Looking back: 2006

Oxford, 2006

In 2006, I had the privilege of attending two conferences in England (the 11th International Command & Control Research & Technology Symposium in Cambridge and the Complex Adaptive Systems and Interacting Agents Workshop in Oxford).

This was the year that NASA launched the New Horizons spaceprobe towards Pluto (it was to arrive in 2015). Ironically, later in 2006, the International Astronomical Union somewhat controversially downgraded the status of Pluto to that of a “dwarf planet.”

Grigori Perelman’s proof of the Poincaré conjecture was declared the “Breakthrough of the Year” by the journal Science. A variety of books, such as this one, have tried to explain what the conjecture (now theorem) is about. So far, this is the only one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems to be solved.

Perelman was offered, but refused, the prestigious Fields Medal (in interviews, he raised some ethical concerns regarding the mathematical community).

Books of 2006 included the intriguing World War Z (later made into a mediocre film). Movies included Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, Apocalypto, Black Book, Pirates of the Caribbean II, Cars, and The Nativity Story.

And in music, Carrie Underwood took the world by storm, singing about Jesus and about smashing up motor vehicles with baseball bats.

Looking back: 1978

In 1978 I started senior high school (year 11 and 12). That was a year of terrorism – a bomb was exploded outside the Sydney Hilton Hotel by the Ananda Marga group (apparently in an attempt to kill Indian prime minister Morarji Desai), and former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro (below) was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades. On a more positive note, John Paul II became the first Polish pope, and helped to chip away at the power of the Soviet Union.

That year also marked the debut of the soap opera Dallas and the comic strip Garfield. In science, James Christy at the United States Naval Observatory discovered Pluto’s moon Charon. We finally got a good look at it in 2015:

In computing, the Turing Award went to Robert Floyd, for his work in programming languages and algorithms. Intel introduced the 8086, the first of the x86 microprocessors which are still the most common CPUs in personal computers and laptops today. The game Space Invaders also had its debut:

The year 1978 also saw the release of the unsatisfactory animated version of The Lord of the Rings, and a number of interesting albums, including The Kick Inside by Kate Bush, Pyramid by The Alan Parsons Project, Dire Straits by the band of the same name, the electronic Équinoxe by Jean Michel Jarre, and Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds:

Of the books published that year, The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, the exceedingly dark The House of God by Samuel Shem, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle (below) stand out.

A Century of History

Solar Team Twente recently posted this photograph (by Jérôme Wassenaar) of the almost-100-year-old grandfather of a team member test-driving one of their older solar cars. This is what else the man has seen in his life:

  • 1997: the first Toyota Prius goes on sale in Japan
  • 1998: the first MP3 player goes on sale in the USA; also Google is founded
  • 2005: the first autonomous vehicles complete the DARPA Grand Challenge; also Solar Team Twente races in the World Solar Challenge for the first time
  • 2015: the New Horizons space probe makes the first visit to Pluto, 85 years after Pluto was discovered

Happy 100th Birthday in advance, Opa Mulder!

Mapping Pluto and Charon

Images from the New Horizons spaceprobe have been used to produce some wonderful (although incomplete) maps of Pluto (above) and Charon (below). The names are not yet official, although I must say I like the names “Balrog Macula,” “Cthulhu Regio,” and “Skywalker Crater.” Click the pictures to go to the hi-res versions.

Pictures from Pluto

The New Horizons spaceprobe (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute artist’s rendering above) is about to reach closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Below are two preliminary pictures of Pluto (left) and Charon (right) taken recently. Better images should be available very soon.

How did we get here? Below, summarising some of my past posts, are four pictures of Pluto taken by New Horizons over the last two years of its journey. There’s nothing like getting close and personal with a camera!

Closer and closer to Pluto

The New Horizons spaceprobe is now about 10 million km from Pluto, and zooming closer every day. A worrying glitch with communications has now been solved. Below is an animated colour image of Pluto and its moon Charon taken by New Horizons last month, but much better pictures can be expected in just a few days.

Dawn/New Horizons Update

The Dawn spaceprobe, now orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres, took the lovely photograph above a few days ago (image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA). Click the image to zoom.

And here is a NASA/JPL-Caltech artist’s concept of Dawn’s ion thrusters in action. The xenon ions glow blue:

Meanwhile, the New Horizons spaceprobe is getting closer and closer to Pluto:

This means the pictures are getting better. As New Horizons looks towards Pluto and Charon, we are starting to see hints of surface features:

We can even see colours, although the pictures are still very fuzzy:

Space probe update

The Dawn spaceprobe, en route to the dwarf planet Ceres, took the images above on February 19, at a distance of 46,000 km (images processed by NASA to enhance clarity). The image below (click for up-to-date pictures) shows a simulated view from just behind Dawn.

Meanwhile, much further out, on the trajectory shown below, the New Horizons spaceprobe is due to arrive at Pluto in July, and is slowly getting better and better images.