Monday, February 26, 2007

Rosetta Mars flyby

The Rosetta comet rendezvous mission has made a gravity assist manoeuvre around Mars, using a close pass of the planet to boost it toward its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The probe switched on the camera aboard Rosetta's Philae lander (which will be attempting the first landing on a comet in May 2014) just four minutes before the spacecraft reached closest approach to the Red Planet. It returned some stunning images, including one showing elements of the Rosetta probe itself with the planet 1000 kilometres below, plus some nice images showing traces of the Martian atmosphere taken by the OSIRIS wide-angle camera. In addition, the ROMAP instrument was also switched on, collecting data about the magnetic environment of Mars. The approach gave mission scientists the first chance to switch the Philae lander into fully autonomous mode, completely relying on the power of its own batteries. Full story at the Rosetta site.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Candor Chasma had a watery past

Yet more persuasive evidence has arrived from Mars supporting the theory that the planet had a very wet past indeed. Newly analysed images from Europe's Mars Express orbiter show an area known as Candor Chasma, a small part of the great Martian rift valley Valles Marineris. The Valles Marineris is as long as the United States and in places plunges miles down, but in the Candor Chasma region, scientists have spotted some intriguing geological features. Seen in the images is a hilly landscape composed of alternating bands of light and dark coloured rock. It could have been wind or volcanic forces which forged these features, but water (and water in vast quantities) seems the most likely agent. Further supporting this contention, the striped landscape also boasts a network of cracks, known as joints. These are surrounded by prominent haloes of bleached rock. The same features have been identified here on Earth and what this seems to indicate, say a team from the University of Arizona, is "a clear indication of chemical interactions between fluids circulating within the fracture and the host rock". Most promisingly, these features are millions of years old and have been exposed slowly by the elements. Locked underground at the time the water was present in liquid form, this would have provided a very hospitable place for primitive life to take hold. The BBC has the full story.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Lost And Found On Mars

NASA is evaluating the use of RFID Chips for a trip to Mars. Radio Frequency ID chips are increasingly being used as a way to monitor stock levels in warehousing, but the technology may find a new and vitally important home in space. Losing things in space is a notorious problem that has long plagued astronauts. Put down a screwdriver and the odds are it will float away, so if you can tag it so that it radiates a signal all the time, it could be a real time saver, perhaps even a life saver. For instance, according to, in 2003, the International Space crew were missing "over 100 items listed in the IMS (inventory management system.) " This included critical equipment such as filter cartridges, and spares designed to support station systems operation. On a trip to Mars, losing things becomes even more critical, as there will simply be no way of getting replacements to the astronauts. The first stage in testing the durability of RFID chips will be to store a selection in a box on the outer skin of the Space Station. Further tests will then be conducted on a long range mission to the moon.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fascists On Mars

This looks totally insane, but a film that has been made in Italy is actually called Fascists On Mars, and no, its not allegorical, this film really is about fascists who travel to Mars. Called Fascisti su Marte in Italian, it's an extraordinary story set in 1939, telling of a group of fascists who decide to transplant their warped political philosophy to Mars. The mastermind (if that's the right word) behind this cinematic marvel is 42 year old Corrado Guzzanti, a comedian of enormous stature in Italy, famous for his biting satires and attacks on prominent politicians and institutions. The film is apparently narrated by an off camera voice, as in the news reels of the time, and you can see from the trailer that this method is extended to the visuals, which look like something out of an old Flash Gordon serial, with silver tail finned rockets and flaming meteors. It's very hard to judge exactly what is going on in this film from a trailer (especially as I don't speak the lingo) but it looks utterly out of this world, full of larger than life situations and broad slapstick comedy. The trailer can be found here and there are a good many clips (don't ask about the legality, I'm just pointing them out) at Youtube.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Boston shocker

A lot of news sites are drawing comparisons this week with the Orson Welles War Of The Worlds radio broadcast and an advertising stunt that went badly wrong in Boston. Bizarrely, the culprit was The Cartoon Network, or to be more precise, an ad agency working on their behalf. It appears that The Cartoon Network hired a company called New York-based Interference Inc to run a gorilla ad campaign for the cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force. This involved pasting up flashing electronic signs across the city. These were spotted and the alarm was raised, with the police called out and a massive anti-terrorism response triggered. Part of the problem was that the signs bore a slight resemblance to circuit boards, but probably the biggest single reason for the panic that resulted was the choice of location. Sticking them on bridges and underpasses was really asking for trouble in the present climate, but equally you have to wonder how people were so concerned at something that clearly looked so innocuous; it hardly seems likely that Al Qaeda would build bombs to look like cartoon characters (or am I giving them ideas?) Why indeed did the same campaign pass off without comment in other cities? I guess this really does show how easy it would be to trigger one hell of a panic with the right triggers, though I think the really interesting part of this story is that just about every news item I have read in the past few days concerning this event references Orson Welles. It’s actually a bit of a weak connection to make, but it proves there's life in the old dog yet.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

BBC wants you

Continuing on from their recent excellent season of programs looking at the history of British science fiction, the BBC is inviting you can contribute to the My Science Fiction Life website, where fans can record and share their recollections and experiences on the part science fiction has played in their lives. It's not limited to British science fiction and there is a great timeline that you can browse and add to. Naturally there is a place on the site for The War Of The Worlds, so if there is something you would like to say about the novel (and if you're reading this, you must have something to say) then get over to the BBC and make your mark.