Jumbled Thoughts - 12 Jan 2013

Jumbled Thoughts covers all the little stuff which doesn't merit its own post. Anything goes!

The video embedded here is a must-see.  It contains the final shots from the GRAIL spacecraft as it skimmed just a few kilometers above the Moon's surface.  This must have been the sort of view seen by the Apollo astronauts - wow!

At a press conference last week, some of the major forces in private spaceflight started to firm up their goals for manned spaceflight.  SpaceX is hoping to launch a manned mission in a modified Dragon capsule in 2015, while Boeing is aiming for a 2016 launch.  This is shaping up to be a new-age space race, and I'm excited about the innovation it's going to bring.  Not to mention, shaving a bit (or more!) off the $60 million bill that NASA has to pay Russia per astronaut will be a boon.  Safety features like the ability to eject the capsule from the rocket during launch also seem like a big plus.

I was a little put off by articles such as this one which talked about 100 billion planets in the Milky Way or 17 billion Earth-like planets without mentioning the statistical aspect of the situation.  We certainly haven't counted all 100 billion; in fact, the number of confirmed exoplanets numbers in the low hundreds.  This fact certainly doesn't invalidate the study; statistics are vital in astronomy, where just about anything is too numerous to count.  I just wish the media coverage would reflect this reality.

The case of Apophis is a timely example of near-Earth asteroid work in action.  We've been spared the 1 in 250,000 chance of a destructive impact with this body in 2036 - certainly good news!  These sorts of close fly-bys offer us an unusual chance to observe asteroids close up.  Other than the Dawn mission, it's rare to get so close to these ancient rocks.