homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tags

kottke.org posts about space

The 40th Anniversary Edition of the Voyager Golden Record

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2016

Just launched on Kickstarter: a gorgeous reproduction of the Golden Record that was included on the Voyager space probes when we shot them into space almost 40 years ago. The records contained images and sounds from Earth that some extraterrestrial civilization may someday view and listen to.

The Voyager Golden Record contains the story of Earth expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth’s greatest music from myriad cultures and eras, from Bach and Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, Senegalese percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Dozens of natural sounds of our planet — birds, a train, a baby’s cry — are collaged into a lovely sound poem. There are spoken greetings in 55 human languages, and one whale language, and more than one hundred images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are.

This is so cool. When I was doing the packages with Quarterly, one of the ideas I had on my list was to replicate the Golden Record. The production values would have been a lot more limited than this effort and the rights issue is ultimately why I never pursued it:

The overwhelming majority of the funds raised from this historic reissue will go directly to the high production costs, licensing, and royalties incurred in creating this lavish box set.

See also the Contents of the Voyager Golden Record and The sounds of Voyager’s Golden Record.

We Work Remotely

Possible Earth-like planet discovered orbiting star nearest Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2016

Exoplanet Art

The scientific rumor mill is saying that astronomers in Chile have discovered an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting the star nearest Earth, Alpha Proxima, a mere 4.25 light years away. As they say, “huge if true”.

The hunt for exoplanets has been heating up in recent years. Since it began its mission in 2009, over four thousand exoplanet candidates have been discovered by the Kepler mission, several hundred of which have been confirmed to be “Earth-like” (i.e. terrestrial). And of these, some 216 planets have been shown to be both terrestrial and located within their parent star’s habitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks zone”).

But in what may prove to be the most exciting find to date, the German weekly Der Spiegel announced recently that astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, just 4.25 light-years away. Yes, in what is an apparent trifecta, this newly-discovered exoplanet is Earth-like, orbits within its sun’s habitable zone, and is within our reach. But is this too good to be true?

If you read the article, there’s cause for skepticism but an official announcement is coming next week so we’ll know for sure one way or the other.

The other cool thing? If there is a planet there, plans are already underway to build a project to get probes to nearby Alpha Centuri in 20 years, Project Starshot:

In the last decade and a half, rapid technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed. This involves a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts - miniature space probes attached to lightsails - to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch, and beam home images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields.

Perhaps they can redirect their target slightly?

Update: It appears as if the rumors were true. Phil Plait writing at Slate:

The planet, called Proxima Centauri b or just Proxima b (exoplanets are given their star’s name plus a lower case letter in order of discovery, starting with “b”), orbits Proxima every 11.2 days. It has a mass of no less than 1.3 times the Earth’s, so if it’s rock and metal like Earth it’s only a bit bigger. It’s a mere 7.3 million kilometers from the star-a lot closer than Earth’s distance from the Sun of 150 million kilometers!-but Proxima is so faint and cool it receives about two-thirds the amount of light and heat the Earth does. That means that it’s in Proxima’s habitable zone: It’s possible (more or less) that liquid water could exist on its surface.

That’s coooool.

The Perseid meteor shower should be great this year

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2016

Perseids

Every year, the Earth moves through the debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, resulting in the Perseid meteor shower. This year, the Earth is predicted to move through a particularly dense part of the comet’s wake, which may mean twice the number of shooting stars during this year’s shower. Here’s how to watch:

The best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn on the morning of Aug. 12. Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up. Increased activity may also be seen on Aug. 12-13.

I always find these directions confusing, so to be clear: the best viewing for the Perseids is the night of Aug 11 (Thu) into the morning of Aug 12 (Fri). Good luck!

A year-long time lapse of the Earth rotating in space

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2016

NASA recently released a time lapse video of the Earth constructed from over 3000 still photographs taken over the course of a year. The photos were taken by a camera mounted on the NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite, which is perched above the Earth at Lagrange point 1.

Wait, have we talked about Lagrange points yet? Lagrange points are positions in space where the gravity of the Sun and the Earth (or between any two large things) cancel each other out. The Sun and the Earth pull equally on objects at these five points.

L1 is about a million miles from Earth directly between the Sun and Earth and anything that is placed there will hover there relative to the Earth forever (course adjustments for complicated reasons aside). It is the perfect spot for a weather satellite with a cool camera to hang out, taking photos of a never-dark Earth. In addition to DSCOVR, at least five other spacecraft have been positioned at L1.

L2 is about a million miles from the Earth directly opposite L1. The Earth always looks dark from there and it’s mostly shielded from solar radiation. Five spacecraft have lived at L2 and several more are planned, including the sequel to the Hubble Space Telescope. Turns out that the shadow of the Earth is a good place to put a telescope.

L3 is opposite the Earth from the Sun, the 6 o’clock to the Earth’s high noon. This point is less stable than the other points because the Earth’s gravitational influence is very small and other bodies (like Venus) periodically pass near enough to yank whatever’s there out, like George Clooney strolling through a country club dining room during date night.

And quoting Wikipedia, “the L4 and L5 points lie at the third corners of the two equilateral triangles in the plane of orbit whose common base is the line between the centers of the [Earth and Sun]”. No spacecraft have ever visited these points, but they are home to some interplanetary dust and asteroid 2010 TK7, which orbits around L4. Cool! (via slate)

NASA extends the missions of nine spacecraft

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2016

While we’re on the subject, NASA announced late last week that they are extending the missions of nine spacecraft sprinkled about the solar system. Included are the New Horizon probe, which will wing off to study an object in the Kuiper Belt after doing so well with Pluto and the rover Opportunity, which was slated for a mission lasting just over 90 days but has now spent more than 12 years exploring the surface of Mars.

The Dawn mission to Ceres is another spacecraft whose duration has been extended, beating long odds. Part of the spacecraft’s functionality had not been working for some time, but was recently repaired.

It was a bit unexpected because Dawn is low on fuel. “Less than a year ago, I would have thought it was ridiculous that the spacecraft would even be operating at this point,” said Marc D. Rayman, the chief engineer for the Dawn mission.

The Dawn spacecraft was designed to use four spinning wheels to pivot in different directions. But at its previous destination, the asteroid Vesta, two of the four wheels overheated and failed. At Ceres, the wheels stayed off, and the spacecraft used its thrusters instead to pivot.

In December, Dawn reached its lowest orbit, just 240 miles above Ceres. Dr. Rayman said he and his team had expected Dawn to exhaust its remaining propellant by March.

But they spun up the wheels again. That succeeded, cutting the use of the thrusters. “It all worked out beautifully,” Dr. Rayman said. That left enough fuel to contemplate doing something more.

Juno successfully enters orbit around Jupiter

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2016

After a voyage from Earth lasting almost 5 years, the Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit late last night.

The engine burn was tense. 35 minutes is a long time for a spacecraft burn; after 20 minutes it had slowed Juno enough to be in orbit, but not the correct one. It had to continue for another 15 minutes to put the spacecraft on the correct orbit. It worked essentially perfectly. The burn time was off by just one second. That will have no real effect on the orbit.

The 35-minute burn slowed Juno down by more than 1200 mph.

NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2016

Launched from Earth in August 2011, the Juno probe is due to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Once there, it will circle Jupiter 37 times, observing its atmosphere and magnetic fields, before plunging into the giant planet so as not to contaminate Europa with microbes.

Juno’s principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.

With its suite of science instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras.

Juno will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system.

Science is great. That video? Maybe not so much.

Earth has a new(ish) quasi-moon

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 17, 2016

About a hundred years ago, a tiny asteroid making its way around the sun got caught in Earth’s gravity well. Now it’s locked in an irregular orbit far around our planet, between 38 and 100 times the distance between the Earth and its proper moon.

quasi-moon.JPG

As it orbits the sun, asteroid 2016 HO3 spends about half of the time closer to the sun than Earth, and passes ahead of our planet. The other half of the time it falls behind.

It’s also in a tilted orbit, which causes it to weave up and down on the orbital plane like a bob on choppy waters. As NASA’s Paul Chodas put it in a press statement, “In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth.”

In another couple of centuries, the asteroid will probably get far enough away that it’ll leave Earth behind forever. I wonder how many times this has happened — how many times the asteroids have been bigger, closer, but still not big or close enough to stay.

Gravity is the new light

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 16, 2016

Gravitational waves from two colliding black holes were first detected last September and announced in February. This week, the same science team announced a second wave detection of two smaller black holes in December.

If the first one confirmed the long-held predictions of general relativity, the new detections are a signal to get started on some all-new science.

A black hole’s gravity is so strong that even light can’t escape, so black holes are essentially impossible to see with telescopes. But they do give off gravitational waves.

“Light’s always been how we do astronomy,” Professor Jo Dunkley, an astrophysicist at Oxford University who didn’t work on the experiment, told BuzzFeed News. “Everything we know about space, we’ve got from light. This can show the stuff you can’t see with light.”

Counting black holes, combining telescope with gravitational measurements to better understand neutron stars, all the usual origin-of-the-universe stuff.

If gravitational waves don’t require cataclysmic collisions between enormous black holes for us to measure them, but can be detected on the regular, we can use them to try to figure out a whole lot more than just whether or not Einstein was totally right. That is a very nice tool to have in your pocket.

Space Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2016

Luc Bergeron’s Space Story is a mashup of more than 20 movies that take place in space, from Alien to Apollo 13 to 2001 to Star Trek to Moon. Stick with it for a couple minutes…it starts slow but gets going around then.

See also Star Wars x Star Trek: The Carbonite Maneuver.

Not many people have been in space

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2016

Earthrise

The Airbus A380 is currently the world’s largest passenger jet. Depending on the seating configuration, the A380 can carry anywhere from 400 to 615 passengers and is certified for up to 853 passengers.

As of November 2013, only 536 people have ever been in space (any flight above 100 kilometres).1The listing of their names on Wikipedia is shorter than the site’s page on Game of Thrones. Only 24 of those people left low Earth orbit (on the Apollo missions) and only 12 of those men set foot on the Moon. Seven of the moon walkers are still alive; they’re all in their 80s. Six people are currently in space.

We’ve been sending humans into space for 55 years. That’s an average of about 10 people per year if you don’t count repeats. Human space exploration is still very much in its infancy.

  1. You’ll also note this is fewer than the number of members of the US Congress. FYI, there are only five people who have been in space and served in Congress, two of whom went while serving in Congress.

What are the physical limits of humanity?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2016

A new video from Kurzgesagt explores the limits of human exploration in the Universe. How far can we venture? Are there limits? Turns out the answer is very much “yes”…with the important caveat “using our current understanding of physics”, which may someday provide a loophole (or wormhole, if you will). Chances are, humans will only be able to explore 0.00000000001% of the observable Universe.

This video is particularly interesting and packed with information, even by Kurzgesagt’s standards. The explanation of the Big Bang, inflation, dark matter, and expansion is concise and informative…the idea that the Universe is slowly erasing its own memory is fascinating.

Epic time lapse videos of Mercury’s transit of the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2016

About 13 times per century, the planets align in the heavens and the Earth can watch Mercury crossing the face of the Sun. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory was watching too and captured time lapse videos from several angles using various instruments measuring magnetism, visible light, and UV. The cosmic ballet goes on.

See also more from the SDO: a gorgeous time lapse of the Sun, a three-year video portrait of the Sun, and Thermonuclear Art.

A view of the Earth from the ISS in ultra high def 4K

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2016

Full-screen this baby on the biggest high-definition screen you can find. A 5K iMac works spectacularly well.

Launching a fleet of nano-probes toward nearest star

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2016

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, with the help of Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerburg, plans to launch a fleet of nano-probes1 toward a star close to our solar system, Alpha Centuri. The craft, outfitted with lightsails, will be pushed along to their destination in just 20 years by powerful lasers on Earth.

In the last decade and a half, rapid technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed. This involves a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts - miniature space probes attached to lightsails - to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch, and beam home images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields.

Breakthrough Starshot aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven nanocrafts, and lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Along the way, the project could generate important supplementary benefits to astronomy, including solar system exploration and detection of Earth-crossing asteroids.

The Atlantic and the NY Times have more information on the initiative.

  1. Sure, we can launch laser-powered nano-probes toward a distant star, but humanity still struggles with proper descriptive URLs.

An informative and entertaining look at space elevators

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2016

The latest video from Kurzgesagt is on space elevators. How would you build one? Why not just keep launching rockets into space instead? Would be easier to build one on the Moon first?

The next 100 years of humans in space

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2016

Integrated Space Plan

In 1989, a Rockwell engineer named Ron Jones published his Integrated Space Plan, a detailed outline of the next 100 years of human space travel, from continuing shuttle missions in the 1990s to the large scale habitation of Mars. The plan includes all sorts of futuristic and day-dreamy phrases like:

Create new moons for Mars if required
Humanity begins the transition from a terrestrial to a solar species
Humanity commands unlimited resources from the Moon and asteroids
Space drives global economy
Independent spacefaring human communities

Wired has a good look at how the plan came to be.

