Category Archives: Phoenix Lander

Martian Glaciers, Transhuman Hearing and Black Swans

INFRARED light can stimulate neurons in the inner ear as precisely as sound waves, a discovery that could lead to better cochlear implants for deaf people.

A healthy inner ear uses hair cells that respond to sound to stimulate neurons that send signals to the brain. But hair cells can be destroyed by disease or injury, or can contain defects at birth, leading to deafness. In such cases, cochlear implants can directly stimulate neurons.

The hearing provided by today’s implants is good enough to enable deaf children to develop speech skills that are remarkably similar to hearing children’s. Implant users still find it tough to appreciate music, communicate in a noisy environment and understand tonal languages like Mandarin, however. That’s because the implants use only 20 or so electrodes, a small number compared to the 3000-odd hair cells in a healthy ear.

Some of these advanced medical tech treatments have a lead time of a decade or more, but with the push for a Singularity of some kind, this could be cut in half or even shorter.

It would be nice to see this used for what is claimed.

Light opens up a world of sound for the deaf


Vast Martian glaciers of water ice under protective blankets of rocky debris persist today at much lower latitudes than any ice previously identified on Mars, says new research using ground-penetrating radar on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“Altogether, these glaciers almost certainly represent the largest reservoir of water ice on Mars that’s not in the polar caps. Just one of the features we examined is three times larger than the city of Los Angeles, and up to one-half-mile thick, and there are many more,” said John W. Holt of The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, lead author of a report on the radar observations in the Nov. 21 issue of the journal Science.

This is a pretty significant find, but I have to ask, “Is the water salt brine or fresh?”

Most of the findings of the Phoenix lander and the Rovers found evidence of whatever water there was, it was salty.

Maybe it doesn’t matter, any water is better than no water.

And I don’t think we’re going to get there anytime soon.

New Research:: Blankets of Soil May Hide Vast Martian Glaciers


The lesson of the black swan is that the world is governed not by ordinary and predictable events but by extraordinary and unpredictable ones. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs is an example of a black swan. The Internet is a good black swan, the crash of ’08 a bad one. Except for one or two eccentric cranks, no one saw it coming.

I remember when I went to get my hair cut in September. As he snipped away, my hairdresser told me his mutual fund had gone down, and he was so ticked off that he’d sold it and stuck his whole life savings in the bank. Poor guy, I thought smugly. The market will go back up and he’ll be sorry. Ha ha ha.

Another lesson of the black swan is that expertise is useless. No one has a clue why the markets have gone down so far, or whether they’ll go down more, or how long it will really take for the world to absorb China’s three-year backlog of refrigerators. You might as well ask the nearest cab driver. And if he tells you, “God only knows,” he’s giving you a more honest answer than the well-paid people in good suits who have devoted their careers to analyzing these matters. Yogi Berra was right when he said it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

I would definitely say to this person that there were alot more than “a few cranks” who predicted the dire economic straits the world is currently experiencing.

But we human beings are hard-wired to try to make sense out of chaos, to wit, to make order to the Universe.

Some people prefer that higher beings such as God make predictable, preordained and orderly events happen, thus eliminating the chaos.

Others feel that free will is an illusion because our brains make decisions microseconds before we are aware of them.

These are defense mechanisms our brain uses to organise the chaos into recognisable structures, i.e., patterns.

Unless your brain is short-circuited like mine.

Sometimes viewing the chaos is better than an acid trip!

A black swan comes home to roost


Phoenix finds water ice?; galactic star streams and Japanese astronomers look for ET

Dice-size crumbs of bright material have vanished from inside a trench where they were photographed by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander four days ago, convincing scientists that the material was frozen water that vaporized after digging exposed it.”It must be ice,” said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it’s ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can’t do that.”

The chunks were left at the bottom of a trench informally called “Dodo-Goldilocks” when Phoenix’s Robotic Arm enlarged that trench on June 15, during the 20th Martian day, or sol, since landing. Several were gone when Phoenix looked at the trench early today, on Sol 24.

Also early today, digging in a different trench, the Robotic Arm connected with a hard surface that has scientists excited about the prospect of next uncovering an icy layer.

If one takes JPL and NASA at its word, this is indeed good news. Some people speculate the white stuff is salt or CO2 ice though. From what I saw at the Space Daily site, I couldn’t really tell for certain the white substance was sublimating or not. Maybe a better trained eye can tell.

Mars Science Is A Sublime Affair For Phoenix Lander


The Star Streams of NGC 5907
Image Credit & Copyright: R Jay Gabany (Blackbird Observatory) – collaboration; D.Martínez-Delgado(IAC, MPIA), J.Peñarrubia (U.Victoria) I. Trujillo (IAC) S.Majewski (U.Virginia), M.Pohlen (Cardiff).

From my old pal Quasar 9‘s (who’s a very busy individual when he’s not posting photos or poetry) site.

This is a look at tidal star streams surrounding galaxy NGC 5907.



Everyone wonders at least once in their lifetime whether space is infinite and whether aliens really do exist,” said Shinya Narusawa, chief researcher at Nishi-Harima Astronomical Observatory in western Japan.

The search for aliens and UFOs is not new to Japan. Last year, unidentified flying objects grabbed the headlines after a lawmaker submitted a question to the cabinet on whether the country had confirmed any cases of their existence. The government’s answer: no.

In the scientific world, Japanese researchers have used antennas to catch radio signals from outer space and analyzed the prisms of celestial lights to see if any laser emissions from space can be found, Narusawa said.

By concentrating on one star the Japanese believe the chances of finding an ET civilization are enhanced simply because it would be easier to filter out artificial radio ‘noise’ from Earth, thus cutting down on false positives.

I don’t know about this. Our own industrial civilization is only 250 years old and we’ve only had radio for little over 100 years, and we’re already phasing it out in favor of fiber optics and broad band.

This is like tilting at windmills. If we were serious about finding ET, we would be investigating UFOs more seriously, developing ways to detect neutron beams, graviton waves or even patterns in quasar flashes.

All theater for the masses this is.

Life in outer space? Astronomers hunt aliens

Latest from Phoenix, Super Earths

The Phoenix lander team revealed the latest images from the mission at a press briefing on Friday. This first image shows an area dug by Phoenix’s scoop, which disclosed a bright surface just a few inches down, which may be ice. “There’s still some debate about the bright material,” said Phoenix Principle Investigator Peter Smith. “Not everyone is sure that this is ice. So there’s been some debate on our team, centering around that perhaps there’s a salt layer just under the soil that also would be bright. Everyone does believe there’s ice under the surface, and whether this is ice or not is the question. The other question is, is this thick ice that goes down deep beneath the surface, or is this a thin layer and we’ll be able to scrape through? So being able to scrape with our scoop is a high priority for us.”

This pair of images taken by the Optical Microscope on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander offers a side-by-side comparison of an airfall dust sample collected on a substrate exposed during landing (left) and a soil sample scooped up from the surface of the ground beside the lander. In both cases the sample is collected on a silicone substrate, which provides a sticky surface holding sample particles for observation by the microscope.

Similar fine particles at the resolution limit of the microscope are seen in both samples, indicating that the soil has formed from settling of dust.

The microscope took the image on the left during Phoenix’s Sol 9 (June 3, 2008), or the ninth Martian day after landing. It took the image on the right during Sol 17 (June 11, 2008).

The scale bar is 1 millimeter (0.04 inch).

This is the latest color image of Phoenix, its surroundings and the scoop with soil.

