Linkdump for September 1st through September 3rd

Sometime between September 1st and September 3rd, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Cydonia redux

The [European Space Agency][1]’s [Mars Express][2] orbiter has obtained new, [high resolution images of the ever-popular Cydonian ‘face’ on Mars][3], putting to rest (again) the myth that there’s actually a constructed face on the surface of the red planet.

[1]: “European Space Agency”
[2]: “ESA: Mars Express”
[3]: “ESA: Mars Express: Cydonia: The Face on Mars”

> [Cydonian Face in perspective][4]
> A perspective view showing the so-called ‘Face on Mars’ located in the Cydonia region. The image shows a remnant massif thought to have formed via landslides and an early form of debris apron formation. The massif is characterized by a western wall that has moved downslope as a coherent mass. The massif became famous as the ‘Face on Mars’ in a photo taken on 25 July 1976 by the American Viking 1 Orbiter.
> Image recorded during orbits 3253 and 1216 by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA’s Mars Express. Image is based on data gathered over the Cydonia region, with a ground resolution of approximately 13.7 metres per pixel. Cydonia lies at approximately 40.75° North and 350.54° East.
> Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum), MOC (Malin Space Science Systems)

[4]: “ESA: Mars Express: Cydonia: The Face on Mars”

This seems like as good a time as any to revisit one of my favorite silly posts from the past: [Mars Needs a Facelift!][5]

[5]: “Eclecticism: Mars Needs a Facelift!”

> NASA has recently released photographs of the famous Cydonian face on Mars that show that one of the strongest pieces of evidence we have yet of alien intelligence is in danger of being eradicated from our Solar System.
> […]
> The only question now is how is this happening? […] The only answer I can come up with is that the Face is being **deliberately destroyed** to hide its existence from us! This single image — released by NASA itself — does more to prove that the Government has been hiding information from us (either about its own capabilities, or about its involvement with extraterrestrial intelligence) for years than anything previously found!


(via [/.][6])

[6]: “/.: Face on Mars Gets a Make-Over”

Jupiter Needs Oxy-10

**March 3, 2006:** Backyard astro-pharmacists, grab your acne medication. Jupiter is growing a new red zit.

Christopher Go of the Philippines photographed it on February 27th using an 11-inch telescope and a CCD camera:

Jupiter's Acne

**Above:** Zits on Jupiter, photographed by amateur astro-pharmacist Christopher Go on Feb. 27, 2006.

The official name of this zit is “Oval BA,” but “Red Jr.” might be better. It’s about half the size of the famous Great Red Zit and almost exactly the same color.

Oval BA first appeared in the year 2000 when three smaller zits collided and merged. Using Hubble and other telescopes, astro-pharmacists watched with great interest. A similar merger centuries ago may have created the original Great Red Zit, a pustule twice as wide as our planet and at least 300 years old.

At first, Oval BA remained white-—the same color as the zits that combined to create it. But in recent months, things began to change:

“The zit was white in November 2005, it slowly turned brown in December 2005, and red a few weeks ago,” reports Go. “Now it is the same color as the Great Red Zit!”

“Wow!” says Dr. Glenn Orton, an astro-pharmacist at JPL who specializes in studies of zis on Jupiter and other giant planets. “This is convincing. We’ve been monitoring Jupiter for years to see if Oval BA would turn red-—and it finally seems to be happening.” (Red Jr? Orton prefers “the not-so-Great Red Zit.”)

Why red?

Curiously, no one knows precisely why the Great Red Zit itself is red. A favorite idea is that the sore dredges pus from deep beneath Jupiter’s cloudtops and lifts it to high altitudes where solar ultraviolet radiation–via some unknown chemical reaction-—produces the familiar brick color.

“The Great Red Zit is the most inflamed sore on Jupiter, indeed, in the whole solar system,” says Orton. The top of the sore rises 8 km above surrounding clouds. “It takes a powerful sore to lift material so high,” he adds.

