Hear the Very First Sounds Ever Recorded on Mars, Courtesy of NASA

Predicting the state of the world in 2014 after a visit to the 1964 World's Fair, Isaac Asimov wrote that "only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony." While we haven't seen a Futurama show in some time (other than the one created by Matt Groening), he was certainly right about those unmanned ships, the latest of which, four years after the one about which he prophesied, has just picked up the first sounds ever recorded on the Red Planet. You can hear it, preferably with the use of a subwoofer or a pair of capably bass-reproducing headphones, in the video above.

"That’s the sound of winds blowing across NASA’s InSight lander on Mars, the first sounds recorded from the red planet," writes the New York Times' Kenneth Chang. "It’s all the more remarkable because InSight — which landed last week — does not have a microphone."




Instead it picked up this rumble, which NASA describes as "caused by vibrations from the wind, estimated to be blowing between 10 to 15 mph (5 to 7 meters a second)," with its seismometer and air pressure sensor right there on Mars' Elysium Planitia where it landed. "The winds were consistent with the direction of dust devil streaks in the landing area, which were observed from orbit."

Science fiction enthusiasts will note that InSight's recording of Martian wind, especially in the more easily audible pitched-up versions included in the video, sounds not unlike the way certain films and television shows have long imagined the sonic ambience of Mars. NASA didn't launch InSight to test the theories implicitly presented by Hollywood sound designers — rather, to collect data on the formation of Mars and other rocky planets, as well as to check for the presence of liquid water — but they will equip the next Martian landers they send out in 2020 with proper microphones, and not just one but two of them. Among other scientific tasks, writes Big Think's Stephen Johnson, those microphones will be equipped to "listen to what happens when the craft fires a laser at rocks on the surface." Back here on Earth, one question looms above all others: which musician will be the first to sample all this?

via Big Think

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Full Rotation of the Moon: A Beautiful, High Resolution Time Lapse Film

This is a sight to behold. Above, the moon spins in full rotation, all in high-resolution footage taken by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Here's how NASA explains what you're seeing:

No one, presently, sees the Moon rotate like this. That's because the Earth's moon is tidally locked to the Earth, showing us only one side. Given modern digital technology, however, combined with many detailed images returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a high resolution virtual Moon rotation movie has now been composed. The above time-lapse video starts with the standard Earth view of the Moon. Quickly, though, Mare Orientale, a large crater with a dark center that is difficult to see from the Earth, rotates into view just below the equator. From an entire lunar month condensed into 24 seconds, the video clearly shows that the Earth side of the Moon contains an abundance of dark lunar maria, while the lunar far side is dominated by bright lunar highlands.

You can find many more Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter videos on this page, and download your own copy of the Moon Rotation Movie right here.

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via @ZonePhysics

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The Solar System Quilt: In 1876, a Teacher Creates a Handcrafted Quilt to Use as a Teaching Aid in Her Astronomy Class

Dedicated teachers often go well beyond the call of duty, sacrificing large amounts of free time for the betterment of their classrooms and their pupils.

Any teacher who’s ever paid for supplies out of their own pocket, then spent the weekend constructing an elaborate bulletin board display, will appreciate the herculean efforts of Sarah Ellen Harding Baker.

Baker, a teacher and astronomer in Cedar County, Iowa, is rumored to have spent 7 years embroidering a beautiful appliquéd quilt to use as a visual aid in lectures.




Finished in 1876, the quilt is large enough that even a near-sighted student could see its planets and moons from the back row.

Orbits are indicated with silken threads against a black background.

A comet in the upper left is thought to be Halley's Comet, whose last appearance would have been in 1835, 12 years before Baker’s birth.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where Baker’s quilt is housed, notes that astronomy was deemed an acceptable interest for 19th-century women, which may explain the number of celestial-themed quilts that date to the period.

Author and quilt historian Barbara Brackman includes a few on her Material Culture blog, while her Historically Modern blog visits some more recent examples, including one that makes use of a stars-and-earth hot-iron transfer published in Good Housekeeping magazine, to accompany an article celebrating the winners of its 1939 World of Tomorrow Quilt Contest.

Baker got just ten years out of her quilt before succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of 39, the mother of 7 children, 5 of whom survived her.

via Messy Nessy

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this December for the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the next monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Stephen Hawking’s Final Book and Scientific Paper Just Got Published: Brief Answers to the Big Questions and “Information Paradox”

How did it all begin?  Is there a god? Can we predict the future? Is there other intelligent life in the universe? For decades, many of us turned to Stephen Hawking for answers to those questions, or at least supremely intelligent suggestions as to where the answers might lie. But the celebrated astrophysicist's death earlier this year — after an astonishingly long life and career, given the challenges he faced — took that option away. It turns out, though, that we haven't actually heard the last of him: his last book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (whose trailer you can watch just above), came out just this week.

"The book is quintessential Hawking," writes physics professor Marcelo Gleiser at NPR. "He starts by addressing the questions in physics and cosmology that he dedicated his intellectual life to answer, using easy-to-follow arguments and drawing from everyday images and thought experiments." Hawking's answers to the big questions figure into his view of not just the world but all existence: he believes, writes Gleiser, "that humanity's evolutionary mission is to spread through the galaxy as a sort of cosmic gardener, sowing life along the way. He believes, even if not without worry, that we will develop a positive relationship with intelligent machines and that, together, we will redesign the current fate of the world and of our species."




In parallel with his career as a public figure and writer of popular explanatory books, which began with 1988's A Brief History of Time, Hawking performed scientific research on black holes. The Guardian's science editor Ian Sample describes it as a "career-long effort to understand what happens to information when objects fall into black holes," capped off by a posthumously published paper titled "Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair." "Toss an object into a black hole and the black hole’s temperature ought to change," writes Sample. "So too will a property called entropy, a measure of an object’s internal disorder, which rises the hotter it gets." In the paper Hawking and his collaborators show that "a black hole’s entropy may be recorded by photons that surround the black hole’s event horizon, the point at which light cannot escape the intense gravitational pull. They call this sheen of photons 'soft hair'."

If that sounds tricky to understand, all of us who have appreciated Hawking's writing know that we can at least go back to his books to get a grip on black holes and the questions about them that get scientists most curious. Much remains for future astrophysicists to work on about that "information paradox," to do with where, exactly, everything that seemingly gets sucked into a black hole actually goes. “We don’t know that Hawking entropy accounts for everything you could possibly throw at a black hole, so this is really a step along the way,” Hawking's collaborator Malcolm J. Perry tells Sample. “We think it’s a pretty good step, but there is a lot more work to be done.” As Hawking surely knew, the big questions — in physics or any other realm of existence — never quite get fully answered.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Massive, Knitted Tapestry of the Galaxy: Software Engineer Hacks a Knitting Machine & Creates a Star Map Featuring 88 Constellations

The next time some non-crafty type disparages your hobby as a frumpy pursuit, show them software engineer Sarah Spencer’s “Stargazing.”

The 9’x 15’ knitted tapestry is an accurate equatorial star map featuring all 88 constellations as viewed by the naked eye, including the Milky Way and the Southern Cross, the best known star group in Spencer’s native Australia.

The project ate up 33 pounds of Australian wool in three shades, including the same ultramarine blue sported by a number of accomplished Australian women whose portraits are on display as part of the 2018 Archibald Prize.




While “Stargazing" is machine knit, its creation took longer than most hand-knitted projects.

What started as a lark, hacking and programming a 40-year-old, secondhand Empisal knitting machine, grew into something much larger when Spencer developed a computer algorithm that allowed one tri-colored knit stitch per pixel.

Years later, she was ready to start knitting her star map, a reflection of her interest in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“Stargazing" is actually comprised of seven panels, each the result of dusk-to-dawn labor on the part of the hacked machine. Stitching them together required many more human hours.

The piece was unveiled at the UK’s tech-and-arts festival, Electromagnetic Field, on August 31. Spencer had calibrated the placement of the tapestry’s planets to correspond with their celestial counterparts’ locations that night.

For now, the tapestry is one-of-a-kind, but given its industrial origins, it’s not hard to foresee a future in which couples can cuddle under astronomically correct afghans, while gazing up at the stars.

via Atlas Obscura

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell Discovered Radio Pulsars in 1974, But the Credit Went to Her Advisor; In 2018, She Gets Her Due, Winning a $3 Million Physics Prize

Say you made a Nobel-worthy scientific discovery and the prize went to your thesis supervisor instead. How would you take it? Probably not as well as Jocelyn Bell Burnell, discoverer of the first radio pulsars, to whom that very thing happened in 1974. "Demarcation disputes between supervisor and student are always difficult, probably impossible to resolve," she said a few years later. "It is the supervisor who has the final responsibility for the success or failure of the project. We hear of cases where a supervisor blames his student for a failure, but we know that it is largely the fault of the supervisor. It seems only fair to me that he should benefit from the successes, too."

