Looks like heavy traffic over the holidays on Mars. Like jet trails in the sky, the Mars dust looks like it holds the memories of many vehicles running through it. As the jet trails evaporate in the atmosphere, so will the Rover trails in the dust as the wind eventually fills them up with new dust.

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Both Spirit and Opportunity are nearing milestones. Spirit landed on Mars on January 3, 2004, with Opportunity landing 21 days later. If I recall correctly, the originally mission was hoped to last 90 days. Both have lasted about 20 times longer.

Guess what? They’re still working. My car can’t go six months without something going wrong with it and me taking it into the shop. I predict in the future we will all be driving Rovers on Earth. Better than golf carts, surely; great mileage and no maintenance.

The Martian wind has helped clear the dust from the rovers solar panels that collect sunlight and convert it into energy. These puppies don’t have antifreeze either. My car battery would have died in this cold long, long ago.

Admittedly, Spirit just barely survived this Martian winter. Still, both seem to be in good condition for the foreseeable future, which is simply marvelous.

Plans call for Spirit to check out “Home Plate”, an area of explosive volcanic material that scientists are eager to look over. Opportunity will head to Endeavour Crater.

Remember the excellent Inspector Morse tv series and the wonderful books written by Colin Dexter? Everyone just called him ‘Morse’. Not revealed until one of the last episodes was his first name – Endeavour.

I have this song from the Counting Crows band in my head. Here are the lyrics:

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leaving
Now the days go by so fast
And its one more day up in the canyons
And its one more night in Hollywood
If you think that I could be forgiven…I wish you would
The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that its all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl
And its one more day up in the canyons
And its one more night in Hollywood
If you think you might come to California…I think you should
Drove up to hillside manor sometime after two a.m.
And talked a little while about the year
I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower,
Makes you talk a little lower about the things you could not show her
And its been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass
And its one more day up in the canyon
And its one more night in Hollywood
Its been so long since I’ve seen the ocean…I guess I should.

A lot has happened recently and I haven’t posted much, been trying to learn to play the guitar which has taken up a lot of my free time. With the election over, and a new administration taking over in January, “there’s reason to believe this year will be better than the last.”

PC Magazine will stop printing soon and will be available online only. I hate to see this as I learned much about computing from their magazine. I fondly recall learning about expanded memory, extended memory, micro channel architecture, and so on and so on. In truth, since the dot com bust, the magazine went from a multi pound thick info packed warehouse of knowledge to a thinly disguised advertisement and buying guide for their advertisers.

Part of this is due to Intel copyrighting the Pentium name and keeping more of the lid on the inner workings of these chips, or perhaps people just are not as geekily interested in how these chips work like some of us before were. The information is available sooner online anyway. My Kim Kommando newsletter I receive from her is timely and informative about technology and tech issues. People like Jim Seymour, who died prematurely a few years ago, aren’t around to enliven the mysteries of computing either. He was great to read in PC Magazine. I like John Dvorak’s writing but the magazine has definitely moved from being an information tool to being a sales tool. John is not afraid to challenge the makers of software and hardware products. Still, I hate to see it go. It was a good run.

When you’re Democrat or Republican, isn’t it refreshing to be treated by the new hires as adults, rather than some ignorant people who don’t deserve any information at all?

Enough said. December has only just begun, but it will soon be over.

Happy holidays!

Infrared Images of Saturn’s Poles

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has taken new pictures showing a giant cyclone at Saturn’s north pole and its south pole, the latter apparently powered by Earth-type storm patterns.

The characteristics of these cyclones differs from Earth-based cyclones in interesting ways.

The north pole cyclone is only visible in the near-infrared wavelengths due to winter in that region of Saturn. At these wavelengths, seven times greater than that of visible light, the clouds deep inside Saturn’s atmosphere are only seen in silhouette against the background radiation of Saturn’s internally generated heat.

Saturn's South Polar Region Revealed

An infrared map of the north pole of Saturn has been created showing features as small as 120 km (75 mi) visible. The whirlpool-like cyclone there is rotating at 530 km/hr (325 mph), more than twice as fast as the highest winds measured in cyclones on Earth.

This cyclone is surrounded by a honeycombed-shaped hexagon, which itself does not seem to move while the clouds within it whip around at high speeds, also greater than 500 km/hr (300 mph). Neither the fast-moving clouds inside the hexagon nor this new cyclone seem to disrupt the six-sided hexagon.

Hurricanes on Earth are fueled by the ocean’s heat and water while Saturn’s cyclones have no body of water at their bases as Saturn’s hurricanes are locked to the planet’s poles, whereas terrestrial hurricanes drift across the ocean.

