The Economist:

Earth is not the only orb with oceans. In 2005 Cassini, an American spacecraft, saw plumes of water shooting into space from cracks in the icy surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons (see picture). These suggest that Enceladus, too, has an ocean—albeit one completely covered by ice. The water in it, theory suggests, would be kept liquid by tides, which create internal friction and therefore heat. On April 3rd a team led by Luciano Iess of the University of Rome confirmed that the ocean exists, and also showed that, like Earth’s, it is not all-embracing. Dr Iess describes, in a paper in Science, how his team mapped Enceladus’s gravity by tracking Cassini’s orbit. The moon’s southern hemisphere is less massive than it would be were there no ocean, but its northern hemisphere is not. So the ocean covers only the southern part of the moon.



One of the craziest twists of PAX Prime this year was finding myself in the green room of the Chainsawsuit live show with Bobak Ferdowsi (aka NASA Mohawk Guy). I wasn’t sure if he would be interested in talking to some random civilian about space stuff, but within a few minutes we had struck up a conversation about the Curiosity rover and her new autonomous navigation software.

Bobak and I emailed a bit when we got back; I sent him some of the spec work I’ve done for NASA over the years, and he invited me to visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory when I was in town for IndieCade.

Sure enough, I passed NASA’s security clearance, and Bobak came in on his day off to show me around. JPL is a place that’s fascinated me since I was very young, and the visit felt like kind of a pilgrimage. I got to see ATHLETE, my favorite space robot, and walk through the Mars Yard, JPL’s simulated martian terrain. I saw Voyager’s golden record and took a photo with Bobak in the EDL mission control room from the Seven Minutes of Terror video.

In some senses JPL to was surprisingly, disappointingly normal; JPL employees are not all assembled in mission control like in Apollo 11, wiping sweat from their brows and issuing orders, they do not write with space pens, and they do not eat astronaut food. But every time I began to see JPL as an ordinary office, we’d walk by something extraordinary like a NASA police SUV or U.S. Government trash cans.

The most extraordinary thing I saw was in the Dark Room control center, where Bobak walked us through the data from the Deep Space Network coming through on the big monitors. While we were there, we watched a 45,000 sq ft antenna in Madrid receive a transmission from the Voyager 1 probe, the only object that our species has ever managed to send beyond our own solar system. Ten hours earlier, about 9.5 billion miles out from our sun, Voyager pointed it’s tiny 23-watt transmitter back at Earth and sent some of the first instrument data from beyond our solar system, and there it was, coming in live, packet by packet.

On the way home, I remembered this conversation Brandon Boyer had with Voyager’s Twitter account. He asked, “Do you feel lonely? Do get scared? Does Twitter help?” Voyager responded, “I’m usually too busy to be lonely, but when I lose contact, I have a ‘panic’ routine to refind Earth. Someday this will fail, on your part.”

In the world of design, gaming, and tech, we strive for things like profitability, independence, convenience, or fun. Those things are important to be sure, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that we are still capable of making instruments of discovery that will outlast our species.


The distance between the Earth and Moon is 238,900 miles. Most people get this very, very wrong.


I made this video yesterday for a redesign of I think it came out okay.


I made this video yesterday for a redesign of I think it came out pretty good.


More about the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field.

EDIT: jsdillon adds some caveats:

  • Some of the dots in the HUDF are stars, though very few.  You can tell because they look like four pointed stars.  The four points are an optical effect due to the support struts of the secondary mirror.
  • 1 trillion stars is very high for a galaxy.  Very, very few galaxies have that many.  10 billion is more typical.
  • Though the light from the furthest of those galaxies took about 13 billion years to get to us, it doesn’t mean that those galaxies are 13 billion light years away.  In fact, due to the expansion of the universe, the object is now about 30 billion light years away from us.


Orbiting a star that is visible to the naked eye, astronomers have discovered a planet twice the size of our own made largely out of diamond.

The rocky planet, called ‘55 Cancri e’, orbits a sun-like star in the constellation of Cancer and is moving so fast that a year there lasts a mere 18 hours.


