A Pale Blue Dot

On  December 7, 1972, the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft, on their way to the Moon, took a picture of Earth at a distance of about 29,000 kilometers. It has been named The Blue Marble and is one of the most reproduced images in history.

Five years later, in 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1, to explore the outer solar system. It was a highly successful mission with flybys of Jupiter, Saturn and Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

After completion of this primary mission and before leaving the Solar System, it was suggested by astronomer and author Carl Sagan, that the Voyager 1 should look back and take one last picture of Earth. This picture was taken on  February 14, 1990 at a distance of about 6 billion km from Earth. The picture has been named the Pale Blue Dot , because in this picture Earth is not more than a single pixel. You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it and see Earth more clearly. The coloured bands are artefacts, caused by reflection of sunlight in the camera.

Inspired by this picture Sagan wrote the book Pale Blue Dot in 1994. Here is a quote from this book:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

I have used the Blue Marble image for a long time as background on my monitor screen. Recently I have changed it to the Pale Blue Dot.

At the moment Voyager 1 is still (partly) operational at a distance of about 22 billion km from the Sun, speeding away at more than 60.000 km/h.

The Seven Last Words of Christ

In a few weeks time it will be Easter, always a time of the year that I get in the mood to listen to Passion music. See for example my posts St Matthew Passion and Stabat Mater . In this post I will write about another masterpiece of religious music, the Seven Last Words of Christ, written in 1786 by Joseph Haydn.

For those readers who are not familiar with the Christian religion, some information. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that he came to Earth to save mankind by carrying the burden of their sins. His sufferings culminated in his crucifixion and his death. On the third day he resurrected from his grave and fourty days later he ascended to heaven.

The resurrection is celebrated on Easter Sunday (this year on 21 April). On the Friday before in some churches a devotion is held from noon till 3 o’clock , the Three Hours’ Agony, commemorating the three hours of Christ’s hanging at the cross. This devotion was devised in the 17th century in Peru by Jesuit missionaries and soon became popular in Europe. It consisted of sermons and meditation about the seven “words” uttered by Jesus when he was hanging at the cross.

In 1786 Joseph Haydn was requested by the clergy of the Cádiz Cathedral to compose seven instrumental adagios, to be played after each of the “words” and meditations. Not an easy job, as Haydn wrote himself: ” …. it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners ..“. Haydn added an Introduction and a Finale.

The work became a success immediately and the next year Haydn wrote a version for string quartet. It is this version which is usually performed nowadays. In 1801 he published a choral version.

For this blog I have used the orchestral version, recorded in 1965 in Barcelona.

I decided that it would be interesting to split the work into its separate pieces and combine them with the corresponding utterances by Jesus.
The seven last words come from different gospels. Here is the introduction.

Introduzione in D minor


Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do

While Jesus is hanging at the cross, he is being mocked by the Jewish rulers, the soldiers and many of the spectators.

Sonata I in B-flat major


Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Two criminals are crucified at the same time, one at Jesus’ left side, one at his right side. One of them also mocks Jesus, but the other one rebukes him, saying: we are punished for our crimes, but this man didn’t do anything wrong. And he says to Jesus: Lord, remember me when you arrive in your kingdom.

Sonata II in C minor, ending in C major


John 19:26–27: Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother

Of course Jesus’ followers are also there, among them John, the writer of this gospel. Jesus says this when he sees his mother Mary, and the “disciple whom he loved” (i.e John) standing nearby.

Sonata III in E major


Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Jesus says this in the Aramaic language: Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani and the crowd thinks that he is calling the prophet Elijah.When somebody wants to give Jesus something to drink, they say, don’t, let’s see if Elijah will come

Sonata IV in F minor


John 19:28: I thirst

As John explains in his gospel, Jesus says this because he knows that everything has now been fulfilled.

Sonata V in A major


John 19:30: It is finished

In Bach’s St John Passion, this is one of the emotional peak moments, listen to Es ist vollbracht

Sonata VI in G minor, ending in G major


Luke 23:46: Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.

After Jesus calls this with loud voice, he breathes his last.

Sonata VII in in E-flat major


Matthew 27:51: And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent

This is the description given by the gospel of St Matthew. Haydn uses it for the finale, no adagio for this part, but “Presto e con tutta la forza”!

Il terremoto (Earthquake) in C minor


When you listen to this masterwork, put the volume on loud! And when you are interested, search YouTube for The Seven Last Words of Christ. You will find many recordings.

KL Cemeteries, part I

Five years ago, on CNY 2014, I visited with my friend Joe Yap a number of Houses of Worship in KL. This year I decided to visit cemeteries in KL on CNY day. Not with Joe this time, but with my Dutch friend Paul.

And not as “exhaustive” as the 2014 trip. There are many cemeteries in KL of course, often on the outskirts of the town, we visited only two major ones this time, the Kwong Tong Chinese Cemetery and the Cheras Christian Cemetery.

The Kwong Tong cemetery is huge, split in two parts by the Middle Ring Road 1. There are sign boards with information about interesting graves, but only in Chinese.

From the sprawling cemetery. you have a nice view of the imposing KL skyline.

It is a beautiful cemetery. In two months time, at Cheng Beng, it will be crowded with people cleaning the graves of their loved ones, now it was very quiet and serene. I like cemeteries 🙂

There was one grave in particular I wanted to visit, that of Yap Ah Loy, generally considered to be the founder of Kuala Lumpur. With the help of the very informative Malaysia Traveler website of my friend David, I had found the approximate location, in part C (see the map). Walking around we found without problem the marker stone at the beginning of a small lane leading to his grave and those of a few relatives. Beautiful flowers.

Near his grave a plaque gives information about his life

His grave is nice, but not especially impressive. In case you like to visit yourself, the GPS coordinates are 3° 7.31’N 101° 42.05’E .

Left the inscription on Yap Ah Loy’s grave, right the inscription on the grave of his wife.

Some of the graves nearby are much more impressive.

We visited two memorials. This is the Kuomintang Cenotaph, erected in 1947 as a memorial for the Chinese who repatriated to China to fight against the Japanese. I guess they went back after the start of the Second Sino-Japanese war and the Nanjing Massacre in 1937.

The other memorial is for the victims of the Japanese occupation in World War II. Click on the right picture for background information.

There will be many more interesting things to see in this cemetery, but you really need a guide who is fluent in Chinese.

Next we visited the Christian cemetery in Cheras, also with a nice view of the KL skyline.

A nice part of this cemetery, probably Roman-Catholic, has beautiful graves with statues of Jesus, Mary and angels.

Part of the Cheras cemetery is a war cemetery, immaculately kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It contains the graves of military personnel, killed during the Malayan Campaign and the Japanese Occupation, but also of those killed during the Malayan Emergency.

