Tags: space


space porn

So, a lot has happened in astronomy since we were kids. Aside from Pathfinder and Deep Impact, much of this has been not widely reported by the press, due to more pressing terrestrial issues or confusion about the significance of these discoveries. A lot of it is fascinating, though--and comes with lots of pretty pictures:

  • Though we still haven't had a chance to photograph it up close, we finally know what color Pluto is. (It's brown.) The New Horizons probe, which launched in 2006 to little fanfare, should have some nice images of it in 2015.
  • Charon isn't Pluto's only moon. The Hubble found two more in 2005, Nix and Hydra.
  • It's weird how a lot of news articles never sufficiently explained this (focusing instead on the "omg Pluto isn't a planet anymore!" brouhaha), but one of the major reasons why Pluto is no longer classified as a planet is because the IAU got tired of the bickering over whether the then-recently discovered dwarf planet Eris, which is bigger than Pluto, is the "tenth planet." Someone said, "If Eris isn't a planet, Pluto isn't either!" and the IAU said, "You know, you're right," and created an official definition for "planet" that did not include either celestial body. That is why we now have eight planets instead of ten. Frankly, I'm disappointed that people were more freaked out over the reclassification of Pluto than the discovery of a new, bigger-than-Pluto celestial object in our solar system.
  • It's a good thing they did, because otherwise Ceres might have become the new fifth planet from the sun, and all that memorizing you did in fifth grade would have been for naught. All those drawings of the asteroid belt as a loose, roughly uniform ring of floating space rubble are now kind of inaccurate, though. With its planetlike shape and its roughly 600 mile diameter, it's not really what you'd recognize as an asteroid anyway. (And yes, we have pretty pictures of it from the Hubble.)
  • Makemake!
  • Soviet probe Venera 13 landed on Venus in 1982, taking some pretty color photos of the surface. (Yes, 1982 was before I was born, but this is news to me, at least, since my elementary school earth science textbooks were horribly outdated. Curse you, New Jersey public education system, and your egregious lack of funding!) Yay for commie science?
  • The ESA's Giotto probe snapped a very pretty close-up of the nucleus of Halley's Comet in 1986. It's bizarre that this image never became as popular as this one snapped from Earth, which was briefly the canonical comet for inspiration posters and other cheesy '80s things. That is, before we one-upped the Europeans with in 2005 with BOOM HEADSHOT.
  • This is what a candle flame on the International Space Station looks like.
  • We have less blurry photos of Mercury than the ones taken by Mariner 10. (Linked from Wikipedia because the original is enormous.)
  • The Spirit rover made this oddly amusing film of a dust devil on Mars.
  • Mealtime on the ISS! It looks like any random facebook photo of people eating, except people are floating.

You know, maybe I should have embedded all those images under a cut and captioned them, rather than linking to them. But I would rather go back to bed.

astronauts are such nutters

Most of you have probably seen this Apollo 17 clip in some documentary or other in high school. It never gets old.


"Ah! You see one Earth, you've seen them all."
– U.S. astronaut Jack Schmitt, pictured

picked up the paper, it was more bad news / more hearts been broken, more people been used

How deep does human suffering go? Too deep.

I could talk about the 3/4 of a million people laid off this month, or the violent protests in London's financial district, or the modern Hoovervilles which (surprise, surprise!) weren't caused by the recession but by seasonal economies and holes in the Californian healthcare system...but there's only so much even I can take.

So, have some lucite in the sky with diamonds.

(It's a planet fetus! :D)

Some more good news, just in: apparently they've successfully averted New Orleans-style flooding in Fargo, North Dakota. This is what happens when FEMA actually does its job...with a little help from above. :]
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fomalhaut b


Granted, the planet is so far away and there's so much visual noise (even after filtering) that the image is a 3 pixel by 3 pixel red dot. The planet probably isn't even actually red, up close; red shift and all that.

But still! It's a photo! Of an exoplanet! And not an infrared photo or an x-ray photo or mathematically implied existence from a photo, but an actual honest-to-goodness visual image. Newspaper reporters are apparently disappointed, but I'm excited enough to be jumping up and down.

