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So long, Rosetta

So, the long journey is over. The Europeans Space Agency’s probe Rosetta was purposely crashed into the surface of (deep breath) Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko just a few minutes ago, landing just 40 m away from its intended target. It now joins the doughty, though ill-fated lander module Philae on the surface of the comet.

Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera captured this image at 11:49 GMT yesterday (29 September 2016) when Rosetta was 22.9 km from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Photograph: Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera captured this image on 29 September 2016 at 11:49 GMT yesterday when Rosetta was 22.9 km from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Photograph: Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta sent many fantastic images back to us here on earth, and the close-up details of the comet’s surface on her descent are amazing.

Single frame enhanced NavCam image taken on 29 September 2016 at 22:53 GMT, when Rosetta was 20 km from the centre of the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The scale at the surface is about 1.7 m/pixel and the image measures about 1.7 km across. ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Single frame enhanced NavCam image taken on 29 September 2016 at 22:53 GMT, when Rosetta was 20 km from the centre of the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The scale at the surface is about 1.7 m/pixel and the image measures about 1.7 km across. ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera captured this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 01:20 GMT from an altitude of about 16 km above the surface during the spacecraft’s final descent on 30 September.   The image scale is about 30 cm/pixel and the image measures about 614 m across.   Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera captured this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 30 September at 01:20 GMT from an altitude of about 16 km above the surface during the spacecraft’s final descent . The image scale is about 30 cm/pixel and the image measures about 614 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta's OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016, 11.7 km from the surface. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta’s OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016 at 05:25 GMT, 11.7 km from the surface. The image scale is about 22 cm/pixel and the image measures about 450 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta's OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016, 8.9 km from the surface. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta’s OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016 at 06:53 GMT, 8.9 km from the surface. The image scale is about 17 cm/pixel and the image measures about 350 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta's OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016, 5.8 km from the surface. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta’s OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016 at 08:18 GMT, 5.8 km from the surface. The image scale is about 11 cm/pixel and the image measures about 225 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

8.21 GMT 30 Septe,ber 2016.

Comet 67P/C-G viewed with Rosetta’s OSIRIS NAC on 30 September 2016 at 8.21 GMT, 5.7 km from the surface. The image scale is about 11 cm/pixel and the image measures about 225 m across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Modern art, or Rosetta scans?

Modern art, or Rosetta scans of its landing site? Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The view 1.2 km from the surface.

OSIRIS narrow-angle camera shot of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko captured from an altitude of about 1.2 km on 30 September at 10:14 GMT. The image scale is about 2.3 cm/pixel and the image measures about 33 m across.

The crash will have damaged mechanisms on Rosetta and as sunlight will be fading as the comet moves away from the sun, even if the solar panels and other equipment had survived the crash, the panels would not have been able to generate enough power to send any more data back. The scientists took readings all the way down on the descent, and decided not to fire thrusters to slow the descent for fear of the exhaust gases contaminating the readings taken on the way down.

Rosetta was due to touch down / crash at 11.38 BST (GMT +1), but because of the distance of the comet from the earth, confirmation took just over 40 minutes to get here, reaching us at 12.19 BST.

A fabulous end to an amazing mission. Space science at its best, indeed.

European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta blog.

Rings that remind me of things, Part 10

Part 10 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.

Ring:

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Vintage foiled raked glass ring with a lovely swirly pattern. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Thing:

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, June 1889. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, June 1889. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

UPDATE: The ring has now sold. Sorry!

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfort, an alien spaceship, a cream horn, a radio telescope, Noah’s Ark, an octopus tentacle, spider eyes, Pluto and its moon Charon, and the rings of Saturn.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 9

Part 9 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.

Ring:

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Banded agate ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Thing:

Saturn's rings, photographed by the Cassini orbiter. Photo by NASA, cropped and flipped 180 degrees by me to match my ring.

Saturn’s rings, photographed by the Cassini Orbiter. Photo by NASA, cropped and flipped 180 degrees by me to match my ring. Click on photo for details.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfort, an alien spaceship, a cream horn, a radio telescope, Noah’s Ark, an octopus tentacle, spider eyes, and Pluto and its moon Charon.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 8

Part 8 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.

Ring:

Vintage sterling silver bypass ring with two spheres. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Vintage sterling silver bypass ring with two spheres. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

 Thing(s):

Pluto and its moon Charon. Photo composite made by Jcpag2012 from originals by Pat Rawlings and NASA.

Pluto and its moon Charon. Photo composite made by Jcpag2012 from originals by Pat Rawlings and NASA.

 

21 APRIL 2016 UPDATE: The ring has now sold. Sorry!

Gravitational waves – wooo!

Congratulations to the scientists at LIGO who just now have announced they have detected gravitational waves, from the merging of a pair of black holes. This is the first time we have had the evidence of what up to now was theorised but not observed. A huge day for science. And Albert was right!

 

Ground control to Major Tim

Time to put your helmet on … Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare.

Tm Kopra on the left and Tim Peake on the left. ISSin the background.

Colonel Tim Kopra (US) on the left and Major Tim Peake (UK) on the right in the ISS.

The UK’s Major Tim Peake is, as I write, enjoying his first space walk outside the International Space Station. He has today become the first Briton to undertake a space walk under the British flag. Woop woop.

I heard at the end of BBC Radio 4’s World at 1 a lovely exchange as Tim stepped out of the ISS:

Tim Peake: Okay, I’m coming out.

Tim Kopra: Okay.

TP: Beautiful sunset.

TK: Oh, I know.

Reid Wiseman: Tim, it’s really cool seeing that Union Jack go outside, since it’s explored all over the world, now it’s explored space.

TP: It’s great to be wearing it, a huge privilege. A proud moment.

That was a really nice touch by Reid Wiseman, the astronaut guiding Tim Peake and Tim Kopra from mission control at NASA.

The 6-hour long space walk is being live blogged by the BBC, but even better, you can watch it live on NASA Television.

And just because:

A great space day

So excited this morning to watch live the launch of the Soyuz rocket, Soyuz TMA-19M, carrying three astronauts, including the UK’s Tim Peake, to the International Space Station. In a few hours, Tim will become the first British astronaut to serve on the ISS.

Soyuz taking off. Photo by Reuters.

Soyuz TMA-19M taking off, 15 December 2015. Photo by Reuters.

The launch was covered by the BBC’s Stargazing Live, a 45 minute programme hosted by Professor Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain. They were covering the event from the Science Museum in London, with ISS stalwart Commander Chris Hadfield joining them to talk them through the technicalities, and with live coverage from Kazakhstan.

I hadn’t realised how historic the Baikonur Cosmodrome is: it was from this launch pad that the first Sputnik – the first ever object to orbit the earth – was sent up in October 1957, and a few years later the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova.

Lift off!

Lift off!

The launch was exciting – nailbiting, as these events always are, but all went well, and Tim even had time to do a few thumbs ups to the on-board camera while suffering from the g-forces of the launch.

Thumbs up from Tim.

Thumbs up from Tim. Earth and space out of the window. What a view.

There’s another Stargazing Live at 7.00 this evening on BBC2 which will cover the docking and Tim’s entry in to the space station, along with Russian Yuri Malenchenko and American Tim Kopra. Can’t wait – I love a good space day!

Stargazing Live launch programme on the BBC iplayer 

The official website dedicated to Tim’s mission

Tim Peake’s twitter feed

Filming locations: Wadi Rum

Chap and I went to see The Martian in 3D the other day. I’m a sucker for a space movie, and I’m also a sucker for deserts. So a space movie set on a desert planet is right up my street. And I knew from the advance publicity for the movie that large parts of it had been filmed in the Wadi Rum in southern Jordan.

The Martian, filmed in Wadi Rum in Jordan.

The Martian, filmed in Wadi Rum in Jordan.

