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  Lovejoy vids, GRAIL orbits, J. Jones, HexagonDec 27, 2011 7:02 AM PST | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Comet Lovejoy just keeps getting more famous! Now it's on YouTube—this is the full sequence from the one photo I had of it last week, shot from the ISS; comet footage ends at about 30 seconds in:
 
[Edit 5/26/18 - video no longer on YouTube]
 
and Vimeo—as seen from the Very Large Telescope array in the mountains of Chile:
 
http://vimeo.com/34073825
 
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Back in August I wrote a little about the impending launch of the GRAIL spacecraft: twin probes that will orbit the Moon, one a little behind the other, and measure the variation in their positions caused by the Moon's gravity, thus generating a detailed map of the Moon's gravitational field. Well, the twins are nearly ready to swing into action: according to this article, over the New Year weekend they'll be making their lunar orbit insertion, 24 hours apart; their course to the Moon over the preceding months has been so accurate that no course correction was necessary, which is fairly impressive.
 
If the orbital insertion goes okay, they'll spend the next two months swinging gradually downward toward the lunar surface, "until they are about 35 miles above the surface with an average separation of 124 miles," at which point they can begin mapping. They'll also get new names: currently known simply as GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B, names chosen from a contest of schoolchildren will be revealed once they're orbiting successfully.
 
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Over the X-Mas weekend I found out about a new (to me) and amazing ink artist, Jeff Jones, who came to comic prominence in the '70's, forming an independent group, "The Studio," with friends and fellow comic artists Barry Windsor-Smith, Mike Kaluta, and Bernie Wrightson (all of whom I *had* heard of). Jones, sadly no longer with us, had a knack for short, strikingly offbeat stories illustrated in a signature high contrast but freely organic inked style, like Sleep, a far-out five page sci-fi story you can see there in all its scanned glory. Jones also did cool stuff in the way of paintings, colored ink illustrations, and ink wash.
 
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This AP story tells the only-just-declassified story of the highly trained men and women gathered in the shuttered buildings of the Perkin-Elmer Corp. of Danbury, Connecticut, where from 1966 to at least 1987 up to 1,000 of them at once worked away at the government's top secret Project Hexagon,
considered the most successful space spy satellite program of the Cold War era. From 1971 to 1986 a total of 20 satellites were launched, each containing 60 miles of film and sophisticated cameras that orbited the earth snapping vast, panoramic photographs of the Soviet Union, China and other potential foes. The film was shot back through the earth's atmosphere in buckets that parachuted over the Pacific Ocean, where C-130 Air Force planes snagged them with grappling hooks.
 
The scale, ambition and sheer ingenuity of Hexagon KH-9 was breathtaking. The fact that 19 out of 20 launches were successful (the final mission blew up because the booster rockets failed) is astonishing.

Even though the program ended decades ago, the secret was faithfully kept until the government officially declassified Hexagon this past September—project members weren't even allowed to speak of Hexagon to their spouses or children, who all this time thought they had merely worked often long hours making some sort of generic "widgets." Those "widgets" were in fact 60-foot-long satellites weighing "30,000 pounds and supplying film at speeds of 200 inches per second"; they could capture images of a resolution capable of showing features as small as a private swimming pool, or a Soviet battalion in training exercises.
 
 
 
 
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