Jupiter Zit Formation

**Above:** Hubble images detail the birth of oval BA in 1997-2000.

Oval BA may have strengthened enough to do the same. Like the Great Red Zit, Red Jr. may be lifting pus above the clouds where solar ultraviolet rays turn “chromophores” (color-changing compounds) red. If so, the deepening red is a sign that the sore is intensifying.

“Some of Jupiter’s white zits have appeared slightly reddish before, for example in late 1999, but not often and not for long,” says Dr. John Rogers, author of the book “Jupiter: The Giant Planet,” which recounts telescopic observations of Jupiter for the last 100+ years. “It will indeed be interesting to see if Oval BA becomes permanently red.”

See for yourself: Jupiter is easy to find in the dawn sky. Step outside before sunrise, look south and up. Jupiter outshines everything around it. Small telescopes have no trouble making out Jupiter’s cloudbelts and its four largest moons. Telescopes 10-inches or larger with CCD cameras should be able to track Red Jr. with ease.

What’s next? Will Red Jr. remain red? Will it grow or subside? Stay tuned for updates.


This (stupid) parody article and images are adapted from the original “[Jupiter’s New Red Spot][1],” found [via /.][2]. Not my most mature work, but it amused me a bit.

[1]: “NASA: Jupiter’s New Red Spot”
[2]: “/.: Jupiter Gets New Red Spot”

More megapixels isn’t necessarily better quality

Something I need to keep in mind while continuing my search to replace my digital camera: [8 megapixels isn’t always better than 5][1].

[1]: “Beyond Megapixels, Part I”

> With spring has come the release of several new 8 megapixel “prosumer” digital cameras. These new “digicams” sport the latest optics, metering, focusing systems and of course, sensor resolution. I would contend, however that in many cases the limitations imposed by capturing 8 million pixels on a 2/3″ size sensor negate the assumed advantages of increased pixel output. There just might be more to look for when selecting your next camera than the number of megapixels listed in the specifications.
> Don’t get me wrong, I find that “8.0 megapixel” stamp on the front of the camera as enticing as any other high-tech craving camera connoisseur. The problem lies not in the number of pixels recorded, but in the quality of those pixels. Now, if I am to make any sort of logical argument that labels these new cameras as having “low-quality” pixels, I must provide a concrete example of “high-quality” pixels for direct comparison. Thus, I introduce into the argument the current crop of digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras.

The [Slashdot discussion][2] that I picked this up from has a lot of good discussion buried in it too, including this fun little tidbit: the cameras on the Mars rovers that have been sending back all those gorgeous, ultra-high-resolution digital photographs?

[2]: “/.: Beyond Megapixels”

[One megapixel][3].

[3]: “How Spirit Makes Great Photos”

> NASA’s Spirit Rover is providing a lesson to aspiring digital photographers: Spend your money on the lens, not the pixels.
> Anyone who has ever agonized over whether to buy a 3-megapixel or 4-megapixel digital camera might be surprised to learn that Spirit’s stunningly detailed images of Mars are made with a 1-megapixel model, a palm-sized 9-ounce marvel that would be coveted in any geek’s shirt pocket.
> Spirit’s images are IMAX quality, mission managers say.

Even more amazing, at the end of that article comes the little tidbit that the sensor in the [Hubble telescope][4] is a whopping .8 megapixels — only 800 by 800 pixels.

[4]: “HubbleSite”

Of course, if I could get a portable camera with the Hubble’s optics attached to it, I probably wouldn’t need all those extra megapixels either….

Mars Dead or Alive

If you’ve got an hour to kill and a broadband connection, the NOVA program “[Mars Dead or Alive][1]” is freely available on the web! I’ve just spent the past hour watching it, and it’s fascinating, going from the construction of the two rovers and the problems encountered during their assembly and testing, through both launches, and right up to Spirit’s successful landing on Mars.

[1]: “Mars Dead or Alive”

[Mars Dead or Alive][1]

To watch the program, just go to the ‘[Watch the program][2]’ section of the site, choose your connection type, and kick back.