I have a special spot in my heart for Wadi Rum, which I first visited 30 years ago. Half way through my first archaeological dig in Jordan we had a week-long break, and a group of us took the dig Land Rover and drove all around Jordan (not difficult to do as it’s a small country). We had a ball, visiting the Dead Sea, the desert palaces, driving down the King’s Highway to Kerak, and staying overnight in Petra with a bedouin, Dachlala, and his family (we had special dispensation from the Department of Antiquities – one of the perks of being an archaeologist). After Petra we drove deep into the stunning, massive grandeur of the Wadi Rum and camped there, digging hollows in the orangey red and incredibly soft sand in which to sleep and cooking our food on dried camel shit fires. During the day we went to swim in the coral reefs at Aqaba, and came back to the Wadi to sleep at night. The scale and the beauty of the place, and the absolute isolation, were so remarkable. (Only ten years later, when I last visited the Wadi in 1995, we camped again, but this time we could see the bonfires of other groups all around in the distance).

Location filming in the Wadi Rum for The Martian.

Location filming in the Wadi Rum for The Martian. Photo by Giles Keyte.

The Martian, starring Matt Damon, filmed in Wadi Rum.

The Martian, starring Matt Damon, filmed in Wadi Rum.

Matt Damon in Wadi Rum. The photo hasn't been 'Marsified' as you can see some small camel thorn seedlings.

Matt Damon in Wadi Rum. The photo hasn’t been ‘Marsified’ as you can see some small camel thorn shrubs and seedlings.

Given its striking visual impact, it’s not surprising that Wadi Rum has been used many times in Hollywood film productions. Perhaps the most famous is, of course, David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia (on the way to the Wadi we drove alongside a spur of the abandoned Hejaz Railway that Lawrence and his tribesmen blew up further along the line).

Wadi Rum in Lawrence of Arabia.

Wadi Rum in Lawrence of Arabia.

It has also stood in for Mars in other sci-fi movies, such as Mission to Mars (2000), Red Planet (2000) and The Last Days on Mars (2013). Ridley Scott, the director of The Martian, had previously used Wadi Rum as an alien landscape in his 2012 film, Prometheus.

Wadi Rum, 1985.

Wadi Rum, 1985.

Wadi Rum, 1985.

Wadi Rum, 1985.

Camping out in wadi Rum, 1985.

Camping out in Wadi Rum, 1985. Our second camping spot.

x

Morning in Wadi Rum, 1985. In the background our trusty Series 3 long wheel base dig Land Rover.

Hannah (or is it Ug the Cavewoman?) cooking on the camel shit fire, wadi Rum , 1985.

Hannah (or is it Ug the Cavewoman?) starting the fire using camel thorn, Wadi Rum, 1985. Pile of camel shit to the left. Hannah’s hair looking wild due to sea salt, desert wind, dust and smoke.

Waking up in Wadi Rum, 1985.

Waking up in Wadi Rum, 1985. Left to right, Hannah, Mick, Fritdjof, Carenza, Bronwen.

Happy days. I’m very lucky.

How Pluto got its name

I was so happy at the recent fantastic news from the New Horizons probe as it flew past Pluto and showed us what the dwarf planet really looks like (it’s incredible to think that only a fortnight ago, we had a blobby pixelated view; now we can see features 1 km in size). It’s yet another amazing achievement by NASA.

Pluto, photographed by the New Horizons probe on 13 July 2015.

Pluto, photographed by the New Horizons probe on 13 July 2015.

I listened with interest to the 15 July episode of the BBC Radio 4 Inside Science series that was dedicated to the recent Pluto news. Among the items was a small feature on how Pluto got its name. I had heard this story before but it still gives me pause for thought: Pluto was named by an 11-year-old English schoolgirl, Venetia Phair (née Burney) (11 July 1918 – 30 April 2009). 

Venetia Burney, aged 11.

Venetia Burney, aged 11.

So how did an English schoolgirl come to name the planet?

Pluto was discovered on 18 February 1930 by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who was working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Tombaugh was searching Planet X, a hypothetical planet beyond Neptune, the existence of which had been predicted by Percival Lowell and William Pickering. Pluto’s discovery was made public on 13 March 1930. At the time, Venetia lived in Oxford, with her mother and maternal grandparents. Her grandfather, Falconer Madan (1851 – 1935) had previously been the Librarian of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford, and at the time was a noted scholar of the life and works of Lewis Carroll. Over breakfast on 14 March 1930, Madan read out about of the discovery in The Times.