The graphic is divided into nine columns that show, in chronological order, the path toward human exploration of deep space. The center row of boxes, the “critical path,” outlines the major milestones Jones decided were attainable within the next century of space travel; the boxes to the left and right of the critical path are support elements that must be realized before anything on the critical path can happen. The Integrated Space Plan can be read top to bottom and left to right. The big circles intersecting the boxes are the the plan’s overarching long-range goals, which include things like Humanity begins the transition from a terrestrial to a solar species and Human expansion into the cosmos. In many ways, it’s a graphical to-do list.

The keen observer will note that we are waaaaay behind in the plan. A lunar outpost was supposed to be up and running before 2008 and a self-supporting lunar base is due to happen in the next year or two. Can Musk and Bezos get us back on track? (via @ftrain)

The Chart of Cosmic Exploration

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2016

Cosmic Exploration

A new print from Pop Chart Lab “traces the trajectories of every orbiter, lander, rover, flyby, and impactor to ever slip the surly bonds of Earth’s orbit and successfully complete its mission — a truly astronomical array of over 100 exploratory instruments in all.” Awesome. Basically, I am a sucker for things with curvy lines and planets.

Satellite view of a total eclipse

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2016

The Japanese satellite Himawari caught yesterday’s total solar eclipse as it moved across the Pacific Ocean.

Update: @paulmison sent along some better views of the eclipse: here and here. I tried to find a better YouTube embed, but no dice. This one, taken of the eclipse in Micronesia, is pretty amazing though…you can see the solar flares coming off the surface of the Sun as it reaches totality. Holy shit, I’m getting excited for Eclipsathon 2017!

The day we make first contact with another world (and they’re jerks)

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2016

First contact with an alien civilization will be a momentous event in the history of Earth. Unless the other civilization is kind of a dick. Tim Urban didn’t quite cover this scenario in his post about the Fermi Paradox.

Photos from a year in space

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2016

Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly

After nearly a year in space, astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will return from the ISS to Earth. During his stay in space, Kelly took hundreds of photographs and posted them to his Twitter account. You can view all the photos here or a selection of the best ones chosen by In Focus’ Alan Taylor.

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2016

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos is Konstantin Bronzit’s 15-minute short film nominated for a 2016 Academy Award in the animated short category. It is about two friends who dream of going into space together.

They’re best friends who revolve in the same centrifuge, swim in neighboring lanes, and read together at night. Their happiness and exuberance is infectious. It lifts the stone-faced scientists who track their progress; it even expresses itself in their space suits, which are winsomely shaped to accommodate their slightly different heads (one is square, the other rectangular). Even as they prepare for their high-tech journey, they embody old-fashioned, noble virtues: bravery, curiosity, strength, tenderness.

What’s it like in space?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2016

What's It Like In Space?

For her new book, Ariel Waldman asked dozens of astronauts about their experiences in space.

With playful artwork accompanying each, here are the real stories behind backwards dreams, “moon face,” the tricks of sleeping in zero gravity and aiming your sneeze during a spacewalk, the importance of packing hot sauce, and dozens of other cosmic quirks and amazements that come with travel in and beyond low Earth orbit.

Waldman is the co-creator of the very cool spaceprob.es.

Update: This book is now out, shipping, released…launched, if you will.

On the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2016

Today is the 30th anniversary of the final launch and subsequent catastrophic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Popular Mechanics has an oral history of the launch and aftermath.

Capano: We got the kids quiet, and then I remember that the line that came across the TV was “The vehicle has exploded.” One of the girls in my classroom said, “Ms. Olson [Capano’s maiden name], what do they mean by ‘the vehicle’?” And I looked at her and I said, “I think they mean the shuttle.” And she got very upset with me. She said, “No! No! No! They don’t mean the shuttle! They don’t mean the shuttle!”

Raymond: The principal came over the PA system and said something like, “We respectfully request that the media leave the building now. Now.” Some of the press left, but some of them took off into the school. They started running into the halls to get pictures, to get sound-people were crying, people were running. It was chaos. Some students started chasing after journalists to physically get them out of the school.

