Tuesday, October 30, 2007

China Goes for Second Phase of Lunar Program

With the successful launch of China's first unmanned lunar satellite (Chang'e 1) mission, it now goes ahead for the next phase of its lunar program which will eventually lead to the sending of the first Chinese taikonaut to Earth's nearest neighbor. While it has no timetable for this milestone, Luan Enjie, the chief commander of the country's lunar orbiter project, says there are big hurdles to go over, like technical problems, and lots of money to spend. Luan says there is yet no timetable as to when that will be. I guess that means other countries like Japan can still try to be the first from East Asia.

Coincidentally, a Chinese company called Lunar Embassy has begun to sell real estate property on the moon. For those in the know, there is also a company in the US with the same name that also has the same business. What's the relation of the two companies? Well, the owner of the Chinese company, Li Jie (sounds like Jet Lee), says he had already spoken to the owner of the US company, Dennis Hope, before. There seems to be no conflict of interest in selling the same thing to different people, but then again, it's just the fancy "land title" certificate that people pay for anyway. You can't really claim land on the moon or any other body in space.

In more serious matters, Google, which has developed an online cartographic service of the Earth and the Moon (Google Earth and Google Moon), has launched a contest with a $30 million pot money to whoever gets a robot on the moon. Click here to find out more.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Japan's First Moon Probe Reaches Destination

Japan is going where no Japanese has gone before with its first lunar probe now orbiting the Moon. The Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE), is considered the biggest lunar mission undertaking since the Apollo missions of the United States. It cost $279 million to launch. It uses two sub-satellites for the polar regions. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) hopes that the new probe will help shed light on the Moon's origins. The picture above is an artist's rendition of the successful mission.

In related news, Star Trek actor George Takei, now 70, was honored with an asteroid bearing his name (7307 Takei). The asteroid, which was discovered by two Japanese astronomers in 1994 (hence its original name, 1994 GT9) follows a list of others named after people involved in the famous science-fiction series, like creator Gene Roddenberry (4659 Roddenberry), and Enterprise communications officer actress Nichelle Nichols (68410 Nichols).

It was astronomy professor Tom Burbine, of the Massachusetts Mt. Holyoke College who lobbied for naming an asteroid after Takei, who is now known for his work on Howard Stein's radio show and in civil rights groups.

More on Star Trek and the latest movie by J.J. Abrams.

Martian Dust Devils Caught By Spirit

Ever wonder what a dust devil (small tornado) on Mars looks like. Wonder no more. Here are a handful caught on a sequence of images by the roving robot explorer Spirit, the sister of Opportunity, another robot on Mars. Click on the black and white image to view the video. This wind phenomenon is believed to cause warming of Mars as it exposes dark soil underneath the lighter sand. Being on Mars is like going up to an altitude of 100,000 feet here on Earth, where the air is thin and cold. The colored picture above was also taken by Spirit on the 486th day of the Martian year (Sol 486).

Click here for a video on the latest images of the Martian surface from the robots.

Translucent Frog Developed for No-dissection Study

Biologists from Hiroshima University Institute for Amphibian Biology in Japan have developed a transparent (actually translucent) frog which they hope can be used for education. They say the frog no longer needs to be dissected due to its semi-transparent skin. Lead scientist Masayuki Sumida says the new frog can help in scientific research. Naturally translucent frogs also exist, like the Translucent Reed Frog below.

Click here for a video of the genetically-engineered frog.