Guest Videos: The Winds of Mars

The hardest part of space exploration, at least for laypeople trying to keep up to date, is getting used to familiar things, like wind, in unfamiliar settings.

Mars is smaller than the Earth, but it has enough wind to support the currently ongoing planetwide dust storm that has shut down Opportunity (hopefully, temporarily). And we have seen its twisters, though they don’t look as powerful as ours.

Martian winds must be pretty powerful, though, right? After all, the planet’s surface looks like it has been scoured in places:

There are some awesome wind-made features on the Red Planet, including yardangs. To really appreciate them, we need to understand just how weak the winds of Mars actually are.

Spoiler: Not quite as strong as they are depicted in The Martian.

Those beautiful Martian dunes and streamlined rocky features must have taken way longer than it took to sculpt similar structures on Earth. But then, according to a new study, Mars may have gotten a hundred-million-year jump on the Earth in terms of this whole solid planetary crust thing.

All told, over billions of years even weak winds can have impressive effects.

Featured image: NASA/JPL.


Update, 6:38 p.m., June 20, 2018:

I think this situation with Oppy waiting out a storm has somehow made Mars very real for a lot of people who don’t usually read science news. And that’s a good thing.

Typical. TYPICAL. I go away for a week – up to the beautiful Isle of Skye to take in some museums, castles and white sandy beaches – and after virtually ignoring her for years and years the rest of the world suddenly goes crazy about Opportunity! No-one (ok, almost no-one) has cared about her for […]

via Opportunity and the 2018 Dust Storm — The Road To Endeavour

Read the whole thing. There is some good news. The rover isn’t buried in sand; it just can’t get enough sunlight for power. However, the dust may keep the extreme Martian cold temperatures from falling so low that Oppy can’t power up again. They are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Go! Oppy! And thanks, Spirit, Oppy, and their human builders and operators for this vast trove of solid information about the once-unknown “Barsoom.” (Yeah, I was a Burroughs fan as a kid.)

Reblog on Opportunity Rover and the Mars Dust Storm from The Road To Endeavour

Guest Videos: Space Telescopes

You might be able to view this unusual video. I can’t, but it is getting all the good reviews.

They posted “Fistful of Stars” as a regular video, though it’s designed for virtual reality. Check it out, if you can.

That’s actually just art–part of the Hubble Cantata.

Hubble itself is old, in space terms, and new scopes are on the planning horizon.

The next big one will be the Webb Telescope. NASA recently pushed back its launch date to correct sunshield and cable problems found during a March 2018 test. It’s now expected to go up in 2020.

And, as mentioned in that video, the next “space” telescope after Webb will stay on Earth, in Chile’s Atacama Desert! The Giant Magellan Telescope is due for completion in 2025.

Bumping into new discoveries–I like that!

I think.

As Georges Méliès knew back in 1898, astronomers’ dreams sometimes go awry.

Featured image: NASA Hubble

Guest Video: Mars Update From NASA

The Curiosity rover passed its 2000-sol mark last week (1 sol = one Martian day, about 39 minutes longer than an Earth day). But the Opportunity rover–which was photographed from a spacecraft in orbit around Mars–has been going for over 5,000 sols!

This year’s InSight mission (launch scheduled for May 5, from Vandenburgh Air Force Base) is going to check out the Red Planet in depth. Here is more information about the 2020 mission.

Featured image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Guest Videos: Juno and Jupiter

Update, July 10, 2018: This week, NASA released a summary of the Juno Mission’s accomplishments over the last two years

We have three Lego figures orbiting the planet Jupiter now.


Why are the instruments in a titanium vault?

Well, for one thing, Jupiter “roars” at you, even before you get there:

For another, Jupiter’s radiation belts are much stronger than Earth’s. Reportedly, particles trapped in those belts actually hit the spacecraft like BBs.

Nevertheless, Juno and its Lego crew have been in orbit for a while now, and are doing well. The images coming back are incredible. You probably saw this one recently. It’s of polar storms:


Scientists have lots of questions, including why these storms don’t merge together. (NASA

Juno has also taken us into the Red Spot:

And recently, the Juno mission to Jupiter accomplished its chief goal by enabling astrophysicists to look inside the gas giant indirectly for the first time.

By doing this —

–scientists found that the Red Spot and all those bands at the surface are an extension of what is going on farther down in the planet.

You might be thinking “of course!”, but it’s not really simple. Look at the ocean and its currents. Deeper currents sometimes follow much different paths than those at the surface.

And Jupiter is a dense fluid, experts say, though it’s made out of hydrogen and helium, not water.

So, congratulations, Juno! You have succeeded at Jupiter, but my favorite series of images are still the ones you took years ago of my home and its orbiting Moon.

Featured image: Artist’s conception of Juno orbiting Jupiter. NASA.

Guest Video: Forms in Nature

We spend a lot of our time putting names on things, personalizing them, and figuring out how we can best use them to move ahead in life.

But our first perception of anything is just its form. All the thinking and imagining and exploitation come later.

This video is an excellent animation, but it also cuts through the whole “naming” part of perception to show that first moment of contact.

It’s a refreshing look at the wide variety of wonders in this world, natural and human.

Guest Reblog: The Face of Mars Rover “Opportunity”

Everybody knows about the Curiosity rover’s “selfie.” But that wasn’t the first Mars rover.

Amazingly, some of the older ones continued exploring the Red Planet long after their mission time was expected to expire. And recently, five thousand Martian days (“sols”) after arriving, one of them took a selfie.

Lookin’ great, Opportunity!

Featured image is by NASA. (I cropped it a little bit.)

They made up this montage in 2010, when Opportunity was a newcomer and 12 miles of Martian travel was considered a huge success. Exploration has gone much farther, in various parts of Mars, since then.

Below is a reblog I really like from Jason Major’s excellent Lights In The Dark blog on space exploration.

It’s finally happened—after over 14 years on Mars (14!!!) NASA’s Opportunity rover has turned its arm-mounted camera around to take a look at itself, giving us the very first true “selfie” of the Mars Exploration Rover mission! Hello Opportunity!

via After 5,000 Sols We See the Face of Opportunity — Lights in the Dark