Updating Pluto

Curious – ponder how quickly New Horizons Pluto mission evaporated from popular culture. Media hypes cosmic milestones for a day or two, the moment they stop trending, space exploration might try booking a booth at Comic Con. I wonder how many people could differentiate between New Horizons, Rosetta, Ceres…..

New Horizons left Cape Canaveral in January of 2006 – primary destination Pluto, with asteroid hat tips and cursory nod to Jupiter along the way. On July 14, 2015 New Horizons completed its first “fly-by” of Pluto – Pluto’s wonky orbit aside, an average of 6.09 billion kilometers from earth. Within days New Horizons tickled our fancies with thought provoking images of once a planet Pluto.

This week NASA released New Horizon’s finest work, detailed jaw droppers worthy of a last hurrah. Turns out New Horizons is one plucky little probe, delighting mission control with “can do” tenacity (and enough remaining fuel) to forge far beyond wildest dreams. “Nice to meet your acquaintance Pluto, I must be on my way, 2014 MU69 awaits”.

New Horizon’s fuel bonanza sent science to the Hubble Space Telescope. A billion miles beyond Pluto, Hubble identified “icy object” 2014 MU69 as a viable destination. This week NASA announced intent to reach it by 2019 – New Horizons is packing her bags while NASA waits for final funding approval.

Come on now, do the right thing. What’s the harm in another billion miles? Surely New Horizons attitude and lure of the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune count for something.(link to Kuiper Belt below)


While we wait for confirmation – New Horizons latest images of Pluto –

View larger. | Remember the beautiful image of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto? Here it is in closer detail. This image covers an area 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

View larger. | Remember the beautiful image of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto? Here it is in closer detail. This image covers an area 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. Scientists call the heart-shaped feature Tombaugh Regio; it’s a smooth, icy plain. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Some regions on Pluto are much darker than others. Scientists aren't sure why.

View larger. | Some regions on Pluto are much darker than others. Scientists aren’t sure why. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Linked below – best picture gallery of New Horizons encounter with Pluto –


Richat – Eye Of The Sahara

Extraordinary describes Richat – a thirty mile wide geologic anomaly surrounded by thousands of featureless Saharan square miles. Dubbed “Eye of the Sahara” by men aboard our first space missions, pondering this curiosity from above led to initial assumptions Richat had to be a impact crater. Located in west-central Mauritania, Richat proved to be anything but.





Extensive research produced no evidence of impact. Geologists generally agree that layers, known as dikes – each one distinctive sedimentary rings dating from the Late Proterozoic (2.5 billion years) to Ordovician (480 million years) – are evidence of low temperature hydro-thermal erosion.

Columns left from volcanic eruptions.

As with most weird and wonderful places, conspiracy theorists follow. The Richat Structure Conspiracy centres on Plato’s description of Atlantis –

“According to Plato, the island was circular, divided into concentric circles of land and water: “There were 2 of land and 3 of water… Atlantis when sunk by the earthquake became an impossible barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean…” And he spoke about a mount sheltering the city by North and “and encompassing a great plain of an oblong shape in the south “…etc… Atlantis in Greek means Atlantis, nesos : the island of Atlas. And we get near the geologic eye at the North the Mount Atlas. According to Plato, Atlantis was lying “in front of the Pillars of Hercule”, and we are there just in front from South and not beside from East or West as many authors are searching…”


giant eye africa

Atlantis main island according to the text of Plato in Timaeus and Critias, 360 BC.

Not to be a party pooper but the chances of this being the lost city of Atlantis are slim to none. All the same. Richat deserves a ponder – the Eye of the Sahara is mesmerizing.

Another Adventure Day

Yesterday began as a drive to the Polish Festival in North Vancouver – festival a bust, we ventured up Lynn Canyon. Late afternoon and inappropriate footwear barred North Shore trails. Lynn Valley Headwaters map in hand, Rice Lake beckoned. Fifteen minute walk to the car, short drive to the park gates, finds us walking along Rice Lake road.

Along the trail to Rice Lake

Notes enjoying a peaceful moment at Rice Lake.

Map of Lynn Canyon trails.

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Canyon from bridge on Rice Lake road.

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Trail reveals Rice Lake

The forest path.

Places like this are the reason Vancouver is remarkable. Set out for a late afternoon Polish sausage, find yourself living a impromptu adventure day – barely a 30 minute drive from home, there we were on the shores of Rice Lake.



