Living in the Science-Fictional Now: Solar Canals

Covering canals with something to slow water evaporation is a no-brainer, right? (Or should be.) How about making those covers be solar panels for a two-fer—as apparently is already happening in India—now, that’s outright ingenious.

Smithsonian Magazine Solar Canal System California

And not just India: for example, California has planned a similar system. Its first prototype section, Project Nexus, is about to break ground (in the fall of 2022).

(Incidently, I can recommend Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel The Water Knife from 2015, in which water rights and covered canals feature strongly. In case you’re interested in that sort of fiction.)

Found via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr.

Image: an artist’s rendering of a solar canal system for California by Solar Aquagrid LLC (CC BY-ND) via Smithsonian Magazine

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Living in the Science-Fictional Now: Photos from Another Planet Are Trivial

One of the astounding things about living right now is the sheer amount of scientific knowledge and technical skills humanity has gained in the past 100 years or so alone.

These days it’s trivial, for example, to get high-quality photos from a neighboring planet brought to your personal device.

(Ok, it’s not truly trivial in the strictest sense since so many steps and technologies are involved, but at the same time: Photos. From another planet. Automatically delivered. Via the Internet. Which many (if not most) of us in the West have casual access to. Pretty much daily! So yes. Trivial.)

Specifically, I’m talking about the Persevererance Imgage Bot on Twitter. It’s a project by computer engineer Niraj Sanghvi. He has automated image tweeting mostly from NASA/JPL-Caltech sources for an impressive, ever-growing collection.

The photos are purely functional, of course, helping the rover to operate, but some are also quite interesting as photographs. Below are some recent favorite shots.

Twitter PersevereImgBot Rock and Sand
Twitter PersevereImgBot Hilly Landscape
Twitter PersevereImgBot SkyCam and Stars
Twitter PersevereImgBot Smooth Sand

(Click on the image source links below to find more about each photo.)

As a bonus, here’s a short video of a Martian solar eclipse by the moon Phobos taken by Perseverance:

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Sees Solar Eclipse on Mars by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory on YouTube

Cool. Cool, cool, cool. 🙂

Images by NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU via PersevereImgBot on Twitter: Rock and sand. Hilly landscape. SkyCam with stars. Smooth sand.

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Space Telescope Test Image of Star Captures Background Galaxies Too

The James Webb space telescope, launched into orbit at the end of December 2021, is going through some mirror alignment steps. A test image was taken, and it shows the astounding potential of the telescope in space imaging. Take a look:

2022 03 NASA STScI James Webb Alignment Eval Image

Not only does the focal point star stand out conspicuously, you can see other stars and galaxies(!) in the background.

The significance of James Webb summarized in NASA’s press release for the alignment test:

“While some of the largest ground-based telescopes on Earth use segmented primary mirrors, Webb is the first telescope in space to use such a design. The 21-foot, 4-inch (6.5-meter) primary mirror – much too big to fit inside a rocket fairing – is made up of 18 hexagonal, beryllium mirror segments. It had to be folded up for launch and then unfolded in space before each mirror was adjusted – to within nanometers – to form a single mirror surface. […]

“Webb is the world’s premier space science observatory and once fully operational, will help solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.”

I don’t need to be a STEM person to be delighted at the progress!

Image by NASA/STScI

Solar Foods is an International NASA Space Foods Winner

Solar Foods, a Finnish food tech company from Lappeenranta, Finland, has been selected as one of the international winners of the Phase 1 of NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge.

Solein Foods Selection Image 08

Solein is a protein made from electricity, air, and carbon dioxide, plus added nutrients. The process involves fermentation, and produces a nutrient-rich powder whose macronutrient composition is very similar to that of dried soy or algae.

Ten teams were honored in the international and 18 in the U.S. section of the challenge.

Congrats!

Image: Solein foods by Solar Foods.

Discrete Auroras on Mars in New, Impressive Images

Recent images taken by the Hope spacecraft launched by the United Arab Emirates show an improved view of auroras on Mars.

The auroras on Mars don’t just appear over the poles, however, but all around the planet. The Emirates Mars Mission didn’t discover these discrete auroras, but Hope’s images are, apparently, the most impressive captured so far.

Nature EMM Hope Discrete Auroras

Left: a spectrometer image captured by Hope; right: an artist’s impression of discrete auroras on Mars’s night side, both by Emirates Mars Mission via Springer Nature Ltd

As a fan of aurora borealis, I find it fascinating to get to see them on a neighboring planet. Yay, science!

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

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: 60 Seconds of Mars

While aimlessly browsing social media, I stumbled upon a 60-second video clip from Mars. Below’s a screencap, since I was unable to find a video to embed:

Twitter NASA360 60 Seconds of Mars

(Sorry for not including more details of the area; the NASA Twitter account didn’t provide any, and I can’t find a corresponding video on their YouTube account or website, either. Perhaps it’s from Curiosity?)

Isn’t it amazing, when you think about it, that we as a species have not only sent multiple vehicles to space, but our technology is good enough that we have high-definition photography from the surface of our neighboring planet that we can just casually scroll through. And not just Mars, but the outer solar system as well.

(This video of Cassini’s grand finale at Saturn seems to have been computer-generated on the basis of Cassini photos, so not really qualify for the high-def photography category, but it’s very pretty nevertheless.)

Not bad for ugly bags of mostly water, eh? It is a very good time to be a space geek. 🙂

Found via NASA 360 on Twitter.

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

Quotes: Infohistory Is a Mess

Elizabeth Bear’s scifi novel Machine has a succinct sum-up of just some of the problems concerning information retrieval:

“Wait,” I said. “How can information decay?”

“They used to call it bit rot. Servers get taken down, data falls through the cracks and doesn’t get backed up. Physical substrates are destroyed or damaged, or degrade over time—especially the primitive ones. A holographic diamond is very durable but can’t be changed once it’s written to, and magnetic media only lasted a decan or so under ideal conditions.

“And even if the data is preserved somewhere, that somewhere might not be networked. If it’s networked, it might not be indexed. Even if it’s indexed, it might be half the galaxy away and take two or three ans for the file request to get there, be fulfilled, turn around, and come back. And then you might find out that you needed different files entirely.” He huffed with great satisfaction. “Infohistory is a mess.”

– from a discussion between Dr. Brookllyn Jens and the medical librarian AI Mercy in Machine by Elizabeth Bear [original emphasis]

Despite this being from a fictional work, it rings very true. My librarian heart was delighted to read an account that acknowledges not just the physical difficulties of dealing with old media—whatever shape that media might take, from cuneiform to CDs—but also the search-related problems. Metadata, or in case of libraries, the information about the items in the collection, doesn’t feature in stories very often. Also, it is why good reasearch librarians and archivists are worth their weight in gold.

Bear, Elizabeth. Machine. London: Saga Press, 2020, p. 203.

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Living Vicariously Through Social Media: An Undersea Roundabout in the Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands—an autonomous region of Denmark—has built bridges and tunnels before to connect the numerous islands or islets and its 50,000-some residents. Never before, however, have they dug an undersea tunnel as deep or as long as the brand-new Eysturoyartunnilin, nor built an undersea roundabout.

Eysturoyartunnil Interior Green

The roundabout is part of a tunnel measuring about 11 km (6.8 miles), the third sub-sea tunnel in the islands. It connects the islands of Streymoy and Eysturoy, and reaches at its deepest 187 meters (roughly 200 yards) below sea level. At this writing the tunnel’s been in use for about a month.

Eysturoyartunnil Map

The roundabout comes with art—sculptures and light effects—designed by the Faroese artist Tróndur Patursson. You can read more about the tunnel at BBC or the P/F Eysturoyar- og Sandoyartunnil project website.

Eysturoyartunnil Interior Blue

Oh, my goodness. It’s obviously not a solution that suits every location, and I assume the cost plus know-how involved can also be a deterrent, but what a feat of engineering and vision it is. This is yet another reason why it’s (pandemic aside) exciting to be living now!

Found via Kristina Háfoss on Twitter.

Images: Map by P/F Eysturoyar- og Sandoyartunnil. Interior images by Estunlar.fo via BBC.

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Quotes: We Humans Need Cinema, as a Collective Experience

Director Denis Villeneuve (whom I know from Arrival and Blade Runner 2049) talks about the decision made by Warner Brothers to release their new movies concurrently in theaters plus their streaming platform in an interview with Variety:

“I strongly believe the future of cinema will be on the big screen, no matter what any Wall Street dilettante says. Since the dawn of time, humans have deeply needed communal storytelling experiences. Cinema on the big screen is more than a business, it is an art form that brings people together, celebrating humanity, enhancing our empathy for one another — it’s one of the very last artistic, in-person collective experiences we share as human beings.

“Once the pandemic is over, theaters will be filled again with film lovers.

“That is my strong belief. Not because the movie industry needs it, but because we humans need cinema, as a collective experience.”

This is a hairy situation. I fully agree with Villeneuve in that the theater experience—both movies and traditional plays, not to mention concerts of all varieties—was created with the physical presence of masses in mind, and, indeed, it benefits enormously from our physicality.

Technology has drastically changed how many things can be achieved digitally instead of physically. However, the fact has not changed that we are physical beings and crave physical experiences. There’s nothing quite like being drawn into a story and hearing the crowd around you reacting to it with you. (Think of sports events if you’re a sports fan.)

At the same time, however, I cannot but applaud the decision from an accessibility point of view. Personally, I literally understand and enjoy movies much, much better when I can access subtitling or captioning (and this is before the reduced hearing that’s in my family’s genes has really affected me; subtitles will only get more important for me in the future). And despite the theaters Erik and I usually visited in the Before Times being physically accessible, I have also visited theaters that aren’t, or theaters that have inaccessible bathrooms, or theaters that have bad seating.

Of course, one doesn’t have to have a disability or chronic conditions to enjoy streaming brand new movies. Coming from a large family I know herding kids in and out of theaters isn’t always easy. And there have been times I might have wanted to see a movie, but it would’ve meant slogging back out after a long day, waiting for a bus to take me downtown (or riding my bike in the wind and the rain) and all of it back again afterwards, so instead I stayed comfortably home.

There are a number of ways in which streaming content immediately on release day will benefit ordinary folks of all kind. At the same time, I do hope, most fervently, that movies made for the big screen do not disappear. For me, like for Villeneuve, they’re one of the major cultural features of 20th and 21st centuries.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Video of 14th-Century Techniques of Bridge Building

Here is an interesting animation of how the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, was built with 14th century techniques:

Karlův most – Stavba pilíře a klenebního pole ve 14. století by praha-archeologicka.cz on YouTube

3D graphics and postproduction is by Tomáš Musílek, with assists from Ondřej Šefců and Zdeněk Mazač. More information about Charles Bridge can be found at the portal Prague – the City of Archaeology. (Note: most of the site’s content and functionality seems to be in Polish, or link from the English summary to the equivalent full page in Polish.)

I love it how we’re now able to not just model but animate many old or even ancient building projects. It really reveals how far we’ve come and the skills and persistence we have as a species.

Found via File 770.

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