Updates

The upside of being lazy is that you’re not doing anything unpleasant. The downside is that the unpleasantness stacks up at the far end. No, wait, that’s not right. But, you know, sometimes the art of playing catch-up … er … right. Enough about me.

There is plenty going on around the solar system.

First up, Yellowknife Bay, Mars, where our friendly neighborhood robotic space laboratory is still recovering from a memory glitch that forced Curiosity to switch over to its redundant B-side computer:

Pasadena? We Have an Uh-OhNASA’s Mars rover Curiosity continues to move forward with assessment and recovery from a memory glitch that affected the rover’s A-side computer. Curiosity has two computers that are redundant of one another. The rover is currently operating using the B-side computer, which is operating as expected.

Over the weekend, Curiosity’s mission operations team continued testing and assessing the A-side computer’s memory.

“These tests have provided us with a great deal of information about the rover’s A-side memory,” said Jim Erickson, deputy project manager for the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We have been able to store new data in many of the memory locations previously affected and believe more runs will demonstrate more memory is available.”

Two software patches, targeting onboard memory allocation and vehicle safing procedures, are likely to be uplinked later this week. After the software patches are installed, the mission team will reassess when to resume full mission operations.

Meanwhile, somewhere near Saturn, faithful Cassini continues to dazzle as the data returns from the fourth and final Rhea flyby of the Solstice mission:

Rhea: Portrait of a LadyCassini flew by Rhea at an altitude of 620 miles (997 kilometers) on March 9, 2013. This flyby was designed primarily for the radio science sub-system to measure Rhea’s gravity field. During closest approach and while the radio science sub-system was measuring the icy satellite’s gravity field, the imaging team rode along and captured 12 images of Rhea’s rough and icy surface. Outbound from Rhea, Cassini’s cameras captured a set of global images from a distance of about 167,000 miles (269,000 kilometers).

Data from Cassini’s cosmic dust analyzer were also collected to try to detect any dusty debris flying off the surface from tiny meteoroid bombardments. These data will help scientists understand the rate at which “foreign” objects are raining into the Saturn system.

Cassini will visit Titan (T-90) at a range of 870 miles (1,400 km) on April 5, 2013.

In more earthly realms, Matt McGrath continues his coverage for BBC of the CITES meeting in Bangkok, Thailand:

BBC-HammerheadHuntThree types of critically endangered but commercially valuable shark have been given added protection at the Cites meeting in Bangkok.

The body, which regulates trade in flora and fauna, voted by a two-thirds majority to upgrade the sharks’ status ….

…. The decisions can still be overturned by a vote on the final day of this meeting later this week.

The oceanic whitetip, three varieties of hammerheads and the porbeagle are all said to be seriously threatened by overfishing.

And maybe a bonus Cassini note, because I so adore the photo:

Cassini - PIA14651The ghostly spokes in Saturn’s B ring continue to put on a show for the Cassini spacecraft cameras in this recent image. The spokes, believed to be a seasonal phenomenon, are expected to disappear as Saturn nears its northern hemisphere summer. Scientists continue to monitor the spokes to better understand their origin and evolution.

The small moon Atlas also appears here barely visible in between the A ring and the F ring, which is the thin ring located furthest from Saturn, as the fainter dot close to the A ring. Atlas is closer to the bottom of the image. A bright star also appears in the gap between the two rings, and there are six other stars visible (one through the C ring, near the planet).

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that people are talking.

Unfortunately, that’s it.

The bad news is that the discussion needs to take place at all. BBC’s Matt McGrath explains:

BBC logoNew plans to protect elephants, rhinos and other species will be discussed at a critical meeting that begins in Bangkok on Sunday.

Delegates will review the convention on the international trade in endangered species (CITES).

Around 35,000 animals and plants are at present protected by the treaty.

But with a global “extinction crisis” facing many species, this year’s meeting is being described as the most critical in its history.

Naturally, one of the foremost controversies is the idea of secret ballots versus transparancy. “CITES ought to be a transparent body,” said Mark Jones of Humane Society International, “but secret ballots have become easier to implement at the behest of certain parties who don’t want their vote to be known.” Sounds about right.

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Jedi Sharks?

Velvet Belly LanternsharkA phrase to send shivers along the spine: Sharks with light sabers.

