Friday, November 30, 2012

A rendering of the 1 World Trade Center (1 WTC), released on May 10, 2012.
The Durst Organization

Freedom Tower update... While its grand opening won't take place for almost two more years, the 1 World Trade Center (1 WTC) is making considerable progress as construction continues on New York City's tallest skyscraper. Below are photos of segments that will form the 408-foot (124 meters) high antenna spire that will rise above the 1 WTC by early 2013. The cool artist rendering at the top of this entry will soon become a reality.

Nine sections of the antenna spire, currently located at Port Newark, await transfer to the 1 WTC's construction site in Lower Manhattan, on November 30, 2012.

Workers hoist the boom assembly that will be used to install the antenna spire atop 1 WTC, on November 29, 2012.
WTCProgress -

Thursday, November 29, 2012

An artist's concept of NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft orbiting Mercury.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington



NASA Spacecraft Finds New Evidence for Water Ice on Mercury (Press Release)

PASADENA, Calif. -- Instruments aboard NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft studying the planet Mercury have provided compelling support for the long-held hypothesis the planet harbors abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials within its permanently shadowed polar craters.

"About the last thing you would expect on a planet so close to the sun is water ice," said Matthew Siegler, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and an author on one of three papers published today in Science Express. "But due to Mercury's low tilt, craters near the poles can remain in year-round shadow and be ridiculously cold."

Scientists suggested decades ago there might be water ice and other frozen volatiles trapped at Mercury's poles. The idea received a boost in 1991 when the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico detected radar-bright patches at Mercury's poles. Many of these patches corresponded to the locations of large impact craters mapped by NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft in the 1970s. However, because Mariner saw less than 50 percent of the planet, planetary scientists lacked a complete diagram of the poles to compare with the radar images.

Images taken from MESSENGER in 2011, and earlier this year, confirmed all radar-bright features at Mercury's north and south poles lie within shadowed regions on the planet's surface. These findings are consistent with the water ice hypothesis.

"The new data indicate the water ice in Mercury's polar regions, if spread over an area the size of Washington, D.C., would be more than 2 miles thick," said David Lawrence, a MESSENGER participating scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., lead author of one of the three papers describing the findings.

The new observations from MESSENGER support the idea that ice is the major constituent of Mercury's north polar deposits. These measurements also reveal ice is exposed at the surface in the coldest of those deposits, but buried beneath unusually dark material across most of the deposits. In the areas where ice is buried, temperatures at the surface are slightly too warm for ice to be stable.

"Everywhere on Mercury we predict it's cold enough that there could be ice, MESSENGER finds bright deposits," said Siegler. "Where it is slightly warmer, and where ice should only be stable underground, we find a dark material, darker than anything else we've seen on Mercury."

The dark material is likely a mix of complex organic compounds delivered to Mercury by the impacts of comets and volatile-rich asteroids, the same objects that likely delivered water to the innermost planet.

A composite image of the discovery is available at:

MESSENGER was designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. The lab manages and operates the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed for the directorate by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


A mosaic of MESSENGER images of Mercury's north polar region...showing craters that harbor water ice.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington / National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone!!! Or in my (usually) annual tradition: Happy Falsify-A-Peace-Treaty-Then-Slaughter-Your-Dinner-Guests-And-Steal-Their-Land-And-Eat-Until-Your-Sick Day!!! By the way, just to get you in the mood to line up outside of the local Best Buy or Target tonight, here's an inspirational pic that one of my friends recently posted on Facebook. Happy Holidays!

This is a pretty good reason to skip Black Friday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

About Time... Last Friday, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was immortalized outside of STAPLES Center when a statue honoring him was unveiled next to those of Magic Johnson, Jerry West, former boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya, L.A. Kings great Wayne Gretzky and the late Lakers commentator, Chick Hearn. Just wondering: How is it that Stephon Marbury got a statue [for winning a (non-NBA) title in China earlier this year] before a Hall of Famer who won six NBA championships and is currently the league's all-time leading scorer did? Better late than never, I guess.

Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gives a speech after a statue honoring him is unveiled outside of STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, on November 16, 2012.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Taylor Swift strikes a pose at the 40th Anniversary American Music Awards, on November 18, 2012.
Steve Granitz / WireImage

Images of the Day, Pt. 2... Just thought I'd post this pic of singer Taylor Swift from tonight's 40th Anniversary American Music Awards, as well as the cool illustration below that I recently stumbled upon at my local mall. What I want to know is, who is the lovely (real-life) model that the warrior in this poster is based on? Hey— It's been a while since I blogged about gorgeous ladies (usually nonfictional) on this page...

