Astro Bob blog: 'I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."Blizzard on Saturn plus NASA and GM design a humanoid robot to help with tasks on the space station.
By: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
The lies just a "few fingers" to the left of the red supergiant star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion tomorrow morning. This map shows the sky looking southeast around 12:30-1 a.m. Created with Stellarium
There are those who know the evening sky best because they're early to bed, those to whom the dawn and early morning stars are most familiar either by choice or duty, and finally those who are out very late and straddle both starry hemispheres. If you're belong to the last group, you'll be able to see the waning gibbous moon near the bright star Antares in the wee hours tomorrow morning in the southeastern sky.
Amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley obtained this image of a storm on Saturn from his backyard telescope in Murrumbateman, Australia, on March 22, 2010. He sent it to scientists working with NASA's Cassini spacecraft the next day. Credit: A. Wesley
Anthony Wesley of Australia has been at it again. He's the amateur astronomer who first alerted the professionals about the dark impact spot on Jupiter last summer. Last month he photographed a new, white cloud on Saturn and sent his images to the scientists in charge of the Cassini probe orbiting Saturn. Wesley thought Cassini scientists might want to observe the new spot. By good fortune, the probe happened to be examining that general region of the planet. With the heads-up from Wesley, scientists quickly trained Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer at the white spot. The instrument measures gas composition, winds speeds and the like in planetary storms. What they discovered was a monster ammonia snowflake blizzard in Saturn's atmosphere five times bigger than the "Snowmageddon" blizzard over the southeastern U.S. this past winter.
"A balloonist floating about 100 kilometers down from the bottom of Saturn's calm stratosphere would experience an ammonia-ice blizzard with the intensity of Snowmageddon," said Brigette Hesman, a composite infrared spectrometer team member who is an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland. "These blizzards appear to be powered by violent storms deeper down - perhaps another 100 to 200 kilometers down - where lightning has been observed and the clouds are made of water and ammonia."
Other amateurs also contributed their photos of the event, which along with the data from Cassini, gave scientists a more complete picture of the storm's genesis and evolution, proving once again that amateur astronomers can make valuable contributions to science. Good equipment is helpful but most important is a stick-to-it-tiveness and being alert to the unexpected.
NASA's new Robonaut2 or R2 shows struts its stuff -- including its excellent penmanship -- in this YouTube video
In September this year the space shuttle Discovery will deliver the first humanoid robot to travel and work in space to the International Space Station (ISS). He, she, it is called Robonaut2 or "R2" for short, and after you watch the video I think you'll agree its movements are weirdly human, especially the fingers. The robot, which can see, feel and adjust to its environment, will perform scientific and maintenance tasks for the astronauts freeing them up for more important duties.
R2 works out with 20-lb weight. Credit: NASA
"R2 might do delicate tasks like set up science experiments for the crew, or it might just as easily run a vacuum cleaner," according to the NASA press release. Now there's a photo I hope we get to see. The robot will be controlled by computers from the ground and inside the ISS. Unlike the robots depicted in Star Wars, this one won't be very chatty. Speech can be added to its electronics but it's not needed just yet.
R2 might eventually be equipped with legs or wheels and used survey asteroids or a planet for a landing site or work in a habitat dangerous to humans. Once it does get its voice, I'm hoping its creators will program R2 to include some memorable one-liners from famous robots like C-3PO from Star Wars or HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. My top pick would be from HAL, the soft-voiced robot gone bad, who chose to disobey his controllers: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."