It is now just over three weeks until Cassini plunges into Saturn’s atmosphere and the mission (but not the Project) comes to an end. I grow a little sentimental.

This is the flight spare of Cassini’s fluxgate magnetometer sensor, which will live on. We use it for command simulations on the ground.

This is a 1:25 scale model of the Cassini spacecraft, with the Huygens probe attached to its side. It includes the magnetometer boom, which is hidden in this view. These were distributed to the payload teams. It's been in our group longer than I have (>11 years).

I recently ordered a big perspex display box for the model, so we can have it on show at the upcoming Imperial Fringe festival, post-mission-end. I’ll be giving a talk at the Farewell to Cassini exhibit. Details to follow (on the Londoners filter) when they’re confirmed and the web site for event registration is live.

This is a screenshot of NASA Eyes on the DSN that I took on 4 August. DSS-14 at Goldstone (the antenna in white on the left) is receiving data from Voyager 1 (spacecraft shown on the right). I accompanied this with “We’re still listening” on [ profile] magnetometrist on Instagram.

NASA has a poll, open until Tuesday 29 August, to choose a 60-character-or-less #MessagetoVoyager, to be sent on 5 September. If you want to vote on a message, go here.
Friends, Cassini is currently using not one, not two, not three, but FOUR Deep Space Network ground stations for an experiment. You can watch this happening here until about 15:40 BST.

This is so cool.
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( Nov. 2nd, 2016 04:55 pm)
Leiden Centraal to Noordwijk
A selfie I took on the bus from Leiden Centraal to Noordwijk. The bus takes about 45 minutes, so most people opt for a taxi when they’re visiting ESTEC. I like the bus, though. It’s a really pretty route through the city and out into the countryside. Plus, it only costs 4 euros.

While I’m on the subject of space agencies, here are a few links.

  • Want to holiday like an Elder God? Try these lethal exoplanet destinations! Galaxy of Horrors (h/t to [personal profile] redsixwing)

  • For a more soothing experience, you can watch a mildly animated page of the Deep Space Network stations uplinking and downlinking data from different spacecraft. I sometimes do this. I mean, I have a PDF with all the scheduled DSN passes for Cassini, but let’s face it, this is much prettier. Eyes on the DSN.

  • And finally, in Geeky Space Swag news, the Rosetta mission shop has been updated with new shirts and hoodies that include the cartoon spacecraft from the “Once Upon a Time” video series about the mission. Best of all, you can get your mitts on a cuddly/plushy toy of Rosetta and Philae, or donate one to be sent to a primary school.
nanila: YAY (me: abby)
( Jan. 3rd, 2014 10:04 am)
[personal profile] majoline asked: Space! Any really interesting projects or phenomena happening right now?

Ha, now this is a broad topic. I'm going to choose three things to witter about that are close to my heart because I'm personally involved with them.

  1. On 20 January 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft is going to be switched on after 2.5 years of hibernation. This is going to be quite an event. Rosetta has been traveling towards its rendezvous with a comet since its launch in 2004. The comet has the exciting name 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or "Chury Gery" for short. It needed to hibernate in order to use as little power as possible for the last stage of its journey. Assuming it comes back on as planned, Rosetta will go into orbit around the comet whilst its accompanying lander, Philae, drops onto the comet's surface and probes its composition. Since comets are thought to be some of the last remnants of early solar system, we hope Rosetta's exploration will teach us something about the way ours formed.

    Here is a short YouTube video (2 minutes 29 seconds) that shows how Rosetta will wake up.

  2. You can follow Rosetta's progress towards wake-up on Facebook.

  3. There is a massive hexagonal hurricane at Saturn's North Pole.

    The Cassini spacecraft discovered this feature on Saturn a few years into the mission, because the poles were dark when it first arrived at the planet in 2004. Hurricanes on Earth tend to migrate north, but this one is as far north as it can get. The storm is effectively stuck at the pole. The eye of the storm is about 50 times bigger than your average Earth hurricane.

    There's a short article on the hurricane here.

    For me, this discovery highlights the importance of keeping missions to the outer planets going for as long as possible. It takes years to get a craft to them (7 years in the case of Cassini traveling from Earth to Saturn) and it doesn't happen very frequently. No space agency has a mission to Saturn currently in the works. The time from planning to launch is usually a decade, minimum, for outer planetary missions. Cassini is therefore likely to maintain its position as the first and the only spacecraft to orbit Saturn for at least a couple of decades if not longer.

  4. BRB, going to Ganymede. Okay, maybe not exactly "BRB". The JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft is not scheduled for launch until 2022. But it is now over a year and a half since the mission was selected to be the first L-class, or large, mission launched as part of the European Space Agency's Cosmic Vision programme. It will study Jupiter's icy Galilean moons - Europa, Callisto and most particularly Ganymede, which it will orbit. It will attempt to discern, among other things, the extent and depth of the subsurface oceans on these moons. The oceans are thought to be one of the most likely places for life to have potentially developed elsewhere in our solar system.

    It's over a year since our lab was selected to build the magnetometer, which will measure the magnetic field to an absolute accuracy of 0.1 nT. To give you an idea of how small a tenth of a nanoTesla is, the Earth's magnetic field is, on average, 45 microTesla. Hence, what we experience every day is over a hundred thousand times bigger than what the JUICE magnetometer will be trying to measure.

    There isn't much in the public domain about the mission development that I can link you to now. Suffice it to say that even though press coverage is light, there is a hell of a lot of work going on behind the scenes. As I have signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with respect to the instrument and spacecraft development, that's about as specific as I can get. Any disappearance on my part from social media for the next eight years can probably be attributed to intensive work on JUICE.

    A description of the JUICE payload can be found here.

Finally, this post allows me to showcase my exciting new icon by [personal profile] itsamellama, featuring me cosplaying Abby Sciuto from NCIS. \o/
(I'm playing fast and loose with the topic order, I'm afraid, since I got interrupted by conference + intensive document writing. I promise I'll get to all of them. Right now I need a break and so I'm choosing a fluffy topic.)

(Content note: All the m15m links here contain MASSIVE SPOILERS.)

[personal profile] alwayswondered wanted to know: Your top three vampire films!

I love vampire films. In fact I love most of the film-based incarnations of Dracula, even when they're really bad. I also love the book and re-read it regularly. It has such strong religious overtones. Everyone seems to forget this, including me! You might think that it would put me off, seeing as I'm a firmly established non-theist, but I really like the way a very particular Victorian morality is explicitly woven into the story, and Van Helsing's at times rather long-winded characterisation of Mina as the perfect Christian woman.

I digress. I'm not in any way completist about watching vampire films, so my experience with them is fairly haphazard and related to various periods in my life when I had the leisure time either to look them up or went to the cinema to see them. There are just a few that I will happily put on (kind of like Red Dwarf) and watch them for comfort.

  1. Underworld: Yep. I love this film so much. I love Kate Beckinsale rocking the pleather, and kicking much werewolf (and later, vampire) bottom, and doing it because she's decided sod it, she won't be chained by any sense of obligation that she hasn't chosen herself. I love it so much I have done projects for art classes based on it, and wrote an m15m of it. I have also written fanfic of it, which I'm not linking to because this post is public. I'm not too much in love with the two sequels, as the second one is incoherent and the third features zero Kate Beckinsale kicking bottom. But the fourth is inching its way up my list of favourites because Kate Beckinsale is back, and she's mum to a baby girl vamplycan who also kicks much bottom. Honestly, it's like these films are released at the points in my life where they resonate with me most.

  2. Blade: This one has fallen somewhat out of favour with me as I've gotten older and had more difficulty enjoying problematic things, but it rates being on the list because I've watched it so many times (and done fanart based on it, and an m15m of it. No fanfic though). I can still sorta forgive it for its misogyny and I can almost forget I know Wesley Snipes is a massive idiot. But most of the reason I loved it anyway was that it looked fantastic, ended in a very silly manner and had some fabulous dialogue. From my m15m:

    BLADE: Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill.
    BLADE:. …
    BLADE: Seriously, this movie should have ended right there.

  3. Priest: This is a new entry and at the moment is fending off various iterations of Dracula that sit below it. I think it's moody, strong-jawed fellows who spend a lot of time looking moody. And Maggie Q kicking bottom. Actually no, I know it's Maggie Q. Also inspired an an m15m.

I may now have to write a post for various interpretations of Dracula separately.
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( Nov. 28th, 2013 12:17 pm)
The comet ISON is on approach to the sun and has entered the field of view of the long-running SOHO (Solar Heliospheric Observatory) mission. There are some fantastic shots of it traversing towards the sun through a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) on the SOHO web site. The images were captured by the LASCO instrument on board the spacecraft. Stunning stuff - have a look!

This is LASCO's perspective on the sun and the comet. The sun is in the centre, blocked out so that the instrument can focus on what's going on around the edge of it. If you watch the latest movie on the web site, you'll see a big CME forming on the lower right side of the sun, and then ISON appears from the side and streaks toward the centre.

Images and movies from today's data on the SOHO NASA web site.

ETA 20:50 GMT: It looks like the comet may have broken up at perihelion (closest approach to the sun), as shown in this video by another sun-observing spacecraft, STEREO.
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( Jan. 21st, 2013 03:09 pm)
On being a spacecraft engineer, using only the ten hundred most used English words:

I went to school for a long, long time. I tried a job doing exactly what I had studied but I didn't like it enough to keep doing it. So I moved far away and tried again.

