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On Mars…

Please, PLEASE, PLEEEEEASE go over to my “Road To Endeavour” blog to see the latest images of Concepcion Crater, taken by Oppy. I’ve stitched them together and colourised them to make them into a – well, you’ll have to go see for yourselves… but trust me, it’ll be worth clicking on the following link…

http://roadtoendeavour.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/oh-my

On Mars… on Mrs… on Mars…

“Spirit – Wheels Stop”

My good friend and fellow UMSF member, AstroO, has created a truly beautiful poster featuring the poem I’ve written to mark Spirit’s change in circumstances. I hope you’ll take a moment to go and see it.

http://astro0.wordpress.com/spirit-wheels-stop

Spirit – Time to rest…

Sigh.

This is a post I’ve been dreading writing for almost six years. I knew I’d have to write it one day, it was an absolute certainty, and I’ve never kidded myself otherwise. But still, now the time has come… it’s hard. It really is. I’m sure it is going to turn into a long, personal, emotional ramble, so if that’s not what you came here for then maybe you should skip this post. Just warning you.

Still here? Ok.

You’re here at this blog because you have an interest in space exploration and astronomy, that’s pretty much a given. So unless you’ve been caving in Mongolia this week, or trekking across Antarctica, or living in a submarine, you’ll have heard the news that all the brave and stubborn attempts to free Spirit – the first of the two Mars Exploration Rovers to land on Mars – from the sandtrap it drove into, all those months ago, have been halted, and the rover team have been ordered to stop trying to drive Spirit out, and instead position her in a way that will help give her a fighting chance of surviving the imminent, brutally cruel martian winter.

But despite what you might have read in some screaming headlines, online or in print, no-one has “abandoned” Spirit, ok?! No-one has “given up” on her, no-one is “walking away” from her. She isn’t “dead”, “lost” or “doomed”. She’s stuck. She’s well and truly stuck, absolutely lodged into that bloody sneaky, camouflaged, dust-filled fracking crater, like a fat cat wedged into a mouse hole, but she’s certainly not dead. Her cameras are working fine. Her spectrometer can still be used. Her robot arm is still moving, the instruments on the end of it good to go. It’s just her wheels that have let her down: a second wheel is now not working, leaving her with just four to use, and the material she is floundering in is just so fine, so evil, so wicked that moving a mere few centimetres was a cause for whoops of celebration, she really is stuck that badly.

But dead? No way.

However, there’s no escaping the brutal truth that Spirit is going nowhere, not for many months at least, and possibly ever again. This is, of course, a terrible, crushing blow to all the men and women at JPL – and around the world – who have been working so hard to try to “Free Spirit”. I was, as some of you will know, lucky enough to meet some of them when I was invited to JPL a year or so ago, and my heart truly goes out to them, because I know they have sweated blood, mentally, in their attempts to free the trapped rover. Only time, and Mars, have beaten them. Spirit simply can’t survive the forthcoming harsh martian winter how she is now, and even if she was to drive out of the crater right now, today, with two broken wheels and so little power left she wouldn’t be able to get very far anyway, certainly not to safety. So there seems to be no choice – Spirit has to find a way to squeeze some more energy from the Sun, or she’ll freeze to death, and the only way she can do that is if her solar panels are tilted towards the Sun. That means, cruelly, burrowing even deeper into her sandtrap so those panels are positioned more favourably. It’s just not fair. It’s not fair at all.

So, the bitter pill has to be swallowed – Spirit is staying where she is, at least for the winter, and after a period of hibernation (how I HATE even typing that word!!!), when she’ll power down to help her survive the winter, she will be used as a ‘static science platform’ instead of a rover. She’ll become, in effect, a new martian lander – an honourary Viking 3, if you like.

The good news, the silver lining to this sucky, dark cloud, is that should that happen (and there’s absolutely no guarantee at this point that Spirit will survive the winter, she really is in that much trouble) there’ll be a lot more science she can do when she wakes up. She can study the atmosphere. She can make very accurate measurements of the rocks and minerals around her. She can do seismology. She can take very high resolution images, building up an incredibly detailed portrait of her surroundings, and much more.

…but that’s not the point, and it won’t be any comfort for my friends Scott, and Sharon, or the other people at JPL who drive and care for the rovers. I know that they will be feeling that this is just horribly, horribly, gut-wrenchingly, heartbreakingly wrong. I feel that way myself, and many spaceflight enthusiasts around the world will do, too. The thing is, Spirit was built to rove, and she’s roved for six years. For her to have to stop now – trapped like a baby mammoth that’s blundered into a tar pit – is just awful.

