Saturday, March 5

Rhea eclipsed by Dione

A rare event in the solar system, captured on Feb. 20 by Cassini: A partial eclipse of two of Saturn's moons, Rhea (rear) and Dione. As with the sun and the moon during eclipses on Earth, the two are of different sizes but their distances cancel out the difference, making them appear the same size. There's a nice story on it here on a blog by MSNBC's Alan Boyle.
You can watch the full eclipse as a Quicktime movie here.

Soon, everyone will be an astronaut for 15 minutes...

Andy Warhol said that soon everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. It used to be that anyone who went into space would be famous, but that may not be true for long, with the coming era of private tourist jaunts into space -- ironically, flights that will actually spend a bit less than 15 minutes in space.
Anyway, this website I came across, for a guy who hopes to become the "Ireland's first astronaut", gives an interesting glimpse of how people see their hopes of coming fame and glory in the post-SpaceShipOne era. There may be quite a bit of this kind of thing in the next few years.

Friday, March 4

Space photo of the day: weird Mars rocks

Latest view from the rover Opportunity

(See it bigger here)

Martian disappearing act

I was just looking at a blog created by a fellow member of the National Association of Science Writers, Joel Shurkin, that deals with science journalism. He commented on the recent story that ran on the website, claiming an exclusive account that NASA scientists had submitted a scientific paper claiming there is life on Mars today. Most of the specifics of the story have been vigorously denied by all parties concerned, and NASA went so far as to take the unusual step of issuing a press release to rebut the story.
I do think the story crossed a few journalistic lines, including portraying a private dinner as a quasi-official meeting, and making clearly wrong claims about what the scientists said. One unfortunate consequence of that is that Carol Stoker and Larry Lemke's very interesting work at Rio Tinto, Spain, the subject of the dinner-party leak, has gotten an undeserved black eye.
Anyway, jogged by the mention in Shurkin's blog, I just went to check, and the story has now been removed from the site altogether! Nothing shows up in a search at all. They also removed their story from the following day, a more legitimate story about Vittorio Formisano's claim to have identified formaldehyde in the Mars atmosphere, which he says is indicative of life. (New Scientist's story on that, which I think got it right, is still available). A subsequent story by's Leonard David, a very good piece, appears to be the only thing on the subject still there.
Ah, but it's a bit trickier than that. It turns out the story really is still there, as is a followup by the original reporter, Brian Berger, that ran after NASA's denial came out. BUT, neither of these stories shows up if you do a search of for "Mars". That's strange.
It seems to me a little odd for a well-known website like to remove two very high-profile stories, without comment or followup, from their searchable archive, as if they never happened. What do others think?

Thursday, March 3

We have liftoff

Three, two, one ... here I go into the blogosphere. I hope to use this space to post some of the interesting stuff that I come across as I go about my work of reporting on astronomy, the space program and so on for New Scientist magazine and occasional other venues. There are a lot of interesting websites I come across, tidbits of news that don't quite rise to the level of being actual news stories but that are worth a mention and that some people might find interesting.
This is my first foray into the world of blogs, and I've only read a few. I've been inspired by my friend Oliver Morton's very interesting blog Mainly Martian, which is a great place to keep abreast of the most interesting things going on in the latest Mars data, from the NASA twin rovers and the Mars Express mission. I've also recently looked at a few others that focus on science, but I haven't really found much yet. As I find interesting things, I may note them here.
Upcoming events that I hope to post information about here in this blog, as they unfold:
The Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, an annual meeting that is the big festival of new information about the solar system around us. And this year's meeting promises to be one of the best ever, with lots of new stuff coming out about the latest Mars data (frozen seas! methane that is suggestive of the presence of living microbes on Mars today! the real story from the scientists whose dinnertime chat got exploded into a premature and overblown web story!) as well as great new stuff from Cassini on Saturn and its moons Titan and Enceladus, the latest on what was recovered from the crash-landed Genesis mission, more on Martian meteorites, and who knows what else.
And then, maybe, later this year, the return of the space shuttle to flight. NASA now says it'll happen on May 15. I'm betting it won't. We'll see. Frankly, I'll be surprised if it flies anytime this year, but I could be wrong ...
And as I always have, I will be following closely the activities of small rocket companies like X-Prize winning Burt Rutan and his Scaled Composites, as well as companies like Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures that hope to sell flights into space.
So stay tuned to this space, space fans. I hope you'll find things here that you won't have seen elsewhere.