Also: Water ice on Mars! (From up close!) Caves on Mars! Old news for some of you, but wow.

he's not the man they think he is at home, oh no no no

Buzz Aldrin: second man to walk on the moon. The reason why everyone born in the 1970s wanted to grow up to be an astronaut. More than merely the unfortunate protagonist of America's most famous thinly veiled fuck-you to the Soviet Union, he was a pioneer for humanity, and a restorer of faith in the power of civilization to accomplish great things. Our country lionized him and the rest of the Apollo 11 team as champions of democracy, living examples of what the fulfillment of Americal ideals could do--the glossy coffee-table Life Magazine retrospective First on the Moon, republished over and over since 1976, makes them no less than folk heroes.

But who, songwriters and terrible sci-fi authors have asked since 1969, is the man behind the helmet? Surely there is more to the Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong than their poofy white spacesuits and the reflection of the Earth in their eerie, globe-like visors. Surely, despite their hilariously action-figure names, these folks used to be that guy your aunt used to date or that bearded dude at the bar. Postmodern romantics, swept up in the drama of the Apollo landings, have long speculated about these details, spinning tragic and highly symbolic Life After Apollo tales of the 1970s American zeitgeist through figures as mythological to them as Abraham Lincoln and Superman.

The problem with all these experiments in cultural navel-gazing, of course, is that unlike Abraham Lincoln and (pre-Apocalypse pre-Crisis) Superman, Buzz Aldrin is still with us--and he is, indeed, a man, not a mere historical icon. An introspective, intelligent, and highly eloquent individual (if his gorgeous recollection of the first moonwalk is any indication), Aldrin is perfectly capable of telling his own damn story. And you know what? He does.

The truth, while less interesting than what fiction leaves us, is arguably more compelling in concept--a sad tale of alcoholism and depression, tinged with bitterness over being the second man on the moon (never mind Michael Collins, who despite being part of the team never got to walk on the moon at all). I guess it's kind of understandable--once you've beaten the rest of humanity minus Neil Armstrong to the moon, it's all downhill from there. You're never going to top that. Success is the ultimate curse of the overachiever (which Aldrin very much is), and postmodernism imitates life.

(A terrible short story I once read had an drunken Aldrin archetype-alike ranting in a bar, "I went to the moon once, you know! The fuckin' moon! I was a fucking astronaut!" and everyone just thinks he's nuts. Closer to reality than the author of that story intended, I bet. Who these days would recognize Buzz Aldrin without the spacesuit?)

That's something really great about this book: Buzz Aldrin, his name cemented in history as one of the first men to walk on the moon, writes his autobiography about everything that happens after. That alone makes me want to track down this book and give it a try.

Things you might not have known about Mr. Lightyear Aldrin:

  • Buzz is his legal first name.
  • He's a Presbyterian elder, and he has the remarkable distinction of being the first person to take communion on the moon. (He did it quietly, so as not to make a stir.)
  • You know those people who keep insisting the Apollo moon landings were a hoax? One of them stalked Buzz for a while, and confronted him outside a hotel, demanding that Buzz swear on a Bible that Buzz had actually walked on the moon. Buzz punched the guy in the face. It was awesome.

that's no moon! (oh wait, yes it is)

Iapetus? Yeah. We've been there.

This is so exciting, you guys! I spent a many an hour of my early childhood looking at blurry Galileo and Voyager photographs of the outer planets and their moons, and back then I couldn't wait to see what they looked like up close. And now we are. Granted, Saturn's moons look much like we expected--they are rocks in space, after all--but that just makes them all the more real. Gone are the delirious 2001-like cosmic visions of our parents' era, which with the help of LSD spurred the formation of many a New Age cult--this is our solar system in so much detail that you can almost reach right out and touch it. Just imagine what it'll be like when we send out spacecraft tough enough to take up-close optical photographs of things that aren't rocks in space--like the newly discovered giant hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Artist's impressions just don't do this kind of subject matter justice, as terrestrial artists have no extraterrestrial frame of reference; imagine a sea-size body of liquid methane as real to you as a glass of water.
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second earth

Astronomers in Geneva have found an Earth-like planet in the Goldilocks zone! (For those of you who haven't been following astronomy for the past few years, that's the not-too-hot, not-too-cold range believed to be ideal for the formation of life.) No word on whether or not it has water (which, by the way, they also found recently on an extrasolar planet--an uninhabitable gas giant, sadly) but chances are good.

Also, have a picture of an exploding sunlike star.