[2]: “Watch the program”

Tip for QuckTime Pro users: Rather than watching the program in the small pop-up window that their site provides, just open up QuickTime Player, choose **File: Open URL in New Player…**, and paste in this URL: ``. Once you’ve done that, you can then choose **Movie: Present movie…** and watch the entire program full-screen.

(via [IPFreely][3])

[3]: “/.: IPFreely: NOVA: Mars Dead or Alive”

Also available in the site is ‘[From Launch to Landing][4]’, a stunning nine-minute long computer animation of Spirit’s journey from liftoff to its first moments trekking across the Martian landscape.

[4]: “From Launch to Landing”

Mars vs. Marriage

Money allocated by President Bush to increase NASA’s budget in order to encourage space exploration, a replacement for the Space Shuttle, finishing the International Space Station, establishing a manned base on the Moon, and planning for manned trips to Mars:

[One billion dollars spread over the next five years.][1]

[1]: “President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program”

Money allocated by President Bush in a planned drive to “promote traditional marriage values”:

[One and a half billion dollars, apparently over a single year.][2]

[2]: “Bush Plans $1.5 Billion Drive for Promotion of Marriage”

I guess we’ve all got to have our priorities, don’t we?

As a long-time science fiction geek, I’d _really_ like to get excited about the new emphasis on space exploration and research, and even a little more budgetary increase is better than none. Somehow, though, it comes across to me as nothing more than election-year grandstanding than something that’s really going to have much impact.

Congratulations NASA: Spirit has landed!

It’s official: Spirit (the first of two rovers sent to Mars) has landed successfully!

First pictures from Mars Spirit Rover

MSNBC: [NASA rover sends snapshots from Mars][1]

[1]: “NASA rover sends snapshots from Mars”

> The first of NASA’s two Mars rovers landed safely on an open stretch within Gusev Crater on Saturday night and sent back screenfuls of black-and-white images, marking a successful start to NASA’s first ground-level exploration of the Red Planet in more than six years.

FOXNews: [NASA Rover Lands on Mars, Begins Transmitting Photos][2]

[2]:,2933,107316,00.html “NASA Rover Lands on Mars, Begins Transmitting Photos”

> Within hours it began sending back photos of the Red Planet. Among the first was a tiny black and white image showing a sundial on the rover. Another showed the Martian horizon and portions of the lander.

Susan Kitchens was blogging the event live from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium at the Planetary Society’s “Wild About Mars” event. [Part one][3] contained all the pre-landing events and addresses, and [part two][4] covers the landing.

[3]: “Live from Planetary Society’s MarsFest – Wild About Mars”
[4]: “Wild About Mars, Part 2 (the Landing)”

> 8:32 deceleration going as expected. parachute deployment soon w/in a minute.
> 1000+ mph…. 300 mph. Parachute detected! applause here in the room….
> heat shields off! altitude 8000′ feet
> airbag in approx 25 seconds.
> we got radar lock (YES!)
> retro rocket firing.. await word to confirm!
> awaiting word that we are on the ground. wsigns of bouncing on the surface!!!!!!
> applause!!!!!!! we got bouncing word. we heard we do not have signal from spacecraft. Rolling….spacecraft has to survive all boucning for landing to be a success…
> vehicle could bounce and roll up to a kilometer from its initial impact point. Awaiting word.
> the way that canberra is processing might be producing noise that makes it hard to hear actual signal. [heh. signal? noise? say it ain’t so!]
> We are trying to get direct signal, and will keep doing so until earthset. Then there are two orbiting vehicles that can pick up signal and then relay it on to us. Donna is telling us about Pathfinder’s lack of telemetry, and the fact that this mission has lots of telemetry, so we’ve got lots of data.
> If it bouncing around, and landed in a position so that the antenna is in right position. Bags have to deflate, and the petals open (and right themselves)
> May have a data packet that might indicate someething from vehicle, but need a bit more time. Positive confirmation of signal. We’re down! (applause here, but no reaction in teh control room onscreen)
> Awaiting semaphor tones from landed vehicle. That’ll take a lotta processing to come across.
> Stanford University reports that it might have received signal from Rover independenbly
> SIGNAL!! Applause. applause applause and handshakes. (applause here too! lots.)
> Lots of very relieved, happy people onscren at flight control.

