News from Around the Solar System

Comet_on_3_August_2014You may have missed it given all the other headlines of late, but one of the most ambitious space missions of all time recently passed a critical milestone. First launched into space by the European Space Agency more than ten years ago, the Rosetta spacecraft became the first object from Earth to rendezvous with a comet when it passed by 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on August 6. Rosetta will orbit the dirty snowball for the next year as the comet starts to melt, sprouts a tail, and whips around the sun. You can receive daily updates by visiting the mission’s official homepage, which includes a time-lapse video of the cometary rendezvous from Rosetta‘s perspective. You may also find it interesting that people have already found a “face” on the comet, harkening memories of the famous “face” on Mars. In other news, NASA has also released new images from its own incredibly ambitious deep-space mission, New Horizons, which is currently en route to Pluto, one of our solar system’s most enigmatic members. Viewed in sequence, the new images show Pluto and its moon, Charon, linked in orbit with one another. The New Horizons mission began way back in 2006, when Pluto was still technically considered a planet. Despite Pluto’s technical demotion to “dwarf planet” status, there will be plenty of excitement when the voyaging spacecraft finally arrives at its destination next summer.

Lake_Mead_1In other news, it appears as though the drought that’s currently crippling the American West is going to get worse before it gets better. Scientists (and casual observers) have watched the water level at reservoirs like Lake Mead drop to historically low levels in recent years, but satellite observations have now confirmed that the groundwater under the Colorado River Basin is disappearing as well. As is so often the case, we shoulder some of the blame. The evidence shows that we are simply “overdrafting” the region’s overtaxed reservoirs more quickly than they can be replenished. To learn more, check out the links here and here. In related news, Julia Lurie has written an excellent piece for The Atlantic confirming that many of the nation’s major water-bottling companies bottle their water in none other than drought-stricken California. And finally, if you missed Rowan Jacobsen’s extraordinary article in Outside describing what happened when authorities agreed to momentarily “set the Colorado River free” for old time’s sake, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Also, I would be remiss in my duties as a brother if I failed to congratulate the creative genius over at Giant Step Design, Josh Gibson, whom you may recall helped me launch this website some months back. Earlier this week, Josh received three well-deserved IBMA Award nominations for his beautiful artwork. You can check out the nominated designs here, here, and here, and you can check out the complete list of nominees in all categories at this link.

AladdinAnd finally, those of you who read my blog on a regular basis (thanks again, mom and dad) may recall that I felt compelled to comment when celebrities Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Harold Ramis passed away earlier this year. The sentiment was earnest, but it was also unsustainable. In steady procession, numerous other people, including soul singer Bobby Womack, Navajo windtalker Chester Nez, and English actor Bob Hoskins, have all passed away, and though I might have otherwise wanted to eulogize these remarkable individuals, I just never got around to it.  This sort of selectivity is distasteful, suggesting as it does that some lives are more important than others. It reminds me of the most uncomfortable part of the annual Oscar telecast, the “In Memoriam” segment when those in attendance clap for faces they recognize, but not for faces they don’t. For that reason, I think I’ll restrict this blog to science and history for the time being, and leave tasteful eulogies of actors to more qualified people like Matt Zoller Seitz and the talented stable of critics over at Before instituting this policy, however, I thought I’d share a link to this legendary music video from 1988, in which Bobby McFerrin, Bill Irwin, and the late, great Robin Williams extolled on the virtues of happiness a full quarter-century before Pharrell Williams did the same.