I have certainly read about Feynman’s O-ring demonstration during the investigation of the disaster, but I hadn’t heard this bit:

Kutyna: On STS-51C, which flew a year before, it was 53 degrees [at launch, then the coldest temperature recorded during a shuttle launch] and they completely burned through the first O-ring and charred the second one. One day [early in the investigation] Sally Ride and I were walking together. She was on my right side and was looking straight ahead. She opened up her notebook and with her left hand, still looking straight ahead, gave me a piece of paper. Didn’t say a single word. I look at the piece of paper. It’s a NASA document. It’s got two columns on it. The first column is temperature, the second column is resiliency of O-rings as a function of temperature. It shows that they get stiff when it gets cold. Sally and I were really good buddies. She figured she could trust me to give me that piece of paper and not implicate her or the people at NASA who gave it to her, because they could all get fired.

I wondered how I could introduce this information Sally had given me. So I had Feynman at my house for dinner. I have a 1973 Opel GT, a really cute car. We went out to the garage, and I’m bragging about the car, but he could care less about cars. I had taken the carburetor out. And Feynman said, “What’s this?” And I said, “Oh, just a carburetor. I’m cleaning it.” Then I said, “Professor, these carburetors have O-rings in them. And when it gets cold, they leak. Do you suppose that has anything to do with our situation?” He did not say a word. We finished the night, and the next Tuesday, at the first public meeting, is when he did his O-ring demonstration.

We were sitting in three rows, and there was a section of the shuttle joint, about an inch across, that showed the tang and clevis [the two parts of the joint meant to be sealed by the O-ring]. We passed this section around from person to person. It hit our row and I gave it to Feynman, expecting him to pass it on. But he put it down. He pulled out pliers and a screwdriver and pulled out the section of O-ring from this joint. He put a C-clamp on it and put it in his glass of ice water. So now I know what he’s going to do. It sat there for a while, and now the discussion had moved on from technical stuff into financial things. I saw Feynman’s arm going out to press the button on his microphone. I grabbed his arm and said, “Not now.” Pretty soon his arm started going out again, and I said, “Not now!” We got to a point where it was starting to get technical again, and I said, “Now.” He pushed the button and started the demonstration. He took the C-clamp off and showed the thing does not bounce back when it’s cold. And he said the now-famous words, “I believe that has some significance for our problem.” That night it was all over television and the next morning in the Washington Post and New York Times. The experiment was fantastic-the American public had short attention spans and they didn’t understand technology, but they could understand a simple thing like rubber getting hard.

I never talked with Sally about it later. We both knew what had happened and why it had happened, but we never discussed it. I kept it a secret that she had given me that piece of paper until she died [in 2012].

Whoa, dang. Also not well known is that the astronauts survived the initial explosion and were possibly alive and conscious when they hit the water two and a half minutes later.

Over the December holiday, I read 10:04 by Ben Lerner (quickly, recommended). The novel includes a section on the Challenger disaster and how very few people saw it live:

The thing is, almost nobody saw it live: 1986 was early in the history of cable news, and although CNN carried the launch live, not that many of us just happened to be watching CNN in the middle of a workday, a school day. All other major broadcast stations had cut away before the disaster. They all came back quickly with taped replays, of course. Because of the Teacher in Space Project, NASA had arranged a satellite broadcast of the mission into television sets in many schools — and that’s how I remember seeing it, as does my older brother. I remember tears in Mrs. Greiner’s eyes and the students’ initial incomprehension, some awkward laughter. But neither of us did see it: Randolph Elementary School in Topeka wasn’t part of that broadcast. So unless you were watching CNN or were in one of the special classrooms, you didn’t witness it in the present tense.

Oh, the malleability of memory. I remember seeing it live too, at school. My 7th grade English teacher permanently had a TV in her room and because of the schoolteacher angle of the mission, she had arranged for us to watch the launch, right at the end of class. I remember going to my next class and, as I was the first student to arrive, telling the teacher about the accident. She looked at me in disbelief and then with horror as she realized I was not the sort of kid who made terrible stuff like that up. I don’t remember the rest of the day and now I’m doubting if it happened that way at all. Only our classroom and a couple others watched it live — there wasn’t a specially arranged whole-school event — and I doubt my small school had a satellite dish to receive the special broadcast anyway. Nor would we have had cable to get CNN…I’m not even sure cable TV was available in our rural WI town at that point. So…?

