Mars Science Laboratory Sky Crane: Cool or Crazy?

The Mars Science Laboratory rover is gently lowered to the Martian surface... we hope (NASA)

The Mars Science Laboratory rover is gently lowered to the Martian surface... we hope (NASA)

The next NASA rover mission to the Red Planet will be the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) set for a 2009 launch. This mission will incorporate the biggest rover ever to be sent to the Martian surface, the MSL is the size of a small car and it will carry out a vast number of experiments in the hope of finding evidence for life (again).* This ambitious mission has a big price tag of $1.9 billion, so NASA will want to avoid any chance of “doing a Beagle” and ripping Mars a new impact crater.**

So, with this unprecedented mission comes an unprecedented way of lowering it to the Martian surface. Sure, you have your obligatory drogue parachute, you even have a few rocket bursts to soften the touch-down (along the lines of this year’s Phoenix powered landing), but the MSL will also have a “sky crane” to help it out (in a not-so-dissimilar way to the lowering of the descending Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004, only more awesome).

To be honest, I’m as enthusiastic about this plan as I was when I found out that Phoenix would use a jetpack after freefalling the height of two Empire State Buildings (i.e. “are you mad??“)… but then again, what would I know? It looks like the powered landing worked out pretty well for Phoenix…
Continue reading

About these ads

Higgs Boson Discovered on Doorstep

You don’t need the Large Hadron Collider to discover the Higgs boson after all…

The moment of discovery. It turns out Higgsy is a little shy.

The moment of discovery. It turns out Higgsy is a little shy.

This evening I went outside to investigate a noise. On opening the door I saw a small box lying awkwardly on its side against a flower pot. A little confused (as there was no knock on the door to say there was a delivery), I picked the small package. The box was heavy. I gave it a shake. Something was rolling around in there. It didn’t make a sound.

On opening the box I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was, hiding under styrofoam packaging, neatly wrapped in a clear plastic bag, the one particle EVERYONE wants to meet… the Higgs boson!

Far from being smug, the little guy was actually pretty shy and was reluctant to leave the comfort of his box. After a brief chat I assured him that he was safe from particle physicists wanting to see him spontaneously decay…

As you might have guessed, I didn’t discover a real Higgs particle on my doorstep (although we all know that it must be full of them… theoretically anyhow). My Higgs boson plushie has just travelled from the caring hands of its creator, Particle Zookeeper Julie Peasley…
Continue reading

IBEX Will Spread its Wings Today

Probably one of the coolest missions designed to study the termination shock (the region of space where the solar wind and interstellar medium interact) located a little under 100 AU from the Sun, will be launched today (Sunday). The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) will be carried into space on board a Pegasus rocket installed under a L-1011 carrier aircraft from the Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific (about 2500 miles from Hawaii in the direction of Australia). Out of interest, the aircraft will take off from the same region that SpaceX use to send their Falcon 1 rocket (and first ever commercial orbital vehicle) into space…
Continue reading

Carnival of Space Week 75 – Lounge of the Lab Lemming

Week 75’s foray into the space blogosphere is being hosted over at the imaginatively titled Lounge of the Lab Lemming with Charles Magee. This week, we have everything from our wobbling Earth, to launching rockets (congratulations KySat!!), an entertaining look at a day in the life of Comet Holmes (“What Up, Holmes?” – Dave, you are the original physics comic genius…) and for Astroengine’s part, I dusted off the conspiracy gloves and got fiddling with the allegations that China had faked the whole space walk. At first I thought I’d be the one to discover my very own real conspiracy… but it wasn’t to be. The space walk happened, and there was no need for Planet X…

Get over to the Lab Lemming and see what he has to say about the rest of the Universe…

Enjoy.

Universal Death and Impossible Physics… In the Same Box!

The box from Amazon.com cannot contain the awesomeness inside...

The box from Amazon.com cannot contain the awesomeness inside...

Today marks a significant day in the history of my bookshelf.

Having moved to the US from the UK, leaving the bulk of my proto-library collection back in my Bristol hometown, I only transported my most prized science and university textbooks. Alas, I had to leave my treasured collection of Patrick Moore books, my guide to the Universe and several hefty quantum physics texts in storage, bringing the bare minimum across the pond.

Books are important to me, and I have big dreams about having a room filled with them; one of those in-house libraries filled with knowledge and history. But five books hardly constitute a library… heck, they barely fill a rucksack. So action needed to be taken… I needed to turn this proto-bookshelf into a source of reference!

I have a bookshelf. Check.
I have an office. Check.
I have an Amazon.com account. Check.
I have a credit card (it’s strained, but you can’t put a price on knowledge, right?). Check!

So I went shopping and brought Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible (of which I have been promising myself most of the year) and succumbed to Phil Plait’s Death from the Skies! (with a book title like that, you have to obey the calling). Can’t wait to put a crease down the spines of both books, but I am keen to read Dr Plait’s account of how dangerous the Universe can be. Having done battle with the 2012 doomsayers, I need to read a book with a good, scientific rundown of how the world might end – and not fighting against the pseudo-scientific claims about Planet X and those pesky Anunnaki. The world is going to end some time, so look at the facts behind the claims and find out yourself.