Best and Worst Cover Ponder

Nirvana’s  Smells Like Teen Spirit is one of those songs defining a generation. Insert any cliche you like – iconic anthem, pivotal, groundbreaking – doesn’t make a lick of difference, it’s a great song. As with all great tracks, it’s only a matter of time before covers pay tribute.

Songs of this magnitude require artistic interpretation, confidence to express alternate creative visions without slaughtering the original. Tonight I heard Richard Cheese’s version for the first time. Initial reaction smacked of “holy crap, this is bat shit genius” (to put it in context, I was working a wedding and impressed when the DJ slipped it in between Billie Jean and Sweet Home Alabama ). Home finds me vacillating between worst cover ever and brilliant – what would Kurt Cobain think?

Richard Cheese and Lounge Against The Machine


Until I put my finger on it, listening to Patti Smith’s cover ( if there’s a better one I haven’t found it ) makes things right.

A Photograph Can Change The World

Photographs rattle cages impenetrable to words alone. Written words inform, yet lack emotional context. The spoken word , more partisan soap box finger pointing than insightful commentary. Inundated with talk and text, we form assumptions, misinterpret intent or context, outright dismiss sources, all too often ignore issues because we lack perspective.

Every so often photographs define humanity without uttering a word. Eclipsing talk and text, indelible images that shake us to the core. Irrefutable truth captured in a single frame, visual jolts we can’t ignore. Sometimes a photograph can change the world.

Body of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on Turkish beach.





Comet Hitchhiker

Masahiro Ono of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had a “aha” moment – design a spacecraft capable of landing on multiple comets and asteroids. Equip a craft with harpoons and tethers for landing, then cast off for the next destination using kinetic energy.

This week Ono submitted his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy based research at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SPACE conference. Included were solutions to initial concerns over harpoon and tether strength. Exhaustive analysis and computer simulation arrived at a solution dubbed the Space Hitchhike Equation. The equation led to Ono’s conclusion – materials exist (Zylon and Kelvar) capable of withstanding changes in velocity necessary for safe landing. (velocity change of 1.5 Km/second – imagine Los Angeles to San Fransisco in under 7 minutes). The next phase will include harpoon tests at targets mimicking asteroids and comets.

You go Masahiro – imaginations like yours are the future of cosmic exploration and discovery.

While closely flying by the target, a spacecraft would first cast an extendable tether toward the asteroid or comet and attach itself using a harpoon attached to the tether. Next, the spacecraft would reel out the tether while applying a brake that harvests energy while the spacecraft accelerates.

This technique is analogous to fishing on Earth. Imagine you’re on a boat on a lake with a fishing pole, and want to catch a big fish. Once the fish bites, you would release more of the line with a moderate tension, rather than holding it tightly. With a long enough line, the boat will eventually catch up with the fish.

Once the spacecraft matches its velocity to the ‘fish’ – the comet or asteroid, in this case – it is ready to land by simply reeling in the tether and descending gently.

When it’s time to move on to another celestial target, the spacecraft would use the harvested energy to quickly retrieve the tether, which accelerates the spacecraft away from the body.


This artist concept shows Comet Hitchhiker, an idea for traveling between asteroids and comets using a harpoon and tether system. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornelius Dammrich

This artist concept shows Comet Hitchhiker, an idea for traveling between asteroids and comets using a harpoon and tether system. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornelius Dammrich

A description of Comet Hitchhiker by Masahiro Ono –


More Than a Tree

Vancouver’s recent wind storm, a dozy responsible for 710,000 homes without power, has me pondering how lucky I was not to lose my tree.


Perhaps living in Vancouver for the better part of my life has heightened my expectations regarding “green spaces”, trees, and reluctantly – shrubbery. I’ll never forget my private belly laugh the day a guest visiting from America blurted out ” what the hell is with all this shrubbery?” This person was genuinely flabbergasted by all the carefully manicured hedges lining our city streets. We have strict laws regarding trees – none can be cut down without a permit, even if on private property. For every tree that is removed, five more must be planted. Our mild winters and early springs are perfect for blossoming varieties; a great deal of thought goes into placement of cherry, plum, magnolia, and hawthorn. The city places trees for optimum visual effect, regardless of the season. My street has everything from plum and oak to sumac.


If asked to imagine a tree, few people would…

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