Death on Pluto

Today the NASA spacecraft sped past (the planet?) Pluto and made it’s closet approach at an altitude of around 12,500km. To date, nothing groundbreaking has been found out about Pluto although plenty of new information about the planet is due to be beamed back in the upcoming hour and days. However, the event reminded me of a discussion I have most years with my students when I am teaching about solids, liquids and gases and the gas laws (you will now ...

A Space Ocean

Comet Hartley 2 has been thrust into the limelight during the last couple of weeks after a report on it published by Nature. The comet has caused a bit of a problem for NASA scientists. And the problem .... Well, the water it contains is more like Earth's water than water on other comets. The problem is deuterium, the heavier isotope of hydrogen. The handful (six or so) of comets that have had their water content analysed seem to have twice as much deuterium. ...

Mars mix up and data quality

Do you trust the temperature reading on your thermometer? How important is it to us that equipment records the 'correct data'? You may remember a few years ago (six and a half) that NASA landed a couple of robots on Mars - Opportunity and Spirit. Image kindly reproduced according to the licence at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NASA_Mars_Rover.jpg The rovers were scheduled to last for a 90 day misson - well, amazingly, they are still working - although Spirit is stuck in sand and hopes are fading for ...