robhogg.com » Sol.Solarsystem.Milkyway.Universe

I just spent a few minutes taking Google Mars for a spin – pretty unbelievable!
Working with JPL/NASA, Google has taken all the orbiter and lander pictures from various missions to Mars, and combined it all together into one big map of the planet, including links to pictures from the surface.

For those not famliar with Google Earth yet, you can surf around the surface of the planet, zooming in and out wherever you like, and in general visually exploring anywhere in the world.

With Google Mars, in a few minutes, I was able to have a look around Olympus Mons (the largest volcano in the Solar System), find a Viking landing spot, complete with overhead black and white images from the lander, and find the trail and path of one of the current MER robots, Opportunity. This last included bookmarks to images that, when clicked on, zooms you into a panoramic view of that location in full high-resolution color!
[To go into "Mars" mode from within the Google Earth application, click on the little planet icon at the top of the screen and select Mars]

After this little surfing experience I took a step back and looked at this: as a society we have managed to explore another planet (or at least make a tiny start on it) for the last few decades. Now however, all that data has been combined and filtered down into one overall, easily accessible, comprehensive “scouting” package, that has been electronically distributed to ever person in this group, so that they can have a look over there themselves.

Not a bad feat for mankind, not bad at all.

marsgrab.jpg

puppis_a_small.gifI have always been amazed at the concept of a neutron star, simply from my repeated attempts to imagine something that can exist that is that dense.

Neutron stars are formed after the supernova of a star that is about 4 to 8 times bigger than our sun. After the explosion of the supernova is winding down, most of the leftover mass of the star pulls in on itself under gravity – and it crunches in so hard that the individual protons and electrons that make that mass get squashed together and turn into neutrons, thus neutron star.

Now here’s the incredible part. All the mass of that neutron star is so squashed, that it only takes up a volume that is about 10 miles wide! That means that all that mass (about 1.4 times more than our sun) is squashed into an area that is smaller than London, England. That means that one teaspoon full of that neutron star material would weigh about 100 million tons – which is as much as a mountain!

Stars which are bigger than 8 times the size of our sun tend to turn into another beast (supposedly), a black hole. This is because the mass involved is so large that it pulls in light around it as well – and so the object can’t be viewed!

For more on Neutron stars, see the “Ask an Astrophysicist” site provided by NASA Goddard.

This is the start of Robert Hogg’s personal site, to help friends keep track of him. You’re at the beginning – it’s a good place to be. Where do you want to go from here?