Welcome to the 134th “Carnival of Space”! I’m delighted and proud to be the host of the 2009 Christmas Carnival, which has to be one of the busiest – and best-written – Carnivals so far. Thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute a post and, as ever, to Fraser too for running the whole thing!
2009 is almost done, but before we throw our old calendars, desk diaries and wall planners out, let’s take a look at what’s been hitting the blogs this past week – and because it’s Christmas, if an author submitted more than one post, I’ve used them all…
First up we have this week’s contribution from everyone’s favourite “Babe in the Universe“, Louise Riofrio, who takes a look at the latest news concerning the discovery of water on the Moon. Louise reports direct from the giant American Geophysical Union meeting in San, explaining how the the clues were first found as Cassini passed the Moon in 1999. “Recent data from Chandrayaan and EPOXI,” she says, “confirm the presence of water and/or hydroxyl. ” Louise thinks that this discovery strengthens the case for someday settling the Moon. “Someday”? I think that Someday will be many, many days in the future, sadly…
Over at “Centauri Dreams“, in his post “A Super-Earth with an atmosphere“, Paul Gilster writes about the fascinating planet discovered around GJ 1214, which has an atmosphere that can probably be studied by Hubble…
It seems that space bloggers called Steve are like buses – you see none for ages, then two come along at once! For Carnival #134, Steve Nerlich, who writes the popular “Cheap Astronomy” blog, has submitted the podcast he recorded for “365 Days of Astronomy” on the subject of “the puzzling anomalies that keep rocket scientists up at night.” Anomalies, eh? Hmmm. A multi-million (insert currency of your choice here) satellite, telescope or payload strapped to the top of a huge metal tube filled with highly explosive fuel – what could possibly go wrong..?
Christmas is all about giving, right? Ok, so it’s also about family arguments, undercooked turkeys basted with salmonella, suspiciously lumpy looking bottles of old Advocaat and settling back on the sofa to watch the Dr Who Christmas Day special, but it’s about giving too. And this week John Williams, who writes the “Starry Critters” blog (a new one for me, thanks John!) , has something he wants to share with all of us – an incredible image taken by the recently-refurbished Hubble Space Telescope’s WFC3 camera, showing the myriad twinkling stars of R136 in the 30 Doradus Nebula. John says “Zooming around the image in full-screen mode is like unwrapping a second present. Is it the sugar, or do I feel heady from the starry wonder?” And I have to agree.
There are two blogs that anyone who claims to be “into” space or astronomy absolutely has to have bookmarked, and absolutely has to check at least once daily, or risk being arrested by the Judoon and thrown into the deepest, darkest dungeon of the Shadow Proclaimation faster than you can say “Mohofojokomofodo!!!” – and the “Bad Astronomy” blog written by the “Bad Astronomer” himself, Phil Plait, is one of them. This week Phil wants us all to read about a stunning Cassini image he saw recently, showing the shadow of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, falling on Saturn’s cloudtops. It isn’t just a breathtaking visual image, explains Phil, it’s also packed with scientific information. Take a look for yourself here.
I said there were two essential blogs – which is the second? Well, it has to be the Planetary Society’s blog, which is overseen by Emily Lakdawalla. If you’re a newcomer here then you won’t know – but truist me when I tell you – that Emily’s science journalism is among the best on the net. Comprehensive but comprehensible, accurate but exciting, her blog posts put the articles and features of many so-called “professional reporters” who comment on space and astronomy in our newspapers and magazines to shame (yes, I’m looking at you, guy who recently referred to the Phoenix lander as a rover…!). For this week’s Carnival, Emily has two posts. In a superb piece of writing she explains how CASSINI finally spotted a flash of sunlight glinting off one of Titan’s lakes.
That observation will surely go down as one of the most important events of 2009, and the image used to illustrate Emily’s piece has already achieved iconic status. Emily also invites you to view the Planetary Society blog’s advent calendar, but instead of pieces of chocolate, each door hides a breathtaking image of a body in the solar system. You can start drooling over the beautiful pictures by going here.
… and talking of droolsome pictures, at Kimberley Kowal Arcand’s “Chandra Blog” – which you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out is the blog of the Chandra X-Ray observatory – you can read all about how Chandra scientists are comparing images of supernova remnants to see how the shape of the remnant is connected to the way the progenitor star exploded.
One of my favourite writers on t’internet is CC Peterson, aka the “Spacewriter”. Her ‘ramblings‘ (her description, not mine!) are followed by a very loyal readership, and so I’m delighted she has two entries in this week’s Carnival here on CUMBRIAN SKY. In one post she ponders the whole 2012 thing – you know, the almost gleeful predictions that the world will end in 2012 and that the Mayans predicted it. CC puts forward an argument that the 2012 hoopla might not be that bad a thing, and actually shows us in a good light – I’ll let her explain. ( Personally I just want to give 2012 believers athe same Benny Hill slap on the head I give to Apollo Hoax Believers! ) CC’s second post, “Gifting the Cosmos“, has some useful ideas for presents for your space- and astronomy-loving loved ones.
Last week’s excellent Carnival was held over at the “Next Big Future” blog, and this week its writer, Brian Wang, has an entry telling us all about the latest developments in the study of using nuclear propulsion for interplanetary missions. I’ll be totally honest, it’s farther over my head than the London Eye, but if you’re more technically minded than me, and have an interest in this field of study, you’ll find it absolutely fascinating.
As the shuttle fleet nears its retirement date, and its replacement is still – ahem – up in the air, more and more private companies, universities and even individuals are seeking ways of getting their scientific payloads into space, and having them installed and operated on the ISS. On his “Kentucky Space” blog, Wayne Hall describes how “Kentucky Space delivered flight-ready hardware to Florida last week for Shuttle delivery to the International Space Station in March.” The Nanorack and Cubelab tandem will, he believes, “dramatically lower the cost of microgravity research for organizations that would like to experiment in this environment, but have been deterred by high cost.” This can only be good news of groups wanting to conduct research onboard the ISS, and it’s hard to disagree with Wayne when he says that “With regular orbital access and space available on the first of three planned Nanoracks, a unique research opportunity for your “Cubelab” is available.”
One of the very best things about the Carnival of Space is the way it introduces you to new blogs, blogs you would never have found any other way. It’s like panning for gold – occasionally you spot a real nugget glinting and flashing away amongst all the silt and crud. This week’s twinkliest nugget, for me at least, is the blog “We Are All In The Gutter“, which is written by – and I quote – “a bunch of selfish transients or astronomy researchers, whichever term you prefer.” It’s “Dark Matter Week” on the blog, and if you go there you can read all about the latest results from the CDMS – that’s the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search. Emma Rigby and her friends have a fantastic blog here (and BTW, if you were wondering where the title of the blog comes from, it comes from the quote “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” from Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde), which you absolutely must read, and I have a sneaking suspicion that when they get together it’s like a real life “Big Bang Theory”!
Alan Boyle’s “Cosmic Log” blog is a very, very dangerous place. It’s one of those sites on the net that you go to planning to just “take a quick look at” and before you know it it’s dark outside and all your family have gone to bed. This week Alan submitted three posts for consideration, and I’m going to use all of them, partly because I honestly couldn’t choose just one to use, but also because it’s Christmas, so ho ho ho and all that… “Alien ‘water world’ found” “Koreans plan space tours” and my own favourite, “50 years of science sagas” (“How do you summarize the past 50 years of discoveries in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics? And how do you predict what breakthroughs will be made in the next 50 years? That kind of challenge would be doubly daunting for any one person – but fortunately, we have a huge crowd of science fans to help with the task. Coming up with the top 50 sagas in science is one of the ways that the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing plans to mark its 50th anniversary in 2010.”)
Alice Enevoldsen’s blog, the it-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin “Alice’s Astroinfo“, is a place you can go to and be guaranteed a good read. Alice is one of those bloggers who really keeps her finger on the space world’s pulse, and this week she has two posts for you to enjoy.