Just as condensing water in clouds on Earth powers hurricane vortices, the heat released from the condensing water in Saturn’s thunderstorms deep down in the atmosphere may be the primary power source energizing the vortex.

At the southern pole, the new infrared images of the pole, under the daylight conditions of southern summer, show the entire region is marked by hundreds of dark cloud spots. The Yet Yawning Gulf

The clouds, like those at the north pole, are likely composed of ammonium hydro-sulfide with possibly a mixture of other materials from below. Conversely, most of the hazes and clouds seen on Saturn are believed to be composed of ammonia, which condenses at higher and more visible altitudes.

The solar wind is a gas plasma blown off the surface of our sun at a million miles per hour. It is the outer atmosphere of the sun expanding out into space in all directions all the time. It effectively forms a shield around our solar system like a bubble that is called the heliosphere that tends to reflect harmful cosmic rays originating from other star systems, basically pushing away the rest of the galaxy from our solar system. This outward flow of particles is constant and creates outbound pressure referred to as a wind, a solar wind.

Sometimes it is stronger than at other times. Apparently, it is also sometimes weaker, as new data suggest.

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An image of the sun taken Sept 25 using the SOHO observatory’s Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope at 304 Angstrom. SOHO, NASA/ESA

This is perplexing. The strength of the wind forms a pressure barrier that repels the intergalactic cosmic radiation, which is quite harmful to life, especially life floating around in space, space stations and spacecraft. Earth is protected by its magnetosphere and by its atmosphere for two additional tiers of protection. Spacecraft orbiting the Earth would also be protected by its magnetosphere. Spacecraft en route to the moon would have minimal protection.

The spacecraft Ulysses launched in October 1990, is a mission out of the plane of the planets orbiting the polar regions of the sun. Ulysses has detected a gradual decrease in the solar wind over the last 15 years equal to nearly 25%.

A segment today on Science Friday, talks to David McComas, Principal Investigator for Solar Wind Observations over the Poles of the Sun (SWOOPS) Experiment, about the solar wind and the findings by the spacecraft Ulysses. The archived podcast should be available later today here.

The Ulyssess/SWOOPS web site is here: http://swoops.lanl.gov/ .

Al? Found your telescope; it’s back here in the storage shed.

The telescope goes on display this week after being forgotten for decades. Restorers spent three years and $10,000 spent refurbishing it.

An old reflecting telescope that still works well enough to see five of Jupiter’s moons and surface stripes, it was found in a Jerusalem storage shed.

Einstein received the telescope in 1954, the year before he died as a gift from a friend named Zvi Gizeri, who apparently made it himself. It will be on display beginning Thursday at Hebrew University. Einstein willed his records to the school he helped co-found.

The long black tube about eight inches in diameter and 6 feet long stands on a base experts say may have been taken from the German army. It was this unique base, recognizable in a picture of Einstein with the telescope, and a signature from Gizeri on one of its mirrors, that confirmed its authenticity in 2004, when a biologist named Eshel Ophir made the connection.

The telescope was discovered in a storage shed in the late 1990s by a computer specialist at Hebrew University, however, he did not recognize it as Einstein’s, and left it in the shed.

Ophir made the connection accidentally, mistaking another forgotten telescope for the famous physicist’s. After searching through the archives and photos, Ophir realized the real Einstein telescope was actually the one his colleague had found unceremoniously years earlier. Ophir said he immediately took the telescope to the university’s Meyerhoff Youth Center to protect and clean it.

With the exception of a new eyepiece, the rest of the device, from lenses to optics, is original. Eisnstein likely used the telescope for recreation and not for professional purposes.

Science Friday http://www.sciencefriday.com/ has an excellent update on the Mars science program and planned projects for Mars. They also discuss possible missions in the next 5 to 10 years. The podcast should be available later today here: http://www.sciencefriday.com/feeds/about/.

Here’s the description of the segment from their web site:

In this segment, we’ll get the big picture on science on the planet Mars. From orbiting observatories to roving rovers to the ditch-digging Phoenix — what have planetary scientists learned about Mars, and what remains to be discovered?


The most recent visitor to the Red Planet is NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, which launched in August 2007 as the first mission in NASA’s Scout Program. Phoenix is designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian arctic’s ice-rich soil. So far, the lander has identified water ice in soil samples, and has detected the chemical perchlorate in the soil, a sign of the presence of liquid water in the past.


The Phoenix Mars Lander joins the twin rovers of the Mars Exploration Rover project, Spirit and Opportunity, which have been in operation since 2004. Now running years past their planned lifetime on Mars, the rovers are still exploring the surface. Rover Opportunity recently exited the Victoria Crater after several months on the crater floor.


Several orbiting observatories, including Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are examining the different aspects of the planet from above. The orbiting platforms have studied the planet’s atmosphere, mapped its surface, and are also supporting the ground-based exploration missions.


We’re broadcasting this week from Tucson, Arizona, home base for NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, as guests of Arizona Public Media.”

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Image: NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity climbed out of “Victoria Crater” following the tracks it had made when it descended into the half-mile-diameter bowl nearly a year earlier.

I’ve started taking guitar lessons, consequently, some of my free time has been consumed by practicing rather than posting to my blog. This comes thirty-five years after I bought an inexpensive guitar in school and tried to learn it on my own. I was unsuccessful.

I plan to blog more as fall approaches, perhaps even about learning to play the guitar. Below is the Fender acoustic I purchased. I never knew Fender made acoustic guitars.

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I can read music. From the 5th grade on, I played the cornet in school band. So I was able to skip the first three lessons where one learns the notes and the scale and proceed directly to learning the strings, fret board and notes on the guitar.

It’s actually turning out to be a lot of fun, and I would encourage anyone who has had the yearning to learn the guitar to take it up.

I am finding my coordination in fingering the chords and strumming the strings has improved greatly since I was a geeky kid listening to “Stairway to Heaven,” “Vincent”, and any other song with heavy acoustical overtones.

Sykes Songwriter Fest

Which brings me to the event I attended two weeks ago in Memphis; the Keith Sykes’ Songwriter Celebration held at the Delta Fair. The event was free except for the entrance to the fair ($8) and parking ($5). Still, one would pay that whether or not one saw the songwriters sing their songs.

I attended with a friend and we were fortunate to see Roger Cook, Todd Snider and Rodney Crowell. While all three were exceptional, Todd Snider http://www.toddsnider.net/ really stood out in my mind. I bought his recent CD at Barnes and Noble and have ordered two others. To hear an interview with Todd, go to http://isoas.wordpress.com/2008/09/05/todd-snider-interview-segment-1/

I’ve discovered other musicians as a result of my trip to Memphis, primarily by being introduced to them by my friend, including Paul Thorn http://www.paulthorn.com/ and Peter Bradley Adams http://www.peterbradleyadams.com/. Paul Thorn doesn’t sell a whole lot of CD’s according to Barnes & Noble, but his music is very good and worth a serious look-see. Peter Bradley Adams is somewhat mellow, and is classified apparently and surprisingly as alternative.

Anyway, that’s my two cents for today. Talk to you later!

Google has a introduced a new web browser named Chrome, which is currently a beta product, on Tuesday, September 2. It is an open source browser. Google developed the browser in response to many applications being ported to the web. These app’s need a browser to run in and Google wants to supply that browser.

Operating systems such as Windows are not as important as they once were, with many systems operating all the key functions and features users desire.

Google believes the browser should be less intrusive on the user experience, use less processor power and system resources to run the app’s consumers need while at the same time offering up a bullet proof architecture that should reduce browser crashes. If anyone uses IE 7, you are well aware of browser crashes. Many people using Internet Explorer have stayed with IE 6.

The architecture segregates each open browser into a separate partition in memory, which also has the side benefit of enhancing security through separating the activity of a malicious web site and restricting it from reaching outside the partition to harm any other processes taking place on the computer.

Google relied on open source development already pioneered by Mozilla. Also, the engine behind Apple’s Safari browser was relied on in developing Chrome.

Reportedly, it is very fast, exceeding Firefox in many instances. Simple in design, able to create application shortcuts on your desktop, and a tab system that is located at the top of the browser. A task manager lets you monitor which web pages or add-ons are consuming the most processor resources. The tabs can be dragged around to a separate area of the desktop. The search and address line have been combined into one.

Chrome doesn’t support the extensions in Firefox and there is no print preview feature. Still, it is an interesting development in the browser wars and may prod Microsoft into improving their browser with the release of IE 8, rather than just issuing a stock release that doesn’t have much feature enrichment.

I still like Firefox but will use Chrome occasionally to put it through its paces. I’m a geek, and will be looking to monitor its development down the road.

The upload link for Chrome is: http://www.google.com/chrome/eula.html?hl=en&brand=CHMG&utm_source=en-hpp&utm_medium=hpp&utm_campaign=en

Forgetting for a moment the extreme cold and harsh environment on Mars, the pictures that the Phoenix lander is transmitting back to Earth are marvelous in their ordinariness. The pictures could be soil at many if not most any place on Earth. They’re awesome due to their clarity and resolution, making one feel like they could walk out their back door and pick up a handful of Martian dirt. No big whoop at all.

Analysis has started on a sample of soil delivered to NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander’s wet chemistry experiment from the deepest trench dug thus far. Additionally, Phoenix has also been observing movement of clouds overhead.

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Its robotic arm recently sprinkled a small fraction of the estimated 50 cubic centimeters of soil that had been scooped up from the informally named “Stone Soup” trench on Saturday, the 95th day of the mission. The Stone Soup trench, in the left portion of the lander’s active workspace, is approximately 18 centimeters (7 inches) deep.

The surface of the arctic plain where Phoenix landed on May 25 bears a pattern of small polygon-shaped hummocks, similar to some permafrost terrain on Earth. This is why scientists thought this area ideal to point the lander to. They are particularly interested in the new sample because it is from a trench on the border between two of the polygons, where different material may collect than what has been analyzed from near the center of a polygon. From inside Phoenix’s scoop, the sample material from the bottom of the trench displayed clumping characteristics somewhat different from other cloddy soil samples that have been collected and examined. There are clumps and then there are clumps.

Some clues to the composition of the sample has been derived from images taken. While spectral observations have not produced any sign of water-ice, bigger clumps of soil have shown a texture consistent with elevated concentration of salts in the soil from deep in the trench. The lander’s wet chemistry laboratory can identify soluble salts in the soil.

The science team has also been studying a series of still pictures of the nearby Martian sky showing dramatic water ice clouds moving over the landing site during a 10-minute period on Sol 94 (Aug. 29).

“The images were taken as part of a campaign to see clouds and track wind. These are clearly ice clouds,” said Mark Lemmon, the lead scientist for the lander’s surface stereo imager, from Texas A&M University.

Image: NASA

The Mars rover Opportunity is making its way back out to the Martian plains nearly a year after descending into a large Martian crater, Victoria, to examine exposed ancient rock layers.

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“We’ve done everything we entered Victoria Crater to do and more,” said Bruce Banerdt, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California who is project scientist for Opportunity and its rover twin, Spirit.

Opportunity is now preparing to look at loose cobble rock on the plains which are approximately fist-size and larger, which were thrown long distances when objects hitting Mars blew deep craters into the planet; even deeper than the recently explored Victoria crater.

“Our experience tells us there’s lots of diversity among the cobbles,” said Scott McLennan of the State University of New York, Stony Brook. McLennan is a long-term planning leader for the rover science team. “We want to get a better characterization of them. A statistical sampling from examining more of them will be important for understanding the geology of the area.”

Opportunity entered Victoria Crater on Sept. 11, 2007, after a year of exploring from the rim. Once a drivable inner slope was identified, Opportunity used contact instruments on its robotic arm to inspect the composition and textures of accessible layers, then drove close to the base of a cliff called “Cape Verde,” part of the crater rim, to capture detailed images of a stack of layers 20 feet tall. The information Opportunity has returned about the layers in Victoria suggest the sediments were deposited by wind and affected by groundwater.

“The patterns broadly resemble what we saw at the smaller craters Opportunity explored earlier,” McLennan said. “By looking deeper into the layering, we are looking farther back in time.” At approximately a half mile in diameter, it is the deepest seen by Opportunity.

Engineers are programming Opportunity to climb out of the crater at where it entered. A spike in electric current drawn by the rover’s left front wheel last month settled debate about whether to keep trying to get closer to the base of Cape Verde on the steep slope. The spike resembled one seen on Spirit when that rover lost the use of its right front wheel in 2006. Opportunity’s six wheels are all still working after 10 times more use than they were designed to perform, but the team took the spike in current as a reminder of the pitfalls involved. Yet, unbelievably, the rover is still working well.

“If Opportunity were driving with only five wheels, like Spirit, it probably would never get out of Victoria Crater,” said JPL’s Bill Nelson, a rover mission manager. “We also know from experience with Spirit that if Opportunity were to lose the use of a wheel after it is out on the level ground, mobility should not be a problem.”

Opportunity drives with its robotic arm out of the stowed position because a shoulder motor has degraded over the years to the point where the rover team didn’t want to risk having it stop working while the arm is stowed on a hook. If the motor were to stop working with the arm unstowed, the arm would remain usable; not a good thing.

“Both rovers show signs of aging, but they are both still capable of exciting exploration and scientific discovery,” said JPL’s John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity.