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Andrew found out last week that "Tim Peake's spacecraft" was going to be at the Media Museum and the museum had developed a Thursday "late" around it and the general concept of space and he thought I'd be interested. It did sound good.

Though not enough to stop me being grumpy that the Soyuz capsule wasn't brought to Manchester. It'd be a much better fit at MOSI, which not only has "science" in the name and concept of the thing without having to be wedged in with a crowbar, but actually has an Air and Space Hall. That hardly ever has any "space" stuff in it! But noooo, we had to trek all the way to Bradford for this, so it was a good thing the event was free because travel was about twenty quid and we were aware of how capricious the trains home could be.

I'd seen a Soyuz at the National Space Centtre in Leicester, but that was the full thing, all the modules looking if not pristine (it's fifty years old) at least clearly not having actually been to space. (You can see pictures and info about it at that link.) This thing, on the other hand, looked more like a sixties Doctor Who prop.


Which makes sense: it's of about the same vintage. Very little has changed for Soyuz, and the fact that it's still (and once again the only) way to get into space kind of blows my mind. The pictures I have here were all of side most blackened by heat when this particular capsule returned to the Earth. The other side of it was still burned, but a sort of rich brown color rather than charcoal black.

The ropes are to the parachute that was displayed with it, hung from the ceiling of the two-story high atrium where you first come into the museum. It was mostly draped and wrapped up and still ridiculously huge -- and of course only one of the parachutes Soyuz needs, but this was referred to as the "main" one and I think it is the biggest.

People kept trying to peer into the windows and I couldn't see a lot but Andrew told me it was nice and analogue in there: big buttons, well-labeled switches, luckily no touchscreens here! He also said there was a sign that said "help! man aboard" or something, and something he presumed was the same in Russian, visible through one of the windows I took these pictures through.

So we heard a little talk on that and while I was glad the museum was keeping the activities clearly meant for the school trips around for adults, who got their faces painted and made Mars rovers powered by balloons and stuff, the rest of what we happened to do was classic Media Museum stuff.

First we went to see the Moon landing on vintage TVs.

I think the one nearer to me in the picture here was from the late fifties, and the smaller one (you can't really tell from this crappy picture but it was in color!) was from the mid-sixties, so both could have been used to watch the Moon landing -- though we saw it because these have been converted to take digital format video, and since the BBC did erase the video tapes of the Moon landing, we were just watching the raw NASA footage for a few minutes, which was kind of great in itself and honestly probably better than listening to Patrick Moore and James Burke burble on about it?

The curator for this was great, talking about what it would've been like as an experience: the Moon landing happened at something like four in the morning UK time, and since NASA had a couple of hours' worth of film sent with the astronauts they just let it play. It was a big deal to have video cameras recording for hours at that time (never mind in space!) and it was the first time British TV broadcast all night long. She set the scene really well, and got everyone to give Neil Armstrong a round of applause when he said his famous words. She was clearly used to school groups too, unable to hide her amazement when somebody (of course it was Andrew) could tell her which channel was the first to broadcast in color.

We also went to Insight, both thinking as we did that the last time we were there we saw Dracula's teeth, to see a bunch of photos and similar that at least vaguely related to space. As always with anything like this I was much more interested than I thought I would be when I first had it described. The media museum is great for displaying some of these items it has that it can't usually show the public, and again there were curators and other volunteers telling us about everything.

So we saw some magic lantern slides (a sort of very early slide projector)...

...some 3D pictures of the Moon and a Viewmaster-type thing for looking at them through, lots of pictures of everything from someone testing the beef cubes that will be made into astronauts' food to sixties- and seventies-era prototypes of space shuttles and space stations and so on, and a daguerreotype of the Moon!

Again, the enthusiasm of the volunteers and curator totally made this what it was, what this museum is best at.

