Close encounters with a comet

In keeping with the harsh aesthetic of that Black Rain video from earlier, here’s another look at what’s above us.

The Comet
In 2016 an exciting mission was ended. The Rosetta spacecraft made its final manoeuvre. A controlled hard-landing on the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67p). Before that Rosetta accompanied the Comet for more than 2 years. It researched valuable scientific data, brought a lander on to the comet’s surface and took a vast number of pictures.

2017 Esa released over 400,000 images from Rosetta’s comet mission. Based on these material Motion Designer Christian Stangl and Composer Wolfgang Stangl worked together to create this short film. The sequences are digitally enhanced real-footage from the probe.

Here’s more footage from the same comet.

A stunning animation created from photos of a heavy snowstorm falling on Comet 67P in 2016
“As the spacecraft moves around the comet we see the landscape change, but you can also see stars moving in the background, and flakes of ice and dust much closer to the spacecraft flying around! It’s like something from an old movie, *but it’s real*.”

“Liftoff, we have a liftoff!”

It’s the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 today, blasting off on July 16, 1969 to start its three-day trip to the moon.

That landing, though.

Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary: NASA legends remember the nerve-wracking moments
“It was a very large crater,” Armstrong told Ed Bradley and “60 Minutes” in 2005. “Steep slopes on the crater, covered with very large rocks about the size of automobiles. That was not the kind of place I wanted to try to make the first landing.”

Armstrong, flying manually, had to improvise. He had roughly one minute of fuel to find a safe place to land. […]  “The tension was through the roof,” said Charlie Duke, also in Mission Control, who was the man telling Armstrong he was flying on fumes. Duke said the tension was so great at Mission Control there was dead silence. “I’d never heard Mission Control so quiet. So that tension, it was palpable. You could feel it.”

Armstrong finally spotted smooth terrain: “And we finally landed with nobody knows exactly how much fuel. Some estimates have it at 20 seconds’ [worth].”

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
“Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

An absolutely incredible journey. The risks were staggering. It could have all gone very differently.

50 facts about the Apollo 11 moon landing for its 50th anniversary
5. Richard Nixon had a speech prepared in case the Apollo 11 astronauts never came home.
As with many historic undertakings, President Nixon had to prepare for the possibility that a tragedy might occur during the Apollo 11 mission. So his speechwriter, William Safire, wrote two different speeches: one to celebrate the mission’s victory, another titled “In the Event of Moon Disaster.” It stated:

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the Moon to explore in peace will stay on the Moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”

Thankfully, the mission was a success, though some thought the soundtrack could be improved.

Brian Eno’s soundtrack for the Apollo 11 moon landing
In the months that followed, the same few seconds of Neil Armstrong’s small steps played on an endless loop on TV as anchors and journalists offered their analysis and patriotic platitudes as a soundtrack. The experts, he later wrote, “[obscured] the grandeur and strangeness of the event with a patina of down-to-earth chatter.”

In 01983, Eno decided to add his own soundtrack to the momentous event.

Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent) (Remastered 2019)

It’s not the only moon out there, of course.

The Atlas of Moons
Our solar system collectively hosts nearly 200 known moons, some of which are vibrant worlds in their own right. Take a tour of the major moons in our celestial menagerie, including those that are among the most mystifying—or scientifically intriguing—places in our local neighborhood.

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Update 17/07/19

Can’t resist just adding another article here, though I’ve mentioned some of these before.

The greatest photos ever? Why the moon landing shots are artistic masterpieces
The legacy of Earthrise has never stopped growing – and the Earth, as seen by unmanned spacecraft, has never stopped shrinking. When Nasa’s Voyager probe reached the edge of the solar system it turned to take a picture of a tiny Earth alongside its neighbouring planets. The Hubble telescope and its like have shown us a sublime, colourful universe whose light-filled dust clouds are light years across.

Yet the photographs taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts and the handful of humans who followed them remain unique. They are still the only portraits of our species on another world.

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I didn’t realise you could see Buzz Aldrin’s face in that photo.

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And here’s one more, on the exhilaration of the event.

The sublime Romanticism of the moon landing
Virtually alone among contemporary observers in seeing the true significance of the lunar landing was Vladimir Nabokov, who rented a television set for the occasion. Asked by The New York Times for his reaction, the author of Pale Fire wrote of:

…[T]hat gentle little minuet that despite their awkward suits the two men danced with such grace to the tune of lunar gravity was a lovely sight. It was also a moment when a flag means to one more than a flag usually does. I am puzzled and pained by the fact that the English weeklies ignored the absolutely overwhelming excitement of the adventure, the strange sensual exhilaration of palpating those precious pebbles, of seeing our marbled globe in the black sky, of feeling along one’s spine the shiver and wonder of it. After all, Englishmen should understand that thrill, they who have been the greatest, the purest explorers. Why then drag in such irrelevant matters as wasted dollars and power politics?