Also in this cemetery I was interested in one grave in particular, that of Henry Gurney, the British High Commissioner, who was killed in 1951 during the Emergency. We found it without much difficulty, next to the war cemetery proper. GPS coordinates are 3° 6.38’N 101° 43.95’E . The tombstone was put in the center of a separate compound and well kept. Not far away another tombstone with “Here lie buried” with illegible names. I was struck by the difference …

The tombstones of Henry Gurney, and two servicemen, one English, the other one Gurkha. All three killed during the Emergency.

War cemeteries are impressive because many of the people buried there are so young. They gave their lives, so others could live.

Several of my friends feel uncomfortable in a cemetery, but I don’t. Maybe because I don’t believe in an eternal soul or an afterlife?

I am planning to visit more cemeteries in KL. Next on my list is the Ampang Muslim cemetery, where I will try to find the grave of P. Ramlee. There is also a small Japanese cemetery.

Trip down South

Well, not really that far south…:-). We had not been on a trip for some time and decided to make a 2D1N trip to Negeri Sembilan and Melaka.

Aric has a few projects. One is to try out assam laksa shops all over Malaysia and report about it on his Assam Laksa website. Another one is to take drone videos of fishing villages along the Malaysian coast. See for example Trip up North 2017 .

Our first destination was not an assam laksa shop and not a fishing village but…. a mosque! The Old Mosque of Machap was built in 1902 by Datuk Machap, a Makasar descendent from Indonesia. During the Japanese occupation he helped the local Chinese communities and in return they collected money for the renovation of the mosque after the war. That’s why the mosque looks like a Chinese temple!

The mosque is located on the shores of the Durian Tunggal reservoir in Melaka. We were a bit unlucky, because when we arrived at the mosque, it was closed. We waited some time for the caretaker to come back, but finally gave up. So I could only take a picture from a distance.

And of course Aric took some pictures with his drone. The location is very romantic.

For our lunch we went to the outskirts of Melaka, to Uncle Low’s Cafe. I am not an assam laksa expert, but this one was really nice, I finished the bowl until the last spoon..:-)

From Melaka we followed the coastal road to our first fishing village, Kuala Sungai Baru. Still in the town, we passed two interesting historical monuments. The Menara Lama Surau Tengkera (1728) in the left picture is all that remains of the oldest mosque in Melaka. Nearby we noticed an interesting isolated pillar, no idea about its history.

We stopped for a while at Tanjung Kling, 10 km west of Melaka, and visited the Mausoleum of Hang Tuah. Hang Tuah is a famous Malay warrior from the 15th century. There is some controversy about him, did he really exist, was he actually Chinese, etc. The mausoleum is well kept, with posters surrounding the tomb, describing his life.

The huge tomb is surrounded by a Muslim cemetery. A quiet, serene place, not the tourist attraction I was expecting.

Kuala Sungai Baru hardly deserved the name village, it was not more than a few fishing boats, on this drone picture you can not even see them. More conspicuous is the ambitious project in the foreground, with an observation tower, a surau and a few food stalls. Not in good shape, but the food stalls were operating.

Our next stop was at Kuala Linggi. No fishing village, but the remains of a fort, Kota Linggi. This fort was built in 1757 by the Dutch (who at that time controlled Melaka) and the Bugis, to tax the trade on the Linggi river. Here is a drone view of the Linggi river. The fort is located just outside the bottom right corner of the picture.

Not much is left of the fort, except some ramparts. The cannon is fake…:-). You reach the fort by a promenade which was not yet there when I visited the fort in 2008, see my report Linggi Adventure.

Pantai Cermin was our next destination. No fishing village, but a nice beach. While Aric was droning, I walked along the beach to a mangrove forest.

The aerial roots (left) are called pneumatophores, they take oxygen from the air and are characteristic for these mangroves. Many leaves were covered with a kind of woolly substance. A friend explained later to me that they are nests of whiteflies. When you enlarge the photo, you can see a few of these flies.

In the meantime Aric took drone videos and pictures of the Hibiscus resort nearby.

Pantai Cermin is located at the “neck” of the Tanjung Tuan peninsula. Our last stop for the day was another beach at the peninsula itself. To get there we had to climb first halfway to the lighthouse, then follow a trail down. Nice beach. Beautiful evening skies.

Two drone pictures. The left picture shows Tanjung Tuan with its lighthouse. You can see the beach to the left. The right picture shows the neck of the peninsula. The beach to the right is Pantai Cermin and in the background you can see the Hibiscus resort.

We had booked accommodation in a resort between Tanjung Tuan and Port Dickson, where we took some rest and enjoyed the sunset.

For our dinner we went to the Weng Yin Seafood Village, where we had a light dinner of sotong (cuttlefish) and lala (shells). Excellent food.

Next morning, after breakfast in our resort, we went to Port Dickson and found a few fishing boats there. You can see them in the center of this drone picture.

From Port Dickson it is not far to Lukut. In the 19th century, when PD did not yet exist, Lukut was a thriving town, because of the tin mining. In those days the region of Lukut was part of the Selangor Sultanate, but it was effectively controlled by powerful chieftains, like Raja Jumaat, a Bugis prince from Riau. He built a fort in 1847, Kota Lumut. In 1878 the Lukut region was ceded to Sungai Ujong (Negeri Sembilan) and the fort fell into disrepair. Not much is left these days, but there is an interesting museum about the history of the region. Here is drone picture of the museum (the building at the right) and the hill where the fort was located.

The museum gives information about the tin mining and the history of the Lukut region. Artifacts from daily life, like for example the coconut grater in the left picture. Really worth visiting.

Not much is left of the fort, parts of the remparts. two water reservoirs, the moat. Nowadays you climb the hill from the museum side, the original access road was from the other side, barely visible in the right picture

The nearby fishing village of Kuala Lukut was nice. Here is a drone view and some details.

We had planned to have lunch in the popular Soon Huat seafood restaurant, near the jetty, but we found that it opens only for dinner on weekdays, so we had lunch in a small food court close by. Also not bad and probably a lot cheaper.

After Lukut we left the coast and drove to Seremban, where we visited the Then Sze Khoon temple, 3 km north of the town center. It is a Taoist temple, established in 1864, beautifully located on a hill slope. Left a drone view, right the central court with a statue of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

The temple is nicknamed the Centipede Temple. It is said that it brings you luck when you find a centipede on the temple grounds. Besides the gigantic centipede sculpture we did not find any, but there were tortoises.

When we followed the path up the hill we passed several colorful groups of statues. I am not an expert in Chinese mythology, but I think these are (several of) the Eight Immortals from Taoism.

And this could be some of the Eighteen Arhats, which actually belong to (Mahayana) Buddhism. The mixture of Taoism and Buddhism is quite common in Chinese temples.

Of course there are many shrines. Left a Taoist shrine, in the middle a Datuk Kong temple. I am very interested in this kind of temples, where local (Malay) spirits/deities are worshipped. No pork here! In the right detail you see the many songkoks left behind by devotees. Also note the tree roots!