I keep telling myself that actually, we should count our blessings. Spirit isn’t dead, not by a long way. Yes, she’s lame, and she’s tired, and her energy levels are dangeously low, but she’s still with us, she’s still standing proud on Mars, taking in the view, looking around her, staring and glaring at the mounds of Goddard and Von Braun ( that are so, so close, damnit! 😦  ), and it could have been a lot, lot worse. I always imagined that one morning I’d get up for work at 6am as usual, go online, log on to unmannedspaceflight.com, and read, aghast, that one of the rovers had simply gone dead, had not “phoned home” as usual, and no-one knew why. I always imagined the first rover would die completely without warning, because some obscure systems failure had shut her down and took her from us silently and with no chance of rescue. That would almost be kinder than this. Spirit is just stuck, trapped like a fly in amber, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do about it, not with a circuit-freezing, computer-killing martian winter growling away just over the horizon.

It’s taken me a couple of days to get down to writing about my feelings about this latest chapter in Spirit’s epic story. As regular readers will know, I’ve “lived” the MER mission from start to finish – actually, from before it started; I followed the rovers from construction to launch, I watched them taking shape.

Almost every day since the day they landed (except for days when I was on holiday, and not within reach of a computer to get online with!) I’ve looked in on them, checked how they were doing, looked at the latest images, etc. With my fellow members of the unmannedspaceflight.com forum I’ve virtually walked beside Spirit, and Opportunity, for every sol of their adventure. I’ve rolled down into craters with them, trundled up hills with them, watched sunrises and sunsets with them, and so much more. They’ve been a huge part of my life for the best part of a decade now, and I feel no shame at all when I say that I am strongly attached to them emotionally. I know they’re just machines physically, but it’s what they represent and what they have achieved that moves me. To me they really are like people, like the first astronauts on Mars, and I care for them and worry about them just as much as I would do if they were made of flesh and blood. And if that strikes you as silly, or over sentimental, then I’m not even going to try to justify or explain it, it’s just the way I feel, and there are many, many more people like me. The rovers are loved, genuinely loved, and it’s sickening to think that one of them might never rove again. 

I decided I finally had to write about this last night, when I caught a glimpse of Mars through a gap in the clouds. It looked like a bright, Spangle-orange star, blazing to the lower left of the Moon – but it looked… different. It felt strange looking at it and knowing that now only 1 rover is left roving. It’s just so sad, like that scene near the end of SILENT RUNNING where one of the two surviving droids is knocked down and crippled by Lowell in his buggy, and the other has to walk away from it to carry on on its own. I just can’t shake that scene from my mind. 😦

Amazingly – but perhaps inevitably, given human nature – some people are criticising the rover team for taking so long with their tests and simulations in the ‘sandbox’ at JPL. They say that they were too cautious, too slow, not daring enough in their 6 months of trying to find a way to “Free Spirit”. Me? I think that if they thought they needed 6 months, then they needed 6 months. I’m sure they’d have loved to have had a shiny crystal ball to help them foretell the future. I’m sure they’d like to have a pair of Meade 20/20 Vision Hindsight Binoculars to gaze into and show them how – if -they could have done things differently. But in the real world, such luxuries are not available. Those people are experts, professionals; not only do they do this for a living, as their job, but they do it with NASA and the rest of the world – including countless backseat drivers, like us – watching their every move and breathing down their necks, just waiting for them to trip up whilst impatiently nagging “Are we there yet?” from behind. I don’t envy them, but I admire, respect and will support them at every opportunity, especially now when they must all be feeling really disappointed at best and really, really hacked off and ready to punch their way through the nearest wall at worst. If any of them are reading this (and actually, I know a couple will, eventually) then heads up guys, you’re all heroes and heroines in my book.

I can’t imagine how wretched they feel, to be honest. They tried everything – everything – they could think of, and over the last week or so it seemed like some progress, however small, was being made, but it was just too little too late, and so the decision was been taken ‘higher up’ to essentially “dig in” Spirit for the winter, turning its solar panels towards the Sun as effeciently as possible, and abandon attempts to haul her out of the camouflaged, dust-filled crater she has been trapped in for so long.

So, what actually happens next? Well, as I understand it, after Spirit has been driven (see? She’s still driving! She’s just not driving OUT!) into a position where her solar panels are getting more sunlight, she will keep doing limited – very limited – science until March, possibly April, and then she will just stop doing science and hunker down for the winter and try to survive, like one of those penguins you see on nature documentaries, tucking their head under their wing to hide from the cold and try to stay alive.

And then? Well, I asked Emily Lakdawalla, a science journalist and fellow rover hugger, who writes the blog for the Planetary Society, about that, and she explained that Spirit will not actually be “switched off” by a person – she’ll probably do it herself. At some point, her decreasing power levels will eventually trip a low power fault, then she will enter a hibernation mode all by herself. That means a a couple of her systems will still be electrically awake — mainly, her clock and whatever electronics are necessary to make her solar panels and batteries work — but everything else will get shut down automatically.  Including her radio link with Earth. “Once a day, her clock will alarm her awake just enough to check the state of her batteries, and if they’re not charged enough, she’ll hit the snooze button,” Emily explained to me.

Oh, that would be the worst thing, wouldn’t it? If that happens, if she goes into her ‘hibernation mode’, and the radio link with her is severed, we won’t have any warning when she goes to sleep: one day she’ll just not be there when we look for and listen for her. All we’ll be able to do then is wait… and wait… and wait, wait for her to phone home again. Hopefully she’d send us a message to let us know she made it through the winter and is ready to get back to work – but we might never hear from her again. If something breaks while she’s in this hibernation mode, that could be it. As Emily said, “If she totally shuts down, she wouldn’t be rouseable again.” All we’ll be able to do is sit here, wondering if she died during one cold, lonely night, and we wouldn’t even know which one.
But I’m sure it won’t come to that. Everything Mars has thrown at Spirit, she’s survived. This, don’t forget, is the rover that CLIMBED A HILL ON MARS! This is the rover that DRAGGED A BROKEN WHEEL BEHIND HER FOR MONTHS, AND USED IT TO MAKE DISCOVERIES WITH! This is the rover that PHOTOGRAPHED EARTH IN MARS’ SKY! As rover driver Scott Maxwell as said, Spirit has had to fight for every single thing she’s ever had – every image, every metre of ground travelled, every measurement taken. Only a fool would bet against her not just surviving the martian winter, but actually scrabbling and scrambling free of this sandtrap and carrying on down the side of Homeplate towards Goddard and Von Braun. I honestly would not put anything past her, or past the amazing men and women who drive her.
One thing is certain – Spirit WILL move from this spot again, one day. Maybe not under her own power, maybe not after being commanded to by Scott, or Sharon, or one of her other drivers, but she will move. One day, maybe in a century’s time, explorers, settlers or colonists will reach the Columbia Hills, following Spirit’s route. They’ll walk slowly up to Spirit, reverently, like pilgrims approaching an altar or a holy relic. Then they’ll painstakingly dust her off and, eventually, when they’re sure she’s in good enough shape, they’ll lift her out of the sand and bring her back to the main Mars base, where she’ll be put on display in the Smithsonian Museum of Mars, alongside Opportunity, Phoenix, Mars Science Laboratory and the wreckage of Beagle 2. Hundreds then, eventually, thousands of visitors – native-born martians, tourists from Earth and Luna, scientists en-route to the asteroid belt and moons of Jupiter – will visit her, peering through the glass to marvel at how small she is, how fragile she looks, and shake their heads in amazement at how much she and Oppy accomplished during their Lewis and Clark trek across Mars…
And you know what I truly believe? I believe that one day she’ll return to Earth. I think that in a couple of centuries’ time she will be brought back home, to Terra, and put on display for a while in the original Smithsonian, for the great, great, great, great grandchildren of today’s armchair explorers to see.
And before she returns to Mars, for just a few days, maybe even just for one glorious, three-hankies day, she’ll truly return home – to be put on display at JPL in California, in the Von Karman Auditorium (or whatever has replaced it by then) where the families of the men and women who designed, built and drove her will come to see her and pay their respects, before she leaves Earth for the second and final time.
So, you see, this isn’t the end. This is just one more stop in Spirit’s long, long journey. It’s a sad time, true, and if I could click my fingers and teleport myself to Mars right now and physically haul Spirit out of that damned sand and line her up with the Sun I would, but I can’t. If I could go to Mars and sit down beside Spirit, and drape an arm over her to keep her company and keep her warm, I would. But I can’t. So. The driving has stopped – for now, and Spirit’s mission will now be to survive the winter and then explore from one set position, which she will do with great success. It will be wonderful if she roves again, but if she doesn’t then she’ll still be there, on Mars, teaching us about the Red Planet and uncovering yet more of her secrets.
And every night from now until the rover finally stops working, if Mars is visible in the sky above me, I’ll look up at it and wish Spirit well.
Time to rest, Spirit. You’ve earned it.

