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A Sandy Martian Self-Portrait

Via Bad Astronomy: http://ift.tt/21bCtcd

Just a reminder that this picture was taken by a one-ton plutonium-powered laser-eyed robotic mobile chemistry laboratory sitting on another planet.

But I can’t leave it there, of course.

First, the self-portrait taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars is a combination of 57 separate photos taken by a camera on the end of the rover’s robot arm. You don’t see the arm because the pictures are cleverly stitched together using only angles where you can’t see it. That gives the result the feel of a vacation picture, taken by someone standing nearby.

As for the dramatic setting, Curiosity edged into the Bagnold dune field on Mars a few months ago, investigating the huge wind-swept sand dunes there. It’s been snapping pictures as well as scooping up and sampling the sand grains there as well. My friend and wonderful science writer Emily Lakdawalla has — wait for it, waaaaait for it — the scoop on that.

There’s one picture Emily posted that I want to mention. It shows sand grains taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), a camera on the rover that is capable of close-up images of the surface (the same one used to take the self-portrait). It’s a portion of this, a bigger image:

Look at that! Those are sand grains on Mars! This is the highest-resolution image ever taken on Mars by MAHLI, done by jockeying the camera closer to the surface than had ever been attempted before; again, see Emily’s post for the whole story, which is well worth your time.

I was curious (so to speak) about those pits in the sand, so I asked Emily, and she told me those are zap pits, blasted into the surface by Curiosity’s powerful laser! It vaporizes the material, which then glows from the heat. As it glows, a detector on the rover (called ChemCam) takes a spectrum of it, which reveals the chemical composition of the material.

By eye, I wouldn’t think twice if I scooped up sand like that here on Earth. Some of the grains are dark, some more glassy-looking. It could be the stuff I washed off my feet when I went to the beach not too far from where I grew up in Virginia.

Except it’s not. It’s on another world.

When that fact sinks in, really sinks in, it gives me chills. This is what we do, we humans. We send our proxies to other planets so that we may study them up close, and find out how they work. It’s simply and truthfully one of the noblest and best things we do.

Drinking more coffee may stave off multiple sclerosis

Via Multiple Sclerosis News From Medical News Today: http://ift.tt/21M8Bp5

New research suggests drinking more coffee may help to protect against multiple sclerosis, adding to a growing body of evidence that caffeine has a neuroprotective effect.

Stop Jupiter

Via What If?: http://ift.tt/1mGPSLw

Saliva Pool

Via What If?: http://ift.tt/1Kp2VMS

Good Thinking’s complaint against Peter Popoff infomercials upheld

Via Good Thinking Society: http://ift.tt/1SVnmnv

Last year we reported on our lengthy investigation into Peter Popoff and his current business soliciting donations from members of the public via false promises of miraculous health and wealth. Part of our investigation involved complaints about the broadcasting of infomercials in which Mr Popoff advertises his ‘miracle water’, some of which are broadcast via …

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Redux: Below the Snow

Via The Last Word On Nothing: http://ift.tt/20hOqSB

Right now, the meteorological event that some are calling Winter Storm Kayla is on its way across the U.S. While people may be curled up inside with a quilt by the fire, another group of creatures is finding shelter outside, under a cold, white blanket. This post about that unique below-the-snow spot, called the subnivium, originally ran in […]