It is no problem to spend a few hours in this temple, there are many things to see. In this picture you see characters from the famous Chinese novel “Journey to the West” where the monk Tripitaka goes on a pilgrimage to find sacred Buddhist texts. He has three companions who help him in the many adventures they experience on the way. The Monkey God (upper left), Pigsy(right) and Sandy (left). When you enlarge the picture you may be able to find me as Tripitaka…:-).

Of course Aric had to use his drone, while I walked around. From the temple terrace you have already a nice view of the surroundings, and of course the drone shows more. The mountain at the horizon, right of the middle, could be Gunung Angsi.

Before we left we took some pictures for the album. Aric is a dragon, I am a monkey, but the Monkey God was too high up, so I stood next to the centipede.

Before we drove back home, we had another assam laksa in Senawang,
Laksa Tempurung. Nicely served in a coconut shell, but for the rest quite mediocre. The dessert, Lin Chee Kang, was nice.

Another nice trip, full of variety.

Solar System Explorers

In this blog I will give updates about three space exploration missions described in earlier posts and report about two new ones.

New Horizons

I will start with New Horizons . In Close Encounter with Pluto I described how this spacecraft had a successful flyby with minor planet Pluto on 14 July 2015 and in an update New Horizons that it was on its way to 2014 MU69  , an object in the Kuiper belt.

A few days ago, on 1 January 2019, it had a flyby of Ultima Thule, as
2014 MU69 has been nicknamed. The distance between Earth and Ultima Thule is at the moment 6.6 billion km, never before has there been a close encounter at such a huge distance! (Distances in the picture are expressed in Astronomical Units, 1 AU = 150 million km)

During the brief flyby, New Horizons collected about 7 gigabytes of data, which in the coming months will be sent back to Earth. Radio signals take more than 6 hours to reach Earth, the 15 Watt transmitter can send ~ 500 bits per second, it may take 20 months.

Here are the first images. Left a vague color image, middle a more detailed black and white one, right the merger of the two, a kind of reddish snowman, size about 31 km. As was already expected, Ultima Thule is a so-called contact binary, it consists of two halves, now dubbed Ultima (the larger one) and Thule.

Mars InSight

A few months ago I wrote a blog Landing on Mars, about the Mars InSight spacecraft. Mission of this spacecraft is to study the interior structure of Mars. It has now deployed the seismometer, to detect Marsquakes.

Next month InSight will start drilling into the surface of Mars.

Hayabusa2

As I reported in my blog Hayabusa2 , it came as a surprise that the surface of asteroid Ryugu was very rough and rocky. Here is a picture of Ryugu’s surface.


The first sampling touchdown, scheduled for October, was postponed until at least the end of this month. The engineers are still studying how to land the spacecraft safely.

The two tiny hopping Minerva rovers are still working correctly and have been renamed Hibou (French for Owl) and Owl. If you are curious about the reason, read this: Naming our MINERVA-II1 rovers 😉 .. Don’t think that scientists have no sense of humor 😉

Osiris Rex

When I wrote my blog about Hayabusa2, I was unaware of another mission to send a spacecraft to an asteroid, collect some material and bring it back to Earth. It is an American one, the Osiris Rex mission. Here is some information:

Launched 8 September 2016 with as destination the asteroid 101955 Bennu. Bennu is even smaller than Ryugu, about 500 m diameter. In December 2018 Osiris Rex reached Bennu and on 31 December it fired its thrusters to go into orbit. It will remain there for the next two years, studying the asteroid and it will try to acquire at least 60 gram of regolith (the surface material of Bennu) in a procedure very similar to Hayabusa’s.

Here is an artist impression of Osiris approaching Bennu, with the sampler horn extended.

And here is an image of Bennu, taken by Osiris.

Planned return date is 24 September 2023.

One aspect of the mission is worth mentioning here. OSIRIS is an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security. Why security? Because Bennu is a potentially hazardous object, it is possible it might hit Earth in the future. Don’t worry, not in our time, but possibly between 2175 and 2199. The uncertainty is there because the orbits of these “small” asteroids are influenced by many factors, for example the disturbing influence of the other planets. But also the effect of heating and cooling by the sun light, the Yarkovsky effect  and it is this effect that Osiris will study. (Forget about this if you find it too complicated… 🙂 )

Chang’e-4

China confirmed its role as global player in space exploration on 3 January 2019, when it landed for the first time in history a spacecraft on the far (“dark”) side of the Moon. The Chang’e 4 was launched on 7 December 2018 and consists of a lander and a rover, the Yutu-2. The set-up and landing procedure were similar to the Mars Pathfinder mission, after a powered descent of the lander to the Moon surface, the rover rolls down a ramp (see my Landing on Mars post).

Here is an image of the Yutu-2, taken by Chang’e 4, just after deployment.

Compared with the missions to Mars and the asteroids, a Moon mission has the advantage that the destination is ~ 384.000 km away from Earth, communication signals take only a bit more than one second. However, for a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon, there is a problem, the Moon itself will block signals to Earth!

China has found an elegant solution for this problem: a separate satellite has been launched, the Queqiao, a few months before the Chang’e 4 launch. This communication satellite is now in a lunar orbit and will transmit the signals of the spacecraft to Earth and vice versa.

Actually the Queqiao is not orbiting the Moon, but orbiting the L2 Lagrange point, about 60.000 km above the far side of the moon. In my blog Where does the Moon come from, I have discussed a bit the concept of Lagrange points, where the gravitational force of Moon and Earth are in balance. Too complicated to explain the details, check Wikipedia for Halo Orbits.

This infographic illustrates the Chang’e mission. The Chang’e 4 has landed in the Aitken basin, near the Moon’s South Pole. This huge impact crater is 2500 km in diameter and 13 km deep !

There is one amusing detail/mistake in this infographic. It looks like the rover has four headlights! Has the creator of the infographic assumed that you needed lights, because this is the dark side of the moon?

I will update this blog when there are new developments.

Taiping again

My third visit in 2018!  This time a bit longer than usual, first three nights in hotel Furama, then two nights in the Nest bungalow up Bukit Larut.

I took the 10:55 ETS train from Sentral and arrived 14:18 in Taiping, where my friends Lay Chun and Bok Kin were waiting for me. We had a late lunch together and chatted a lot about Taiping heritage. As the weather was rainy, they dropped me at my hotel,  and arranged to meet again the next morning.

After some rest, I walked in the evening to the Lake Gardens, to have a look at the second raintree, recently fallen down. Both trees fell down in that part of Jalan Pekeliling (Circular Road) that recently has been closed to traffic and is now called the Raintree Walk. A coincidence?

