Tag: Spirit

No, that's not a picture of a double sunset on Mars

By Phil Plait | August 13, 2012 12:52 pm

So Curiosity’s been on the Martian surface for a week, and we’re already seeing faked images touted as being real. The other day it was a more-or-less honest mistake of people spreading around a computer-generated view from Mars – originally meant just to show what the skyline looked like from there – thinking it was real.

Now though, we have what’s clearly an actual fake. Here’s the shot, getting passed around on various Tumblrs:

Now, I’ll note it’s not crazy to think this shot might be real; the Sun is very bright and in many cameras you can get reflections inside the optics, causing this double-Sun effect. It happens all the time. So you wouldn’t really be seeing two suns setting – just one real one and one that’s an internal reflection.

But that’s not what’s going on here, as I knew right away. That’s because I’m familiar with this picture:

That shot is also of the sunset, but it really is from Mars! It was taken by the Spirit rover in May 2005, a spectacular shot of the Sun setting over the Martian landscape.

And that’s where you’ll find the proof of double-sunset-fakery. Compare the double-sunset picture with the real one from Spirit, and you’ll see the profile of the landscape on the horizon is exactly the same. Clearly, the double-sunset pic was faked, adding in the second Sun. In fact, you can see that both images of the "Sun" in the double sunset picture don’t match the real one. In other words, both images of the Sun were faked.

Also, I couldn’t help but think the faked Sun images looked kinda familiar to me as well. Recognize them? Perhaps the picture here will help place them. Clearly, the faker must have come from some wretched hive of scum and villainy.

It may be this picture was created as a joke and got out into the wild, or maybe it was done on purpose to fool people. As usual with things like this, tracing it back to the original is a bit tough (though the Martian skyline picture from earlier was able to be pedigreed). I’ve seen it on several sites now, and I’ve gotten email and tweets about it. It was easy to debunk, so why not?

I don’t know if this image will go viral like the previous unreal one did; this is so obviously hoaxed that it may not have the same sort of traction. Still, it sometimes helps to get ahead of the curve here, and dowse these things with reality before they spread out of hand.

So if you see someone posting that image, send ‘em here. That way, we will crush the hoaxers with one swift stroke.

Image Credits: Mars sunset: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell; Tatooine: Uncle Owen’s Wedding Photography Service (now defunct).


Related Posts:

- An unreal Mars skyline
- Gallery: Curiosity’s triumphant first week on Mars
- Astronomers discover a wretched hive of scum and villainy
- Hoagland = lose

NASA lets go of Spirit

By Phil Plait | May 25, 2011 6:13 am

After nearly a year of trying to reestablish communications with the Spirit Mars rover, NASA has decided to suspend efforts. For all intent and purpose, Spirit is dead.

The rover sent its last message in March of 2010, and it was hoped that as Martian summer dawned at Spirit’s location, the solar cells might absorb enough energy to reawaken the plucky explorer. However, repeated attempts over several months have yielded no joy. And now, just months away from the launch of the much more ambitious "Curiosity" Mars Science Laboratory — a golfcart-sized rover with better range and instrumentation than any previous mission — communications satellites and Mars orbiters NASA uses to work with Spirit need to be transitioned to MSL.

This makes me sad, of course: Spirit was an amazing machine. But I have to admit, that sadness is offset by the incredible accomplishments of the rover. Designed to last for three months, Spirit kept on roving for over six years. Imagine having a car, a computer, that lasted for 25 times the warranty!

Or living to be 1500 years old. How much could you accomplish in that time?

Spirit’s made good use of its lifespan.

So while I’m sad about this, I know (as I wrote when we lost communication with Spirit last year) that this robot is one of the most successful NASA missions of all time. It’s hard not to anthropomorphize our work sometimes, and I think it’s appropriate to be sad. But I’m also very happy that Spirit could do what it did. It was a triumph of human engineering, human cleverness, and the very human need to explore what’s around the next corner… even when that corner is a hundred million kilometers away.


Related posts:

- Spirit is willing, but the metal is weak
- Sunset on Mars
- xkcd has the Spirit

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Piece of mind
MORE ABOUT: Mars, Spirit

Martian soda water, on the rocks

By Phil Plait | June 10, 2010 7:47 pm

Wow, that’s like three puns in one title.

spirit_comancheAnyway, scientists have revealed they have found large amounts of carbonates (minerals containing CO3 in them) in rocks on Mars. That’s kind of a big deal: it’s been expected that a lot of rocks would have this compound in them, because there’s lots of carbon dioxide afoot there, and plenty of evidence that Mars was once wet. Those two ingredients lead to carbonates. Yet the rocks looked at closely by the rovers have been strangely devoid of them.

For the rover Opportunity it’s not all that strange; the water on that part of Mars was acidic, and that makes carbonates tough to form. But Spirit is on the other side of the planet, and it was expected it would find carbonates all over the place. Well, turns out it finally has. Some rocks it examined back in 2005 are loaded with carbonates, but it took this long to figure that out because dust that got in the instrument on the rover screwed things up. The scientists had to do some heroic work to tease the data out.

At this point we’ve pretty much exhausted my knowledge of this, but happily we have access to Emily Lakdawalla and her blog, where she goes into detail about the rocks, talking to a scientist involved in all this, too. So go over there and get the rest of this interesting story.

And when you’re over there, don’t forget: we’re talking about a whole planet here. A world. And it was once warmer, wetter, with a thicker atmosphere. Sure, it was over a billion years ago, but it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on Mars when thinking about Earth. There but for the grace of random chance go us.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science

xkcd has the Spirit

By Phil Plait | January 29, 2010 9:27 am

xkcd_spiritToday’s xkcd comic takes a somewhat different stance on the plight of Spirit than I did.

Still, it’s funny how we anthropomorphize objects, especially when they are vaguely human or animal looking. Especially if they’re cute. And Spirit is very cute.

Who’s a good rover? Hmmm? You are! You’re a good rover!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, NASA
MORE ABOUT: Spirit, xkcd

Spirit is willing, but the metal is weak

By Phil Plait | January 27, 2010 10:30 am

spiritIn a press conference yesterday, NASA and JPL scientists announced that the Mars rover Spirit is stuck. The little-spaceprobe-that-could has been trapped in the sand near a crater called Troy for almost a year now, and for that time has been doing little or no science; instead, engineers have been trying to figure out how to get the rover unstuck. After all that time, NASA has decided to throw in the towel. Martian winter is coming for Spirit, and they are now focusing on getting it positioned so that it can survive the coming drop in temperature.

Three notes:

1) This doesn’t mean Spirit is dead! If they are able to get it set up to survive the winter (mainly by tilting it toward the Sun so the solar panels can collect energy) then once it’s revived it will still be able to do plenty of science from where it is. After all, it’s a laboratory sitting on another world. I imagine there’s lots of stuff the scientists can do with it.

2) Emily Lakdawalla, as usual, has the details of all this on The Planetary Society blog, including some evidence-based speculation that it’s NASA calling the shots here and not JPL, which controls the rover.

3) We have to remember something rather important: when the two rovers (Opportunity is the other, which is still running fine on the other side of the planet) landed on Mars, they had a planned operational lifetime of 90 days.

That was in January 2004.

In other words, Spirit has been on Mars for over 2200 days, and even counting when it first got stuck, it still ran well for more than 20 times its nominal lifespan. Cars these days have a standard warranty for 7 years; how’d you like yours to run for 140 years?

So for me, while this news is not great, it has to be put in context: Spirit is one of the most successful NASA missions of all time. And its sister, Opportunity, is still running like a champ. I hope I’ll be doing as well when I’m 1400 years old.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Space
MORE ABOUT: Mars, Spirit

Weekend spaciness

By Phil Plait | October 19, 2008 9:30 am

1) The new Carnival of Space is up at Lab Lemming’s tent, and it’s a BIG tent.

2) Emily has news that Phobos is a bit lighter than previously thought. What a pile.

3) Emily also has some nifty new MESSENGER images explained. I’ve been too lazy to deal with that.

4) Tom notes that HiRISE spotted Spirit on Mars. Massively embiggenated version is here.

4) This is dumb. So why did it make me smile so much? Oh right: I’m a dork.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Humor, SciFi

Speaking of dumb Mars claims…

By Phil Plait | January 21, 2008 3:00 pm

Welcome Farkers! Well, everyone but aerojockey.

Wow, some antiscience claims are so weird it’s a wonder anyone can take them seriously.

Take this blog post about the image here, for example. In just a few words, it manages to get nearly everything wrong. A lot of it is in Japanese, but some is in English:

A man is in the photograph which the Mars explorer Spirit (it stopped transmitting data in 2004) sent.

First, puhlllleeeeze. A man? It’s a tiny rock only a few inches high. It’s only a few feet from the rover! Here’s the image from NASA. As usual for antiscience nonsense, they point to a press release image with no indication of when it was taken, or what the original image is. There are thousands of Spirit images, and I have little desire to comb through them looking for this one (though it appears to be early in the mission; it’s still on the landing accouterments).

Second, Spirit stopped transmitting data in 2004? Well, kinda. It did stop, but then it started again. We’re still getting good stuff from both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars. The blog post seems to phrase it that way on purpose, to make it sound like Something Mysterious Happened.

Now, I don’t read Japanese, so this may be a misunderstanding on my part. Are they just pointing out something funny looking? Maybe. FWIW, the site appears to be about weird images and such. But I see so much of this, and there is no lower limit to the dumbosity of such claims, that it just makes sense to figure on the lowest common denominator.

Anyway, the image itself is, of course, yet another example of pareidolia, our ability to see patterns in random shapes. That does look like a guy hanging out on Mars, enjoying the 0.01 Earth atmospheric pressure, the 98% CO2 air, the subfreezing cold, and of course, just being four inches tall. Martians are pretty short, it seems. And patient, given its pose.


Tip o’ the tin foil beanie to BABloggee piotr slisz.

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