While we can’t look inside the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) oven which will “bake” the Martian soil to test the type of gases that are released, we can see that some of the soil has gone into TEGA. “We were finally successful and some of the material has slid down over the screen” said Smith, “sort of like material going over a cheese grater, and some of the material has slid down and filled the oven. We sent the commands for the first operation of TEGA last night, but we don’t have our data back yet, so we can’t report on any results. That will be coming later next week. So this is a very exciting time for us. We find the soil is very clumpy, it’s sticky, it’s an unusual soil not at all like the types of soils we used in our tests, which worked just fine with all the instruments. So we’ve developed another method of collecting samples, which is to tilt the scoop and vibrate it, and so it shakes down a small amount of material onto the instruments.”

And finally, here’s the latest weather report for Mars, on the 17th sol of Phoenix’s stay on Mars.

A commenter joked that Mars and Minnesota have the same temperatures just about. I’m not going to put that to the test because it’s cold enough here in Upstate NY sometimes to put Siberia to shame!

As for ice or salt, it sure looks salty to me. But another commenter pointed out that white salt is from refinement. I guess we have to wait until next week for the oven test results to come out to verify yay, or nay.

Latest Phoenix Images: Ice or Salt?


Does every single star harbor planets and, if yes, how many?” wonders planet hunter Michel Mayor. “We may not yet know the answer but we are making huge progress towards it.” Mayor and his team of European astronomers have found a star which is orbited by at least three planets. Using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument at the ESO La Silla Observatory, they have found a triple system of super-Earths around the star HD 40307. This is the first system known to have at least three planets.Jupiter or Saturn, and current statistics show that about 1 out of 14 stars harbors this kind of planet.

Back in 1995, Mayor, along with Didier Queloz, made the first discovery of an extrasolar planet around 51 Pegasi, and since then more than 270 exoplanets have been found, mostly around sun-like stars.
Most of these planets are giants, such as

“With the advent of much more precise instruments such as the HARPS spectrograph on ESO’s 3.6-m telescope at La Silla, we can now discover smaller planets, with masses between 2 and 10 times the Earth‘s mass,” says Stéphane Udry, one of Mayor’s colleagues. Such planets are called super-Earths, as they are more massive than the Earth but less massive than Uranus and Neptune (about 15 Earth masses).

HD 40307 is slightly less massive than our Sun, and is located 42 light-years away towards the southern Doradus and Pictor constellations.

“We have made very precise measurements of the velocity of the star HD 40307 over the last five years, which clearly reveal the presence of three planets,” says Mayor

Extra-solar planets are definitely common-place. It’s only going to be a matter of time before we find Earth-type ones. When we do find the first one, the pressure to actually send a probe will be enormous, the technical difficulties will be solved real fast.

For better or worse, the stars are calling us.

Three ‘Super-Earths’ Found Orbiting One Star

Dual hat tips to Universe Today and Centauri Dreams

Phoenix digs Mars for real and “Hairy Blobs”?

With two test digs under its belt, NASA’s Phoenix lander is now ready to do some real science.

The spacecraft might take its first sample of Martian soil for analysis on Thursday from a site dubbed “Baby Bear” (scroll down for image). The sample was supposed to be taken on Wednesday, but NASA said that NASA’s Odyssey orbiter, which relays Phoenix data to and from Earth, had entered a “safe mode,” preventing Wednesday’s instructions from reaching the lander.

Phoenix scientists are excited for the soil collection to begin. “We’re ready to start interacting with the surface,” said chief scientist Peter Smith of the University of Arizona. “This is where it’s absolutely making me so happy.”

Finally, a real dig. What will it reveal? Maybe something like this. Drum roll please…..

At last, scientists have discovered a form of life that could have evolved on Mars. Geologists unearthed a treasure trove of fossilized remains in a salty, acidic lake in remote Australia — the creatures, probably about 250 million years old, were, according to New Scientist, “made up of a mix of inorganic crystals and ‘hairs’ stuck together in a mass” (pictured). The lake where they lived was filled with water whose extreme levels of salinity and acidity are a near-match for Martian water. Find out more, plus see more cool pictures of the blobs, below.

