ISON dead. Wait, no it’s not!

Tom Chmielewski : November 29, 2013 1:40 pm : News

It was to be the comet of the century, or at least the comet of the century so far.

But as ISON made its much anticipated solar rendezvous on Thanksgiving day, something happened to it on the far side of the Sun. Initially, astronomers said the comet failed to reappear as it circled the Sun, but by Friday morning they reversed themselves and said ISON did survive, but in a greatly diminished state. The comet got beat up pretty bad as it grazed the sun, the heat vaporizing ISON’s ice and gas, and it’s rocky core likely began to boil.

But at least part of it did survive and reappeared as it came out from behind the Sun, much fainter, perhaps broken, but visible again – at least for the time being.

We have a whole new set of unknowns, and this ridiculous, crazy, dynamic and unpredictable object continues to amaze, astound and confuse us to no end.”

Karl Battams, a comet scientist for the Naval Research Laboratory, said in an online chat from the Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona Thursday, “At this point, I do suspect that the comet has broken up and died.” But ISON has surprised astronomers before, and it confounded them further when a close look found that the comet had reappeared, perhaps not quite intact, but with a tail that was growing again.

In a blog later Thursday night, Battams wrote: “We have a whole new set of unknowns, and this ridiculous, crazy, dynamic and unpredictable object continues to amaze, astound and confuse us to no end. We ask that you please be patient with us for a couple of days as we analyze the data and try to work out what is happening.”

There is a reason comets fascinate us. Humans have noted their passing for millennia, yet we still don’t fully understand them. They twist and turn through the Solar System, sometimes putting on a great show, then disappear for decades or centuries before returning right on schedule – or not.

We often talk how comets and asteroids could be devastating if one were to hit the fragile Earth, but what they’re most likely to run into are the objets in the Solar System with the deepest greatest gravity wells such as the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, and the Sun itself, melting and tearing apart the comet before it can escape the star’s clutches.

Battered ISON is made of sternrt stuff than many sun-grazing comets, but whether it will yet put on a great nighttime show to claim the mantle of the comet of the century, or will only show a wisp of a tail goodbye as it fades and disintegrates, we won’t know yet for a few more days.

Even if we can’t see it with the naked eye, astronomers at least are seeing it put on a great show for them.

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Chinese Worm the Latest Turn in Cyber-War

Tom Chmielewski : October 7, 2013 9:26 pm : News

The plot is chilling. A cyber-mercenary gang known as “Icefog” operating out of China unleashes its insidious worm “Dagger Three” to infiltrate computers of foreign governments and their defense contractors, steal vital secrets, then leaves in an electronic mist before anyone is the wiser.

Sounds like a job for James Bond, though maybe he’s too old school. Perhaps they can resurrect Jason Bourne for this movie, or just find some high school sophomore geek.

he 'Icefog' Apt: A tale of cloak and three daggers. Cover for Kaspersky's public report.

The ‘Icefog’ Apt: A tale of cloak and three daggers. Click on the cover for the public report.

Except this isn’t a movie plot. In a case of today’s headlines ripped from the pages of yesterday’s science fiction, the multinational cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab in late September announced its discovery of Icefog, labeling it an Advanced Persistent Threat in cyber-security lingo.

Kaspersky describes Icefog as a small yet energetic APT group that focuses on targets in South Korea and Japan, hitting the supply chain for Western companies. The operation started in 2011 and has increased in size and scope over the last few years.

APTs are nothing new, but Icefog is different.

Kapersky notes the modus operandi of most APTs is to hit “pretty much all types of victims and sectors. In most cases, attackers maintain a foothold in corporate and governmental networks for years, smuggling out terabytes of sensitive information.”

The mercenaries of Icefog, on the other hand, are more intensely focused. more »

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One-Way to Mars: Is it the only way?

Tom Chmielewski : August 27, 2013 7:49 am : Mars exploration, News

Artist depiction of habitats to house Mars One colonists. Image courtesy Mars One Foundation

Artist depiction of habitats to house Mars One colonists. Image courtesy Mars One Foundation

No, but maybe sending colonists first is the better way

If you want to go to Mars, you only have a few days left to apply.

But if you want a round trip ticket, you’re going to have to wait a while longer.

The plan of the Mars One Foundation to send would-be colonists to Mars on a one-way trip, four colonists at a time, seems at first glance an audacious if not cruel endeavor. Yes, they will be volunteers, but can anyone truly understand ahead of time what it would be like for four individuals to arrive on a barren planet, a land more inhospitable than any colonist has attempted to settle before, and come to grips with the reality that there is no chance to return to Earth? more »

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“Wheels down on Mars”

Tom Chmielewski : August 6, 2012 11:07 am : News

One of the first photos sent back by the Martian rover Curiosity after it landed early Monday, June 6, Pacific Time. The photo shows one of Curiosity’s wheels. (Credit NASA/JPL)

That call at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed the rover and robotic laboratory Curiosity landed safely on Mars late Sunday night Pacific Time. An anxious crowd of controllers, engineers and scientists at the JPL control room erupted into cheers, applause, hugs and a collective sigh of relief that Curiosity survived the feared “seven minutes of terror” as it dove through the Martian atmosphere, opened its giant parachute, ignited its rocket-powered sky crane that slowed it to a hover, and finally the crane lowered Curiosity gently to the surface for “wheels down on Mars.”

Curiosity apparently wasn’t terrified at all. Whatever intelligence was built into the rover, anxiety wasn’t part of the deal. Controllers kept reporting a normal electronic heartbeat from Curiosity throughout the landing procedure, a spectacular procedure never tried on an alien planet before. Despite all the preflight tests, the JPL staff couldn’t help but be nervous about it, fearing a spectacular failure that could doom future missions.

But Curiosity did all it was supposed to do, on time, no problems, and landed in a cloud of dust without so much as a “hi ho, Silver” or a robotic “yippee!” It just sent back some quick electronic postcards showing the Martian surface, Curiosity’s way of saying, “Wish you were here.”

So say we all.


A machine will land, but the explorers are human

Tom Chmielewski : August 2, 2012 5:23 pm : News


NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars’ past or present ability to sustain microbial life, depicted in an artist illustration on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

My posts on this site have stressed that good science fiction is not about machines and high tech. It’s about people. But what about science news?

The big news right now out of NASA is about this weekend‘s landing of NASA’s Martian Science Laboratory, a car-sized, nuclear-powered rover called Curiosity. When it attempts to land on Mars this late Sunday night Pacific Time, all eyes will be on a machine, right?

Not really. more »

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  One Response to “News”

  1. Giving some love…

    What a good read…

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