Interstellar Space

That Rebecca Rosen at _The Atlantic_ continues to amaze: her most recent report is that “Voyager 1 has entered a region of space beyond our solar bubble, and it has sent back a little sound for us to listen to.” [Read more](

China’s Space Program

China’s space program made the pages of [Foreign Policy]( Of course the headline was provocative. But the reactions in the comments get really vitriolic. “America sucks!” “No, China sucks!” Really? Is this the best we can do? Having just returned from China, I can tell you that I was struck by the sheer amount of what the Chinese are doing: they have money and they have people, and they seem to be investing that money in ways that benefit people. (If the long-term vision of the communists was to kill off the mandarin, they seem to be taking that mission somewhat seriously. Meanwhile, we seem to be growing our own mandarins here in the U.S.A. at a prolific rate.)

Earth and Moon have the same water

The earth and moon have the same water. This has implications for how we think not only the two formed but the solar system itself formed. One possible explanation involves Jupiter making a trip into the inner solar system. _Scientific American_ has [the story](

Saturn as Seen by Cassini

Beautiful shot of Saturn from NASA’s Cassini space craft as it eclipses the sun:

Saturn as Seen by Cassini

This one is Lily who once wanted to be the first princess astronaut on Saturn and still maintains her interest in space and space travel. Thank you, my dear.

Curiosity’s First Images of Mars

This image was used to create the larger panorama that is attracting so much attention but what I find compelling about this image is just how, well, how quotidian it is. I’ve walked places on Earth that looked like this. For the first time in a long time, I want to step foot on Mars. I want to be there.

Click Image to Download Larger Version

Solar Storms

[ABC Science’s write-up about solar storms]( is a bit dramatic, but then they throw in this little fact:

> Now the electrical grids around the world are mostly old, fragile and overloaded. In the USA alone, minor solar storms already cause breakdowns to the grid that increase the cost of electricity by $500 million every 18 months.

It’s a little unnerving to realize that solar storms are already a fairly significant drain on our infrastructure. It makes me wonder if anyone is working on sturdier gear and if that gear is affordable.


[Reddit]( has spawned a number of genres for and among its community of readers and writers. One of the most compelling of those genres is the [AMA](, short for “Ask Me Anything.” They are housed under the URL IAMA, which is a pun on the acronym that allows a poster to begin with “I am a …” I really like the indefinite article in there: it emphasizes that correspondents are often speaking from personal experience of a category of work or experience. Such a gesture de-emphasizes the individual, which helps, I think, to take a little air out of the celebrity culture that seems to dominate so much of public discourse. In the process of doing so, it makes individuals who are responding out of their experience into mini-celebrities, again tilting the balance to something more interesting than: here is a small group of famous (or rich) people and everyone else is a schmuck.

Nowhere could there be a better example of this than a recent [AMA from a 97 year old who worked for NASA during the first fourteen Apollo missions]( Let’s face it, any 97 year old as articulate as this is going to make for compelling reading, and anyone who has passed through as many history-making events or met as many renown individuals and who is willing to speak so honestly is going to tell us things we need to know. Perhaps the biggest bit was this: the idea to slingshot Apollo 13 around the moon came from a now unknown MIT grad student who was later obscured from the historical record because he had long hair and a beard and NASA felt it couldn’t afford to shake its careful facade.

[NASA has new spacesuits]( Apparently this is the first change in design since 1992. These have their own airlocks, allowing an astronaut to dock with a space station or ship by, it seems, backing up to it, and then climbing out the back of the suit. Now, if only we had a way to get those astronauts into space …

[We will miss the annular solar eclipse]( coming up on May 20 — we are too far east and the sun will already have set — but NASA’s map tells you if you are in the right place at the right time.

Get Ready for Transit of Venus

I can’t quite tell from the NASA illustration how well we will be able to view the transit of Venus across the face of the sun, but we are going to try. Because Venus’ transits occur in pairs, the last time this occurred was in 2004, the year our daughter was born, but it will not occur again until 2117. So this is it.

NASA's Chart of Venus' Transit

For more information, see [NASA’s site](

And, of course, there’s an [iPhone (and Android) app](

Here’s a site that offers [local transit times](

Leap Days

We have them every 4 years, but not every 100 years, except when it’s every 400 years. [The Bad Astronomer has the explanation.][1] Here’s what it comes down to: our day is not really 24 hours long.


Dancing Droplets in the Space Station

Astronaut and chemist Dr. Don Pettit performs a wonderful demonstration using charged water droplets being dropped near a charged knitting needle. The velocity of the droplets makes them first spiral around the needle before eventually landing on it, thanks to the charge.