The trees have become a tourist attraction! Armed with my umbrella I walked to the Larut Matang food court for my dinner. I had popiah’s at the famous Omar Popiah stall (now renamed Jaffan Popiah). Delicious and value for money (RM 0.70 each).

Walking back to my hotel, I passed the floodlit clocktower, now tourism office, which I was planning to visit the next day. 

The next morning I met Dr Indra of the Ceylon Association. We had breakfast together and a look at the renovated Association building, one of the few successful restoration  projects in Taiping. Left the building as it looked in December last year, right the present situation

Since my last visit, a new fence has been erected. The interior still has to be refurnished. 

Nearby (corner of Jalan Taming Sari and Jalan Idris) an example of what unfortunately is more common in Taiping, the skeleton of a ruined building, waiting for its final destruction.

One of the plans I had for this Taiping trip, was to visit the history galleries of two famous Taiping schools, St George’s Institution and the King Edwards VII school.  Here is the beautiful facade of SGI. It is a Lasallian school.

At the school I met Lay Chun and Bok Kin. And Yeap Thean Hock, who had the key of the gallery, because it is not open to the general public.

The gallery was opened in 2015, when SGI  celebrated its centennial. Yeap, who was involved in the creation of the gallery, guided us around. An interesting collection of photographs and memorabilia.

After a char kway teow lunch with my friends in the Peace Hotel, we went to the recently opened Telegraph Museum, another example of a successful restoration.  

Both outside and inside it looks magnificent. The first telegraph lines in Malaya connected Taiping to Port Weld and to Kuala Kangsar, so it is apt that a museum about the history of telegraphy and telecommunications has been established here, in the old Post & Telegraph Office (1885).

I hope the museum will become a success, the collection is well presented but quite technical. And the ticket price is too high, RM 8 (15) for Malaysians (non-Malaysians). Compare that with the National Museum in KL, RM 2 (5) or the Perak Museum in Taiping, RM 2 for everybody.

Around the corner the former Topo and Survey Office (1891), also a few years ago beautifully renovated. It housed the First Galleria until a few years, now a signboard says that it is the Galeri Perbandaran (Town Gallery), it looks empty and closed.

My next stop was the Tourism Office in the Old Clock Tower (1890). During my last visit it was closed “for renovation”, now it was open, a friendly young lady was mopping the floor because it had been raining and the roof was leaking (!).

I asked her if there was a Taiping heritage trail leaflet, she told me that it was out of stock, but she had a tourist map of Taiping. It showed all the traffic lights (!) and had a list of tourist attractions, some of them (13, 14, 17) not existing anymore.

I appreciated her attitude, she can not help it that this “Tourism Office” is pretty useless at the moment and looks more like an antique shop.

I realise that this blog is a bit pessimistic and sombre, I can’t help it. Taiping is still my favourite “second hometown” in Malaysia, but a Bandar Warisan (Heritage Town) , as it proudly promotes itself? I don’t think so. A Town of Past Glory would be a better epithet.

Take for example the Central Market, Malaysia’s best preserved example of a 19th century market building (1884/1885). What will be its future? Hopefully not changed into a Central Market, KL-style!

Of course there is some good news too, like the renovation of the well-known Ipoh Bakery. Here two photos, one earlier this year during the restoration and the final result.

One reason for this Taiping visit was that I wanted to meet my friend ST Lee, living in Singapore but with a keen interest in Taiping Heritage, where he owns a beautifully renovated house in Barrack Road.

I met him, his sister and her friends for a nice dinner at the Chinese Recreation Club (excellent food!) and the next morning for breakfast at my favourite Chee Cheong Fun stall of Mr Tong, together with Yeap Thean Eng.

After our breakfast we went to the King Edwards VII school. Yeap, the president of the Taiping Heritage Society, had warned us already that the history gallery might be closed, because the building where it was housed, was infested by termites.

But I still was shocked by what I saw. Yes, the century old raintrees are still impressive, but the iconic building is locked and cordoned off.

How can this have happened? And what will be done about it? No history gallery, but I was told that there exists one in a different building of King Edwards. Will check during my next visit.

Opposite the school there are a few buildings which are in a much worse condition. Five years ago I have published a blog post, Shame on Taiping, about these buildings, the Town Rest House (1894) and the former Perak Railway Building (1885/1893). Both buildings abandoned and slowly going down the drain.

Here is the Perak Railway Building, later housing various government offices. You can just enter, if you don’t mind meeting an occasional squatter. I explored the buildings this time with my friend Amril and took many pictures. I am planning to write a separate post about these buildings and the Resthouse. I have visited them almost every time I was in Taiping.

And this is the Rest House, in slightly better condition, at least the floor boards are still there.

Incomprehensible that in front of the Resthouse there is still a signboard about the Rest House , one of the “Firsts” of Taiping and part of the Taiping Heritage Trail. What will a tourist think when he follows this trail and sees this building?

Early afternoon Aric arrived from KL, we went to Kamunting for Assam Laksa, one of his favourite dishes, he is always looking for new stalls and collecting the info on his Assam Laksa website. This stall was not very special (pretty awful according to Aric).

We had much better food that evening, with ST Lee and his sister, in vegetarian restaurant Teik Ee, Jalan Tupai.

After the busy days in Taiping, it was time to relax. The next morning we picked up our friends Paul and Fahmi from the station and drove to the jeep station of Bukit Larut. From there with the 4WD to the Nest, where we were warmly welcomed by Suet Fun and Peter. They have really done a wonderful job, I love the colonial atmosphere.

And the food, Suet Fun is a creative cook. It was quite chilly, with occasional rain, we were the only guests that night, and spent the rest of the day doing nothing 😉

Evening view. Left Gunung Bubu, about 20 km away

The next morning I took pictures of some beautiful “creatures of the night”

After breakfast and some droning by Aric, we walked up the hill until the Cottage bungalow, the oldest bungalow of Maxwell Hill, now out of bounds because it is part of the telecom installation.

We were back in time for lunch, where a group of nice ladies had arrived, former school mates of Suet Fun.

In the afternoon we walked down to the “Sixth Mile”, looking forward to a cup of tea in the Cafeteria, but it was closed already. Misty weather, very scenic.

The evening dinner was exquisite and the company pleasant.

The next morning the weather had changed, blue sky, nice views of the plains and the Straits. Compare with the evening picture above.

Aric did some more droning. In this short video you can see how the Nest is surrounded by jungle, with Taiping deep down and far away the coastline.

Reluctantly we had to leave, our jeep was taking us down at 11am. Still enough time to take more pictures. Looking forward already to a next visit.

On our way back to KL, we had lunch in another Assam Laksa stall, near Bukit Gantang. Much better quality!

It was again a very rewarding visit, although it must be clear to the reader that I am rather pessimistic about what is (not) happening in Taiping. The authorities may claim that Taiping is a Bandar Warisan, but I miss a sense of real commitment.

