Bleats

There's A New Robot Angel On Mars Since The Opportunity Rover Is Now Officially Dead

Goodnight, sweet robo-prince, and may flights of Martian orbiters sing thee to thy rest.

“My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”

That’s (reportedly) the final message which the Opportunity rover sent to its handlers on Earth in June last year as a planet-wide dust storm engulfed it, and now eight months later NASA has announced that there’s no chance of the plucky little robot returning to life and the mission is therefore officially over.

We’re not crying, YOU’RE crying.

On Tuesday the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory made their final attempt to restart it, but it was not to be. So Opportunity will now sleep forever its accidental-but-amazingly-appropriate final resting place: Perseverance Valley, some 45 kilometres from where it landed in 2004.

To be fair, it was originally meant to do 90 days of roaming the Martian surface which it successfully stretched out to 15 years. So it had a good run.

Our thoughts exactly.

The sub-zero temperatures of the planet meant that there was a finite amount of time before the electronics were literally frozen solid without the solar panels fuelling the rover’s internal heating.

The issue was that the solar panels which powered it were covered in dust, and with Mars a good deal further from the Sun than Earth the light reaching it was already a bit more feeble (although not diminished by things like an atmosphere, as we have on Earth).

An actually Martian sunset as photographed by Opportunity OH GOD MY HEART

Aside from operating longer and further than the wildest dreams of anyone it also did great science. It found minerals which only form in water, providing that the red planet once had liquid water on it, and took more than 217,000 photos – including that one above which IS HARD TO MAKE OUT THROUGH THE TEARS.

Rest well, little guy. You did good work.

Maybe The Best Way To Stop Things Being So Politically Ugly All The Damn Time Is To Quit Facebook

[cries to the heavens] Why can't we just get along???

We live in especially politically partisan times when tribalism and nationalism has bled into the very processes which maintain the fragile stability of our society.

So before we split into permanently warring factions, some researchers are attempting to work out what’s changed, which is why Stanford University and New York University researchers asked the question “hey, would everyone calm down if they didn’t have Facebook bombarding them with outrage at every waking moment?”

In the experiment a group of US Facebook users were given US$102 (the value of their data to Facebook) to deactivate Facebook for a month. And a largish proportion of that group used that time to do stuff offline, including hanging out with friends and family, and reported feeling better about things generally.

However, and this is the new and interesting bit, those who switched off were “less likely to say they follow news about politics or the President, and less able to correctly answer factual questions about recent news events.”

This is interesting, but we’ll add that the idea that not knowing what’s going on is an unambiguously positive thing does seem a little bit questionable. Still, nice that research seems to back up that ignorance is genuinely bliss in a clinical setting.

Also, it should be pointed out that this study happened just ahead of the US midterm elections when things were particularly messy and angrifying. So maybe just opting out of a particularly infuriating epoch was a smart thing.

And furthermore, as a media organisation in 2019 we obviously start each day burning sacrificial herbs to the gods of social media for the gift of traffic, so obviously we advise that you absolutely keep on Facebook and like and share and click, dear god please click.

Don't Hold Your Breath For That New Series Of Cosmos, Space Fans, Because Neil DeGrasse Tyson Is Still Under Investigation For Sexual Misconduct

Sorry, humanity: we can no longer have nice things.

The original 1980 TV series Cosmos was – and is! – one of the most inspiring things ever put to television.

Hosted by the impossibly charismatic scientist Carl Sagan the series turned the hitherto arcane world of astronomy and cosmology into something gloriously compelling, revealing the beauty of scientific exploration, explaining chemistry and physics in a wonderfully accessible way.

So much did it especially inspire eight year old children that your author and best friend Andrew P Street became utterly obsessed with the Voyager 1 and 2 missions, to the point where he ended up with the gold disc pulsar map tattooed on his left forearm. Some decades later, to be clear, because his parents were killjoys.

YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME, MUM.

Anyway: back in 2014 the show was rebooted by, of all people, Seth McFarlane. Yes, as in Family Guy. Turns out he was equally obsessed as a kid, and did something rather more useful than get his arm drawn on like an idiot.

With Sagan having passed away in 1996 (although his co-writer and widow Anne Druyan returned as one of the producer-writers) the new host was Neil DeGrasse Tyson who, like Sagan, was a distinguished scientist as well as being a talented science communicator.

And the new series covered some new ground, had lots of zippy graphics and was very very good and popular.

And occasionally looked like 90s EDM videos.

And thus a new series – Cosmos: Possible Worlds – was put into production with a March 2019 release date. Except then allegations about Tyson being sexually inappropriate with staff came to light because life is just a constant series of disappointments.

And thus, much as any reasonable person would assume, the series is on indefinite ice while Cosmos’ networks Fox and National Geographic conduct their investigation into the allegations (the more serious ones of which Tyson has vehemently denied, to be clear).

Carl is not impressed.

And this, to be clear, is really good because it suggests that the networks are taking their responsibilities seriously. And they should, because the stories are really not good.

But it’s disappointing because there’s next to no good, mainstream science communication going on, especially on a major TV network.

Also it would be really, really nice to have a hero one could unambiguously admire for once.

Aside from Carl, obviously.

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