The grit of space

We’re all fascinated by images of space (and from space), but their polish and stillness can sometimes hide the fuller picture.

Celebrating the rough, the raw and the human in hardcore space science
Images of space and the solar system have a powerful appeal, and amaze with their vibrant otherworldly vistas. But it’s easy to forget just how processed they are: the colours are often added for effect, and digital editing makes these pictures pop. So it’s worth remembering the human process behind space as we know it. This is precisely the aim of Black Rain, which transforms raw scientific data into pulsating audiovisual art. … Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt – aka Semiconductor, the UK artist duo behind the video – say the images are a reminder of ‘the human observer, who endeavours to extend our perceptions and knowledge through technological innovation’.

A few more videos in keeping with that grainy, black and white vibe.

Solar Eclipse (1900) – the first moving image of an astronomical phenomenon

Universe

(And yes, I know that I’ve linked to that Universe video before. It’s too good to only show once.)

Pics in space

So black holes are really real, then?

The first photo of a black hole
We have the first photo of a supermassive black hole, from imagery taken two years ago of the elliptical galaxy M87 (in the constellation Virgo) by the Event Horizon Telescope project. The EHT team is a group of 200 scientist that has been working on this project for two decades. The image was created using data captured from radio telescopes from Hawaii to the South Pole and beyond using very long baseline interferometry.

This animation, via the Event Horizon Telescope project website, explains what we’re looking at.

Zooming into a simulated black hole accretion system in M87

As always with space stuff, I have a problem with scale. This helps enormously, though.

xkcd: M87 Black Hole Size Comparison

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That’s pretty big. But how about these images of Jupiter.

NASA has released new images of Jupiter, taken by the Juno Spacecraft
Favourite comment: “God I wish Vincent van Gogh was alive to see this”

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Yes, I can just imagine Van Gogh looking at these with a ‘told you so’ smile on his face. NASA has some more images from their Juno mission.

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Spoilers

Here’s how it all ends.

Timelapse of the future
A regular time lapse of that voyage would take forever, so Boswell cleverly doubles the pace every 5 seconds, so that just after 4 minutes into the video, a trillion years passes in just a second or two.1 You’d think that after the Earth is devoured by the Sun about 3 minutes in, things would get a bit boring and you could stop watching, but then you’d miss zombie white dwarfs roaming the universe in the degenerate era, the black hole mergers era 1000 trillion trillion trillion trillion years from now, the possible creation of baby “life boat” universes, and the point at which “nothing happens and it keeps not happening forever”.

To the moon… and beyond!

Fresh from our trip to Kielder, my son’s very excited about this news story.

The lunar gateway: a shortcut to Mars?
“The moon has lain virtually undisturbed for the last 4.5bn years,” says Parker. “It is a museum of the history of our solar system. And yes, we visited it when we briefly landed Apollo spacecraft there. However, that was the equivalent of going to a museum, heading straight to the gift shop and then leaving. It is the dusty corners of a museum where you find the really interesting stuff – and that is where we are going to go with Gateway.”

And our boy’s keen to go, too, on his way to Mars. That may take some time, though.

How far is it to Mars?
If the Earth were 100 pixels wide, the moon would be 3000 pixels away. Mars, at its closest, would be 428,000 pixels away.

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And who knows what else is out there.

The unending hunt for Planet Nine, our solar system’s hidden world
Astronomers are deeply divided, but intent on finding the truth. They’re using the world’s largest telescopes and most powerful supercomputers, and enlisting the help of thousands of amateurs like Forbes, who plays her part in this epic, astronomical search in between episodes of Love Island. Together, they will either pinpoint the location of this mysterious world and give the solar system a ninth planet, or rule out its existence once and for all.

The search for homes far from home

Some more links following our recent trip to the Kielder Observatory, for their talk on exoplanets. There seems to be a lot going on.

NASA’s TESS spacecraft begins its search for exoplanets
TESS is a follow-up to Kepler, a spacecraft that has spent the last nine years searching for Earth-like exoplanets near Sun-like stars. Though it may be on its last legs, Kepler has already found 2,650 confirmed exoplanets and even more are expected to be discovered from the data it has collected. But Kepler was designed to focus on a small section of the sky and while it spotted many exoplanets, a lot of them were very far away from Earth. TESS, however, will eventually map about 85 percent of the sky and it will attempt to spot exoplanets a bit closer to Earth — which allow other telescopes to study them more thoroughly.

How NASA’s newest planet hunter scans the sky

A little less bombastic than its previous video.

The search for new worlds is here

So what kind of new worlds are being discovered? And when can we visit?

Visions of the future
Imagination is our window into the future. At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality. As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future.

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What about those planets closer to home?

Cool, there’s water on Mars. But does it make good pickles?
Deep under the ice cap of Mars’s southern pole, there could be a store of water, the first stable body of liquid water ever found on the planet. After the paper announcing this discovery came out, reporters described a “lake of liquid water,” about 12 miles in diameter. Hearing that phrase, it’s easy, perhaps even natural, to imagine a bubble of crystal-clear water, hidden under the cap of frozen water and carbon dioxide, pure and sweet and waiting. But the reality would be less appealing.

Never mind the summer heat: Earth is at its greatest distance from the sun
“I find it amusing that the common misconception about Earth’s seasons is actually true if you are on Mars,” said David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute. “School children on Mars will need to be taught differently.”

Worth bearing in mind.

Looking up

There’s a bloody lunar eclipse this evening, although the thunderclouds that are accompanying our unusually warm summer may get in the way. But whilst we’re on the subject:

Figures in the stars: How cultures across the world have seen their myths and legends in the stars
Let’s compare 28 different “sky cultures” to see differences and similarities in the shapes they’ve seen in the night sky. Ranging from the so-called “Modern” or Western constellations, to Chinese, Maori and even a few shapes from historical cultures such as the Aztecs.

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And as we can see here, attempts to map and explain our place in the universe go back a long way.

Cosmography manuscript (12th Century)
This wonderful series of medieval cosmographic diagrams and schemas are sourced from a late 12th-century manuscript created in England. Coming to only nine folios, the manuscript is essentially a scientific textbook for monks, bringing together cosmographical knowledge from a range of early Christian writers such as Bede and Isodere, who themselves based their ideas on such classical sources as Pliny the Elder, though adapting them for their new Christian context.

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A possible “CSI: Old Masters” spin-off?

Thanks to the software within our cameras and phones these days, we almost always know when and where we took our photos. But what of the great images and artworks before such technology was available? That’s where the astrophysicist and forensic astronomer Donald Olson comes in.

Solved: a decades-old Ansel Adams mystery
In the past, he and his team at Texas State University have figured out where Julius Caesar landed when he invaded Britain in 55 B.C. (northeast of Dover), why the British didn’t spot Paul Revere as he made his Midnight Ride (the moon was in a weird spot), and the identity of at least two mysterious yellow orbs floating in paintings: the one in Vincent Van Gogh’s White House at Night (it’s Venus) and the one in Edvard Munch’s The Girls on the Pier (it’s the moon).

More recently, they tackled two of Ansel Adams’s images of Alaska—Moon and Denali and Denali and Wonder Lake—using topographic maps, astronomical software, and webcam archives to figure out exactly when and where the photos were snapped.

Quite the detective story. More examples in his new book.

Further Adventures of the Celestial Sleuth: using astronomy to solve more mysteries in art, history, and literature
From the author of “Celestial Sleuth” (2014), yet more mysteries in art, history, and literature are solved by calculating phases of the Moon, determining the positions of the planets and stars, and identifying celestial objects in paintings. In addition to helping to crack difficult cases, these studies spark our imagination and provide a better understanding of the skies. Weather archives, vintage maps, tides, historical letters and diaries, military records and the assistance of experts in related fields help with this work.

2001 was 50 years ago already?

It’s hard to believe this film is 50 years old. The Guardian marks the occasion with a piece that describes how the first audiences were baffled and walked out of the premiere, and how the critics of the day rubbished it: “trash masquerading as art”. I wonder what its own initial review was like. The article starts with news about mountains on a tiny moon orbiting Pluto.

Kubrick’s 2001: the film that haunts our dreams of space
As a result Kubrick Mons and Clarke Montes are now two of Charon’s major mountains. It is a fitting honour – and timely. The two men’s great collaborative work, the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, was released 50 years ago this month. By putting its creators’ names on the map of Charon, at the edge of the solar system, astronomers are repaying a debt to two visionaries who reshaped our thinking about the cosmos and created a film rated by some as the greatest ever made.

As well as being a major influence on a range of film-makers, its depiction of futuristic technology caught the eye of astronomers and designers alike.

Equally intrigued were young scientists desperate to witness technology that was credible and imaginative, something that had been entirely absent from feature films until then. “The film set new standards for ‘realistic’ portrayal of life in space, overcoming decades of Flash Gordon space-westerns,” says a former teenage astronomer, Professor Ian Christie of Birkbeck, University of London. “It also created a new soundtrack for cosmic spectacle – through the use of the opening of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra and the music of Ligeti.”

One thing I love about the film is the unflinching slowness in the editing. It’s as if the whole film, and not just HAL, is trying to stare you out. Pinter would be proud of these pauses. This clip shows that beautifully, I think.

HAL 9000: “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”

And that voice. Would the film be the same without Douglas Rain? Here he is eight years before.

Universe (1960 film)
After this work, co-director Colin Low worked with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey. His work on this short may have influenced Kubrick to begin his project. Kubrick chose Universe narrator Douglas Rain as the voice of the HAL 9000 computer and also hired Wally Gentleman, who did optical effects for the NFB documentary, to work on 2001.

Universe

That film starts off with a fascinating artistic impression of the moon. Here’s a slightly more up-to-date representation, care of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.

Tour of the Moon in 4K