Cassini’s Grand Finale Begins

The Cassini spacecraft is set to make its first dive through the gap between Saturn and its rings today, April 26, 2017. This dive, first of 22, opens the last stage of the Cassini-Huygens mission before the vehicle is driven into Saturn on September 15, 2017.

To celebrate, here are a few of the amazing photos sent back from the mission.

NASA Catching Its Tail 5329_PIA12826

NASA Colorful Colossusses 5631_PIA14922

NASA Spring at the North Pole 5805_PIA14945

NASA Water World 6275_PIA18343

Incredible. At this writing, the mission’s been running for over 19 years. It’s amazing what we can do when there’s a will.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

Follow the grand finale milestones, read the mission-end FAQs, browse graphics, documents, videos in a dedicated grand finale gallery, or follow Cassini on Twitter.

Images by by NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI: Catching Its Tail; Colorful Colossuses and Changing Hues (Titan and Saturn); Spring at the North Pole; Water World (Enceladus and Saturn’s rings); the Earth Day tweet photo with more info is available at The Day the Earth Smiled.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

New Research Resource: Gigantic Online Picture Map of London

The London Picture Archive is a gigantic, free online photo map of the city’s past. The project has been nicknamed Collage.

Collage The London Picture Archive

Managed by London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the map is made with over 250,000 photos, prints, maps, and drawings from the collections of LMA and Guildhall Art Gallery. Visitors can search by street name, or browse featured galleries and subjects. From the description of Collage:

“The images provide an extraordinary record of London and its people from the fifteenth century to the present day. The whole of Greater London is covered, as are the adjoining counties. Some of the many highlights include photographs of Victorian London; the sixteenth century ‘Agas’ map of London; Hollar’s stunning panorama from 1647; beautifully designed twentieth century posters for London’s tramways; the Cross and Tibbs photographs of Second World War damage to the City of London and the collections formerly held at the Guildhall Print Room. We regularly add new content from the LMA collections and, in particular, continue to develop descriptions and subject tags for the very large London County Council Photograph Library.”

I’ve only poked around for a short time, but for general purposes Collage looks like an endless source of images. For more specific searches it may not do quite so well. It certainly appears to be a worthwhile source for historical or historically inspired worldbuilding.

Image: screencap of Collage home page by Eppu Jensen

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna

The Oldest Active Library in the World

The library attached to al-Qarawiyyin mosque and university (alternate western spellings include Al Karaouin and Al Quaraouiyine, among others) in Fez, Morocco, is not just the oldest active library in the world, it’s also exceptionally beautiful.

TheNewArab al-Qarawiyyin Library Courtyard 479

Al-Qarawiyyin was founded in 859 by Fatima Al Fihri. The architecture of the university reflects various past styles and ruling dynasties. The decorated interiors include calligraphic designs on the walls, ceramic patterns on the floors, and wooden carvings on the ceilings.

TEDcom al-Qarawiyyin Main Reading Room aziza_chaouni_img_2096

From 2012 to 2016, the library was completely renovated. The restoration was lead by architect Aziza Chaouni. She describes the starting point for her project at TED.com:

“When I first visited, I was shocked at the state of the place.

“In rooms containing precious manuscripts dating back to the 7th century, the temperature and moisture were uncontrolled, and there were cracks in the ceiling. […]

“Throughout the years, the library underwent many rehabilitations, but it still suffered from major structural problems, a lack of insulation, and infrastructural deficiencies like a blocked drainage system, broken tiles, cracked wood beams, exposed electric wires, and so on.”

TEDcom al-Qarawiyyin Entrance Main Reading Room aziza_chaouni_img_2100

One of Chaouni’s leading principles was respect to its authenticity. Her restoration team preserved and salvaged what they could, but when it wasn’t possible, features and details were created from scratch. This included using local materials and construction systems, like furniture by local craftsmen who used native wood. Says Chaouni:

“There has to be a fine balance between keeping the original spaces, addressing the needs of current users, including students, researchers and visitors, and integrating new sustainable technologies — solar panels, water collection for garden irrigation, and so on.”