Kei: An Asian warrior.
Mario Wibisono

Friday, November 16, 2012

Visiting space shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, on November 16, 2012.

Images of the Day... So early this morning, I finally got around to checking out space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. In case you're wondering why I took so many pictures with the orbiter, it's because I was hoping I'd run into that one fellow patron who did a decent job framing me and the spacecraft within a shot (RE: Including Endeavour's cockpit windows and nose in the same image). Alas, there were no (other) decent photographers at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...and there are only two or three people I personally know who are truly interested in NASA stuff, but they were at work. I took the day off for this visit. Oh well.

For images that I took of Endeavour today, check out my Human Spaceflight Blog.

Visiting space shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, on November 16, 2012.

Visiting space shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, on November 16, 2012.

Visiting space shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, on November 16, 2012.

Visiting space shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, on November 16, 2012.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A computer-generated image of the Kepler telescope in space.

Kepler Update... With 105 exoplanetary discoveries now under its belt—with more than 2,000 yet to come, if all data currently collected by the spacecraft is confirmed by astronomers—here's hoping that Kepler will make good use of four more years of life... (That shouldn't be too hard.)


NASA's Kepler Wraps Prime Mission, Begins Extension (Press Release)

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA is marking two milestones in the search for planets like Earth; the successful completion of the Kepler Space Telescope's three-and-a-half-year prime mission and the beginning of an extended mission that could last as long as four years.

Scientists have used Kepler data to identify more than 2,300 planet candidates and confirm more than 100 planets. Kepler is teaching us that the galaxy is teeming with planetary systems and that planets are prolific, and is giving us hints that nature makes small planets efficiently.

So far, hundreds of Earth-size planet candidates have been found, as well as candidates that orbit in the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet. None of the candidates is exactly like Earth. With the completion of its prime mission, Kepler now has collected enough data to begin finding true sun-Earth analogs -- Earth-size planets with a one-year orbit around stars similar to the sun.

"The initial discoveries of the Kepler mission indicate at least a third of the stars have planets and the number of planets in our galaxy must number in the billions," said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "The planets of greatest interest are other Earths, and these could already be in the data awaiting analysis. Kepler's most exciting results are yet to come."

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope searches for planet candidates orbiting distant suns, or exoplanets, by continuously measuring the brightness of more than 150,000 stars. When a planet candidate passes, or transits, in front of the star from the spacecraft's vantage point, light from the star is blocked. Different-sized planets block different amounts of starlight. The amount of starlight blocked by a planet reveals its size relative to its star.

Kepler was launched March 6, 2009. Its mission was to survey a portion of the galaxy to determine what fraction of stars might harbor potentially habitable, Earth-sized planets. Planets orbiting in or near habitable zones are of particular interest.

Kepler began the search for small worlds like our own on May 12, 2009, after two months of commissioning. Within months, five exoplanets, known as hot Jupiters because of their enormous size and orbits close to their stars, were confirmed.

Results from Kepler data continue to expand our understanding of planets and planetary systems. Highlights from the prime mission include:

-- In August 2010, scientists confirmed the discovery of the first planetary system with more than one planet transiting the same star. The Kepler-9 system opened the door to measurement of gravitational interactions between planets as observed by the variations in their transit timing. This powerful new technique enables astronomers, in many cases, to calculate the mass of planets directly from Kepler data, without the need for follow-up observations from the ground.

-- In January 2011, the Kepler team announced the discovery of the first unquestionably rocky planet outside the solar system. Kepler-10b, measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, is the smallest confirmed planet with both a radius and mass measurement. Kepler has continued to uncover smaller and smaller planets, some almost as small as Mars, which tells us small rocky worlds may be common in the galaxy.

-- In February 2011, scientists announced Kepler had found a very crowded and compact planetary system -- a star with multiple transiting planets. Kepler-11 has six planets larger than Earth, all orbiting closer to their star than Venus orbits our sun. This and other subsequently identified compact, multi-planet systems have orbital spacing relative to their host sun and neighboring planets unlike anything envisioned prior to the mission.

-- In September 2011, Kepler data confirmed the existence of a world with a double sunset like the one famously portrayed in the film Star Wars more than 35 years ago. The discovery of Kepler-16b turned science fiction into science fact. Since then, the discoveries of six additional worlds orbiting double stars further demonstrated planets can form and persist in the environs of a double-star system.

-- In December 2011, NASA announced Kepler's discovery of the mission's first planet in a habitable zone. Kepler-22b, about 2.4 times the size of Earth, is the smallest-radius planet yet found to orbit a sun-like star in the habitable zone. This discovery confirmed that we are getting continually closer to finding planets like our own.

-- In February 2012, the Kepler team announced more than 1,000 new transiting planet candidates for a cumulative total of 2,321. The data continue the trend toward identifying smaller planets at longer orbital periods, similar to Earth. The results include hundreds of planetary systems.

-- Recently, citizen scientists participating in Planet Hunters, a program led by Yale University, New Haven, Conn., that enlists the public to comb through Kepler data for signs of transiting planets, made their first planet discovery. The joint effort of amateur astronomers and scientists led to the first reported case of a planet orbiting a double star. The three bodies are, in turn, being orbited by a second distant pair of stars.

"Kepler's bounty of new planet discoveries, many quite different from anything found previously, will continue to astound," said Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at Ames. "But to me, the most wonderful discovery of the mission has not been individual planets, but the systems of two, three, even six planets crowded close to their stars, and, like the planets orbiting about our sun, moving in nearly the same plane. Like people, planets interact with their neighbors and can be greatly affected by them. What are the neighborhoods of Earth-size exoplanets like? This is the question I most hope Kepler will answer in the years to come."

In April 2012, NASA awarded Kepler an extended mission through as late as 2016. More time will enable the continued search for worlds like our own -- worlds that are not too far and too close to their sun.

"The Earth isn't unique, nor the center of the universe," said Geoff Marcy, professor of astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley. "The diversity of other worlds is greater than depicted in all the science fiction novels and movies. Aristotle would be proud of us for answering some of the most profound philosophical questions about our place in the universe."

Ames manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed the Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


An artist's concept of Kepler-16b orbiting its two parent stars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / T. Pyle

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lakers Update... Two days after Mike Brown was fired as the Lakers' head coach for losing four of the team's first five games of the season (the Lakers were 1-12 if you count the preseason), Mike D'Antoni was hired and will be coaching Steve Nash (after he recovers from a recent leg injury, that is) and company in the City of Angels. So what should we be calling the Lakers now? The Los Angeles Suns? The Phoenix Lakers? And what did Phil Jackson tell Jerry and Jim Buss this past weekend that caused the Zen Master to be denied a potential 12th NBA championship ring? Hmm.

Mike D'Antoni will once again be coaching Steve Nash...this time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

With his family at his side, President Obama gives his victory speech in Chicago, his hometown, after winning the national election on November 6, 2012.
Getty Images

Election 2012... Congratulations to President Obama for securing his second term at the White House tonight. Of course, I wouldn't have said this back in 2008...

Anyways, check out this interesting illustration that one of my friends posted on Facebook. For those of you not well-versed in the color schemes of the Democratic and Republican parties, the Democrats (blue states) voted for Obama, while the GOP (red states) chose Mitt Romney. Just proves to you that time really hasn't healed all wounds.

Apparently, some Americans want their slaves back.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Thanks to Disney, we just might see Luke Skywalker re-visiting his home world of Tatooine in the STAR WARS sequel trilogy. Awesome.

Image of the Day... Just thought I'd share this iconic, Disney-fied shot from Star Wars: A New Hope, in anticipation of the fact that more movies about that Galaxy far, far away will be coming to a theater near you starting in 2015! In the past, I didn't become extremely obsessed about a new Star Wars flick till its title was officially revealed...which is usually almost a year before the film is released. (The Phantom Menace—I believe—had its title revealed to the public in September of 1998, Attack of the Clones was announced in August of 2001, and Revenge of the Sith was unveiled in July of 2004.)

With George Lucas most likely not helming any of the installments to the new trilogy, however, my excitement might start much the prospect of awesome filmmakers like David Fincher, J.J. Abrams, Guillermo del Toro and (holy cow) Christopher Nolan directing Episodes VII, VIII and/or IX show up on the rumor mill. In the meantime, I'll kill time as additional news about the sequel trilogy leak out by once again listening to John Williams' amazing music score from the six current Star Wars movies on my MP3 player. Later.


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Curiosity Update... NASA's one-ton, nuclear-powered rover; in all of her rock-zapping glory. This self-portrait was taken yesterday—using the Mars Hand Lens Imager on Curiosity's robotic arm.

A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, taken with a camera on her robotic arm on October 31, 2012.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS