Mare Vaporware: The Lunar Advertising Joke

offer

When choosing a good April Fools joke, it must have several key attributes. But the priority is that it needs to be revealed on April 1st (obvious, right?). It is for this single reason why I suspect this isn’t a joke; the news was released in July.

Before I get stuck into this article, let’s revisit a real April Fools joke I wrote for the Universe Today back in 2008, in which I talk about a fictional NASA press release that details the space agency’s plans to etch corporate logos into the Martian regolith (BTW this is a joke, just so there’s no confusion):

My pretend Doritos logo photoshopped next to a Mars crater (NASA/PepsiCo, Inc.)

My pretend Doritos logo photoshopped next to a Mars crater (NASA/PepsiCo, Inc.)

Today, the space agency has announced an offbeat plan of their own: to burn sponsor logos into the surface of Mars. It’s not quite as reckless as it sounds, but existing technology on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will be used to etch sponsor logos into the top layers of the Martian regolith. The stunt is expected to have minimal effect on the planet, as winds and dust storms will erase the ads within a couple of sols (Martian days).Universe Today, April 1st, 2008.

In this April 1st article, I went into some detail about cash-strapped NASA reaching out to companies to invest in advertising campaigns. Advertising revenue from this could then be ploughed back into NASA science. It’s a win-win scenario, and what’s even better, the laser etched regolith (not an ability the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter possesses, by the way) would be weathered away in a matter of sols (appeasing any Mars conversationalists). However, laser etching wasn’t the only idea I came up with. What about the Mars Expedition Rovers? Their tire tracks can be seen from space, why can’t they be used to sketch corporate logos in the red dirt?

Mars rover Opportunity's tiretracks as viewed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (NASA)

Mars rover Opportunity's tiretracks as viewed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (NASA)

I had a lot of fun writing this, and I think it was convincing enough to be called a “good” space April Fools joke. Let’s put it this way, I had to think up an even more nefarious idea for the 2009 April Fools, but settled with the Brian Bat – NASA lawsuit story (which pissed a lot more people off than I thought possible. Score!).

So, right at the peak of the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing celebrations, a company that was founded in 2008 (apparently) called Moon Publicity unveiled its plans to sell advertising space on the Earth-facing side of the lunar surface, with this mouth-watering offer:

Exclusive transferable licensing is being made available for 44 regions of the visible side of the Moon. Bidding begins on July 20, 2009, the 40th anniversary of man’s first step on the Moon. Bidding will run for three months, closing on October 20, 2009. The winning bids will be announced in early November, 2009. Don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity. Minimum bids start as low as $46,000 (USD).

$46,000? Holy crapcakes! That’s not the half of it, if you want your ad to be placed in the dead-centre of the lunar disk (Mare Vaporum), be prepared write a $602,000 cheque.

Right… so how does Moon Publicity hope to succeed in this “once in a lifetime” marketing ploy? They are going to use their amazing “Shadow Shaping” technology (patent pending, obviously), otherwise known as ‘a moon rover with grooved grass rollers for wheels.’ Have a look:

As can be seen from the promo video, it certainly looks believable, but investing in a nice-looking bit of computer graphics is great if you consider there might be a minimum 5-figure return from an investor without a clue.

UPDATE: Just a thought. Since when was the lunar surface as flawless as a carefully smoothed golf sand trap? The ‘Shadow Shapers’ design obviously doesn’t cater for any obstacles (like, I don’t know… rocks) and is more accustomed to smoothing out the golden sands of Santa Monica beach. The lunar surface is covered in rocks of all sizes, ensuring the ad-making rovers will have a tough obstacle course at best. Most likely, these cumbersome rollers will get stuck, jammed or break down before they travel a couple of meters. What a great investment opportunity!

But what about the technical issues with this first-class money-making scheme? Actually, the company addresses quite a few on their “Shadow Shaping Challenges” page, that reads like a high school paper titled “Why Space Travel Is Really Hard” and describes every reason why there will be no investors in this project. Some of the best challenges are as follows:

  • Gravity – It currently costs thousands of dollars per pound to move payloads from the Earth to the moon. Most of this is spent overcoming the Earth’s gravity.” Yep, right on, that’s rocket science 101. Call SpaceX, you’ll need them.
  • As the moon is so far away, the ads will need to be very big. “…images would need to be millions of square kilometers in size.” Yikes! “…a fleet of Shadow Shaping robots would be needed…” A big fleet, with at least a gazillion robots I reckon!
  • Fire and Ice – Temperatures on the Moon range from 107°C during the day to -153°C at night…” Sure. “During the lunar nights, the Shadow Shaping robots can put themselves in hibernation mode to protect themselves from the cold. But during the days the robots need to be fully operational.” Sounds like standard phantom ad-making robot operating procedures to me.
  • The wheels will also need to be hard so they do not wear out.” That sure would be useful.
  • [Shadow Shaping] “has no impact to the lunar environment, and it only creates images during partial lunar phases, leaving the full Moon unchanged.” I’m pretty sure the lunar aliens wouldn’t agree with you on this point.

So, apart from their patent pending we’re-going-to-dig-grooves-in-the-moon-using-our-make-believe-fleet-of-super-duper-roving-robots technique, I can’t see any real plan that this fanciful idea will ever see the light of day. And just in case you don’t believe me, Moon Publicity agrees, in a round-about way, in the disclaimer (I’ll emphasise the funniest bit):

Disclaimer: Investing involves risk. Licensing Shadow Shaping technology is no different. There are a number of identified challenges as well as unknown risks. Consult with professional advisers before registering to bid. The licensing offer is only available to accredited investors where permitted by law. Information provided is for educational purposes and is not guaranteed for accuracy or applicability. No warranties or guarantees, neither written nor oral, are provided with this offer. –Moon Publicity, LLC

To add insult to injury, in their blog, Moon Publicity says that they’re not really doing this for the money, they’re doing it for the sake of humanity.

However, consider the big picture. What is the biggest problem in the world? Is it hunger? Is it illness? Is it war? No. The largest problem is the inevitable extinction of the human species. The other problems don’t matter in a universe without people. Any number of global catastrophes could and eventually will end live on Earth. It could be a collision with an asteroid, a deadly virus, a nuclear war, a supervolcano, a hypernova explosion or our own sun eventually swallowing the Earth [...] Creating images on the Moon provides a commercial incentive for turbo charging space travel technology. Shadows are only the beginning. These advancements will eventually place robots on other worlds building space stations and planting crops.

The Apollo 14 landing site as viewed from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The astronaut footprints have remained for 40 years, imagine what that could do for advertising! (NASA)

The Apollo 14 landing site as viewed from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The astronaut footprints have remained for 40 years, imagine what that could do for advertising! (NASA)

Apparently, the largest problem is the inevitable extinction of the human species. No shit Sherlock! I’ll tell you what, throw in some 2012 rubbish and you’ll start to sound like one of the nutjobs with a doomsday book to sell.

It turns out Moon Publicity is a humanitarian operation too, jumping on the coattails of legitimate commercial spaceflight ideals in an attempt to profit from an idea that will never materialize. There’s also the argument that even if you did make the investment, and this company had the ability to etch ads in the dirt, would they even be allowed to? After all, who would have rights over the land they were etching?

I really do hope this is a poorly-timed joke, because it reads like one. If it’s not, it’s a rather stupid attempt at making a fast buck, using the 40th lunar landing anniversary as an opportunity to gain some publicity.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the Moon Publicity founder is a reader of the Universe Today, if so, I might start claiming I came up with the idea over a year ago

Thanks to @DrLucyRogers for pointing me in the direction of Nancy Atkinson’s Universe Today article “Company Looks to Etch Advertising on the Moon.”

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XKCD Out Of Office Humor

When I’m out of the office, it’s hard to get any blogging done. But when I’m out of the office in Las Vegas… it’s nigh on impossible to get any blogging done (not that I really should be blogging, but the roulette wheel bit me in the bum, so I’m back in the hotel room early). But I saw today’s superb XKCD comic and I had a giggle at the expense of my fellow physicists, so here’s an unexpected blog entry. Enjoy!

Threesome

PS. If you don’t get it, I would explain it, but that would really be out of the scope of Astroengine. But if you’re interested in the physics more than the biology, here you go.

Beware the Exploding Pellegrino

"It went bang!" exclaimed Barney, a rabbit who lives nearby.

"It went bang!" exclaimed Barney, a rabbit who lives nearby.

Interesting thing happened tonight. Not only did I accidentally pour dish soap into the dishwasher (yes, I know), two bottles of Pellegrino exploded in my fridge. Call it ‘applied physics’ if you like; water expands when it’s frozen, fizzy water explodes when frozen in a glass bottle! Hmmm… I never said my Ph.D. was in Common Sense… But in my defence, how was I supposed to know it was that cold in my refrigerator?

