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Posts Tagged ‘Mars’

If you, like me, watched the Mars landing and thought, “So cool. But something is definitely up with that parachute,” you were not wrong!

Image via the Parachute Up-Look Camera A on Feb. 23, 2021 (Sol 2). NASA/JPL-Caltech

The striking red and white pattern was too distinctive to be meaningless. 

I initially speculated that the design was meant to help engineers better understand the forces at work as the lander fell through the atmosphere, but nope. With more thought I might have made some progress, but I put the question aside and focused on other things (like the first audio recording from the Red Planet).

Cue the Internet.

There’s a hidden message in the parachute of NASA’s Mars rover – The Verge

Depending on the shape and location of the red-and-white color patterns circling around the parachute’s center, the segments represent different numbers which can be translated through binary code.

— Internet sleuths solve secret message on Perseverance rover’s Mars parachute | Space

Check out the key below, showing the code in four concentric patterns. It reads: Dare Mighty Things. That’s the Perseverance team motto and is also on the wall at the Jet Propulsion Lab. JPL gets another shout-out in the outer ring, which lists the Lab’s lat/long coordinates on Earth. (That’s going to be awfully confusing for any aliens who find it on Mars:)

Image shared by Rick von Hagn on Twitter https://twitter.com/MrIosity/status/1364436321457082370

Well done!

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Speaking of extraterrestrials, now seems like a grand time to plug my favorite new Syfy show, Resident Alien.

An alien crash lands on Earth and must pass himself off as small-town human doctor Harry Vanderspeigle. Arriving with a secret mission to kill all humans, Harry starts off living a simple life…but things get a bit rocky when he’s roped into solving a local murder and realizes he needs to assimilate into his new world.

It stars the fabulous Wash, I mean Alan Tudyk, plus a cast of other terrific, talented and quirky actors, and is a thing of beauty. The premiere was frakking hilarious.

It’s on my mind because it plays on Wednesday nights, but if you missed it, full episodes are available online for the next year or so.

I’m chuckling just thinking about it.

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I may have a Mars hangover,* so today it’s… drum roll please… Free Fiction Day! Wherein I source high-quality fiction for your perusing pleasure. It’s Friday and I am looking forward to the weekend, so today’s installment is this recent little gem from the good folks over at Daily Science Fiction: 

Onboarding Practices for the Ravaging Horde

When ravaging, it is important that you work hard to create a suitably terrifying experience for the peasant farmers of the indolent lands of Gresh. Best practices include clearly establishing client expectations in an orderly and timely manner, particularly for any projects with cyclical processes such as the burning of seasonal crops, the dismaying of children’s birthday parties, or the poisoning of wells.

— Daily Science Fiction :: Onboarding Practices for the Ravaging Horde by E. B. Brandon

Aren’t you glad you don’t work for that guy? (At least, I hope you don’t!)

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

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* Way to go, Perseverance! And yes, we watched The Martian last night. Still fun, and I had the added enjoyment of measuring the distance between where we are now and the movie world. It’s also interesting to consider the fact that (as far as I know) there’s really nothing stopping private citizens from going to Mars themselves. Aside from an ocean of money, which we’ve oh so helpfully given to space-geeks like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Will the first human on Mars plant an Amazon flag? Drive a Tesla rover? Claim (ahem) prime real estate and start building oversized warehouses, then charge the rest of us entrance fees? Disturbing thoughts!

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So, Mars. For the NASA mission, today is the day! I posted on Mars yesterday to give you time to download any apps, plan your landing watch party (socially distanced, of course!), and look up your nearest Krispy Kreme.

Are you ready? Curiosity is! Look at the little guy waving;)

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Mission home: Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover – NASA Mars

Where to watch: Watch Online: Mars Landing – NASA Mars

Fingers crossed, but no matter what happens, it’s an exciting day in space!

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Why is Mars red, anyway?

For the same reason that so many of our barns are red: iron oxide. It’s a common compound, both here and on Mars. We use it for paint and our planetary core, among other things, but Mars is a little different. First, of course, there’s no Sherwin-Williams on Mars, but also:

Whereas the bulk of Earth’s iron sank to its core when the planet was young and molten, NASA scientists think Mars’ smaller size (and weaker gravity) allowed it to remain less differentiated. It does have an iron core, but abundant iron exists in its upper layers, also.…The planet’s bloody tinge — visible even from millions of miles away — got it strapped with the name of the Roman god of war, while other civilizations also named the planet for what was once its main distinguishing feature. The Egyptians called it “Her Desher,” meaning “the red one,” while ancient Chinese astronomers went with “the fire star.”

— Why Is Mars Red? | Space

More fun Mars Facts: Mars Facts | All About Mars – NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

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I remember these books. We’ve come a long way, baby.

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Today’s Thing I Like is nonfiction writing in general, and author Mary Roach in particular. If you aren’t familiar with her work, check out the books linked below or this interview with Seth Shostak at SETICon 2012.

Nonfiction can be a fiction writer’s best friend. At its best, it includes detailed, character-driven explorations of real-life situations and challenges, and can provide the sort of solid foundation a more speculative piece needs to succeed. I’ve mentioned this before, but avoiding abstractitis is key to good writing.

Specifically:

No matter how abstract your topic, how intangible, your first step is to find things you can drop on your foot.
— John Maguire

Nonfiction helps you do that, and Mary Roach is a great example of a quality nonfiction writer.

I have yet to read all of Roach’s books but Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void were terrific. Her books take a somewhat off-beat topic and delve in, deep. She’s also funny. The level of detail is satisfying and succeeds in painting an engaging portrait of her subject that is also educational. Packing for Mars, for example, is a great way for writers to familiarize themselves with the nitty gritty of space exploration, how we got to where we are now, and how we’ll get to where we’re going.

To note, if you’re interested in popular nonfiction about the intricacies of digestion or Mars exploration, check out Giulia Enders’ excellent Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, and Steve Squyres’ Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet.

Read, then write:)

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Oh, I love this*: the folks at the most excellent Science News have assembled a scrapbook of sorts for the Curiosity rover. It tracks the rover’s path from August 2012 to the present, and includes a date/sol-based timeline, rover tweets, photos, maps and commentary. Fun and educational. And fun!

* Partly for the same reason we love R2D2, no doubt; Curiosity is both awesome and adorable. Also, adventures in space!

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Planet boredom
On Mars I learned that boredom has two sides – it can either rot the mind or rocket it to new places…

This essay provides a fascinating look at the HI-SEAS (Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) Mars training mission from the inside. Written by Kate Greene, a science and technology journalist (i.e. not an astronaut), the piece gives a great inside look at what a trip to Mars might be like. For speculative fiction writers, this sort of research provides terrific insight into what life in space would actually feel like to those living it.

Short answer? Boring. Longer answer? Sometimes boring can be a good thing…

Find the full essay at aeon Magazine. For more on the pitfalls of life on Mars, you could also check out Andy Weir’s recent novel The Martian.

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This article by scientist Pascal Lee has a great point: reading helps kids turn dreams into reality. I just have one tiny bone to pick, and that has to do with the non/fiction divide:

“Let’s get ready for Mission: Mars and take our kids with us. Let’s start them on this journey with a non-fiction STEM book.”

I absolutely agree that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math learning and advancement requires books of the non-fiction variety. That’s right, actual facts are actually important. No question. I would add, though, that not only is it not bad if Generation Mars includes fiction on its reading list, doing so will help them with that first bit: having dreams. It’s also important to remember that much of the best science fiction is based on extrapolated science fact.*

“The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”
— Peter Diamandis

As Lee points out, Scholastic’s “Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life” motto is right on target, but why limit that reading? Non-fiction shows you how to build the path, fiction helps you decide where you want to go and imagine what it will be like when you get there.

I can’t wait to see where Generation Mars takes us.

* While “top X” lists are always arguable, they can be a great place to start. Check out this list of The Best Hard Science Fiction Books of all Time: Ten titles that inspired Technology Review to publish TRSF, its own collection of sci-fi stories.

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