TheBigStory al-Qarawiyyin Fountain Samia Ezzarrouki 460x

Currently a part of Morocco’s state university system, the library is now open to the public in addition to historians and students.

(Incidentally, the university’s famous alumni include the 16th-century Andalusian adventurer known as Leo Africanus, whose book Description of Africa was considered the most authoritative source for northern Africa until the beginning of European exploration and expansion in the African continent.)

More photos at The New Arab, TED.com, The Big Story, Tor.com and BookRiot.

Images: Courtyard via TheNewArab; main reading room and entrance to main reading room by Aziza Chaouni via TED.com; fountain by Samia Errazzouki via The Big Story.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

The Glory of Library and Museum Materials

I really love the Internet for research. It connects us to materials and people around the world. As a visual person, I find the availability of photographs and other visualizations on just about any subject especially gratifying. You can visit places and eras that you physically may not be able to.

NYPL Digital The Drawbridge

One of the invaluable services libraries and museums provide, especially now that more of their collections are being digitized, is access to historical periods and obscure topics. (Like the Peter Parker collection of 80 paintings of Chinese patients with large tumors or other major deformities – that’s not a joke!)

And that’s only the beginning – using library and museum websites and digital collections to find primary sources for research has other benefits as well:

  • Copious metadata: the provenance (origins and history) of documents or items, including details like dates, original creators, owners, and chain of custody, are clearly marked when known, and when unknown, that is clearly stated, too.
  • Materials that physical items were made of are also given, often with information on the techniques involved or links to further reading in connection with museum exhibits.
  • Many libraries and museums group items in their digital collections into more easily browsable subgroups, for example by era, style, type, or topic.
  • Copyright information is easily available: any limitations to re-using the materials are clearly given. There are also collections that concentrate on items that are in public domain.
  • If digital materials are made available for re-using, often there are multiple formats, sizes, or resolutions. That’s great service!
  • Sets of search results are often smaller than online in general. Finding an answer is faster!
  • Digital collections are created by professionals. While this doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of errors, online materials at libraries and museums are researched, curated, and checked, which increases the reliability of the information provided.
  • If additional information or clarification is needed, it’s the job of museums and libraries to at least try to help. That’s literally why they’re there!

Below are just some amazing digital collections from museums and libraries around the world:

Must. Resist. Internet. Rabbit. Holes!

Image: The Drawbridge via NYPL (The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library, New York Public Library Digital Collections; 1748-1751; etching; by Giovanni Battista Piranesi)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

NYPL Releases Thousands of High-Res Public Domain Images

The New York Public Library released a treasure trove of 180,000 high-resolution scans of public domain images. They include photographs, etchings, watercolors, sheet music, maps, illuminated manuscript images and other pages from books, stereoscopic views, and more. The oldest materials date back as far as the 11th century. With their visual search you can browse by century, genre, collection, and even color.

NYPL Public Domain Img Collection
Visual browse tool’s color view via NYPL Manuscripts and Archives Division

According to the NYPL:

“Did you know that more than 180,000 of the items in our Digital Collections are in the public domain?

“That means everyone has the freedom to enjoy and reuse these materials in almost limitless ways. The Library now makes it possible to download such items in the highest resolution available directly from the Digital Collections website.

“No permission required. No restrictions on use.

“Below you’ll find tools, projects, and explorations designed to inspire your own creations—go forth and reuse!”

I know I’m going to be using the collection a lot!

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Stadi Wars – The Empire Attacks Helsinki

Helsingin Sanomat, the largest Finnish daily, celebrates the impending Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens premier with a special piece. Titled Stadi Wars (stadi being a slang name for Helsinki), it shows what the city would look like if the Empire were to attack Helsinki.

Helsingin Sanomat Stadi Wars Senate Square
What if the Senate Square in Helsinki were attacked by the Empire via Helsingin Sanomat

Apart from photos, video, and 3d-renderings of Imperial transports, Helsingin Sanomat interviewed a member of The Finnish Reserve Officers’ Federation and got his opinion on how the Finnish army would fare against stormtroopers.

Even if you don’t read Finnish, the page is worth a visit for the very cool photos of Imperial walkers and ships set against a modern cityscape.

Images, video and graphics by Boris Stefanov, Uolevi Holmberg, and Petri Salmén via Helsingin Sanomat

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Supermoon Lunar Eclipse

We happened to have excellent conditions for the 2015 supermoon lunar eclipse: clear skies, warm weather, and a dark backyard for early night viewing. The best shot I got is from the beginning of the eclipse (with a little computer enhancement).

Supermoon Lunar Eclipse Starting

Very neat. And, although celestial photography won’t become a part of my skills in a hurry, it was nice to try.

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Visual Inspiration: Ostrich Riding

Last week, I shared the image of an ostrich cart. There must’ve been random serendipity rays in the air, because this week I happened on a photo of someone actually riding an ostrich:

Man riding an ostrich at the Cawston ostrich farm, South Pasadena, California. Via Elle Decor, June 2014, p. 67.
Man riding an ostrich at the Cawston ostrich farm, South Pasadena, California. Via Elle Decor, June 2014, p. 67.

Cawston ostrich farm. Postcard by Detroit Photographic Company; South Pasadena, California, unknown date. From the collection of Marc Walter, published in An American Odyssey: Photos from the Detroit Photographic Company, 1888-1924, by Marc Walter and Sabine Arqué (Taschen, 2014). Found in Elle Decor magazine, June 2014, p. 67.

Huh. I used to think that the various tallstrider or hawkstrider type mounts in World of Warcraft were based more on fantasy than fact. I’m sure large birds come with a host of training and handling issues, but apparently it’s not as far-fetched as I thought. On the other hand, having grown up two hours south of the Arctic Circle and traveled in Lapland multiple times, seeing reindeer doesn’t make me bat an eye. Just goes to show how our experiences influence our sense of normal. 🙂

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Visual Inspiration: Ostrich Carts

Ostrich pulling a cart at the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm. Via William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.
Ostrich pulling a cart at the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm. Via William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

 

Ostrich pulling a cart at the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm. Postcard by unknown; Lincoln Park, Los Angeles, California, 1919. From the Werner von Boltenstern Postcard Collection; Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University. In public domain.

Why do fantasy stories so often employ equines as beasts of burden, when you could breed large birds for the task? In our world, humans do have a long history with the horse family, but who’s to say that in another, more SFFnal one you couldn’t find giant versions of armadillos, capybaras, or rats used for transportation? Or faster, large-scale chameleons?

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Ancient African Trees Look Alien at Night

Photographer Beth Moon‘s new series Diamond Nights documents baobabs and quiver trees against moonless, starry night skies with breathtaking results. For a Nordic city dweller like me, the images might as well be from a different planet.

Beth Moon: Aquila, 2015.
Beth Moon: Aquila, 2015.
Beth Moon: Serpens, 2015.
Beth Moon: Serpens, 2015.

In her artist’s statement, Moon writes of the technical aspects of shooting:

“The majority of these photographs were created during moonless nights, shot with a wide angle lens and ISO of 3200 – 6400. […] Exposures up to 30 seconds allowed enough light to enter the lens without noticeable star movement. Each location required a lot of experimenting. and different lighting techniques. Sometimes a short burst of diffused light from a flashlight was sufficient, or bounced light from multiple flashlights was used for a softer more natural glow.”

Beth Moon: Ara, 2015.
Beth Moon: Ara, 2015.

Photos like these remind me of the incredible diversity of our planet, and how much more of the world we can see and share through the power of Internet than even our parents. Love it!

Found via Colossal.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.