ME and Ophelia

Thursday, December 25, 2003

With Ophelia, ME and I

After eating lunch at 2.30 pm, I watched the Queen's Christmas speech on television. Yesterday, inbetween blogging, surfing and talking on the phone, I dropped a gift (out of the window!) to a passing neighbour, had one visitor and watched a TV remake of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. Can't understand why big money is spent on messing with first class classic film. Remakes are invariably disappointing. Having followed Pop Idol on TV, I'll look probably look in on the World Idol TV special tonight.

This morning we awoke late at 8 am. It felt a little different than most mornings. Wished Ophelia a happy Christmas and gave her a kiss and a cuddle. She didn't know what I was talking about. Felt remote. Hard to get going. Heart wasn't in things. Missed people. Felt tearful for a few minutes. So, ate some mint chocolate for breakfast and opened eight lovely gifts. Ophelia was frightened of her new toy balls as they had bells inside. Anyone would think I'd hit her, the way she looked at me and ran away as I tried to show how her gifts worked. She liked the fishy treats.

Received three phone calls and four nice emails, blogged about Beagle and left some comments at some blogs. Made three calls yesterday and one today. Felt very ill. The whole business of Christmas entails so much physical and mental activity it just ends up making one feel worse, no matter how restful or quiet it is. Watched church services on TV, including a lovely programme filmed in Bethlehem, showing the exact spot where Jesus was born. Weather was mild. Had windows open. Nobody was around.

My brother is visiting here later on today, with his two teenage children, around 6pm. Looking forward to it as my niece is 16 and she is going to love the glam box of Estee Lauder' White Linen perfumed body lotion that I have under the tree for her, along with a huge and beautiful book on the art and life of Gauguin, plus Book 3 of Delia Smith's Cookery Course. I have books and other goodies for my 13 year old nephew, which he won't be very thrilled with. No mountain bike things or computer games. Wanted to buy him a wrist watch for Christmas but I am giving him money so my brother takes him shopping to choose one that he really likes. It will be a good outing for them as they like shopping together in the after-Christmas sales. I've had fresh milk delivered so they can have hot cocoa. Forgot marshmallows. They'll have eaten, twice probably, before arriving but I'm prepared - incase my nephew (who is 13 and a walking food disposal) is hungry. Turkey sandwiches with lettuce and mayonnaise, maybe cucumber with tomatoes. Plenty of nibbly goodies and chocolates.

Was just about to watch Charles Dickens' Oliver film on TV but it is a musical and not the same heartstring-pulling version as the old black and white - so I'm here instead and about to go visiting blogs. Bye for now.

Mars signal from Beagle now expected in 13 hours time

Scientists have failed to pick up an expected signal from British-built spacecraft Beagle 2 telling them it has landed safely on Mars.

The £35m probe should have landed at 0254 GMT on Christmas Day after a 400 million kilometre, six-month flight. Nasa's Mars Odyssey orbiter has since flown over its landing site but failed to detect the expected call sign.

The giant Jodrell Bank telescope, in Cheshire, UK, will come on line at about 2200GMT to listen for signals. Scientists are confident that sweep will pick up a signal from Beagle 2 - if it has made it to the planet surface in one piece and is functioning as expected.

If that option fails, the Nasa spacecraft will have a daily chance to pick up the signal until 3 January, when Europe's Mars Express craft - the mother ship now orbiting the planet - begins its mission.

However, if nothing has been received by the end of 26 December, hopes for Beagle 2 will start to fade. The probe must recharge its batteries on the day it lands or it will not survive the first night on Mars.

Speaking at the Open University's offices in Camden, north London, Beagle's lead scientist, Professor Colin Pillinger, told reporters: "I'm afraid it's a bit disappointing - but it's not the end of the world. Please don't go away from here believing we've lost the spacecraft".

Mike Healey from Beagle 2's constructor Astrium UK said he had not contemplated a "negative scenario. It really should have been able to communicate with Odyssey this morning. But it could have landed in the wrong place or it may not have opened successfully, and the aerial may be pointing in the wrong direction".

He also said there was a "small possibility" Beagle 2 was not able to communicate properly with Odyssey, as it had originally been designed to communicate with Mars Express at this stage. Beagle 2's plunge through the thin atmosphere of Mars, slowed by parachutes and cushioned by airbags, is the most dangerous part of the mission.

The worst case scenario is that Beagle has crashed and is lying in fragments strewn across the Martian surface. But another member of the Beagle team, Ian Wright from Open University, said there was "no point contemplating that one at the moment. There are still plenty of things to try," he said. If successful, Beagle 2 will embark on a 180-day mission to search for signs of life.

The one piece of good news early on Christmas morning was Mars Express, in another high-risk manoeuvre, successfully entering into orbit around the planet. The craft will send back 3-D pictures of the surface and scan for underground water with a powerful radar.

But the historical odds of success for Beagle 2's mission are low. Despite more than 30 missions launched to the Red Planet since the 1960s, only three landers have ever reached the Martian surface successfully.

All of these were costly American missions, unlike Beagle 2, which was put together in record time and on a shoestring budget.
_ _ _

At Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK

This web page will be updated over the Christmas period to provide a diary of the observations made at the Jodrell Bank Observatory of the Beagle 2 lander:

Beagle 2 is scheduled to land on Mars at 2:54 am on Christmas morning.

An attempt will be made to establish communications with the lander at about 5 am through an orbiting spacecraft called Mars Odyssey.

At 7:15 am, our time, the Sun will set on Beagle 2 and it will spend its first night on the surface until sunrise at at just after 8pm our time.

At 10:40 pm it will begin to transmit an on/off sequence each minute - like very slow Morse Code - and about nearly 9 minutes later the signals should reach Earth after a journey of 98 million miles.

The transmitter power, at 5 watts, is little more than that of a mobile phone, but we have installed what is probably the most sensitive receiver ever built at the Beagle 2 frequency on the 76m Lovell Telescope.

It is incorporating two new filters made of high temperature superconducting material to remove interference from terrestrial signals whilst allowing the very weak Beagle 2 signal to pass undimished. These have been especially made for us by the Emerging Device Technology Research Centre of the University of Birmingham.

A graphical display will allow us to observe the band where we expect to receive the Beagle 2 signal and hopefully show its presence soon after the signals are expected to arrive.

Assuming that the signal strength is close to what is expected, a positive confirmation could come soon after, but more analysis of the data may be required if only a very weak signal is present. This might, for example, be a result of the lander being on its side so the signal transmitted to Earth is less than we expect.

Two further communication sessions are programmed for 11:20 pm on Boxing Day and at 11:16 pm on the 27th December.

Christmas greetings everyone. Best of luck to all involved with Beagle and the Jodrell Bank Observatory. Thinking of you.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 12/25/2003
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