But, I do remember the jokes. The really super offensive jokes. The jokes actually happened. Again, from 10:04:

I want to mention another way information circulated through the country in 1986 around the Challenger disaster, and I think those of you who are more or less my age will know what I’m talking about: jokes. My brother, who is three and a half years older than I, would tell me one after another as we walked to and from Randolph Elementary that winter: Did you know that Christa McAuliffe was blue-eyed? One blew left and one blew right; What were Christa McAuliffe’s last words to her husband? You feed the kids — I’ll feed the fish; What does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronauts; How do they know what shampoo Christa McAuliffe used? They found her head and shoulders. And so on: the jokes seemed to come out of nowhere, or to come from everywhere at once; like cicadas emerging from underground, they were ubiquitous for a couple of months, then disappeared. Folklorists who study what they call ‘joke cycles’ track how — particularly in times of collective anxiety — certain humorous templates get recycled, often among children.

At the time, I remember these jokes being hilarious1 but also a little horrifying. Lerner continues:

The anonymous jokes we were told and retold were our way of dealing with the remainder of the trauma that the elegy cycle initiated by Reagan-Noonan-Magee-Hicks-Dunn-C.A.F.B. (and who knows who else) couldn’t fully integrate into our lives.

Reminds me of how children in Nazi ghettos and concentration camps dealt with their situation by playing inappropriate games.

Even in the extermination camps, the children who were still healthy enough to move around played. In one camp they played a game called “tickling the corpse.” At Auschwitz-Birkenau they dared one another to touch the electric fence. They played “gas chamber,” a game in which they threw rocks into a pit and screamed the sounds of people dying.

  1. Also, does anyone remember the dead baby jokes? They were all the rage when I was a kid. There were books of them. “Q: What do you call a dead baby with no arms and no legs laying on a beach? A: Sandy.” And we thought they were funny as hell.

Two Saturnian moons, lined up

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2016

Saturn Two Moons

The Cassini spacecraft took a photo of two moons of Saturn, Tethys and Enceladus, beautifully aligned with each other. The cosmic ballet goes on. (via slate)

The sizes of solar systems

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2015

As of last month, 685 multi-planet solar systems (with 1705 planets) have been discovered outside our own. This video shows the relative sizes of those systems compared to ours. Please note:

The size of the orbits are all to scale, but the size of the planets are not. For example, Jupiter is actually 11x larger than Earth, but that scale makes Earth-size planets almost invisible (or Jupiters annoyingly large).

(via @daveg)

Unusual views of Jupiter

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2015

When you see photos of Jupiter, they’re almost always the of same view: the north pole at the top, the gaseous bands perfectly horizontal, and the Red Spot somewhere in the mix. But @robdubbin reminds us that there are other ways of looking at Jupiter. Here’s a view of the planet’s southern hemisphere:

Jupiter

And the northern hemisphere:

Jupiter

If you take photos of the whole of Jupiter’s surface and stretch it out flat, you get something like this:

Jupiter Flat Map

That last one in particular is worth checking out at full resolution. (via @tcarmody)

Best views yet of Pluto

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2015

Pluto New Horizons Closest

NASA’s New Horizons probe has sent back the first of the sharpest images of Pluto it took during its July flyby of the planet.1

These latest images form a strip 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide on a world 3 billion miles away. The pictures trend from Pluto’s jagged horizon about 500 miles (800 kilometers) northwest of the informally named Sputnik Planum, across the al-Idrisi mountains, over the shoreline of Sputnik, and across its icy plains.

View the new image at high resolution here or watch a video scroll of the imagery:

  1. Oh yes, I went there. Bring it, NDT.

Space miniatures

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2015

Mini Space

Mini Space

Mini Space

Using a tilt-shift effect, St. Tesla created miniature versions of galaxies, nebula, and supernovas. So cute!

A final test of relativity

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2015

A European Space Agency probe will be launched into space early next month to help test the last major prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity: the existence of gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves are thought to be hurled across space when stars start throwing their weight around, for example, when they collapse into black holes or when pairs of super-dense neutron stars start to spin closer and closer to each other. These processes put massive strains on the fabric of space-time, pushing and stretching it so that ripples of gravitational energy radiate across the universe. These are gravitational waves.

The Lisa Pathfinder probe won’t measure gravitational waves directly, but will test equipment that will be used for the final detector.

LISA Pathfinder will pave the way for future missions by testing in flight the very concept of gravitational wave detection: it will put two test masses in a near-perfect gravitational free-fall and control and measure their motion with unprecedented accuracy. LISA Pathfinder will use the latest technology to minimise the extra forces on the test masses, and to take measurements. The inertial sensors, the laser metrology system, the drag-free control system and an ultra-precise micro-propulsion system make this a highly unusual mission.

(via @daveg)