A geological map of the giant asteroid Vesta

Geological map of the giant asteroid Vesta. Brown colors represent the oldest, most heavily cratered surface. Purple colors in the north and light blue represent terrains modified by the Veneneia and Rheasilvia impacts, respectively. Light purples and dark blue colors below the equator represent the interior of the Rheasilvia and Veneneia basins. Greens and yellows represent relatively young landslides or other downhill movement and crater impact materials, respectively (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

Geological map of the giant asteroid Vesta. Brown colors represent the oldest, most heavily cratered surface. Purple colors in the north and light blue represent terrains modified by the Veneneia and Rheasilvia impacts, respectively. Light purples and dark blue colors below the equator represent the interior of the Rheasilvia and Veneneia basins. Greens and yellows represent relatively young landslides or other downhill movement and crater impact materials, respectively (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

A little over a year ago, an atlas of the giant asteroid Vesta was presented but the analysis of the data collected by the Dawn space probe went even further. A special issue of the journal “Icarus” was all about Vesta presenting a series of geological maps that show details never seen before the characteristics of its surface.

David Williams of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University led a team of 14 researchers in a task that lasted about two and a half years. The team used the photographs taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft when it spent more than one year orbiting Vesta to create a geological map.

Vesta is probably a protoplanet that couldn’t complete its development due to the interference of Jupiter’s gravity. It’s exactly for this reason that it’s so interesting, a kind of fossil of the early history of the solar system. Unlike other celestial bodies such as some comets or some asteroids, which have remained almost unchanged for a few billions of years, Vesta suffered several impacts because it’s part of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

All of that makes Vesta worthy of the many thorough studies carried out in recent years. In the case of this geological study, the researchers studied the surface of the giant asteroid to determine the chronology of events that made it what we see through the photos of the Dawn space probe.

This work was made difficult by the fact that the researchers had only images available, not Vesta’s soil samples. For this reason they developed models based on the frequency of impacts on the Moon and asteroids. The conclusion is that the crust of Vesta has an age between 2.1 (according to the asteroids model) and 3.7 billion years (according to the lunar model).

Vesta has three very large craters. The age of the crater Rheasilvia has been estimated between 1 and 3.5 billion years, depending on the model applied. The age of Veneneia is estimated between 2 and 3.7 billion years. The age of Marcia crater is estimated between 120 and 390 million years, which means that it’s fairly recent in geological terms. Therefre those are far from accurate estimates showing that the models have to be adapted to an object different from normal asteroids and the Moon.

The researchers, however, were able to create a geological map of Vesta using panchromatic images obtained by the Dawn space probe’s framing camera. It also provided a context for a lot of information obtained by the VIR (Visual and infrared spectrometer) and Grand (Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector) instruments.

This and other research on Vesta can be difficult to understand because it’s an asteroid really far away. They’re important because the nature and history of the protoplanet left there many signs of the solar system’s history. Studying Vesta, scientists are learning something new about the formation of planets in general and those of the solar system in particular.



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CERN opens the Open Data Portal to make Large Hadron Collider data available

CERN Open Data Portal Home Page

CERN Open Data Portal Home Page

CERN has announced the opening of the Open Data Portal. It’s a new website that is part of the organization’s Internet infrastructure where the data produced by the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider will be made freely accessible to anyone. Many details of CERN’s ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb experiments experiments will be made available and among them there are those that led to the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson.

CERN Director General Rolf Heuer stated that the launch of the Open Data Portal is an important step for the organization. The data from LHC are among the most important assets of the LHC experiments and are beginning to be shared openly with the world. Heuer said he hopes that this portal will support and inspire the global research community, including students and citizen scientists.

The Open Data Portal was built according to the principles of openness which form part of CERN’s founding Convention. All publications related to LHC are free for everyone to read and re-use. Let’s always remember that CERN is the organization that created the world wide web and released it to the world freely and free of charge.

The first data released are those of the CMS experiment and date back to 2010, during the first LHC run. These data are now publicly available on the Open Data Portal. There’s also an open source software to read and analyze those data along with its documentation.

The primary purpose of the Open Data Portal is to spread those data to make scientific research easier for any intersted organizations. The world wide web project was also created to spread knowlsedge in a better way among scientists.

This new portal will be useful for educational purposes as well. The data are very complex but were processed in a format suitable for simple applications. In this way, they can also used by students to get progressively into the field of physics.

The Open Data Portal is built on the Invenio Digital Library open source software, the same as other Open Science toos and initiatives at CERN. This new initiative brings the state of the art of science to everyone in the most appropriate form: free and available to anyone.



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All the lives he led by Frederik Pohl

All the lives he led by Frederik Pohl

All the lives he led by Frederik Pohl

The novel “All the lives he led” by Frederik Pohl was published for the first time in 2011.

Brad Sheridan works in Pompeii among the staff of the Giubileo, the 2000th anniversary of the great Vesuvius eruption that buried the ancient city in ancient times. He does  earn much but his job is simple because tourists are entertained mostly by virtual reality reproductions of the ancient Pompeii.

His pay isn’t much but for Brad the situation is better than in the USA, so much that he always sends money to his family back home. However, in Italy there are problems too with terrorism and a form of flu might make many victims among tourists. Brad tends to get into trouble and the situation with his girlfriend Gerda also becomes more and more complicated.

“All the lives he led” is the last novel published by Frederik Pohl. It’s set years after the explosion of the Yellowstone supervolcano, which devastated the USA. Brad Sheridan and his family are refugees, survivors of the supereruction forced to fend for themselves to live in a nation that suddenly became poor.

The rest of the world hasn’t suffered the same devastation as the USA by the supervolcano but there are other problems, in particular terrorism. It seems that in the second half of the 21st century, anyone who has some claim immediately starts killing people to be heard. From this point of view, the novel becomes almost a parody, although really cruse and because of that I found that element frankly distasteful.

However, I think the main problem of “All the lives he led” is the way it’s told. The novel is a kind of diary told in first person by its protagonist Brad Sheridan. For a good part of the story, Brad is on the edge of the actual events and mostly complains of his situation.

Don’t get me wrong, the only decent job Brad found is still low-level but often he looks like a sucker unable to stay out of trouble who is used in various ways by his colleagues and bosses. Not all the people he works with are what they seem but Brad starts realizing that only after some time, when he ends up in serious trouble.

For these reasons, in the first part the impression is what you might have if you read the comments of an ordinary person who talks about important events known only through reading about them in the newspapers and on the Internet or through TV news. Sure, Brad is sometimes directly involved in some trouble but in 2079 the situation is such that it seems quite a normal thing.

It’s only in the second part of “All the lives he led” that the real twists begin and Brad starts finding out what’s really going on around him. For him, things change dramatically, starting with the understanding of who the people he worked with really are.

In my opinion that’s too little too late. Brad made me feel little sympathy in the first part of the novel despite his misadventures. His story was rather boring and mundane so I quickly stopped being interested in what was happening to him.

The result is a novel in which the pace tends to be slow, especially in the first part, with the aggravating circumstance that the events are told in retrospect, often as secondhand news. A not too distant future that in many ways is the direct evolution, or perhaps the involution, of the present offered a significant potential. Unfortunately my impression is that Frederik Pohl didn’t handle it properly wasting its basic ideas.

“All the lives he led” seems like a novel that contains some interesting elements in the descriptions of the world in 2079 but overall was made poor by the way it was developed. It might be of interest to Frederik Pohl’s fans who want to have all his works, otherwise I think you can forget it.


155733_AbeBooks.com – SciFi

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A 3D printer has been installed on the International Space Station

NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore while installing the 3D printer on the Internationa Space Station (Image NASA TV)

NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore while installing the 3D printer on the Internationa Space Station (Image NASA TV)

Last Monday on the International Space Station a 3D printer was installed, the first designed to work in space in microgravity. For the moment it’s an experiment to see if this type of instrument is working properly in that kind of conditions. Once the testing phase is completed, they can begin to produce objects of practical use on the Station.

The commander of the International Space Station Barry “Butch” Wilmore installed the 3D printer, produced by Made In Space, Inc., in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), one of the scientific facilities of the Station in the Destiny module. The device was launched last September on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

This printer uses the acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), a thermoplastic polymer already used to create objects that are lightweight and rigid at the same time. The ABS will be used by the 3D printer to verify the possibility of creating useful objects in the Station. It’s a technology with enormous potential for space missions because it would make it necessary to send into space only the material for printing.

Today, if on the International Space Station a component or a work tool fails or breaks they must hope to have at least a spare one or wait for another one to be sent. In some cases they can add something to a cargo spacecraft to the last moment but there’s still the basic problem of the total dependence on supplies from Earth.

If in the future we want to establish colonies in space they must be able to produce on their own their work tools and the components needed to produce their machinery. On Earth, 3D printers are already beginning to change this type of production, now the experiments to do it in space as well can start.

In the test phase, they will produce more than 20 types of items that will be sent to Earth to be compared with other objects produced by a 3D printer of the same type on the ground using the same models. The comparison between the objects produced on the International Space Station and those produced on Earth will tell if the process works properly in microgravity.

If the tests are successful, a second-generation 3D printer will be sent on the International Space Station to begin the production of components and tools. This new 3D printer, again produced by Made In Space, Inc., will use different types of materials for printing.

The success of 3D printing technologies in space could really revolutionize the projects for future space missions. If they could use materials found on the Moon, Mars or asteroids that could allow factories and even space colonies to work by being as autonomous as possible from Earth.