Barney was a little shaken from the loud bangs, but I think he’ll get over it (actually, he is over it, nom nomming on a bit of banana for his troubles).

The Real Insanity Behind 2012

penn_teller_201221

I finally managed to watch the Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode I was involved with (called Apocalypse) and I must admit, I was very disappointed. The doomsayers who write those idiotic books and edit those insanely inaccurate YouTube ‘end is nigh’ videos really are as insane as they sound!

To steal a phrase from the awesome Penn Jillette, “Does anyone have a fork I can stick into my own eye?” And I agree, some of the nonsense those guys spewed during Apocalypse was totally, and utterly, crazytown; enough to consider personal bodily harm.

Subtle: Profiting from doomsday... Crazy Penn & Quetzalcoatl Teller style (© Showtime)

Subtle: Profiting from doomsday... Crazy Penn & Quetzalcoatl Teller style (© Showtime)

After 18 months of writing articles countering the crappy science behind 2012 doomsday theories, I really did think that although their research was pseudo-scientific, scaremongering bunkum full of misinformation and misunderstandings, the people behind the theories must have some semblance of normality. Right?

Wrong. These individuals have been out of circulation for quite some time.

Also, they have no idea how to communicate their beliefs without sounding, and looking, insane. In this superb episode, we have Jaysen Rand bumping tennis balls around on pieces of string, yabbering about his alien abduction experiences and then promoting his scary theory (that we’re all going to die in 2012 via Planet X, or Wormwood) to an 11-year old girl. Then there’s the Belgian guy who seems to be having a panic attack about “an enormous– a gargant– gargantuant solar flare” with some kind of fetish for describing geomagnetic shift with a grapefruit. Then as an entertaining sideline, we have two disco dancing ghost hunters running around the Mayan pyramids in Chichen Itza talking to dead Mayans who think “many will die” in 2012 (their divining rod skills sucked cheese in my opinion)…

Naturally, Penn & Teller: Bullshit! isn’t a scientific study, it is an entertaining show that just happens to be very good at the art of sniffing out, well, bullshit. They bring on professionals who really know what they are talking about and make fun of the individuals who for some reason think they are going to get a fair hearing.

The man with the grapefruit... and me (©Showtime)

It’s hard to know who to listen to; the English solar physics guy with a doctorate degree and a decade of study and research experience, or a Belgian guy who fucked up our grapefruit love!” –Penn Jillette (Apocalypse)

It is such a strange feeling to have my Universe Today articles hit the mainstream on an Emmy Award winning show with Penn & Teller.

A huge thank you goes to the production team at Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. I had a great time filming the interview last year and I feel honored to be in a show alongside two skeptical-comedy greats. If you get the chance to watch Apocalypse, please do, especially if you have any concern about 2012… this show will dispel any myths. But to be honest, the doomsayers shoot themselves in the feet, providing Penn with some great material to bring Armageddon to the scaremongering idiots.

Penn & Teller & Astroengine: Bullshit!

ptbullshit

One day, many, many months ago, I was approached by the producer of the Emmy Award winning TV show Penn & Teller: Bullshit! to make a skeptical appearance for one of their Season 7 episodes. Apparently it was all going to be about doomsday, Mayans, Planet X and all that jazz. As I was halfway through my “No Doomsday in 2012” series over at the Universe Today, I jumped on the chance to be involved with such an awesome production.

This is me, on TV (by @cbrannon)

This is me, on TV (by @cbrannon)

Until this week I’d forgotten about the filming, but then the episode called “Apocalypse” popped up… could it be?

Unfortunately, I don’t have Showtime, so I’ll have to watch it on the DVD, but an eagle eyed Twitter friend @cbrannon sent me this sighting… they used my stuff! I can’t wait to watch it.

As the new episode aired tonight, you might have missed it, but it looks like it’s going to be repeated for a long while yet, so check out the schedule and tune in!

BREAKING: Greg “Weird Things” Fish Gets Assimilated

The Blorg

There he was, happily blogging on his kick-ass World of Weird Things website when *BLAM* something happened. Looking out the window to see if there had been a car crash, Greg saw nothing. But as he sat back down, he realized it wasn’t a noise that he’d heard… it was more of a feeling.

Was this what Creationists would consider to be a “sign”? Was this a ghostly apparition? Could it be that Greg had just witnessed the Second Coming? Oh no, had he slipped down a wormhole, appeared in 2012, and he was experiencing, first hand, how the planet will be blended into a particularly creamy doomsday smoothy? (“Those Mayans! Why did I annoy them so?” he cried.)

But no, this is far worse, he could feel it in his divining rods, there was a force upsetting his chi, an oscillation in his aura, a one-part-per-billion-ths-ish too much salt in his homoeopathic remedy… this was big, and it was coming straight for him… he was about to be assimilated by the Blog Borg (a.k.a. The Blorg)*…

*Thank you to @2012Hoax for that gem of a name… “Blorg” – love it!

</conspiracyville>

As you might have figured out, something big is happening to my friend and co-author Greg Fish. He’s been noticed by the awesome blogging network True/Slant and now he’s moving World of Weird Things over there.

There’s going to be no break in service, in fact, knowing Greg, he will attack this new opportunity with his skeptical barrels fully loaded and scientific nunchucks at the ready.

I’ve been following Greg’s writing religiously (or should that be skeptically) ever since he started up less than a year ago, and he’s probably one of the most talented young writers I have ever come across. He approaches every topic (of which none seem to be out of bounds) with a huge amount of understanding, and he has created one of the most active and powerful skepticism blogs out there.

The move to True/Slant means he gets to widen his audience even more and mix with many more talented writers. I for one can’t wait to follow Weird Things when he’s set up and ready to go.

Congratulations Greg!

2012: Hardcore Disaster Pr0n

2012b

This video made my day.

Fortunately I’ve been hard-wired to Twitter today, so I’ve spotted some awesome links pop up from my ace tweeters. But I wasn’t prepared for the awesomeness that was encapsulated in @jimmynewland tweet titled, “2012: All the Disaster Pr0n you can take!

To be honest, I was expecting the movie trailer for the John Cussak disaster flick “2012” (coming to a deafening surround sound theatre near you), but no… this is better… far better. Take a look, it gets funnier the more you watch it:

As I made all too clear in my previous post on this subject, I made the pre-preview prediction (and I didn’t need a crop circle to predict this) that 2012 is going to be heavy on the CGI, but light on the plot.

Basically, it looks like Emmerich’s wet dream, probably an opportunity he’s been waiting for all his career. If you thought The Day After Tomorrow was an Earth-crunching death-fest, think again, this movie has rolling buildings, flying Bentleys, flying giraffes, spaceships, exploding cities, exploding fireballs, exploding… rocks… Hell, where’s the nukes! We need nukes! I hope Emmerich remembered the nukes.

And this video sums the whole thing up, and I love it. As described by the creator on io9, Garrison Dean:

Every so often I feel a film is just being marketed poorly. This is often laziness and misdirection on their part. Occasionally it is arrogance when they think there is more to their film than is actually there. So, in my own arrogance, I try to help them along. Last year I felt “Hulk” needed some help. Today my mission is one that blends swimmingly with my own love of Disaster. Please enjoy this special holiday treat that I made just for you.

Dean is referring to 2012, and watching it, I can’t help but be entertained and enthusiastic for the movie. He’s done a great re-edit. It now has the 1970’s classic disaster movie atmosphere of Towering Inferno with the cutting edge Big Flaming Balls Of Fire™ we are now accustomed to in modern Hollywood.

It’s not going to be a good film, films kinda need plots. Perhaps the experienced cast might be able to pull it out of the frenzy of tsunamis, burning cities and crying children, but I’m not going for the plot, I’m going for the CGI… and the science errors, of course.

I See Mars Faces… Everywhere

The two suspect shapes spotted by Mars conspiracy theorists. Exhibit 1: The Egyptian statue. Exhibit 2: ??

During my search for material for last week’s Wide Angle: Mars Roving on Discovery, I was looking for images snapped by the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity. During my trawl around Google Images, I managed to find a high-resolution picture of the rocky outcrop on the side of Victoria Crater when Opportunity was imaging the area in 2006.

I’ve always loved these Victoria images; you can easily see layering in the exposed rock and boulders strewn below. In fact, this could be a black and white picture of the Utah desert, or a wide angle view of the Grand Canyon. But no, this is Mars; lifeless Mars.

Or is it?

One version of the Opportunity image can be found on a conspiracy website, where a ‘study’ has been carried out. And guess what they found?

Oh yes, apparently a Martian civilization worshiped the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, carving a statue more commonly associated with pyramids into the crater wall (“Exhibit A” in the image above). Also, there’s a curiously shaped multi-layer disk on the ground — obviously some kind of alien artifact (“Exhibit B”).

