Friday, February 29, 2008

Baffling the rocket scientists

There's always something new and incredible to learn about space, which is why we need to do a lot more exploring.

From Charles Q. Choi of

Mysteriously, five spacecraft that flew past the Earth have each displayed unexpected anomalies in their motions.

These newfound enigmas join the so-called "Pioneer anomaly" as hints that unexplained forces may appear to act on spacecraft.

A decade ago, after rigorous analyses, anomalies were seen with the identical Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft as they hurtled out of the solar system. Both seemed to experience a tiny but unexplained constant acceleration toward the sun.

A host of explanations have been bandied about for the Pioneer anomaly. At times these are rooted in conventional science — perhaps leaks from the spacecraft have affected their trajectories. At times these are rooted in more speculative physics — maybe the law of gravity itself needs to be modified.

Now Jet Propulsion Laboratory astronomer John Anderson and his colleagues — who originally helped uncover the Pioneer anomaly — have discovered that five spacecraft each raced either a tiny bit faster or slower than expected when they flew past the Earth en route to other parts of the solar system.


"I am feeling both humble and perplexed by this," said Anderson, who is now working as a retiree. "There is something very strange going on with spacecraft motions. We have no convincing explanation for either the Pioneer anomaly or the flyby anomaly."

There's a lot more to discover out there.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Disparaging a fruit

I couldn't agree more with XKCD's assessment of grapefruit.

P.S.: Hover over the comic for an equally appropriate view of coconuts.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

No preaching to the choir

If you have more than a passing interest in the English language and its development, then you will probably enjoy reading this post from Geoffrey K. Pullum at Langauge Log. It's pretty much his thoughts on one man's review of a language book, but, if that sounds particularly dry to you, I tell you it's not. There's a lot there to think about in the post, and it's well worth the read.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Stellar Wednesday

A lot of space stuff is happening Wednesday, February 20, 2008.

"Atlantis aims for Wednesday landing"
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - After nearly two weeks in orbit, Atlantis and its crew aimed for a Wednesday landing on either coast to clear the way for the military to shoot down a dying spy satellite.

"US may shoot down satellite Wednesday"
WASHINGTON - An attempt to blast a crippled U.S. spy satellite out of the sky using a Navy heat-seeking missile — possibly on Wednesday night — would be the first real-world use of this piece of the Pentagon's missile defense network.

"Lunar eclipse to occur Wednesday night"
LOS ANGELES - The last total lunar eclipse until 2010 occurs Wednesday night, with cameo appearances by Saturn and the bright star Regulus on either side of the veiled full moon.

Enough to keep a lot of people busy.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday sonnet: William Shakespeare

Here's a sonnet from Shakespeare, published in 1609 and telling of the permanence of poetry.


Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wears this world out to the ending doom.
- So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
- You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

Rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg

Friday, February 15, 2008

"British Moon probe wins UK-NASA backing"

This sounds promising. I like the idea of space collaboration.

LONDON (Reuters) - A plan for the first British-led mission to the Moon won the backing of an Anglo-American space committee on Friday.

The Joint Working Group on lunar exploration named the proposed unmanned MoonLITE launch as its primary mission for collaboration.

The 100 million pound launch would fire three or four darts carrying measuring instruments into the surface of the moon from an orbiting satellite.

Scientific data recorded by the darts would be transmitted up to the satellite and relayed back to Earth.

The working group brings together experts from America's NASA and Britain's space authority, the British National Space Centre (BNSC).

But the piece contains this bit of journalistic error.
Potential targets for the MoonLITE probes include the Moon's permanently dark far side and its two shadowed polar regions. [emphasis added]
Please, Tim Castle of Reuters, take some time to do a few seconds of research.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday sonnet: Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Valentine's Day is this week. Perhaps it would be fitting to present the forty-third sonnet from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, published 1850.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints -- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! -- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcdcd

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sunday sonnet: John Milton

Here's a sonnet from the master, John Milton, written in 1658. It tells of a dream in which he saw his wife, who had died in childbirth, and his sadness upon wakening.

Methought I saw my late espous├Ęd saint
- Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
- Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
- Rescued from death by force though pale and faint.
Mine, as whom washed from spot of childbed taint,
- Purification in the old law did save,
- And such, as yet once more I trust to have
- Full sight of her in heaven without resraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind.
- Her face was veiled, yet to my fancied sight
- Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined
So clear, as in no face with more delight.
- But O, as to embrace me she inclined,
- I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcdcd