The social media impact of NASA and other scientific institutions

Yesterday, my SETI Institute colleagues and I had a discussion about the importance of NASA in the minds of people in the USA, and around the world. The achievements of NASA are definitely universal and the latest interest of people for Curiosity, the car-sized rover which landed recently on Mars, is a vivid example. It is inspirational for the scientists to see that our friends and family follow with interest, the development of the mission, its challenging landing, the first step of the rover, and more recently its first self-portrait.

The NASA planetary exploration program is a superb scientific and exploration endeavor, but it also has ripple effects on our life. To explore these new worlds, we challenge scientists & engineers to create and use new technologies. The program also inspires the young generation to be interested in science, mathematics and technology.

 [left] My son proudly showing an MSL-Curiosity mockup that we made for his kindergarden class (credit: F. Marchis). [right] A self-portrait of the rover taken using its arm-camera in Sol 32 (credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla)

Is there any way we could quantify this social impact of NASA and rate it with respect to other brands and institutions?

Venus Transit: From San Francisco in 2012 to Mars in 2030

If you read this blog, I am certain that you are aware of the Venus Transit which occurred  from  22:09 UTC on 5 June 2012 to 04:49 UTC on 6 June (3:09pm to 8:49pm PDT). Because this astronomical event was visible from North America, Europe, and part of Africa & Asia, and it was streamed around the world from several observatories, it has been most likely one of the most observed and advertised astronomical phenomena, so I had to write a short personal post about it.

Thoughts about a beautiful NASA video – Save Our Science

Today I am feeling inspired and motivated. It could easily have not been the case since the day started with a massive crash of my email inbox, a difficult review of a recently submitted paper, and some issues with my simulation that I am planning to present at the ACM conference next week – not to mention a lack of sleep. Still, all of this became irrelevant when I watched NASA’s new promotional video attached below.

A Snapshot of Exoplanet Study

The study of exoplanets is without any doubt the most active and disrupting field in today astronomy. I had often blogged about it since it is my little obsession. Unfortunately, I have a hard time to keep up with the amount of discoveries and announcements being made every week over the past 3 years. This post is a snapshot of the recent study of exoplanets: what we know, what have been recently discovered and what is coming soon.

Searching for Fragments of the Sutter’s Mill Meteorite

An update about the Sutter’s Mill Meteorite that I mentioned yesterday. A few hours ago, I saw the pieces that Peter Jenniskens brought at the SETI Institute. I am not a meteorite expert but they indeed look like a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite. The fragments are black, with tiny white flecks scattered through the interior. On the surface, one can see black coating due to the heating during the passage through the Earth atmosphere.

Fragments of the Sutter's Mill Meteorites brought by Peter Jennisken at the SETI Institute (1cm cube is added for scale) (credit: F. Marchis)

An ELT made of cardboard in your garden?

I am calling myself a Planetary Astronomer, essentially because I use ground-based telescopes to study our solar system bodies. Even if I often write posts on this blog  about the wonderful results brought to us by space missions, space stations and other space-releated projects, my heart and my work are mostly dedicated to pushing the limit of ground-based telescopes and their instruments. Extremely Large Telescopes (or ELTs), ground-based telescopes with an aperture larger than 30m are without any doubt the next giant leap in the development of astronomy. I always wondered what it would be to be close to one of these giants, now I know…

UARS reentry visible from the Bay Area and elsewhere…?

If you have been following the news about space over the past 5 days, you may have heard about this gigantic 6.5-ton satellite dedicated to the study of our Earth atmosphere (UARS for  Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) that is supposed deorbit tonight on September 24 2011 UT. The question we all have in mind is where and when this spectacular event will happen.

[See updates at the end of this post]

An artist's concept of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) satellite in space.
An artistic image of UARS in orbit around Earth.