Mars rock circle in tabloids

A Mars Curiosity image of a “rock circle” has appeared in the British tabloids in the last few days,  touted by “alien hunters” to be an artifact of some kind .

The NY Post gave secondary coverage and carefully stated that it was “recently found” among the images by said “hunters.”

From the setting, I could see that it did not match the recent terrain being covered ( we’re up to sol 1734, ) and I did spend a little time looking back over the route to find a likely spot. I was pretty lucky, although I will credit my intuition, as I found it as a Mastcam image from sol 528

In fact, this image was evidently not a chance acquisition, since they immediately acquired this followup image, also on sol 528

Here we get a more detailed view, and it looks somewhat more “natural”, I think, with noticeable irregularities. Then, on sol 529, they actually “moved in for a look” and acquired this image

Here you can start to get an idea of its formation. It seems to be sort of a disk with the center scoured low, like a lozenge. Of course, this is just one small feature! From what I understand, the landscape as we see it is formed almost exclusively by very slow erosion from the dust storms.

BTW, the images were acquired on 2014-01-30 13:53:37 UTC,  2014-01-30 13:54:26 UTC, and  2014-01-31 15:46:03 UTC, over three years ago.

Also, here is the section of the path showing the location

The “dog-doo”

This is the name which occurred to me when I saw this feature, and true to my habit, I’m sticking with it. Here it is in a sol 1700 Mastcam shot, which I already included in a panorama linked in “Ozymandias”, below.

It does seem to be a distinctive feature. The darker blobby looking rock on the top doesn’t seem to fit with the more predominant thinly layered rock, which are easily seen as eroded remnants of dust-formed strata.

Well, at this point ( sol 1700 ) I had high hopes that Curiosity would make a bee-line for it and do a major examination, but these met with frustration.

Coincidentally, I read at about this time, an ONION article on the “Morbid Curiosity Rover”. Of course this is a pun, and nothing to do with “morbid curiosity”, but a facetious evaluation of  Curiosity’s “morbid” temperament, as note that the official MSL accounts allow for Curiosity to speak in the first person. The Onion found that Curiosity was uncooperative, and even unresponsive, and given to obsessive lingering and drilling activities.

I thought this to be a wry comment on the incompatibility of the inscrutable science campaign with the preferences of those us more concerned with sight-seeing.

So these thoughts came to the fore as Curiosity roved closer and closer to the “dog-doo”, but seemed to deliberately eschew imagery of it. I thought, and think, that it was partly because it was up-slope from Curiosity, and the imagery had a tendency to pan on a level plane, so that we were treated to extensive views of “where it had been” but the looming features ahead, including the “dog-doo”, were chopped off at the ankles. ( If you don’t believe me, check it out! )

Well, there were a few Navcam shots, but this feature was obviously not a target, and at closest approach, Curiosity veered to the east, and focused on other things, this to my ultimate frustration, I thought.

But then, there was a late adder to the sol 1726 SUBFRAME products from the Mastcam. These are monochromatic, and have a funky grid superimposed, but OTOH, are highly detailed, and feature a magnificent view of the “dog-doo” at the extreme right.

Accordingly, I offer this truncated version of what is approximately a 180 degree panorama, consisting of  2 of the 20 component images:

In, I used just a “tetch” of Gaussian blur ( a minimal setting of 1 ) to alleviate the crosshatching of the “grid”, and gave it a sepia tint, which I modified with a slight reddening of the hue.

“You’re in the shop!”

Where Is Curiosity?

The MSL website helpfully provides maps to show the progress of Curiosity, but lately, circumstances have led to some frustration.

Curiosity has reached the southern limit of the displayed range, and it is heading south, so it is hard to see what is in store. In addition, the large scale inset is placed so that it obscures significant adjacent topography … as shown here …

Never fear! I have the Hiview software and image files, which I downloaded some time ago, and these include the imagery that is the basis for these maps. So here I display a  small scale ( … N.B. a small scale displays a large area … )  image with the approximate boundary of the sol 1707 inset map marked.

You’ll note that the “foothills” of Mt. Sharp are well distant to the south. The features there were evident in the panoramic views from the landing site, as see my  Sol3 panorama  post from Dec 5,2012. ( This was my first Mars Curiosity post. )

Curiosity is more than halfway there from the landing site, but I’m not sure what the schedule is, or the planned path.

“Hills peep o’er hills, and alps on alps arise!”



The latest vistas from Curiosity put me in mind of Shelley’s sonnet.

“Look on these works, ye mighty, and despair.”

Of course, these are not the ruins of some civilization, but purely inanimate landscape. Yet, everything takes a form through a very leisurely evolution, compared to earth, and there it all sits, like some incredible junkyard.

Here is a simple panorama from the mastcam images of sol 1698.

… click to enlarge!

… Here’s the same scene on sol 1700, except for a forward displacement of Curiosity’s POV.

The very prominent knoll in the left foreground on sol 1700 can easily be located in the left middle ground on sol 1698.

The prominent features from the center to the lower right in the sol 1698 view are no longer in view on sol 1700.

Here’s a sol 1705 Navcam view which can be matched up with the sol 1700 Mastcam view, above.

Curiosity has advanced to a position in the sol 1700 view, just in front of the 3 large “rocks” near the center of that view. This formation appears in the sol 1705 view on the left center. It can be identified by the form of the sand, or dust, drifted against them.



The Martian Tree Stump

The “tree stump” on Mars was in the news this month, and it is indeed an interesting formation, of which there are countless examples in the Curiosity image gallery.  I don’t mind such fanciful descriptions, since it does bring attention to these images, and in fact my attention has flagged badly in the last few years, after having followed them assiduously in the early days.

I still have my PTGui panorama maker, and my “curiosity”, so I followed up on this one.

Since “You’re in the shop” I’ll share a minor glitch which vexed me greatly just yesterday, but today’s a new day and all is well.

I composed the following panorama which contains the frame from the Mast Camera that was publicized as showing a “tree stump”

Of course, it’s missing a piece! This does show that the panorama is composed of 8 separate ( overlapping ) images. But it is certainly a detraction. I spent maybe an hour trying to figure out what was wrong before I went ahead and let PTGui figure it out.

If you “click to enlarge”, then click the “+” to magnify, you will see the whole thing in the resolution of the “stump” panel that was in the news.

Well, then, today I found the following in the Raw image gallery:

So there we have it. ( This is an excerpt with the header note pasted on. ) So of course it was a simple matter to patch in and form the full panorama:

Much better! But what about this “stump” ? I looked for other images, and found the following from sol 1648, whereas this was sol 1647:

This is a panorama of 5 images from the mast cam, in color this time, as they usually are. Curiosity had moved “overnight” and you can see the large “fin” , which is to the right of the “stump” in both images, but this time the view of the “stump” shows lateral extension, indicating that the sol 1647 image was “edge on”.

Never fear, at center bottom we have a cylindrical post with some kind of runic marking! The poetry of Mars is never dead.

40 Eridani

40 Eridani is the designation of “a star” ( actually a 3 star system ) in the constellation Eridanus. One of these 3 stars is a White Dwarf, and famously the most easily accessible of this type to amateur observation.

All this became known to me in a recent conversation, and I noted, via my Starry Night software, that the current viewing window was drawing to a close this month of March, so I determined to get a photograph of it, as I have found that photography shows a lot that is undetectable at the eyepiece.

I use prime focus projection using my Nikon D5100 camera body mounted with an adapter on my Orion StarMax 127 mm, with a 1540 mm focal length. In this configuration it’s essentially a very long focal length camera lens, with an upright image through the view finder.

I have a “clocked” mount and I take a maximum 30″ exposure using a remote shutter release. This is pretty low end stuff compared to the deep sky shots you see with much more sophisticated amateur equipment and processing.

I can get good results, though, and in this case, the picture came out well.

40 Eridani

The bright yellowish star at lower right with the smaller white companion is 40 Eridani and the companion is the white dwarf. If you “click to enlarge”, you can easily see the small reddish close companion of the white dwarf, which I did not really expect to resolve, so of course I’m quite pleased with the picture.

Here’s an enlarged excerpt, just to celebrate.

40 Eridani close-up

There is a picture of 40 Eridani in Volume Two of the classic Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, called there Omicron 2, as “omicron” was the sequential designation, after alpha, beta, etc. of a pair of stars in the constellation Eridanus ( The River. ) Omicron 1 is not physically associated with the Omicron 2 system, aka 40 Eridani.

