A Martian Moment Captured

Had to pass this on, which I saw at the Planetary Society weblog: The HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter managed to capture a picture of the Phoenix lander as it descended to the Red Planet. In the words of the Planetary Society blog: "a speeding bullet photographed by a speeding bullet".

Phoenix Descends

I often find Phil "The Bad Astronomer" Plait's skepti-geek rants a little tiresome and superficial, but on this one I appreciated his pure excitement at such a cool shot (Youtube video). Sometimes we become a little ambivalent about space exploration - but a shot like this makes us realise some of the spectacular things humanity has achieved. We have these machines orbiting around and landing on another planet. Maybe in a few centuries it might seem ho-hum and even antiquated (in terms of technological knowledge), but it will always be recognised in the future as a great historical era. We live in the time when humanity has learnt how to leave our own rock, and navigate space. That's pretty damn amazing.

Skeptical Inquirer 32:1

The latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer (32:1) has been released, and as usual there are a bunch of free online articles from the new mag:

Full details of the entire contents available at the SI website.

News Briefs 26-05-2008

A few stones left unturned, but still a good news day.

Quote of the Day:

The shaman seers of the Fourth World generally agree that those who tenaciously cling to the past will fall into mass insanity. The serpent power of the Aquarian Age is upon us. The Kundalini of Gaia is about to awaken. No one can avoid being affected. Most human beings may go out of their minds; others will go beyond mind.

John Hogue, in The Critical Mass of Enlightenment.

Flight of the Phoenix

The Phoenix Mars Lander is within an hour of attempting its landing on the Red Planet - if you want to keep tabs on what's happening live (and you're on broadband), you can access the live NASA TV feed. NASA TV has interviews and up to date briefings on what's happening. For more background info on the mission, see MSNBC's Mars page, and also of course, the official NASA page for the mission.

How things change - when growing up, I was fascinated with the Viking photos as I perused them in a book that was released. Now we have live mission broadcasts, and images as soon as they are received.

Update: Phoenix has landed, all looks good at this time. Even some postcards already!

Weekend Blogscan 24-05-2008

A few things to keep you busy over the weekend...


News Briefs 23-05-2008

Fare thee well, Dr. Lamb. Good luck and Godspeed…

Thanks Greg!

Quote of the Day:

"They're not gonna catch us... We're on a mission from God."

Dan ‘Jake’ Aykroyd

Dead for a Day?

Yahoo has video of a strange news case in which it is claimed that an elderly woman was dead - that is, with no brain waves - for 17 hours, before suddenly resuscitating herself as nurses made final preparations for the dead body. The family had made the decision to turn off life support, but the woman was left on a respirator for almost a day as a decision over organ donation was mulled over, despite showing no signs of brain function.

When interviewed, she said "I feel blessed and I know God has something in store for me." It would be interesting to know if she underwent any sort of (Very!) Near Death Experience, and also to get a full report from a scientist/medical doctor rather than relying on this media report for details. Much more here and here. I still have some questions over the "10% chance of survival" mixed with "no neurological functioning", and also how long her body temperature was lowered via hypothermia. Thanks RPJ and Kat.

More on Spielberg's Paranormal Project

We reported a while back about rumours concerning Steven Spielberg's involvement in a "Paranormal Facebook" - that is, a social networking website devoted to paranormal topics. In today's news briefs, RPJ points at a fresh update on the state of the project:

The site will reportedly be called “Rising” or “The Rising” (our understanding is that they have acquired both .com domain names), and the logo above and animated logo below are at least preliminary versions of the final.

...The Rising will have original video content with a permanent host in addition to the social network where users can share stories and experiences, tapping into serious demand for this kind of thing.

Not sure whether to take this at face value, or whether it could all be a movie (or game) tie-in, or even possible an Alternative Reality Game (ARG). Guess we'll see as time progresses (in the meantime, if Mr Spielberg needs a news guy for his new site, I could sure use some income for this gig...)

In other Spielberg-related news, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has opened, and reviews are pretty good (see Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB). Looks like it recaptures the vibe of the series well, which is no mean feat - I'll have to check it out. (BTW, I just finished typesetting Filip Coppens' article on the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull for Darklore Volume 2, and I'm sure you folks will really dig it)

Let Them Eat Gold

On the menu of a Wall Street restaurant is a burger covered in gold flakes - at US$180 for one burger, it's a meal fit for Gordon Gekko. Is there an Illuminati version of Gordon Ramsay loose in a New York restaurant? That's an appetising conspiracy, but sprinkling your food with gold isn't new. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt ingested gold dust, believing it prolonged one's life. Restaurants in Turkey have been serving gold-flecked meals for a while, and they were undoubtedly inspired by history:

Europe has very old traditions in using edible gold on food, dating back to the Renaissance. While 15th century alchemists used gold medicinally as an aid to digestion, 16th century Italian dukes decorated their risotto with it. The Elizabethans added gold dust to fruit at their most sumptuous banquets and ate sweets covered in gold in the afternoons to maintain healthy hearts. Gold is still considered medicinal in both traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. The Japanese continue to use gold regularly in their diet, and it is especially consumed at New Year’s when it is thought to bring luck and prosperity. There are several brands of sake that feature gold flakes in the bottle.

A small bottle of Kizakura sake sits on the shelf above my computer, a past birthday present that I never drank. The gold flakes sit at the bottom, autumn leaves in a pond, until I shake it like a snow-globe. But this beautiful concept is shattered by my conscience conjuring images of the obscenely rich gorging themselves on gold and beef at the expense of environmental and human rights.

Or perhaps it's simply that the sake I just drank is well past its expiry date...how else can I explain contemplating a conspiracy of Wall Street burgers sprinkled with gold dust, Illuminati chefs, and alchemical immortality?

News Briefs 22-05-2008

If this were to be the last day of your life, what would you change?

Arigato Greg-san

Quote of the Day:

“There is no requirement that every statement be a scientific statement. Nor are non-scientific statements worthless or irrational simply because they are not scientific. “She sings beautifully.” “He is a good man.” “I love you.” These are all non-scientific statements that can be of great value. Science is not the only useful way of looking at life.”

William D. Phillips, Nobel Laureate.