A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘space travel

[PHOTO] “What We’re Really Looking at When We’re Looking at Pluto”

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At Wired, Jenna Garrett writes a great essay about photography and the nature of human perception starting from the New Horizons Pluto photos.

The images of Pluto that the New Horizons probe beamed across 3 billion miles of hard vacuum are, in a word, breathtaking. Towering mountains of ice, smooth plains, a wan alien landscape. They’re amazing not only for what they tell us about Pluto, but for instilling wonder at seeing something human beings have until now only imagined and speculated upon.

But did we really see Pluto?

The New Horizons mission wasn’t a hoax; human beings really did send a little robot all that way. Just as conspiracy theorists question the Apollo moon landings, some folks claim the Pluto flyby was fabricated. It wasn’t. New Horizons spent more than nine years crossing the solar system to glimpse Pluto, which really exists. And it sent back pictures. So that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is this: There is something between us and Pluto, aside from the vastness of space. Two sensors called LORRI and Ralph, mounted on New Horizons, are actually “seeing” Pluto. What we’re seeing are pictures. And whenever that’s the case, we should be deeply, philosophically skeptical about whether what we’re seeing has the meaning we’re imparting on it.

You might see an image and believe it is “true,” but it isn’t necessarily the truth. Every photograph’s meaning is limited by the technology that captured it, the technology that disseminated it, and people’s ability to understand what it is they’re seeing. The nagging question Is it real? plagues not just science, but philosophy and the arts as well. We can barely trust our eyes and brains.

Technology only makes the problem worse.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2015 at 7:51 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • Centauri Dreams explores Pluto and its worlds.
  • Crooked Timber considers the question of how to organize vast quantities of data.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to two papers on exoplanet habitability, noting that the composition of exoplanets influences their habitability and suggests exomoons need to be relatively massive to be habitable.
  • Geocurrents notes the inequalities of Chile.
  • Joe. My. God. notes an article about New York City gay nightclub The Saint.
  • Language Hat links to a site on American English.
  • Language Log suggests that the Cantonese language is being squeezed out of education in Hong Kong.
  • Languages of the World notes a free online course on language revival.
  • Peter Watts of No Moods, Ads, or Cutesy Fucking Icons examines the flaws of a paper on a proto-Borg collective of rats.
  • Spacing Toronto looks at the Toronto connection to a notorious late 19th century American serial killer.
  • Towleroad notes a study suggesting that people with undetectable levels of HIV can’t transmit the virus.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the issues of compliance with lawful orders.
  • Whatever’s John Scalzi likes the ASIS Chromebook flip.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the connection between the wars of Yugoslavia and eastern Ukraine, looks at Buryat-Cossack conflict, and notes disabled Russian veterans of the Ukrainian war.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • blogTO notes that Toronto won’t get a second NHL team any time soon.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at a design for an ion-drive interplanetary starship.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at Pluto’s moons of Hydra and Nix.
  • Joe. My. God. and Towleroad note that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled Italy should recognize same-sex partnerships.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at the low median wage in many American states.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes an odd haze in a crater on Ceres.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer examines the unusually high crime rate in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
  • Torontoist looks at the National Post‘s mobile news van.
  • Towleroad notes the closure of New York City’s Chelsea STD clinic.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers if the Iran deal is constitutional.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Ukrainians are against the federalization of their country.

[OBSCURA] Planet Earth by EPIC

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From Universe Today:

This picture of our home planet truly is EPIC – literally! The full-globe image was acquired with NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (aka EPIC; see what they did there) on board NOAA’s DSCOVR spacecraft, positioned nearly a million miles (1.5 million km) away at L1.

L1 is one of five Lagrange points that exist in space where the gravitational pull between Earth and the Sun are sort of canceled out, allowing spacecraft to be “parked” there. (Learn more about Lagrange points here.) Launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Feb. 11, 2015, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) arrived at L1 on June 8 and, after a series of instrument checks, captured the image of Earth’s western hemisphere above on July 6.

The EPIC instrument has the capability to capture images in ten narrowband channels from infrared to ultraviolet; the true-color picture above was made from images acquired in red, green, and blue visible-light wavelengths.