It’s Carnival time again…

This week’s “Carnival of Space” is number 138, and it’s being hosted by my good space friend Nancy Atkinson (GREAT last name!) on her new blog… go take a look, and catch up on the best of the week’s space blogging…

http://www.nancyatkinson.com/blog/2010/01/25/carnival-of-space-138-2

A VERY Big day for Spirit…

Later today there will be a NASA press conference, which everyone can follow live online, to provide an update on the heroic attempts to free the Mars Exploration Rover ‘Spirit’ from the sand trap it’s been stuck in for the past 2 million years (not really, it just feels like it! 😦 ) And it’s very possible that the news will not be good.

While recent attempts to drive the rover out of its camouflaged crater ‘tar pit’ have been ‘encouraging’ – the rover made several cm of progress (which might not sound a lot, but in Mars rover terms that’s a real ‘whoop! whoop!’ distance and achievement) – the rover faces a much greater enemy now: time. It will soon be winter at Spirit’s location, and, at their current angle, its solar panels are not going to be able to drink in enough energy-generating sunlight to keep it warm enough to allow it to survive the incredibly harsh conditions looming on the horizon. So, for a  while now, there has been a lot of discussion about the need to change the angle of those panels if the rover can’t be freed – and that time might have finally come.

The line-up of the panel featuring in today’s press conference ( Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program, NASA Headquarters in Washington; John Callas, project manager, Mars Exploration Rovers, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; Ashley Stroupe, rover driver, Mars Exploration Rovers, JPL and Steve Squyres, rovers principle investigator, Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.)  shows that it’s not going to be just a simple ‘update’, but will be the announcement of something; you just wouldn’t get all those important people in one place to tell people “We’re still trying”. So, what will the announcement be?

Well, it’s pretty safe to assume it won’t be “We’re out!” because we’d all have seen that for ourselves on the pictures Spirit has been sending back. Those images show the rover has moved a little, which is fantastic news and a stunning success in its own right for the dedicated rover team, but it is still badly pretty mired in its trap. What’s more likely, I think,  is that they will tell the world something along the lines of “Look, we’ve been trying really hard, and lately we’ve been getting somewhere, but we haven’t got the time to keep trying, we have to get those panels facing the Sun to survive the winter, so we’re going to hunker down where we are now, try our best to get through the winter, and try to get out again in the Spring.” That’s the best case scenario for today, I reckon – which many doom-mongers and oh-woe-is-me!’ers will take as an admission of defeat, but it would be far from it ; it would just be the sensible and realistic thing to do.

The worst case scenario would be for the panel to announce that all their attempts to free Spirit have failed, and they’re just not going to try anymore: Spirit’s roving days would be officially declared ‘over’ and she would become essentially a martian ‘lander’, a static platform for studying this area of Mars. Which again would NOT be a defeat, not really, and it certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world, or the mission. Sure, some people will gnash their teeth and moan and groan, and mourn Spirit’s passing, but that would be both premature and ridiculous: the way to think about it would be to start thinking of Spirit as a new lander that has just arrived on Mars, and is going to study its surroundings, and squeeze every last drop of science out of them, until it ends its mission. Spirit will basically become an honourary “Viking 3”! 🙂

And there’s a LOT of science Spirit can do if she is destined to end her days where she is now. She can study Mars’ atmosphere, the dust on the ground around her, the mineral composition of the rocks and the airflow over the ground and over herself. She will be able to take lots and LOTS of images, building up an incredibly high resolution portrait of the landscape around her, possibly the most detailed image ever taken on Mars. She’ll be able to monitor clouds moving across the sky, dust devils whirling and whorling across the plains, and follow – and photograph – Earth shining in the sky, too. So, no, it won’t be the end of the world, it will just be a change of gear.

