Water on Mars

disappearing ice in scooped Mars trench
disappearing white stuff must be ice that is
sublimating. Click for much larger picture.


We have ice on Mars.

And it wasn’t the fancy ovens that found it.
It was the lowly (but expensive, I’m sure) shovel that did the job.

took three scoops of Martian dirt to analyze, and then a few days later looked back where it had scooped.

Some of the dirt was gone.

Originally, the team allowed that the white stuff seen in the digging trench might be salt or some other white mineral.
But the best explanation for the disappearing white stuff is.. sublimation, which means water.

Well, small creatures that don’t leave tracks could have scurried in, grabbed some chunks and zapped a shrinking ray at still-buried chunks.
But Occam’s Razor is pretty harsh on that kind of thinking.

Now, hasn’t ice been found in comets before? Or is this the first, confirmed, off-planet ice?

Phoenix lander safely touches down in Martian arctic

To see a nice, 995×2,551-pixel version, click on the image to the left.

Yesterday at 7:53pm EST, Earth received telemetry indicating that the Phoenix lander had safely touched down 15 minutes earlier.
The 15-minute lag is due to the speed of light and the distance to Mars.

I’ve scarfed
a bunch of pics.
This one
shows the hint of Green Kryptonite that permeates the surface.

I think it would have been cool to start two quantum-state parties at 7:38pm – one where everyone celebrated the successful landing, and the other where everyone was sad that it had failed.
Technically, since the event wasn’t observed, the lander would have succeeded and failed at the same time until the signal arrived on Earth!

Ya, ok, maybe not.
But still, it would have been funny.
As it turns out the sad folk would have abandoned their room to party with the others!

I watched the landing in Earth-real-time (i.e. 15 minutes light speed delayed) on
over the internet.
At first I used QuickTime with the rtsp link on that page, but the audio wasn’t as good and the video was certainly no better,
so I ended up just staying on the NSASA TV page and used Leopards ctrl-scrollwheel zoom to make the streaming wmv fill the screen.

I phoned Andy to see if he was watching, and he told me it was showing on the Discovery Channel, so I switched over to that.
But I still had the laptop on NASA TV and switched back and forth, especially when Discovery went to commercial.

One thing I was disappointed by was that the landing visualization (which looked really cool) was not available in a good, HD-quality version.
Surely this would have been a good opportunity to use BitTorrent?
Ah well.

It’s interesting to note that the lander’s latitude and longitude are lat=68.011, long=-123.006, which on Earth would be
in the middle of Canada’s Tuktut Nogait National Park.

The picture below has a more detailed version if you click on it.


Phoenix managed to just land inside its projected landing area.
The blue oval indicated the expected landing area.
Red cross is actual landing area.
Not sure what the red circle is. :-)

You can see the latest pics from the lander at this arizona.edu site.

Bush talks about hybrids

U.S. alternate energy goals

I was puzzling over why one of my fuel-cell stocks went up 10% yesterday. I consider those kinds of stocks super-high-risk, so I barely made enough for a night on the town. Actually, there’s been a 6-10% decline in several Japanese-stock mutual funds in the last few days, so I think we’re talking red-numbers here.

Hey, I think I’ll change the +ve numbers on my stock portfolio to blue-numbers. heh. Stocks to watch today: (for news!! Don’t buy any on my account! (or Bush’s for that matter))
— say if anyone knows the real situation at BLD.TO, who was controlled by
& F, and sold their euro-ops to DCX, I believe, send me an email at myob10.at.hotmail.com — Some folks lost a lot of money on BLD.TO as well as F more recently.

And by the way, TM is going to have a Camry in this years NASCAR series, with one in last Sunday’s Daytona 500 Nascar race. Maybe I should get Nascar’s in-car package this year. I sure hope I can find HD converage.

[edited to add links]

Telescope in Toronto

What with global warming and all, last night was a nice warm clear night in January here in Toronto. Saturn is still visible and looks pretty good. Mars was out too. My elder daughter had some friends over, and one of the girls, about 10, who seemed to have been slightly traumatized by the movie “War of the Worlds”, ran screaming when the telescope started to make noise while slewing from Saturn to Mars. I had the tripod it was on up pretty high and the telescope is an SCT so I guess it could look a bit like a war-of-the-worlds tripod. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned “Mars”? Later they scurried back into the house saying, “Wasn’t that cool?”. I’m still not sure if they meant that they had seen Mars, or that a neighbour has a working war-of-the-worlds tripod.

Well whatever, get out and have a look at the Pleiades, Mars, Saturn, Andromeda. They should all be easy to see at a decent hour of the evening with a small scope.

