Category Archives: Just for Fun

The Desert Dishes of Apollo Valley

Panorama of the Deep Space Network's Apollo Valley in Goldstone, CA (© Jason Major) CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Panorama of the Deep Space Network’s Apollo Valley in Goldstone, CA (© Jason Major) CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Deep in the Mojave desert of central California, scattered among the scrub-covered hills and rugged, rock-strewn fields, are enormous white radar dishes pointed at the sky — NASA’s “ears” for listening to the faint calls coming from its many spacecraft out exploring our solar system. I recently had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Deep Space Network complex in Goldstone (read my full account here) and while there took some photos of one of DSN’s most impressive sites: “Apollo Valley,” the home of DSS-24, -25, and -26, three giant 34-meter high-gain “Beam Waveguide” antennas (the first two of which are seen above) as well as the original Apollo dish that once received messages from Apollo 11 as it made its historic Moon landing.

With the spring desert flowers in bloom and the antennas gleaming white against the blue sky, it was an impressive sight! Click the image above for a full-sized version.

Learn more about Apollo Valley here.

“It’s Like The Universe Was Talkin’ To Me” – Neil Tyson’s First Visit To The Hayden Planetarium

“It’s as though you were locked in a room your whole life and then somebody opens a window.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson

11-year-old Neil deGrasse Tyson with his first telescope (NOVA)

11-year-old Neil deGrasse Tyson with his first telescope (NOVA)

Do you remember your first telescope? Your first trip to a planetarium or observatory? Astrophysicist and Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey host Neil deGrasse Tyson does, and in this installment of NOVA’s Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers he shares his memories of seeing the Universe on the Hayden Planetarium’s big screens for the first time, and then receiving his own first telescope a couple of years later.

Obviously, they made quite the impression on young Neil.

“Saturn has rings! Oh my gosh the Moon has craters! Things you’ve heard about and read about, but to experience them yourself becomes a singular moment in your life. You are there in the Universe.”

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50 Amazing Facts About the Moon

There's a lot of fascinating things to learn about our Moon, and here are 50 of them!

There are a lot of fascinating things to learn about our Moon, and here are 50 of them!

How fast does the Moon rotate? How far is it (on average) to the Moon? How long did it take to build a lunar rover for the Apollo missions? And what did one cost? You could Google all of these answers for yourself, of course, but it’ll be a lot quicker — not to mention a lot more fun — to find out in the newest space-themed infographic from Neomammalian Studios, 50 Amazing Facts About the Moon! Check it out below. There may be some things you didn’t know about our planet’s partner in space.

(And here’s a little tip: don’t ever tell Buzz Aldrin he didn’t go to the Moon…)

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Keeping the Lights On: How To Replace a Macbook Air Battery

A bad battery almost shut the Lights off... but it was easy to replace and no Genius Bar needed!

A bad battery almost shut the Lights off… but it was easy to replace and no Genius Bar needed!

If you’re at all like me, you are in front of a computer for most of your waking and conscious day. Everyone has their own personal preference for computer workstations, and these days I use an 11″ Macbook Air for all of my personal and professional needs. I like its small size and portability combined with its decent operating muscle (I’m a graphic designer so I use industry-standard Adobe design software… Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) When I’m at my desk I have my Macbook plugged into a 23″ monitor, but when I want to hit the road and, say, go work at a coffee shop or take a project to a client I simply unplug and go. My entire office fits into a small backpack, and that’s awesome.

The only downside to this is that everything runs off of a lithium-ion battery. Even when plugged into the wall, power is running through the battery and, even if you are very careful to maintain your battery (running charge cycles at least once a month, keeping it within operating temperatures, etc.) it will eventually succumb to the law of entropy and, one day, die.

This happened to me this month. Last week, in fact. My computer was running terribly sluggishly, even connected to the MagSafe cable, and the battery indicator on my toolbar was saying “replace now.” Reading online I found that Macbook Airs aren’t “supposed” to have their batteries replaced by the consumer and you have to take it to the Apple store to have them do it… but you can do it yourself if you are even somewhat familiar with fixing electronics. While I’m no electronics guru I have fixed a few gadgets before so I figured I’d give it a shot, and since here I am writing this with a brand-new battery installed, I guess I did a pretty good job. Here’s how it’s done, if you want to try it yourself:

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Evidence of Ancient Aliens? Nah, It’s Just Pareidolia (Again)

A curiously human shape rises from the surface of Mercury in this MESSENGER image

A curiously human shape rises from the surface of Mercury in this MESSENGER image

You’ve heard of the Man in the Moon and the Face on Mars, now meet the Mercury Man!

This image, obtained by the MESSENGER spacecraft in July 2011, shows a portion of the floor of Caloris basin — the remnants of an enormous impact that occurred on Mercury nearly 4 billion years ago. Rising from the surface (and dramatically lit by sunlight from the west) is what appears to be a humanoid form. Is this some ancient structure built by an alien race, aimed our way in the hopes of us one day discovering it?

Nah, it’s just pareidolia.

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A Frog Makes One Giant Leap for Lunar Exploration

The launch of a Minotaur V rocket with NASA's LADEE mission on Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport)

The launch of a Minotaur V rocket with NASA’s LADEE mission on Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport)

At 11:27 pm EDT on September 6, 2013, NASA’s LADEE mission lifted off aboard a Minotaur V rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia shore, a launch visible across the entire northeast coast as it arced beautifully over the Atlantic on its way to the Moon.

Sadly, at least one frog may have been harmed in the making of this mission.

The fate of this splayed amphibian is as yet unknown.

The fate of this splayed amphibian is as yet unknown.

The photo above, taken by an automated camera set up near the launch site, shows Orbital Sciences Minotaur vehicle lifting off on a column of flame and steam. Silhouetted against the backlit exhaust cloud on the right is an airborne frog, likely flung from one of the small ponds near the pad.

According to Nancy Atkinson on Universe Today, Wallops spokesman Jeremy Eggers confirmed the picture is legitimate and was not altered in any way.

Perhaps in memoriam this will become the unofficial mascot of the facility, like the “space bat” that hitched a last ride on a shuttle fuel tank in 2009. He really should get a name… how about “Wally”?

_____________

Also, here’s a little tribute song to Rocket Frog, via BurritoJustice and Allesondra Springmann (with apologies to Mr. Bowie):

Ground Control to Major Frog
Commencing countdown engines on
WTF are you doing in the pond
Check ignition and may frog’s love be with you
 
This is Major Frog to Ground Control
I thought I had a few seconds more
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the pond looks very different today
 
Can you hear me Major Frog
Can you hear me Major Frog
Can you hear me Major Frog

The Frightful Fallacy of “False Color”

Neptune in "False Color" (NASA/JPL)

Voyager 2 image of Neptune in “false color” (NASA/JPL)

I rarely ever reblog posts, but this is an excellent criticism on the term “false color” and its oft-maligned perception by the modern public, and also a support of coloration techniques used in astronomy to produce the beautiful — and scientifically valuable — space images we have all come to enjoy (and expect!) By Dr. Robert Hurt, Visualization Scientist for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope project. Check it out….

Take the lovely image of Neptune above. It shows the planet through three filters: red, green, and an infrared color that is absorbed by methane gas. That final filter is assigned to the red color of the image, so everything we see as red (or white) reveals high altitude clouds and haze that sit above Neptune’s methane layer. That’s pretty cool, and it is revealed through very real colors, just not exactly the ones our eyes see.

What is false about that? Absolutely nothing!

Read the full article here.

(HT to Whitney Clavin for the tweet!)

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