The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, has died of cancer at age 61

Our neighborhood is so cool.


Daytime Lightning on Saturn Spotted by Cassini Spacecraft

A NASA spacecraft orbiting Saturn has captured an amazing view of lightning in broad daylight on the ringed planet.

The Cassini orbiter captured the daytime lightning on Saturn as bright blue spots inside a giant storm that raged on the planet last year. NASA unveiled the new Saturn lightning photos Wednesday (July 18), adding that the images came as a big surprise.

“We didn’t think we’d see lighting on Saturn’s day side —only its night side,” said Ulyana Dyudina, a Cassini imaging team associate at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, in a statement. “The fact that Cassini was able to detect the lightning means that it was very intense.”

Careful analysis of Figure 1, filtered through intense algorithms and exhaustive research, has determined to high precision that the Universe is freaking awesome. The uncertainty band on this conclusion was considered too narrow for quantification; the margin of error is effectively zero.



LB-0005 image in narrowband Hubble palette This is a less often photographed region of the Cygnus nebula that is just south of the popular “butterfly”.

A quick primer on the more-or-less current state of cosmology.


Cosmologist Sean Carroll talks about the nature of time and the universe. 

I’m Speechless.



The cloud bands of Jupiter stripe the planet with turbulence. Throughout its upper atmosphere, Jupiter shows signs of gravity waves and complicated wave patterns. Near the equator, the cloud bands are driven by planetary winds that reach speeds of 500 kph, whereas near the poles, the clouds show greater evidence of mottling and convection. At present, the reasons for this patterning are undetermined. (Image Credit: NASA; via APOD)

We live in a great neighborhood.


Parts of Mars Interior as Wet as Earth’s

The interior of Mars holds vast reservoirs of water, with some spots apparently as wet as Earth’s innards, scientists say.

The finding upends previous studies, which had estimated that the Red Planet’s internal water stores were scanty at best — something of a surprise, given that liquid water apparently flowed on the Martian surface long ago.

“It’s been puzzling why previous estimates for the planet’s interior have been so dry,” co-author Erik Hauri, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said in a statement. “This new research makes sense and suggests that volcanoes may have been the primary vehicle for getting water to the surface.”

In just 44 days, NASA most advanced Mars rover ever, Curiosity, will land on the surface of the red planet on August 5th. This bad boy is massive for a rover… about 10 feet long, and about 4 times as heavy as the space agency’s two previous (and astoundingly successful) rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

One of the coolest things about Curiosity is its Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence. This video depicts and describes it better than I could ever do, so I’ll jlet them do that.

(I will add, however, that I think it’s cool that much like the Apollo lunar lander and other landers since, they test these things in the Mojave.)

Titan has seasonal weather, landforms, stable liquid lakes and rivers (probably of light hydrocarbon alkanes), a dense atmosphere that is primarily nitrogen, and a ton of water ice. Not surprisingly then, it is a prime candidate for extraterrestrial microbial life, or perhaps in a “pre-life” stage, and right here in our own neighborhood.

Um, yeah, so… why are we not outfitting our manned explorer vessel again? Or at least, oh, a few dozen unmanned probes? 


Rhea Before Titan

Hold on to your butts.

ScienceCasts: Andromeda vs. the Milky Way: Astronomers Predict a Titanic Collision (by NASAtelevision)

Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun. During its five-year mission, it will examine the sun’s atmosphere, magnetic field and also provide a better understanding of the role the sun plays in Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and climate.  SDO provides images with resolution 8 times better than high-definition television and returns more than a terabyte of data each day.

On June 5 2012, SDO collected images of the rarest predictable solar event—the transit of Venus across the face of the sun.  This event happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years.  The last transit was in 2004 and the next will not happen until 2117.

The videos and images displayed here are constructed from several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light and a portion of the visible spectrum.  The red colored sun is the 304 angstrom ultraviolet, the golden colored sun is 171 angstrom, the magenta sun is 1700 angstrom, and the orange sun is filtered visible light.  304 and 171 show the atmosphere of the sun, which does not appear in the visible part of the spectrum.