Three Month Tour

NASA today officially declared Spirit dead. I am sad, really sad. Spirit, along with Opportunity, landed on Mars over 6 years ago with a mission plan of 3 months. Spirit would still be going except he got stuck and couldn’t get into position to keep enough power to last through the bitter cold Martian winter. After over an Earth year of no contact, they ceased attempts to get him to contact.

Spirit last communicated on March 22, 2010, as Martian winter approached and the rover’s solar-energy supply declined. The rover operated for more than six years after landing in January 2004 for what was planned as a three-month mission. NASA checked frequently in recent months for possible reawakening of Spirit as solar energy available to the rover increased during Martian spring. A series of additional re-contact attempts ended today, designed for various possible combinations of recoverable conditions.


Spirit drove 4.8 miles (7.73 kilometers), more than 12 times the goal set for the mission. The drives crossed a plain to reach a distant range of hills that appeared as mere bumps on the horizon from the landing site; climbed slopes up to 30 degrees as Spirit became the first robot to summit a hill on another planet; and covered more than half a mile (nearly a kilometer) after Spirit’s right-front wheel became immobile in 2006. The rover returned more than 124,000 images. It ground the surfaces off 15 rock targets and scoured 92 targets with a brush to prepare the targets for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.

“What’s really important is not only how long Spirit worked or how far Spirit drove, but also how much exploration and scientific discovery Spirit accomplished,” Callas said.

As some one else said before I could (dangit!):

So long, Spirit, and thanks for the data.

Mount Wilson Observatory

Phew! After several days of nail biting, the Mount Wilson Observatory has been declared saved.

The fires in California have caused a lot of damage. In its path is/was the Mount Wilson Observatory and the 22 radio, television, and cell phone towers. Even the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was threatened, although the fires did not get that close. Smoke was a bigger problem there and resulted in the JPL being left empty except for absolute essential mission staff. It is awesome that the fire fighters took such good care of the observatory and had made it a high priority. Not just were very very expensive equipment at risk, but also communication towers and scientific studies. We here in WNC witnessed the mess a down tower can cause. It was either during the Blizzard of ’93 or during Hurricane Opal that a huge tower went down. The support cables cleared several acres of trees when they snapped and whipped around. It took a long time to repair. Even longer for one of the local public radio stations to get back on the air with their original coverage. It was several years before they had a permanent solution to their tower problems.

I followed the news about the observatory via the Planetary Society’s bloggers.

(in chronological order)
The Station Fire is near JPL and even closer to Mt. Wilson
Station Fire update: Mount Wilson Observatory still there, but still under threat
Station fire update: Mount Wilson safe, ready for “another hundred years” of science

You can also find news articles at Google News.

More on Space and Time

Innocent me (stop laughing, Kev) decided to read an article on Hubble (“Is Hubble Worth the Upgrade Mission’s Risk and Cost?“) over on LiveScience. There’s a bunch of links down at the bottom of the article (below the poll) and one of them linked to a article “Why the Universe is All History” which deals with the light/time issue that I brought up earlier.

This article discusses the issue well, although it still hurt some to read it then try to grasp the concepts. The first bit of the article is what caused a big AHA! moment for me. I bolded the section that I like the most.

It took 300 years of experiment and calculation to pin down the speed at which light travels in a vacuum: an impressive 186,282 miles per second.

Light will travel slightly slower than this through air, and some wild experiments have actually slowed light to a crawl and seemingly made it go backward, but at the scales encountered in our everyday lives, light is so fast that we perceive our surroundings in real time.

Look up into the night sky and this illusion begins to falter.

Cool. So because the light here is slower (in galactic terms) what we see right now is in real time. The article continues by saying the moon’s (reflected) light is 1.2 seconds old when we see it. When we look at the closest star system (Proxima Centauri), the light from it that we perceive is 4 years old.

Where I went lost earlier is that in bringing Proxima Centauri closer via the telescope, we aren’t necessarily looking at its 3 yr old light vs the 4. The “age” of the light hasn’t changed because we’ve not moved. The telescope lens only brings that perceived light into better focus. No matter how big a telescope we make, we’ll only ever see 4 yr old light from that star system.

What is happening with bigger telescopes–and the telescopes in space–we are seeing further away and therefore, seeing further back into time. We can now see galaxies that are so far away, their light is billions of years old. We’ve not moved toward it, only been able to bring space into better focus. And that focus is getting better and better.

Brain Cells vs Space Time Continuum Thingy

Guess which one won?

Okay, so I get that when we look at starlight, it is starlight that first left the star a long time ago. I get that. The star could be blown up into smithereens but we don’t know that yet because the light from it hasn’t gotten here yet. I get that, too. The following is from a LiveScience article about a “Giant ‘Blob’ Found in Outer Space“. It’s a cool article with puzzling questions with no answers. Yet.

A strange giant space “blob” spotted when the universe was relatively young has got astronomers puzzled. Using space and ground telescopes, astronomers looked back to when the universe was only 800 million years old and found something that was out of proportion and out of time.


Ouchi and Ellis said one possibility is that by chance, astronomers captured the moment a galaxy was forming in the early universe — something that never has been seen before.

As astronomers gaze deeper into space, they are looking farther back in time. What Ouchi found was from 12.9 billion years ago. Only three other objects have been seen that are from deeper in time and space.

Now, didn’t that just fry a few more brain cells? So, like, the further we are able to look into space–other universes and stuff–the further back into time we are seeing. But, wouldn’t we really be seeing the future? No, that’s not right. If my imaginary star blew up yesterday, I’d not know it until 300 yrs from now because it is 300 light years away. But by aiming a really strong light at it…Oh, Wait….I think I got it….We are looking back in time because what we are seeing happened 300 yrs ago. And the further into space we can look, the further away the light source, so the further back into time we go.

Ouch, there went another one.

I think I will write Fantasy novels and leave the SciFi to those who can grasp these concepts long enough to make them real in their manuscript.