Kudos, Thanks, and Thoughts

December 31, 2008 at 8:30 am | Leave a Comment

2008 into 2009

It’s been an interesting and busy year for me here at TheSpaceWriter’s Blog.  I’ve been immensely pleased and flattered by your interest in what I have to say, and thankful for the many friends who have linked to this blog.  I do my best to thank everybody as the links and mentions come in, so if I’ve missed anybody, please accept my thanks here.  Also, please have a look at the links in my Blogroll as well as my “other blogs that link to me” page.

In addition, I want to thank my friends Phil Plait and Pamela Gay for linking to and mentioning me occasionally in their well-written Badastronomy.com and Starstryder.com blogs.  I’ve known both of them for years and admire the work they do.  I think they admire me, so it all works out pretty well.

Some new folks to add to  my link roll:  the ladies who run Find Schools Online, a site that has pointers to online educational resources. They’ve named TheSpacewriter’s Ramblings as one of their Top 100 Space and Astronomy Blogs, which pleases me greatly.  Thanks, folks!

Thanks to all my readers and commenters for cogent and thoughtful reading and discussions both online and behind the scenes.  And, finally, thanks to Mark who — as my partner in life and in Loch Ness Productions — often points me to new and interesting things to write about.

It’s been a great year blogging and I look forward to continuing my conversations with all of you in 2009!

New Year’s Eve Gazing Party

December 30, 2008 at 8:15 am | Leave a Comment

Take a Look Before You Head Out (or In)

Tomorrow night is the Big Kahuna Night for New Year’s Eve celebrants. The old year ends, flowing smoothly into the New Year in a tick of a second. Some folks like to go out and partay; others like to stay in and celebrate it at home. Whatever you do, here’s a little skygazing task for you before you embark on your celebration:  step outside sometime between 5 and 6 p.m. (1700-1800 hours) and look to the western horizon. If your skies are clear, you should be able to see the crescent moon and the planet Venus near each other.  The chart below shows how it should look from my latitude (42 N).  Take a moment to savor the sight!  And, you can practice for it tonight — Venus, the crescent moon (not quite as close together as tomorrow night)  and Jupiter and Mercury (both just setting) should be visible not long after sunset.  Well worth checking out!

New Years Eve sky view to the west-southwest after sunset.

New Year's Eve sky view to the west-southwest after sunset. (Sky scene created using TheSky 6 from Software Bisque.)

In Sickness and in Space

December 29, 2008 at 10:21 am | Leave a Comment

Health and Exploration

I’ve been down with a cold the past few days and it’s no fun.  There’s not much you can do about these things except rest, drink your fluids, and take whatever decongestants/achy-breaky medicine work for you. These colds usually take 7-10 days to run their course if you do nothing but lay around and rest, and about the same amount of time if you load up on cough syrup and aspirin and other stuff and lay around and rest.

As is my usual practice, I was gulping down my OTC nostrum of choice and had a sudden thought about the folks up in the International Space Station.  What do THEY do if they catch colds?  More to the point, DO they catch colds?  What if one of the visiting astronauts brings up a nasty little bug?  Do they all moan around for days, whining about stuffy noses and achy limbs, just like we do here on the surface?

I suppose other people in enclosed environments, like submarines, have to deal with these things, too.  I’m sure the ISS and NASA and the Navy all have plans in place that help them cope with illness outbreaks.

I recall from a long-ago meeting called “Case for Mars” that we discussed such plans as part of the long-term exploration of space, specifically the 18-month trips to Mars that folks will undergo someday. We had lively conversations about the common cold and flu, as well as the more outlandish (but perfectly human) conditions of pregnancy, broken bones, and even the possibilities of crew deaths en route to the Red Planet.

It’s unlikely to think that all the specialists we need for such missions will be in perfect health all the time. It may be, as I read recently, that an astronaut/explorer who is the best at the job may well have diabetes or perhaps asthma — conditions that can be treatable and still allow the bearer to do their jobs and live normal lives.  So, I suppose we can figure out work-arounds for the cold and flu. That’s some comfort, I suppose.  Now, if I could just shake this lingering cough!

Touring Mars

December 28, 2008 at 10:30 am | Leave a Comment

Welcome to Hebes Chasma

Hebes Chasma perspective view from Mars Express.

Hebes Chasma perspective view from Mars Express. (Click to embiggen -- warning: BIG image)

The hits just keep comin’ from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express and its High Resolution Stereo Camera. I know this isn’t a new image, but it’s new to me, so I thought I’d share it here.

This is a perspective view of Hebes Chasma taken on September 16, 2005.  The detail is amazing, and the resolution is about 15 meters per pixel (about 45 feet per pixel).

Click on the image here and you’ll get a larger version — take some time to explore this 8,000-meter deep canyon carved across the surface of Mars.  You’ll find great details in the intricately sculpted canyon walls, some craters, and other formations called Light-Toned Deposits that indicate that water once flowed across this region of the Red Planet.

When I first saw this image it reminded me of flying over the desert southwest of the United States. I imagine some future explorers will take a guided tour over Hebes Chasma someday and see this scene “up close and personal” just prior to their landing and ultimate exploration mission.

Thanks to Mark for pointing my attention to the most recent images from Mars Express.

I Knew That

December 27, 2008 at 16:11 pm | Leave a Comment

Predictable Human Reactions

I’m going to steal a page from my friend Phil Plait’s** playbook today and write about a silliness of the human condition that would be funny if it weren’t so sad: consulting psychics.

In paging through the news the past few days, I ran across a story about how more and more Americans are turning to psychics for advice as the economy tanks.

I’m having a hard time understanding this, mostly because psychics and the “advice” they peddle are pure bunkum.  Anybody who has lost their job, or is about to lose their house, or their savings who takes what little money they have left and spends it on “psychic” advice from someone who purports to “know” the future is simply wasting money they can’t afford to lose.  Worse, they’re being taken advantage of by hucksters at a time when they’re most vulnerable.  Pretty low stuff, especially since there’s absolutely NO scientific data or evidence that points to the existence of anybody being able to read minds or tell the future. None.

But, these practitioners make a living at their “trade”, which tells me that not everybody is a skeptic.

What exactly does one get when one “consults” a psychic?  I tried it once when I was a teenager and I felt like I’d been taken. I was ushered into this dark room and while I dark adapted and listened to spooky music, this woman bade me to sit down. Before she would say another word she informed me that the spirits didn’t speak until an offering was given.

Once she had my $5.00 in her hands, she then proceeded to study my palm and describe all kinds of interesting things about me that weren’t true. She populated her “reading” with all kinds of predictions of wealth and tall, dark, handsome men who I was going to meet and marry (presumably serially).  Oh, and I was going to have many children and win some money. And, she said, I’d be visiting exotic lands.  And, I’d probably end up in movies.

It was the verbal equivalent of a horoscope, where horoscopists just pretty much fling very general things at you hoping that some of it will stick and you’ll believe that the planets somehow foretold them. Her reading was a potpourri of generalities and nothing very specific about me in particular.  And, it really didn’t help me feel any better, especially since I’d wasted $5.00 on her “services.”

So, I wonder… what exactly is a psychic going to tell someone after they’ve lost their job or house or retirement money?   Somehow I think that “You will win the lottery”  or “Things will look up for you soon” isn’t going to cut it… and in fact, stuff like that just preys on people’s hopes.

Here’s my prediction about pychics who take advantage of economic downturns (and I won’t even charge for it): psychics are going to tell their marks pretty much anything just so long as money gets paid up front.  It’s too bad that the downturn in the market will be good for psychics and others who take advantage of people’s misfortunes. It’s despicable, but unfortunately it’s completely understandable as part of the human condition.


**Phil Plait is a notable skeptic and is, in fact, President of the James Randi Educational Foundation. His blog, Badastronomy, features a lot of news about astronomy and space science, but he also writes a LOT about debunking myths, thinking skeptically, and pointing out bad science in politics, movies, and the press.He’s also a friend of mine and a damned good writer!

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