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Philae found organic molecules on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Philae's trajectory on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Image  ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

Philae’s trajectory on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Image ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

The news hasn’t been officially released by ESA and the details have yet to be assessed after the analysis of the data sent by the lander Philae before it went into hibernation. Unofficially, one of the Philae’s instruments detected organic molecules in the tenuous atmosphere of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko created by the ice sublimation. Meanwhile, ESA has released the images captured by the Rosetta space probe that show Philae’s trajectory after it touched down for the first time on the comet’s surface.

The Philae lander’s work lasted much less than expected because of the location in which it ended, different from the planned one, where it its solar panels received very little sunlight. Philae’s landing was very complex because the harpoons that were supposed to anchor it to the surface didn’t work.

Philae bounced twice before stopping at a point yet not well identified. This was caused by an unexpected soil characteristic: ESA expected a soft surface with a layer of dust, instead it turned out to be hard. This caused Philae’s bounces and also problems with drilling.

The images taken by the Rosetta space probe’s OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System) instrument has so far allowed to identify Philae’s trajectory. At ESA they’re still working on the images and also on the data of the CONSERT (Comet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission) tomograph to find the exact location of Philae.

For now, ESA has released an image composed of several photographs taken by Rosetta showing various points on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko touched by Philae. The search continues and the probe keeps on working from orbit so new information might be helpful if the lander won’t be found quickly.

One of the goals of the Rosetta / Philae mission was the analysis of the compounds present on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The lander was able to send a huge amount of data before going into hibernation. Finding organic compounds on the comet isn’t a surprise as they have already been found in space. Their analysis will be important to see if the building blocks of the life that evolved on Earth have been brought by comets.



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For Us, The Living by Robert A. Heinlein

For Us, The Living by Robert A. Heinlein (Italian edition)

For Us, The Living by Robert A. Heinlein (Italian edition)

The novel “For Us, The Living” by Robert A. Heinlein was published for the first time in 2003.

Perry Nelson is driving his car when he has a blowout and goes off the road falling over a cliff. When he wakes up is rescued by Diana begins but for him a lot of confusion starts because the girl tells him that it’s January 7, 2086 me he had the accident on July 12, 1939.

In a century and a half, the American society changed enormously and sometimes for Perry Nelson it’s really difficult to adapt to new customs. To him, to get used to the new situation will mean above all to question his old beliefs. Social changes will be the most difficult for him to understand and accept.

“For Us, The Living” is the first novel written by Robert A. Heinlein. At the time it was rejected by a couple of publishers, the author abandoned hopes to publish it and it was forgotten for several decades. Luckyly, the last remaining copy of the typescript was found after Heinlein’s death and the novel was published.

Technically, “For Us, The Living” is a novel but the plot is very thin, an excuse to put together a series of social, political and economic lectures about a utopian future. The basis of this novel were already unoriginal at the time as Robert A. Heinlein was inspired by previous authors.

Edward Bellamy published “Looking Backward: 2000-1887″ in 1888. In this novel, the protagonist falls asleep in 1887 and wakes up in 2000. H.G. Wells had published “When the Sleeper Wakes” for the first time in 1898-1899 and in a new version in 1910. In this novel, the protagonist falls asleep in 1897 and wakes up more than two centuries later.

Robert A. Heinlein used a narrative structure similar to that of Bellamy and Wells gettins inspirations from other works for other elements. In his novel, he talk about the culture shock suffered by Perry Nelson and his gradual discovery of the USA of 2086. During his career, sometimes the author preached his thesis instead of telling his stories. Reading “For Us, The Living” you’d think that later he contained himself.

Don’t get me wrong, the lectures in this novel are far from trivial and if we think that it was written in 1938-1939 the ideas are really ahead of their time. In some cases, the social and economic elements are currently still very important and if Robert A. Heinlein was still alive today it would be interesting to know what he’d think of the current situation in the USA.

For example, in “For Us, The Living” he addressed the problem of the influence of corporations on politics. The banks are referred to as one of the major problems in the economy. Organized religions are considered negatively because they seek to impose on everybody their narrow moral vision.

The structure of “For Us, The Living” doesn’t make it exactly a smooth reading so I wonder if the novel was rejected not only because the ideas were too radical for the time. Today it can be interesting to read it, especially Robert A. Heinlein’s fans or for anyone someway interested in this author.

Reading “For Us, The Living” doesn’t mean only to discover a literary experiment from the beginning of the career of one of the greatest writers in the history of science fiction. This novel contains ideas that in the course of his career he developed in many of his works, including some of the most famous ones.

If you have already read various works of Robert A. Heinlein, recognizing the seeds contained in this novel can be a kind of game. This shows that Heinlein starting mulling over these ideas already in the ’30s. In the case of those related to morals and sex it took decades before he could express them in his works.

In the end, “For Us, The Living” may be interesting as an essay that describes a possible future utopia. Probably, you will love in proportion to this author so if you don’t like him you’ll find this novel boring but if you’re his fan this work is a must-have.



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