The video we shot in Laos last month is turning into an interesting trio of short films. Here is the first episode, I hope you like it.
I popped in to ASI Head Quarters, and was greeted with a treat. A golden dawn over fresh fallen snow.
Phong at the COPE Center in front of the instalation representing a cluster bomb opening up.
One of the survivors of leftover wartime UXO that we have gotten to know in Laos is Phongsavath, who lost both his hands and his sight a few years ag when a friend unknowingly handed him a live bombie. He Was 16.
Phongsavath hasn't let this keep him down. Using a computer donated to the Cope Center, he is able to use the internet to help raise awareness of the problem of UXO. (His screen name is Peter Kim).
I told him that I'd share a link to his youtube videos. There's one where Miss Minnesota ( a girl of Lao Heritage) serenades him with "Birds In The Sky" . The song is still stuck in my head.
As we towed our array through the fields, a constant trickle of traffic went by; cattle wandering , villagers from upland rice fields heading back home, and hunters with long flintlock rifles and packs of tiny hunting dogs, all streaming by, mostly ignoring us and our quest to find and remove the bombs lurking under this peaceful landscape.
It still caught me by surprise.
Although forwarned that the winter in the Highlands of Laos could be cool, and armed with jackets and fleece, it still seamed like a jarring contradiction to go from the heat of Vientiane to 1250m altitude in the mountains and experience strong winds and cold temperatures in the evenings.
Our accomodations, thached longbuildings with tarps stapled on the inside, formed an effective shelter from the elements, but when stepping out for a bit of star gazing, either driven by the stunning night sky and lack of light pollution, or just jet lag, all the layers of clothing I had seemed like just enough.
(I can already hear the comments: " Oh Boo Hoo!")
The Team assembled in the Laotian Capitol before heading to the southern highlands. Pha That Luang has been the beautiful centerpiece to the city for hundreds of years, and did not go unapreciated during our stay.
A Few Scenes From Around the Basecamp: Scientific Exploration with NASA/SETI Planetary Lake Lander Project
Here are a few photos I took with my iphone from around the PLL basecamp
Planetary Lake Lander Principal Investigator Dr. Natalie Cabrol Answers Questions about the Project, with Visiting Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan of the Titan Mare Explorer.
Students from The Lancaster Day School in Pennsylvania have been following the Planetary Lake Lander, and wrote in with a lot of very good questions about what the project.
Several of these questions were answered by Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, the Principal Investigator for the Planetary Lake Lander Project, and Dr. Ellen Stofan, the Principal Investigator for the Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) mission that was proposed to NASA last year. Dr. Cabrol, an astrobiologist, and Dr. Stofan, a planetary geologist, are both scientists who study the surfaces of Earth and other planets in order to understand the physical processes, such as glaciation, volcanism and erosion, that shape planetary surfaces over time and lead to the development of possible habitats for life .
I hope to get answers to all of these questions posted for you soon. In the mean time, here is one that we posted on the official blog of the Planetary Lake Lander.
Q. What kind of life may be possible on Titan/Saturn/Mars? Why is NASA
(and why are you) so interested in Titan?
A. We know that comets and asteroids have delivered the carbon
compounds or building blocks of life all over the solar system.
Astrobiologists believe that life requires water, a source of energy
(like lightning or volcanism) and nutrients. Life on Saturn, with its
high pressure and hydrogen gas atmosphere is not like any habitable
environment that we know of! However, science fiction writers have
thought of organisms that could live off lightning floating in the
clouds! At Titan, there is no liquid water and it is very, very cold.
However, there are liquid hydrocarbons (sort of like oil or gasoline)
and there is much about the evolution of life here on Earth, let alone
on other planets, that we would learn from exploring the undoubtedly
complex organic chemistry in Titan’s lakes. Titan can be thought of as
having conditions similar to those of Earth when life evolved, only
Mars was very similar to Earth for a short period of time, with liquid
water on its surface, so life is likely to have evolved. But since the
time period was short, life is likely to be microbial.
There are no glaciers on Titan- its cold climate has been stable for a
long period of time. High-resolution orbital imagery of Mars has
revealed evidence of glaciers on its surface- the youngest are likely
500,000 years old. We know these glaciers must have gone through
periods of melting and sublimation. Some of this glacial ice may be
preserved under layers of debris. This ice may still harbor microbial
life, so they would be excellent targets for a future Mars mission!
The lake in the Andes is being used to test technology to explore
lakes on Titan, while the conditions in the deglaciating lake may be
similar to those at some point in Mars’ past. And of course, they are
also helping us to understand the effects of our warming climate on
ecosystems here on Earth.
We'll be sharing a satellite phone from the mountaintop, the whole scientific team, so I'm changing my gmail to the stripped down html version right now while in the airport headed for Santiago, We have a limited bandwidth budget, that cant be wasted uploading non-essential things that modern earthlings take for granted, like spell-checker.
Interestingly enough, that's exactly one of the constraints that our little robot will face when its launched into space to land on an ocean of methane on Titan. Bandwidth of information beamed long distances through space is at a premium, so one of the most important jobs of the Planetary Lake Lander Project is to teach the rover how to think for its self. It cant be phoning home to ask questions about whether or not to take a picture, collect a sample, or track an interesting incident.
Heres an interesting blog post by Tom Kerwick on how bandwidth limitation is driving research in Artificial Intelligence.