Sun vomits forth giant prominence

Think about the scale of this particular flare, which was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory yesterday. I know it’s hard to imagine, with it zoomed in like this, but this is absolutely immense. Eyeballing it against a “size of stars” image I have up on the wall, I’d say both ends of this flare are at least as wide as Wolf 359, a distant red dwarf star. And it’s probably dozens of times wider than Earth.

It’s a good damn thing this flare isn’t aimed anywhere toward us. Sure, our magnetosphere could probably shield us, but not without repercussions.

As Troythulu and I were discussing on Twitter when he linked this, it’s absolutely no wonder to me that people would worship the sun, a tangible, massive, and powerful entity, without which life couldn’t exist here. Compared to other religions, I totally get sun worship.

Curiosity, from the eyes of one of its creators

I cannot imagine having had a single project for seven years that culminates in a seven minute Schrodinger’s Cat where your work either failed or succeeded. I cannot imagine the magnitude of relief or heartache or joy or sorrow that might have come from either result. This gives me the same sort of minute glimpse of the triumph felt by its three thousand engineers and physicists and mathematicians responsible for this project, as when I watched the live feed for the control room during the landing.

If you are unmoved by this video, you might want to check your pulse.

NASA press conference: first color photos from Curiosity

Awwwww yeah, science baby. You need to check out this Youtube video to see — in high-def, if you choose to view it in that resolution — the entirety of Curiosity’s first day on Mars.

Fabulous. And the technology that we managed to safely deposit on another planet is simply the best way to actually examine this planet. I expect great things from this project. Even if it turns out there’s nothing special about Mars, even if it turns out to be nothing but a rust ball, we’re actually exploring and collecting data on another fucking planet. That’s… big. That’s astronomically big. Hells yes.

Curiosity successfully touched down on Mars

The terror is over. Our first 256×256 snapshot of the surface of Mars after the utterly terrifying touchdown sequence.

Eight years to plan and build this rover that’s bigger than your car and taller than you.

36 weeks of travel across 562 million kilometres of space travel.

And it missed its mark by a mere couple hundred metres.

Science rules.

Heard on the live NASA TV stream: “Holy shit!” I concur, good sir. I concur.

Robots with rock-vaporizing lasers on Mars!

Ohhhh, this is just too damn cool. I had no idea Curiosity was so kitted out!

On its way to the Gale Crater, right now, is NASA’s Curiosity rover, the most sophisticated robot in the history of space science: a dune buggy equipped with a set of tools and instruments to shame Inspector Gadget. Curiosity can vaporize rock, analyze soil samples, gauge the weather, and film in HD. It’s due to touch down in the Gale Crater on August 5, completing an eight-month journey through the local solar system. Once it lands, the rover will begin a slow ascent up Aeolis Mons, the mountain in the crater’s center, probing its layers for signs that Mars once supported life. It will also collect new data about the surface of Mars, which NASA will use to determine the feasibility of future manned missions there.

A few weeks ago I visited NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to talk with Michael Mischna, a planetary scientist who works on the Curiosity team. What follows is our conversation about Curiosity’s mind-blowing technologies and what those technologies might tell us about the history of Mars.

Think about what we’re actually doing this for: to find water on Mars. To find, potentially, evidence that life once existed — or exists now — on Mars. Because we’re CURIOUS.

Of course, first it’ll have to survive seven minutes of terror:

This is ambitious. This is crazy. This is the sort of thing science alone can achieve.

Blue Marble Redux

Via Wired Science, here’s what could be the single most powerful image of the year, though we’re not even through January yet.

Thumbnail for a super-high-resolution satellite image of Earth

The full image is 8000×8000 pixels. It is extremely high resolution — if you zoom in, you can see signs of civilization in some spots on the North American continent. This was taken by the Suomi NPP satellite from a lot of tiny shots of the globe over the course of January 4th, and stitched together afterward. While I would love to have seen a single image of the entire planet taken at one instant, to get a sense for how the weather patterns were at that exact moment, this will have to do for now, considering how far away you’d have to get and how much equipment you’d have to put into space to get as high a resolution image as this pastiche.

But what an amazing image it is. Look at how thin and fragile the atmosphere is on this planet of ours. This is the only planet we’ve got. Maybe we should stop destroying it.

NASA: Vesta may have had flowing lava and volcanoes

A video from NASA’s ScienceCast explaining what the Dawn mission probe has discovered while orbiting the distant asteroid — it may be the smallest terrestrial “planet” discovered, given that it might well have had flowing lava and volcanoes. For a mundane hunk of rock very far away, it sure had a surprisingly interesting past.

I love this stuff.