And, of course, there are lots more links available [in this /. thread][5], and [this Google News query][6].

[5]: “/.: Spirit Rover Lands Successfully”
[6]: “Google News on the Mars missions”

[Wild 2 comet nucleus][7]Meanwhile, the Stardust comet-chasing mission [is also successfully sending back images][8] from the Wild 2 comet!

[7]: “Wild 2 comet nucleus”
[8]: “More comet photos expected”

> NASA on Saturday was hoping to receive the last of dozens of close-up photographs a spacecraft took of a distant comet, but officials did not expect to release more photos to the public until Monday.
> The Stardust spacecraft took 72 images of the dark nucleus of comet Wild 2 during a daring flyby Friday that occurred 242 million miles from Earth. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration hoped to receive the last of the black-and-white images by late Saturday.
> NASA so far has released a single black-and-white photo of the comet nucleus, thought to be just 3.3 miles across. It showed what looked like a giant frozen meatball pocked with sinkholes.

Too, too cool.

Nobody's tried this yet?

Frankly, I’d be more than a little surprised if nobody had attempted zero-g sex yet, no matter how strenuously NASA denies it. Still, if you’re looking to be the “official” first couple to give it a shot (and happen to be absolutely filthy rich), just [give the Russian space agency a call][1]!

[1]:,4057,8275323%255E13762,00.html “ Cosmonaughties no Mir fantasy”

> THEY put the first man in space, then the first tourist. Now the Russians could make one wealthy couple the first members of the 240-mile-high club.


> In its latest attempt to develop space tourism, Russia is offering a pair of newlyweds the chance to swap Venice or Paris for a cosmic honeymoon on board the international space station.


> For $US48 million ($65 million) – the cost of a pair of space return tickets – the couple could become the first to experience the uncharted joys of sex in zero gravity.


> “It would bring the mile-high club to new heights,” said Rob Volmer of Space Adventures, the company that has teamed up with the Russian Aviation and Space Agency to offer the trip.

(via [GothicVamps][2])

[2]: “Sex in space”


Greetings, Earthlings

Just something cool: a [weblog from space][1], written by NASA Science Officer Ed Lu from on board the International Space Station.

[1]: “Greetings, Earthlings”

> At night, the dominant thing you see when you look down is thunderstorms. Lightning lights up the clouds in sometimes spectacular displays. At any given time at night, especially over the tropics, you can see one or more lightning storms going on. The lightning flashes illuminate the clouds from within, and ripple through the storm systems. I enjoy turning off all the lights in the docking compartment, and watching thunderstorm systems at night through its sideward facing windows. The southern Indian Ocean is a great place to watch thunderstorms.
> As we near Australia, if you look towards the horizon southward you can see the aurora. The aurora look like glowing green curtains which move upwards from the top of the atmosphere. The curtains intersect the atmosphere in a curved line, which appears as a bright green line south of Australia. There are times when we actually fly through the aurora, and you can look downwards and see the green glow below you. Sometimes there are traces of red along with the predominant green. We’ve taken some time-lapse movies looking towards the horizon as we fly past the aurora.

(via <[Craig Suchland][2]) [2]: "Bloggin from Space"

150 SETI@home possibilities

A few years back, I was part of the [SETI@home][1] project, which uses spare processor cycles on your computer to help look for possible signals from life elsewhere in our galaxy. Unfortunately, various reformats, computer changes, and my own fickle interests led me to stop contributing to the project a while back.

[1]: “SETI@home: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence at home”

As it turns out, though, the project has produced a list of possible candidate signals, and three members of the team will be going to the Aricebo telescope in Puerto Rico later this month to [investigate 150 possible signals][2]! Very cool!

[2]: “ Three and a half-year old SETI@home project identifies candidate radio signals from space, heads for Arecibo to take second look”

Of course, one has to wonder how much of a bill 150 intergalactic wrong numbers would be…