Mars: Past, Present, and Near Future

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ꞌOumuamua — an interstellar visitor

The trajectory of the asteroid Oumuamua, the first interstellar object detected in our solar system. Oumuamua’s visit is brief, lasting only a few months, but it provides food for thought: what other such objects have passed close by Earth and what might they have brought hither from across the vast cosmic gulfs. Arrhenius’s pan-spermia hypothesis comes to mind — link >>>

Artistic depiction of Oumuamua. Picture by European Southern Observatory

Artist’s impression of the interstellar asteroid `Oumuamua

Lego: Women of NASA

One of my hobbies is Lego. This weekend I assembled the new box Women of NASA. From left to right (click on the picture for larger version):

Margaret Hamilton, head of software engineering during the Apollo moon missions

Astronauts Dr Mae Jemison and Sally Ride

Dr Nancy Roman, chief astronomer at NASA and in charge of the development of the Hubble Telescope.

Space 1889: Fighting Leopold’s Tyranny

Our group has been playing one continuous Space 1889 campaign on and off since 1990. Now we have reached 1898, though only two PCs have been along for the whole ride. We have played a group of Swedish and Russian aristocrats with retinues, serving Monarch and Motherland in distant dangerous places.

Leopold II, probably the most evil man in the Victorian world.


However, I have recently decided to make a mood reboot. In 2019, I will start a new story arch that focuses on fighting the rapacious regime of Leopold II, king of the Belgians and of the Congo Free State in the Coprates. His activities have so far not figured in our campaign, because its adventures have mainly been located in the Parhoon/Syrtis/Gorklimsk region.

The players will create new characters that come from the middle and lower classes, and who are working for a Martian equivalent of the Congo Reform Association, though with more guts and glory. I have decided that in our timeline, the Coprates Colony is owned by the Congo Free State government in order to make it a more fearsome and despicable antagonist. The PCs are financed by American philanthropists who wish to see an end to Leopold’s abominable exploitation of the natives. The PCs have a fairly free hand to achieve this, since their faraway benefactors are shielded by a plausible deniability setup. More old-school Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones than Edmund Dene Morel punching Congostaters is a good and righteous deed.

Venus Exploration: Thinking Outside the Box

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of NASA’s top research facilities, is currently investigating whether it is feasible to design a wind-powered clock-work rover for Venus, tentatively named Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE). The basic concept was conceived by Jonathan Sauder, a mechatronics engineer at JPL.

AREE is designed to function on Venus’s surface without electronics, because the searing (470°C) and crushing (92 bar) atmosphere destroys such components quickly. Fortunately, the planet’s forceful winds can power Savonius wind turbines that provide the required mechanical energy for ground propulsion and on-board devices, for example a mechanical computer. Ergo, AREE is a clock-tech design made of hi-tech materials able to survive in that hellish environment for months.

AREE communicates with a Venus orbiter by a contraption of radar-reflective panels that can be set at various angles. The orbiter broadcasts a radar signal that is reflected back from those panels; the received “image” is then decoded by the orbiter. This simple device is comparable to Morse code or 18th-century semaphore telegraphs. (Also, check the movie The Martian where a stranded astronaut devises a similar method to communicate with Earth.)

Click on the AREE picture for a larger version.

Read more about the AREE studies here — link >>>

XKCD: Rocky Bodies in 2 Dimensions

The eminent site XKCD has published this picture that compares the surface areas of notable rocky celestial bodies in our solar system. The four giant planets are excluded because they lack mappable surfaces. The arrangement would be laid out nicely on the type of Ringworld that Larry Niven proposed in some of his stories — link >>>