Like all trips to the Science and Media Museum since it became such, it was bittersweet in that the place is a sad shadow of what it once was, but even the shadow is still pretty great. I'm still mad at what the Science Museum Group are doing to it, and in how that affects the way they share their resources with Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry too. But no matter how much they threaten to close one of their "northern museums," no matter how much they pilfer the Media Museum's unique collections and the relationships it's built around them...the people who work and volunteer there, who love the place, and the great things they're still allowed to display, make it a totally special place I am still so fond of.
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I wrote about Cassini when it got to Saturn, musing on what a long time it had been traveling. So much had happened to me; I'd gone from a high school freshman to living in a country I hadn't thought much about before.

And then I happened to notice Cassini's seventh anniversary at Saturn, and thought how quickly and how slowly the years were going by.

Time piles up so quickly in space, where seven years is nothing compared to the uncountable vastness of the universe. But one of the great things about spaceships is that they connect the universe to the humans: its twenty years now Cassini has been in space. And I don't even know how many years in development to get it that far. A good chunk of a person's working life could have been spent on this one little thing, anyway, that flew through space and burnt up today.
I've seen dramatic words about Cassini "plunging to its death" and some twee cartoons about how it's going home because Saturn is its home, but all I'm interested in is how much we love this little spaceship. We've made it a person, we've given it a lot of time and attention. We've followed it on twitter. My phone's background pictures aren't of my partners or even my dog; they're ones taken by Cassini. (This one and this one, in case you're interested.) Of course we'll miss it now it's gone.
Here's a video with lots of pictures and nice music.
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I texted James on Friday to say the day that would work for me to visit this weekend was Saturday and was that okay with him. He said yes, and that there was the free wine-tasting at Czerwik's.

So I turned up, after a horrible journey comprised not only of rail-replacement buses but of absolutely no information about anything anywhere, very ready for a glass of wine. We listened to some cricket first and managed to turn up at Czerwik's just as the other customers and the guy who works there were wandering off upstairs or to do other things, leaving for a while just me and Jennie and James in the wine cellar, sitting on the cool floor demolishing the rest of the available cheese and an amount of wine that probably would've been shameful for people who had any shame. It was awesome.

But as if that wasn't enough, we'd walked past a new place advertising itself as doing cocktails and food, right next to Czerwik's, called Villain. They weren't open then but we peered through the windows of this place with the black exterior and shiny purple letters, to see an interior that was also black and shiny purple, and from what Jennie could tell a decent selection of gin.

By the time we left Czerwik's it was open. We thought we had to test it out.

Jennie and I had color-change gin, which starts out bright blue in the bottle, turns purple when you add the tonic, and then turns pink. In case this black-and-purple villain-themed place (with posters on the wall of different Jokers and That Guy From Breaking Bad and similar) wasn't Jennie enough, it also features gin in all the colors I have ever seen her hair be.

It also seems like the most bisexual thing ever. I mean: gin that's all the colors of our flag?!

Because Andrew had kindly said I didn't have to brave a worse public-transport nightmare on the way back, I stayed over which meant I got to eat mincemeat-with-cheese vol-au-vents (that might've been an idea we thought of once we started drinking eating the nice cheddar...) and watch game shows. And then Black Books, a delight for me because I know it so well it's so easy to watch. And then an early bedtime, by which point I was almost sober again.

In the morning I still had a similarly horrible journey to face, but at least I had more sleep before I did it. It wasn't too bad, though even abled people were still complaining at the lack of information (Brighouse is an unstaffed station and there was no indication of when or where the rail replacement bus would arrive; I'm seriously tempted to find out who to complain to because I've never had such an inaccessible journey. Even to the point where when the bus got to Huddersfield, the driver stopped at what I thought was an intersection, instead he opened the door and got off the bus and I was like..."oh, we're...here?" It took a while for anyone to get off the bus so I don't think it was just Blindy McBlindface here who wasn't sure what was going on.)

However in Huddersfield the staff got a lot better...a bit suffocating, really, but at least they made sure I got on the right rail-replacement bus for the next bit and made sure Stalybridge knew to expect me and to help me get to the right platform where I got an actual train the rest of the way to Manchester.

