It is the IYA, or International Year of Astronomy, and one of the many things going on for it is a daily podcast called 365 Days of Astronomy. It has been quite entertaining and informative, with today’s entry being Space Travel in Science Fiction. They have been archiving the series, so you can listen to any episodes you may have missed.
This is impressive, a project and tool set everyone can benefit from. For once, it is the future I am encouraging everyone to build, rather than science fiction. I found out about this courtesy of the Daily Galaxy Snag Films entry, and what a tool it is. Billed as The Planet’s Documentary Indie Film Widget (VIDEO), it will allow everyone to promote and distribute their own personal subset of documentaries or other independent films. If you haven’t created a film of your own, you can still promote your favorites by embeding a virtual theater onto your web pages. The baseline link is at Snag Films, and the widget works for all recognized browsers. The number of contributing movie sources is huge, and growing every day. And yes, you can add your own independent movies to the growing collection!
The latest issue of Sky and Telescope hit the stands a few days ago, with all the usual goodies and one not so usual. The cover article is called Uncovering Mars’s Secret Past, and to go with it they include a nifty little DVD with over 500 images and videos from the Mars Rovers cameras. You can also buy the Mars DVD separately, but for fifty cents more you get the July volume of the magazine along with the free DVD. The disk was put together by Dr Jim Bell, Lead Scientist for the Mars Rover’s panoramic cameras. NASA is building its own cloud environment, called Nebulous (I can’t prove it, but I suspect pun intended). This is for outreach and education, amongst other things, and is compatible with the Amazon web services platform.
NASA is currently running the final Hubble mission, upgrading the satellite one last time. If you are interested in watching the mission in real time, as always you can see it on NASA TV, both online and on select cable systems. If their are any problems with the mission, NASA now has an emergency response shuttle ready to run a rescue flight. Part of the mission is to bring home the camera that saved the Hubble, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. Installed in 1993, this was the first camera with a corrective function for the flaw in the Hubble’s mirror. To commemorate the retirement they have released one last beauty shot of planetary nebula Kohoutek 4-55; the camera will be added to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum permanent collection. For other incredible images captured by the Hubble, take a look at their Gallery site. And if you get by the Smithsonian in the next week or two, don’t forget to see the original Enterprise model used in the 60s Star Trek TV show, and maybe catch the Star Trek IMAX version of the new movie. They will also be running other Sci-Fi IMAX films including NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN and Transformers 2 Revenge of the Fallen. Here is the video of the shuttle capturing the Hubble to bring it onboard for repairs.
And you can play God Games too! The SIMS are nice, but limit your godhood to a single environment on a single planet. To get into the game from a Universal level, try Discover’s Star Formation. You start with a dust cloud, and set up conditions to optimize star creation as gravity nodes gather mass. Another fun one is the Universe Sandbox, where again you start with the basic laws of physics, and modify the parameters to create your desired results. For a Gods-Eye view of the universe, you can try World Wide Telescope, the Windoze ripoff of the classic Open Source monster Celestia. And if you like the Open Source version better, be sure to visit Celestia Motherload, with a ton of upgrades and plugins, including the Selden Ball data.
Back in November, the National Academies announced the formation of a new group to promote the use of accurate science in science fiction productions, focusing primarily on Movies and TV. The Science and Entertainment Exchange came out of the starting gate strong, with Watchmen leading the pack. A serious voice for both the acting community and the sciences, Dustin Hoffman helps make that connection now, working to get the science in science fiction right. This is not the first time this kind of thing has been done; Mike Brotherton has been the primary force behind Launchpad, a NASA funded free crash course in Astronomy and Astrophysics for science fiction authors for some years now. This years guest teachers include amateur astronomer and author Joe Haldeman, and Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame.