Digg Effect Destroys Astroengine (But Healing Now)

Wow, what a stressful day! On writing One-Way Mission to Mars: Top 5 Items to Pack last night, I had no idea about the consequences. This morning the article exploded onto the front page of Digg.com, sending a flood of traffic into Astroengine.com. Although my bandwidth is more than capable of dealing with the situation, the server was quite literally paralysed, causing the technicians at GoDaddy.com to pull the plug (can’t blame them, apparently all the other sites on the shared server were knocked out).

I’ll post a more detailed post soon, but should anyone want to know the best course of action when dealing with an uncontrollable flood of traffic, here’s what I had to do:

The first measure was to stem the flow of traffic from the referrer causing the server outage. Once the relentless barrage of Digg users were blocked, the GoDaddy admin staff were reassured the problem wouldn’t reoccur if they put Astroengine.com back online. The second measure is a longer-term solution until I migrate the site to a better server. WP Super Cache creates html versions of Astroengine’s php pages, thus bypassing the execution of php scripts every time someone visits the site (vastly reducing the load on the server).

Thanks to Fraser (my publisher at Universe Today) for helping me out and giving these tips when dealing with a Digg explosion.

So, now I am going shopping. It’s fantastic to have these bursts of visitors, but the time is coming when I’ll need to upgrade. I’m either going to go the route of buying virtual-dedicated or a dedicated server. Any suggestions for which hosting providers have the best service/price? I’m most likely going to stay with GoDaddy, but I’m open to suggestions.

Apologies for dropping offline today, hopefully this will be the last interruption to service!

Cheers, Ian

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Star Trek Inspired: Space Shuttle Enterprise

The cast of Star Trek stand next to Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1976 (NASA)
The cast of Star Trek stand next to Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1976 (NASA)

Space Shuttle Enterprise was the first ever shuttle to be constructed. It never made it into space, it was used purely for atmospheric test flights, but Enterprise was a significant craft. Originally NASA planned to designate the shuttle Constitution, but after a a sustained write-in campaign, NASA changed its name in honour of the Starship Enterprise from the original series of Star Trek. In 1976, the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) was being captained by Captain Kirk (played by William Shatner), and some of the original series actors were at the roll-out ceremony in Palmdale manufacturing facility in California.

Enterprise in Free Flight after separation from 747 in 1977 (NASA)
Enterprise in Free Flight after separation from 747 in 1977 (NASA)

In the picture above, from left to right: Dr. James D. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, DeForest Kelley (Dr. “Bones” McCoy), George Takei (Mr. Sulu), James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), Gene Roddenberry (producer and creator of Star Trek), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).

A wonderful scene capturing the beginning of 32 years of shuttle operations. This is an especially poignant image as Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry and two of the original Star Trek cast, DeForest Kelley and James Doohan have since passed away.

Source: NASA

Is the Armadillo Vertical-Lift Spaceship a Viable Tourist Route?

The Armadillo Aerospace Spacebubble concept... mmm, no wings then? (Armadillo Aerospace)
The Armadillo Aerospace Spacebubble concept... mmm, no wings then? (Armadillo Aerospace)

This reminds me of a hilarious Billy Connolly stand-up routine commenting on the perceived safety of passenger aircraft:

Connolly imitates the safety presentation before take-off:
In the highly unlikely event of loss of power in all four engines, then in all probability, we’ll go into the ground like a f***ing dart.

We’d be obliged if you’d wear your life jacket on the way down, this will do you no good at all, but when archiologists find you in 200 years, they’ll think there was a river here!

Billy Connolly on flying (1990) – video not for minors, Billy is known for his “colourful” language!

So with that in mind, let’s consider the Armadillo Aerospace space tourism concept (pictured above). Call me old fashioned, but I’m a little worried about spaceships without wings. Yes, I know we are always sending rockets into space, delivering crew and cargo to the space station. The Soyuz vehicle doesn’t have wings and the cone-like re-entry capsule so many other space vehicles are based on are reliable modes of transport. But there’s something about the “controlled ascent” Armadillo design that makes me a little uneasy (give me a “ballistic ascent” any day!).
Continue reading “Is the Armadillo Vertical-Lift Spaceship a Viable Tourist Route?”

Rare Meteor Fireball Captured by Seven Canadian Cameras (Videos)

The slow-moving fireball lights up Canadian skies (SOMN)
The slow-moving fireball lights up Canadian skies (SOMN)

A stunning series of videos from seven all-sky cameras in the The University of Western’s Southern Ontario Meteor Network (SOMN) captured the same fireball generated by a meteor entering the atmosphere pre-dawn on the morning of September 15th. Whilst meteors aren’t uncommon (if you hang around outside for long enough you might see one or two “shooting stars” yourself), this fireball was very bright and had a surprisingly slow velocity. What’s more, astronomers think that the extraterrestrial object came from a typical Earth-crossing orbit, possibly indicating this was another small near-Earth asteroid. In fact, meteorite hunters believe that it may have slowed significantly when passing through the atmosphere, dropping fragments to the ground. A great catch by the Canadian team, let’s get searching!
Continue reading “Rare Meteor Fireball Captured by Seven Canadian Cameras (Videos)”

GOCE is Suffering Major Delays, But Should be Dominating Space by February

No, it isn't sci-fi. It's the Porche of orbital engineering (GOCE/ESA)
No, it isn't sci-fi. It's the Porche of orbital engineering (GOCE/ESA)

The European Space Agency’s Gravity field and state-steady Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) should be in space by now. In fact it should have been launched back on September 10th, but it wasn’t to be. After the spacecraft (which has a striking resemblance to something a little more sci-fi… like a star destroyer) had been sealed into the payload bay of the Rockot launch vehicle at Plesetsk cosmodrome 800 km from Moscow, I assumed that was it, we wouldn’t be seeing GOCE ever again. But there was a glitch in the guidance and navigation subsystem of the Breeze KM third stage, thus postponing GOCE’s big day. GOCE was cracked open from its rocket powered cocoon to await a Rockot oil change.

Now it seems the delays are mounting up for this amazing experiment and a launch doesn’t seem possible until February at the earliest…
Continue reading “GOCE is Suffering Major Delays, But Should be Dominating Space by February”

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 “Mars Science Laboratory Sky Crane: Cool or Crazy?”

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 “Higgs Boson Discovered on Doorstep”

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 “IBEX Will Spread its Wings Today”

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