Nothing like losing the express route across the Pennines to make you appreciate it. It's fifteen minutes on the train, it took 45 minutes on the bus. It's a very pretty area and would be nice to live in or go to. But when it's just in the way, and you're worried about getting home in time for a thing, it's just stress-inducing.

I got home just in time to shower and go out again, to the Women in Science walk that went along with the talk my WI had last month. It was done by one of our members who volunteers with Manchester Girl Geeks who have done a walking tour of the city centre focusing on women who've had some connection to Manchester. What she was doing for us lot, on her own, was a smaller version of the same thing. About twelve of us showed up and everyone really enjoyed it.

We learned about Kathleen Drew-Baker, a phycologist whose work inadvertently saved Japan's supply of nori after it was nearly wiped out, Margaret Beckett who was a metallurgist before going into politics, Beatrice Shilling, engineer and motorbike racer, Cicely Popplewell and Mary Lee Woods, early computer scientists, and then Margaret Murray and Professor Rosalie David, pioneering and current experts on mummies. I liked that for all the historical scientists the last one is a currently-working woman.

It was nice to end up in Manchester Museum too, where I haven't been for ages, probably since the course I did two summers ago because it was one of the heritage sites that was part of it; some of my coursemates volunteered there afterwards just like I did at MOSI. And actually the MOSI person who oversaw that course is now working at Manchester Museum and asked me last week if I'd be interested in helping one of the conservators there who wants to make an exhibit accessible for for people with visual impairments. So I'm going to a meeting about that later this week and I'm pretty excited about that.

I know I just gave up one volunteering thing, but I'm not committing myself to anything yet by going to a meeting, and it sounds like it might be more satisfying/a better use of my time. We'll see, anyway.
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Here's an article about some of those things Voyager males me think about, through the lens of the people who are still working on this project.

One of them says,
‘‘I would not leave my wife to go with Angelina Jolie, as exciting as that sounds,’’ he told me. ‘‘And I would not leave Voyager to go to the new Mars missions. I will not leave Voyager until it ceases to exist. Or until I cease to exist.’’

Voyager

Aug. 3rd, 2017 04:01 pm
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Send a message to Voyager!

Only sixty characters, though! I have way too many feelings about Voyager and the spaceflight and discoveries I grew up with to even begin to know what to say.

And I'm sure they'll pick something bland and vague and PR-friendly like "Keep reaching for the stars!" But it won't stop me using this as an interesting prompt myself!

Girl Hours

Dec. 30th, 2016 08:59 am
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Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] meepalicious who, upon seeing Adrienne Rich's "Planetarium" linked to in my post about Vera Rubin, told me about another poem about another space-science woman which I absolutely adore: "Girl Hours".
Oh bright rain, brave clouds, oh stars,
oh stars.

Two thousand four hundred fires
and uncharted, unstudied,
the hours, the hours, the hours.
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Honestly, I've been pretty sanguine about the death toll of 2016. I think this is probably because I had a lot less to do with pop culture than most of my friends, either through being slightly younger, living a boring sheltered life, or what. I don't feel personally connected to them so I don't feel like I'm losing that bit of myself when we lose them.

But what I think my calm acceptance is about (and I don't trust this thought because I really think I'm rationalizing my lack of emotional connection) is that most of these great people can and should be emulated. The good that they do should, and hopefully does, live on after them in the people they inspire to do the kinds of things they did which made us like them.

So while I recognize that (to give a recent example) David Bowie, Prince and George Michael expanded the boundaries of what men can be like, I also believe that this good and important work can and should continue beyond them. That maybe the best way to honor them is to emulate the things we liked about them and even push some boundaries, like they did.

However! There is one death I'm actually sad and angry about, and it's not because it's someone who personally had a big impact on my life but because it says something sad and angry-making about our world.

Vera Rubin discovered dark matter in the 1970s. She also died on Christmas Day.

This means, among other things, that she will now never get the Nobel Prize her work so richly deserves, because they're only awarded to living people.

