My friend Frank Drake passed, at age 92. We served together on the advisory external council of NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC)... and corresponded for decades about SETI... the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent civilizations. His famed "Drake Equation" was more of a tool for organizing conversations and discussions of SETI, rather than to actually determine anything. But in that purpose it served very well and won Frank deserved, longstanding fame and memory.
So many other accomplishments. Like working with Carl Sagan to concoct the Pioneer Plaque and Voyager Golden Record. Then there's the science. Need to digest this while pondering a fine and transformative human.
A balmy moon: “Scientists have discovered shaded locations within pits on the Moon that always hover around a comfortable 63 °F (about 17 °C),” reports SciTech Daily.
While I am notorious in my intense dislike of the “Artemis” push to send US astronauts to shuffle footprints on a useless plain of poison dust, repeating a rite-of-passage we completed 50 years ago – (let other nations and zillionaire Apollo-wannabes race to get their Bar-Moonzvahs there!) I do support continuing NASA robotic studies of Luna, including both pockets of polar ice and these incredible cave pits, that might offer future habitats and the seeds for lunar cities. In fact, a quickie rover to explore one of these pits is funded by NASA’s Innovative & Advanced Concepts program – (NIAC). (I am on the advisory External Council.)
An out-of-this-world photo of the moon, as two astrophotographers, Andrew McCarthy and Connor Matherne collaborated to combine over 200,000 shots to create a single lunar image of resplendent color and detail.
As a patriot, I hope the SLS launch finally goes well. And the 2nd and 3rd rockets we’ve paid for. But then be done with this incredible dinosaur.
Garver: "I felt like the five years, and the $10 billion, was too much to begin with, and we wouldn't even make that. And if I had known it would be more like 12 years, and more than twice that much, I probably couldn't have even stood silently against the wall. But I don't know what else I was supposed to do. I still don't know to this day if my boss, Charlie, was in on the whole deal early or just dragged along. I really think that meeting with the senators was just probably to burn me, because I think Charlie was in on it, too. I thought it was silly because, you know, I didn't have a vote that was going to override the Senate. My issue is that the whole point of the space program is to align with the nation's goals. And so having a handful of senators earmark a rocket program to contractors that have already proven they weren't able to deliver was not right.”
== A better target for our ambitions ==
Wow, amid our justified pride over the Perseverance rover and her sidekick helicopter, let’s not forget that Curiosity has been there for 10 years(!) providing stunning mages – such as those here – along with heaps of science. And your civilization did this. Try a little confidence?
Speaking of Red Planet stuff… NASA and ESA spacecraft have created a water map of Mars. ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have teamed up to collect data for the last decade, creating a global map of aqueous minerals (rocks that have been chemically altered by the action of water in the past). Because aqueous minerals still contain water molecules, this information, along with known locations of buried water-ice, will be essential to planning landing sites for human exploration of Mars.
So cool. My friend astronomer Leslie Young and her colleague brother were featured in this web feature about their mission to the Northern Australian outback with 12 sophisticated NASA telescopes. Exactly where calculations predicted Pluto could be seen passing in front of (occulting) a star. (None of the scopes could actually see Pluto.). If all went well, most of the them would measure dimming of the star as data about Pluto’s diameter and atmosphere… and just one scope might see that atmosphere suddenly flare brightly! Weather threatened and two scopes failed… but… but… well, have a look!
By coincidence, around 1965 I participated in grazing stellar occultations by the limb of the moon! All done analog by observers. We’d shout the star was "on!" and "Off!" while WWV recited time in the background, providing data to map polar mountains. Crude stuff! And I hear that it’s still (less crudely!) done today.
In trying to understand why Ceres’ misty exosphere contains ammonia, simulations find that the dwarf planet formed past Saturn and moved inward.
== Space Tech updates ==
This Ukrainian company has a new take on the old concept of a ‘hybrid rocket’ – in this case one in which the rocket’s very body provides the fuel, consuming itself.
It’s been shown to be possible to decelerate a very large, inflatable entry vehicle to enter Earth’s atmosphere and finally descend to land. The opposite direction – from the ground (or upper atmosphere) accelerating into orbit – is much harder. But is it impossible?
After analyzing data gathered when NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected a sample from asteroid Bennu in October 2020, scientists have learned something astonishing: The spacecraft would have sunk into Bennu had it not fired its thrusters to back away immediately after it grabbed dust and rock from the asteroid’s surface.’ “Loose” seems inadequate to describe the surface.
== Way farther out! ==
In this fantastic James Webb Space Telescope image, the Cartwheel Galaxy sports two rings — a bright inner ring and a surrounding, colorful ring. These two rings expand outwards from the center of the collision, like ripples in a pond after a stone is tossed into it. The galaxy is located about 500 million light years away.
More galaxies than even Sagan envisioned: “Our most detailed observations of the distant Universe, from the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field, gave us an estimate of 170 billion galaxies. A theoretical calculation from a few years ago — the first to account for galaxies too small, faint, and distant to be seen — put the estimate far higher: at 2 trillion. But even that estimate is too low. There ought to be at least 6 trillion, and perhaps more like 20 trillion, galaxies.”
Woof. Somehow, billions-and-billions didn’t quite daunt me. Twenty Trillions does.
Astronomers believe this ‘super Earth’ could be an ‘ocean planet,’ a planet completely covered by a thick layer of water. TOI-1452 b is nearly 70% larger than Earth “and its density can only be explained if a large fraction of (its) mass is made up of volatiles such as water.” The surface of the earth is 70% water, but water makes up only 1% of the planet’s mass, scientists say. A computer simulation of conditions on TOI-1452 b revealed “water could make up as much as 30% of its mass,” NASA reports.
== And yeah… aliens ==
A cogent essay by astrophysicist Adam Frank on how ‘standards of evidence’ should apply to UAP/UFO investigations and those in the public who desperately clutch at any excuse to shout ‘aliens!’
I know concepts of the 'alien' as well as any entity on this planet. And while UFO fetishism tends to be dumb, I keep looking at the 'evidence’ with an open mind. Still, I offer a much better explanation here.
"Avi Loeb, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is planning an expedition to retrieve fragments of the meteor from the ocean floor. By analyzing the debris, he is hoping to determine the object's origins — even going so far as to make the extraordinary suggestion that it could be a technological object created by aliens."
The notion of alien relics underwater is ancient. But very close to his description is a scene in my novel Existence.
Finally... Currently, Saturn is at its closest point to Earth.
LOTTA cool stuff. Now go forth with confidence in a bold, smart, scientific civilization...
...and vote! Get others to get off their duffs and defend that civilization from lobotomization.