A catalogue of space probes in flight

Tuesday, 3 March, 2015

With Pluto bound space probe New Horizons rapidly approaching its destination, and who knows, about to turn all we know of the solar system’s best known dwarf planet on its head, Spaceprob.es allows us to check in on the numerous other active craft that are trawling interplanetary and interstellar space, on our behalf.

Leading the charge is Voyager 1, at a distance of almost twenty billion kilometres, or eighteen hours and seven minutes light travel time, from Earth, while the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is virtually above our heads, some 372,000 kilometres away.

By the way, if you’re interested in checking out Voyager 1’s approximate location in the night sky, give or take a few light minutes, here are some directions.

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There are no souvenir shops on the Moon as Neil Armstrong learnt

Friday, 20 February, 2015

Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol, recently found a bag of bits and pieces that the late astronaut had brought back from his Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, that he had kept stowed away for decades, in a cupboard at their home.

Of the seventeen items Armstrong had souvenired, it is perhaps the camera that recorded his first steps on the lunar surface, that is of the most interest:

Inside the bag were 17 objects from the Apollo 11 mission including Armstrong’s waist tether, utility lights, and emergency wrench. Most importantly, it contained the 16mm data acquisition camera (DAC) used to film footage of the final approach to the moon on July 20, 1969. The camera was also used to record Armstrong going down the ladder and taking his famous “one small step,” the planting of the flag and other footage of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface.

I guess if I was the first person to set foot on the Moon, or any person to set foot on the Moon come to that, I’d want a few keepsakes as well.

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How to tell best the world we’ve encountered extraterrestrial life

Thursday, 5 February, 2015

It seems there may in fact be the potential for cultural shock and social disorientation, so any public announcement regarding the discovery of extraterrestrial life would have to be thought through carefully:

In 1938, Orson Welles narrated a radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” as a series of simulated radio bulletins of what was happening in real time as Martians arrived on our home planet. The broadcast is widely remembered for creating public panic, although to what extent is hotly debated today. Still, the incident serves as an illustration of what could happen when the first life beyond Earth is discovered. While scientists might be excited by the prospect, introducing the public, politicians and interest groups to the idea could take some time.

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Andromeda, our clearest view to date

Friday, 23 January, 2015

Andromeda galaxy section, by NASA, Hubble

A copy, assembled from photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, of the sharpest large composite image of a section of the Andromeda galaxy. Enjoy the view while you can, eventually, as in four billion years time, Andromeda will merge with our galaxy, the Milky Way.

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Project Blue Book, the truth is out there (maybe)

Wednesday, 21 January, 2015

Project Blue Book was the name given to an investigation carried out by the US Air Force from 1952, through to 1970, into Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs.

So, was it conclusively established that extraterrestrials had in fact visited Earth? I think we all know the answer to that, but don’t let that stop you from reaching your own conclusions, by way of the Project Blue Book Collection, a digitised archive of the reports produced by the project’s investigators.

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If you could X-ray the Sun, what would you see?

Thursday, 15 January, 2015

Photo by NuSTAR

If you took an x-ray photo of the Sun, what might you see? The above image, taken by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), is actually taken in “high-energy x-rays”, so not the sort of x-ray picture we might usually be familair with, but impressive nonetheless.

See a super-sized version here.

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Alien intelligence could well be artificial intelligence

Monday, 12 January, 2015

If we’re ever going to encounter intelligent life off the Earth, it will likely be an artificial intelligence of some sort, this according to Susan Schneider, a University of Connecticut professor:

The reason for all this has to do, primarily, with timescales. For starters, when it comes to alien intelligence, there’s what Schneider calls the “short window observation” – the notion that, by the time any society learns to transmit radio signals, they’re probably a hop-skip away from upgrading their own biology. It’s a twist on the belief popularized by Ray Kurzweil that humanity’s own post-biological future is near at hand. “As soon as a civilization invents radio, they’re within fifty years of computers, then, probably, only another fifty to a hundred years from inventing AI,” Shostak said. “At that point, soft, squishy brains become an outdated model.”

I wonder if the term artificial intelligence is correct though. If we somehow evolve, or develop technology, that one day allows us to transfer our consciousness as it were, into robotic like devices, wouldn’t that still be intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence?

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Movies set in space, take a bow

Tuesday, 16 December, 2014

Set to the music from the Interstellar soundtrack, “Mountains” by Hans Zimmer, and the words of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night”, recited by Anthony Hopkins, Max Shishkin has produced an impressive tribute to movies set in space.

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And beyond this world, the worlds of the solar system

Tuesday, 9 December, 2014

Wanderers, a short film by Erik Wernquist, depicting humanity’s future possible exploration of the solar system, featuring narration by Carl Sagan. Some of the sequences, especially on the moons of Jupiter, and what looks to be Neptune, are incredible.

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Would you believe Kickstarter might put a probe on the Moon?

Wednesday, 26 November, 2014

Is there anything that Kickstarter doesn’t do? The idea behind Lunar Mission One is to send a probe to the Moon that will bury a time capsule, containing a record of life on Earth.

It’s not entirely about preserving memories though, in drilling below the Lunar surface to place the capsule, the probe will also extract rock, offering scientists access to materials they’ve not previously had an opportunity to study.

We’re going to use pioneering technology to drill down to a depth of at least 20m – 10 times deeper than has ever been drilled before – and potentially as deep as 100m. By doing this, we will access lunar rock dating back up to 4.5 billion years to discover the geological composition of the Moon, the ancient relationship it shares with our planet and the effects of asteroid bombardment. Ultimately, the project will improve scientific understanding of the early solar system, the formation of our planet and the Moon, and the conditions that initiated life on Earth.

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