In my April blog I quoted from the Rough Guide (digital version):

Nowadays, bypassed by the North–South Expressway and replaced in administrative importance by Ipoh, Taiping is declining gracefully, its streets lined with tattered architectural mementoes of its glory days.

Maybe I just will accept that, of course it has its own charm.

Landing on Mars

Landing a spacecraft on the planet Mars is not a piece of cake!

After several failed attempts the first successful landing took place in 1976, when two(!) spacecrafts, the Viking 1 and 2, landed safely on the surface of the Red Planet. And a Red Planet it was. Here are the first (color) pictures taken, left by the Viking 1, right by the Viking 2

The next successful landing was more than 20 years later, the Mars Pathfinder in 1997. The lander contained a small separate vehicle, a Mars rover, that could independently explore the surface. Here you see the Sojourner, after it had just rolled down from the Pathfinder. It is a tiny vehicle of 63 x 48 x 28 cm and with a mass of about 12 kg.

The next mission was the Mars Exploration Rover in 2004. Two separate missions actually, landing two rovers on Mars, the Spirit and the Opportunity. Both missions were very successful, the two rovers were planned to operate for 90 Sol’s (a Sol is a Martian solar day), but Spirit remained active until 2010 and Opportunity until June this year. Actually they are still trying to contact Opportunity, hoping it survived the huge dust storm that raged on Mars this year. Check this update for the latest info.

Here is an artist impression of the Opportunity rover. Compared with the Sojourner this is a big boy..:-) , 2.3 x 1.6 x 1.5 m, mass 180 kg. Until the loss of signal on Sol 5111 (June 10, 2018) it had traveled 45.16 km.

Four years later, in 2008, the Phoenix landed on Mars, for the first time a landing in the polar region. It confirmed the existence of water ice on Mars. Here is an artist impression of the Phoenix landing. Mass about 350 kg

In 2012 the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission landed a rover on Mars, the Curiosity, which is still active at the moment. Dimensions 2.9 x 2.7 x 2.2 m. mass 900 kg.

This photo shows the difference in size. In the foreground the Sojourner, left the Opportunity and right the Curiosity.

The last successful landing took place two weeks ago, 26 November 2018, when the InSight lander touched the surface of Mars. Diameter of the lander 1.5 m (without its solar panels), mass 360 kg.

Main mission is to get more information about the interior of the planet. A seismometer will record “marsquakes” and a “drill”  designed to burrow as deep as 5 m, will measure the heat flow from the interior. Here is an artist impression of the lander with the solar panels deployed. Foreground left the seismometer, right the drill.

Here is a map of Mars with the location of the eight successful landings.

More than half of all missions failed, for example the Beagle 2 in 2003 and the Schiaparelli in 2016.  For a full report , see the Wikipedia article Mars Landing.

Why is landing on Mars so difficult and risky?

Let us look in more detail at what is called the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) phase of a  Mars mission. This phase starts when the spacecraft enters the atmosphere of Mars and ends about 6-7 minutes later, when it lands on the surface.

For the MSL (Curiosity) mission in 2012, NASA created a fascinating YouTube video: 7 Minutes of Terror, in which scientists and engineers explain how many things can go wrong in this phase, while they can only watch helplessly. Watch the video, it takes only 5 minutes and gives a better explanation than I can provide here…:-)

But let me try. I will concentrate on the Curiosity lander because until now it is by far the most complicated mission of all.

The atmosphere of Mars is very thin, but the spacecraft enters with a high velocity of about 20.000 km/h and would be destroyed if it was not protected by a heat shield. Here is an artist impression of the so-called aeroshell in which the Curiosity (and all other landers) is safely stowed away. It consists of a backshell and a heat shield.

Here is the aeroshell in the assembly hall. The diameter is 4.5 m. You can see the Curiosity inside the backshell. On top of the backshell is the cruise stage which controls the spacecraft during the cruise from Earth to Mars.

An exploded view of the aeroshell. From left to right the cruise stage, the backshell, the descent stage, the Curiosity rover and the heat shield.

All Mars landing missions have three parts, two of which are basically the same: 1. slowing down by atmospheric friction and  2. further speed reduction by a parachute. You need one more step, because the Martian atmosphere is so thin that a parachute can not reduce the speed to (almost) zero at ground level. One way or another, you need (retro) rocket power for the last part

When the spacecraft is a lander, the “easiest” way is to provide it with retro-rockets. After the lander detaches from the backshell, it will unfold its legs and use its rockets to land. See the picture above of the Phoenix. The InSight used the same solution. Here is a picture of the InSight landing.

Rovers have to move around, so it doesn’t make sense to burden them  with the extra weight of these rockets. That’s why for the Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity another solution was developed. Put the retro-rockets in the backshell, lower the rover on a tether connected to the backshell,  protect it with airbags(!), use the rockets until almost zero speed, then drop the rover. Here is a collage of what it would look like for a Martian observer. Left, the airbags are already inflated, the rover is still hanging under the backshell, which is retro-firing. Middle, the rover has touched the surface but is still bouncing many times, before it comes to rest (right). Then the airbags will deflate and the rover is ready for action. Here is an animation of the landing of the Spirit rover.

The Curiosity is too heavy and voluminous for this airbag technique, so a spectacular new (and expensive) solution was developed. A sky crane!

Here is  a schematic view of the EDL process for the Curiosity. The first phase, atmospheric braking, looks normal, but there is a difference. Before the aeroshell enters the atmosphere at an altitude of 125 km, with a velocity of 20.000 km/h,  some mass is ejected one sided (“Cruise Balance Device Separation”). The resulting “unbalance” has as effect that the aeroshell will not move ballistically (like a projectile) but can be “steered” a bit through the atmosphere. The Martian atmosphere has turbulence,  storms, pressure differences etc, affecting the trajectory of the aeroshell, resulting in a considerable uncertainty in the final landing location.  The “hypersonic aero-maneuvering” reduces this uncertainty, important for Curiosity which had to land close to the rim of  the Gale crater.

At an altitude of 10 km from the ground, when the velocity is about 1500 km/h, a huge parachute (diameter 17 m!) is deployed, slowing down the aeroshell further. The heat shield is ejected 20 seconds later. From that moment,  using radar, the exact altitude can be measured, and the precise time when the descent stage & rover have to detach from the backshell. The descent stage starts firing the retro-rockets, first to move horizontally away from the backshell and the parachute. Meanwhile the rover is lowered 7.5 m  on cables, it deploys its wheels, while still connected through an “umbilical cord with the descent stage. Here is an artist impression.

                                                                                                                                             As soon as the rover touches the ground, the connecting cables are cut and the descent stage will fly up and away, to crash a few hundred meters from the rover

Curiosity has landed!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       All this  (and numerous details I have skipped) must happen  in less than 7 minutes. Seven minutes of terror, because everything is automatic. If something goes wrong, nobody can do anything. Besides, the radio signals back to Earth take about 14 minutes, so, when Mission Control gets the message that the spacecraft has entered the atmosphere, it has actually already landed (or crashed….) Here is an animation of the Curiosity landing. Spectacular.