As this article about her said in June, "It’s like the [Nobel] committee cannot see her, although nearly all of astrophysics feels her influence." This, of course, could also be a description of her famous discovery: dark matter is called that because astronomers can't "see" it (or detect it in any other way) and yet it must be there to explain the behavior of the matter we can see -- like stars and galaxies.

Only two women have ever won the Nobel Prize in physics, the most recent in 1963 (and even that was a woman sharing it with two men). Even with how difficult it is for women to get in, stay in, and succeed in scientific fields, it happens more often than twice a century!

Like all women in predominantly-male careers, Vera Rubin had to be extra aggressive and persistent. Stories like the one where she had to modify a bathroom sign because until then there'd been no ladies' room where she worked sound endearing and admirable at first...but then realization dawns: how could there have been only men's toilets?! How is this a thing anyone has to put up with? Rubin herself said in 2000 she was "fed up... What’s wrong with this story is that nothing’s changing, or it’s changing so slowly.”

This is why I'm sad and angry. We owed her so much better.
I found out about Vera Rubin's death from the twitter of Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, one of a few space-science women I follow there. I used to follow some men too but only the women talk about what really interests me, which is space (where they say the same kinds of things as the men of course) and social justice here on Earth. Dr. Chanda P-W is Jewish and a woman of color as well, so I find her perspective especially valuable in this, plus she just sounds like a fun person to know.
The following tweets you can see if you click on that one give a good idea of what Vera Rubin was like as a person, not just as the discoverer of a bit of science so famous we've all heard of it even if we don't really know what it is.

Other good stuff about Vera Rubin I found yesterday:
“I first observed at Palomar one long dark December night in 1965,” she recalled later. “My assigned bedroom was on the second floor of the dormitory, and there was a velvet rope at the first floor, blocking the stairs. When an astronomer asked why the rope was there, the answer was ‘because Vera Rubin is upstairs.’”

I live and work with three basic assumptions," Rubin once wrote:
1) There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.
2) Worldwide, half of all brains are in women.
3) We all need permission to do science, but, for reasons that are deeply ingrained in history, this permission is more often given to men than to women."


And here are a few clips from the BBC of Rubin talking about her work.
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I love this interview. But this is definitely my favorite bit.
But, it seems, we humans can’t help but sometimes think of our robots as being just like us.
“There is a personality there,” Spilker said of the Cassini spacecraft, “and I think it is a reflection of the Cassini team. We take good care of her and watch over her, making sure everything goes right. And if she curls up in the middle of the night and says ‘Help!’ we all come in and want to fix her and get her running again.”
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I'm watching an old episode of QI and Stephen Fry has just described the Turing test as "the most important thing for a machine," in the context of advancement in robots and computers and that sort of thing.

And I just thought, man, what a human-centered way to think about it! It's probably not the most important thing to a machine at all, because why would a machine care about how well it can simulate a boring rubbish fallible weird old human? It's an important thing for humans in the machines they're building, maybe, but not for the machine, right?

But then I thought, in order to pass the Turing test, it'd have to care about passing the Turing test because that's what humans care about.

And I kept thinking about this and my brain got all tangled up.
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By which I mean "boring to people who aren't me," not "disagreed with"!

Lately:
  • the "Habitable Zone"
  • whether Curiosity (Mars rover) singing "happy birthday" to itself is sad
  • everything that's wrong with this, since it's a tab I still have open and it irks me more every time I remember it
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I roll the dice and say "It's gotta work if I stick with it, right? I know that isn't how probability works...but it USUALLY is! And THAT'S how probability works!"

And then later on: "At least I got the straights! They're always the most difficult for me..."
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I must admit I, like no doubt almost everyone else, take it for granted that every year or so there will be some new amazing feat of ingenuity and discovery in space: dive a probe into the atmosphere of one of Saturn's moons, trundle around on the Martian surface, find hundreds of planets outside our solar system via a telescope in space, orbit an asteroid, land on a comet, most recently transform our knowledge of Pluto from a pixilated disco ball to the incredible detailed pictures we've no doubt all seen now because Pluto is the internet's favorite planet.