So, I guess we’ll know more later today! Of course, with my usual BRILLIANT timing I’ll be at work, so I’ll probably be the last person in the world to hear the news, but maybe I’ll be able to find a way to catch up in real time, we’ll see… 😉

Meanwhile, Spirit’s sister rover, ‘Opportunity’, is having a heck of a time on the other side of Mars, scootling along very happily towards a young (that’s young in martian terms, it’s still over a thousand years old!) crater called ‘Concepcion’. This fresh crater looks absolutely fascinating, and is surrounded by numerous blocks of dark, angular rock, all of which will probably be studied and photographed in great detail before Oppy moves on and continues her epic trek to Endeavour Crater, way, waaaay over there to the east. We’ve already seen lots of images of Concepcion on the horizon (see my “Road To Endeavour” blog) but here’s a picture I’ve made showing a VERY fanciful, colourised version of what Oppy might see as she drives towards it…

We might end today with one roving rover and one resting rover, but if we do that’s ok. After exploring craters, climbing hills and fighting for every single cm of ground she’s covered, Spirit has more than earned her rest – and Oppy will be more than happy to keep exploring on her behalf! 🙂

Mars News Headlines…

BONG…

“Phoenix” Lander fails to phone home – this week’s attempts to listen for signals from the Phoenix polar lander were all unsuccesful. More attempts will be made in February.

BONG…

The Mars Exploration Rover “Spirit” is still stuck in its sand trap, but some limited progress has been made, and attempts to “Free Spirit” continue…

BONG…

The other Mars Exploration Rover, “Opportunity”, is now approaching yet another crater. Full details here: http://roadtoendeavour.wordpress.com

Oppy update…

Oppy has now driven away from Marquette Island…

http://roadtoendeavour.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/farewell-marquette-2

Whiteout…

As I’m writing this, the UK’s “cold snap” is about to begin its’ third week. The temperature here in Kendal last night probably reached minus ten degrees C, and parts of the Scottish Highlands experienced lows of minus twenty one degrees C – positively martian! For three weeks now Kendal has looked like Narnia in the grip of the evil queen’s spell: the snow fell thick and lay deep before Christmas, and everyone went “Ooh! How lovely! A white Christmas!” but then the freezing temperatures arrived… and stayed… and instead of thawing, and melting away, the snow hardened, and compressed,  and turned into a thick sheet of iron-hard ice that made everyday life very hard for a lot of people. Cars couldn’t get into or out of their drives; lorries couldn’t deliver goods, etc. But worst of all, pedestrians were suddenly forced to literally take their lives in their hands whenever they tried to get from A to B. With only major roads gritted, side roads, pavements and paths were left untreated and soon, as one freezing night followed another, became potentially lethal. Walking up town meant navigating, slowly, from one less-slippy patch of ground to another, like hopping between stepping stones, and soon the local hospital was treating people with broken wrists, arms and legs as the pavements and paths of Kendal began claiming victims. One man was even killed when he slipped and banged his head. So, as pretty as it looks on all the pictures – and I’ve taken many myself, of the Castle and the surrounding hills and fields – in all seriousness it’s been a very difficult and very dangerous time, and people here are now well and truly ready for a thaw to set in and for this arctic weather to just b****r off. Unfortunately the forecast is for another blast of arctic air to slam into us this coming weekend, with the fun addition of high winds, so the wind chill factor will be absolutely horrendous. No-one’s looking forward to that.

Yesterday, a picture hit the net that showed just how widespread this whiteout is. Taken by NASA’s Terra Earth-monitoring satellite, it shows how the UK appears from space right now…

Isn’t that incredible! White from Land’s End to John O’Groats!

This is my part of the world, Cumbria…

It’s like someone just dumped a big bag of icing sugar over us. Walking through town the air is full of the sounds of shovels scraping and chipping away at icy pavements, car wheels spinning and people – in gloves, scarves and hats – cursing and swearing as they slip on the ice. Again.

Looking at that picture I can’t help thinking that this is like that film, “The Day After Tomorrow”, but brought to life…

Oppy at Marquette…

The Mars Exploration Rover “Opportunity” – which will soon have been on Mars for 6 earth years – is still studying a big chunk of rock called “Marquette Island”. New post on it, with pics, over at my “Road to Endeavour” blog, here: http://roadtoendeavour.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/more-marquette-musings

Astounding “Avatar”

I finally managed to go and see AVATAR tonight, at the big VUE cinema down in Lancaster (first time there – very impressed: lovely studios, friendly, helpful staff, very clean, no chavs laughing and texting and eating nachos <talking of which…seriously, which ****ing genius decided nachos, possibly the crunchiest, loudest snack in the world, would make a good food for eating during a film?!?!?!>… 9/10)  and I have to say I was literally stunned by it. I went in thinking “Hmmm, it’ll be okay, but it won’t ‘change cinema forever’, will it?” Oh yes it will. I think it already has.

