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Inspirational Reads

Mars 3-D: A Review

April 22, 2009

Today is Earth Day, so I find it fitting that I do my review of Mars 3-D by Jim Bell. This was another Christmas present from my wife because I loves me some astrogeekiness. Unfortunately, I decided to kill my brain cells with beer when I was in college rather than putting them to good use by unraveling the mysteries of the universe and thus--oh look, a squirrel!

Anyway, the author, Jim Bell, is a professor at Cornell (I'll let the irony sink in for a moment) and has been a very active contributor to several NASA missions (he did a post-doc with NASA's Ames Research Center before joining the staff at Cornell). As such, he was one of the leaders for the imaging teams for the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

The first part of the book discusses some of the preparations the Earth-bound teams faced when planning the rather daunting task of putting the two rovers on the surface of the Red Planet. After that, the home team was tasked with developing a system to guide the robots around the surface of Mars, sample the soil, take pictures, and try to piece together some of the geologic history of Mars...and do all this from anywhere between 55 and 400 million km away (oh, metric!). While this seems like a boring read, Bell does a good job of writing in a way that does not alienate someone who isn't overly familiar with the source material.

The last three quarters of the book are all pictures taken from Mars along with explanations as to what the pictures are showing. The book comes equipped with a pair of red-and-green 3-D viewing glasses (on a bifold front cover, so they're plenty sturdy) to give the pictures in the back a better sense of depth and dimension. This is pretty cool...when it works. Unfortunately, sometimes the pictures don't line up real well, so only parts of the picture are in 3-D. Also, I would have enjoyed seeing more pictures with the "false color" (taken with a UV camera) so that everything doesn't look overly red.

That being said, the pictures taken on the edges of some of the more spectacular craters are stunning. There are also a few pictures where the rover has taken a picture behind it, so that you can see the trails left in the martian soil by the rover's wheels, which I thought was pretty damned cool. Also, there were some pictures when one of the rovers got stuck and its wheel dug down into the soil far enough to expose this shiny, pearlescent layer beneath the red dust and soil. The white mineral was chemically very similar to opal, so you can imagine that there could, potentially, be an opal the size of a continent hanging out just under the surface of Mars. Effing cool, if you ask me.

Some of the coolest pictures, I thought, were of the holes left by the boring tool. The camera worked well enough that you could see the grains of sand and dust left in the wake of the auger as well as the texture and shape of the parts that make up the hole. This, of course, fascinates me because I like geology and shit like that, and looking at some of the layers of the rock as they were formed in Mars' past is really awesome to me.

Anyway, a couple of weeks before I read this, I watched a special on National Geographic about the two rovers. I think Jim Bell was interviewed. Often. It was an entertaining and informative documentary. I really enjoyed it. Though it's not written to be, Mars 3-D serves as a nice companion piece to this show. If you're into space stuff, I'd recommend the two together. If you can only pick one, I'd go with the National Geographic show.

And, there you have it: how to turn today's green celebration red.

17 comments:

Eric said...

Thanks for the great ironic earth day post. Geology Rocks! *laugh like Beavis*

Scope said...

I'll see if I can find it on NatGeo and DVR it.

Girl Interrupted said...

lol @ Eric

That was really interesting, mjenks! I've seen a few of the pictures and it looks pretty spectacular.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ Eric: Nothing makes my day more than a fabulous science pun followed by Bevisine laughter.

@ Scope: I wish I could remember the title.

@ Girl Interrupted: Like I said, when the 3-D works, it looks great. Otherwise, it was kind of headache inducing.

Chemgeek said...

"...the boring tool."

That's what my students call me. How funny is that??

red said...

Because I, too, have killed zillions of brain cells with beer, I know posts about Mars will only make me...oooh, look! A squirrel!

Shanster said...

Is Jim Bell related to that AM talk show host that talks about aliens? Art Bell?

Del-V said...

Any 3-D photos of Martians? If not, any 3-D photos of Adriana Lima? Nope. Then I won't read the book. Thanks for the review anyway.

Jidai said...

*breaks down door and points* NERD! *flees*

words...words...words... said...

I am a serious space geek and I WANT THIS BOOK NOW.

Cora said...

That sounds amazing! Ooooh, the geeky side of me is quivering in delight right now. Awww yeah.

And my kid would surely wet her pants because it has 3D glasses!

The Ambiguous Blob said...

Where do you live? Not, like, your address, but the general vicinity (can't find your profile)...
Here's why I ask- because JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratories) in Pasadena, CA is hosting an open house next weekend. It's generally fun and geek-filled and one year when I went, they had the actual rover room open so we could look at the machine as it was being built. Which was the RADNESS.
Plus lots of scientists who work on the space junk are milling about, just waiting to be asked important questions.
I'm generally the one asking where the restroom is. They're not so thrilled to talk to me as they would be to talk to you.
ALSO- the 2 times I've gone, they have this cool picture room where you can get your picture taken- in 3D!!! See? 3D at JPL. Doesn't get better than that.
Now, where's the restroom?

Mathdude said...

Wow, a picture book for adults!

Chemgeek stole my other line - Doh!

TishTash said...

I don't want to read that because it'll probably fly in the face of my belief that Mars = Dune, and then my dream that one day Paul Atreides and I will meet and fall in love will die.

Gwen said...

That is super cool - I intend to spend an hour at Borders perusing one of their copies for the cost of a coffee.

BTW, my first reaction to this post was, "SHUT THE FUCK UP! I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY PERSON ON THE PLANET WHO WATCHED THE RED GREEN SHOW!"

And then I decided to stop yelling profanities in the office.

Nej said...

I was one of those kids running around saying she wanted to go to Space Camp and such.

I went onto National Geo online to see if I could find when the show is airing again, would love to see it!!!!

If it's called "Five Years on Mars"...then it airs next on April 25th.

P.S. Love Red Green!

Frank said...

My God, someone else in this country has heard of Red Green...