It's easy to think these things are so obviously good that we can assume they'll carry on happening, injecting our daily routines and concerns with a regular dose of the sublime and the numinous in order to keep our psyches in good working order. But every single one of those missions and accomplishments has to be fought for, hard, many times. The money has to be spent long before the payoff in the public's eyes -- if it ever happens at all. New Horizons was approved knowing that it wouldn't produce results until a president or two later, and it's hard for congresspeople (most of whom need to worry about re-election every two years) to play that kind of long game, especially when there are of course so many worthy causes the taxpayers' money could go to.

I'm fascinated by how New Horizons so nearly didn't happen; there seem so many parallel universes where it never was, or where it ceased to exist before any of us heard of it, or even one where it cleared all the hurdles but our now-iconic image of Pluto was nearly lost in the computer before anyone laid eyes on it, reminding us that space scientists at work are susceptible to all the human failings of anyone else at work.

I try to be mindful of these things so that I don't take our knowledge of the universe for granted. It's easy to assume fabulous pictures and information about exoplanets and Kuiper belt objects are as inevitable as new TV shows, especially when it all ends up in the meat grinder of social media, which extrudes fanfic, urban legends, politics, news, pop-culture references, and amazing new scientific knowledge such that they all look like each other.*

But there's nothing certain about it: a few days ago made 46 years since man first landed on the Moon...and I think it's 43 years since man last landed on the Moon. Having done something in space is hardly a guarantee that we'll do it again. We have to keep supporting funding for science, and keep celebrating the amazing fruits of that labor.


* And again I could rant about the sad Pluto cartoons: people drawing Pluto with a Care-Bear heart on its tummy just like they draw their favorite characters from TV or anime or whatever, so used to feeling this level of ownership and participation in their entertainment that Pluto gets treated like Benedict Cumberbatch or something...but I have somewhere to be this afternoon so won't rant about this any further! But someday this subject will escape my footnotes, I hope.
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This week, what with its aurora and its solar eclipse, has been awesome for me because at times like this everyone else gets as excited about space as I am all the time.
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Of course I'm fond of the one I grew up‎ with, but that's no reason to leave it that way forever!

I remember the poster of the solar system I had on my bedroom door as a kid, with all the planets' vital statistics -- diameter, orbital period, mean distance from the Sun, etc -- and how the number of moons for Saturn had a question mark next to it. I don't remember any of the other stats from this poster, just the two biggest numbers of moons for the two biggest planets: Jupiter had 16 and Saturn had "22?"

Twenty-two question mark! I was captivated by that question mark. I was too young to understand at the time how there could be any doubt about how many moons a planet had. Now I look back and marvel that there could be such certainty! Now there are like, what, 60? Does anyone even know? Does anyone mind that we're not quite sure of this?

The questions are intriguing and delicious because we can hope they are impermanent. That question mark excited me, because I believed this was something humans would be able to nail down and specify, coming to a soothingly "right" answer, accurate and stable and unequivocal, one day.

Looking at that memory now, I like it because it places me in a certain time and context.

I love the song "Little Fluffy Clouds" but the beginning always drove me crazy. The supposed impetus for the vocal sample that gives the song its name is an interviewer asking "What were the skies like when you were young?" What the hell kind of question is that? I always wanted to know. Who talks like that?

But on a slightly bigger scale, I think it could be a great question:
- When did you come of age?
- Back when we were at Twenty-Two Question Mark For Saturn.
It's something I could see Mr. xkcd doing as a chart. It's like how Romans used to name the year by saying "it was the seventh year in the reign of such-and-such." It's like those sf stories about using the positions of the planets in the solar system as a clock: you come back from a relativistic journey, no idea what epoch you've arrived back into, check the relative positions of all the planets in their orbits and then you can say "well this only happens every umptymillion years so it's this time, plus or minus one umptymillion!" which at least narrows down the possibilities.

Anyway, where was I?

