So Long, And Thanks For All The Dirt

IMG_0720A life of adventure and exploration.

A life of travel and learning.

A life well-lived.

I don’t know about you, but those are the things to which I aspire.  And when someone passes who has achieved those things?  That is a life to be celebrated.  A life to be appreciated…although not without a certain hint of envy.

So, a toast, then, to MER-B…better known as the Mars rover Opportunity.

“Wait, what?” you scream.  “You’re leaving a drink on the bar to a freaking robot?!”aHR0cDovL3d3dy5saXZlc2NpZW5jZS5jb20vaW1hZ2VzL2kvMDAwLzEwNC8yOTUvb3JpZ2luYWwvY3VyaW9zaXR5LXJvdmVyLmpwZw==.jpeg

Yes.  Yes, I am.

Astro-nerds everywhere know by now that the little rover has finally died.  Now, many of the news stories I saw about Oppy’s death were pretty damned shallow, not to mention inaccurate.  Some were even faintly mocking: “NASA’s $400 million dollar probe killed by dust!” and shit like that.

*sigh*

Let’s get some facts, shall we?

Opportunity, and its twin sibling Spirit, were both designed to travel a few thousand feet, to live a “life” of just a shade over 90 Earth days.  Those were the official goals when they landed on Mars in 2004 (pay attention, now, there’ll be a quiz on this later!).

190213150035_1_540x360Spirit (MER-A) died first, in 2009.  Well over five years later, for anyone not counting!

Opportunity, however…

Opportunity didn’t die until 2018 – a life of over FOURTEEN YEARS!!

Of all the rovers the various space agencies have landed on Mars and the Moon — including Oppy’s big brother Curiosity — not one has traveled farther than Opportunity.  The little robot-who-could ran a literal marathon; over those fourteen years, it travelled 28 miles.

mars-opportunity-rover-dies-1That’s 28 miles in terrain that would be considered harsh and destructive even here on Earth, let alone in a place where the nearest mechanic is well over six months away, where commands have to be sent minutes and hours in advance due to light’s travel time.  That’s traveling with nothing more than solar panels for power…and still spending the bulk of each and every day performing science.  Testing and sampling … digging and analyzing … and photographing.  Oh hell yeah, Opportunity photographed the shit out of Mars.

A few random shots, in collage form:

And, just to bring a tear to your eye, I’m adding the very last photo Oppy’s took as death finally came:

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So raise a toast, folks, for the little robot who never gave up, never surrendered*.  Raise a glass, also, to those engineers and designers and planners who turned a tiny budget — in space-probe terms — and turned it into 14 years of absolutely killer science.

*Ahem…of course I had to have a “Galaxy Quest” reference!  That movie still cracks me up…

Cheers!

moonbeer

Nerd Alert: Astronomy Stuff!

EB8689A0-C6DC-4EFC-B0A4-5EFD204B5DC9Okay…it’s time to really get my nerd on. For those of you frightened by forays into the darker, scarier reaches of nerd-dom, now might be a good time to look away…

What’s got me all geeked-up, you ask? Direct imaging of planetary systems.

And, no, I don’t mean our damned system. Don’t get me wrong, I love the cool-as-hell pictures of Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto to which we have been treated lately, but they don’t get me well-and-truly going. Not the way “pictures” of other star systems do.

Think about it: should I get all hot and bothered about an uber-detailed picture of Jupiter’s storms…or by one that shows a gas giant orbiting another star? That’s like arguing about which is better, The Phantom Menace or Empire Strikes Back. I mean, c’mon now…let’s be real here.

2EC55F4B-A197-4162-850E-ACE87FB8A55CWith all that said, imaging of what the professional astrogeeks call “extrasolar” systems is hard. I mean, REALLY hard. We can’t truly do it in visible light because, well, stars are kinda bright. There have been some cool successes, however, including one of a planet roughly twice the mass of Jupiter orbiting a brown dwarf (which I’m adding here).  Take a look at this picture before you check out the ones below to…well…get yourself used to what this kind of stuff looks like.

