I had the telescope out last night to take a couple of shots of our nearly full moon. I’m slowly getting better – there’s a bunch of factors that make astrophotography really challenging. One, you have to wait for perfect weather. Two, even the tiniest vibration in your setup (wind, footsteps, camera shutter) will cause blur in your picture. Three, the moon is moving! Fast! When you’re looking at a tiny slice of the sky you really get a sense of how everything is whirling around through space. The moon is pretty bright so it’s not a huge factor, but without a star-tracker robot to keep locked on celestial bodies, you need to keep shutter speeds pretty fast to prevent motion blur. (but you want long shutter speeds to collect a lot of light, soooo)
Anyhow – I’m failing better and better. 🙂 Here’s a shot from last night. Lots of dust on my sensor and inside the telescope – I’ll have to blow it clean soon with some compressed air.
How exciting are all of these new pictures of Pluto? We live in a time where we take for granted how much we know about a lot of subjects, but it’s amazing to think that as recently as a few days ago we weren’t sure what Pluto really looked like, nevermind its moons and cohort of Kuiper Belt friends. Now we’re going to have to throw out all of our old Solar System books, because we know all about it’s surface features, composition, atmosphere, mass, diameter, the list goes on and on.
It’s so amazing to live in a time where images from the edges of our solar system are accessible on the web minutes after they arrive.
I gave the Kerbal Space Program game demo a shot on the weekend after watching some Youtube videos of people’s game play. It’s a physics sandbox game where you build rockets and send little green men (Kerbals) to the moon (Mun), planets and various other spots in their nearly-to-scale solar system.
So at first it’s super fun – building rockets and having them go horribly awry on the launchpad is often hilarious – made extra-macabre by the terrified facial expressions of the little astronauts onboard. Sadly the better you are at the game, the less fun it feels to play. Once you figure out the logistics of building viable rockets, all the planets are more or less reachable if you’re patient enough to wait through the sometimes really tedious (if you have to make a lot of course correcting burns) gameplay.
There’s plenty to do if you’re self-motivated – beyond the demo there’s space planes, space stations, docking ports, weird propulsion systems – how little fuel can you take to reach Eloo or Duna? How many engines does it take to put a Kerbal into the sun? 🙂 Build a habitat on the moon! But the game’s unfinished yet, and as such there’s not a ton of extrinsic motivation to do any of these things unless you’re really passionate about optimizing orbital mechanics.
If you’re a space enthusiast, the game has lots of fun science and physics behind it, and I learned a lot of interesting things in a first-hand way – why they do rollovers, choosing engines based on (real-ish) specs, the ship design impact of trying to keep the G-forces within survivable human (kerbal) tolerances. So it’s worth playing, just for the sake of wrapping your head around practical physics stuff you think you probably already know on paper.
Graphics are pretty good, for an indie game, and certainly good enough for the kind of game it is. Music is actually great – I really enjoy the spacey sounds that play when you accomplish various orbits. The controls are a bit painful, and made worse by a lack of tutorial mode. There’s a heap of keyboard commands that are integral at various points in your rocket flight – you’ll need a keyboard shortcut guide to make it through even the first launch stages.
I’m really excited about the art they chose for the new Canadian $5 and $10 bills. Faces and symbols on money become a part of the collective consciousness – notable figures, national animals, plants and monuments, which is why I think it’s so great that the Mint seem to have an agenda to push Canada’s incredible scientific and engineering achievements. These are going to fit right in alongside the $100 drawing of a microscope-using scientist, and our $50 of an icebreaker.
Also featured alongside the art are hologram views of our parliament and the familiar portraits former prime ministers Sir Wilfred Laurier and Sir John A. MacDonald. I think these are super slick.
So, I found a couple of exciting and beautiful videos about recent space exploration projects that really spoke to me, and I thought “Finally! Someone at NASA woke up. To capture people’s imaginations and inspire future space explorers, you need to brag about your accomplishments and demonstrate how amazing science is.”
But then I realized that both of these are independent projects using public NASA footage. *sigh* I suppose this goes to show how important it is to pair up government institutions with artists and visualization people who can put their creative spin on the data being generated.
I get all misty-eyed when I hear Ann Devereaux’s voice start to crack in the Curiosity Rover video. So amazing. Be sure to watch them full-screen for the stunning vistas of Mars and the Northern Lights.