Just to complete the confusion, my Starry Night software shows Omicron 1 and Omicron 2 as “Beid” and “Keid”, which are “traditional star names”, although I read that the tradition in this case was officially adopted in 2016 ! Of course, Burnham’s does not use these names.

Anyway, the picture there is from an exposure at Lowell Observatory, of Pluto fame, taken around the same time as that discovery.

I took my photo and “pushed” the brightness and contrast to the maximum to bring out the background stars, then did a match-up with the photo illustration from Burnham’s. Here is a “blink comparison” using the Free Online Animated Gif Maker:

… click to run the animation.

It’s a little confusing at first glance, but hold your gaze on the stars above 40 Eridani ( in this orientation ) and you will see that they match almost perfectly. However, 40 Eridani “jumps up and down” .

I wasn’t looking for this and it threw me for a loop, but in reality, this is a record of the actual “proper motion” of this triple star system, relative to our solar system. In fact Burnham’s describes this motion and has a pair of illustrations showing the position circa 1934 and 1965.

I pasted these into one and added my observation ( in blue ) …

proper motion of Eridani 40

The blue imagery is a replication to scale taken from my high contrast image used in the blink comparison.

More on Proper Motion

The term “proper motion” in my experience, refers to the apparent angular movement of an object against an ideal inertial reference system centered on the sun. However, one might think that it ought to include the “third component” of the relative velocity, i.e. what is termed “radial velocity”.

Nevertheless, I think historical usage has treated these separately. This caused me some confusion in reference to a statement in Burnham’s that the “true space velocity is about 62 miles per second.”

I took this at face value at first, and assumed that the value must include the component of “radial velocity”, later mentioned. However, I don’t believe this is the case. The discussion was of “proper motion” as traditionally defined, so this “true velocity” was simply a conversion from angular to linear velocity along the apparent path in the sky.

The determination of radial velocity is a whole different question, since it involves physical analysis of the received light, and not any apparent motion of the object.

The question is mooted once we have the “proper motion” expressed in arcseconds per year, along with the “radial velocity” expressed in km/sec, or any such units for that matter.

In fact we may note that 186,000 = 62 X 3000, and I think this indicates that the value of 62 miles per second was being given as a “round number” for the transverse linear speed of 40 Eridani … i.e. c/3000 .

… but all this is a distraction! I just want to get an idea of the past and future apparent motion of 40 Eridani, and this can be based on a given specification of the proper ( angular ) motion, and the radial velocity.

With the understanding that the linear approximation won’t hold up forever, we see that we have a simple freshman physics problem of relative velocity between two objects, in this case the sun and 40 Eridani.

The trajectory of 40E wrt the sun is then a “great circle” in the sky, and wrt this path it is determined by the general equation for any such “fly by”, within a scale factor only for time.

The “zero point” of this trajectory is the point of closest approach, which provides the distance scale, and the time scale of the angular displacement is determined by this distance divided by the speed of the object.

That only leaves the determination of the point of closest approach of 40E to the sun, expressed as an angular displacement along its apparent path from its current position. I hope this diagram explains everything!

Here is my estimation of the apparent path in the sky of 40 Eridani over the next 19000 yrs, in accordance with the diagram above, and overlayed on a view from my Starry Night software:

The Incredible Cuboctahedron

On what basis I don’t recall, I was led into the contemplation of the generalized process of “cuboctization” which produces the cuboctahedron from the octahedron. This process is namely the connection of the midpoints of “neighboring” edges, to produce a new figure with vertices at these midpoints, and with the constructed edges.

It’s important to note that this figure, being composed of vertices and edges, is not necessarily a geometric solid, since the new vertices may not lie in a plane, to form a face. Nevertheless, we may proceed.

Of course the founding idea is the production from the octahedron


of the cuboctahedron, which may be regarded as a truncation of the octahedron, but in this case can be regarded as being produced in the manner described.
So we may proceed in this manner, and to arrive at the nub of the discussion in short order, we may present “cubocta5”, the result of applying the algorithm of edge midpoint connection four more times.
But here we have run aground. You can see that the four expected quadrilateral faces next to the green quadrilateral face in the center have been “bent”. Their defining vertices did not lie in a plane. We may remind ourselves that our procedure did not have any reference to faces at all, but only vertices and edges, so that we were only lucky up to this point to produce flat, or planar, four sided faces.

… but it’s close! So, what to do? Can we “flatten” these faces somehow, and produce a true cubocta5 polyhedron?

Never fear! A way was found. By retreating to the cubocta2, and adjusting the position of the vertices, we produced this version

All on a hunch, if you will. But that’s not half the story! At any rate, three iterations of our edge production algorithm produce the desired result. A truly remarkable figure with 192 vertices, 384 edges, and 194 faces. 8 of these faces are small triangles at the corners of a cube, and the remainder are quadrilaterals of varying proportions, but all perfectly flat.

If this figure “exists in the literature”, we would like to know, but at any rate, this version of it is original with us.

Some Numerology

It’s additionally remarkable that the entire figure can be specified in terms of small integers for the coordinates of the vertices, and there are only six distinct vertices required to produce the entire figure under octahedral symmetry. Here they are with the number of replications:

(24) 10 6 0
(24) 12 2 0
(48) 11 4 2
(24) 8 8 2
(48) 9 6 4
(24) 7 7 6

The 48 replications are the 6 permutations of the values times the 8 versions of each obtained by taking +/- each value, in combination.

since +/- 0 = 0, there are only 4 sign combinations for 10 6 0 and 12 2 0, and in the case of 8 8 2 and 7 7 6 there are only 3 distinct permutations, times the 8 sign combinations. Of course these add to 192.

Fun with Faulhaber

Because … just look at the guy!

Johann Faulhaber


Looks like a regular barrel of monkeys!

He is the namesake of Faulhaber’s Formula, although he did not formulate it, as Wikipedia points out, but he more than laid the groundwork, I think anyone would agree.

Unbeknowst to myself, I had been following in his footsteps ( a very short way, of course ) in my pursuit of mathematical diversions. His namesake formula is a generalization of the idea of finding a formula for the sum of integers, from 1 to N, each taken to a given power. Familar to many is the formula for the sum of integers, i, from 1 to N, which is remembered as “first plus last times n over 2” or with these fixed limits, N(N+1)/2 .

I had presented this rule in graphical form as :

Showing an N by N+1 rectangle divided into 2 pieces, each representing
the sum of 1 thru 5.

So, I had the thought of representing the sum of the squares of integers in like manner, and made these model pieces.

I originally made 3 pieces, and noticed that these fitted readily into the following form, noting that there is a left handed and a right handed version, even though each piece is mirror-symmetric:


So then with due attention to “handedness”, ( do we need same, or opposite ? … ) we get this result:


Noting that the bottom square of each piece is N x N, with N=7 in this case, you can see from the picture that the block thus formed is N x ( N + 1 ) x (2 N + 1 ), so 1/6 th of this value gives the sum of integers from 1 thru N, each squared.

Moving right along

All this transpired some time ago, and I don’t believe that I got as far as the name of “Faulhaber” at that time, being content with my “physical derivation”. Just lately I pursued the issue a little further, going as far as N=3 and N=4, using simple algebra, much as Faulhaber must have done in some form or another, although he went all the way to N=17.

My method was to assume a formula, e.g. for N=2, of the form sum_1_to_N(i^2) =
a N^3 + b N^2 + c N + d , and then require that, sum( (i+1)^2 ) – sum( i^2 ) = (i+1)^2. It’s all just bookkeeping and I got the required answer, then I went to N=3 and did the same thing, and “discovered” ( for myself ) the “well known” result that the answer is simply ( N(N+1)/2 ) ^2 … amazing! I never knew!

Flushed with excitement, I realized that this lent itself to a simple 2-d graphical representation, which I worked out easily, and here it is:

Looking at the left and bottom edges, you can see the sequence of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7, in alternating colors, which immediately gives the “squared” result for the sum just cited.

Then looking at the red bands, you’ll see that these contain, in sequence, 1 1×1 square, 3 3×3 squares, 5 5×5 squares, and 7 7×7 squares, representing the cubes of the odd numbers. The blue bands represent the cubes of the even numbers in the same way, except that one square is split into two identical rectangles at each edge, a necessity required for an even number of squares.

