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Comment: Re:Rather a very poor job. :-( (Score 1) 100 100

I have to say, this is borderline pointless.

Firstly, most of the detail is of relatively uninteresting bits of snow, rock, and ice: there's no real motivation to zooming in and poking around, as there is in a similar multi-gigapixel panorama of a city, for example.

As someone said above, the real grandeur of the scene comes in taking in the wider view, at which point the whole hi-res aspect is totally moot.

Plus the mosaic making sucks. Really, right from the get-go, the repeated features in the foreground snowfield are utterly distracting, followed by blurring in many areas when you zoom in a little.

Admittedly, such things are extremely difficult to do well / right (I know from experience), but I've seen plenty of other panoramas which are far better in post-processing.

Ultimately, the question becomes: why bother? Oh, because it's "the most pixelliferous image ever taken". Sigh.

+ - Rosetta team asks for help from amateur astronomers

schwit1 writes: Want to help the Rosetta science team study Comet 67P/C-G? If you are an amateur astronomer, you can!

They are asking amateurs with larger telescopes to observe the comet as it makes its close approach to the Sun and report their observations. The science team will compare their observations with the amateurs. This will teach us how to interpret future comet events when seen from afar.

+ - Rosetta's "Ambition": science fact meets sci-fi

Trapezium Artist writes: The European Space Agency has released a cool short science-fiction film called "Ambition" to help build the excitement and engagement as the Rosetta mission is just weeks away from making the first ever attempt to land on a comet.

Made by Polish VFX and film house, Platige Image, directed by Oscar-nominated Tomek Baginski, and starring Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) and Aisling Franciosi (Jimmy's Hall), "Ambition" was filmed in Iceland and shows a Master and Apprentice transforming the desolate landscape into a giant solar system, in search of answers to fundamental questions about humankind.

The film revolves around key human traits of being adaptable, ambitious, and willing to take risks in reaching for the stars. In much the same way, Rosetta has become the first mission to rendezvous with a comet, to escort it, and on 12 November, to attempt a soft-landing on one, all in search of clues as to the origin of Earth's water and complex organic materials.

Comment: Re:In Orbit? (Score 1) 54 54

Glad to see that you jumped in on this: good description.

Because the comet is so small, the gravity changes a lot with "altitude" from the surface. For a 2-km diameter sphere, say, then the difference in gravity between an altitude of 2-km and 6-km (i.e. between 4 and 8-km from the centre of the sphere) is a factor of 4. On the Earth, it barely changes at all between altitudes of 2 and 4-km, because this is a tiny change relative to the 6400-km radius of the Earth.

So, yes, at 100-km and 50-km, we'll be flying these hyperbolic arcs (slightly bent by the very weak gravity), using thrusters to "turn the corner" at the end of each leg. But at 30-km, we'll be on closed more-or-less circular orbits: I'm pretty sure that it is natural orbit though (and thus fairly long in duration), but not powered.

I do work on the project, albeit not on the flight dynamics side. One of our experts on this, Frank Budnik, did give a talk on this in the science session I moderated yesterday afternoon, starting at 11:28 into the recording of the live stream here:

Comment: Re:ATLAST (Score 2) 46 46

Absolutely right: I was going to point out the same thing. It's many, many years away from any possible launch ...

For reference, the James Webb Space Telescope (or NGST as it was then) was beginning to be picked up as a serious prospect by NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency in the late 1990's. It's due for launch now in 2018.

(This is not meant as a criticism: I've been closely involved with JWST since 1998 and know how hard it has been in terms of technology, programmatics, and politics to get the good state it's in today, namely mostly built and now entering the comprehensive integration and test phase.)

So, very crudely, I'd say that something like ATLAST might be launched after 2035, if it gets picked up as the highest priority in the next US astronomy decadal survey.

Comment: Re:Surely ironic (Score 2) 276 276

Good point; I did use the word "we" in a rather catch-all manner there, and I'd also agree that technologists are likely to have a much better record at predicting the future than journalists.

But I'd then turn the tables and say that it depends on the timescale implied by "future". On a ten-year horizon, I'd agree that technologists are likely to have a pretty good idea what's coming, in part because they're likely to be working themselves actively on new technologies and products for release on similar sorts of timescales.

But on a 100 or 50 or even 30 year horizon, as this article refers to? It seems clear to me that on some timescale, even technologists are unlikely to be that close, if only because they're probably called "futurologists" at that point, or "science fiction writers" :-)

On some timescale, almost everyone is going to be pretty much guessing ...

Comment: Re:Surely ironic (Score 3, Interesting) 276 276

OK, now having read the linked article (oops), I do see that the author (Henry McCracken) realised that the cover painting had a humorous intent (not least that it was the April edition of BYTE), satirising the conservative opinion that future tech was likely to be an extension / miniaturisation of the then-prevalent PC paradigm.

Good to see I got it, though :-)

Comment: Surely ironic (Score 4, Insightful) 276 276

C'mon, it's entirely obvious that that "PC on a watch" painting is a rather clever piece of irony or even satire, not a meaningful prediction of an actual future piece of technology.

That doesn't mean I disagree with the point of the discussion, namely that we're not that great at predicting the directions of future tech, but using this magazine cover as a direct illustration of that is, IMHO, rather disingenuous.

Comment: Re:What's been the hold up???? (Score 1) 100 100

Actually, ESA built the Huygens lander which descended to the surface of Titan. It was carried there on the NASA-ASI Cassini orbiter after being launched by a NASA rocket, but Huygens was European-built, with instruments from Europe and the US.

Its the U-571 gambit: keep saying that things were achieved by the US independent of the truth of the matter, and pretty soon it becomes received knowledge.

Comment: Re:What's been the hold up???? (Score 3, Informative) 100 100

Quite. Rosetta has been on a ten year journey around the Solar System, using Earth and Mars fly-bys to wind its orbit up to meet with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August this year. At its most distant point from the Sun, it was beyond the orbit of Jupiter, but the comet rendezvous will take place at about 3AU, before the comet becomes active as it moves closer into the inner Solar System.

As for outer planet missions, the NASA-led and launched Cassini mission also carried ESA's Huygens probe, which performed the most distant ever landing in the Solar System when it landed on the surface of Titan in 2005.

But the elephant in the room here is ESA's JUICE mission, which is a real mission, not a study, already under implementation for a launch to Jupiter and its icy moons in 2022. JUICE will conduct a number of close fly-bys of Europa, but due to the dangerous radiation environment, will ultimately end up in orbit around Ganymede, another icy moon thought to host a deep ocean below the surface. And NASA are also involved in this mission, providing some of the instruments.

Comment: Re:US broke? Do it with Europeans! (Score 1) 216 216

I was waiting for someone mention the (funded and being built) JUICE mission: it's astonishing to me that the "if it ain't NASA, it ain't worth jack" attitude generally persists, and that hardly anyone in the media (let alone on /.) bothers to do the slightest modicum of research.

JUICE is under development by the European Space Agency for launch in 2022 (not 2020 anymore) and arrival at Jupiter in 2030. It will tour the Jupiter system, including multiple fly-bys of the giant icy moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede. It will end up in orbit around Ganymede, where it will conduct a more detailed survey.

All three moons are thought to harbour giant water oceans under (probably) very thick icy crusts (~100km), although there are debates about which may be the most likely to provide potentially habitable environments deep in these oceans: it may depend on central heat flux from the moon's contraction, flexure due to Jupiter's gravity, heat from radioactive decay, and whether there's a water:rock interface which could provide minerals.

Why Ganymede as the final moon to be orbited? Because Europa is closer to Jupiter and suffers a much higher radiation dose due to high energy particles trapped in Jupiter's magnetic field. Not necessarily an issue for life(?) buried deep in the oceans, but certainly an issue for the survivability of a spacecraft. Through the US's, umm, extensive military experience, NASA has access to higher-grade rad-hard electronics components than ESA, and so JUICE will only fly-by Europa a few times instead of bathing itself in that radiation.

But NASA is involved in JUICE too: several of the (many) instruments on JUICE have US Principal Investigators, funded by NASA. So, NASA is already going to Europa in a very real sense.

In practice, failures in system development, like unemployment in Russia, happens a lot despite official propaganda to the contrary. -- Paul Licker