Mars Pheonix on Twitter

Via Stuart (of Astronomy Blog) who got it via Will Gater and Orbiting Frog: the Phoenix Mars Lander is on Twitter.

That's pretty cool.

And it takes me back almost 11 years. Back on 23rd June 1997 I subscribed to the Majordomo mailing list for Mars Global Surveyor. It was a great service, with emails coming every so often with reports of what was happening and the status of the spacecraft. The last report I received was on 9th April 1999:

Mars Global Surveyor initiated normal mapping operations on Sunday, April 4. The spacecraft is now in the nadir pointed configuration with the High Gain Antenna tracking the Earth. The spacecraft and instruments have been operating nominally, but the combination of a sequence error and DSN tracking problems have caused several small gaps in the returned data. As of Friday, April 9, these problems appear to have been completely resolved and all acquired data is being successfully returned.
I'm not sure if that was the last email ever sent out, or if I unsubscribed after that.

It's kind of interesting to note what's changed in that time. Back then it was done via email, so it was sort of slow and was always "in the past" (for significant values of "in the past"). These days it's happening via twitter so, thanks to my constantly open Psi window that is connected to Twitter, I can see things as they happen (well, as they're written about and sent out).

Add to that the fact that, these days, I can know what the Lovell telescope is up to at any point in time (not forgetting that that's true for all the other Jodrell Bank 'scopes) and it's pretty clear that getting information about what's happening in astronomy and space exploration is easier than ever.

To all those people who work hard to make it happen: thanks.


World Wide Telescope: Reflection?

I've been noticing a few "mystery objects" while browsing around with WorldWide Telescope, most look like they're aircraft trails and similar things. The most unusual (well, the most attention-grabbing, for me) seems to be a bunch of these:

I'm guessing it's some sort of "reflection" within the telescope?

WorldWide Telescope: A Mandelbrot Set?

Look what I just found in WorldWide Telescope's planet browser:

Some sort of easter egg, or an example of how you can extend the application and use it for other things?

WorldWide Telescope: The first 5 mins

I've now got WorldWide Telescope installed. The download and install was fast and painless and I was up and running in no time.

My initial impression? Wow! It's nice. Very nice. Very, very nice. It's easy to navigate, things feel like they're set out in a pretty logical way. Things like the little tray of "bookmarks" along the bottom of the window, which change as you move around the sky, are a very nice touch. I also like that you've got the ability to view different planets in a Google-Earth-a-like way.

The only complaint I have at the moment is that some of the images seem slow to download (on my setup anyway) and, while this is happening, it isn't always obvious that something is going on so you're left wondering if it's working or if it's died.

Back to some more playing... (and perhaps looking into how hackable it is too)

WorldWide Telescope

Oh, hello! It looks like Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope is available for download. I guess I need to go play at some point real soon...


Quiet Sun Again?

This evening I've been catching up with my observing logs. Recently all I've been managing to do in terms of observing is sunspot counts and I've got a nasty habit when I do them. Given that I do the counts during the day (dur!) I tend to pop into the garden with the solarscope, do a quick count (or not so quick if things look interesting — I'll even photograph the sunspots if I think it'll be interesting enough), and then pop back into the office and write the key details on a scrap of paper and place it under my monitor.

The problem with this is I tend to let them pile up. Eventually I crack and write them up in my observing logbook and then type up the XML log file that gets turned into the online log.

This really is one nasty habit I should break.

The thing that I did notice when sorting out these latest logs this evening is that I've not seen a sunspot since 2008-03-31 (the last one seen and recorded being part of active area 988). While this isn't quite so long a time as late last year it does seem rather quiet again, at least in terms of the days I've been able to observe and what I can see with my modest equipment.

It's all making my sunspot graphs look rather bare.