According to New Scientist:

Kathleen Benison, a geologist at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, led a team that studied the sediments formed by acidic and very salty lakes in modern day Western Australia, and those deposited around 250 million years ago in North Dakota. It is very difficult to survive in such a tough environments and few signs of life have ever been found in these sorts of lakes.

Inside the halite and gypsum “evaporate” minerals, which form as the lake waters dry up, Benison and colleagues found previously unknown fossilised blobs at both the modern and ancient sites, ranging in size from 0.05 to 1.5 millimetres. They were made up of a mix of inorganic crystals and “hairs” stuck together in a mass (pictured). They named them hairy blobs.

The team argues that each hair was in fact a separate microorganism because the hair fossils are made of disordered graphite which, unlike inorganic graphite, has irregular layers that suggest it was once a live organism..

Many of the hairs are coated with crystals of gypsum, a calcium sulphate mineral. This link with gypsum suggests that the microorganisms were fuelled by chemical interactions with sulphur in the acidic water – which helped the gypsum to form.

Being my cynical, ornery, doubting Thomas self however, I’m not holding my breath for the simple fact that we’ve been disappointed so many times before.

But when you shoot craps, sometimes you do come up with a seven or eleven!

Phoenix Mars lander set for first science dig

“Hairy Blobs” Discovered in Acidic Lake Could’ve Evolved on Mars

Phoenix Digs Mars and other stuff…

NASA’s Phoenix lander may have already hit pay dirt with its first scoop of Martian soil – it contains white streaks that could be water ice. Meanwhile, mission engineers have fixed an electrical glitch on an important Phoenix instrument, restoring it to health.

Phoenix touched down in Mars’s north polar region on 26 May and quickly started beaming back images of its surroundings.

“It’s been a thrill for me this first week after landing on the permafrost region in the Northern Arctic on Mars to find out that we’re in a really great place for doing the science we plan to do,” said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson, US, Phoenix’s chief scientist, at a press conference on Monday.

The $420-million spacecraft has now gouged out its first scoopful of Martian dirt from an area informally known as the Knave of Hearts, using its 2.3-metre robotic arm.

The brain trust isn’t exactly sure if this stuff is actually ice or salt, since it’s theorized that Mars’ water was a seriously salty brine before it finally dried up completely. But I guess the first chemical analysis will find out, won’t it?

Phoenix digs up possible ice on Mars


The goal of finding an Earth-like planet around another star has just come closer. Astronomers announced today they have discovered a planet of about three Earth masses orbiting a star smaller than our sun.

The planet has the closest mass to Earth of all the known extrasolar planets, and is the lightest planet ever found orbiting a normal-size star. “Our discovery indicates that even the lowest mass stars can host planets,” David Bennett of the University of Notre Dame, who led an international team of astronomers to the discovery, said on Monday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in St Louis, Missouri, US.

The planet is referred to as MOA-2007-BLG-192L and is around 3000 light years from Earth. Planet formation theory suggests it is likely made mostly of rock and ice.

The planet’s orbit around the host star is of a similar radius to the orbit of Venus, although it is likely to be much colder than Pluto. That is because the host star, thought to be a brown dwarf between 6 and 8 percent of the Sun’s mass, may not be large enough to sustain nuclear reactions in its core.

Believe it or not, astronomers and other planet hunters are getting rather good at finding extrasolar planets. The method used in this case is gravitational microlensing, which uses an object’s gravity that warps the light from another object behind it which magnifies the image of it.

Not my idea, blame Einstein. I just post the stuff. Read the article.

Newfound planet has just three times Earth’s mass

Also, read this post at Paul Gilster’s Centauri Dreams, they explain it better than I can.

