Ariane V launch video (a few days late)

Over the weekend, Ariane V placed two commercial satellites into orbit in a beautiful night launch.  I never get tired of that.  ;-)  It really is a lovely vehicle.

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Mount Sharp has been reached!

The Curiosity rover has reached the feet of Mount Sharp, it’s original target in Gale Crater!  It will now roll towards some exposed scarps that are good candidates for finding sedimentary strata which would reveal more of the geological history of the region.

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Soyuz TMA-12M is back on Earth!

It touched down on the steppes of Kazakhstan last Wednesday, returning Alexander Skvortsov, Oleg Artemyev, and outgoing ISS Expedition 40 commander Steven Swanson to the Earth after a six-month increment aboard the ISS.

They left ISS in the command of Expedition 41 commander Maxim Suraev, Reid Wiseman, and Alexander Gerst.  They’ll be joined in a few weeks by Alexander Samokutyaev, Barry “Butch” Wilmore, and Elena Serova, who will be Russia’s first female cosmonaut in a very long time, and the first to make a long-duration spaceflight.

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Big solar flare, coming our way!

SOHO’s LASCO C3coronagraph recorded this video, showing activity on the Sun and ending with a nice big CME, squarely directed at Earth.  Well, directed at Earth for now — these things do have a habit of veering off in odd directions from time to time.

So cross your fingers, and maybe we’ll get some nice aurora in a couple of days.  ;-)

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RIP, Jane Baker

Jane Baker, half of the husband-and-wife writing team Pip and Jane Baker (so much of a duo that they share a single Wikipedia page), has died.  With her husband Pip, they wrote one of my personal favorite stori.es, “The Mark of the Rani”, featuring the Master and introducing the evil Time Lady mad scientist known as the Rani.

They came back the next season to write “Terror of the Vervoids” (introducing new companion Mel and a substantial moral conundrum), as the third sub-story of “The Trial of a Time Lord” (a massive season-long arc composed of three four-part stories and a two-part finale).

Then were called in at the very last minute as pinch-hitters to wrap up “The Trial of a Time Lord”, when script editor Eric Saward abruptly departed in a creative disagreement, taking all of his notes with him.  Charged with writing a script in just three days that could introduce no new sets yet which had to wrap up the dark, complex storyline that had been introduced so far, they pulled it off with “The Ultimate Foe”.  And it has one of my favorite lines in it, delivered by Michael Jayston’s deliciously evil Valeyard: “There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality.”

After the season-long hiatus and the abrupt firing of the show’s lead, they came back to write “Time and the Rani”, introducing the next Doctor with the second (and sadly final) appearance of the villainous Rani.

Jane is survived of course by her husband Pip.

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Meteorite impact in Nicaragua! Or . . . is it?

Various media sources are reporting that a meteorite struck Nicaragua over the weekend, and that it’s associated with house-sized asteroid 2014RC that made a close flyby of Earth on Sunday (brushing rather near the geosynchronous ring, but otherwise passing quite uneventfully), producing this crater:

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But was it?

There are reports of a loud bang, but no eyewitness reports of a flash or contrail, and anything large enough to leave a dent like this ought to have a tremendous trail and produce a sizable sonic boom.  Weather radar could have picked it up, and as this impact occurred relatively near a major airport,  the airport’s radar should have seen something as well.  And it can’t have been part of 2014 RC; if it struck Nicaragua at the claimed time, it would have to have been coming from a different direction.  (That’s not to say asteroids can’t have little buddies tagging along.  They absolutely can.  But this isn’t one of them.)

And experts are divided on the pit as well; some say it looks exactly right for a meteorite’s crater, and others are saying it looks excavated mechanically.  For all we know, the crater’s been there for months and just wasn’t noticed until folks went looking for something.  Or maybe it will turn out to be legit; we’ll have to wait and see.  The real tell-tale will be if fragments are discovered.  Actual meteorites should be present if this is real, and would be worth a fortune.  (Meteorite hunters often pay a premium for known provenance; Chelyabinsk meteorite fragments are going for a pretty penny.) Until then, I am going to withhold judgement and remain skeptical.  If it’s a meteorite crater, that’s awesome, and more study needs to be done of it!  If it’s not, well, we all screw up at some point.  And like the Nicaraguan authorities said, the important thing is that nobody got hurt.

Space.com offers some less credulous reporting on the crater

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SpaceX puts another launch under their belt

SpaceX successfully performed a launch of the AsiaSat-6 satellite from Cape Canaveral early this morning:

Yes, this comes after AsiaSat-8, but spacecraft don’t always get numbered sequentially.  ;-)  The spacecraft is presently in geosynchronous orbit and preparing for on-orbit testing.  Once testing is complete, AsiaSat will move it to its operational orbital slot and put it into service.

The flight was fully successful for Falcon 9.  There was no flyback return test, as the geosynchronous mission profile doesn’t have enough margin to support a booster return.

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