space exploration

Science Art: Five of Spades, from Playing Cards: Engineering


This is one of a whole deck of… well, they’re practically a technological tarot, really. They’re playing cards illustrating concepts in engineering. (The two of diamonds is also beautiful, though some might prefer the human figures in cards like the seven of clubs.)

They were originally collected by William Barclay Parsons, the chief engineer of the New York City subway. He was on the library board from 1911 to 1932, when he died. More importantly, he also donated a set of mechanics pla…

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Science Art: Red White Blood Cells, by NCI-Frederick.


The one carries oxygen around, the other keeps the system clean. They’re teeny tiny.

Image from the Electron Microscopy Facility at The National Cancer Institute at Frederick (NCI-Frederick).

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SONG: Levitating Diamonds (Tiny Impossible Things)

SONG: “Levitating Diamonds (Tiny Impossible Things)”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE:Based on “Lasers used to levitate glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum”, Science Daily, 7 Sep 2015, as used in the post “A laser levitating glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum..”

ABSTRACT: I really wanted to use “A laser levitating nanodiamonds in a vacuum” as a lyric, because it’s got such a great rhythm, but no, it didn’t happen.

Musically, things fell together well – I came up with chords on a guitar, and t…

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SONG: One (is the Loneliest Number) (penitential cover)

SONG: “One (Is The Loneliest Number)”.

ARTIST: grant, featuring Sebastian Balfour. (Originally by Harry Nilsson.)

SOURCE: It doesn’t have a research source. It’s a penitential cover of a haunting song by Harry Nilsson that Three Dog Night turned into a prog anthem, which Aimee Mann turned into stunning reclamation project. Nilsson still wins.

ABSTRACT: I’ve been a penitential cover* behind for months and months. I first had the idea of doing this song in something like this way …

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Science Art: To Scale: The Solar System by Wylie Overstreet.

To Scale: The Solar System from Wylie Overstreet on Vimeo.

I like the desert in Nevada already because of the sense of perspective – such wide, flat spaces (wider and flatter even than Florida’s water-level wet prairies), sometimes flanked by mountains just big enough to provide a frame of reference. This is how small you are. This is how far you have to go.

That’s the ideal landscape for this kind of project. How big are we really? How far away is the place next door?

This far away. …

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Science Art: Aequorea Forbesiana by Philip Henry Gosse.

Click to embiggen

This is a jellyfish drawn by Philip Henry Gosse, a naturalist and Creationist (!) who gave us the word “aquarium” as a place to see marine creatures. Before Gosse, an aquarium was a place to water cattle.

He built the very first public one as the “Fish House” of the London Zoo in 1853.

A few years later, he published a book trying to prove that fossils couldn’t disprove Genesis because of course the act of creation would make things appear to be older than they are. …

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Science Art: Jupiter’s Rings by LORRI, 2007.

24 August 2015 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen. The New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) snapped this photo of Jupiter’s ring system on February 24, 2007, from a distance of 7.1 million kilometers (4.4 million miles). This processed image shows a narrow ring, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) wide, with a fainter sheet of material inside it. The faint glow extending in from the ring is likely caused by fine dust that diffuses in toward Jupiter. This is the outer tip of the “halo,” a cloud of dust that extends down to Jupiter’s cloud tops. The dust will glow much brighter in pictures taken after New Horizons passes to the far side of Jupiter and looks back at the rings, which will then be sunlit from behind. More at NASA’s Solar System Exploration page. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

SONG: Thirty-Five Minutes (from Earth)

24 August 2015 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Thirty-Five Minutes (from Earth)”. [Download] ARTIST: grant. SOURCE:Based on “NASA Windbots Could Explore Gas Giant Jupiter”, Sky News, 24 July 2015, as used in the post “Windbots to explore Jupiter – the bumpier the ride, the better..” ABSTRACT: The planet Jupiter is 35 light-minutes from Earth (give or take a couple of minutes depending on where in its orbit the planet is). So a robot floating in the turbulent winds of Jupiter would take that long to send a message here. Something like a sailor, a long way from home, or a balloonist who can’t land. Took a while to record this one – don’t know why. Got out my guitar amp, which I haven’t done in ages. Also took the mic outside to record an old washtub, and a plastic barrel being converted into a rain barrel, and an antique copper pitcher sitting on a copper plate. Nothing like using yard stuff for […]

Life on Mars, and not too long ago.

18 August 2015 // 0 Comments

The Denver Post‘s (ahem) “nerd blog” has some interesting things to say about the planet next door – which, University of Colorado researchers believe, might have been alive more recently than we thought: An 18-square-mile chloride salt deposit is thought to have once been a lake bed with water that had only 8 percent the salinity of earth’s oceans, and may have been home to life. The dried up pond — “one of the last instances of a sizable lake on Mars,” according to the study’s lead researcher — was digitally mapped by a team from CU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, along with researchers from two other universities. The study was published earlier this month in the journal Geology. … The salt deposits share some similarities with Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, according to the release from CU. An advantage of such deposits is that the salt can contain fossilized microbial life. “It can […]

Windbots to explore Jupiter – the bumpier the ride, the better.

29 July 2015 // 0 Comments

Sky News looks up to report on NASA’s airiest plans for exploring Jupiter. They’re designing a flock of turbulence-fueled “windbots” – cheap, floating robots to map out the gas giant: The idea is for the devices to stay aloft by relying on turbulence from a planet’s atmosphere, and the concept is now being developed by space programme scientists. NASA described the windbots concept as “a new class of robotic probe designed to stay aloft in a planet’s atmosphere for a long time without wings or hot-air balloons.” Differences in wind velocity and strength would allow the windbots to boost their energy. NASA jet propulsion expert Adrian Stoica said: “It’s a spring of energy a probe could drink from.” — The concept is modeled on dandelion seeds. The machines, though, look like 20-sided dice.

Science Art: Soaking Up the Rays of a Sun-Like Star, by NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle, 2015.

26 July 2015 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen This is an artist’s impression of a planet just discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission that’s gotten the folks at SETI all excited. It’s the most Earth-like planet yet discovered. Kepler 452b sits in the “Goldilocks” zone around its star, not too hot and not too cold, and is about the same size (or is a little larger) and made of something like the same stuff as the planet we’re sitting around on right now. It takes 365 days to orbit around its sun, too. NASA’s calling it our “bigger, older cousin”. There are a couple of other, smaller and more Earth-like, planets in the new Kepler findings, too. No one’s saying there’s water on any of them, or little aliens hanging out at the beach. But there’s no reason why there wouldn’t be, either. [via Mr. Finfrock]

Sorry, no science news today. Busy WATCHING A SPACE SHIP FLY PAST PLUTO.

14 July 2015 // 0 Comments

You can too, over here:, or here: Remember, Pluto’s 4.5 light-hours away. You dial their number, it takes most of the day for the phone to start to ring. Just forget about the TV remote…. Still, there are already pictures and more pictures and videos and even more stuff. The next couple of days should be fun.

Good morning, Philae. How’s that comet looking 200 days later?

15 June 2015 // 0 Comments

The ESA has spent an eventful weekend now that the Rosetta probe has woken up after a long sleep on a comet: Hidden by shadows, Philae shut down on 15 November 2014 at 00:36 GMT after completing its main science operations sequence on the comet when the primary battery expired as expected after about 60 hours. Since March 2015, when Philae’s environmental conditions started to improve with higher surface temperatures and better illumination, the orbiter’s receiver had been turned on periodically to listen for signals from the lander when the orbital geometry was thought to be optimum. On the evening of 13 June, a weak but solid radio link between Rosetta and the lander was finally established for 85 seconds. More than 300 ‘packets’ – 663 kbits – of lander housekeeping telemetry were received. This information had been stored on board at an as-yet-to-be determined time in the past, as much as several days to […]

Science Art: LightSail by Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society

31 May 2015 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen This is the thing the last song was about, LightSail, which even now is orbiting Earth and probably (if it’s going as expected) accelerating. We’re not entirely sure how it’s going, though, because the software has run into a little problem. Right now, they’re hoping a cosmic ray will reboot the onboard computer, which is apparently a thing that happens once you’re outside the atmosphere. Oh, and as I’m typing this on Saturday night, it looks like that might have just happened! Huh. Now we’ll get to see if this thing works after all!

SONG: I Am Sailing

24 May 2015 // 0 Comments

SONG: “I Am Sailing.” [Download] ARTIST: grant. SOURCE:Based on “LightSail”,, retrieved 13 May 2015, as used in the post “A solar sail unfurling. Not sometime in the unspecified future – *next week*.” ABSTRACT: Is this the song I wanted to write? I’m not sure. The lyrics were not the same as where I was aiming, but I stole a first line from a reflective moment, reminiscing about the hell of junior high school, in this podcast. Thank you, Mister Roderick, for a lyric. The idea here was that chemical rockets (and things that are fueled in general) can only get you so far. But a solar sail, while it starts really slowly, will just keep going and going. There’s a Taoist lesson there, or a Sub-Genius one, about the virtues of slack. And sails! In space! That is a beautiful thing, and now it is a real thing, and that is even more beautiful. […]

A solar sail unfurling. Not sometime in the unspecified future – *next week*.

13 May 2015 // 1 Comment

Bill Nye, more than just an enthusiast on the TV, has gotten a group together – part of The Planetary Society – to test a solar sailer spacecraft next week: LightSail™ is a citizen-funded project by The Planetary Society, the world’s largest non-profit space advocacy group. We’re sending two small spacecraft into Earth orbit carrying large, reflective sails measuring 32 square meters (344 square feet). Our first mission is a May 2015 test flight that will pave the way for a second, full-fledged solar sailing demonstration in 2016. Solar sails use the sun’s energy as a method of propulsion—flight by light. Light is made of packets of energy called photons. While photons have no mass, a photon traveling as a packet of light has energy and momentum. … Solar sail spacecraft capture light momentum with large, lightweight mirrored surfaces—sails. As light reflects off a sail, most of its momentum is transferred, pushing on the sail. […]

In the Martian morning, there’s dew… (and it’s eating away our rover’s wheels)

4 May 2015 // 0 Comments

Science writer Leonard David is concerned. It seems like Mars Rover Curiosity is having some unusual wear on it wheels… erosion and corrosion that seems to be caused by liquid water in the form of dew: Led by F. Javier Martín-Torres of the Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra in Granada, Spain, the group analyzed the relative humidity, air temperature and ground temperature data from the Curiosity rover at Gale crater. They report the observations support the formation of night-time transient liquid brines in the uppermost 5 centimeters of the subsurface that then evaporate after sunrise. There is an active exchange of water at the atmosphere/soil interface. … The team explains that the water activity and temperature are probably too low to support terrestrial organisms. While liquid water has now been found, it is not likely that life will be found on Mars. The Red Planet it is too dry, too cold and the […]

Science Art: NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passes Pluto and Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, in July 2015, by NASA/JHU APL/SwRI/Steve Gribben.

22 March 2015 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen This is happening now. This summer. A little flying robot is going to Pluto, the planet that wasn’t a planet, then it sort of was again. From the NASA New Horizons page: “We’ve completed the longest journey any spacecraft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. LORRI will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto over the next few months to refine current estimates of the distance between the spacecraft and the dwarf planet. Though the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera’s view until May, mission navigators will use the data to design course-correction maneuvers to aim the spacecraft toward its target point this summer. The first such maneuver could occur as early as March.

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