Thursday, 22 June 2017

meridian planum

Though only meant to survey the Martian landscape for a mere ninety days, thirteen years on the rover Opportunity is still exploring the Red Planet and sending back telemetry and some pretty stunning vistas.
This view from the Endeavour impact crater is absolutely astounding, and the twenty-two kilometre in circumference canyon was named for a Canadian township officially, but it is itself an homage to the ship of Lieutenant James Cook’s vessel of exploration to Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. There’s a lot to be said for such technological resiliency and the audacity of a few select engineers is something to respect. Visit the link above for a curated gallery of Opportunity’s amazing photography.

Sunday, 27 November 2016


miracle on thirty-sixth street: the tangled story of the popularisation of Christmas lights by a Thomas Edison hanger-on, via Strange Company

ground level ozone: following Rotterdam, Beijing has installed an air-pollution scrubbing tower that is improving atmospheric quality and reducing smog, via Nag on the Lake 
gentlemen only, ladies forbidden: for a taste of what a Trump administration might mean for America, one should look to his golf resort in Scotland, via Boing Boing

biomediated structures: Martian rover Spirit has stumbled across a landscape that looks a lot like terrestrial hot springs and may be a sign of ancient life

facepalm: an illustrated 1644 treatise aims to codify the universal language of hand gestures

eat an apple every day then see the doctor anyway: an appreciation of the art of the fruit sticker plus a calendar for this ephemera that might encourage healthier eating habits

Thursday, 11 August 2016

yestersol, solmorrow

My Modern Met expertly curates a gallery out of the cache of a thousand just recently transmitted from the Mars Recon- naissance Orbiter that really highlights the diversity of the terrain. This dunescape, incidentally, is provisionally called Tleilax, after the fictional planet from the Dune Universe where rogue Mentats were trained in forbidden, machine-like thinking. This alien geometry of the Red Planet is surpassingly beautiful without even considering the unknown forces behind it. Be sure to check out the link to discover more images or explore the entire HiRise catalog.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

here there be robots

I am pouring over this highly detailed map of the topography of Mars, deftly executed by hand by the graphic artist Eleanor Lutz, in the style of late Middle Ages surveyors—like the Mappa Mundi of Hereford Cathedral.
“Here there be robots” refers to the landing sites (or ranges) for the various probes sent to explore the Red Planet, echoing the phrases “here there be Dragons” (hic sunt dracones—which only appears once and on a globe) or the more common “here there be Tygers” and the widespread practise of fulling in terra incognito with sea serpents and other terrible beasts, though the surface of Mars seems to be a place relatively accessible to us. The map even includes histories on the place names and a table of geographic terrestrial equivalents, off-world features generally taking Latin nomenclature.

Friday, 8 January 2016

offworld or freemasonry

The always fascinating BLDGBlog reports that a group of researchers have discovered how to create construction materials for future colonists on Mars using native building blocks in an environment apparently devoid of water. Heating sulphur to the point of liquefaction, it is mixed with soil to produce Martian concrete. The resulting bricks are relatively easy, light but sturdy, to use and are infinitely recyclable—in addition to being far less of a logistics investment in bringing supplies from home. Earthling settlers, given the weaker gravity of the planet, might be free to create impossibly ambitious cathedrals to exploration and discovery.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

life on mars or gulp and gulf

Researchers are intrigued by little belches in highly localised areas of the Martian crater that the Curiosity Rover is exploring. This venting may be due to some unknown geological arrangement or could be an indication of the methanogenesis of ancient or existing microbial life just under the planet’s surface. Scientists are cautiously optimistic and indeed this is exciting news, but I wonder how an alien researcher might observe our own gassy world.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

campus martius or thunderbirds are go

The successful landing of the Martian rover, Curiosity, is an outstandingly impressive accomplishment in itself, but the speculation and wonder to follow are to boast, I think, even bigger triumphs of the imagination and engineering. Despite all the creative practice that writers of fantasy and science-fiction have delivered over the decades, a wonderful range and vocabulary to describe what alien life might be like, the universe is still not granting to humans the license to be prepared or even to not overlook, not recognize it when it is there. It would be equally novel and significant, surely too, if there was no evidence of life, past or present.

 A full complement of sensors and gauges is there to divine for water and peer closely into the soil, after our own biases, and this array of equipment represents the best that technology can produce and ought to certainly find some trace and something unexpected. Not to discount the capacity for imagination and resourceful, but we’ve really nothing of precedent to compare this to—European explorers, perhaps, mistaking the Americas for the coasts of India or dinosaur fossils for dragons, other personifications and prejudices, and it’s hard to hold the human mind to any standard and disabuse anticipations. There may be no shadow or pale in evidence, a footprint or channel, visible, sequences and chemistries may not happen in human-sized time, and it could be a dreamy, escaping contagion, possessing or inspired, that do resemble the supremely unaccountable and unexplainable lunacies that are described in myth and lore and their modern incantations of magical-thinking or science-fiction, like the Colour Out of Space (DE) or the Andromeda Strain (DE). I also wonder about how scientific systems of classification might be re-enforced or upset: would a genus or family be a coherent and valid idea elsewhere? Would like kinds necessarily be present and identifiable, or only individuals or colonies? What would that do for our sense of order and predictability and want to catalogue and name things? Come what may, this mission promises discovery and may show that curiosity is insatiate.

Friday, 19 November 2010

flying dutchman or space ghost coast-to-coast

As the BBC reports, astronomers from the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg have discovered the first exo-planet that seems to have originated outside of the Milky Way galaxy. Researchers believed that this planet, found in orbit around an ancient star in a stellar stream, formed before its host dwarf galaxy was absorbed by our own. These wispy bands of red giants are the remnants of once independent galactic bodies. Nothing yet, as with all distant planets, can be determined about is composition, nor is there reason to believe that it would betray any kind of departure from the imagined and the expected, as if anything could be safely assumed about alien worlds--rather, it is more evidence of the abundance of stars hosting planets. It also reminds me of the Martian meteor found in the 1980s in Antarctica. Without even addressing questions of extra-planetary biogenesis and whether the imprints on the rocks surface are fossils, just the fact that material could be ejected or otherwise shrugged off of Mars and travel through space and be captured by Earth's gravity to be found later by rock-hounds at the bottom of the world, just seems amazing and almost lyrical, purposeful and mysterious all at once.

Friday, 15 January 2010

jamming good with Weird & Gilly

Last week NASA released some photographs of the Martian terrain on sand dunes that look like they are covered with sagebrush.  This, however, is the result of shadows of sublimating crystalline pillars of dry ice frost now that it is spring time on Mars.  Even if it is sort of an optical illusion, it far surpasses the shadow that looks like a human face on Mars or a contrived Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich.  It seems a shame that there is all that unused real estate, by man or beast or sometging unimaginable on the other planets.  The only news on Mars, we would say, is when we send out rockets and robots there, or when those comets hurled into Jupiter.