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Thursday, September 30, 2010

A European Space Agency technician installs a CD bearing the names of 100,000 folks onto the Huygens probe, prior to launch on October 15, 1997.
ESA

SO I JUST READ online yesterday that Europeans had the opportunity (back in early 1997) to submit their names, via the Internet, to be placed onto the Huygens probe. Huygens is a European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft that hitched a ride to Saturn onboard NASA’s Cassini orbiter when it launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in October of 1997, and landed on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan in January of 2005. I would say "DARN IT!" to this missed opportunity, but can’t for two reasons: 1.) I didn’t have access to the Internet till I started college in late 1998, and 2.) I’m not European. Oh well. I’ll try to ignore the fact that not only could I have had the opportunity to have my name go to Pluto and beyond onboard the New Horizons spacecraft (which reaches Pluto in less than 5 years. Godspeed), but I would’ve also been able to have my moniker lie on the cold, rocky surface of an outer planet’s moon if I was Italian or something. Oh well. To those 100,000 or so Brits, Italians, Germans, French folks, etc. who submitted their names for this successful mission 13 years ago, lucky you.

An artist's concept of ESA's Huygens probe on the surface of Titan, one of Saturn's moons.
ESA

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This artist's conception shows the inner four planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star.
Lynette Cook

One step closer to finding ET...

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NASA and NSF-Funded Research Finds First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet (Press Release)

A team of planet hunters from the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington has announced the discovery of a planet with three times the mass of Earth orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star's "habitable zone."

This discovery was the result of more than a decade of observations using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, one of the world's largest optical telescopes. The research, sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, placed the planet in an area where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. If confirmed, this would be the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered and the first strong case for a potentially habitable one.

To astronomers, a "potentially habitable" planet is one that could sustain life, not necessarily one where humans would thrive. Habitability depends on many factors, but having liquid water and an atmosphere are among the most important.

The new findings are based on 11 years of observations of the nearby red dwarf star Gliese 581 using the HIRES spectrometer on the Keck I Telescope. The spectrometer allows precise measurements of a star's radial velocity (its motion along the line of sight from Earth), which can reveal the presence of planets. The gravitational tug of an orbiting planet causes periodic changes in the radial velocity of the host star. Multiple planets induce complex wobbles in the star's motion, and astronomers use sophisticated analyses to detect planets and determine their orbits and masses.

"Keck's long-term observations of the wobble of nearby stars enabled the detection of this multi-planetary system," said Mario R. Perez, Keck program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Keck is once again proving itself an amazing tool for scientific research."

Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution lead the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey. The team's new findings are reported in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal and posted online at:

http://arxiv.org

"Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet," said Vogt. "The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common."

The paper reports the discovery of two new planets around Gliese 581. This brings the total number of known planets around this star to six, the most yet discovered in a planetary system outside of our own. Like our solar system, the planets around Gliese 581 have nearly-circular orbits.

The new planet designated Gliese 581g has a mass three to four times that of Earth and orbits its star in just under 37 days. Its mass indicates that it is probably a rocky planet with a definite surface and enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere.

Gliese 581, located 20 light years away from Earth in the constellation Libra, has two previously detected planets that lie at the edges of the habitable zone, one on the hot side (planet c) and one on the cold side (planet d). While some astronomers still think planet d may be habitable if it has a thick atmosphere with a strong greenhouse effect to warm it up, others are skeptical. The newly-discovered planet g, however, lies right in the middle of the habitable zone.

The planet is tidally locked to the star, meaning that one side is always facing the star and basking in perpetual daylight, while the side facing away from the star is in perpetual darkness. One effect of this is to stabilize the planet's surface climates, according to Vogt. The most habitable zone on the planet's surface would be the line between shadow and light (known as the "terminator").

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, September 27, 2010

REST IN PEACE, GLORIA STUART (1910-2010)... If it wasn’t for the fact I saw Titanic something something times when it was released in theaters in 1997 (I was a senior in high school during that time), then I wouldn’t be mentioning the passing of this very accomplished actress. But I did see Titanic something something times in theaters, so here you go.

