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Alex "Sandy" AntunesRSS Feed of this column.

Read more about the strange modern world of a day laborer in astronomy, plus extra space science-y goodness.... Read More »

While the team here discusses our current veeery quiet solar minimum, what are working solar physicists thinking?  Well, from the SPA Newsletter (http://spc.igpp.ucla.edu/spa/spanews.html), a twice-weekly newsletter, came this neat bit of April 1 whimsy:

Solar Dynamics Observer Mission Postponed


From: <claruse at igpp.ucla.edu>
Mission Madness got personal. Perhaps it was the SPB ballooning of votes, perhaps it is simply inherent in any popularity contest like this. With only three rounds let to go (vote early, vote often!), the epithets are flying. Match the quote below with its quarterfinalist mission! Trash Talk
  1. "a mission to cold, dead rocks"
  2. "biologically infested mission"
  3. "biologically infested mission"
  4. "hasn't launched yet"
  5. don't even count as [a] mission!
  6. "It either deflates or explodes"
I'm putting the finishing touches to a GUI when the red light starts flashing. The voice comes over the PA from ops, "Warning, Jupiter hoving to view". We quickly drop our work and run across the metal crosswalk that separates us from the STEREO operations bunker. Inside, against the din of the klaxon, we see the massive bulk of Jupiter crowding the leftmost of the main displays. STEREO B was in danger!

And here is the result from our STEREO website. Jupiter seen by STEREO COR1 Okay, I made up the bit about the red light and the klaxons. And after this brief science break, I'll even bring in some irony.

A shock hit NASA's Mission Madness tournament when the fight between the SPB balloon mission and the MER rovers "Spirit" and "Opportunity" escalated to unexpected levels. And now you can find out just how this happened. 'Mission Madness' is a NASA Edge-run voting contest where the public gets to vote for their favorite mission, in a series of 1-on-1 brackets leading to the final winner.
Alert! Voting starts today with NASA's goofy but fun Launch Madness brackets, mimicking sports' March Madness. A bit ironic given I'd just written on how voting does not make science. That said, choose your favorite missions and see how your vote stacks up! mission-madness.nasa.gov (Warning: Flash required) Good luck with the acronyms. I had to check to see MER was the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. I predict that anything marked STS-# will not do well, as it's harder for "just another shuttle mission" to compete with a focused mission that also has a catchy name.
I'll admit I'm a Plutophile. Whether it's called a planet or not, it's a very interesting place. Yet despite sending New Horizons to visit it (fastest launch ever!), despite the discovery of other Kuiper Belt objects, one facet of Pluto continues to dominate the news. Is it a planet? As it turns out, there are things far more important to consider about Pluto than its planethood status.