May 2008 Archives

Phoenix lands

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This has been all over the astrosphere, so I don't really need to talk much about the spectacular success of the Phoenix lander. I just wanted to share this amazing image:
Phoenix landing, Heimdal crater in background; image:NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

That's Phoenix, still hanging from its parachute and descending on Mars, as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera, with the Heimdall crater in the background. The lander is some 20km in front of the crater, and it can be better seen in the inset. Click on the image for more details and for larger versions of the image. Later on, the same camera photographed the landing site, showing Phoenix, its parachute and the remains of the heat shield very clearly. As everyone knows, the landing went on with no problems, but had anything gone wrong we'd probably know a lot about what happened.

Interestingly enough, Heimdall is the guardian of the gods and of the bridge between Midgard (the Earth) and Asgard (the land of the gods) in the Norse mythology. He seems to have allowed Phoenix through.

Flare in EV Lacertae

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One of the most important events in Greg Egan's novel Diaspora happens when a pair of neutron stars in the constellation Lacerta collide, sending out a powerful gamma ray burst and causing the extinction of most life on Earth. I was reminded of that while reading, earlier today, about an unassuming, small red dwarf star in that constellation sending out a massive flare, thousands of times more strong than the ones our Sun sends out every now and then.

There's no risk to us, of course, and Phil Plait does a much better job than I would be able to of telling the whole story; go there, it's an excellent read.

Still, that's one more way the universe can kill us all... (and I guess I'll go reread Greg Egan's novels...)

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