Gloria Stuart, with Bill Paxton and Suzy Amis, in a scene from TITANIC.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

BACK IN BUSINESS... The Los Angeles Lakers started training camp at their El Segundo facility in California yesterday, and their official run to the three-peat begins on October 26 against the Houston Rockets at STAPLES Center, sans Andrew Bynum. Not a surprise with that last part... Later.

Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher pose for a group photo at the Los Angeles Lakers' Media Day event in El Segundo California...on September 25, 2010.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

THE TOWN.

THE TOWN... I saw the Ben Affleck-directed film yesterday, and much like other bank heist flicks such as Inside Man, The Bank Job and even Takers, I thought it was pretty entertaining. I always think it’s cool to see on-screen robbers wearing crazy masks and disguises (such as The Joker’s goons wearing clown masks during that bank robbery at the beginning of The Dark Knight, and the late Patrick Swayze and Co. dressed up as the Ex-Presidents in the 1991 movie, Point Break) as they pull off capers against armored trucks and city banks.

THE TOWN.

I’m trying to decide which disguise was better: The grim reaper masks Ben Affleck and his gang wore in the opening scene of The Town, or those nun outfits they sport later on in the movie. Speaking of the nun scene, the funniest moment in the film was Affleck and his posse ditching one getaway vehicle to escape in another (after their armored truck robbery goes awry)...only to realize they parked right next to the squad car of a lone Boston police officer. Seeing as how he was the only cop in the area, and he was going up against four dudes dressed as old religious women armed with automatic rifles, it was understandable that this officer would literally look away as Affleck and his gang made their final escape.

THE TOWN.

If there’s one gripe I had about The Town, it’s that for some odd reason it seemed like the ending to the movie felt a little "safe". On one hand, Affleck’s character is obviously portrayed as someone to sympathize with, despite being an anti-hero and all, but there was something about that final scene in Florida that seemed a little too "Hollywood happy ending-ish" (yes I made up this term) to me. Then again, it might have actually been a cliché for Affleck to be gunned down by the FBI just like the rest of his posse did in the finale. It was cool to see Clive Owen leave that bank unscathed in Inside Man, so in hindsight, there’s absolutely nothing wrong to see Affleck leave the crime-ridden streets of Charlestown to start a new life in the middle of a Florida swamp. It’s not like he was able to get the girl at the end, after all...

THE TOWN.

I also saw the horror film Devil last night. I thought it was okay. My opinion would probably be more favorable if not for the stigma created by the "Story by M. Knight Shyamalan" credit at the beginning of the movie. Oh well. One of my co-workers mentioned a few months ago that the twist in Devil was that it was a creature terrorizing those five folks in that elevator, as opposed to one of those folks being the culprit themselves. He was wrong. I had the sudden urge to watch the TV show Supernatural (its 6th season premieres on the CW Network this Friday!) after the demon finally revealed itself in the movie’s climax. If Sam or Dean Winchester was on that elevator, the devil wouldn’t stand a chance. Then again, considering what happened in Supernatural's Season 5 finale last May, maybe not. That is all.

Five corrupt people get stuck on an elevator together in DEVIL.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Space shuttle DISCOVERY heads toward pad LC-39A on September 20, 2010, in preparation for her November launch on STS-133.
NASA

BACK AT THE PAD...for one last time. There are still 41 days left before she launches on her very last space shuttle flight, but Godspeed anyway, Discovery.

Space shuttle DISCOVERY heads toward pad LC-39A on September 20, 2010, in preparation for her November launch on STS-133.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Space shuttle DISCOVERY sits on her launcher platform at LC-39A on September 21, 2010...beginning preparations for her November mission, STS-133.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Sunday, September 19, 2010

DISTRICT 10... Check out this awesome fan-made illustration, created by artist Andrée Wallin, for the hit film's would-be sequel...