So there it is! I don’t know where else you might find this kind of diagram, but this one is my own production, at least.

Meet the Monster

That monster is the star, Deneb, familiar in the constellation Cygnus in the northern sky. It is among the brightest stars in the sky, but what cannot be obvious is that it far outstrips its visual rivals in intrinsic brightness, so that it is the bully in our neighborhood. It is a magnitude 1.25 star at a distance of 800 parsecs.

Now, the Sun has an absolute magnitude of 4.83, which is by definition its ideal visual magnitude at a distance of 10 parsecs. So to have a visual magnitude of 1.25, the Sun must appear 10^(.4*(4.83-1.25)) = 27 times brighter than it does at 10 parsecs. That means it must be 1/sqrt(27) times as distant , or about 3.7 parsecs away, or 216 times closer than Deneb, to show the same visual magnitude.

So, conversely, the earth would have to be orbiting Deneb at 216 AU if Deneb were to have the same apparent brightness as the Sun. That’s over five times the distance of Pluto from the Sun, which averages about 40 AU.

The period of an orbiting body is given by M/r^2 ~ r/T^2 or T ~ sqrt( r^3/M ), which embodies Kepler’s third law for a central body of a given mass, but allows us to account for a variable mass. Deneb has about 19 solar masses, so the “year” of this Deneb-earth would be sqrt( 216^3/19 ) = 728 earth years. Well, at least that’s comprehensible!

I was led into these contemplations after having taken the following photograph of Deneb, with its star background in the Milky Way, using my Nikon D5100 mounted on my telescope purely for its use as a “clocked” mount. The exposure is about 20 seconds, so the lack of guidance is not so bad, as long as I get reasonable alignment, for which purpose I have a well practiced system! … ( click to enlarge )


Let us now praise Neil Armstrong

I was working on this, having for some unknown reason taken a renewed interest in the Apollo program, and Apollo 11 in particular. I was reviewing the material at The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal on the Apollo 11 Landing, and was taken with the 5:00 AVI video clip attributed to Gone to Plaid. I can’t link to the video, as clicking on it just downloads it. I hope I don’t have 20 copies of it!

Anyway, it’s riveting. It’s got 1201 alarm stuff, and the final landing sequence down to “Contact light”. This is all from the camera mounted above the Lunar Module Pilot Position, on the right. It was mounted high so that it “looked down” as far as possible, and it’s a very different view from what Neil Armstrong had.

I got interested in all this because of the “boulder field” business, which caused Armstrong to take manual control and “go long” on the landing. In the film, you don’t really see it, so what’s up with that?

Well, really, I just stumbled into this from trying to locate the video frames in the LROC TIFF image of Tranquility base ( the skinny thing at the bottom of the page ) which shows Tranquility base down to the foot trails. Zoom in and out. It’s amazing.

So I got to matching this view with the video frames using Very time consuming! Especially when you think that there should be software somewhere that could match every frame seamlessly. Maybe someone’s done it.

The thing is that this gives a wider view, of which the camera view is just a part, and it occurred to me that I could infer Armstrong’s view from the symmetrically opposed window very easily. To be exact, it would be a view of a camera mounted on the opposite side under reflection through the center plane of the LM. This is taking into account the very extended “nose” of the LM, adjacent on each side to the windows, which confines the view of each window pretty much to its own side. So, I just took the geometric reflection of the camera view from the LM Pilot’s side to estimate the view from the Commander’s side. The first thing to notice is that the LM was apparently tilted to the Commander’s side to give him a more level and “deeper” view of the surface. Aldrin wasn’t even watching, anyway! He says he was too busy, but I might suppose this was all by arrangement.

The second thing to notice is that West Crater with its boulders was very much in view of the Mission Commander. Can you imagine?

Well, the following animated gif is pretty crude, but it is base on five second intervals starting at 2:06 of the video, and finishing just before touchdown, with the descent stage of the LM visible in the LROC image, indicating the touchdown point, of course.

Crude as it is, I think it shows that Armstrong had a clear view of “West Crater” with its boulder field, and I think you can see how he “skates” to go long at the end, and then has to deal with “Little West” at the last.