The praise from Mythbuster Adam Savage for Death from the Skies pretty much sums it all up, I can’t wait to review the book myself:

Phil Plait has done it again. He brings his unique and funny voice of reason and sanity to bear on making sense of a deadly universe. If things worked the way I wanted them to, any reporter about to do another “sensational” story on deadly meteors would consult this volume and BANG! Common sense would find it’s way into the news. How strange would THAT world be? On his blog and in his books, Plait is an important source of sanity and critical thinking, with just the right sense of wonder, reminding us that the universe is an amazing enough place without having to make crap up about it.” – Adam Savage, from Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters.

For more on his big box of death, check out Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog

Listen to the October 3rd Paranormal Radio Show

Back on Friday October 3rd, I was invited back onto Paranormal Radio in my new capacity as “Science Content Editor“! (Or an even cooler title “In-house Myth Buster” if Jack has his way!) This is a really great position as I get to add all things spacey to the Paranormal Radio website, and then I get to chat about it later live on the radio with the excellent Captain Jack. A pretty nice position to be in if you ask me… However, on that Friday two weeks ago, I had very little to talk about. After all, I’d just gotten married and I had just said goodbye to my family who headed back to the UK. I’d missed most of the excitement surrounding the Chinese spacewalk, I very nearly missed the historic SpaceX launch… but fortunately Jack had some questions for me about “Dark Flow” and he introduced me to the whole China spacewalk conspiracy and we were away!

If you fancy listening into the cool three-hour show, it is now available by mp3 or you can have a play with the Black Vault Radio Flash player to listen in to my show (which now has a monthly slot) and all the other nightly shows with Captain Jack.

We have some interesting future shows in store for you! Watch this space for announcements on when we air each month…

Carnival of Space Week 74 – Kentucky Space

The Kentucky Space logo

The Kentucky Space logo

This week’s Carnival is being hosted by Wayne Hall at Kentucky Space (KySat), an organization with an aggressive orbital agenda and punchy space flight motto: “fly stuff.” To be honest, this should be the motto for NASA… flying stuff around space is something we should be doing, all the time. Just because we can. If a non-profit organization can do it on a shoestring budget, we should be seeing more commercial ventures like SpaceX popping up all over the world. Here’s to hoping!

In addition to Week 74 of the carnival, Kentucky Space are currently preparing for the sub-orbital launch of one of their payloads from the Mojave Desert tomorrow! So be sure to keep an eye on their site.

For my part, I am very thankful to Wayne for adding my article about naked singularities right at the top of the Carnival. Awesome CoS, be sure to check out all this week’s entries

Listen to Tonight’s Paranormal Radio – The Chinese Spacewalk Conspiracy

Paranormal Radio with Captain Jack logo

Paranormal Radio with Captain Jack logo

In a follow-up to our October 3rd discussion, Captain Jack and myself will be discussing my recent Astroengine article “Bubbles, Reflections and Space Walks… Did China Really Fake It?” On first seeing the video I was intrigued by what I saw, and the mysterious moving objects in shot needed to be addressed. Although I do not believe the Chinese staged the event, it does pose some interesting questions…

Paranormal Radio has started now, so check out the website to listen in

Writing for Los Angeles Family Magazine – New Science Column!

The October 2008 edition of LA Family Magazine, where my new space column features!

The October 2008 edition of LA Family Magazine, where my new space column features!

So what does Astroengine.com and Denise Richards have in common? Well, usually not a lot, but today my writing appears in the October 2008 edition of LA Family Magazine with Denise Richards featuring in the leading article. Admittedly, there’s 36 pages separating Denise from me, so the link is a little tenuous, but great nonetheless!

I was asked to become a regular columnist in this leading parenting magazine in an effort to communicate space science topics to parents and their kids. And what better way to begin than by writing about flying to the Moon!

After writing a very popular article about “How Long Does it Take to get to the Moon?” for the Universe Today, I thought this was a good place to start. The next article will tackle a bigger project, a trip to Mars…

Have a look at this month’s edition of Los Angeles Family Magazine and have a read of “Hey, Kids! Want to Go to the Moon?” (page 54)

Small Asteroid 2008 TC3 Will Hit Earth Tonight

Artist impression of a meteorite entering the Earth's atmosphere (©Leonard Wikberg III)

Artist impression of a meteorite entering the Earth's atmosphere (©Leonard Wikberg III)

A newly discovered asteroid called 2008 TC3 will (with a 99.8-100% probability) hit the atmosphere over northern Sudan at 2:46 UTC (Oct 7th). The piece of rock will not threaten people or structures on the surface, it is likely to burn up during re-entry as a magnificent “air burst.” Estimates suggest that as 2008 TC3 burns up, it will detonate with an energy of a kiloton of TNT.

2008 TC3 is between 1-5 meters in diameter, so it’s not a threat by any means, but it should create a spectacular display. Usually the bright meteors we observe are generated by debris no bigger than a grain of sand, so this will be a huge astronomical event in comparison. The giant meteor will be visible from eastern Africa travelling very quickly from north-east to south-west and it is expected to create a very long trail as it will enter the atmosphere at a very shallow angle.
Continue reading