The short piece in The Times, 14 March 1930, that

The short piece in The Times, 14 March 1930, that Falconer Madan read out to Venetia Burney at breakfast. This news was tucked away on page 14 of the newspaper.

Here’s a transcript of part of a 2005 BBC interview with Venetia:

My grandfather said, ‘I wonder what they will call it?’ and I said, ‘Why not call it Pluto?’ or words to that effect, and my grandfather, on his way to the Bodleian Library, he dropped a note in at Professor H. H. Turner‘s house. Now he was an ex-Astronomer Royal, so Professor Turner cabled it out to Flagstaff, and I of course thought no more about it and didn’t hear anything about all of this, but the suggestion was taken as a good one, for various reasons, Pluto being a dark planet, god of the Underworld, and various other points, like P L for Pluto, P L for Percival Lowell. And so about three months later I heard that I was responsible for naming it, but I dare say other people thought of it even earlier but didn’t have the backup to cable and suggest it.

Unbeknownst to Burney, on 16 March Turner cabled the suggestion to the Lowell Observatory:

NAMING NEW PLANET PLEASE CONSIDER PLUTO, SUGGESTED BY SMALL GIRL, VEBTIA NURNEY, FOR DARK GLOOMY PLANET. TURNER.

Turner's cable to the Lowell Observatory. Lowell Observatory Archives.

Turner’s cable to the Lowell Observatory. Lowell Observatory Archives. Venetia’s name has somehow become mangled into Vebtia Nurney.

On 24 March the selection was made: every member of the Lowell Observatory was allowed to vote from a shortlist of three names (the other two were Minerva and Cronos), and Pluto won every vote. The announcement of Pluto’s name was made on 1 May 1930, and Venetia’s place in astronomical history was assured. She was invited to watch the launch of New Horizons from Cape Canaveral on 19 January 2006, but had to decline because it was too far for her to travel at her advanced age.

Venetia Phair in 2006.

Venetia Phair in 2006.

Venetia was wonderfully modest about the whole matter: on being asked in an interview with NASA whether people in her home town (Epsom) knew of her role in history, she replied ‘ … on the whole, it doesn’t arise in conversation and you don’t just go around telling people that you named Pluto.’ Great British understatement at its finest!

Amazingly, Venetia’s family also made other contributions to the naming of celestial bodies: in 1877 her great-uncle, Falconer’s brother Henry Madan named the two Martian moons Phobos and Deimos.

Venetia has had a few tributes: an asteroid, 6235 Burney, is named after her, as is the American band The Venetia Fair, and perhaps most fittingly, one of the scientific instruments on New Horizons, a dust sensor, bears her name: the Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter (VBSDC).

The Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter (VBSDC). Now a very long way away from erth.

The Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter (VBSDC). Now a very long way away from earth; at one time in July 2015 just 12,500 km from Pluto.

Further information:

NASA’s New Horizons website

18 July 2015 io9 article summarising the New Horizons story so far

13 January 2006 BBC article about Venetia Phair

17 January 2006 NASA interview with Venetia Phair

MP3 of the above NASA interview

Philae has woken up!

Ah, this is great news. The European Space Agency‘s lander on (deep breath) Comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko has woken from its sleep. It landed on the surface of the comet last November, launched from the space probe Rosetta, but bounced on landing after its anchoring mechanisms failed, and ended up in a deeply-shaded ditch. As its solar panels didn’t then receive enough sunlight to generate power, it went into hibernation after sending back a small amount of information. However, the comet has since moved closer to the sun and is receiving more sunlight, and as the scientists had hoped, Philae has started working again and is able to send messages back to earth, via Rosetta, which is still orbiting the comet.

The surface of the comet photographed from Philae during its descent.

The surface of the comet photographed by Philae during its descent.

Yay! So exciting! Lots of fantastic science experiments to come. Drilling! Analysing! Hurrah!