BAN #313: Year Four, Mars drone delay, Cautionary Tale

12 April 2021   Issue #313

[The planetary nebula M 2-9, winds from a dying star. Credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble Legacy Archive / Judy Schmidt]

Subscribers have sustained me for three full years. Here’s to number four.

About this newsletter

Ooo, meta

This is issue 313 of the BAN, which, it so happens, is also the first issue of my fourth year of publishing them.

The first issue went out on April 16, 2018, and I’ve actually somehow managed to not screw up posting two a week (free ones on Mondays, while Thursdays are for paid subscribers) ever since. That’s 104 per year, times three so far. Plus this one.

I’m pretty happy with how it’s going; I enjoy being able to write shorter or longer articles depending on the need, and also being able to write on topics that don’t fit on the blog, including jokes, short stories, silly photos, not silly photos, mathy things, political things, climate science things, opinions, upcoming appearances, and more.

I hope you like it as well. And since this is a brand new cycle, I’ll put out the ask: If you become a paid subscriber you get twice as much of this stuff per week, plus the smug knowledge that you help me maintain my lavish lifestyle of sitting in front of my computer and writing an extra 2,000 words a week.

If you can’t, that’s cool! Feel free to circulate these issues, link to ‘em in social media, or just letting other people know, please. The more subs the newsletter gets the more I know I’m making a difference, and that is the goal. Always.

So: Onward! And thanks for sticking with me.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[The Ingenuity drone copter sitting on Mars, seen in the distance with the Perseverance rover tracks leading away from it. From Mondays article. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]

Monday 5 April, 2021: Mars copter Ingenuity prepares to take the first powered flight on another world

Tuesday 6 April, 2021: A half million years ago, Antarctica was hit by a blowtorch from space

Wednesday 7 April, 2021: The galaxy eats its own: The head of Taurus is being shredded by the Milky Way

Thursday 8 April, 2021: Wobbling muons hint strongly at the existence of bizarre new physics

Friday 9 April, 2021: Did a giant impact and a crashing submoon form the bizarre ridge around Iapetus?

Space news

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

NASA was planning on having the Mars Ingenuity helicopter first flight today, Monday morning, but that was delayed due to some engineering data they got back while powering up the rotors a couple of days ago. The flight is now scheduled for no earlier than Wednesday, April 14.

I wrote about Ingenuity and everything you need to know for the flight on the blog last week, so go read that.

In the meantime take a look at this fun selfie Perseverance took that includes the copter!

[The Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity, the drone it dropped onto the ground in early April in prep for its flight tests. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS]

Cool. You can see Ingenuity there in the background, with the rover tracks going right over it; Ingenuity was stored under the rover and so it was literally dropped between the tracks.

Even cooler: This is a still image but the actual selfie is an animated GIF, so click that link above to see it! It’s 3.4 MB, which is too big to include in the newsletter (a lot of mailers gag at big emails), so go there to see it.

This was taken with the WATSON camera (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) that is on the end of Perseverance’s robot arm. It took a series of images, moving between each, which were then stitched together to make the final mosaic. In the process the arm itself is edited out (using the spots where the images overlap), otherwise the final image looks messy because the arm appears in different places in the individual frames. My friend Emily Lakdawalla explains all that in an article she wrote about a Curiosity selfie a while back.

[Sippin’ that Mars tea with my NASA Mars tour t-shirt. Credit: Phil Plait]

Also, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has a wonderful collection of Perseverance and Ingenuity merch celebrating this achievement. They sent me some, and it’s quite good quality; the coffee mugs in particular are hefty and have a big handle, which I appreciate as someone with big hands.

They’ll take this stuff off the market on April 30, so go take a look! I love NASM and the amazing work they do, so I’m glad to help them here.

Twitter avatar for @BadAstronomerPhil Plait @BadAstronomer
Hey, look what @airandspace sent me! They're selling this merch at
s.si.edu/2Z7cGdv but only until Feb. 21. The mug is great, it's heavy and the handle fits my giant mitts. It has the names of the NASA Mars rovers on it. The shirt's nice too. Thanks @airandspace! ImageImage

Blast from the Past

A quick link to an old post or article because it’s relevant, or came up in conversation, or just because it deserves a second look.

I haven’t done one of these in a while! But I was looking for something I had written about global catastrophes and this popped up in my search results.

A Cautionary Tale, from 2015.

I was going to say “nothing’s changed since then” but in fact given the rampant conspiracy theories and the chaos they’ve caused in the past few months, I’d say things have changed. They’re worse. I have hope, though, that things will improve; there’s a steadier hand at the helm and the voices of the fringe are not in control. They are still there, and still influential, and we must be vigilant. Perhaps this cautionary tale will help you be mindful of that.

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!