It’s been days now, and my excitement about the Curiosity landing is unabated.
I know it’s not the first rover to land on Mars, but it’s the most robust. Beyond that, I’m just amazed by the enormous engineering effort it took to get there. The people who accomplished this are brilliant. Essentially, Earth just sent an SUV 355 million miles through space, hit a rapidly moving target (Mars) and landed it on the surface, using audacious new technology, in almost the exact spot for which it was aiming. Now Curiosity is sitting there, going through system checks while sending photographs back to Earth. The pictures are so clear we can read the JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) logo on some of the parts; we can see pebbles littering the Gale Crater, and we can see Mt. Sharp rising in the distance. We’re looking at a mountain from ground level on another planet. We’ve even got a true-color photo of Mars.
I’m still hoping that we land astronauts on Mars in my lifetime, even if doing so isn’t as efficient as sending mobile laboratories like Curiosity there.
Here’s a little rain on the parade, though: Right now there are no real plans to replace Curiosity when its mission is completed. NASA has been given the goal of landing astronauts on Mars by 2030, but few believe that actually will happen. Funding levels are insufficient; the technology hasn’t been developed. Scientists still face the conundrum of how to protect astronauts from cosmic radiation, and there’s no launch vehicle to take man further into space.
So let’s enjoy Curiosity while we can. And let’s hope that exploring space once again becomes a priority.
A boat ride in Greenland nearly turned deadly for an Australian tourist and the boat’s crew.
Jens Møller, who recorded video of the incident, posted this description on YouTube on July 19:
A tourist from Australia came to my uncle and asked if she could get a ride to the glacier just north of Ilulissat, Greenland, so he asked me if I wanted to be his translator. I am from another town where glaciers are fairytales, I was as much of a tourist as the Australian tourist, so I decided to join the crew.
The beautiful scenery was amazing, but the nature doesn’t care about anyone. That day almost became our last day.”
OurAmazingPlanet spoke to Jens, who said he started recording the scene when he heard light cracking noises coming from the glacier. Those on the 18-foot boat thought they might see a small portion of the glacier break away into the sea. They were half right; the ice fell, but it wasn’t a small amount.
The ice-fall generated waves so strong they nearly capsized the boat. Jens stopped recording and headed inside when he realized they were in danger, but the video he captured is pretty impressive. On the way back, OurAmazingPlanet reported, the boat’s engine struck a chunk of ice and was badly damaged. All things considered, they got off lightly.
It happened last night: The largest and most versatile rover yet landed on Mars, in perfect shape and ready to begin a 2-year scientific mission that may determine if microbial life ever existed on the red planet.
That the Curiosity rover arrived intact is an amazing achievement, considering that nearly every aspect of the landing involved technology that had never been used before, including the “space crane” technology that dropped the rover softly onto Martian ground. The spacecraft housing Curiosity pulled off a series of intricate maneuvers, each one requiring precise timing. The slightest miscalculation at any step in the process would’ve turned the mission into a disaster.
Everything performed flawlessly.
“Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.”
The video below (courtesy of space.com) describes the challenges and successes of the mission so far better than I ever could.
That’s a Mola mola, a bizarre ocean sunfish that’s becoming a common sight in California waters.
Molas are huge, obviously – its size relative to the human diver isn’t a photographic trick. And they’re weird-looking. The one Botelho shot looks like a moon or a flattened Sprite can. Molas are the heaviest bony fish in the world, weighing an average of 2,200 pounds. Despite their bulk, they’re rather peckish; their mouths are relatively tiny, and they live primarily on jellyfish.
Botelho’s photo is a rare image of a mola in its natural environment. Apparently they’re skittish; they don’t like to be around humans. This one lingered long enough for Botelho to capture the amazing image above … which he mistakenly slipped into a folder of photos he didn’t intend to use.
The creature above is a majestic cormorant, a large bird that dives into the ocean to find food.
How far can it dive? Well, that’s the amazing part.
In the video below, you’ll see a majestic cormorant that has been fitted with a videocamera by researchers in Punta Leon in Patagonia, Argentina. The scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Research Council of Antarctica were tracking cormorants’ dietary habits.
What they found is that it isn’t easy to be a cormorant. The hunt for food can be long and arduous. This bird, in particular, dives 150 feet to the bottom of the sea and remains there, searching from side to side for something to eat, before finally grabbing a “snake-like swimmer,” according to Time magazine’s website. The whole hunt, from dive to surface, takes nearly two minutes.
Keep in mind, that’s a feathered bird hanging out on the ocean floor. It’s near the southern tip of South America, close to Antarctica. The water is frigid.
Life finds a way.