It’s a case of actual science passing into the realm of myth. What began as an amazing astronomical affair is now an annoying astronomical aftermath. It’s the “Opposition of Mars this coming August 27th.” Perhaps you got the email? Well the situation is like this…
Every 26 months Mars and Earth are in opposition, meaning that you could draw a (nearly) straight line between the Sun, Earth, and Mars. Although Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle, if you could see one entire orbit, traced out over an entire year, you would be hard-pressed to tell that it wasn’t a perfect circle. The same can not be said for Mars. Mars has a nontrivial orbital eccentricity — where the term “eccentricity” is a measure of how “out-of-round” an orbit is. So if you could see the orbits of both Earth and Mars traced out, it would look a little like a hard-boiled egg cut down its long axis.
Thomas Alva Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.” We recently saw a fine example of this in a field in which Edison’s quip may prove increasingly true.
It turns out that group of 8th Graders have discovered what appears to be a “skylight” — a caved-in lava tube–on Mars. This isn’t the first such discovery, but they’re not overly common, either. The students’ work was done as part of the Mars Student Imaging Project through Arizona State University. The program allows students, 5th graders through college sophomores, to pose a question about Mars and then have a Mars-orbiting spacecraft take the observations necessary to answer it. The team that found the skylight was from Evergreen Elementary School in Cottonwood, CA, and initially they sought to examine erosional features on Martian Volcanoes, in particular Pavonis Mons (at right) one of the Tharsis Volcanoes.
Where is the smelliest place in the Solar System?
Where are there snowballs in Hell?
Where is the surfing the most extreme, dude?
If you’re extremely intrigued by those questions, I’m extremely excited to announce an extremely interesting book coming this Fall, written by two extremely fascinating gentlemen. It’s The 50 Most Extreme Places in the Solar System by Dave Baker and Todd Ratcliff. Like any good scientist, I’ll admit my bias up front: the authors were graduate students with me at UCLA. Still, both of them are extremely knowledgeable and I’ve no doubt that the book will be extremely fun and interesting and…
…I’ve overdone the running gag to the extreme.
The one fact in Deep Impact that we can all agree on is that we should not allow the Earth to get hit by a large meteor. Depending on its size, it could potentially destroy anything from a city to the entire planet. And nations it doesn’t destroy outright would still have to deal with big atmospheric and weather problems caused by dust and debris. General badness all around.
Where common sense and the film divide is just how best to dodge an oncoming meteor. I wrote a while back on the idea of painting one side of the asteroid black while beaming heat onto it, causing the asteroid to shift course. It’s a neat idea, but not nearly as neat as the gravity tractor, not just because this approach is more elegant, but because there’s a British company called EADS Astrium that announced last week that they could actually build one if it were needed.
The idea for the tug first proposed by NASA scientists Edward Lu and Stanley Love in a paper in Nature in 2005. The pair realized that sure, we could change an asteroid’s course by docking a rocket onto the asteroid and pushing it, but landing on an asteroid is really hard: The asteroid is an extremely fast-moving target, and often it rotates asymmetrically around its axis, meaning that a lumpy part of the asteroid could smash a relatively teeny rocket in its rotational path. But, the scientists argued, the spaceship could hover 200 meters or more above the asteroid and use their mutual gravitational attraction to form a “towline” between the two. Then ship could use its own propulsion to slowly pull the asteroid to another course. It would have to push very gently to avoid breaking the bond and flying away, but over the course of 15 to 20 years, the asteroid could be persuaded to miss our planet.
For those of you who couldn’t make it to San Diego last week, Discovermagazine.com and the National Academy of Sciences’ Science & Entertainment Exchange present our panel discussion on “Mad Science,” featuring Jaime Paglia (co-Executive Producer of Eureka), Kevin Grazier (Battlestar Galactica and Eureka science adviser), Jane Espenson (Dollhouse, Battlestar, Caprica, and lots more), Ricardo Gil da Costa (science adviser for Fringe), and Rob Chiappetta and Glenn Whitman (writers for Fringe).
Big thanks to Jennifer at SEE, to all of our panelists, and to the Bad Astronomer, who found time to moderate our panel while he wasn’t partying with Hollywood starlets (Phil – we kid because we love).
Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey is an animated film that makes use of data from NASA’s Cassini mission. The movie tells the story of Dave, a solar surfing photo who battles his way through the solar system to save the Cassini probe from evil aliens.
Twelve years in the making, Quantum Quest has cycled through at least a couple of voice casts. At last year’s Comic Con Quantum Quest panel, producer Harry “Doc” Kloor, a scientist and veteran science fiction writer, announced that he had lined up Digimax Inc., a Taiwanese animation studio, as his partner to finish the film.
At this year’s panel, featuring Bob Picardo, Doug Jones andJanina Gavankar, Kloor announced that the movie will see wide release in February 2010 and will include actual Cassini images, including Enceladus and Titan.
In memory of Karl Malden, who passed away last week at the age of 97, Hero Complex digs up this trailer for 1979’s “Meteor“, one of “the last and least regarded films from the 1970’s disaster genre.”
So, without further ado, here is what it would have looked like if a large object hit the Earth, during the 70’s, and many, many movie stars from that era (including Malden, Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Brian Keith from Family Affair and a presidential Henry Fonda) had to run around reacting to it.
Kevin Grazier is, among other things, the science advisor to Battlestar Galactica. With the show wrapping up tonight, Science Not Fiction talked to him about some of the science behind the science fiction. Warning — unless you’ve seen the finale, what follows below contains LOTS OF SPOILERS!
Imagine an asteroid, hurtling toward the Earth. A really big one, a kilometer across, weighing millions of tons. In fact, don’t even imagine, watch this video for a simulation. Bad news, right? What to do? If time is really short, we may need to fire up the nuclear weapons in a desperate bid to either destroy the asteroid or alter its direction, but emphasis on the word desperate. It’s a long shot that it will help at all.
But hopefully we’ll have some more time than that, maybe on the order of 40 or 50 years. Then we can make plans. In How I saved the World, Valentin Ivanov’s short story from Diamonds in the Sky, a heroic team of astronauts are living on the surface of an asteroid called “The Hammer” and…painting it black. Read More
Last week we mentioned the release of the hard-science fiction Diamonds In The Sky online anthology, edited by Mike Brotherton. Science Not Fiction is going to be looking at some of the individual stories over the next few weeks, and we decided to kick off with one co-written by our old pal, Kevin Grazier and Ges Seger. Because the story, Planet Killer, is a cosmic whodunnit, we’ll leave our discussion below the jump: come back when you’ve read it!