Artist’s concept of Psyche spacecraft, image courtesy of NASA
In tribute to small children and easily distracted people everywhere, NASA will go out of its way to check out a shiny object.
Squirrel! Or maybe Rudolph.
A small asteroid named Psyche appears much brighter than other known asteroids, and NASA/astronomers believe it may be composed mostly of metal. Some are conjecturing that Psyche may be the inner core of a small planetary body stripped down by various celestial forces, and they think that a closer look at the asteroid may teach us a great deal about the inner core of our very own Earth.
Psyche is a Massachusetts-sized, mostly spherical body hanging out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where NASA has already managed some wildly successful investigations (the Dawn Treader…er, Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres). Ceres itself handed them some surprises, most notably with the curious shiny patches on its surface that didn’t appear to correlate with anything known of planetary surfaces.
Let’s just declare the asteroid belt a cool place, m’kay? Because it is.
The mission was proposed and discussed back in 2015, and NASA selected it for further review and refining. The final decision on when the mission would proceed was announced this year. Looks like the Psyche mission is one of five exploratory ventures that NASA’s JPL will conduct from 2020-2030, in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU) and Space Systems Loral.
The mission director, Dr. Lindy Elkins-Taunton (ASU), has led several other successful NASA explorations of the solar system. Check out an interview with her here.
Fingers crossed that they maintain the budget needed for this exploration.
If you need ideas for alien critters, look no further than Antarctica. Well, under Antarctica. Photo courtesy of footage provided by the Australian government, and the video linked above is worth checking out.
These structures are holding up under immense pressure and cold, even though they look lacy and delicate. If that’s possible on Earth, then what might grow on other celestial bodies with oceans under ice? What might grow in thick, soupy atmospheres?
The science on life forms is pretty limited by our current knowledge that limits it to carbon-based units. It’s entirely possible that everything in the Earth’s oceans is carbon-based, but maybe they’ll eventually find something that started from a different elemental unit.
All that aside, check out the colors and structures. Consider how those colors might be affected by the various elements present in atmospheres on other worlds. What structures would plant life need to flourish in a heavy sulphur-based atmosphere? Would they use photosynthesis? Would photosynthesis work if you altered the intake chemical? Instead of carbon dioxide, could plants process sulphur? If so, what would they emit?
I’m contemplating some large tree-like structures like this blue and white one, but I’m trying to fit it into the context of a new world. We’ll see how that goes.
There’s an amazing amount of astronomical stuff to check out this week. First off, if you haven’t seen Cassini’s pictures of Earth from Saturn’s orbit, you need to look at them now. Our pale blue dot is stunning and incredibly delicate as seen from a billion miles away.
Earth as seen from Saturn’s orbit
Next up, have a look at the stunning eclipse of an extrasolar planet, as seen by astronomers at the Chandra Observatory:
Chandra Observatory shows view of extrasolar gas giant eclipse
NASA found a giant hole in our sun:
NASA’s SOHO finds giant hole in the Sun
And then NASA decided to catch a thief. Er…asteroid.
NASA plans to catch asteroid and tow it to the Moon
In other news, a Canadian company plans to begin streaming a live feed from two cameras on the International Space Station. There will be one fixed viewpoint camera offering a panoramic view as the station cruises around the planet, and there’ll be a second camera that people can use to zoom in on objects as small as one meter. However, you’ll have to pay for the privilege of zooming in on something in particular…
BC company plans live feed from the International Space Station
And finally, we have a bunch of cool stuff visible in the night sky over the next month:
Sky charts for August 2013 – Jupiter and Mercury and Mars, oh my!
Hope you enjoy everything. More flash fiction coming this week!
You gave us hobbitses, Gollum, Middle Earth, Gandalf, and the Sackville-Bagginses. Yes, I love the Shire most of all – mostly due to my lack of height – but I happily chewed my way through tales of other far and distant lands, vivid images of stately elves and graceful architecture springing into my mind’s eye.
Google, however, failed us today. They came up with some glorious doodles last year, but they ignored Tolkien’s birthday. [They also ignored Isaac Asimov’s birthday on Jan. 2nd.] I’ve sent several tweets their way asking why they didn’t do anything interesting, but no response so far. #Fail
Here’s a few links to help you celebrate the professor’s birthday. The first is fairly self-explanatory and absolutely lovely:
Middle Earth as seen from Space
And the second link…well, it appeals to my sense of humour. Enjoy!
The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins
This caught my eye as I was scrolling through my G+ newsfeed:
A little over 2000 light years away, toward the constellation of Cepheus, is a place where stars are being born. It’s a nebula, a gas cloud, and it’s called IC 1396. It’s monstrous, well over a hundred light years across – even at its tremendous distance, it’s wider than six full Moons in our sky.
Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsävainio observed IC 1396, making a gorgeous image of it. But he wasn’t satisfied just doing that. He’d been playing with making 3D images for some time, and decided this might be a good opportunity to make a model of the structure of the nebula, and then create an animated GIF of it.
The results are… well, see for yourself:
I’m not going to ruin the effect by trying to post the .gif here, go check it out!
There’s a lot of fun accounts posting on Twitter and I love following the planets and SarcasticRover to see what they’ll say next. And then this happened:
And I laughed and all was well with the solar system. And then I spotted this response:
Publicizing family medical and mental issues online? For shame, Solar System!
I love these accounts and encourage anyone who enjoys nerd humor to follow them. #That’sAllFolks
One of my favourite science fiction authors passed away on August 15th, 2012.
Goodbye, Harry Harrison. Your series with an atheist protagonist made me reevaluate my beliefs and decide where I stood on issues such as religion, life, death, practical jokes, the military, food, explosions, and humour. I – and many, many others – will miss you and your work.
The Guardian’s obit can be found here. If you’d like to read messages from Harry’s family, friends, and fans, check out the Harry Harrison Official News Blog.