Here's what I wrote the other day when I read about how close Dawn is getting to Ceres:
The best thing about space exploration is that it transforms objects in the solar system from ideas into places.

The Voyagers did this for the outer planets (and some of their moons); Cassini/Huygens has done it for the moons of Saturn; Spirit and Oppy and Curiosity are doing it for Mars; New Horizons will do it for Pluto and other Kuiper Belt Objects...and Dawn is doing this for Ceres, the largest asteroid in the belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Ceres was the original "relegated" planet: when first discovered it was called a planet, but when a number of smaller asteroids were discovered it was gradually understood that Ceres is one of many such objects, not something that's cleared its orbital path like planets are supposed to. So Ceres was reclassified, without (as far as I can tell) all the fuss Pluto has received in its similar situation, and is still a subject of scientific interest, getting its own mission and everything, As is Pluto, of course!‎
They're not treated any differently no matter what they're called. Planets are important. Dwarf planets are important. Moons are important. Comets are important!

Is there any way that having the asteroid belt is worse than having just Ceres? Nobody I know thinks so. I didn't even know Ceres's history (its social history, its history as a subject of interest to humans, not its geological or astronomical history as a rock in space) until Pluto's reclassification caused all this fuss and there started to be articles about the new class of planets Pluto has been "demoted" to or whatever (such emotive language! the planets provide such an obligingly blank canvas don't they?!) saying things like "hey, Pluto isn't the only one in this bizarro new 'dwarf planet' class!" Until then I knew Ceres only as one of the largest asteroids. And of course I thought the asteroid belt was great, like kids do: lacking the singular personality of a solar system icon like Jupiter or Venus yet delicious in its anonymity, its plurality. And of course asteroids are just Space Landmines, if I could believe what movies taught me about the inevitability of having to drive spaceships through them.

Nothing about Ceres by itself could be as good as Space Landmines. And so why should I mourn for Pluto when it's transitioning from being a lonely exception to being part of the Kuiper Belt, a busy place where not everything is about us, full of Pluto-like objects. Pluto is no longer alone! Not the ugly duckling of the planet club but surrounded by its own kind.

How do we not love this story?! How long will it take for the queer folk and the non-standard deviations and the neurodiverse and the weirdos who grew up in small towns where they were led to believe they were the only weirdo in the world to realize this is their vindication?

Pluto was an ugly planet: orbit all askew to the other planets in their orderly ecliptic, never in all its time as a planet being captured as more than a smudge that needed a big arrow next to it in photos, or as a circle so pixilated I've been known to say it looks like a disco ball.

But Pluto will be a beautiful dwarf planet, in a process that's starting already as New Horizons zooms toward it, getting better pictures than any we've had before and more information on this small distant world. It's like we're finally getting to go on our first date with Pluto and find out more than its blurry photos on the dating website and see beyond the superficial facts like that it likes long walks on the beach and eccentric orbits, has a diameter of 2274 kilometers and a good sense of humor.

2015 is such an exciting time to get to know and love Pluto for what it is, and -- since New Horizons will also be looking at some of Pluto's satellites and hopefully a couple of other Kuiper Belt Objects -- the other swans we now realize it's swimming through the universe with.

Pluto is asking us "who says being a planet is better than not being a planet?" Pluto says "do I care if some people on Earth decided for a mere third of one Plutonian year that Pluto should fit some label rather than some other?" (A third of a year is a mere four months here, of course. Four months is nothing! Would we think much of a job title, a marital status, an address, that we only had for four months once?) Pluto is not surprised that the people of Earth, who think they live on a planet, accept unquestioningly that planets are the best things. I mean, they have invented this idea of a "habitable zone" that they think they're in the middle of! Of course they do! Their ego is flagrant, their hubris unbounded. Pluto is keeping its distance from all that silliness. Pluto's reminding us a better solar system is possible.

...Maybe it's time for me to go to bed?

Fish

Jan. 27th, 2015 09:53 pm
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This story about the discovery of fish where people didn't think there'd be fish reminded me that at lunch today [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours told me about a fish that swims upside down just because it likes to.

