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What's Your CA Dream?

Friday Mars Blogging


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University Arizona/Texas A&M University

As far as I'm concerned, there's never a reason not to run a picture from Mars, but Daydreaming's thin journalistic cover is that the Mars Phoenix Lander, which recently discovered water on Mars (!) is a joint project of the University of Arizona, Texas A&M and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which lives on Caltech's Pasadena campus.

The image above is from a composite view of the Phoenix's landing site:

This view combines more than 400 images taken during the first several weeks after NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander arrived on an arctic plain at 62.22 degrees north latitude, 234.25 degrees east longitude on Mars.

The full-circle panorama in approximately true color shows the polygonal patterning of ground at the landing area, similar to patterns in permafrost areas on Earth. The center of the image is the westward part of the scene. Trenches where Phoenix's robotic arm has been exposing subsurface material are visible in the right half of the image. The spacecraft's meteorology mast, topped by the telltale wind gauge, extends into the sky portion of the panorama.

This view comprises more than 100 different camera pointings, with images taken through three different filters at each pointing. It is presented here as a cylindrical projection. [full NASA]

When I was a kid, I harbored vague fantasies of being a space scientist, and my first real thoughts about California concerned what it might be like to attend Caltech and work at the JPL. (Well, second real thoughts; I think the first thing every non-Californian learns about the state is that actors live there.) My father subscribed to a bunch of science magazines (from Popular Mechanics to Scientific American), and somehow or another I picked up the factoid that, in addition to being one of the country's foremost science and engineering schools, Caltech was known for highly elaborate and rigorously plotted pranks. It seemed a perfectly Californian combination to me at the time: rockets, Nobel Prize winners and a bunch of brainy kids trying to figure out how to get the name of their fraternity engraved on a space probe.

Calculus killed my scientific aspirations, and my space-related expertise was redirected towards what are generally termed the soft-sciences, as in science-fiction. When I finally moved out West it was a for the proverbial girl, rather than planetary exploration, but every now and then I check the job listings at the JPL to see if they have an opening for "enthusiast" or (more practically) writers and web consultants. Moving cross-country and starting from scratch on a whim in an entirely new field of dreams is pretty Californian as well, as I see it. Or is that Martian?