Compared with the Curiosity mission, the landing of InSight was a lot simpler, basically the same as the Phoenix in 2008. The mission of InSight is to study the interior of Mars, the precise landing location is less important, as long as the surface is flat. Therefore no “guided entry” through the atmosphere was needed. The InSight is also much lighter (360 kg)  than the Curiosity (900 kg), so it was decided to provide the lander itself with rockets.

Although the EDL phase for the InSight was 6 minutes,  the catchy description “7 Minutes of Terror” was again used in the media  for this mission…:-) The BBC:    Nasa’s Mars InSight mission heads for ‘7 minutes of terror’

Of course it is still a major technological achievement! NASA published a very good explanation of InSight’s EDL phase:  InSight landing on Mars .

Here are three pictures taken by the InSight. The lander has two cameras, the Instrument Context Camera is a fisheye camera, mounted underneath the lander deck. In the first picture (left), taken a few minutes after landing, the lens is still protected by a transparent cover, because of the dust whirled up by the rockets. In the right picture the cover has been removed. and as you can see, still a lot of dust has managed to crawl under the cover and stick to the lens. Unfortunate, although the images will still be usable.

The second camera is mounted on a robotic arm, Here is a superb picture taken by this camera. The scientist are very happy with the sandy, rock-free location. The reddish box is the seismometer which later will be deployed after the best location has been determined.

The latest news about the InSight mission can be found here

 

A meeting of pensionados

In 1976 I started teaching physics at the Snellius school in Amstelveen. I was 32 year old and had just graduated from the Free University in Amsterdam. Left I am defending my thesis, right I am teaching my students, in a different outfit. And yes, my hair was long..:-)

Here is a photo of the school team in 1990-91. After a merger with other public secondary schools in Amstelveen, the school was renamed Nieuwer Amstel school. I am wearing contact lenses and have less hair.

Two years later. Can you find me?

This photo is from 1995-1996. I am wearing a brown jacket.

The next year, 1996-97, was my last regular teaching  year.  Here is my last “Lerarenagenda”, I still have the complete collection 🙂

The following years, until 2002, I worked part-time at my own alma mater, the Free University, on education-related topics. In 2002, at the age of 58, I became a full-time pensionado..:-)

So, it is more than 20 years ago that I was in daily contact with my colleagues, although several of them have become friends, whom I meet regularly when I am back in the Netherlands.

One of them told me in May that there was a plan to organise a reunion of pensionados, who had retired from one of the schools which now, after another merger, form the Amstelveen College.

The date proposed was 5 October, and I was so eager to attend this reunion that I decided to prolong my yearly visit to the Netherlands a few weeks…:-)

In the afternoon of 5 October I went to the Amstelveen College, the old Snellius school building has been demolished quite a few years ago.

The meeting of pensionados was well organised. About sixty of them were present, basically from the schools that had merged into the Amstelveen College, but more than half of them had been working at the Snellius, so there were many familiar faces and fortunately in almost all cases I still could remember their name 🙂

There was a short introduction about the present status of the Amstelveen College.

But of course the main interest of the attendees was social, meeting former colleagues and chatting about their shared past.

Left three colleagues who were already working for many years at the Snellius, when I arrived in 1976. The right picture shows me with a few colleagues of the former Casimir school, in the past the rival public school in Amstelveen.

It was a pity that there was no “official” photographer. In between conversations with former colleagues, I managed to take some pictures but they are not representative for the group. Here are my pictures.

During the meeting old photos , taken in the period 1976 to 1988, were shown on a big screen. They belong to the collection of Dick Vader, who worked at the Snellius during the 70s and 80s and who was (and still is) an avid photographer.

He has given me permission to use these photos and below you will find a  selection, with persons who also appear in the color pictures above. It will be an interesting exercise to compare the two sets and find out the corresponding images…:-)

I have cropped most photos to show only one specific person.

Because most attendees were busy chatting with each other, many of them may not have paid full attention to the photo presentation of more than 500 photos.

That’s why I have put a representative selection of these photos in a separate album Snellius 1976-1987 (text in Dutch)

It was a very successful meeting, worthy of a repeat.

 

Versatile Perak

In my opinion Perak is the most interesting state of Malaysia, regarding nature, culture and history. A rich history, many historical towns , numerous waterfalls. Nice food too..:-)

Recently I visited Perak with my friends Paul and Fahmi. We stayed two nights in the Cititel hotel in Ipoh.

On our way to Ipoh we first visited a waterfall near Sungkai, the Enggang waterfall. At the end of the road leading to the well-known Sungkai Hot springs, a clear trail starts, leading in about one hour to the waterfall.

The waterfall is not visible from the trail, but of course you can hear it.  We first arrived halfway the fall  (left picture). After some scrambling down the slope we managed to reach the bottom. (right picture)

We had visited this waterfall a couple of years ago. Not many people come here, the fall is still pristine! And the flow of water was very impressive this time.

After lunch in Sungkai, we continued to Ipoh, checked in into our hotel, took some rest and went out for dinner. Many times I have eaten in one of the famous chicken taugeh kwai teow places, but this time we were looking for halal food and an Ipoh friend had suggested a few suitable restaurants. The Ipoh Hainan Chicken Rice turned out to be a good choice.

On our way back to our hotel, we passed a few interesting buildings. Left the Chua Cheng Bok building (1930s) in Art Deco style, recently painted in bright blue colors. Would you guess that the beautiful building in the right picture originally has been a Fire Station? It was built here in 1913 and upgraded in 1936. Served as Fire and Rescue Department until 1992.

For our breakfast next morning we went to the Halal Dimsum Cafe in Greentown another suggestion from my Ipoh friend. Very good dimsum!

On our program for the morning was another waterfall, the Lata Ulu Chepor, on the outskirts of Ipoh. It was a bit of  failure, I had forgotten to mark the locations of the two (minor) falls in my GPS, and we passed them without noticing them. The trail continued, might lead to a taller waterfall upstream, but we returned, found a nice place to have a bath. Crystal clear water.

I

I had in mind to visit another waterfall in the same region, but this hike had taken quite a lot of time, so we decided to skip it and go for lunch. Nasi Ganja! Using Google we had found the address. When we arrived there, we noticed a big crowd queuing, but no sign of Nasi Ganja. It turned out that this was the shop, all Ipoh people know it as nasi ganja, but the shop can not advertise with the name as ganja is an illegal drug. . Nice nasi kandar, apparently addictive…:-)

In the afternoon Paul and I explored Ipoh Old Town. Paul had published an album about Ipoh Heritage, so he could show me around. We started from our strategically located hotel.