These are not Jedi sharks, of course, but, rather, E. spinax, the “velvet belly lanternshark”. As Rebecca Morelle explains for the BBC:

This species of lanternshark (Etmopterus spinax) lives in the mesopelagic zone of the ocean, which has a range between 200m and 1,000m in depth.

It is a diminutive shark; the largest can measure up to about 60cm in length, but most are about 45cm long.

Until recently, little had been known about this species, apart from the fact that like many deep sea creatures it has the ability to glow – a trait called bioluminescence.

Previous research found that the shark has light-producing cells called photophores in its belly, and it uses this light to camouflage itself.

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Linkadelica

“D’oh!”

—Homer Simpson

The Pluto formerly known as a planetI really need to work on my repertoire. I shouldn’t have to stop and think of a brilliant quote from someone, somewhere, sometime, every time I do this. Meanwhile, we can file under “live and learn” the idea that I’ve been doing it wrong. Instead of using unordered lists, I should be using “p style” tags. Or something like that. So if things look a little strange over the next few days, that’s probably why.

• Just when I thought it was safe to beam up to the Enterprise, it turns out spacetime might not be so cooperative

• As long as we’re in a Trekkie mode, can you guess the most popular suggested name for the fourth moon of the former planet Pluto?

• And considering the final frontier, David S. F. Portree offers his reflections on the current and future American space program.

• In more Earthbound news, yes, your dog is plotting subversion.

• The National Institutes of Health have achieved new insight into Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; now they just need to figure out what to do with it.

• And let us head back into orbit, because Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is really cool.

Linkadelica

“Too soon fron the cave, too far from the stars. We must ignore the whispers from the cave that say, ‘Stay.’ We must listen to the stars that say, ‘Come.'”

—Ray Bradbury

Linkadelica

To delight and enlight(en).

Okay, that one didn’t work. Read on:

Linkadelica

Axial view of the brain, via HCPJust some reading to expand your mind within the fixed boundaries of your brain:

Brain Candy for Chimps: No, Really

File under, “Hmph.”

No, really, I don’t know what to say, so let us just check in with Pallab Ghosh, for BBC:

My name is Tomas ....A study has shown that anti-depressants can be used to help former lab chimps combat depression and trauma.

Researchers say that the treatment should be considered for hundreds of other chimps that have been used in scientific research.

The finding comes as a US funding body thinks about retiring the more than 300 chimps it uses for medical research.

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Temple of Fire

    The smoke allowed the priests to connect with their gods.”

    Marco Guillen

Huaca El Paraiso, just north of LimaThe ways of elder cultures can often be strange, with bizarre rituals and, if I remember correctly an archaeology class I barely passed once upon a time, transcendent substances. Well, that isn’t so shocking, but I remember something about tobacco so strong it could induce hallucinations; maybe I should have paid closer attention, or at least gone to class more often.

As we all know, though, there is plenty of smoke that lets you “connect with gods”.

Er … um … right.

Aerial view of Huaca El ParaisoArchaeologists working at El Paraiso, in Peru, have unearthed a structure with a footprint of over 570 square feet (≈55m2) in a wing of the main pyramid. Dubbed “The Temple of Fire”, the ruins could be as much as 5,000 years old. The BBC reports:

They had been carrying out conservation work on the site on behalf of Peru’s Ministry of Culture when they came across the remains, which had been obscured by sand and rocks.

They said the temple walls were made of stone and covered in fine yellow clay which also contained some traces of red paint.

The archaeologists said the find suggests that the communities in the Late Pre-ceramic Age (3500 BC to 1800 BC) were more closely connected than had been previously thought.

Huaca El ParaisoPeru’s Deputy Minister for Culture Rafael Varon said the the temple was the first structure of its kind to be found on Peru’s central coast.

“It corroborates that the region around Lima was a focus for the civilisations of the Andean territory, further bolstering its religious, economic and political importance since times immemorial,” Mr Varon said.

Archaeologist Marco Guillen, who led the team which made the discovery, said the hearth gave insight into the civilisation which had used the site.

“The main characteristic of their religion was the use of fire, which burnt in the centre,” he told the BBC’s Mattia Cabitza in Lima.

“The smoke allowed the priests to connect with their gods,” Mr Guillen said.

A Tale of Two Rocks

It has been quite a day for a falling sky. As murmurs rippled around the world that the end may be near, and astronomers worked to reassure everyone that asteroid 2012 DA14 would not strike the Earth today, despite its historic pass inside our satellite orbital ring, an unrelated meteorite chose to scare people in Russia this morning.

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