Saturday night Mars

mars2003Saturday night I headed up to Mt. Pinos and met up with folks from the LA Astronomical Society to catch some views of Mars while it was still rather close. Best view of Mars I’ve ever had, period. Admittedly, not too surprising since there were a couple of 24″ reflectors/artillery pieces there.

Tried to sketch the view and this is more or less how it looked. Both polar caps were visible along with quite a bit of surface detail. I *thought* I saw some detail in the south polar cap, but that was straining the limits of my poor vision.

The most amusing part of the night? The displaced ravers who were interloping in trying to find their rave somewhere out in the Los Padres. You could hear the rave – just couldn’t find it.

Tonight’s total lunar eclipse

There was a early evening ocean haze here in Long Beach that was making totality rather hard to see. But once the moon just peeked out from under the Earth’s shadow it was high enough in the sky to clear the haze and just be absolutely spectactular.

In retrospect I wish I fished my telescope out of the garage, but there’s barely any room left here on the roof for anything. However, here’s a nicely overexposed featureless pixelated photo. I need to get a new camera adapter for the scope.


Space shuttle crash description in Niven/Pournelle’s Inferno

A thread on rec.arts.sf.written excerpts a weirdly prescient description of a space shuttle re-entry crash from Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno:

“One of those days,” Corbett said. “First, a twenty-six hour hold while we replaced one of the solid boosters. That was only irritating. We lost one of the three main motors going up. Then after we made orbit one of the fuel tank clamps jammed. Either of you know what a space shuttle looks like?”

“Yes.” “No.”

“Well, the tank is big and bulky and cheap. We carry the main motors down aboard the dart, the winged section, but we leave the tank to burn up in the atmosphere. If we couldn’t get the tank loose there wouldn’t have been any point in going down.”

“Did you?”

“Sure. We fired the orbital motors in bursts until the clamp sprung open and let us loose. Then we had to use more fuel to get back to our orbit. We were supposed to dump cargo and change orbit, but there wasn’t enough fuel. We had to go down.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I spacewalked out and looked at the fuel tank clamp. I swear there was nothing wrong. But maybe the metal fatigued, or maybe the hatch over the clamp lock got twisted–anyway, we were halfway down and going like a meteor when we got a burnthrough under the nose. I heard the maintenance techs– they were the cargo I couldn’t jettison– screaming in the instrument room, then the whole nose peeled back in front of me. I woke up by that ferryboat. The crowd pushed me along to Minos, and he threw me into the whirlwind.”


sts1Brian Webb’s Thursday email alert for viewing Columbia’s re-entry is still in my inbox. I set the alarm early and poked my head outside to see what the weather was like, but it was pretty well socked over at the coast and didn’t feel like driving far north to see it. So I went back to sleep.

Other blogs have been much more eloquent about today’s events, so I’ll go with this picture instead – the very first shuttle landing (STS-1) out at Edwards in 1981. I was fifteen years old and didn’t know the ways of telephoto lenses so it’s a tiny photo, but I was there. This is how I’ll remember Columbia.