Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sunday Potpourri

No hockey content here today. I'm pretty sure it's the first time. In any case, I've sometimes been desirous to spew about a few things I think or what I find cool. I have been previously hesitant to do so for a number of reasons but finally decided that you don't have to read it if you don't want to. Anyhow, for now I'm just going to point out a few places that I go on the Internet when I'm not surfing hockey sites.

When I grew up I wanted to be an Astronomer. Didn't happen. The next plan was to be the amateur version since Astronomy is the one scientific pursuit where it is possible (and amateurs have made many great discoveries). Then I ended up in Alaska. When the weather here is good enough to stand outside there isn't enough darkness to do any observing. So I'm left to be just a fan. I think we'd live in a better world if the people involved in the activities I'm about to describe (and so many like them in other scientific endeavors) were compensated as well and admired as much as our professional athletes.

There are a number of telescope sites I visit regularly. The Hubble Space Telescope is my first stop for pictures and discoveries about the heavens in general. The picture on the left is from the Hubble's Deep Field collection. They pointed the telescope at a small dark patch of space then pointed it at another small dark area in that patch and snapped the picture. I encourage you to click on the picture for the larger version to appreciate just how many galaxies are beyond the single dark sport they originally focused on. Click on this link to the 1 meg version of the picture. Should be enough to remind us of our true place in the Universe. The bigger fascination I have with regard to Astronomy is the search for extrasolar planets. So far the catalog includes 212 planets orbiting nearby stars (typically they've search stars from just a few to over a hundred light years away). I'm a believer that Mankind is wired for exploration and settlement, so ultimately we'll have colonies of people living on some as yet undiscovered extrasolar planet(s). It may take some sort of generational ship to get there but it will happen. With little or no technology man spread over the face of this planet 5,000 years ago with huge obstacles. 40 or 50 light years distance isn't going to stop us now that we have technology. As yet though the astronomers haven't found any earth-like candidates. To rectify that problem NASA is planning a mission called the Terrestrial Planet Finder Interferometer. It will be a telescope located in space which will be able to cancel the light from the star it is searching and for the first time see the planets orbiting distant stars. It is the tool which will find "Earth 2" or whatever it gets named where some of our descendants will be living someday.

There are several big "space" stories I've followed since before their launches; the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and the series of probes and landers sent to Mars over the last half-decade in particular. In 2004 the Cassini-Huygens craft arrived at Saturn. It's trajectory for orbital insertion included a 25,000 mph dive through a small gap in Saturn's ring. Since arriving in the neighborhood it launched the Huygens probe to the surface of Titan where it found a frozen hydrocarbon wasteland.

Probably my favorite picture from the catalog is Enceladus in the picture to the left. Enlarging the picture you can see some distinct topographical features on the lower right which regularly expel large quantities of water vapor. There is an absolute ton of great pictures in the Cassini-Hugens gallery. Including this great picture of Jupiter when Cassini flew past. Then there is this cool pic of Saturn's southern region and pole. Or there is this great ring picture. I like this picture of Titan and Enceladus together. Here is a set of pictures of Titan taken in different wavelengths. And here is a great picture of some of the terrain on Titan. The Cassini mission is unprecedented in the amount of data and science discoveries it has provided.

I can't imagine a human being that in some sense doesn't share a fascination to some degree with our neighbor Mars. 2 mission with 3 spacecraft have given us more information about Mars in the last 5 years than all previous missions combined. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has the ability to image surface details down to just a few yards in size. It's been in orbit for less than a year and has returned enough data to fill 2000 CDs. It is currently monitoring one of the occassional (every 5 or 6 years) global duststorms that envelope the planet. I have spent more than the ocassional otherwise bored hour or two on the Mars Exploration Rover pages. Originally expected to last about 90 days the twin MER's have been going at it for about 3 years. The images below are two of the many incredible panorama's available in the Rover galleries.

Click either of the images to see each (about 350k) image. The coolest thing about the MER site for me is the availability of 200/300 megabyte images that I've saved to CD. I plan to edit them and then have graphic quality framed images made. The idea of having some cool panoramas of Mars hanging nicely on the walls appeals to me for some reason. I suppose it makes me imagine being there and what an amazing experience that would be. I know it won't be so for me but it will be for someone in my daughter's generation and I'll love watching it happen.

Science is my primary fascination outside of writing this blog. I intended this post to be longer and include discussion about things like Emergence. I would have enjoyed mentioning my head spinning but ultimately inept interest in all things Quantum. But I didn't really find the time this evening (since I was busy saving another bloggers life) to add some of my other fascinations. Maybe another time. I hope I've properly defined these interests of mine as more than just passing and certainly much less than expert. I am just a fan.


444 said...

You must get to JFK Space Center and the Astronat hall of fame. It is real neat.

Donald said...

I went to NASA in Houston as a youngster then went to Cape Canaveral about 8 years ago and waited 3 days to watch a shuttle launch.

I also happened to be at Edwards AFB when the first Shuttle landed there.

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