November 2, 2008

The Messenger spacecraft’s latest flyby of Mercury (Oct. 6) has revealed more of Mercury’s previously unimaged hemisphere. About 95% of the planet’s surface has now been imaged by spacecraft, revealing that nearly all of the planet’s crust is ancient and heavily cratered. This means that the planet’s surface is unlike the Moon’s, which has large areas of relatively young lava flows (the maria), or of Mars, which has a pronounced crustal dichotomy of old cratered terrain in the south and young, low-lying plains in the north.

Amazing Space Photo

August 23, 2008

TV News Babes

August 2, 2008

Will someone please tell the cable news channels that there’s a fine line between presenting pleasing “eye candy” and inviting invidious resentment among viewers. Jez, where’d they get all those beautiful, brainy playmate types on FOX News. After a while a guy can feel like a hungry wolf watching an unattainable banquet. It all begins to feel like a teasing bore after a while. Where are the real people?

I guess I’m at that transitional age now (to paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke) where a guy begins to view a Victoria’s Secrets catalog with more regret than hope.

Life a Million Years from Now

June 22, 2008

This looks interesting: Year Million: Science at the Edge of Knowledge.

I recently wrote a brief article on the nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain for work. The National Academy of Science, backed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in DC, has decided that the appropriate timeframe for assessing the risk of leakage of the radioactive waste should be one million years from now, rather than the 10,000 year cap proposed by EPA.

I have no idea how you assess a risk to human heath one million years hence. Will Homo sapiens still exist? I think a million years ago the only humanoid around was our predecessor Homo erectus. If the genus Homo survives, it may be of a species or number of species unimaginable today.

Food for thought this Sunday morning.

Ice on Mars: Yawn

June 20, 2008

Why all the fuss about the Phoenix lander finding ice on Mars?

Drudge has the headline “Scientists believe Mars lander exposed ice!” Note exclamation. Like this is big news? We’ve known there’s water ice there for a long time. Hell, 600 or so kilometers north of the landing site there’s a area the size of Texas (Planum Boreum) with water ice exposed right at the surface. Also, neutron emissions measured by Mars Odyssey spacecraft indicated shallowly buried water ice throughout the northern lowlands years ago. We wouldn’t have chosen this landing site if we didn’t have a pretty good idea of what was there. Still, it’s nice to have confirmation.

The real interesting questions involve what’s in the ice (organics?) and what would any changes in the chemistry of the ice with depth tell us about recent Mars climate history.

While I’m kvetching, I need to state that I’m sick of the cutesy monikers the NASA scientists and engineers are giving sampling locations: “Dodo-Goldilocks,” “Snow White”… Give me a freekin’ break. Why don’t they just give landing sites and sampling stations names like Goofy and Mini Mouse. That way, future scientists can remember where they parked after visiting the Mars Magic Kingdom.

Common NASA; this is a difficult, expensive scientific and engineering endeavor. Show a little decorum here.

Oven Is Now Full

June 11, 2008

JPL announced just a bit ago that the number 4 oven on the Phoenix Lander is now full of martian soil. Either the shaking or just the waiting period changed the physical properties of the soil so that it passed through the screen and into the TEGA. Good news! Martian soil must have some unusual properties.

Discovery Channel: When We Left Earth

June 9, 2008

Caught the first half of the Discovery Channel’s “When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions” last night and was quite impressed. I saw a lot of images and film clips from the Mercury and Gemini projects that were new to me.

Didn’t catch any factual errors. However, I’d always thought that Alan Shepard’s alleged comment before his Freedom 7 launch “Don’t let me f**k up” was included in the movie “The Right Stuff” for dramatic/comedic purposes. (As I recall, it’s not attributed to Shepard specifically in Tom Wolfe’s book, but is given as the general attitude of all the astronauts.) But Jay Barbree said in the show that Shepard actually said something like that during the countdown.

I’m curious whether “The Right Stuff” (the movie) has become so culturally ingrained in the general consciousness of space folk that it’s reshaping memories of actual events.

Not saying Barbree was wrong; just musing about whether peoples’ memories of things get reshaped over time about lots of things. Do historians or psychologists have a word for this?

I Hate Boils

June 9, 2008

I must be a carrier of staph, because I’m prone to get boils every once in a while. They always seem to occur in the most inconvenient and embarrassing places. Let’s just say it’s a little difficult to sit at the computer these days. The doctor put me on antibiotics this weekend, and they are starting to work a little in reducing the swelling and induration, but the tenderness has increased and it hurts like hell.

Fellow suffers probably know what I’m talking about. Boils are no joke.

More on Chemistry Sets

June 9, 2008

Becky at Farm School was kind enough to send me these interesting links on the history and demise of the classic chemistry set:

Is the Chemistry Set Dying?

June 8, 2008

Farm School reviews a new chemistry book which includes an excerpt about how the home chemistry set is dying out.

I remember my childhood chemistry set fondly. It was my springboard into science. In those days, you could buy chemicals and glass apparatus at any department store toy section. Chemicals came in rows and rows of 4 or 5-ounce bottles. I even remember the scary label on cobalt chloride–“May be fatal if swallowed.” That was pretty cool to a ten-year-old of my generation.

I was able to make a reasonably good approximation to gunpowder and would have made nitroglycerine if I could have gotten the acids I needed. Probably was a good thing I couldn’t.

About 10 years ago, I tried to buy a chem set for my daughter and the only thing I could find was a lame excuse for the chem sets of old. All the chemicals came in minuscule prepackaged quantities for single use in plastic test tubes. And the chemicals were all of the wussy stuff like sodium carbonate or calcium sulfate. No cobalt chloride to be found. I don’t think the set even had an alcohol lamp.

What it did have was a lot of warning labels and large-fonted reminders about how safe the set was to the environment.

I guess in our litigeous, ecologically conscious society, the old chem sets are finished. But I’m sad to see them dead.