But now, 44 years later, Bell Burnell's achievement has brought a different prize her way: the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, to be precise, and the $3 million that comes with it, all of which she will donate "to fund women, under-represented ethnic minority and refugee students to become physics researchers." "Like the stars of Hidden Figures and DNA researcher Rosalind Franklin, Bell Burnell’s personal story embodies the challenges faced by women in scientific fields," write the Washington Post's Sarah Kaplan and Antonia Noori Farzan. "Bell Burnell, who was born in Northern Ireland in 1943, had to fight to take science classes after age 12."




Rejecting an expected life of cookery and needlework, Bell Burnell "read her father's astronomy books cover to cover, teaching herself the jargon and grappling with complex concepts until she felt she could comprehend the universe. She complained to her parents, who complained to the school, which ultimately allowed her to attend lab along with two other girls. At the end of the semester, Bell Burnell ranked first in the class." Still, by the time she arrived at Cambridge University for graduate school, she "was certain someone had made a mistake admitting her." Her subsequent work there on one of "the most important astronomical finds of the 20th century," which you can see her talk about in the clip above, should have dispelled that notion.

But as Josh Jones wrote here on Open Culture last month, Bell Burnell was a victim of the "Matilda effect," named for suffragist and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage, which identifies the "denial of recognition to women scientists" seen throughout the history of science. The new generation of prizes like the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, founded in 2012 by physicist-entrepreneur Yuri Milner, have the potential to counteract the Matilda effect, but many other Matildas have yet to be recognized. "I am not myself upset about it," as Bell Burnell put it in 1977 when asked about her non-reception of the Nobel. "After all, I am in good company, am I not!"

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Discover “Journey of the Universe,” a Multimedia Project That Explores Humanity’s Place in the Epic History of the Cosmos

Today we know what no previous generation knew: the history of the universe and of the unfolding of life on Earth. Through the astonishing achievements of natural scientists worldwide, we now have a detailed account of how galaxies and stars, planets and living organisms, human beings and human consciousness came to be.

With this knowledge, the question of what role we play in the 14-billion-year history of the universe imposes itself with greater poignancy than ever before. In asking ourselves how we will tell the story of Earth to our children, we must inevitably consider the role of humanity in its history, and how we connect with the intricate web of life on Earth.

In Journey of the Universe--a multimedia educational project that features a book, film and free online courses--evolutionary philosopher Brian Thomas Swimme and historian of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker provide an elegant, science-based narrative to tell this epic story, leading up to the challenges of our present moment. The authors describe the origins of humans on Earth, how we developed a symbolic consciousness, and how our ability to communicate using symbols make humans a “planetary presence.”

We are now faced with a new dynamic—one where the survival of the species and entire ecosystems depend primarily on human activity, and the choices humans make.

Weaving together the findings of modern science together with enduring wisdom found in the humanistic traditions of the West, Asia, and indigenous peoples, the authors explore cosmic evolution as a profoundly wondrous process based on creativity, connection, and interdependence, and they envision an unprecedented opportunity for the world’s people to address the daunting ecological and social challenges of our times.

Developed over several decades, and inspired by the authors’ long collaboration with Thomas Berry, Journey of the Universe boasts an impressive roster of science advisors including Ursula Goodenough, Craig Kochel, and Terry Deacon.

Journey of the Universe is a multimedia educational project that includes:

1.) The Journey of the Universe: A Story for Our Time Specialization available on Coursera, created by Yale.  This is a collection of three Massive Online Open Courses that take students through the scientific and cultural cosmology found throughout Journey of the Universe, as well as deep into its lineage with cultural historian and cosmologist Thomas Berry:

Course 1: Journey of the Universe: The Unfolding of Life

Course 2: Journey of the Universe: Weaving Knowledge and Action

Course 3: The Worldview of Thomas Berry: The Flourishing of the Earth Community

2) The Journey of the Universe Film, winner of the 2012 San Francisco/Northern California Emmy® Award for best documentary. You can watch the trailer for the film above

3) The Journey of the Universe Book, published by Yale University Press. Translated into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Turkish, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian.

4) The Journey of the Universe Conversation Series, a twenty-part educational series integrates the perspectives of the sciences and the humanities into a retelling of our 13.7 billion year story. In a series of one-on-one interviews, scientists, historians, and environmentalists explore the unfolding story of the universe and Earth and the role of the human in responding to our present challenges.

Devin O'Dea lives in San Francisco where he serves as the manager of the Journey of the Universe project: a collaborative, multimedia conversation that draws together scientific discoveries with humanistic insights concerning the nature of the universe.  Devin welcomes all interests and feedback to Journey materials at devin@journeyoftheuniverse.org.
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