Sunday, 19 January 2020

space ghost coast-to-coast

Disappointingly—though somewhat heartening at the same time since these cadets are far from deserving anything suggestive of a Star Fleet uniform but perhaps to be seen as siding with the Rebellion during the battle on the forest moon of Endor—there’s been a reported preview of the new design for the US Space Force (previously) proposed battle dress, which is inexplicably patterned like the digital woodland camouflage of the landlubbing, terrestrial services.
We doubt that this is able to cloak anything in outer space and would have the opposite effect of making individuals more conspicuous. Judging by the rank on the exemplar shown, it’s intended for none other the branch’s commander, four-star general John “Jay” Raymond. The Department of Defense responded to the deserved onslaught of ridicule citing cost-savings measures by using surplus fabric and engendering a sense of cohesion by matching the other branches during joint operations. Any one of us would like to captain a starship, just not in this timeline, defending Trump Towers Icaria Planum from attack.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

le projet ozma

Among the first official accolades that the crew of the Apollo 11 Mission were awarded outside of the ticker-tape parades and immediate fame was the astronomical portion of the Prix Guzman—on this day in 1969, an honorarium provided for by the estate of Marc Guzman and established in the will of his widow Anne Emilie Clara Goget in 1891. Arguably the astronauts won by dint of a technicality—the one-thousand-franc prize to be given to a person or group that succeeded in communicating with another celestial body, which the Eagle did with Mission Control in Houston.
Interest accumulated in the meantime and that premium was awarded every five years or so to an individual who had made significant contributions to space exploration, as adjudged by the Acadรฉmie des sciences of the Institut de France. As many people believed at the time of Madame Guzman’s death that Mars was inhabited by intelligent beings, communications with that planet were specifically exempted as not worthy of the challenge and would be established in the immediate future (see also). The title and related paradox refer to the precursor programme to SETI started by Cornell astronomer Frank Drake, named after Princess Ozma whom L Frank Baum channelled by radio to learn of events in the Land of Oz after his first-hand accounts ended. The problem that arises from such a two-way communication with extra-terrestrials is the lack of a frame of reference and thus no means of conveying basic ideas of orientation, right and left, and parity. The other honorarium, to be awarded for the development of a treatment for the most common forms of heart disease, has yet to be given out. Regardless of Madame Guzman’s intent, the accomplishments of Apollo were certainly no mean feat.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019


The Martian Desert Research Station in remote, arid Utah—the experimental living area affectionately referred to as the Hab—has been cleverly and economically (both in regards to cost and space) is being furnished by Swedish homeware and lifestyle giant IKEA. The heuristic exercise is a valuable object lesson on scarcity of materials, durability, sustainability and repurposing and has garnered some important insights and anticipated various challenges.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

when the stars allign or flights of fancy

This day of all days back in 1981 would have been an especially auspicious one for space exploration, had public and political captivation been sustained and transformed into something enduring, because the alignment of both Mars and Venus relative to Earth and Moon was optimal for a crewed mission to each planet launching simultaneously.
I can imagine this sling-shot trajectory of the tandem space-flights returned to Earth with gravity-assists, which was presented by NASA administrator Thomas Otten Paine expansively and in exacting detail to a crowd gathered in San Francisco in August of 1969.  With continued advances on nuclear-propelled rockets and fiscal commitments (estimated to be around twenty four billion dollars), Paine promised the audience that such an achievement would indeed be possible by the early eighties.  Though it was after the blast-off deadline had passed, Paine designed a flag for Mars in 1983.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

when i woke

This 1994 hit single from the worldbeat band Rusted Root enjoyed a huge cultural moment in 1996, featuring as the soundtrack for the television series Party of Five and in no fewer than three feature films including Pie in the Sky, Race the Sky and Matilda. Later part of the playlists (excused for that flourish that’s a rather poor imitation of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and imbued with that special status of elusive earworm that one knows but may be struggles to place) of the movies Ice Age, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a long-running car-rental advertising campaign, and the wake-up music for the Opportunity Rover on at least one occasion, the upbeat song has proved to be an enduring one.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019


surveillance cinema: iconic movie scenes from the perspective of security cameras, via Kottke’s Quick Links

take this job and fill it: a satisfying gallery of resignation letters

sight safari: a map application that draws on Wikipedia’s proximity function (previously) to generate the most scenic routes

fortress america: Trump wanted to fortify border wall with snake- and alligator-filled moats