DISTRICT 10 movie fan art.
© 2009 Andrée Wallin

Thursday, September 16, 2010

MASTERCHEF winner Whitney Miller.
© FOX

MASTERCHEF... I watched the season finale last night, and am totally not surprised that Whitney Miller won the title of America’s top amateur chef (plus a deal to write her own cookbook, AND a check for um...$250,000). If you read my previous journal entry about MasterChef, you’d know that I was expecting Chef Gordon Ramsay and Co. to have Ms. Miller finish as one of the top two finalists. I have good instincts! Well that...and it was pretty darn obvious from the numerous times the cameras focused on her lovely Southern face that the hit FOX TV show had great things in store for her. (Oh, and let's overlook the fact that the last 'pressure test' where Ms. Miller squared off against fellow contestant Sharone Hakman was designed in favor of Miller. Miller is known as the "pastry princess"...and that pressure test involved the two aspiring cooks to make—surprise, surprise—a pastry dish. A chocolate soufflé, to be exact. Ms. Miller obviously nailed it.) Now the only thing I have left to say is... When is Ms. Miller gonna publish her cookbook? And will she have a book signing when it gets released? And will there be a signing in Los Angeles? And if so...then I’m totally there. ‘Cause I too would like to um, learn how to cook like a master chef.


MASTERCHEF winner Whitney Miller.
© FOX

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An artist's concept showing the LUNAR RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER above the Moon.
NASA

LRO Update...

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NASA's Lunar Spacecraft Completes Exploration Mission Phase (Press Release)

WASHINGTON -- NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, will complete the exploration phase of its mission on Sept. 16, after a number of successes that transformed our understanding of Earth's nearest neighbor.

LRO completed a one-year exploration mission in a polar orbit approximately 31 miles above the moon's surface. It produced a comprehensive map of the lunar surface in unprecedented detail; searched for resources and safe landing sites for potential future missions to the moon; and measured lunar temperatures and radiation levels.

The mission is turning its attention from exploration objectives to scientific research, as program management moves from NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate to the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington.

"LRO has been an outstanding success. The spacecraft has performed brilliantly," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. "LRO's science and engineering teams achieved all of the mission's objectives, and the incredible data LRO gathered will provide discoveries about the moon for years to come."

The LRO team will continue to send data gathered during the last year to the Planetary Data System, which archives and distributes scientific information from NASA planetary missions, astronomical observations and laboratory measurements.

By the time LRO achieves full mission success in March, and its data is processed and released to the scientific community, it will have sent more information to the Planetary Data System than all other previous planetary missions combined. During its new phase of discovery, LRO will continue to map the moon for two to four more
years.

"The official start of LRO's science phase should write a new and intriguing chapter in lunar research," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. "This mission is one more asset added to NASA's vast science portfolio."

The spacecraft launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida carrying a suite of seven instruments on June 18, 2009. LRO formally began its detailed survey of the moon in September 2009.

Results from the mission include: new observations of the Apollo landing sites; indications that permanently shadowed and nearby regions may harbor water and hydrogen; observations that large areas in the permanently shadowed regions are colder than Pluto; detailed information about lunar terrain; and the first evidence of a globally distributed population of thrust faults that indicates the moon has recently contracted and may still be shrinking.

LRO also took high resolution pictures of the Lunokhod 1 rover that had been lost for almost 40 years. The rover, which carries a retroreflector, was located to within approximately 150 feet. The accurate position data enabled researchers on Earth to bounce laser signals off the retroreflector for the first time ever. The retroreflector is providing important new information about the position and motion of the moon.

LRO also supported the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite impact, a companion mission sent to determine if the moon's poles harbor water ice, by helping to select a promising impact site. LRO observed both the expanding plume that arose after the impact and the evolving temperature at the site.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., built and manages LRO for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. The Institute for Space Research in Moscow provides the neutron detector aboard the spacecraft. For more information about LRO, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/lro

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An LRO image of a 'natural bridge' on the surface of the Moon.
NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PHOTO OF THE DAY... Below is a God's-eye view pic of the orbiter Endeavour being transported atop a modified Boeing 747, a.k.a. a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. An orbiter relies on this jumbo jet to ferry it back to KSC whenever it lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California after a shuttle mission. In Endeavour's case, the last time this will presumably happen again will be next February...when Endeavour launches on mission STS-134. Endeavour having one last homecoming in the Golden State will obviously depend on weather conditions, both in Florida and California, on landing day. That is all.

Space shuttle Endeavour is transported from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Kennedy Space Center in Florida...atop a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
NASA

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Iranian soldiers trying to impersonate Swamp Thing...

PHOTOS OF THE DAY... Either Peru has some craaaaazy riots down there, or the folks who designed the police body armor below were inspired by Star Wars, Robocop, Batman (The Dark Knight version) or Steven Spielberg's 2002 movie Minority Report. Or possibly last year’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. On the plus side however, these cops don’t look as ridiculous-looking as the Iranian soldiers above. That attire must’ve been inspired by Swamp Thing. Awesome camouflage there, folks.


Peruvian anti-riot police officers trying to impersonate Robocop...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The orbiter DISCOVERY is rolled over to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for STS-133 launch preparations, on September 9, 2010.
NASA / Jack Pfaller

THE BEGINNING OF THE END...for Discovery, that is. Of course, I said the same thing about Atlantis when it launched on space shuttle flight STS-132 last May. But in Discovery’s case, today’s rollover to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida should indeed begin the final curtain call for NASA’s oldest orbiter. Discovery will be attached to its external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters later today in preparation for STS-133, scheduled for launch on November 1st. The space shuttle program, as of right now, is supposed to end after next February’s STS-134 mission with Endeavour. But if NASA includes an additional flight (STS-135) to launch next June as expected, then Atlantis will be assigned to that mission. That is all.

The orbiter DISCOVERY is rolled over to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for STS-133 launch preparations, on September 9, 2010.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

IT’S ASTROTRAIN!! Okay, not really. The link to this YouTube clip (courtesy of dandeentremont) has been saved in my Favorites folder for the past two months or so...just thought I’d finally post the video here. And in case you’re wondering, Astrotrain is a Decepticon that transformed into a space shuttle and a train in the 1980’s Transformers cartoon. It would be cool to see him in Transformers 3...though knowing Michael Bay, he’ll probably portray him as a Disneyland monorail with an image of Mickey Mouse taking a piss on Optimus Prime painted to its sides.


Sunday, September 05, 2010

Danny Trejo as the machete-welding character Machete in MACHETE.

MACHETE... I saw the new Robert Rodriguez action film yesterday, and um, where do I begin? Do I talk about the movie’s VERY OVERT take on illegal immigration first? Or the extremely gory but amusing violence? Or how 'bout the fact Robert Rodriguez somehow manages to get some of the hottest actresses in Hollywood to bare it all in his movies? Um... I think I’ll talk about the hot actresses’ part first.

Jessica Alba as a law enforcement officer in MACHETE.

In 2005’s Sin City, Robert Rodriguez had Carla Gugino and Jaime King showin’ some skin in the Frank Miller graphic novel-inspired flick. In Machete, he had Jessica Alba (who was also in Sin City—but as an exotic dancer who pretty much kept her clothes on) AND Lindsay Lohan doing nudesy in his film...albeit briefly. Say what you will about Lohan, but I took no offense to seeing her skinny dip in that pool before ending up nude and unconscious on a couch in Cheech Marin’s holy sanctuary. If only Michelle Rodriguez was also game in doing a scene that would eventually be featured on Mr. Skin, this would be a trifecta. I’m tempted to point out that R. Rodriguez should’ve at least have M. Rodriguez and Alba "share" a special moment at that taco truck (outside of M. Rodriguez's character showing Alba her immigration papers, since Alba plays a cop in the movie), but I won’t. Anyways... Onto the illegal immigration part.

UPDATE (September 6): I just found out online that Jessica Alba wasn't nude at all in Machete...and that the white undies she's wearing in all the TV commercials were on the whole time. The undies were 'removed' via CGI. I'm too lazy to edit the rest of this entry to accommodate this lousy bit of news, so um, continuing reading on.

Lindsay Lohan as a nude exhibitionist-turned-nun in MACHETE.

Machete would be nothing but a gory, brainless action flick featuring lots of well-known Mexican and Caribbean actors if not for the fact it was clearly obvious Rodriguez was intent on dealing with the issue of illegal immigration in his film. Most of Machete’s storyline takes place in Texas...though I wonder how controversial this movie would’ve been if Rodriguez had this flick take place in Arizona instead. Speaking of Arizona, I wonder how Machete fared in that state's movie theaters this weekend. It probably did well...most likely because of Jessica Alba’s shower scene, and Lohan’s moment in that swimming pool. Back-to-topic, it’s a nice bit of timing that Machete would be released during such a contentious time when illegal immigration is at the forefront of politics and everyday news discussions. It’s totally not farfetched that there would actually be vigilante gangs roaming around the desert—whether in California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas—looking for illegal aliens to shoot. Now that we’re on this topic, onto the extremely gory but amusing violence in Machete.

Michelle Rodriguez as a taco truck vendor-turned-revolutionary in MACHETE.

If Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have something in common, it’s that they both share a fondness for showing over-the-top bloodbath in such movies as Kill Bill and Grindhouse...respectively. In Machete, the biggest um, highlight of this flick was that hospital scene where Danny Trejo, as Machete, is having a conversation with that doctor about how long the human intestine is. Minutes later, you see Machete using a scalpel to stab a goon who was sent to kill him at the hospital, and then ripping out that goon’s intestine to use as a rope to climb out of a window and escape. If I was 6 years-old, I’d be extremely traumatized by this (assuming, of course, I knew what the heck I was watching). As it stands, I smirked at that scene. Also, what is it with Rodriguez showing priests killing or getting killed in his movies? In Sin City, Mickey Rourke’s character beats a priest to a bloody pulp...and in Machete, Cheech Marin’s preacher gets to blast away some bad guys before he unfortunately meets his fate nailed to a wooden cross. Do you think Jesus would condone Marin’s use of a shotgun moments before he got "martyred"? Do you think Jesus would condone Rodriguez’s portrayal of clergymen, period? Probably not. And for the record, I’m not a God-boy. I was being f-a-c-e-t-i-o-u-s.

Robert De Niro as a U.S. senator who's about to get his comeuppance at the hands of Texas vigilantes in MACHETE.

One last note about Machete: Robert De Niro was hilarious in this film! You know his villainous role as a U.S. senator isn’t suppose to be taken seriously (like say, his role as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II) when he’s forced to dress like a migrant worker during the final fight scene in Machete...only to be shot down by Lindsay Lohan in a nun outfit. I think he was much funnier in this movie than he was in Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers (the third installment, Little Fockers, which also features Jessica Alba and De Niro, comes out in theaters later this year). De Niro’s performance in this movie is just as amusing as the amount of weight Steven Seagal put on since his heyday doing action flicks such as 1992's Under Siege. I think it’s considered bad writing that I’m bringing up Seagal so late in this journal entry, so I’ll leave it at that. Actually...no. I have one question regarding Seagal and the beginning of Machete: How did Machete end up in Texas when, at the opening scene of the film, we see him with a knife wound to one of his legs and inside a house that Seagal’s goons are about to set on fire? I’ll have to watch this movie again (on DVD, obviously) to hear what Seagal's character told Machete before his life was spared. I wonder if Rodriguez will indeed make two more Machete films (titled Machete Kills and...Machete Kills Again). Just being facetious once more. Machete was an action-packed, laughing stock of a movie.

Machete takes on a drug dealer played by Steven Seagal in MACHETE.