Please.

Normally I’d ignore something like this, but I thought I’d have a little fun one evening (because my evenings simply aren’t exciting enough, it seems). Inspired by Phil Plait’s visions of Miss Piggy in a Mars mesa last week, I wanted to test myself and go on a pareidolia hunt of my own, armed with the Victoria crater pic, my imagination and questionable eyesight.

The human brain is a strange old thing at times, creating recognizable features out of random, inanimate objects, and that is exactly what some people use as “proof” of their nutty theory or visions of the second coming. People see Jesus in burnt toast, Michael Jackson in cloud formations and, in this case, ancient Egyptian statues carved into crater rims on Mars.

So have a look at this, I impressed myself (note the outstanding use of Photoshop):

Mars faces:

What I discovered in this single NASA Mars image:

A: Exhibit A – the Egyptian statue.
B: Exhibit B – some other artifact.
C: Admiral "It’s a trap!" Ackbar from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
D: Audry II, the blood-drinking plant from Little Shop of Horrors.
E: Jabba the Hutt, or an angry toad.
F: A gorilla’s head (kinda).
G: Can’t remember what I saw in this… but it’s kinda alien looking… right?
H: Insane-looking face. Could be the Mad Hatter?
I: Weird-looking Picasso face.
J: The alien from Predator.
K: Human head.
L: Another Egyptian statue, head part.
M: Humanoid skull!

I’ve even got a full-resolution version in case you can’t see the fruits of my imagination (all 4MB of it). But who cares if you can’t see Jabba, Ackbar, skulls or statues? That’s not the point; most conspiracy sites skew the facts to convince the reader to believe their false claims anyway. Hmmm… I’m quite good at this, perhaps I should start my own ‘Mars Faces’ conspiracy, only including characters from Star Warshmmm.

I’m personally most impressed with the “humanoid skull” (M), “Admiral Ackbar” (C) and the “insane face” (H). Obviously the ancient Martian civilization were a part of the Empire (not so far, far away), carried out sacrifices on humanoids (bones now littering the plains), worshipped Egyptian kings and had killer rock sculpting skills. Obviously.

Want more Mars faces? We have some puzzles on the subject over at Discovery Space! What are the odds…

NASA Tests Orion Shock Absorbers, Probably a Good Idea

During an earlier test, the Orion parachutes failed to open as planned, face-planting the capsule into the desert (NASA)

Although there are doubts about Constellation, and NASA recently announced a “plan B” launch option for a return trip to the Moon, Orion development continues as planned. Next up is the development of the Orion shock absorbers, intended to take the sting out of the return capsule’s landing.

Tests are currently being carried out at the Landing and Impact Research Facility in NASA’s Langley Research Center on the seat pallet that will protect the Orion astronauts’ from the shock of touch-down. It is hoped Orion will be a land-anywhere capsule, including land and water. In fact, I am a little bit excited about the planned landing spot in the Pacific Ocean, not far from Catalina Island, off the Los Angeles coastline. That’s just down the road and a small swim from me!

To test the pallet and its “energy-absorbing struts,” the 20,000-pound test article is dropped 18 feet onto a crushable honeycomb material designed to simulate different landing surfaces. –Aviation Week

The seat shock absorbers won’t only be used for landing, it is hoped they will mitigate much of the launch vibration effects caused by the Ares I crew launch vehicle. These tests are a result of studies of how much vibration crew members can take before it becomes difficult to read instrumentation displays and react to situations during launch.

*Image from a previous Orion test drop when the parachutes did not open correctly, forcing an upside-down hard landing. Speech bubbles added by me.

Source: Aviation Week

Brian Malow Presents Galileo and Astronomy (TIME.com Video)

brian_iya2009

Of course, 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, and half-way through this important year, we’ve seen some amazing feats of science. We’ve been fixing telescopes in orbit, assembling space stations, peering deep into the cosmos with a vast suite of telescopes, we’ve acquired new and improved techniques to analyse data and we’re on course for even bigger discoveries in the run-up to 2010.

So this evening, I receive word from science comedian Brian Malow that he hosted a TIME.com video all about Galileo and the history of astronomy.

It’s superb!

If you wanted a one-stop overview of the spirit behind IYA2009, this is it. It’s witty, informative and above all, it’s entertaining — all the things this special year for science should be about.

Take it away Brian!

Follow Brian on Twitter: @sciencecomedian