This news delighted me, because one of the things that freaked me out about fish back when I was going fishing and had to touch them and look at their eyes was that there didn't seem to be any personality there, nothing above the level of instinct.

That biologists can't determine any evolutionary benefit or other justification for why the fish likes swimming upside down and thus are left with "they must like it" brings me both relief that fish might get to have preferences just for the fun of it and also amusement because I love being reminded that humans don't know everything.

So much of what we accept as fact turns out to be merely arbitrary convention. Who says life needs a planet with liquid water? Who says north is at the top? Who are we to tell fish which way is right-side-up anyway? What do our assumptions lead us to overlook?
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I still remember Beagle 2, which was the subject of one of my first LJ entries to get lots of compliments and still one I'm fond of. So I remember poor doomed Beagle 2 fondly, too.

So I was amazed to read today that it's showed up on images taken of the Martian surface, painstakingly scrutinized for the little thing, which is just at the limits of the high-resolution photos. Apparently the entry, descent and landing sequence worked and it did indeed successfully land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003.

It'd never occurred to me that imaging on Mars could include looking for stuff we'd sent there, but apparently there'd been prvious searches for Beagle 2. It's not like they just stumbled across it; it sounds like it was tricky to find because it's so small.

People who'd worked on the project expressed happiness about these things, and while it must be nice to know what happened to Beagle 2, I can't help but think it'd add a little element of heartbreak to learn that the mission did so many things right, came so close to the success all those people had worked so hard for.
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New Horizons is about to wake up!

New Horizons is a NASA mission to Pluto, its moons and even some other Kuiper Belt Objects in the neighborhood that are conveniently located (the Kuiper Belt is a bit like the asteroid belt, out where Pluto is).

As with Cassini, I feel such a strange sense of the time passing: I remember when both were launched thinking about how frustratingly, impossibly futuristic the dates of their eventual arrival seemed to me. Excited about Cassini in 1997, I had no idea what 2004 would be like. New Horizons launched two days before I got married; I think it's safe to say that that feels like a very long time ago!

So much has changed that Pluto was still a planet when New Horizons took off.

Of course, there's no less reason to go there now than there would've been before: I've always been happy with Pluto being a dwarf planet, but I'm still thrilled at this aptly-named mission: even Hubble, which can take beautiful intricate pictures of nebulae and galaxies and suchlike that are billions of light years away, still can only show us pictures of Pluto that are so pixilated it looks like a disco ball.

I'm still learning a lot about New Horizons, like that Pluto's satellites that've been discovered since its launch were given the names Nix and Hydra because they have the same initials as the mission. Also, it'd never really occurred to me that sending this spacecraft as quickly as possible towards Pluto so it'd get there before everybody working on it retired also meant that it would zoom past Pluto pretty quickly! New Horizons is traveling so fast that the actual close-approach part of the encounter happens in an incredibly short period; nearly all of the most important goals for the mission are met in the time from 2.5 hours before to 1 hour after closest approach.

Three and a half hours. After nine years of getting there. Of course, other observations will be going on for many months, but I still think it's incredible that any group of humans can so focus their energy and attention that everything needed to make this happen could be brought together with sufficient precision to make such a thing worthwhile. Like ESA landing a probe on a comet a few weeks ago. It's good for us, every now and then, to remember the far-reaching, forward-thinking organization and detail and ambition we humans are capable of bringing to something that for once doesn't kill or hurt or even make more miserable our fellow humans.
hollymath: (Default)
MAVEN's nearly to Mars! It'll get there when I'm sleeping.

This has snuck up on me a bit. Musing on this, I realized how much better an idea I had of space missions when I had twitter. It was such a great way to keep up with them, be they in planning, under construction, orbiting the Earth, on their way to Mars or Pluto or Mercury, or creeping up finally toward interstellar space.

Then for the first time since I left it I considered getting myself a twitter account...but only if I could follow spaceships (and telescopes!) and no humans at all.

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