Looking Back — 2012: The End is Not Near

Now that Dec. 21, 2012, has come for us all (already passed for our friends Down Under) with no apocalypse — Mayan or otherwise — I’d like to congratulate everyone who didn’t fall for the manufactured Doomsday crap. Here I represent my very first post of the year, dated Jan. 1, 2012, in which I explained it all. Enjoy this blast from the past (okay, rerun)…

On this first day of 2012, what could be more appropriate than to address the impending end of the year – and the world – on Dec. 21, 2012? I’m referring, of course, to the end of the imminent end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which some believe heralds the end of the world. Don’t worry, dear readers, I haven’t gone soft in the head and succumbed to superstition; I want to address the so-called “prophecy” in a bid to debunk it.

First, and foremost, there is no “Mayan prophecy” about the world ending when the calendar does. That’s a myth conjured by fools and con men out to exploit the foolish. The calendar indicates nothing of the sort. You will be seeing a glut of books, DVDs and probably even TV specials designed to appeal to the base instinct of fear of the end of the world.
Continue reading

Curiosity Has Landed on Mars!

Curiosity’s shadow on Mars

After traveling for more than eight months through over 350 million miles of space, the Curiosity rover landed safely on the surface of Mars a few hours ago. The 1-ton, $2.5 billion, SUV-sized robot was lowered gently to the planet on a tether from a rocket-fired sky crane almost exactly on the target time of 1:31 a.m. EDT Monday. (I think it was a few seconds early.)

This was an amazing victory for NASA, not only because it puts the most high-powered, sophisticated robotic laboratory ever on the surface of our red neighbor, but because the sky crane delivery system is revolutionary – and, let’s face it, kind of an insane idea to risk billions of dollars on – and the success of the landing should ease the path to more funding for the beleaguered space agency at a time when budget cuts are pushing pure science to the back burner.
Continue reading

Curiosity: Mars or Bust!

To paraphrase my favorite late-night host, Craig Ferguson, “It’s a great night for America!”

Tonight is the night that NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is set to land on the Red Planet. The $2.5 billion, 1-ton, car-sized robot is slated to touch down near the base of Mount Sharp inside the Gale Crater near the equator of our planetary neighbor at about 10:31 p.m. PDT (yes, that’s technically 1:31 a.m. tomorrow for me), kicking off the two-year Mars Science laboratory mission.

What makes this particular mission so exciting is not just the advanced science the robot will perform (see below), but the revolutionary way in which Curiosity will make planetfall. The rover is too heavy to bounce to the surface in a cocoon of cushioning airbags, so NASA engineers came up with what sounds like an insane plan: lower it to surface with a sky crane. Naturally. Why didn’t I think of that?

The graphic explains it much better than I can, but basically, the heat-shielded descent vehicle will stop in midair above the Martian surface and then lower the rover on a cable, release it, and then self-crash a safe distance away. What could go wrong?
Continue reading

Amazing Solar Tornado

This is one of the most amazing natural wonders I’ve seen in a long time: a tornado on the surface of the sun! Made up of dark plasma whipped by magnetic fields to gusts up to 300,000 mph, with temperatures of about 15,000 Fahrenheit, the tornado is believed to be as big as the Earth. The entire length of the ribbon-like structures could dozens of Earths long. Talk about stormy weather!

NASA released this video to celebrate the second anniversary of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which was launched on Feb. 11, 2010. This SDO video is made up of image captured every four minutes for 30 hours, starting on Feb. 7. SDO is laden with several cameras capable of capturing all manner of solar activities occurring at different wavelengths and frequencies.

2012: The End is Not Near

On this first day of 2012, what could be more appropriate than to address the impending end of the year – and the world – on Dec. 21, 2012? I’m referring, of course, to the end of the imminent end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which some believe heralds the end of the world. Don’t worry, dear readers, I haven’t gone soft in the head and succumbed to superstition; I want to address the so-called “prophecy” in a bid to debunk it.

First, and foremost, there is no “Mayan prophecy” about the world ending when the calendar does. That’s a myth conjured by fools and con men out to exploit the foolish. The calendar indicates nothing of the sort. You will be seeing a glut of books, DVDs and probably even TV specials designed to appeal to the base instinct of fear of the end of the world.
Continue reading