Hybrid Update

Are you ready for $1.75/L gasoline? Hurricane Rita is set to make Katrina look like a cake-walk in trying to get refineries back online after it passes. Anyway, our hybrid Highlander has settled into about 8L/100km now that it is mostly used for commuting and shopping. This is because I decided that since the highway performance was lowering my average, I wouldn’t waste by exposing it to wear and tear, and we use our car for long highway drives when possible. The car makers are all getting set to ramp up hybrid production: Google for hybrid news

Scientific Philosophy

I visited the University of Waterloo bookstore where naturally, one finds books of an academic nature. I sometimes wonder if an appreciation of science is related to liking technical things, hence my reason for sharing a few book excerpts. Many people may find non-fiction dull, but I find if I don’t read the whole book, just reading what I want, I may not get a PhD in anything, but at least I enjoy myself. Now on to my discovery of the day:

In “Ideas and Opinions (1954)” by Albert Einstein, he states that reality and experience trump theory, or even logic. In this context he states that Galileo emphasized experience over theory. Which leads to another book, “Contemporary debates in Philosophy of Science (2004)”. In it is an chapter about how thought experiments can transcend empiricism. (This is the opposite to what Einstein was saying in that one quote). Apparently, and keep in mind this is a philosophy book, it is not necessary to perform one of the most famous experiments, considered to be one of the most important ever, that Galileo performed to show that contrary to Aristotle, a heavier object does not fall faster than a lighter object (other factors, such as air resistance, not withstanding).

In a demonstration of the power of language, reality and truth, one need only consider that if a heavier object fell faster than a lighter object, if you got a second set and connected them together, how fast would they fall? A: Using Aristotle’s supposition, the combined object is heavier and thus must fall faster than the heavy object. B: Again using Aristotle’s supposition, the lighter object must fall slower, so it must act as a drag on the heavy object when connected together, so the combined heavier object must fall slower than the heavy object. A & B can not both be true at the same time (This, subtly, is the only empiracal fact here).

According to the 2004 book, Galileo may never have even performed the physical experiment instead used this “beautiful” thought experiment to establish the fact. So from “Ideas & Opinions”, “On the method of theoretical physics”, Einstein says, “Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; …. Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed this into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics — indeed of modern science altogether.”

I don’t know about you, but my conclusion on this is moderately profound. Now let me throw a wrench into it all, what if the Greek word used by Aristotle for “faster” in this context, could be shown by scholars to have the connotation of “more energetic” at times?


So what does this have to do with Tech Tok? Well take my interest in photography. I like to learn new things, but they have to be technically achievable. So we head down to the air show with our knowledge of RAW image formats (12 bits), auto-focus limitations, auto-exposure control limitations and we try (that is experiment) with some shots. The importance of the RAW image format shot is only established through empiricism, as are the limits of manual and auto focus. The exposure control is well known and well tested, but through an interest in science, logic, experiment and technology, you wind up with photos that would have been impossible any other way.

Other items that went into the creation of that photo:

1. Locate high (Atlantis @ Ontario place)

2. 80-400mm VR zoom lens (Yes, $$, but you should be able to do the same with a 12x optical zoom non-SLR)

3. +0.7 exposure compensation in aperature priority mode (wide open). You might try +1

4. RAW mode, to allow histogram adjustments of the shaded areas later.

5. Cropped in photoshop to eliminate unwanted sky.

6. Checked the weather forecast to pick the right day.

7. ISO of 200 chosen, but only because it was bright enough to ensure a fast-shutter speed of about 1/800 to 1/2000th second.

8. Camera set to a workable focus mode for the subject

9. Auto-focus used — because experiments with manual focus showed it was unworkable.

10. Re-focused frequently as the subject approached (this is a half-press on the shutter button)

11. Camera set to continuous shot mode (4 frames per second) — be sure camera is given a chance to refocus

The upshot of this is that I am probably not mentioning things that don’t work, like for example if you do not use raw mode, and then try to enhance shadows in 8-bit Photoshop, the loss of color depth will ruin the detail, richness and reality of what is in the shadows. Philosophically, what gives us the right to construct a photo in this way? The answer is that the human eye has dynamic range that far outperforms a camera and we must use these tools to duplicate it, but it is interesting to note that when I took the above picture, I could not see the pilot. It would have been nice to have the sun behind me too.

Blade Runner-like Image Enhancement

Enhance nighttime camcorder image
While playing with some astronomical programs like
a rather buggy piece of free-ware (there are commercial programs that do this too),
I was surprised to find how easy it was to do some image-enhancement magic.
The image above (seen in full here:
TFS on Bloor viaduct)
was shot at night with an older NTSC camcorder that was presenting a lot of CCD noise in the image and there were cars driving back and forth through the frame and there was a bit of camera shake because I zoomed in a bit.

I captured the DV stream on my PC, then used Virtual Dub to select out about 40 or 50 frames that didn’t have much motion,
deinterlaced it and then fed that to registax, and after a few seconds, all of the CCD noise, darkness, moving cars and camera shake disappeared just like magic.
Well, okay, its surprising the first time you do it anyway.

[edited a bit by rae; hope that’s okay, Jeff]