March 22, 2013 | 9:04 a.m.

A lizard robot for Mars: Scientists dream while Curiosity snoozes

Curiosity may be sitting idle during the solar conjunction (more on that below), but there’s fresh Mars-focused news.  Researchers have suggested  the rover could use a friend — a scuttling lizard robot. Engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology reportedly came up with a robot whose appendages were inspired by lizards (as opposed to, say, the Hoth walkers from “The Empire Strikes Back,” which were obviously inspired by elephants).  The legs of the bot are designed to scamper over — not wade through — sand. Don’t laugh.  You’ll recall the fate of the Spirit rover on Mars– stuck in sand.  Spirit, which landed on Mars in 2004, became ensnared in soft sand in 2009. NASA tried to wiggle it free for months, but in 2010 the rover was declared officially entombed. The rotating legs of the new robot work a […]
March 19, 2013 | 8:50 a.m.

What, again? Curiosity rover’s new glitch keeps it from Mt. Sharp

The Mars rover Curiosity has gotten glitchy again, but NASA is downplaying the significance of the latest bug. In just a few days, the space agency says, Curiosity will be back in business. The culprit in the latest computer problem was a “software issue” that landed the rover in safe mode again. NASA has stressed that this was Curiosity’s idea. When a “command file failed a size-check by the rover’s protective software,” NASA says, the rover automatically went into “precautionary standby” mode. “This is a very straightforward matter,” Richard Cook, project manager for the rover, said in a news release. It just means deleting a file. But it’s slowing things down. Curiosity has accomplished a primary goal of the mission — finding that ancient Mars was indeed habitable — without accomplishing another thing we’ve all been waiting for: arriving at […]
March 17, 2013 | 7:03 a.m.

Comet Pan-STARRS? Meh. Just wait till you see Comet ISON

Comet Pan-STARRS has wowed observers all over the Northern Hemisphere and should continue to be visible, experts say, through the end of the month. It’s not too late to eyeball it — but if you miss it, don’t fret. As far as 2013 comets go, this one was only second best. Coming our way in November is (drumroll) Comet ISON. Don’t get me wrong. Pan-STARRS has been fun. NASA put together a view of the comet worth seeing. It was captured by the STEREO-B spacecraft orbiting the sun and shows a “quite complex” tail as the comet moves between Mercury and Earth.  If you still want to see the comet, as Forbes recommends, your best bet is to go somewhere with the least light pollution possible, then about half an hour after sunset look toward the west. The comet should […]
March 08, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.

Comet Pan-STARRS in the night sky; how to watch the show

Want to see a comet move through the night sky? You’re in luck. Comet Pan-STARRS has just  become visible in the northern hemisphere. And here’s the best part: You won’t even need a telescope to see the show. Scientists say the coma, or gaseous material surrounding the nucleus of the comet, should be as bright as the stars of the big dipper constellation and totally visible to the naked eye. But you will need a pair of regular birding binoculars in order to see the comet’s tail. The comet will only be visible  low in the sky, so you’ll need to find a location that gives you a clear view of the western horizon. Even small hills and buildings will likely obstruct your view. Look in the direction of the sunset, just after the sun has gone down. The star […]
March 07, 2013 | 6:45 a.m.

Mars rover Curiosity to sleep through solar storm

The Mars rover Curiosity was powered down Wednesday in preparation for a solar-storm pounding. It’s about time there was some real drama in the story of the little rover that could.  If this were a sci-fi movie, we’d all be snoring by now. It’s been celebrations galore with one historic first after another since Curiosity landed in August — which was itself a historic first that had NASA positively verklempt.  Now there’s been an honest-to-goodness glitch and a solar tempest to boot. PHOTOS: Awesome images from space Curiosity’s lively Twitter feed said on March 1: “Don’t flip out: I just flipped over to my B-side computer while the team looks into an A-side memory issue.”  As CNET reported late last month, the rover had powered the backup computer — essentially going into safe mode — after software glitches ‘interrupted the […]
Feb. 19, 2013 | 9:55 a.m.

Nicolaus Copernicus’ 540th birthday: A man who questioned the rules

Nicolaus Copernicus has received that highest of modern day honors, a Google Doodle, marking what would have been his 540th birthday. Copernicus doesn’t come up in day-to-day conversations, but perhaps he should: He is considered the founder of modern astronomy and single-handedly changed the way we think about our place in the universe by positing that the Earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around. He remains a patron saint to those who like to question the rules. And, let’s face it: The plots of sci-fi movies and TV shows such as  “Prometheus” and “Star Trek” are all the more fascinating because of our understanding of this great galaxy of ours — and the galaxies beyond. And we have Copernicus, among others, to thank for that. ‘DJesus Uncrossed’: Most controversial skit in ‘SNL’ history? Copernicus was born […]
Feb. 15, 2013 | 1:15 p.m.

Russian meteor, asteroids and the Tunguska event

The sudden appearance of a meteor, streaking across the skies above the Russian city of Chelyabinsky on Friday would be a brilliant spectacle were its effects not so tragic. Bringing with it a flurry of space debris, the blast from the meteor injured more than 500 people, with 112 – 80 of them children – requiring hospital care. The incredible photos that have emerged from the event offer just a hint of the dangerous spectacle on display in the Russian skies. Such an event can’t help but recall the memory of the country’s other famous meteoric calamity – the Tunguska event – an incident that has sparked numerous pop culture references that will be recognizable to U.S. audiences.  The mystery and spectacle surrounding Tunguska has been portrayed as the work of Vulcans preventing a greater disaster in a Star Trek […]
Feb. 01, 2013 | 4:47 p.m.

ZombieLab: Zombies invade London’s Science Museum

Our culture is in the midst of a distinctive zombie moment. The zombie romance “Warm Bodies” opens today, “The Walking Dead” returns to television Feb. 10, and we’ve got the Brad Pitt zombie thriller “World War Z”  hitting theaters in June. So we should not be surprised that the savvy curators at London’s Science Museum have picked this weekend  to stage ZombieLab, a two-day interactive exhibition that looks at “the science of consciousness,” and what to do if a zombie apocalypse should ever … you know … occur. The exhibition is a mix of interactive zombie games, and some real-life scientific experiments. Top 10 zombie movies at the box office In the “Quarantine” activity, visitors will be asked to complete certain tasks that prove they are fully conscious, and not a zombie. In the “Horde” activity, they can ask scientists […]
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