Around the corner St Michael’s Institution, one of the famous  Ipoh schools, founded by the La Salle Brothers in 1912. The impressive building is from 1922.

Next to it the India Muslim Mosque. Construction started in 1909

Below left the entrance of the Royal Ipoh Club, records go back to 1895, but it may be even older. Right the High Court buildings, designed by Arthur Benison Hubback and built 1926-28.

Two other impressive buildings in Ipoh have also been designed by Hubback. Construction of the Town Hall started in 1914 and was completed two years later. Is is really a monumental building.

Opposite the Town Hall, the Railway Station, nicknamed the Taj Mahal of Ipoh by locals. Officially opened in 1917. The first floor used to be a hotel, the Majestic Station Hotel, and many years ago I have been staying there several times. It was already rundown at that time, dirty sheets, cockroaches. Now it is closed, although there still exists a website , promoting its  “superbly-comfortable accommodation”  !

Coming from the Railway Station, the Birch memorial is located behind the Town Hall. J.W.W. Birch was the first British resident of Perak, assassinated in 1875 at Pasir Salak by Malay noblemen, Dato Maharaja Lela and Dato Sagor.

The monument, also a clock tower, was erected in 1909 by his son, E.W. Birch, at that time the (much more popular) resident of Perak. Nice detail: the roads left and right of the monument were originally named Station Road and Post Office Road. After independence they have been renamed. The new names? Jalan Dato Maharajalela and Jalan Dato Sagor !

Another interesting detail. On  four civilisation panels around the tower, 44 famous figures in the world history are portrayed, for example Buddha, Newton, Confucius, Galilei etc. One of the figures  has been painted over. Guess who…:-)

Two bank buildings. Left the impressive building of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank (1931), right the Chartered Bank (1924)

There are more historical bank buildings in the same district, for example the Mercantile Bank (1931) , designed in Art Deco style by Iversen.Now it is housing the Elken company, note the ugly banner on the facade. The OCBC bank is now occupying the building of the Straits Trading Company (1907).

The Perak Hydro building (1930s) belonged to the Perak River Hydro-Electric Company who built the Chenderoh dam in the Perak river, the oldest reservoir in Malaysia

Chung Thye Phin was born in Taiping and became a wealthy tin miner and (the last) Kapitan Cina. The building below carried his name and was built in 1907. In its early days it used to be a medical hall. Beautiful facade.

Walking around in Ipoh Old Town, I was surprised about the numerous interesting heritage buildings. Generally well preserved.

At first I thought that this could be the exception: overgrown decaying shoplots. But I was mistaken…:-)

Actually it is part of Kong Heng square. Not overgrown, but modern vertical gardens..:-), The first floor houses  Sekeping Kong Heng , will try to stay there during my next visit

Three more buildings. Left the Han Chin Pet Soo building, now housing the Hakka tin mining museum. Originally the home of the Hakka Tin Miners Club, founded in 1893 and rebuilt in 1929. In the middle a nameless house, under renovation. And right the building of the FMS Bar and Restaurant, an icon from Ipoh’s glorious past. A couple of years ago it was hoped that the glory would come back after a ambitious restoration. But during my visit it was closed without a sign of life. A failed project?

And here are two more buildings from a different era. Left the Labrooy House, modernist design, completed between 1960 and 1961. Right from the same period, the first parking garage of Malaysia!

Finally here are two street views of Leech Street (now Jalan Bandar Timah). Beautiful. Followers of my blog know that I love Taiping as my 2nd hometown. Pity you can not find similar street views in Taiping 🙁

To be honest, I was very impressed by the heritage of Ipoh Old Town. Taiping’s history starts earlier, it boasts on its many “Firsts” and is promoted as Bandar Warisan (Heritage Town), but when you compare the two towns, Ipoh deserves this title more.

Of course I had to walk through Concubine Lane. After reading negative reports about how tourism had destroyed the character of this street,  I was prepared for the worst. Actually it was not too bad, not worse than Petaling Street in KL…:-)

Two year ago I visited Ipoh to see the Zacharevic murals, see my blog Ipoh Murals. Mural Art has been mushrooming all over Malaysia the last few years and also in Ipoh there has been copycatting. Not  really a positive development.

We had dinner our last night in another Chinese Muslim restaurant, this time Fahmi’s discovery. Roast duck, Mongolian chicken, bitter gourd with salted egg. A nice, filling meal!

The next morning, before checking out,  a view from my room in Cititel.

We had breakfast in the Medan Selera near the BIrch memorial with soft-boiled eggs on toast, an Ipoh specialty. Yummie!

Our plan was to visit the Hakka Tin mining museum in the Han Chin Pet Soo building, but they have only guided tours and the timing was not suitable for us. So we started our trip back to KL.

Our first stop was at the Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge. I have visited this gargantuan relic from the tin mining era several times in the past, was able to explore the dredge freely, climbing up to the upper level, sometimes  bit scary, but fascinating. Since a few years the situation has changed, there were plans to make it a No 1 tourist attraction and it was closed, you could only see it from the outside.

Friends had told me that it was now open to the public, and I wanted to have a look. I was a bit shocked by the ticket price, RM 10 for Mykad holders, RM 20 (!) for foreigners. Senior citizens get a 50 % discount, but still too expensive, as at the moment only the (less interesting) lower level is accessible. Although the guided tour was informative, better wait until the whole dredge can be visited.

Left the ambitious development plan for the Tanjung Tualang dredge. Rather unrealistic and completely over the top, in my opinion. Right a simpler version. I got the impression from our guide that the project has been put on hold after the recent change in government. Good, the dredge itself can become a tourist attraction, like Kellie’s castle, no need  to surround it with all kind of nonsense.

During my earlier visits the dredge pontoon was tilting because of leakage, that has been stabilised now. Right a small canteen, closed when we visited the dredge, but probably more busy during weekends. There is also  small museum.

Our next target was the Salu waterfall, 6 km north of Kampar. Easy access, two waterfalls. Suitable for senior citizens..:-)

From the carpark a cemented path leads in a few minutes to the lower Salu fall. 

The upper fall can be reached in about 15 minutes via a clear trail. There are more waterfalls upstream, but these require jungle  trekking.

Our last destination was the Tin Mining museum in Kampar. Until a few weeks ago I had never heard about this museum, but apparently it exists already for seven years! It was a pleasant surprise.

As the signboard says, it is mainly dedicated to open tin mining, using gravel pumps.Here is an interesting pdf file about Gravel Pump Tin Mining. Impressive machinery, I understand there are guided tours, which would really have been useful here.

Besides the machinery, there is a big hall with lots of information. A few scale models of tin mines give  a good impression of the process.

Both inside and outside the halls dioramas have been created of the various activities related to tin mining. Also here a guide would be useful, or leaflets with information.

After our museum visit we had lunch in the mamak next to it, and then it was time to go home.