The first one caught my eye because, as a self-confessed “Mars nut”, I am absolutely fascinated by the work being done on the martian meteorite ALH84001, and on her blog this week Alice asks: “Curious about how magnetotactic bacteria work, and why we can find traces of them in ALH84001 when we wouldn’t be able to find traces of other bacteria? Well – check this out to answer some basic questions about magnetotactic bacteria.” And for her second post, Alice makes an impassioned plea for everyone to listen to a podcast by American space writer and broadcaster Jay O’Callohan. Now, I trust Alice, but I must admit, my first thought was “Who?” and with little time to do any research I fired off an email to her, asking who Jay was. She replied: “Jay O’Callahan is a notable American storyteller – some might say he’s the best in the nation, though that is subjective and I doubt anyone has heard every great storyteller. He is truly wonderful, and the stories he writes and tells weave scientific fact in so expertly you hardly notice that you’re getting a cool lecture at the same time as you hear a fun story. Kids and adults hang on his every word, and he’s published several children’s books in addition to numerous CD productions.” Sounds like quite a character! Check out the podcast and find out for yourself…
Ian Musgrave is the “Astroblogger“, and this week he gets a bit Trekkie with his post “Earth-like world around Sun-like star“. “It’s an Earth-like world, but not as we know it.” says Ian. As Spock would say, with a single raised eyebrow – “Fascinating…”
Now… it is meant to be Christmas, right? I mean, I just looked at my wall planner and it says December 23rd… and there’s a decorated christmas tree over there, and a load of cards over there, and outside the snow is thick and crumpy on the ground, but the Christmas Spirit has evaporated for the UK’s astronomers and physicists in the past week or so. Why? Well, my namesake – but no relation – Stuart, who writes the “Astronomy Blog“, has the full, shameful and shaming story of almost barbaric cuts to the budgets of UK astronomy and physics, in all its this-is-so-stupid-I-want-to-bang-my-head-against-the-wall! glory, in this post on his blog. “What the STFC UK?” Stuart’s opening paragraph describes the situation both eloquently and agonisingly: “I’ve been putting off writing about this for a few days because it has been too painful: the UK is ending the International Year of Astronomy with a war on physics.”
Even before I read Stuart’s excellent post on this story I was angry about it. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, here in the UK at least, politicians don’t appreciate the importance of scientific research or realise how crucial it is to our economy. I’ve thought for a while that, in general, politicians are threatened and intimidated by scientists, because they make them realise how ignorant they really are. Science = political antimatter. A politician would, in general, rather kiss a sick-covered baby than be seen in a laboratory or at the eyepiece of a telescope, because they think it would make them look “geeky” or, horror of horrors, intelligent. It’s actually a very simple equation: to a politician, science+technology+education+outreach = no votes. Unlike Nature, politicians adore a vacuum; they can fill it with BS. And it’s awful to realise that the Govt here in the UK is clearly happy to financially bail-out corrupt banks, and essentially steal off their own people by claiming outrageous expenses, but rip the guts out of UK science. But they won’t lose any sleep over it; as long as they can keep everyone in their homes watching X Factor and Jeremy Kyle, at least then they’re not Thinking, eh?
Ok, you can come out now, rant over!
Update: It wouldn’t be a Carnival of Space without a contribution from Nancy Atkinson (again, no relation!) over at “Universe Today“. Like Phil Plait, Nancy was inspired by the image of sunlight glinting off a Titanian lake. You can read her post here.
Well, that’s it for this week’s Carnival. As 2009 draws to a close, it’s worth a look back at what a fascinating and exciting year it’s been. The two seemingly-immortal (uh-oh, kiss of death or what?!) Mars Exploration Rovers have continued to delight and excite us with their beautiful images of the Red Planet. Opportunity has had a fine old time collecting meteorites, while Spirit has stubbornly refused to just give up and settle into its martian dustbowl beside Homeplate and has been spinning her wheels with a passion, determined to get free again. At Saturn, Cassini has sent back one jaw-droppingly stunning image after another, showing us the planet’s moons, rings and storms in unprecedented detail. Throughout the solar system other probes have worked tirelessly to increase our knowledge and understanding of our cosmic backyard, at the same time as might telescopes like Hubble and Kepler have pushed back the boundaries of our knolwdge about deep space and what’s “out there”. 2009 saw the discovery of many, many more exploanets (the discovery of a true Alien Earth can’t be far away, surely?!), while up in Earth orbit astronauts from many countries worked together to help complete the International Space Station. All these things, and many, many more, we’ve been able to follow and enjoy online, and many of us space enthusiasts, armchair explorers and “citizen scientists” have been moved to write about them on our space blogs.
What will 2010 bring? I can predict that in one word:
Have a great Christmas everyone!
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