08 January 2004

Gone to Movable Type 

After six months with Blogger it's time to upgrade! This blog is now on my Movable Type server at:


See you there!

This version will no longer be updated and will be deleted in July 2004.


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04 January 2004


Also good to see that Stardust successfully completed its rendez-vous with Comet Wild 2 and got some great pictures of the core, as well as picking up the dust samples in the aerogel. These are now due to return back to a parachute landing above Utah in Jan 15, 2006.

When they launched Stardust they invited the public to submit their names to go on a microchip, both on the satellite and the return probe. I put the family on, and just checked at the NASA site and we're still listed. Maybe we get to send our DNA up next!

There are some great pics on the Stardust site of the recovery tests in a very snowy Utah. The whole satellite comes hurtliing towards earth, spins up and ejects the probe (just like Beagle) only a couple of hours out, and then the rest of the spacecraft is manouvered into a flyby trajectory and sent hurtling off into deep space.

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Spirit On Mars 

Good to see that the Americans got to Mars safely with Spirit. Will be great to see what it finds as it roams around. Let's hope that Opportunity lands safely as well.

The rover itself stands just over 5 ft tall to the top of its camera mast. Interesting that they've put an omni antenna on it that will get low data rate signals directly back to NASAs Deep Space Network, as well as a steerable antenna for more routine comms with the orbiters. If Beagle 2 had had those we maybe wouldn't be having so much trouble getting hold of it.

The landing site for MER Spirit is in the Gusev crater. Opportunity is going to Meridiani. The landing site for Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars was near the Viking/Pathfinder sites. Beagle 2 has hopefully landed in Isidis Planitia, which was also a prime MER. Isidis Planitia is the crater that looks like an inlet half-way and just north between the two MER landing sites. There's a good map at a cracking space reference site called Windows to the Universe.

NASA has an excellent press kit giving all the key data on the MER mission.

Interesting that it'll be a week or so before the rover rolls off the lander. Then they expect to cover about 20m a day for up to 92 earth days (or 90 martian Sols). That's only 2km. The rover is solar powered so only runs during daylight - let's hope there are no dust storms. Operators also have to contend with the 10 minute plus one-way lag, 20 minutes round trip, in communications.

The press kit also describes the 3 Ages of Mars currently accepted by Areologists.

  • Noachian - 4.6 bn to 3.6 bn - warm, wet, volcanic

  • Hesperian - 3.6 bn to 3 bn or 2 bn - ice and floods

  • Amazonian - 2 bn or 3 bn to present - dry and dessicating

It also describes the current missions as "following the water", and the missions of the next decade as being about the "search for the building blocks of life". The missions slated for the rest of the decade are:

  • 2005 - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - hi res 1m photos

  • 2007 - Phoenix Mars Scout - north polar lander and soil analysis

  • 2009 - Mars Science Larboratory - large rover with nuclear power, a range measured in tens of kilometres and 2 yr life

  • 2009 - Mars Telecommunications Orbiter - comms support for other misions

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03 January 2004

New Year in Snowdonia 

Another good New Year meet with family and the MAM in the Glan Dena hut in Snowdonia. Only one really good day weatherwise - best views I've ever had from the top of Moel Siabod. That's Ruth on the summit with Snowdon in the background.

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02 January 2004

Finished Altered Carbon 

Finished Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. Pretty good book with a well established mind-copy/sleeving/ghost technology that lets people move form body to body. "Real Death" is only when your backup is days behind your experiences. To wipe both your "archived" self and the "cortical stack" is unheard of for the rich - for whom immortality is a real possibility. Towards the end it looked like it would really play with our perceptions of wht is truth - by killing off the version of the protagonist we'd been following and make us follow the "virtual" self - but it ducked it a bit by just creating two of him, and the "original" won out. 4.5, otherwise it would have been a 5.

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26 December 2003

Where's Beagle 2? 

Still no news from Beagle 2. Hope not yet lost, Jodrell Banks listening tonight, then Mars Express tomorrow. But then that's just about it....

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24 December 2003

Christmas Eve - The Condition of Muzak 

It's late on Christmas Eve. I have a tradition for this time. Every year, for probably nearly two decades on Christmas Eve I've read Chapter 10 - The Mirror; or, Harlequin Everywhere, from Michael Moorcock's The Condition of Muzak, the fourth of the Jerry Cornelius Quartet.

Set on Christmas Eve in a Steampunk (which it predates) 1890s, which may be 1990 or even 2090, it follows Harlequin from the roof of Derry and Toms on Kensington High Street, up Church St to Ladbroke Grove and a huge house party where every charcater from English folklore and panto, including another Harlequin, is present - and the whole cast of the book - is present. Harlequin sneaks in to find Columbine, and finding her awakens her with a kiss. Harlequin is Una Persson, Columbine Catherine Cornelius and the other Harlequin Jerry Cornelius.

It is just so evocative of that ghost of Christmas past - or yet to come?

"Merry Christmas, my own, dear Columbine"

"For in you now all virtues do combine -
Sad Pierrot, brave Harlequin and lovely Columbine"

All in all, thought Jerry, it was going to be a very successful season.

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