Versatile Perak!

Hayabusa2

In 2014 I have published several posts about Rosetta, the spacecraft that has explored the comet 67P. Click here for my reports. I am very interested in these Close Encounters between spacecraft and celestial bodies. Here is a new one, the Japanese Hayabusa mission. Actually there are two Hayabusa spacecrafts, the first one was launched in 2003, the second one in 2014.

Their mission was basically the same: Fly to an asteroid,  land on it, collect some asteroid material, then fly back to Earth to deliver the collected material.  An ambitious project!

Hayabusa was the first spacecraft ever that has landed on an asteroid and returned to earth with some asteroid material. Not as much as was hoped for, because the mission encountered quite a few technical problems. Therefore a second, improved Hayabusa2 spacecraft, was designed and launched on 3 December 2014.

Here is an artist impression of the Hayabusa2. The boxlike spacecraft has dimensions of 1 x 1.6 x 1.25 m and a mass of 609 kg

Destination? A tiny asteroid, 1999 JU3.. In an earlier post I have explained the complicated naming of the minor planets. The J stands for the first half of May, U stands for 20 and the subscript 3 means 3×25. So this asteroid was the 95th minor planet, discovered in the first half of May 1999. This provisional name is replaced by a number and sometimes a name, in this case 162173 Ryugu. It is the 162173th minor planet and the name has been suggested by JAXA, the Japanese counterpart of NASA.

Here is the route followed by Hayabusa2 to Ryugu.The Earth orbit in blue, Ryugu in green and the Hayabusa2 in purple.

It reached the asteroid, 3.5 year after the launch,  on 27 June 2018, . One day earlier it took this picture of Ryugu, from a distance of about 40 km

Properties of Ryugu:  not really spherical, diamond-shaped, a diameter of ~ 900 m and a rotation period  of 7.6 hours. The gravitation at its surface is about 80.000 times smaller than on Earth!

Until December 2019 Hayabusa2 will stay near Ryugu, at a distance of 20 km (HP, home position), where the gravitational attraction of the asteroid is almost nothing.  From there it will investigate the properties of the asteroid and several times it will descend for a short time to the asteroid.

On 20 September the spacecraft started a slow, controlled descent and one day later, 55 m above the surface of Ryugu, it dropped two Minerva rovers. While they were falling down to the surface, Hayabusa2 ascended to HP. Both rovers are working correctly, a huge relief for the scientist,  They are really tiny, diameter 18cm, height 7 cm, mass 1.1 kg Here is an artist impression.

Both rovers have multiple cameras and temperature sensors on board They can move around by “hopping” and do this autonomously! Wheels like for example the Mars rover has, would not work in this low gravity world.  One hop can take 15 minutes and move the rover horizontally ~15 m.

This is a picture of the Ryugu surface, taken by  one of the rovers.The scientists are surprised that the surface is so rough.

On 3 October, the spacecraft descended again to Ryugu, to drop the MASCOT lander, developed by the German and French space agencies. A bit larger and heavier, size of a shoebox, mass ~10 kg. Contains cameras and various scientific instruments. No solar cells like the two rovers, but battery operated, able to provide power during 16 hours. Also able to hop, like the rovers.

This is an artist impression of the MASCOT, leaving its container in Hayabusa2.

During the descent, Hayabusa2 was able to follow the lander. The yellow line is the actual path, the blue line is the projection on Ryugu’s surface. The times are given as “hhmmss”. After it hits the surface, it bounced several times. During the last part (straight blue line),no pictures were taken. The location 02:14:04 is the final landing place. The separate location 00:55:09 +1 is taken one day later and proves that MASCOT has managed to hop. The shadow is from Hayabusa2

Here are two images taken by MASCOT itself. Left while descending to the surface and yes, that is its own shadow top right. Right after landing, again showing a very rough surface.

After the successful landing, MASCOT started to use its scientific instruments (spectrometer, magnetometer and radiometer) and sent the data back to Hayabusa2 within the limited timespan of 16 hours. Actually the batteries lasted one hour more, a bonus. It hopped two times.

Until now the mission has been very successful: two rovers and one lander have touched an asteroid for the first time in history!

What will be next? The main mission is to collect material from Ryugu and bring it back to Earth. How to do that? Here is a schematic view of Hayabusa2. Notice the .Sampler Horn at the bottom

This is the procedure: the Hayabusa2 will descend very slowly to the asteroid until the horn touches the surface. Then a small (5g) bullet will be fired inside the horn, hit the surface at high speed and surface particles will fly up and be collected at the top of the horn. Hopefully at least 0.1 gram, maximum 10 gram. This will be done at two different locations.

The third and last one is quite spectacular, an attempt to collect material below the surface. Here is another view of the bottom of the spacecraft. Next to the horn you see the Small Carry-on Impactor.

It is an explosive device, meant to create a crater in Ryugu, so that Hayabusa2 can collect the debris. Here is how it works . The explosive will deform the copper shield (2.5 kg) into a projectile, that will hit the surface at a speed of 2 km/s, creating a crater with a diameter of several meters

By the way,  this is where the idea may have come from…:-)

The explosion must of course not damage Hayabusa2 itself! The  scientists have found this spectacular solution:

  1. Hayabusa2 approaches the surface of Ryugu.
  2. It releases the bomb and also a camera.
  3. Then it moves up and sideward to hide itself behind the asteroid!
  4. The bomb explodes and creates a crater.
  5. The camera takes images and sends them to Hayabusa2.
  6. Hayabusa2 appears again and descends above the crater.
  7. The horn will collect debris of the explosion

Here is an artist impression, where Hayabusa2 is descending above the newly formed crater.

The first touchdown of the spacecraft itself was planned for end October, but it has been postponed until January 2019.

Why?

Because the surface of Ryugu is much rougher than expected!

The horn of Hayabusa2 extends about 1 m, therefore the touchdown area should not have rocks higher than 50 cm. The touchdown area must also have a diameter of at least 100 m because of navigational accuracy.

Such a location could not be found on Ryugu!. Below is the one finally chosen (red circle) free of rocks, but ONLY 20 m in diameter!

There is also some good news. The earlier launching of the rovers and the MASCOT showed that navigation (with laser range finders) could be done more accurately (within 10 m), at least until the altitude of 50 m above the surface.

In the next weeks, two rehearsals will be performed, going lower, to find out whether tis accuracy can be maintained until touchdown.

The first real touchdown is now planned for January next year. There is enough time because Hayabusa2 will stay at Ryugu until December 2019.

All this is happening at about 300 million km away from Earth. Amazing. Keep in mind that communication between Earth and the spacecraft takes about 15 minutes, one way!

The German Space Agency has published a very instructive YouTube video, illustrating what I have tried to explain in this blog. Not only about the MASCOT lander as the title suggests.  Worth viewing more than one time!

If more news becomes available I will write an update