Tag Archives: Phil Plait

A new Cosmos

Here’s something to look forward to. Next year a new version of the classic series Cosmos will be available. The trailer below gives and idea of its likely quality – watch it full screen. the quality is great.

Official Trailer from Comic-Con | COSMOS|

Phil Plait, writing on the Bad Astronomy blog, gives his view on what the series may be like (see Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey: Carl Sagan’s show updated with Neil Tyson).

It will be called Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. Hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and writers Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s widow) and  Steven Soter. The executive producers are Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan.

Phil Plait warns agains prejudging a show a show only on the evidence of the trailer but feels it will be successful. And needed. Sagan’s original series, while still very effective, need updating to use new media and knowledge. Also, there is need for more pro-science public media which can help counter current anti-science and pseudoscience attitudes. As Plait says:

“We live in a time when the denial of reality is as prevalent (or more) than the acceptance of it. Much of that denial comes from a provincial view of the Universe, a narrowly constrained frame of mind that not just disallows but actively discourages doubt, questions, exploration, and freedom of discovery. The original Cosmos was all about those things, and not in a dry, documentary style, but from a very human viewpoint. This is why Cosmos endures, and why it needs to continue for a new generation.”

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Infectious jubilation

Crowd in New York’s Times Square celebrate successful Mars landing – 1:30 am. Credit: Jason Major (@JPMajor)

The mass interest in the current Olympics, and yesterday’s landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars really brought home to me that we are an empathetic species. We celebrate the achievements of others and feel the jubilation they do when things go right.

And with Curiosity’s successful landing I think we also celebrate the achievement because we see that it belongs to all of us. It is an achievement for all humanity.

The achievement is huge. The technically difficult landing seemed to go without a hitch. Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory were receiving images within minutes. Everyone was aware that attempts at Mars landing have a history of failure.

The descent by parachute was photographed by a high-resolution camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. – see below.

Photo: NASA – Curiosity Spotted on Parachute by Orbiter.

That seems incredibly lucky but clearly a lot of skill and technology went into this achievement as well. As Phil Plait wrote on Bad Astronomy:

“The simple and sheer amazingness of this picture cannot be overstated. Here we have a picture taken by a camera on board a space probe that’s been orbiting Mars for six years, reset and re-aimed by programmers hundreds of millions of kilometers away using math and science pioneered centuries ago, so that it could catch the fleeting view of another machine we humans flung across space, traveling hundreds of million of kilometers to another world at mind-bending speeds, only to gently – and perfectly – touch down on the surface mere minutes later.”

According to a media briefing earlier today the full version of this image also shows the abandoned heat shield which landed some distance from the Curiosity’s landing site.

Patience

Now we have to be patient while Curiosity is checked out by engineers and slowly brought into full functioning. It will be weeks before the vehicle starts driving around, sampling soil and rocks, and analysing samples.

Even the downloading of images already captured will take time. So far we are only seeing relatively low resolution images. Large teams of engineers and scientists will be working strange hours (the slightly different length of the Martian day (sol) and the Earth day causes “jet lag” for these people) receiving data, planning experiments, writing code and uplifting code and instructions.

Andrew Kessler gives an idea of the activity and life style of the teams involved in managing the last Mars lander – Phoenix – in his book Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission. For my review of this book see Working on Mars.

See also:
Curiosity requires patience
Going for gold – on Mars
Seven Minutes of Terror
Christmas gift ideas: Working on Mars

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Historic shuttle launch photos

The Shuttle launches are always dramatic events. Pity there are only two more planned. They are one event I would have liked to have seen before popping my clogs.

However, there are always the photos. And some of the most interesting are those taken from the air, or even from orbit, rather than the ground. I have seen a few taken from airplanes, or by parachuters. There is even one taken from the International Space Station!

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer and author of the book Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End . . ., has been presenting some of these on his blog recently. His last one, taken by Van Wideman, is of the launch which carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit back in 1990.

This must be pretty rare:

Thanks to Bad Astronomer – Diving into and out of the sky.

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The purpose of purpose

dawkins lectureMy previous post on Purpose seems, from the discussion, to have hit a raw spot with some people. Just to add fuel to the fire, have a look at this video of Richard Dawkin’s’ recent presentation during his March USA tour. Entitled “Purpose of Purpose” he discusses how the word is often used inappropriately. Along the lies of the theological “why” questions. Quoting Peter Atkins he points out that often “why” questions are just silly.

However, Dawkins does point out that humans are obsessed with purpose, and discusses why that may be so. He describes how purpose has evolved and why the human brain can derive humanitarian and religious purposes which are not necessarily seen as evolutionary adaptions.

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Science blogging prize

Phil Plait points our (A new blog prize: the Quarks!) that science blogs have been under-represented in annual blog awards. So he is welcoming the announcement from 3 Quarks Daily of four annual blog prizes. They are for Science, Arts & Literature , Politics and Philosophy.

Science is to be the first – to be announced June 21 with nominations of blog posts by Midnight (NYC time) June 1. The first place award ‘will be called the “Top Quark,” and will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the “Charm Quark,” will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the “Strange Quark,” along with two hundred dollars.”‘

There are a number of NZ science blogs now who should consider nominating a post (e.g. simon.net.nz, Science Media Centre Blog, Physics Stop, Henry, Cr!key Creek, Hot Topic, Bioblog and I apologise for those I have missed). I guess chances are remote alongside the high ranking US science blogs. But you never know. The nomination process itself may bring a bit of traffic and let people know that we have such blogs in New Zealand.

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