image of Twitter feed

Catching up on my Twitter feed this morning. Ran across a Tweet from science writer Pamela Gay describing the exploration of the asteroid Vesta by the Dawn probe. “Vesta melted, formed iron core, may have an Ovaltine crust.” Wait, what?

Oh. Olivine, not Ovaltine. Okay, then.


Hey, we landed another robot on Mars!

image of curiosity lander on Mars

On the screen in the left background there are a couple of images sent back from the robot just minutes after it touched down. The image on the left is the robot’s shadow on the ground.

Too tired to come up with more than that. Off to bed now. Alarm goes bleep bleep bleep in five hours.


This is your “I’m too tired to write drivel, believe it or not” video.

You may not have seen this film in science class, but you know that voice.


The whole world is on fire!

In a time-lapse video shot from the windows of the International Space Station, your home planet burns so brightly it’s hard not to wonder how anything can be alive down there. Cities are ablaze, lightning flares through the cloud tops, and the atmosphere itself swirls with the yellow-green flames of atoms charged by solar flares.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael K├Ânig on Vimeo.


image of space shuttle Atlantis' re-entryI know our problems down here on earth are so very huge that it seems nobody has the enthusiasm left over to care about what’s going on it orbit or on the moon or even on Mars, but take a gander for just a moment, won’t you, at this awesome freaking photograph. (If you click on it, you’ll get a mind-blowing 1.8 MB enlargement to peruse at length.) It was taken by one of the crew members aboard the International Space Station who was looking out the window when the space shuttle Atlantis streaked by underneath, heading for a landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This is what photographers call a night shot. The face of the earth is in shadow, so the guy with the camera took a very long exposure, maybe ten seconds, maybe thirty or more, to get enough light to fall through his camera lens so he could record this moment.

The length of the exposure is the reason the earth looks a little blurry. The space station is hustling along at about twenty thousand miles per hour, so it moved far enough in ten seconds (or whatever) to make it impossible to get a clear shot of the cloudcover. But the long exposure made it possible to record Atlantis’ re-entry as a long, fiery streak which, now that I think of it, might have been there even if they had taken a shorter exposure. The streak is ionized gas, a visible trail of the enormous amount of energy the shuttle sheds by crashing into the atmosphere. It’s hitting the atmosphere so hard that the gasses that make up the air are not merely set on fire by the friction, their electrons have been excited to the point that they’re emitting visible radiation. This is the kind of fire that alien invaders will use to roast us like ants when they finally arrive to harvest the earth on their journey toward total galactic domination. Gunpowder and bullets are sticks and stones compared to setting the atmosphere on fire at the atomic level.

Air isn’t something you normally think of as a solid object but, at the speed the shuttle is moving, it is. You can see the boundary of the atmosphere in the photograph as a thin, green line that astronauts call “airglow.” The sun (or the moon, not sure) is illuminating it from behind, so you get to see it here as a shell around the planet. * It’s about sixty miles thick, which seems like a lot until you learn that the breathable stuff is a layer barely a mile and a half thick. That’s why airplanes have to power dive and those comical-looking plastic masks drop out of the ceiling if a window blows out. The rest of what is considered atmosphere is just dead weight holding the breathable stuff against the surface of the planet, and – here’s the part that should interest you – it’s slowly diffusing into space. The breathable stuff has to be replenished by the activity of the plants and animals here on the surface, and that’s why rock stars, tree huggers and biologists keep yapping about carbon emissions. The carbon they’re talking about is, basically, aerial shit. We’re shitting into the breathable stuff. Plants and animals are not made to breathe shit.

If I seem to have wandered from the topic, I humbly submit that you are mistaken. If you’ll just look at this photo, you can see why it’s important to explore other worlds, or just to go into orbit where we can look back at our own home planet. Even if you don’t know about the ions and the carbon and gas diffusion, you can see them in action in this photo. It’s photographs like this, and other ways of gathering information, that give us a source of data to work out the puzzle of how the universe works.

Also, it’s cool. Really cool.

*I’ve learned since I posted this drivel that airglow is not just the light of the sun or the moon being diffused through the atmosphere. The air around our planet actually glows.

geeking out

The Great Bird's photostreamI’ve wasted an indefensibly huge amount of time surfing through these photos of PR photos from the original Star Trek television series, but then I’ve wasted an indefensibly huge amount of time watching every episode of the series at least half a dozen times, too. But don’t judge me. Space geekery is a disease. I’m just a victim. From Bird Of The Galaxy’s Flickr photostream.

apollo model

plastic model space shipMy basement workshop filled with the reek of burning plastic as I cut the hatch out of my scale model Apollo command module this afternoon. I want to display it with the hatch open and the model doesn’t come with a removable hatch, dammit. What would be so hard about that?

It’s probably better that they didn’t, after all, because the hatch they molded into the shell of the CM had a window that didn’t look right. Building one from scratch would have been a pain, but since I’ll have to build one anyway to display it opened up, oh well.

So I put a cutting wheel in my Dremel tool, bit the bullet and sawed a rough hole out of the plastic body of the model. Trouble is, a Dremel tool spins so fast (if you haven’t invested in a variable speed control, which I haven’t) the cutting wheel doesn’t cut the plastic so much as it melts it. Hence the stink.

I wasn’t planning to make any big modifications to this model, but I kept going back photos of the CM to look for details I could add to make it look a little better, and this one became my favorite:

Apollo 9In fact, this photo has been a favorite of mine for years. That’s Dave Scott standing in the open hatch of Gumdrop, the Apollo 9 command module. The LM pilot, Rusty Schweickart (“Rusty” is a perfect astronaut’s nickname, isn’t it?), snapped this photo of Scott while Schweickart stood on the “front porch” of Spider, the moon lander. They were the first crew to take an LM into space and fly it around to make sure it worked the way it was supposed to. It did.

I wanted to be an astronaut the minute I saw this photo. I wanted to stand in the open hatch of a space ship as I casually wound the key of the film feed on my Hasselblad camera so I could snap a few photos of my home planet as it rolled beneath me. Fucking wow.

But, since I suck at math so bad that any space ship they strapped me into would spontaneously combust, I’ll be happy enough with my little plastic model. And it’s going to have an open hatch with a little plastic astronaut standing in it, just you wait.