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Credit: NASA

Space Shuttle Atlantis is set to liftoff for its final scheduled flight this Friday at 2:20pm EDT. This will give some parts of the US an opportunity to see both the ISS and Atlantis streaking overhead at night. They will appear as simply a relatively fast-moving bright dot in the night sky. The ISS is so large now that its reflective surface allows it to be one of the brightest visible objects in the sky, even brighter than Venus. You can use Spaceweather.com’s simple satellite tracker web-tool to see when the ISS (and other satellites) will be doing a flyby of your area. Here’s the list for Nashville this week/end.

The European Space Agency is in the final phase of a large experiment designed to study the physiological and psychological effects of a small group of people being isolated for extended periods of time as they would be on a mission to Mars. This final phase is called Mars500, and is about to subject 6 crew members from all over the world to 520 days of a simulated Mars mission. They’ve gone to great detail to make the simulation as realistic as possible, with outside communication on a 40-minute delay, and with random interruptions. This all sounds a bit crazy, but it’s absolutely essential to understanding how humans will behave and interact in such isolated conditions. I have no doubt that this research will contribute to the success of mankind’s first manned mission to the red planet. The participants were all, of course, eager and willing to put themselves through this. (Via ESA website)

NASA is asking for help from the general public in identifying “scientifically interesting” features on the surface of the moon. The recent Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken extremely high-resolution images, and there’s so much real estate to cover that NASA scientists can’t possibly go through it all in any reasonable amount of time. So, they created a website through the Zooniverse project called Moon Zoo where people can take a virtual tour of the surface of the moon, seeing details potentially as small as astronaut footprints from the Apollo missions! The surface feature identification tasks they need everyday people to do are still too complex for even a supercomputer to manage. This idea follows a long line of crowd-sourcing computing projects that began with SETI@Home in the late 90’s. A brilliant idea if you ask me. (Via Space.com)

On a personal note: I just bottled a batch of Belgian Blonde Ale and it should be ready to drink in a week or so. This stuff is 7.3% ABV so it’s venturing into the realm of high-gravity beer. Contact me if you want to try some. Next batch: a British ESB/American Pale Ale hybrid that should be interesting.

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So it’s New Year’s Eve. Inevitably everything in this post is somehow related to that fact. First of all, what to do tonight. Since I’m working the Generation Domination photobooth at Mercy Lounge’s “Happy Endings” party tonight, I must plug that first. But plugging is kinda pointless at this point, because if you haven’t already gotten tix, you’re pretty much SOL. According to a facebook message from 1:10am last night (this morning), there is only 1 VIP package left. The VIP package is for four people. Email drew@mercylounge.com for details. But honestly, it’s probably already gone by the time you read this. For a very visual representation of what else to do this NYE, check out the Nashville Scene’s official NYE flow chart:

Click through to see the bigger version at Nashville Cream

Nashville Is Dead has some details on a few select shows as well, most notably the (unofficial) Infinity Cat NYE show at the End.

Also of interest, i09 gives you ten reasons to live through the next decade. Among my favs: Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi filmmaking, green development and progress toward 100% renewable energy, the LHC and possibility of finding the Higgs-Boson particle, and I totally agree with their #1 choice being the Mars Science Laboratory. I would, however, add to that the joint Mars program between NASA and ESA that I mentioned yesterday.

Now here’s the video to George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” just for kicks, via Yewknee’d.

Happy New Year, and we’ll see you next week!

Back with some science

December 30, 2009

The holidays obviously consumed my life to the point that I haven’t posted in over a week. Sorry ’bout that. I also haven’t shared any good sciencey tidbits in a while, so here you go:

I recently saw James Cameron’s latest epic Avatar. I won’t get too involved with reviewing the film as I’m no film critic by any means, but I will say this- it’s beautiful. The animation is astounding and most notably, the landscape is gorgeous. The dialogue and storyline is utterly pathetic. It’s basically the same story as Last of the Mohicans, Fern Gully, or Dances With Wolves, only this time it’s injected into a sci-fi mold. That being said, I always can enjoy that story to some degree no matter how many times it gets retold and rehashed. What is pretty cool about the movie is the science behind it. There will always be a big gap between “movie physics” and reality, but the over-arching idea of a habitable moon similar to Earth orbiting a gas giant similar to our own Jupiter in different star system is entirely plausible. The fact that the moon’s atmosphere is toxic to humans makes it slightly more realistic, along with the reduced gravity resulting in the native animal life being mostly large compared to that of Earth. Space.com has more on the science of Avatar’s Pandora.

Image via Universe Today

I’ve mentioned on here before that NASA and the European Space Agency have teamed up for the next decade or so of Mars exploration. The exact timeline and details of that effort are now beginning to come into focus, thanks to the recent discovery of a constantly replenished quantity of methane in Mars’ atmosphere The first step will be a new orbiting observatory launched in 2016 that is specifically equipped to further explore the possible sources of this methane, and map out exactly where it’s the strongest. Also on this first mission will be small lander designed to test the parachute/thruster landing system that will be used on the future missions involving the “real” landers/rovers. Those rover/lander missions will be launched in 2018, and will be specifically designed to search for signs of life. Recent developments in the theories about the possible source of the methane have started to lean more towards microbial life, probably living under the surface. That’s very exciting. More on this at Universe Today.

What kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t have some sort of “year-in-review” post? Unfortunately I haven’t had the time to come up with anything myself, but here are a couple of 2009 recap posts from other science blogs that you might find interesting:

Live Science: 9 stories we love, and hated, in 2009.

Space.com: The 9 top spaceflight stories of 2009.

Some of probably already know this, but I’m currently in the process of moving. Megan and I are renting a small house near Germantown, and though the house will be awesome once we get settled in, the timing really sucked. I can’t think of a worse possible time to be moving than during the holidays. So posting here will probably be limited until next week.

6a00d83451aecf69e20115701ad598970b-500wi1Cinco De Drunko is today. Ryan Bruce has put together a fun show at La Paz Mexican restaurant in Green Hills for tonight’s festivities, including performances by How I Became the Bomb, Jensen Sportag, Coral Castles (from Chattanooga), Mean Tambourines, Heypenny, and many more. Word on the street is that bands start at 4pm, have 35 minute sets, and 20 min. breaks between. Janet from Out the Other has a good preview of the show, and will have HIBTB on her show tonight.

Speaking of La Paz, they’re also having a late-night dance party this Friday night, for which I’m DJing as DJ Burgers. From what I’ve been told, it’s me and DJ Hippopotamus (who doesn’t seem to have a myspace…). But there could be others. I’d post a flier but I don’t have one yet, and that’s probably because Mr. Bruce is understandably consumed with tonight’s festivities. I’ll post more info as soon as I have it. But please do come out Friday night. It’s a later gig, supposedly not starting till 11 and going till at least 2am.

Speaking of DJ’s, Ultimo & Disco is bringing the legendary Steve Aoki of Dim Mak to Play Dance Bar on June 10th. Check out Blogging Is Serious Business for more info/flier. It’s amazing that they’re getting Aoki here. Who would’ve ever thought a big-name L.A. DJ would play in Nashville? Kudos to U&D for putting this together.

Don’t forget- my 2nd 8 off 8th is happening next Monday May 11th, and it will feature The Nobility, Mean Tambourines, Codaphonic, Kelly Kerr & the Distractions, Carter Administration, Paper Navy, Cuttlefish, and the Only Sons. I will be posting mp3s from each band over the next few posts.

Remember back when Wayne Coyne dissed the Arcade Fire? Well now he’s apologizing… kinda.

You’ve probably already seen this website by now, but if you haven’t, go see it now. Texts From Last Night. Endlessly entertaining.

There have been increasing rumors floating around about a possible new product line to be unveiled by Apple this fall. Supposedly they will be releasing a new tablet computer that runs full OS X but the input is entirely touchscreen-based. Basically it’s going to be a huge iPhone that runs OS X…. but isn’t a phone. Read more about it at this ZDnet article. I have a feeling it will be pretty pricey, though, as is most Apple stuff. I really look forward to playing with one at the Apple Store, though….

While reading this article on Universe Today, I realized that I don’t post enough space/science-related stuff on here about he European Space Agency and what they’re up to. So for more info on that just check out ESA’s website. Probably the biggest thing on their horizon is the ExoMars rover, which is tentatively scheduled for launch in 2016. Let’s hope this lander doesn’t suffer the same fate as the Beagle lander, ESA’s last attempt at a Martian landing.

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