Visible light is a problem, but other wavelengths…other wavelengths are a different story. We still have trouble picking out planets, but very smart people are working very hard to do this. And even the “crappy” pictures are pretty damned cool.

This is more of a photo post than a normal one, but…crap…the pictures are freaking awesome…

1) A bunch of baby pictures of newly forming planetary systems…more specifically, the dust clouds around young stars where planet formation is taking place.  The cleared “lanes” and spaces you can see are where planets have already come together:

SPHERE images a zoo of dusty discs around young stars

2) And some “adult” pictures…well, at least as close as we can come:

3) And, lest you criticize the “bad” pictures above, just remember that we are talking about hundreds of light-years for most of them.  Heck, just getting good pictures in our own damned backyard is tough: below is what Pluto and Charon look like to Hubble, versus what we finally saw when we got a “close-up” from the New Horizons probe.  Not to repeat myself, but this stuff is hard:

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I See Your Pokémon, And Raise You A D&D Character

Okay, dammit…I give in.

After running off on an uncontrolled Tolkien-tangent last Friday, I decided that I’ve talked about my epic nerdism often enough, maybe it’s time to illustrate.

So, well, a nerd-list. My nerd-list, anyway – a few of the things that I usually keep behind closed doors (no, not those things, dammit!):

What am I reading right now? An Echo of Things to Come – Book 2 of the Licanius trilogy by James Islington. A new fantasy writer out there, I’m impressed by his first effort. Plus, he describes Feist and Jordan as his inspirations…all he has to do is add Zelazny and Eddings and he spans the treasured fantasy reading of my own formative years.

Bonus reading: From The Dreadnought to Scapa Flow by Arthur Marder. Volume III, if you’re wondering. Remember: I did warn you that I was a naval history addict.

Not so bad, so far…but we’re just starting down the dark path…

Manga: yes, I read manga. No, I’m not an otaku…I think. Anyway, I’m currently reading No.6 by Hinoki Kino (an adaption of the Japanese “light novel” series of the same name by Atsuko Asano). I love the themes, and the tone…and, yes, Shion and Rat have had their influence on dockside. As a note, my Japanese has degraded enough that I have to read manga in English nowadays (I still watch anime in Japanese, however).

Speaking of which…anime: I just finished watching Noragami (waiting to read the manga, though, until I finish No.6). I’m currently trying to decide whether I want to start the huge Fullmetal Alchemist saga, or go into D.Gray Man first. Decisions, decisions…

Video games: *sigh* oh, dear…video games. Nowhere does my nerdism have more power than in games. I love games…of all stripes. My first love are RPGs, but strategy and simulations have a place in my heart, too. Currently, I’m splitting my time between Dragons’ Dogma: Dark Arisen and the remastered version of one of my favorite series, ever: Kingdom Hearts. Oh, my, do I love me some Kingdom Hearts. No, really – I love that series, but even I could never really understand the damned convoluted (insane?) storyline until I finally read all of the manga.

Nope, not a nerd at all.

And, oh yeah, my mega-bonus-nerdism of the day: the D&D character I was playing up in Yellowstone. A high-elf bard. A drunken high-elf bard. A drunken high-elf bard who hit on everything (and anything) that moved. The only magic item he had that mattered was a special cup that instantly sobered him up so he could just start drinking again…

Another (related) bonus: The Adventure Zone. You absolutely cannot go wrong with a podcast involving three adult brothers playing D&D with their father! It is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever listened to. Do yourself a favor, and go check it out on iTunes (or whatever podcast app/source you happen to use)…no, really, go check it out.

Alright, so there really is a point to this post: being a nerd is okay. I spent the better part of my life trying to hide the kind of stuff that I loved, and that was a serious mistake*. If they’re nerds, let your kids – and your friends – be who they are. Let ’em revel in it…they’ll be happier, in the end, and so will you.

*You know what finally broke me out of the shadows? Playing an MMORPG with a small group of current and former NHL players. Hockey is (err, sadly, WAS) my life, and the funny incongruity behind going all uber-nerd with a group of world-class athletes cracked me up…and set my inner nerd free.