Smallest Known Exoplanet Found


And I can’t let this day go by without a little rant against the rampant corporatism that has the nation and the world by our collective throats and our wallets:

On Thursday, new Time Warner Cable Internet subscribers in Beaumont, Texas, will have monthly allowances for the amount of data they upload and download. Those who go over will be charged $1 per gigabyte, a Time Warner Cable executive told the Associated Press.

Just 5 percent of the company’s subscribers take up half of the capacity on local cable lines, Leddy said. Other cable Internet service providers report a similar distribution.

“We think it’s the fairest way to finance the needed investment in the infrastructure,” Leddy said.

Metered usage is common overseas, and other U.S. cable providers are looking at ways to rein in heavy users. Most have download caps, but some keep the caps secret so as not to alarm the majority of users, who come nowhere close to the limits. Time Warner Cable appears to be the first major ISP to charge for going over the limit: Other companies warn, then suspend, those who go over.

Time Warner can bite me. Trouble is, Verizon and all these other criminals do the same, plus report you to the ‘Ministry’ of ‘Homeland’ Security!

So much for the sanctity of the InnerTubes. Big Brother is not only watching, but making us pay in order for them to watch!

Time Warner Cable tries metering Internet use

‘The Heirs of Prometheus’ by Athena, Dyson reviews books on Global Warming

It’s slightly cloudy — unusual for sunny Florida. The air smells of the ocean, alive with birds: gulls, pelicans, hawks. On a wooden platform, a group of people of all ages and colors is squinting fixedly at a point on the horizon about two kilometers away, where a gantry holds a slim rocket that balances a tiny load on its nose. A level voice announces from the loudspeakers: “The T minus ten holding period is over. We’re going forward.”

The people break into wild cheers, then fall eerily silent. Curious children are shushed and told to look there, there; final adjustments are made to cameras and binoculars. The minus ten holding period is the last chance to abort. The weather was such that until this moment the decision to launch could change.

Like heartbeats, the announcements come. “T minus five… minus three… minus one… T minus thirty seconds… minus twenty seconds… minus ten seconds… Now you can hear a pin drop. “Nine… eight.. seven… six… five… four…. three… two…” All the spectators shiver, holding their breath.


A beautiful essay by Athena of Star Ship Reckless, Astrogator’s Logs


Some words from Freeman Dyson:

In the history of science it has often happened that the majority was wrong and refused to listen to a minority that later turned out to be right. It may—or may not—be that the present is such a time. The great virtue of Nordhaus’s economic analysis is that it remains valid whether the majority view is right or wrong. Nordhaus’s optimum policy takes both possibilities into account. Zedillo in his introduction summarizes the arguments of each contributor in turn. He maintains the neutrality appropriate to a conference chairman, and gives equal space to Lindzen and to Rahmstorf. He betrays his own opinion only in a single sentence with a short parenthesis: “Climate change may not be the world’s most pressing problem (as I am convinced it is not), but it could still prove to be the most complex challenge the world has ever faced.”

The last five chapters of the Zedillo book are by writers from five of the countries most concerned with the politics of global warming: Russia, Britain, Canada, India, and China. Each of the five authors has been responsible for giving technical advice to a government, and each of them gives us a statement of that government’s policy. Howard Dalton, spokesman for the British government, is the most dogmatic. His final paragraph begins:

It is the firm view of the United Kingdom that climate change constitutes a major threat to the environment and human society, that urgent action is needed now across the world to avert that threat, and that the developed world needs to show leadership in tackling climate change.

The United Kingdom has made up its mind and takes the view that any individuals who disagree with government policy should be ignored. This dogmatic tone is also adopted by the Royal Society, the British equivalent of the US National Academy of Sciences. The Royal Society recently published a pamphlet addressed to the general public with the title “Climate Change Controversies: A Simple Guide.” The pamphlet says:

This is not intended to provide exhaustive answers to every contentious argument that has been put forward by those who seek to distort and undermine the science of climate change and deny the seriousness of the potential consequences of global warming.