More than just a pretty picture of our blue marble, this image will be used by the EPIC team to help calibrate the instrument to remove some of the blue atmospheric haze from subsequent images. Once the camera is fully set to begin operations daily images of our planet will be made available on a dedicated web site starting in September.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 22, 2015 at 3:03 pm

[AH] “What If Voyager Had Explored Pluto?”

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Alan Stern’s speculations at the New Horizons website as to what might have happened if Voyager 1 did visit Pluto in 1986 are worth noting. Much of the science that was accomplished by New Horizons would still be achieved by the earlier probe, but technological and observational issues would have hampered things.

Across flights launched in 1977 and spanning the entirety of the 1980s, Voyagers 1 and 2 performed the historic, first detailed reconnaissance of our solar system’s four giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus). The essentially identical Voyagers were launched with a core mission to explore the Jupiter and Saturn systems, and each spacecraft carried a powerful and diverse scientific instrument suite. After Saturn, Voyager 2 was tasked with reconnoitering Uranus and Neptune during an extended mission.

Although Pluto’s orbital position relative to Neptune made it impossible for Voyager 2 to travel to it from Neptune, Voyager 1 actually could have reached Pluto after its Saturn flyby, had it been targeted to do so. In fact, NASA and the Voyager project actually considered this option, but eliminated it in 1980 – going instead with the very exiting but lower-risk opportunity to investigate Saturn’s large, scientifically enticing, cloud-enshrouded and liquid-bearing moon Titan.

But if Voyager 1 had been sent to Pluto, it would have arrived in the spring of 1986, just after Voyager 2’s exploration of Uranus that January. As New Horizons approaches Pluto in 2015, it’s fun to think what we might have found almost 30 years ago had Voyager 1 – rather than New Horizons – been first to Pluto.

[. . .]

Voyager 1 carried a broad battery of cameras, spectrometers, plasma experiments, and even a sensitive magnetometer that it could have brought to bear on the exploration of Pluto. Because Pluto was almost exactly the same distance from the Sun in 1986 as Neptune was for the Voyager 2 flyby in 1989, it’s clear that the instruments aboard Voyager 1 would have worked well at Pluto. And because Voyager 1 is still working today, we know the spacecraft would likely have made the journey to Pluto successfully.

Although Voyager 1 would have been able to map Pluto and Charon well with its cameras, and detect Pluto’s atmosphere and study the atmosphere’s basic properties, the Voyager science team would not have known to plan observations of the small moons they would have discovered on close approach, nor would they have been able to explore Pluto nearly as thoroughly as the payload aboard New Horizons will.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 22, 2015 at 3:59 am

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • The Big Picture shares photos relating to the restoration of Cuban-American relations.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly talks about why she uses Twitter.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a study noting the sulfur-rich environment of protostar HH 212.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports a Chinese plan to develop a mixed fission/fusion reactor.
  • Language Log notes an example of Chinese writing in pinyin without accompanying script.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen notes the importance of Kevin Kwan’s novels about Chinese socialites.
  • Language Hat reports on an effort to save the Nuu language of South Africa.
  • Languages of the World reports on Urum, the Turkic language of Pontic Greeks.
  • Discover‘s Out There reports on the oddities of Pluto.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Emily Lakdawalla explains why the New Horizons data from Pluto is still being processed.
  • Spacing Toronto reports from a Vancouver porch competition.
  • Towelroad notes a married gay man with a child denied Communion at his mother’s funeral.
  • Window on Eurasia notes racism in Russia, looks at Tajikistan’s interest in the killing of its citizens in Russia, suggests Belarus is on the verge of an explosion, and examines Mongolian influence in Buryatia.

[NEWS] Still more Pluto and Charon links

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  • Gizmodo reminds readers that the New Horizons photos show they have good reason to make their politicians aware of mass support for space exploration.
  • The Verge notes that Pluto’s atmosphere extends hundreds of kilometres into space.
  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait notes the strange topography of Charon and Pluto, as does Centauri Dreams and Universe Today and Emily Lakdawalla.
  • Written by Randy McDonald

    July 18, 2015 at 12:05 am

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