Now I have job I enjoy. I work with a group of people who build things. Our things get sent into space. They tell us how much of something that we can't see, smell, touch or hear is present in space. It takes a long time to build a thing that can go into space and stay on for years. We have to make sure our things don't break easily and don't use too much power. I use a computer to make sure that the stuff our things tell us is right. This is so that we can learn about our world and other worlds. We want to know things like: how shifting lights in the sky form, how the hot stuff in the middle of worlds helps keep them safe from the stars and how to find worlds that could have life on them.

Right now I'm taking a break from my job because I had a baby. I take a lot of pictures of my baby, my boyfriend, my cat and my house. I also like to tell true stories to my friends and to paint. I live in a place that lets me spend time raising my baby without losing my job. This place also gave me free care during the time just before I had my baby. I'm happy because when I do my job, I help to pay for this care for myself and for other people who can't pay for it. This is very good and I wish it were true in more places, like the place where I used to live.

(Created using the Up-goer Five text editor, which challenges you to use only the ten hundred most common words to explain an idea.

Words I was unable to use: instrument, measure, device, engineer, planet, system, country, partner. Worst of all, the word “science” was forbidden. Argh!)

Unpaid work and universal childcare by [personal profile] rmc28
Singlet oxygen by [personal profile] holdthesky
Political canvassing by [personal profile] miss_s_b
Working for a Fair Trade organisation by [personal profile] ironed_orchid
Working as a clinical psychologist by [personal profile] vi
Working in retail by [personal profile] pbristow
Working in the hotel industry written begrudgingly by [personal profile] gominokouhai
Virtualization and "the cloud" by [personal profile] azurelunatic
Researching politics, gender and human rights by [personal profile] ajnabieh
On being a physics teacher by [personal profile] crystalpyramid
Space science & outreach by [profile] rinkle
Teaching people about dinosaurs by [personal profile] innerbrat

ETA: They accepted my submission to the Ten Hundred Words of Science tumblr: here.

Maybe it's enhanced because I recently had my own child, but the shootings in Connecticut and the kibosh on gun control discussion imposed by the White House have made me so, so angry. Why does this keep happening? Because, as The Onion summarized neatly in its caption of a photo of a woman hugging a sobbing child, "Right To Own Handheld Device That Shoots Deadly Metal Pellets At High Speed Worth All Of This".

When are we going to sort this out, America? Civilians don't need to own handguns and assault rifles. They may want to, but they don't need them. If you need to hunt to survive (and very few people's survival depends on this any more), a shotgun and some decent target practice will suffice. You don't need an assault rifle.

Never have I been more pleased to have chosen to raise my child in a country where there is a ban on ownership of the types of weapons which are primarily used to kill other people rather than edible game. I'm not saying Britain doesn't have problems. Just that I'm glad my daughter will be able to go to fucking primary school largely without fearing she'll die in a massacre enabled because one of her teachers owns a goddamn assault rifle.

Kids in a primary school were massacred. Kids in a goddamn primary school were fucking massacred. This isn't bad enough for you, America? Really? REALLY? What the hell is, then?

This was written after the Aurora shooting. Which was in July of this year. The first bloody line of this piece is: "How many more tragedies need to happen before the United States joins the modern world in banning assault weapons?" How fucking short are our memories?

From the New Statesman. "In the US, the total of firearm homicides in 2011 was eleven thousand, one hundred and one, and this year is on track to be even higher. Look at it this way: if the Connecticut attack was the only shooting yesterday, then the day's death toll would actually be below the US average. More people die from firearm homicide every year than the total number of US military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. More than twice as many people die from firearm homicide as in 11 September and Pearl Harbour combined. 31 people every day die on average from a firearm-related homicide. This doesn't count accidental deaths. Just murder." [emphasis mine]

The final word goes to The Onion.
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( Jul. 4th, 2012 10:36 am)
Also, Happy Revolting Colonial Day!

Around these parts, though, we're mostly celebrating Particle Announcement Day at CERN.

Londoners: The Royal Society Summer Exhibition is on again this week. I'll be there this afternoon (1330 to 1700, when it closes to the public) along with [ profile] purplecthulhu and tomorrow morning (Thursday, 1000 to 1330) on the Herschel stand. I realise this is work-time for most of you, but the exhibition is open late to the public on Friday and also at the weekend. Come on down to Carlton House Terrace and see the new and exciting things going on in science!

ETA: We're watching the CERN webcast in the lab. It is hilarious watching the dance between the press and the scientists. The press are practically begging for them to say without qualification that this is the Higgs boson. The scientists are steadfastly refusing.

Now that I've been watching for half an hour, I can sum up the interaction thusly.

Press: "Please, please say this is the Higgs. PLEASE."
Scientists: "Here is a technical explanation of the reason why we refuse to define this particle as the standard-model Higgs."
Press: "OK, if you won't do that, will you at least help us with our headlines by saying something about dark matter?"
Scientists: "....No."
repeat ad infinitum