In other words, if you disagree with the majority opinion about global warming, you are an enemy of science. The authors of the pamphlet appear to have forgotten the ancient motto of the Royal Society, Nullius in Verba, which means, “Nobody’s word is final.”

Yes, the famous physicist Freeman Dyson, “that one”, contents that global warming isn’t purely human driven and that the scientific community is dogmatic on the subject by blasting opponents. Dyson’s reviews of these books; ‘A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies, by William Nordhaus, Yale University Press.’ and ‘Global Warming: Looking Beyond Kyoto, edited by Ernesto Zedillo, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization/Brookings Institution Press’questions whether or not the meme is economically driven.

Now where have I read that before, hmmm…?  *visions of a certain evangalistic gear jammer driving his tractor-trailer back and forth over the carcasses of a recent Nobel Prize recipient and a person with the same name as a motorcycle…*

The Question of Global Warming

Environmentalism as religion

UPDATE: George Dvorsky, a noted transhumanist and Singularity proponent blogs on this also:

Amazing, simply amazing. Dogma permiates discourse in all areas of discussion, science, religion, whatever. And denial flies through the air like farmers spreading liquid cow sh*t.

F*cking amazing.  😕

NASA and JPL scored a good one!

This is an actual hard science post today for a change. I don’t usually do them, even though I love the hard sciences like biology, astronomy and physics. I may not understand them as much as I do the social and psychological arts (I don’t consider them sciences, even though I have a degree in them), but that’s one of the reasons I do this blog.

Anyway, the Phoenix Lander made it to Mars this past Saturday. It touched down at the Martian North Polar region around 7:53 p.m. EDT, most importantly in one piece. It was the first American probe powered landing on Mars since the twin Viking Landers over 30 years ago. The last three probes that landed safely (Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity) are rovers and they touched down using rockets and giant air-bags. Spirit and Opportunity are still giving NASA and the U.S. taxpayer their moneys’ worth amazingly enough.

The Phoenix is different in that it doesn’t rove anywhere, it just sits in one spot. Its’ job is to dig and drill into the hard permafrost soil to take samples and ‘cook’ them in multiple experiments designed to find trace organic compounds, basically what Vikings I and II did. In this case, unlike Viking, the icy permafrost soil Phoenix is going to test has water in it. The Viking probes landed around the Mars equator where all the water is evaporated (sublimed) out. Basically the ground there is sterile. Hopefully at the polar regions where there are known amounts of water, extremophile microscopic lifeforms are presently living in the ice, or once lived there. Bets are on the former.

Also Phoenix is part of the ‘faster, cheaper, better’ B.S. that NASA has been forced to do the past three decades, since most of the funding went to the shuttle and space station programs. Even so, just 1/6 of 1% of the national budget funds NASA, though most Americans think (propagandized) they get much more. The military-industrial-congressional complex receives 60%  of the budget (f*cking wake up sheeple!). That’s who you should hit up for your money to feed the poor! Anyway, so the Phoenix project had to cut corners that Viking didn’t have to. Scientists had to think of creative ways to get their various experiments on board cheaply, which meant determining where, how to cut corners and take chances. Naturally, that increases the failure rate. The Mars Polar Lander and another orbital probe failed in 1999, victims of cost cutting (though one was human error). Case in point, the original cost of Phoenix was $240 million, but overruns brought it up to $420 million. But the cost of the Viking I and II landers in 2008 dollars was $3 billion ! Get the point?

So you see that even landing the damn thing was an accomplishment given the past track record of all the probes (Russian, European and American) that were shot at Mars, of which 50% failed. NASA and JPL needed a public relations success as well as a landing one!

Kudos mainstream scientists! I hope you get to find your Martian microbes so you can meme the sheeple into believing that ET life does exist.

Us tinfoilers are getting a little lonely out here!

Mars lander completes first day on Red Planet

Camera On Mars Orbiter Snaps Phoenix During Landing