The 3D effects are simply awe-inspiring, but not because they’re flashy, or “Wow, that’s cool! That spear came right out of the screen!” gimmicky, but because they feel just natural and real. You actually feel like the screen is an open window and you’re looking into it. After maybe 10 minutes I forgot I was watching a “3D film” and just found myself inside the screen, part of the film.

Ok, so the film isn’t perfect. The dialogue is Clunky Cameron at its finest, and the story is essentially “Dances With Wolves Meets The Last Samauri” in space. The Na’vi humanoid natives of the jungle moon Pandora really do look a bit like stretched Smurfs, there’s no getting away from it. The love story at the heart of the film is an update of Pocahontas, and there is a lot of familiar Cameron technology in it which does make it feel a bit like “Aliens 2” in places. But the main characters are very well drawn, their relationships pretty convincing, and the action sequences are nothing less than jaw-dropping.

But the real star of the film, for me, was Pandora itself. It is realised so graphically, so perfectly, in so much minute, intricate detail, that when I came out of the cinema I genuinely felt like I’d been to an exoplanet. It all just looks so… whole. Everything fits together so naturally, so realistically, it’s a beautiful, beautiful place to visit for the film’s two and a half hours. The plants, the animals, the landscapes, they all look so perfect and so natural together it has the look of a Discovery channel documentary at times.

There are some sequences in the film that had me shaking my head in disbelief, they were so beautiful, in the true sense of the word. Not a spoiler, but there’s one scene where the manin “avatar” character stumbles upon a part of the forest that is just overflowing with fascinating plants and animals, all shown so convincingly, so realistically that I was sorely tempted to get up out of my chair and walk into the screen to join him. The colours of the animals and plants, the textures of their skins and leaves, the way the fronds moved in the breeze and the animals skittered and scattered up and down the trees and across the forest floor were overwhelming. In another sequence the hero and his new, tall blue girlfriend enter a secluded glade in the forest and everything is painted with light. Their footsteps make the forest floor glow, like in the “Billie Jean” video; delicate glowing fronds hang down from the sky in curtains of ethereal pink light; tiny airborne creatures, glowing, always glowing, float through the air… it’s just beautiful, and I know I’ve used that word too many times already in this post but I’m sorry, I just can’t think of another word for it.

One problem for me with Avatar was that it also left me feeling very frustrated by our current exoplanet catalogue. before I went into the cinema I was already a bit “hmmm, okay…” about all the dozens of ‘hot jupiters’ we’ve found whizzing around their parent stars; with their styrofoam-low densities, hotter-than-lava surface temperatures and few-days-long years I’m sorry but I just can’t bring myself to think of them as ‘planets’ you know? Those bodies are freaks of nature, even if they do turn out to be the norm ‘out there’, they’re going to be no use to anyone, there’s no possibility of life existing on or near them, and that’s what we’re looking for exoplanets for in the first place, isn’t it? To find life-bearing worlds? So, yes, I came out of AVATAR stunned and delighted but very frustrated too, and as we walked back to the car I looked up at the starry sky and thought “I don’t want hot jupiters, I want worlds of rock and stone! I want forests and waterfalls! I want mountains and seas! I want worlds with wave-kissed beaches to walk on, barefoot, and green hills to climb for the gorgeous view from the top…”

I know now what I really want from the search for exo-planets: I want Pandora.

Just imagine what will happen in a century’s time if we find a world, or even just a moon, like that. Imagine what it would be like to be alive at the time when the pictures from the first interstellar probe to reach that world arrive back on Earth… imagine sitting there at your computer as images come up on its screen of lush forests and glades, of gurgling rivers and streams… Imagine what it would be like to look at the screen and see living, alien creatures staring back at you from across the light years…

I was definitely born too soon. 😦

So, if you haven’t seen AVATAR yet, go see it. It really is stunning, and I don’t use the word lightly. Forget the cliches, forgive the dialogue, and just put on your 3D glasses and allow yourself to drown in the beauty of the alien lifeforms, Pandora’s flying mountains, dragon-sized birds and glowing flora.