Next Stop: Mars with Mae Jemison

by Summer Ash

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Mae Jemison in person as part of a celebration of National Geographic's upcoming special on Mars (part documentary, part drama). Dr. Jemison was a science advisor on the project and helped the team to accurately portray astronaut behavior in crisis as well as how the bunks of the spacecraft should be designed. And she would know, having flown on the Space Shuttle as a Mission Specialist for STS-47.  

After a panel discussion to open the day, I was fortunate enough have Dr. Jemison all to myself for almost half and hour! Knowing I would have this amazing opportunity, I came prepared thanks to Celine...

In addition to personally wearing one of Slow Factory's Women Who Inspire scarves featuring Dr. Jemison along with fellow astronaut, Jan Davis, Celine gave me the scarf of Dr. Jemison alone to present to her in person. So before my time with her was up, I showed her the full design on the scarf I was wearing and told her all about the Women Who Inspire collection. She was amazed such a thing even existed. To her surprise, I then gave her the second scarf and needless to say, she loved both. I managed to get this photo of both of us rocking our scarves in celebration of women everywhere. 

The day ended with a screening of the first episode of the MARS miniseries so clearly I had to represent the red planet with some more Slow Factory

If you don't know Dr. Jemison's work already, I highly recommend reading up on her. A former dancer, she entered college at age 16 and finished medical school by age 25. She then did a stint in the Peace Corps before going on to become the first African American women in space (such a slacker!). One of her current projects it the 100 Year Starship which aims to make interstellar travel a reality in the next 100 years by "including the broadest swath of people and human experience in understanding, shaping and implementing this global aspiration."

National Geographic's MARS airs nationwide on Monday, November 14th. You can already stream the first episode online and there are three more to come. It's a stunning mix of science and narrative jumping between the present in 2016 and the future first crewed mission to Mars in 2033. It will inspire the hell out of you. 

Summer Ash is the Director of Outreach for Columbia University’s Department of Astronomy. Having been both a rocket scientist and a radio astronomer, she’s now harnessing her powers for science communication. She is the "In-House Astrophysicist" for The Rachel Maddow Show and has written for The AtlanticScientific American, Slate, and Nautilus Magazine. She tweets as@Summer_Ash and is also one-half of Startorialist.

Filed under: astronaut astronauts awe event feminism going to space inspiration mae jemison mars national geographic nyc scarf scarves science space who wears slow factory women who inspire

A Universe of Love

by Summer Ash

February is branded as heart month by corporations, but I say we should feel the beat all year long. 

I have a complicated relationship with my heart to say the least, but if anything, it's made me realize the importance of friendship, love, and appreciating the Universe on a daily basis. So on this last day of February, and a bonus one at that, I thought I would share some of my favorite celestial symbols of love. 

The photo at the top of this post is of the surface of Mars, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in 2009. Launched by NASA in 2005, MRO had a two-year primary mission to study the history of water on Mars. Now almost ten years later, it continues to function, still taking data while also assisting in relaying communication from other satellites and rovers on the Red Planet. 

Our other planetary neighbor, Venus, is of course named after the goddess of love herself. Venus is practically an Earth-twin in size, but an anti-twin in everything else. This image is a composite of radar data taken by the Magellan spacecraft NASA sent to Venus in 1989. The planet itself is shrouded in thick cloud layers, but NASA was able to make this image with radio waves that penetrate the atmosphere and bounce off the planet's surface, giving us a picture of the topography. While on Venus, this dense atmosphere is toxic to life, from here on Earth, it's what allows Venus to shine so bright in our morning and evening skies - and perhaps inspire our imaginations from time to time. 

Eros is a member of the asteroid belt, orbiting the Sun in an orbit similar to Mars, sometime further and sometimes closer. Fittingly, it's a member of the Amor group of asteroids. In 2000 NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR Shoemaker) mission was the first spacecraft to visit Eros and send back high resolution images like this one. Even more incredible is the fact that NEAR Shoemaker successfully landed on the asteroid's surface at the end of its mission life in February of 2001, just over fifteen years ago today. 

Hopefully this image needs no introduction, but if Pluto hadn't captured your heart before, I hope this picture seals the deal. Less than eight months ago, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Pluto and snapped this phenomenal image - our first ever glimpse of this distant world. The heart shaped feature (aka Sputnik Planum) became an instant symbol of our love of exploration and discovery. 

Lastly, moving out into the galaxy, I leave you with these nebulae colloquially called Heart and Soul. Located over 6,000 light years away from us, these regions of gas and dust, called nebulae, are where are stars are actively being formed (or at least they were 6,000 years ago!). This image was taken with NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) which was launched into Earth orbit in 2009. WISE uses infrared light to detect emission from dust, asteroids, brown dwarfs, stars and galaxies. It captured the glow of these striking regions, IC 1848 (aka Soul Nebula) on the right and IC 1805 (aka Heart nebula) on the left, in 2010. I think it's safe to say, it also captured my heart for now and evermore. 

I hope you'll take this opportunity to look around you and realize that love is everywhere, here on Earth and throughout the Universe, not only during "heart month" but everyday. 

Summer Ash is the Director of Outreach for Columbia University’s Department of Astronomy. Having been both a rocket scientist and a radio astronomer, she’s now harnessing her powers for science communication. She is the "In-House Astrophysicist" for The Rachel Maddow Show and has written for Scientific American, Slate, and Nautilus Magazine. She tweets as @Summer_Ash and is also one-half of Startorialist.

Filed under: allthelove asteroid asteroid belt astronomy awe cosmos Eros heart heart and soul inspiration love Mars nasa nebula pluto romance science science life soul space universe Venus

A Conversation with HiRISE . Chapter One

by Celine Semaan Vernon


When we launched our Mars, Revealed! Collection back on August 8th the day Curiosity Rover celebrated it's second year anniversary on the red Planet, I was contacted by Ari Espinoza from HiRISE. HiRISE is the  High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, a camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It is the very camera that allowed us to create our Mars, Revealed! Collection. Ari and I spoke and decided to catalog our conversation within our series of short interviews with scientist that I am thrilled to be sharing with you.


Celine : Hi Ari, Thank you for accepting to do this short interview with me. Just to start tell me a little bit about your position and your role at HiRISE

Hi!, I’m Ari Espinoza and I’m the Media And Education Public Outreach for HiRISE.

C: So what do you do there?

A: One thing that I am responsible for is our website, it’s design and making sure that information that we release to the public is available, I handle all of our social media channels (facebook, twitter, tumblr). I also answer media request and provide high resolution images for print on request, I talk to groups who are interested in Mars or Planetary science and talk about HiRISE and what we do and answer public questions about what we do.


C: In your own words, what is HiRSE?


A: HiRISE is the most powerful camera we have ever sent to another Planet, it’s an acronym (wikipedia)

We launched in 2005 and got to Mars in 2006 and we’ve been taken these images of Mars ever since. Our images are extremely detailed because there’s ever been a camera like this on any other space craft. And we are actually one instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter - there is another camera too that has a much bigger footprint than ours, our camera can really focus in very very nicely on the terrain. We work with the other teams to coordinate observations, they might see something of interest and they might want a closer look, so our camera would take a close up. And it would allow for scientists to write papers and to observe the planet more closely to see if we can learn something more.



C: Is it going to stay there forever?

A: I would certainly like that because that way I could retire from this job, I believe we have enough fuel until 2023. That be plus or minus a few years depending on a lot of things, I’m not sure what the plans are after that. But there is an end life to the orbiter and to the instruments because they do age over time. It’s amazing that HiRISE and the other instruments have been in such good shape for 9 years.


C: From a tech perspective, what’s cool about HiRISE?


A: You know it’s really interesting how this camera can really zoom in and get very close. Our typical images are about 5 km across and about 10-13 km in length and you can get in very very close to see these boulders which would be about the size of a car. You could probably see a desk. And that’s amazing. This is a fantastic thing that we could actually see. I couldn’t be able to see you if you were standing there, but we could see your shadow. That’s how good this camera is. It’s really important that we help other missions take good safe landing spots. Like we did for the Phoenix lander in 2008, we did for the Mars Science Laboratory or CURIOSITY in 2012 and we also image other areas of scientific interest for other teams like Lander in 2020. There’s one in 2016. It’s just amazing to look up these pictures in full resolution and you realise “My Gosh, I’m looking at the surface of another Planet, and that is something my parents couldn’t do.. It’s just amazing.”



C: I’m freaking out over here! So cool! So, what’s your relationship like with NASA?


A: So here at HiRISE we are all part of NASA and the whole area under NASA that deals with Mars. All of the information that we have is for the public, it’s taxpayer funded, so we are part of that huge branch under NASA that says “hey! we are doing exploration and here is the fruit of our labour, here is all the data that we have. Here is all the images.” We don’t keep things for ourselves, and anybody can look at these pictures, can do their own research. And we are very proud to be under NASA and we believe that the work we are doing is extremely important.


C: How do you get these images back to Earth? Through Radio Waves? Do you download them? Does it take forever to download? How does it work?


A: So when we take a picture, it’s actually our science team that would find area that they would be interested in. And the public can also do this too - I’ll explain in a minute - so we find an area of interest, we find a list of targets, we cut those targets down in something we can do when we are on a particular orbit around Mars. And we take these images, and they are taken in a very long strip of information. That information is stored on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, it’s transmitted back to Earth through radiowaves and it goes through what we call the Deep Space Network. There are three of those here on Earth, there’s one in Australia, one in Spain and one in California. We get all this raw information here, in the University of Arizona, and we process it, then we make these pictures from that data that we put on our website. It doesn’t take that long, we could usually get our images back within a day if everything is going smoothly, it could take from 13 to 14 minutes to get it from Mars to Earth. The only time we have a hard time is when we have low data rate or when Mars in behind the Sun.


/// END of Chapter One \\\

Filed under: HiRISE Interview Mars science life