Science Friday Saturday: Meteor Shower, Moon Maps, Military NASA, Crayon Physics + more

It’s the first Science Friday of 2009, and we’re already falling behind. Have yourself a happy new year with the gift of 2009’s first meteor shower (today!), pretty pictures from the moon, advances in commercial space flight, and a modern space race to the moon. All this plus and more plus our gadget of the week: Crayon Physics for the iPhone!


First Meteor Shower of 2009: The Quadrantids
The annual Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on Jan. 3rd when Earth enters a stream of debris from shattered comet 2003 EH1. The timing of the encounter favors observers in western North America who could see dozens to hundreds of meteors during the dark hours before dawn on Saturday morning. The Quadrantid meteors appear to radiate from a region of the sky once marked by the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis from which the shower takes its name and now near the more familiar Ursa Major. Quadrantid meteors can be fairly slow and bright and sometimes show strong blue or green colors and under a clear, dark sky, the shower should be easily visible to the unaided eye. Check out a sky map.

A research plane flies above the arctic circle to capture last year’s show

NASA’s 3D Moon-mapper Takes Pretty Pictures
NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, a guest instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, is the first instrument to provide highly uniform imaging of the lunar surface. Composite data from 28 separate wavelengths of reflected light from the Moon’s surface can decipher various mineral compositions of the lunar surface. Check out the latest image below of Orientale Basin.

Left image: Color composite of all wavelengths Right image: Visible light

Commercial Spaceflight in 2009?
2008 ended with seemingly hopeful signs for the future of commercial spaceflight which is markedly different from NASA’s government mandated approach. For one, Virgin Galactic’s twin-fuselage WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane, mothership for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane, took to the air for the first time on Dec. 21, 2008, after weeks of taxi tests. Will we get to vacation into space in 2009? Not likely. With the struggling economy, this year is not likely to harbor major breakthroughs in the “NewSpace” field. Jeff Foust, an aerospace analyst explains, “I think commercial space will continue to have strong long-term prospects, but that 2009 will present its share of challenges for the industry to overcome in order to realize those prospects.”

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Obama To Combine Space Programs to Compete in Moon Race
With a new administration comes a new space race to the moon, this time with China. President-elect Obama has announced plans to tear down long-standing barriers between military and civilian space programs to speed up the mission and beat the Chinese to the punch. The potential change comes as Pentagon concerns are rising over China’s space ambitions because of what is perceived as an eventual threat to U.S. defense satellites. Obama has said the Pentagon’s space program — which spent about $22 billion in fiscal year 2008, almost a third more than NASA’s budget — could be tapped to speed the civilian agency toward its goals as the recession pressures federal spending. To boost cooperation between NASA and the Pentagon, Obama has promised to revive the National Aeronautics and Space Council, which oversaw the entire space arena for four presidents, most actively from 1958 to 1973. Read More…

Race to the moon! (Cardow, The Ottawa Citizen)

Video of the Week: Asteroid Impact HD
Check out this high definition animation of a rather large asteroid hitting the Earth, accompanied by some sweet Pink Floyd music. And guys, let’s not be nit-picky here. Sure we could talk about where the science could be wrong in this, but let’s just enjoy the beautifully rendered video, shall we?

(HD at YouTube)

Gadget of the Week: Crayon Physics for iPhone
Crayon Physics, the astounding 2008 Independent Games Festival Grand Prize Winner, is coming to the iPhone very soon. You can see why it’s perfect for the iPhone. The touch interface game uses revolutionary 2D physics which allows the user to interact with various objects, pulleys, ropes, and other contraptions. So simple and so intuitive, this game which was originally made to be played with a tablet PC will transition perfectly to the iPhone or iPod touch.

Science Quickies
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.

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Ahhhhhh, for once I’m in a place where I can actually see the meteor action.

….could be first, but someone’s probably beat me to it.

does this mean with the high detail maps from NASA’s 3D Moon-mapper we will finally find out if they really landed on the moon ?

gee if they are really hi res,, we might even see the hidden alien moon base too!


Man, that asteroid scenario would totally suck.

Not Canon! James Kirk’s Enterprise never encountered the Borg!!!

Just kidding !

Wonderful stuff as always !


The scorched Earth vid is amazing, Kayla…
and Crayon Physics looks like the perfect companion for my game this week,
Enigmo ;))


Check out trace on the iPhone/Touch, pretty much the same thing, except its been out for does that make IT “Astounding” also?

Wasn’t the Virgin Spacecraft going to be called the Enterprise??

Pink Floyd, Great Gig In The Sky.. Awesome

Nice Enterprise cartoon there. So we now have the Chinese (or that least their current governing masters) to thank for any big future thrusts in space developments from hereon then?

It’s a pity that it seems to have to be a military angle that focuses the powers-that-be full attention on matters like this, at the end of the day.

Speaking of the end of the day….the likes of that ‘asteroid strike’ video always make me feel very insignificant in the scheme of things.

