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.

Curiosity piqued, tonight at 2:31am!

Atlantic Daylight Time, of course. So 05:31 UTC.

Remember Curiosity and its Rube Goldberg-like planned landing? That happens tonight. Tomorrow morning, technically, for some of us. Phil Plait has details on how to participate in the fun:

If you want to watch the proceedings live, I have a few things you can do.

1) Fraser Cain, Pamela Gay, and I will be doing a Google+ Hangout on August 5th starting at 03:00 UTC on August 5/6 and running until 07:00 – note that for the US, this starts on the evening of the 5th at 23:00 Eastern time and runs through 03:00 in the morning. We plan on having special guests, a live feed from NASA, and more. The Hangout is being sponsored by Google itself, CosmoQuest, and the SETI Institute, which has a strong astrobiology mission and therefore is very interested in Mars. Our coverage will be complete, intense, awesome, and fun. Promise! There’s more info at Universe Today, and we have an events page set up on G+ to help you out. There’s also a Facebook events page, too! Use the #marshangout hashtag on Twitter to follow along, too.

2) You can always watch NASA TV. They’ve posted a schedule of events for media.

3) If you are in the Pasadena California area, then join the party! Literally: The Planetary Society is throwing a bash to celebrate and watch the landing at the Paseo Colorado – Garfield Promenade on Saturday, August 4. Attending will be TPS blogger (and big pal o’ mine) Emily Lakdawalla as well as Bill Nye (yes, THE Bill Nye). You can get more info on Emily’s blog, and get tickets online. If I could, I’d go there too! But I’ll be at home and quite busy myself (see #1 above).

4) The Planetary Society is holding PlanetFest at the Pasadena Convention Center on August 4 and 5 – it’s again a celebration of planetary exploration. It looks like fun!

X-Box 360 users will also be able to live-stream the landing. My sleep schedule has been completely screwed by work for a very long time, so I’m planning on staying up myself. I’m trying to figure out if the PS3 browser can handle Ustream, but I’m not having a lot of luck with it myself. Anyone know of a good way to stream to PS3, given that’s my primary media centre?

CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios

Another of the three panels I was on, audio only unfortunately. Do let me know if the questions from the audience aren’t audible, I might be able to normalize the volume some. I’m not terribly experienced with Audacity, but I’m willing to play with it some more if you have problems.

Also on the panel were biologist and medium-calibre blogger PZ Myers, sci-fi author Adam Whitlatch, math professor and zombie afficionado Robert Smith? (yes, the question mark is part of his real name), and The Skeptical Teacher Matt Lowry (who tried to bite PZ’s head and whapped me about with a CONvergence schedule — I’m just saying).
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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.

Supermoon: what it is, and what it definitely isn’t (a repost)

A repost, apropos of this weekend’s supermoon and the fact that people are going bugnut over it… yet again… and Taslima seemed lonely in being the only other FtBer covering this one. My original post is here, published March 17, 2011.

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a SUPERMOOOOOOON!!

I have written at some length about the moon, with its wobble called libration, and how its elliptical orbit means that it varies in its distance to us between roughly 360,000km and 406,000km. That’s a difference of ~46,000km, or about ten percent of its distance at apogee. Apogee is what you call the moon’s furthest point in its orbit, and perigee the closest. As the moon orbits us about once a month (thus the lunar cycle), that means that during a predicted perigee, the moon is about two weeks away from apogee.
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On this day in space history

On March 22, 2001, an outer main belt asteroid provisionally named 2001FB10 was discovered by David Healy, founder of the Junk Bond Observatory. Its official name is 153289 Rebeccawatson.

That’s right, it was named after the woman probably most famous for making a whole lot of very insecure men very angry about having their sense of entitlement questioned. Rebecca Watson has an asteroid named after her, and you do not. U JELLY?

Additionally, it’s grossly unlikely to end humanity, despite certain howler monkeys’ protestations.

Supernova in M-95

Awesome. In an extremely close galaxy, one we’ve studied quite a bit previously, we’ve apparently just spotted a supernova and have started grabbing as much scientific data as we can manage. Of course, this is millions of light years away (estimated 38 million in fact), so unless you subscribe to the idea that everything “happens” from a geocentric fixed time frame, this supernova is already long since blown out into a nebula of some sort.

Phil Plait has more.

16 year old girl Hacks the Tube almost into space to get into MIT

Via Boing Boing, this is absolutely awesome. As part of their Early Action Admits, MIT challenges prospective students to hack the tube the enrollment letter came in into something cool. So one 16-year-old girl put a camera, a GPS, and two Ham radio transmitters, strapped it to an 800 gram helium balloon, and sent it nearly 91,000ft from Earth’s surface. That’s well into the stratosphere. 90% of the mass of the atmosphere is below the 52,000ft mark, and very nearly 100% below the 330,000ft mark, so that’s above a significant proportion of the atmosphere — as good as into space, as far as I’m concerned.

She’s of course been admitted. And she’s going to make one damn fine engineer, I expect.

The Birth of the Moon

An intriguing documentary has caught my eye with its slick teaser trailer.

We like the moon. Because it is close to us.

I can’t wait to see this doc when it’s out. I’ve had a long-standing love affair with the moon and its effects on our planet. I’ve posted quite a bit about it in the past, a number of times in fact.

Apparently, Cosmic Journeys has a number of such documentaries online, each about half an hour minus commercial time, making it ripe for syndication to a real network. Why nobody’s picked this up to fill a time slot somewhere is completely beyond me. They’re slickly produced, engaging, have an excellent narrator, and are completely free. And they’re about one of the most engaging and important topics we as humans could ever study: the universe itself, on a macroscopic scale far beyond our transient and provincial lives.