๐Ÿ•: a startup in Seattle demonstrates a mobile robotic chef that makes up to three hundred pizzas an hour, via Slashdot

flyover: a cache of gorgeous, high-resolution images of our planetary neighbour courtesy of the Mars Express orbiter

biogarmentry: living apparel made from biofabricated textiles photosynthesise

pareidolia: a surveillance camera detects a face in the snow and won’t shut up about it

Tuesday, 6 August 2019


Coincidentally sharing the anniversary of the 2012 landing of the Curiosity rover at the Bradbury Landing Site in the Gale crater where the object is believed to have originated, on this day in 1996, NASA issued a press release endorsing the claims of a group of researchers that claimed to have found biogenic markers on a Martian meteorite recovered in the Allan Hills region of Antartica back during a 1984 expedition.  The classification of rocky compositions, shergottite, nahklite and chassignite, all sound vaguely Lovecraftian, the Ancient Ones buried at the South Pole.  Though the claim was sensational and controversial from the beginning, inconclusive with all the unusual microscopic features and traces eventually explained without having to invoke biological causes—further promping the scientific community to require claims of such magnitude to rely on than morphological evidence (eidonomy, external anatomy, being rather famously subject to pareidolia), the research and the media attention opened a dialogue and re-engaged the public imagination at a time before we knew of the proliferation of exoplanets and helped us develop the academic discipline to frame our aspirations for more exploration.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

chryse planitia

Touching down on this day in 1976, the seventh anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, Viking 1 became the second probe to successfully reach Mars after the Soviet Union’s ะœะฐั€ั-3 five years earlier—beginning what would turn out to be a rather incredible six-year monitoring mission (sadly, the previous effort failed after seconds) with a battery of biological experiments to search for evidence of life.

Scientists were also able to use this distant beacon that’s sometimes occulted by the Sun to confirm the phenomenon of gravitational time dilation as predicted by the theory of General Relativity, the Sun’s gravity causing delays in transmission times. The Viking sent back this incredible panoramic vista (landing site in the title) shortly after its arrival.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

รฆronomic phenomena

Whilst exploring the foothills of Aeolis Mons, Curiosity took a pause to look into the twilight skies and caught an amazing glimpse of wispy clouds sweeping overhead, conditions being just right to illuminate the microscopic ice crystals that make up this special classification (see also) called a noctilucent (“night shining”) cloud.
During the balance of the day, the Martian sky has a butterscotch hue but at dawn and dusk, it appears blue, the opposite situation than here on Earth, due to dust in the air and the lack of an ozone layer. It’s not the first observation of clouds in the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet and they flank the promontory of towering volcanic mountains and have been seen to gather elsewhere but it is certainly an inspiring, otherworldly sight.

Friday, 10 May 2019

mars: the ride

Via the always interesting Kottke, we find ourselves transported to the desert hills of the Gobi where a company called C-Space has recently opened a simulated Martian base as an education and outreach facility and tourist destination, with a space-themed hotel and restaurant. Though perhaps more of an amusement park than practical training centre, vis-ร -vis institutions like Space Camp and similar programmes especially, we ought not to underestimate the power to inspire. Browse an extensive gallery of the base and its features at the links above.

Friday, 5 April 2019


phobos and deimos: Martian Rover Curiosity films two solar eclipses, via Coudal Partner’s Fresh Signals

the words she knows, the tune she hums: Elton John guides a television crew through the lyrical structure of “Tiny Dancer,” written by Bernie Taupin

yang-yig: Tibetan musical notation as visually compelling as the sonic experience

amรฉricains accidentels : an association of French residents with acquired US citizenship are suing financial institutions for discrimination

these kids today with their y2k: the epochal rollover on 6 April for the array of Global Positioning Satellites could result in unexpected glitches for the devices that rely on them

stepping stones: the musical stylings of jazz-funk master Johnny Harris 

Friday, 29 March 2019


von neumann probes: perhaps autonomous, self-replicating interstellar explorers are destroying each other, accounting for their lack of evidence

bahnhofsuhr: the iconic Swiss train station clock designed by Hans Hilfiker

dactylography: an interesting survey of ancient latent fingerprints and the scientific rigour of forensics

incidental music: a cocktail party version of the main Star Trek theme exists in the Star Trek universe

parclo interchange: the elegant engineering of Japanese freeway junctions from above

a rabbit’s revenge: a further study of the prevalence of bunnies committing violence on humans (previously) in medieval marginalia

breakfast at mondrian’s: studio Brani & Desi translate the Dutch artist’s geometric works to floors and furnishings in a concept apartment

aerography: huge rivers coursed across the Martian surface for billions of years, via Slashdot