Although there have been a few previous ‘mass extinctions’ on Earth during it’s lifetime already, I wouldn’t wish this scenario happening to anyone during theirs….truly terrifying….brrrrr.

On the other hand, it sure would give all the trouble-making ***holes (on BOTH sides of whatever arguments) that currently spoil this planet’s feel-good factor with their various conflicts, something else to think about…. They better hope that their Gods and luck keep them away.

That’s one Great Gig in the Sky I don’t want to attend!

That meteor video is…. fascinating, but so unrealistic.

Good effort though!

Oh crap, japan is hit first by the asteroid….how dare you!! I guess there will be less suffering compared to other parts of the world… :(

The five-year gap in between Space Shuttle and Ares is unfortunate but I doubt there’s much that can be done about it now if the Shuttle is retired on schedule. Even if they use an existing booster it will have to be redesigned to be manned. Ares is based on retasking Shuttle assets and facilities, so Shuttle has to be shut down first, but maybe if they switched to Delta and Atlas, the gap could be narrowed by keeping the Shuttle going while Delta and/or Atlas are worked on. It would be expensive to run both programs and the Shuttle isn’t getting any safer.

I think history will show that the Space Shuttle was a premature and unnecessarily long and expensive detour away from Mercury-Gemini-Apollo-Skylab progress and the return to simpler rockets gets us back on track.

NASA certainly needs the $$$$$$$$$$ to do what they need to do.
Why not tap into the military’s mega huge budget ?
And the R&D and the black budget stuff couldn’t hurt in the new space race.

– W –
* Looking forward to see how this will work *

Dave Gilmour is a rock God. An Asteroid is a big rock. Star Trek rocks, I am sto*ed, see? everything under the sun is connected to Trek and Floyd!! 14th?

That was no asteroid, it was Pluto. Angry because it’s no longer considered a planet. The Wrath of Pluto.

Wow can anyone tell me where Obama’s Nasa/Military agenda came from?!?!???? Not a hint of that during the campaign, I think someone else is pulling the strings on that one.
Maybe it will eventually be revealed what all those large silent black triangles people keep seeing & mistaking for UFO’s are eh, along with their advanced propulsion systems. Its a farce we’re still using rocket technology when they have things that can defy gravity on a whim isn’t it. We already have Star Trek technology, in the hands of the few…

Militarization of NASA = Starfleet.


Not yet, we have to wait for the Vulcan’s to show up remember?

They are already here, they just dont have pointy ears…

19. MikeJones –
“They are already here, they just dont have pointy ears…”

I’m pretty sure one of them is already here and does have pointy ears. He landed in Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania in 1957 and liked watching “I Love Lucy”.


Izbot, we all promised to leave Mestral alone!

21. thorsten –
Izbot, we all promised to leave Mestral alone!”

Y’know with Vulcan longevity he could’ve lived another hundred years on earth and been picked up by the crew of that scout ship during First Contact. Course then he’d have some real ‘splainin’ to do to the High Command when he finally got home!


I always wondered who pointed old man Cochrane in the right direction…


I seem to remember him once mentioning (while drunk, I think) something about astronauts from the future battling space zombies but I never gave it much credence.


That space zombies, that was only jumpin’ Dennis Madalone!

Lol! God I got tired of him jumping around!

haha, that’s what we get for seeing and re-seeing every hour of Trek produced ever ;))

Totally worth it, though.

That asteroid collision (looks more like a small planetoid) is both amazing and scary.

Perfect choice of music, with “The Great Gig in The Sky” by Pink Floyd (from Dark Side Of The Moon).

I really hope SpaceShipTwo takes off, and it’s good to see Barack Obama’s support for going back to Luna.

Sweet, Great Gig in the Sky is an amazing PF song and a perfect fit for the video. Did I Mention im a HUGE PF Fan? I happened to make a video of the Voyager opening theme with Pink Floyd’s Marooned too, here it is.

Memo to President Elect Obama:

Cancelled in 1964, the plane could have been operational in 1966, and would have been the first working spaceplane in existence.
Plans are online at several websites.
Tell the big guys at NASA and the Department of Defense to work together to resurrect DynaSoar!

What’s to worry about? As long as the asteroid deflector is set to “blue flame,” we’re perfectly safe. It’s not like anyone is foolish enough to switch it to “orange.”

Thanks, Kayla!

32. CmdrR –
“What’s to worry about? As long as the asteroid deflector is set to “blue flame,” we’re perfectly safe. It’s not like anyone is foolish enough to switch it to “orange.””

(except maybe CBS-Digital…)

Why that’s absurd! By that logic all you’d have to do is reverse the polarity turning the ship’s tractor beam into a repulsor beam! It would take weeks just to lay out the schematics! We don’t have that kind of time!!

WOW! Frightning video reminds me of the genesus planet in reverse. makes you think.

#36—War, cold or otherwise, is the mother of invention…

Fear is a useful form of motivation. Fear of the Soviets accomplished a great deal in the early years of the space race. Fear of the Chinese might propel space exploration even further.


I say Olympus Mons in 2020, CT!

#38—In the meantime, “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon”.


I wonder if Obama will have the good sense of humour to christen his new initiative the ‘National Space Exploration Administration’ in reference to another example of Star Trek (well, something along those lines) being brought about In ‘Real Life’…

I’d chortle…

37. Closettrekker

Fear is a useful form of motivation. Fear of the Soviets accomplished a great deal in the early years of the space race. Fear of the Chinese might propel space exploration even further.


Fear of this Battlestation! (Oops…wrong ‘Star’ franchise)


I’m glad to see that the next President is a supporter of going back to the moon. I’ve always said that Starfleet is sortof what you’d get if you combined NASA with the Department of Defense. This seems like an excellent first step. One more step toward the future we all hope for.

36 and 37, you are both correct. As was excellently stated in the documentary “Failure is Not An Option,” a documentary about NASA’s Mission Control, what drove the Apollo program was not the desire to explore the moon but to get there before the Soviet Union got there. At the end of “Beyond the Moon: Failure is Not An Option 2,” which covered Mission Control in the Space Shuttle era, it was discussed that we should “watch China. If China gets more aggressive in space, a competitive spirit might rise again and push NASA forward like what happened in the Apollo program” (That’s actually a paraphrase not a direct quote.) This discussion came about when the program was talking about how NASA hasn’t really had a clear mission since the Apollo era.

I have no doubt that sometime in the future space will be militarized and that one day in the future we will have entire fleets of ships in space. The question is whether or not that fleet looks like Starfleet or Earthforce (from Babylon 5.)

For those who don’t know much about B5: Earthforce is a purely military organization and only has a handful of exploration ships. Most of their ships are Destroyers, Cruisers, etc. designed for war, not exploration.


I’ve met Jim Lovell

I’ve been to his house.

He was really there. Yes, I know Lovell never set foot on the moon, but he flew around it twice.

44. McCoy’s Gall Bladder –

I saw that movie about Jim Lovell. I saw the house that was supposed to be Jim Lovell’s in that movie. It was a good movie. I watch it every time it’s on TNT.

I kid. I have a family friend who’s worked for NASA and SETI and is retired now who has many stories which would put any Moongate conspiracy theorists in their right place. I did, however, meet Appolo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell. He and my family friend both elluded to (without being specific due to national security concerns) extra-terrestrial secrets NASA is keeping which they both believe humanity would benefit from knowing. I met Dr. Mitchell in 1999 alongside my favorite philosopher-writer-conspiracy instigator-humorist Robert Anton Wilson at a UFO symposium in Port Townsend, Washington, held in a WW2-era dirigible hangar. Dr. Mitchell is a huge believer in extra-terrestrial intelligence (as was the late Mr. Wilson).

…well, to clarify, Robert Anton Wilson was a huge believer in extra-human consciousness. If that helps.

There seems to be a misunderstanding about President-elect Obama’s consideration of “militarizing” NASA. Essentially, all President-elect Obama is asking is that NASA look into using the Delta IV or Atlas V rockets. This is hardly new, by the way, there has been a small but vocal group of EELV supports urging this decision for years now.

From that story, the original reports jumped to the conclusion that this would mean “NASA teams with the Pentagon”, but that’s not true.

The Delta IV and Atlas V were built for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program in the late 1990s, and they were about 50% subsidized by the Pentagon. But they were not paid for entirely by the military and are not the military’s rockets. Civil government (including NASA Mars and Pluto probes and NOAA, weather satellites) and commercial payloads have been launched by them as well, and the two rockets are now launched by a commercial company called “United Launch Alliance”, which is a teaming of the EELV parts of Boeing’s and Lockheed-Martin’s space divisions.

If President Obama orders NASA to use one of the EELVs instead of its own rocket (and I advocate this approach, as it is much less costly, can be ready sooner, and should be considerably safer), NASA would be working with ULA, not with the Pentagon (at least no more than they are already on Shuttle and other launchers.)

And Mr.Regular… DynaSoar was a one-man ship, not much use for NASA, which wants a ship that can take six crew to the Space Station and eventually take four to the moon. Finishing the Orion design would be much cheaper and faster now.


Agreed – although it is perhaps an unlikely (?) scenario, the possibility of a meteor wiping out the planet as “proposed” by this video should give many pause to reflect on the greater amount of things that we share as compared to the smaller amount of things over which we differ.

Why does Pink Floyd’s music always sound so appropriate for apocalyptic imagery?

About Jim Lovell, I meant his current house in Marble Falls/ Horseshoe Bay, TX

AND The US doesnt do anything unless we’re challenged. The Germans were building rockets for the sake of science, but after we captured him, we sat on Werner Von Braun for 10 years until Sputnik went up, and Ike said, “Oh, Yeah, we have this German guy…”


My man Sam Kineson challenged all space p&ssies with, “There are six American flags on the moon, just bring ONE back.”

Until they do, WE rule.