at the pictures in context so I'm still thinking "wow, cool!" because it's, y'know a vastly distant moon orbiting Saturn with its own atmosphere and a distinct shortage of day-trippers and ice-cream vans.