Pluto, revisited

The news that NASA discovered a new type of microorganism has overshadowed new findings on Pluto. The Christian Science Monitor presents both sides of the debate, “Should Pluto be Restored as a Planet?” According to Mike Wall from Space.com, Pluto was found to be slightly larger than Eris, the entity that supplanted it, re-opening the debate if it should be restored as a full-fledged planet. Discovery News details the method used to compare the size of Eris and Pluto. In several articles Mike Brown, who discovered Eris and wrote the appropriately titled book, “How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming” states that the most important part of the discovery isn’t about size but the fact that Eris is much denser than Pluto and thus a totally different composition and origin. In his posts on Mike Brown’s Planets he describes the Skymapper project to survey the whole southern skies by Australian National University.

NASA and Gowalla team up for a nationwide scavenger hunt

For all of you out there who use Gowalla as your mobile location-based social sharing app, you’ll want to check out the new partnership between NASA and Gowalla that includes a fun virtual scavenger hunt called “Search for Moon Rocks.” Any time you visit a museum, science center, or planetarium that has a real moon rock on display, you can check in and get a virtual moon rock for your Gowalla account. Since NASA astronauts successfully brought lunar samples back to Earth during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 missions, there are plenty of places where you can find them. To help you out, NASA has posted a fun map visualization of the places where you can find lunar samples on display.

The NASA-Gowalla partnership also allows users to collect 3 other virtual items – a NASA patch, a spacesuit, and a space shuttle – when they check in at NASA visitor centers and other museums and facilities that are part of the NASA Museum Alliance. And, as if that weren’t exciting enough, the 100 Gowalla users to collect 3 out of the 4 NASA patches will receive a copy of the Search for the Moon Rocks map in the mail!

Via GeekSugar

A Bittersweet Last Goodbye for the Mars Phoenix Lander

Today would have been the 2-year anniversary of the Mars Phoenix lander’s touchdown on Mars and, although it was a longshot that the lander would have survived the harsh Martian winter, numerous listening attempts have been made since January in hopes of hearing a signal from the craft. Efforts have finally ended this past week, as a failure to hear anything, combined with an image of the lander taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on May 7th showed strong evidence of fatal damage to the lander’s solar panels.

The Phoenix lander’s mission, though, was a great success, and I think it was also a great demonstration of how NASA could leverage social media, by utilizing a Twitter feed in Phoenix’s name to offer updates on the mission and the data and analysis it has provided. Phoenix verified that water exists in the Martian soil, and even observed what may have been snow falling on Mars:

All in all, another amazing scientific mission to explore our solar system, and hopefully we will be able to continue to build on the knowledge gained from our exploration of Mars. For a University of Arizona video of the Mars Phoenix lander’s mission highlights, click here.

Via National Geographic News

Cool views of the International Space Station with Photosynth

Two things that are definitely high on my cool list – space stuff and Photosynth – have come together to allow you to take a virtual tour – inside and out – of the International Space Station. Microsoft and NASA have partnered on the synths of the space station on NASA’s website. It’s a great way to get to explore the space station’s modules using the Photosynth viewer, and you can even see the 3D point cloud of the station. There are also synths available for the Mars Rover and the Hubble telescope.

The only downside is that these synths aren’t embeddable, so I can’t give you a preview here. But definitely head over to the NASA ISS Photosynth page and check it out!

Landsat 5 – 25 years and counting!

landsat5That’s right, it was March 1st, 1984 when Landsat 5 lifted off on a expected 3-year Earth observation mission, and here we are 25 years later, and the old workhorse is still capturing imagery! So, congrats to NASA and Landsat 5 on a quarter century of documenting Earth from space!

You can read the NASA press release on the 25th anniversary of Landsat 5 here, with some interesting tidbits on some of the satellite’s issues over the years and how they’ve kept it orbiting and still capturing imagery.

Goodbye to the Mars Phoenix Lander… Thanks for a mission well done!

I was one of those geeky people who has been following the Mars Phoenix lander on Twitter, and as the lonely little lander posted gloomy predictions of its impending demise, I felt a little sad. Then, yesterday, its final farewell message – 01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000 <3 – came through on my Twitter feed, and I admit it, I got a little choked up.

If you doubt the power of social networking, then take a look at the 38,825 followers on the Phoenix lander’s Twitter feed, where over 600 updates were posted on the daily progress of the 5-month mission’s tasks. There are also a great series of guest posts on Gizmodo, one of the most popular tech blogs, including this poignant final post “My Farewell Transmission from Mars.”

I think NASA really hit on a great way to get people involved and invested in its missions, and in the amazing science they produce. The Mars Rovers, Mars Science Lab, and Cassini Saturn projects all have Twitter feeds as well, so you can still keep up with what’s going on at NASA, and the mission team also will be using Phoenix’s feed to update on the results of data analysis.

Space Race Heats Up!

Although the space race hasn’t been a two horse race in a long time, India certainly jumped a head this week with this bit of news – India launches first moon mission! The Chandrayaan-1 was successfully launched yesterday on a survey course of the moon. The mission is unmaned with the goal of developing a 3D model of the lunar surface. In fact, the whole mission is to develop a 3D atlas of the moon to help look for mineral resources that can be potentially mined and used in fusion reactors back on Earth. There’s a video at the bottom of the link showing the launch, which is fun to watch.

Watch the GeoEye Launch today

GeoEye is going to stream the launch of their GeoEye-1 satellite Saturday afternoon (today) at noon PDT on their website. Always fun to watch a launch and probably interesting for the kids as well. Since we will be finished recording before launch we will talk about it in next weeks news I guess.

UPDATE: All seems to have gone well on the launch (which you can watch from their video archive) and GeoEye is looking forward to the next phase which will be the calibrating and ‘check out’ period

A New GPS System…. On the Moon?

Engadget is reporting an interesting new system that’s being created. Researchers over at Ohio State University (a hop, skip, and 4 hour drive from here) are attempting to make a GPS like system for navigation on the moon. The system is supposed to be ready by 2020, and the linked article from Engadget’s site says the team is working on making lunar navigation less frustrating than its terrestrial counterpart. The quotes state they’re hoping “to avoid the stress of getting lost, or getting frustrated with the equipment” with their research. As one who’s dealt with technology gadgets pretty much his whole life, I wish the researchers luck, but I have to say that’s one big charge to take on. Here’s hoping some of their research makes it back to the consumer side before 2020!