Sunday, 30 December 2018

jahrgang xxmviii

As this year draws to a close, we again take time to reflect on a selection of things that took place in 2018. Thanks as always for visiting. We've made it through another wild year together.

january: Turkey enters the Syrian conflict in attempts to wrest control in the north from Kurdish rebels.  The US government experiences a partial shutdown over a lapse in funding due to a stand-off regarding the status of immigrants that were brought to the US as children by their parents.  We had to say goodbye to science-fiction and fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin.

february: There are further advances in private-sector rocketry that seem primed to usher in a new age of exploration.  Another school shooting in America fails to get the country to open up to a dialogue on gun-control. The US Federal Communications Commission repeals net neutrality consumer protections.

march: A former Russian double-agent and his daughter are poisoned in Salisbury, England.  In China, term limits for the office of president and general secretary of the Communist party are eliminated.  In the US, a nation-wide school walk-out occurs to protest gun-violence and weak gun-control laws.  Vladimir Putin is re-elected to a fourth consecutive term as president of Russia.  We bid farewell to scientist Stephen Hawking.

april: France, the UK, and the US launch airstrikes on Syria bases following a government sanctioned chemical weapons attack that killed over seventy civilians.

may: The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation goes into effect in an attempt to wrest back some modicum of control over individuals’ digital dossiers. Donald Trump precipitates a trade war by imposing punitive steel tariff on exporters with other countries responding in kind.

june: At the G-7 summit in Toronto Donald Trump pushes for the reinstatement of Russia before embarking to meet with the leader of North Korea in Singapore for talks on denuclearisation. 

july: A series of climate-change driven heat-waves devastate North America and Europe, causing many deaths and torrents of forest fires.  A boys’ football team and their coach are rescued from a cave in Thailand after a harrow, seventeen-day ordeal.  Researchers confirm the existence of a subglacial lake of liquid water on Mars.  

august: The market value of Apple surpasses one trillion dollars.  The US reimposes sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme (having announced its intention to withdraw from the deal in May) while maintaining support to Saudi Arabia in its retaliatory attack on the Yemen.

september: The National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro is engulfed in flames.  The Supreme Court of India decriminalises homosexuality.  Following a contentious hearing, a controversial justice is appointed to the US Supreme Court, altering its composition.

october: A dissident journalist is kidnapped, murdered and spirited away in pieces at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Canada legalises cannabis possession and use nation-wide.  Trump deploys soldiers to the Mexican border to fend off an approaching caravan of asylum-seekers. While visiting his native China, the chief of INTERPOL goes missing and presumed assassinated. The US signals its intent to leave the International Postal Union and shutters its diplomatic outreach offices for Palestine.

november: Democrats take control of the US House of Representative with Republicans retaining control of the Senate.  The InSight probe lands on Mars, beginning a mission to pierce the surface of the Red Planet. We had to bid farewell to SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg and social justice warrior Harry Leslie Smith.  US ex-president George Herbert Walker Bush passed away, rejoining Barbara Bush, his life partner of seventy-three years, who died in April.

december: The shambles of Brexit and the investigation into the Trump campaign and administration to Russia are ongoing.  US forces withdraw from Syria with plans to also do so for Afghanistan and the country’s defence secretary resigns in protest.  We had to bid farewell to actor and director Penny Marshall.   The US government enters another partial shutdown over Border Wall funding. 

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

the beagle has landed

Mars, being a world populated exclusively so far as we know by robots, was visited on Christmas Day (sol five hundred ninety-nine) by the lander unit of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express to conduct an exobiology survey of the Red Planet by digging below the frozen surface, an ambitious feat not attempted again until now with the InSight mission’s dousing for water.
The Beagle 2, named after the HMS Beagle that famously transported Charles Darwin to the Galรกpagos archipelago, informing his thoughts on natural selection, had an impressive array of instruments but failed to establish contact with the orbiter or mission control after deploying. In February of 2004, the search mission was called off and the rover declared lost and it was not until another ordinance survey of the planet in 2015 that it was spotted in the spot where it ought to have touched-down. The solar panels failed to fully open, eventually starving the machine of power and also prevented the communication antennae from raising. Because the experiments were to begin upon landing under chemical battery reserves, it’s possible that the Beagle searched its immediate surroundings for some weeks before expiring—which perhaps another passing rover could confirm in the future and maybe reboot the original mission.