I also saw George Clooney’s new film The American this weekend. What did I think of this movie, you ask? Well let’s put it this way... I found a flick about a knife-welding Mexican to be more interesting. Violante Placido is very gorgeous, however, and Thekla Reuten for some odd reason reminds me of the lovely Amy Adams (of The Office and Enchanted fame). That is all.

Thekla Reuten and George Clooney play assassins in THE AMERICAN.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Martian northern plain, with one of Phoenix's solar panels and a portion of the lander's flight deck visible in the foreground.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / University of Arizona / Texas A&M University

PHOENIX Update...

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Missing Piece Inspires New Look at Mars Puzzle (Press Release)

PASADENA, Calif. -- Experiments prompted by a 2008 surprise from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander suggest that soil examined by NASA's Viking Mars landers in 1976 may have contained carbon-based chemical building blocks of life.

"This doesn't say anything about the question of whether or not life has existed on Mars, but it could make a big difference in how we look for evidence to answer that question," said Chris McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. McKay coauthored a study published online by the Journal of Geophysical Research - Planets, reanalyzing results of Viking's tests for organic chemicals in Martian soil.

The only organic chemicals identified when the Viking landers heated samples of Martian soil were chloromethane and dichloromethane -- chlorine compounds interpreted at the time as likely contaminants from cleaning fluids. But those chemicals are exactly what the new study found when a little perchlorate -- the surprise finding from Phoenix -- was added to desert soil from Chile containing organics and analyzed in the manner of the Viking tests.

"Our results suggest that not only organics, but also perchlorate, may have been present in the soil at both Viking landing sites," said the study's lead author, Rafael Navarro-González of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City.

Organics can come from non-biological or biological sources. Many meteorites raining onto Mars and Earth for the past 5 billion years contain organics. Even if Mars has never had life, scientists before Viking anticipated that Martian soil would contain organics from meteorites.

"The lack of organics was a big surprise from the Vikings," McKay said. "But for 30 years we were looking at a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing. Phoenix has provided the missing piece: perchlorate. The perchlorate discovery by Phoenix was one of the most important results from Mars since Viking." Perchlorate, an ion of chlorine and oxygen, becomes a strong oxidant when heated. "It could sit there in the Martian soil with organics around it for billions of years and not break them down, but when you heat the soil to check for organics, the perchlorate destroys them rapidly," McKay said.

This interpretation proposed by Navarro-González and his four co-authors challenges the interpretation by Viking scientists that Martian organic compounds were not present in their samples at the detection limit of the Viking experiment. Instead, the Viking scientists interpreted the chlorine compounds as contaminants. Upcoming missions to Mars and further work on meteorites from Mars are expected to help resolve this question.

The Curiosity rover that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission will deliver to Mars in 2012 will carry the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument provided by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. In contrast to Viking and Phoenix, Curiosity can rove and thus analyze a wider variety of rocks and samples. SAM can check for organics in Martian soil and powdered rocks by baking samples to even higher temperatures than Viking did, and also by using an alternative liquid-extraction method at much lower heat. Combining these methods on a range of samples may enable further testing of the new report's hypothesis that oxidation by heated perchlorates that might have been present in the Viking samples was destroying organics.

One reason the chlorinated organics found by Viking were interpreted as contaminants from Earth was that the ratio of two isotopes of chlorine in them matched the three-to-one ratio for those isotopes on Earth. The ratio for them on Mars has not been clearly determined yet. If it is found to be much different than Earth's, that would support the 1970s interpretation.

If organic compounds can indeed persist in the surface soil of Mars, contrary to the predominant thinking for three decades, one way to search for evidence of life on Mars could be to check for types of large, complex organic molecules, such as DNA, that are indicators of biological activity. "If organics cannot persist at the surface, that approach would not be wise, but if they can, it's a different story," McKay said.

The Phoenix mission was led by Principal Investigator Peter H. Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, with project management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The Phoenix finding of perchlorate was reported by JPL's Michael Hecht and co-authors. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, also manages Mars Science Laboratory for the NASA Exploration Missions Directorate, Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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PHOENIX Blog Entries Archive:

May 8, 2007
July 28, 2007
August 3, 2007
August 4, 2007
August 8, 2007
October 25, 2007
April 11, 2008
April 25, 2008
May 1, 2008
May 11, 2008
May 18, 2008
May 24, 2008
May 25, 2008
May 27, 2008
June 18, 2008
August 4, 2008
November 10, 2008
May 25, 2009
August 26, 2009
May 25, 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

An artist's concept of NASA's Solar Probe Plus spacecraft approaching the sun.
JHU / APL

SOLAR PROBE PLUS...

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NASA Selects Investigations for First Mission to Encounter the Sun (Press Release)

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA has begun development of a mission to visit and study the sun closer than ever before. The unprecedented project, named Solar Probe Plus, is slated to launch no later than 2018.

The small car-sized spacecraft will plunge directly into the sun's atmosphere approximately 6.4 million kilometers (four million miles) from our star's surface. It will explore a region no other spacecraft ever has encountered. NASA has selected five science investigations that will unlock the sun's biggest mysteries, including one led by a scientist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics -- why is the sun's outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun's visible surface and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system?" said Dick Fisher, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division in Washington. "We've been struggling with these questions for decades and this mission should finally provide those answers."

As the spacecraft approaches the sun, its revolutionary carbon-composite heat shield must withstand temperatures exceeding about 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,550 degrees Fahrenheit) and blasts of intense radiation. The spacecraft will have an up-close and personal view of the sun, enabling scientists to better understand, characterize and forecast the radiation environment for future space explorers.

NASA invited researchers in 2009 to submit science proposals. Thirteen were reviewed by a panel of NASA and outside scientists. The total dollar amount for the five selected investigations is approximately $180 million for preliminary analysis, design, development and tests.

The selected proposals are:

-- Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation: principal investigator, Justin C. Kasper, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.

This investigation will specifically count the most abundant particles in the solar wind -- electrons, protons and helium ions -- and measure their properties. The investigation also is designed to catch some of the particles in a special cup for direct analysis.

-- Wide-field Imager: principal investigator, Russell Howard, Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. This telescope will make 3-D images of the sun's corona, or atmosphere. The experiment actually will see the solar wind and provide 3-D images of clouds and shocks as they approach and pass the spacecraft. This investigation complements instruments on the spacecraft, providing direct measurements by imaging the plasma the other instruments sample.

-- Fields Experiment: principal investigator, Stuart Bale, University of California Space Sciences Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. This investigation will make direct measurements of electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions, and shock waves that course through the sun's atmospheric plasma. The experiment also serves as a giant dust detector, registering voltage signatures when specks of space dust hit the spacecraft's antenna.

-- Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun: principal investigator, David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. This investigation consists of two instruments that will take an inventory of elements in the sun's atmosphere using a mass spectrometer to weigh and sort ions in the vicinity of the spacecraft.

-- Heliospheric Origins with Solar Probe Plus: principal investigator, Marco Velli of JPL. Velli is the mission's observatory scientist, responsible for serving as a senior scientist on the science working group. He will provide an independent assessment of scientific performance and act as a community advocate for the mission.

"This project allows humanity's ingenuity to go where no spacecraft has ever gone before," said Lika Guhathakurta, Solar Probe Plus program scientist at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. "For the very first time, we'll be able to touch, taste and smell our sun."

The Solar Probe Plus mission is part of NASA's Living with a Star Program. The program is designed to understand aspects of the sun and Earth's space environment that affect life and society. The program is managed by NASA'S Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., with oversight from NASA's Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Division. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., is the prime contractor for the spacecraft.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Another art concept of Solar Probe Plus approaching the sun.
JHU / APL

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

T.I., Michael Ealy, Idris Elba, Hayden Christensen and Paul Walker emerge unscathed from a bank robbery at the beginning of TAKERS.

TAKERS... I saw The Italian Job-ish bank heist film last weekend, and while it had a couple of unintentionally laughable moments in it, the movie was actually pretty decent. The main reason why I saw Takers—being a Star Wars nerd and all—was to see Hayden Christensen’s acting in the flick. The last movie I saw him in was, of course, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. I didn’t see Christensen’s last film Jumper (which came out in 2008), and judging from the score it received on Rotten Tomatoes, I didn’t miss out on much. In terms of Christensen’s acting in Takers, you really couldn’t compare it to his role as Anakin Skywalker...since all Christensen had to do in this latest flick was look cool in a zoot suit and drink a glass of martini. A scene where he beats the crap out of a couple of Russian dudes with a baseball bat is nothing compare to The Duel at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Anyways...

Zoe Saldana makes an appearance in TAKERS.

Dealing with the other characters in Takers, it’s always cool to see the gorgeous Zoe Saldana make an appearance in the movie. She was hot in last year’s Star Trek, and her beauty shined through her character Neytiri in Avatar (though I have no intention of seeing her pro-longed Na'vi sex scene in the Special Edition of Avatar that came out in theaters last weekend). Matt Dillon essentially reprised his role as a cop from 2005's Best Picture winner Crash, and it was with his scenes that I smirked a bit during the movie. Doesn’t Dillon’s character ever lock his car’s door when he’s driving? Hell— Even his daughter didn’t lock her door in that scene where Dillon was sharking that SUV Idris Elba and Paul Walker were cruising in. And why didn’t Dillon just ask his daughter to jot down the description of the SUV while he was driving? Way to endanger your child’s life by not keeping your eyes on the road, jerk. Speaking of Walker (Elba’s character was okay in the movie); I’m surprised he wasn’t revealed to be a cop since he acted just like his character in The Fast and the Furious films. I was waiting for a scene where he called up Vin Diesel to ask him to get rid of Chris Brown’s character. Speaking of Chris Brown...

Chris Brown (left) reunites with his fellow thieves and has another heist in mind in TAKERS.

On the positive side, Chris Brown was sorta convincing as the double-crossing ex-convict Ghost. On the negative side, the way he talked in the film was hilarious. Apparently, he decided out of the blue to channel Snoop Dogg the minute he got out of jail. Though after his famous real-life incident with the singer Rihanna, I didn’t find it farfetched that Brown would harm Saldana’s character (who was Ghost's GF before he got sent to prison) later on in the film. Saldana’s character ended up becoming engaged to Jake Attica (played by Michael Ealy)...whose brother Jesse (played by rapper T.I.) had the coolest but most laughable action sequence I’ve ever seen on the big screen.

Zoe Saldana and Michael Ealy in TAKERS.

Seeing as how Takers was executive-produced by T.I., I’m not a bit surprised that he would portray himself as a bank robber capable of going all Jackie Chan by jumping through small windows on kitchen doors, getting hit by cars but continuing to dash away from cops like he was Usain Bolt, jumping off a wall and flipping in the air like he was Jet Li, hopping on top of car after car like he was Spider-Man, and jumping two to three stories off a building and landing feet-first on top of another car like he was um...Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Jason Statham, Spider-Man... Take your pick. Maybe T.I. will be in The Expendables 2 if it actually gets made. And you know that T.I. was lookin’ forward to that final scene where he and Ealy storm out of that building to make one last stand against the police. Guns a' blazing and dying in a hail of bullets... What more could a rapper want?

T.I. channels Jet Li/Jackie Chan/Chuck Norris/Jason Statham/Spider-Man in this scene from TAKERS.

All-in-all, Takers was an OK film. Nice touch with that dramatic music score that plays when Chris Brown finally betrays Walker and Co. to those Russian mobsters in the Roosevelt Hotel. I gotta admit... I was rooting for Ealy when he sneaks up behind those mobsters in the hotel room and blows them away with a shotgun. I bet T.I. wished he was the one who unloaded that 12-gauge into those damn Bolsheviks. But I guess he preferred to have guns a' blazing and dying in a hail of bullets by the cops instead. That is all.

T.I. and Michael Ealy prepare to go out in a blaze of glory in TAKERS.