BAN #147: Name the Mars 2020 rover, Polishing a nerd

September 9, 2019   Issue #147

[Saturn image credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute / Gordan Ugarkovic]


Subscribers can polish a nerd.


Space news

Space is big. That’s why we call it “space”

In 2020, NASA will launch its next Mars spacecraft to the Red Planet. Right now it’s called Mars 2020, and it’s a rover that is much like Curiosity, but will be looking for signs of ancient life, and it will also be able to drill samples in the ground, put them in containers, and then leave them behind for a future mission to collect and return to Earth.

It’s an ambitious mission, and it needs a name.

So, NASA is holding a contest for US K-12 students to name it! The contest is already open, and it closes November 1. There’s a FAQ for questions, so be sure to check that out. If you are a student, or know one, or a teacher who you think would love this for their students, send them to the site! The basic idea is that the student(s) pick a name, something that fits the mission somehow, and write an essay to explain why. The winning entry will be announced in February 2020.

I’m not exactly sure what name I would choose. But, for inspiration, think of someone or something that looks for life, or who traveled around and left behind things for the future (like maybe Johnny Appleseed). Or maybe a character or author out of science fiction who was involved with Mars. If it helps, previous rovers were named Sojourner (for Sojourner Truth, but also because it traveled around Mars), Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity.

This is chance for kids to be invested in the future of Mars exploration. Let’s see what they come up with.


I recommend

Something I think you’ll like

A little while back I got an email from scientist Helen Arney, asking if I’d be interested in watching a video of a her and her two partners, Steve Mould and Matt Parker. They are the three members of Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and they do shows combining math, science, and comedy.

Math, science, and comedy? Why yes, I replied. Yes I would like to see that.

So I watched “You Can’t Polish a Nerd” and I’m glad I did! It’s very funny and very nerdy. It’s a live recording of a show they did in front of an audience, where they present, well, science and math in a comedic way. It’s a little difficult to describe in words, but it’s pretty much what happens if you took a standard science talk about, say, gravitational waves, and collided it with a long-form stand-up comedy act using the LHC.

Here’s a taste:

They cover radiation from bananas, pies, pi, elements, recursion, mathematical tiling, waveforms, and, yes, even gravitational waves (using a demo that is brilliant) in a way that’s genuinely funny.

I love this kind of stuff. If the audience laughs, they’re far more likely to remember what they heard in a show, and since this is science and math, I’m all for it. I’ve done a little bit of this sort of thing myself, and it’s not easy. They just make it look so.

So watch their stuff on YouTube, sign up for their mailing list, and if they put on a live show somewhere in your area, go.


Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[A small chunk of interplanetary debris has an orbit that takes it perilously close to the Sun. From Wednesday’s post. Credit: ESA/NASA SOHO and Karl Battams]

Monday September 4, 2019:An exoplanet dive bombs its star

Tuesday September 5, 2019:A JUICE-y look at Jupiter from Earth

Wednesday September 6, 2019:The case of the Sun-diving asteroid that thinks it's a comet

Thursday September 7, 2019:A meteorite older than Earth shows evidence of ancient volcanism on a long-gone protoplanet

Friday September 8, 2019:That's OK, NGC 3242: Having that much gas would make anyone edgy


Et alia

You can email me at thebadastronomer@gmail.com (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at about.me. Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!