Thursday, 29 November 2018


snow globes: a new holiday tradition to us—sending Street View Christmas cards

ammartaggio: a for the nonce Italian Word of the Day in tribute to the InSight touchdown

appellation d’origine contrรดlรฉe: a detail world atlas to explore gustatory landscapes in detail—via Pasa Bon!

condominium: a library straddling the US-Canadian border has become a venue for emotional family reunions for those (we all are) affected by the Trump administration’s immigration policies—via Super Punch 

orden mexicana del รกguila azteca: the Mexican government presents Trump’s son-in-law with its highest honour reserved for foreign dignitaries

jantar mantar: an incredible eighteenth century Indian astronomical observatory whose architecture previsions Brutalism 

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

dark they were and golden-eyed

Our faithful antiquarian, JF Ptak’s Science Books, finds some lush, poetic language in the debate that spanned from the time when astronomer Percival Lowell’s assistant Carl O Lampland described the exacting photographs taken of the surface of Mars by Eugene Michel Antoniadi.

Lampland came by this poetic license by way of an Italian false-friend (falso amico) but the mistranslation sparked a vigorous back and forth about Martians and design that lasted from 1886 to 1909, when the photographer accounts for the optical illusions in the channels that captivated the public and attempts to finally dispel the persistent illusion. There’s an excerpt below in translation but be sure to visit the source up top for more verses and more finds from old books and journals.

Our observations lead us to divide the channels into several categories, namely: In diffuse shadows, more or less irregular, some of which appear double in a fleeting way; In gnarled blobs; In gray masses, shapeless and disjointed; In irregular, thin blurring, in the construction of a hedge of Martian seas, and widen into a vast and confused shadow further on, like new with their tributaries, seen at a great distance.

Monday, 22 October 2018

planetary terrestrial analogues library

The European Space Agency has collaborated with numerous museums and university geological departments to curate a collection of rocks and minerals, BLDG Blog reports, as a heuristic tool for future exploration, reasoning out properties of extra terrestrial surfaces and strata by relating it to more mundane and familiar correspondents.
Jarosite, for example, is a rare volcanic rock that is testament to the presence of water on Earth and was found on Mars early on before any evidence of water had been discovered. The growing catalogue of space-prospectors consists of around forty-five hundred known Earth minerals, complimented with three hundred isolated from meteorites, one hundred thirty from the Moon and about eighty Martian samples.

Monday, 30 July 2018


NASA has announced the winners of its assembled in-situ Centennial Challenge competition to design and deliver advanced three-dimensional printed habitats for the Red Planet’s first colonists. The top honour goes to team Zopherus (we were team Marsha, one of the honourable-mentions, pictured above) whose construction concept strikes us as rather like the propagation cycle of a virus, with a lander scouting out an optimal print-area on the Martian surface and then deploying rovers to retrieve building materials to form a host of connected, modular units. Learn more and see conceptual demonstrations of the winner and runners-up at the link above, these picks being the second phase of a multi-year contest that commenced with exploring the technical viability of working with natural building materials (more here) in an arid and alien environment.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018


Using a sounding technique that revealed the existence of a sub-glacial sea under the Antarctic ice sheet, European Space Agency researchers believe that they may have detected a shallow lake of liquid water beneath the ice-capped Martian south pole. The telemetry gathered by the Mars Express, a satellite laboratory that’s orbited the planet for the past fifteen years is still being interpreted but it’s definitely something and bear the signature of a briny sea, some twenty kilometres across but buried under a kilometre and half of frozen ice.

Friday, 2 February 2018

red rover

Kottke directs our attention to a small but truly breath-taking gallery of photographs that the semi- autonomous Martian rover Curiosity (previously) has amassed in the first two-thousand sols (the measure for the time it takes for the fourth planet to orbit the Sun, slightly longer than our mundane equivalent). It does given one pause to appreciate how sharp and clear these images (approaching half a million) beamed back are and that we can explore an alien world with such a degree of awe and intimacy that we might expect for remote yet very terrestrial terrains.