Mars Rovers Update:
To bravely hunker down and wait

Mars Rovers Update: To bravely hunker down and wait

Many great explorers quests’ were brought to a standstill by weather – Odysseus hung out on an island, Magellan paused in Patagonia, and Amundsen shivered near Antartica’s coast. Following in the footsteps of these great and weather respecting men are two little robots, Spirit and Opportunity. These Mars Exploration Rovers currently hunkered down, with all essential systems shut off, while they wait for dust storms to end. (image top: no storms, image bottom: with storms, image credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS) “We’re rooting for our rovers to survive these storms, but they were never designed for conditions this intense,” said Alan Stern, of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The rovers are more than 1200 days into what was...

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A telescope dream for any budget

A telescope dream for any budget

As a graduate student at the University of Texas, I got to accompany the undergraduates on star parties (nominally as the ‘responsible’ adult, but really as a colleague in madness). We’d load up our cars with every telescope we could find, about a dozen pair of binoculars, and laptops with planetarium software. We’d get pizza on our way out to the old missile silo that served as our observing platform (only in Texas…), and stay out until clouds or cold forced us indoors. All the scopes would get setup, and we’d usually cluster in small groups, working in teams of two or three to find faint fuzzies. There were about 10 people in the core club, students who’d always be there, always observing. An additional couple dozen...

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Quantifying the Darkness

Quantifying the Darkness

We’ve all had those magical moments of looking up and suddenly seeing something breathtaking in the sky. Perhaps it was just a moon low in the sky with a planet near and bright. Perhaps it was the Milky Way pouring itself into the horizon over a country road. Whatever the source of wonder, our ability to see and appreciate the sky is directly related to the darkness. To a city dweller, Venus is particularly stunning because often it appears as the only “star.” In the country, however, Venus is just one bright object against a sea of flickering spots, and it the Milky Way that amazes on nights without the moon. Different people have been looking for different ways to quantify how dark various skies actually are. One of the most straight-forward...

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Mercury & Venus: Understanding hot rocks & Greenhouse gases

The latest episode of The Universe focused on our solar system’s hottest two planets: Mercury and Venus. In looking at each of these worlds, scientists are faced with Sun related issues no other planet has: we can never study these planets when they are high in the sky well after sunset (the ideal time to study any celestial object), and any space probe we send to them must be heat shielded in the extreme. While a quick look at the lists of latest space missions shows that NASA and ESA do throw things at these planets now and then, it is clear that easier outer solar system targets are much more popular planetary proves. One has to ask, all because Mars is hansom and popular, why should he get all the attention? While one might say (tongue throughly planted...

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Summer Days, Drifting Away . . .

As an academic, I can be as bad as any school child when it comes to counting down the days until summer begins. The holidays of Easter & Passover always mark the final race toward finals, and with these spring celebrations I know a brief reprieve from scheduled days and grading is on the way. Now, with Independence Day behind me, it feels like summer is winding down. On Friday I leave for one week of two marathon conferences, and after that it will be just 2 more weeks until classes begin. With tomorrow, and the need to slip into full time conference preparation, my “Lazy Days of Summer,” come to a close. I’m a bit melancholy – My summer visions of getting all my flower beds weeded, 4 grants written, and 2 science papers submitted are...

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