The Atlantic:

Surrounding our planet are rings of plasma, part of Earth’s magnetosphere, which are pulsing with radio waves. Those waves are not audible to the human ear alone, but radio antennae can pick them up, and that’s just what an instrument - the Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) - on NASA’s recently launched Radiation Belt Storm Probes has done.

The noises, often picked up here on Earth by ham-radio operators, are called Earth’s “chorus” as they are reminiscent of a chorus of birds chirping in the early morning.

Here’s your planet, singing its song into space.


NASA’s SDO satellite captured these ultra-high definition images of the Transit of Venus across the face of the sun on June 6th from space. The last transit was in 2004 and the next pair of events will not happen again until the year 2117 and 2125.


Solar system lollipops, $17.50 on Etsy.


The Atlantic:

It was a little like Apollo 13 — if its mission to the moon had been saved by a tool of good oral hygiene, that is. Yesterday the International Space Station, having battled electrical malfunctions for over a week, was repaired by a combination that MacGyver himself would have been proud of: an allen wrench, a wire brush, a bolt … and a toothbrush.

Yep. It went like this: The International Space Station, currently home to six astronauts, last week encountered a malfunction in its Main Bus Switching Unit. The ISS has four of those units, each of which weighs (on Earth) 220 pounds, and each of which harnesses and then distributes power from the outpost’s solar arrays. The malfunction of one unit meant that the station was unable to relay power from two of its eight arrays — a scary ratio, when your home happens to be a meandering metal tube.

But no big deal, the flight crew thought; this was exactly the kind of thing they’d prepared for. They’d just do a space walk, repair the damaged unit, and move on. So, last Thursday, NASA’s Sunita Williams and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akihiko Hoshide — armed with highly technical training, armed with highly technical tools — ventured outside their extraterrestrial home to install a new MBSU. But the pair encountered a problem: Metal shavings had accumulated around one of the existing unit’s bolts, making it impossible to replace with the tools they had on hand. The thwarted attempt at maintenance ended up taking 8 hours and 17 minutes — making it, NASA reports, the third longest extravehicular activity in the history of U.S. spaceflight.

But the Space Station’s predicament remained. And it was made worse by the fact that, on Saturday, one of the ISS’s direct switching units failed — bringing a third solar array offline. Things were getting more dire.

So, yesterday, Williams and Hoshide ventured outside the space station once again. This time, though, they were carrying a new set of tools — ones they’d improvised from materials aboard the space station. Including a can of nitrogen gas and, yep, a toothbrush.

This time, aided by the improvised tools, the repair worked. “I see a lot of metal shavings coming out,” Hoshide announced, maneuvering a wire cleaner around one of the bolt holders. The holder thus liberated, he and Williams were able to complete the repair. 

"Looks like you guys just fixed the station," astronaut Jack Fischer radioed from Houston. "It’s been like living on the set of Apollo 13 the past few days. NASA does impossible pretty darn well, so congratulations to the whole team."


The Onion:

PASADENA, CA - Barely 72 hours after the landing of its Mars rover, NASA officials announced Thursday that their mission had ended, as Curiosity’s two-gigabyte memory card was now filled to capacity. “Well, that’s that, folks,” said chief scientist John Grotzinger, explaining that after Curiosity’s Mars Descent Imager took an especially high-resolution JPEG of the Aeolis Mons mountain, the $2.5-billion rover’s SanDisk card only had 0.03 GB of space remaining. “Honestly, we thought two gigs would be more than enough. That’s like a 1,000 pictures, right?”


This is where we live.


Sun Times:

The largest solar flare in five years is racing toward Earth, threatening to unleash a torrent of charged particles that could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights.

The sun erupted Tuesday evening, and the effects should start smacking Earth around 7 a.m. EST Thursday (1200 GMT), according to forecasters at the federal government’s Space Weather Prediction Center. They say the flare is growing as it speeds outward from the sun.

“It’s hitting us right in the nose,” said Joe Kunches, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.