Why we’re still alone

Francis Crick, deadhead

Space probe porn

On July 4, NASA’s “Deep Impact” probe will perform an intriguing experiment with Comet Tempel 1: It will hurl a 820-pound weight into the surface of the comet, then stand back and observe what weird stuff comes flying off the surface. Cool enough, but what I particularly like is that NASA is following its recent trend of creating incredibly cool animations for its space missions. It’s put a little movie online illustrating what the Deep Impact smashfest would look like if you were out there in space watching it. As they note:

The resulting collision between comet and impactor will likely punch a crater, anywhere from the size of a Sport Utility Vehicle to a football stadium, into the comet’s nucleus. Before, during and after impact, the flyby spacecraft wil be observing events from a safe distance, imaging the crater formation and resulting ejecta.

The video has a gorgeously eerie beauty: The backlighting on the comet and the ejecta creates a creepy sense of isolation and distance — you really feel like you’re floating millions of miles out in space, with the sun only a distance influence.

It makes me wish that NASA would produce some video games using this aesthetic. Imagine a little game where you could fly the mission in different ways: Increasing or decreasing the mass of the impact-weight, speeding up the pace at which it hits the comet, or tweaking its angle. Then you could record whatever cool stuff happens as a little video to post online. It’d be like The Sims, except with astrophysics!

(Thanks to Slashdot for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson