Happy Birthday, Hubble Space Telescope!

The Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit for 22 years today, and to celebrate, NASA has released this awesome image of the Tarantula Nebula, also known by its less romantic scientific name of 30 Doradus.

A nebula is a massive cloud of gas and dust in which some areas are coalescing and igniting into stars. The Tarantula Nebula is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy orbiting our own Milky Way galaxy. The light comes from thousands of stars in its center that illuminate the clouds and filaments around them.

In addition to being one of the most groundbreaking scientific instruments of the late twentieth century, Hubble is a team player. This image is a composite from the Hubble and two other space telescopes: Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope, an infrared instrument my super-cool astronomer wife uses. NASA says:

“The Hubble data in the composite image, colored green, reveals the light from these massive stars along with different stages of star birth, including embryonic stars a few thousand years old still wrapped in cocoons of dark gas. Infrared emission data from Spitzer, seen in red, shows cooler gas and dust that have giant bubbles carved into them. These bubbles are sculpted by the same searing radiation and strong winds that comes from the massive stars at the center of 30 Doradus.”

Happy Birthday, Hubble!

Photo courtesy NASA. To see the image in its full 3000-pixel glory, click here.

Free airport WiFi for Nintendo 3DS users from Boingo Wireless

Boingo Wireless and Nintendo have teamed up to bring Nintendo 3DS owners free airport WiFi access in 42 airports across the United States, including Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK, and Houston George Bush Intercontinental.

The Nintendo 3DS is already a great travel companion, with its open-source Internet browser and built-in camera, not to mention a catalog of hundreds of addictive games featuring real 3D graphics. This new feature is one of several included in a system update that became available for download yesterday.

“Nintendo 3DS is our most connected device ever, and this agreement will allow people to stay entertained while they’re on the go,” said Zach Fountain, Nintendo of America’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. “Whether it’s accessing special offers and content, downloading items from the Nintendo eShop, receiving surprise SpotPass content, or automatically receiving 3D videos from the Nintendo Video service, there have never been more reasons to connect.”

Free airport WiFi from Boingo will also include access to Nintendo’s SpotPass feature, which allows the system to detect wireless hotspots and download special content from Nintendo, including exclusive promotions, 3D videos, and add-on game content.

Boingo manages wireless access in more than 400,000 locations around the world, including airports, hotel chains, cafes, restaurants, convention centers, and metropolitan hot zones. Their service generally costs $7.95 per 24 hour period in the United States, with monthly unlimited plans starting at $9.95.

Amazing photographic animation of Cassini’s Saturn flyby

The Cassini unmanned probe to Saturn has been a resounding success. A joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency, it’s been studying the ringed planet since 2004. Cassini has been sending back detailed images of Saturn, its rings, and its moons and expanding our knowledge of the solar system.

Check out this amazing video made up of hundreds of thousands of Cassini photographs put one after another to recreate the flyby. There’s no CGI, no trick photography, these are all real images that, as the folks over at Tecca point out, are every bit as good as anything Hollywood can create us. This film is actually a preview of an IMAX feature currently under production by the nonprofit Outside In.

Before it got to Saturn, Cassini also flew past Venus, an asteroid, and Jupiter. I’m hoping those images will be in the movie too.

While I’m not going to be putting on my backpack and heading to Saturn anytime soon, images like this get me in the mood to travel. It’s that sense of exploration, learning about the unknown, that drives us to reach into space and see what’s out there. Cassini may be just an unmanned probe, but through the images it sends back we can all travel with it.

Product review – Professor Layton and the Curious Village (for Nintendo DS)

Regular readers of my reviews will know that I take the scope of “travel gadgets” pretty liberally.

In the past, I’ve looked at an inkjet printer, and various Bluetooth headphones.

My product review for today is another of those things that may not appear to be directly travel related, but I’ll try my best to explain why I think you could benefit from it on the road.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a game designed for the Nintendo DS and DSi portable gaming console. The game revolves around the adventures of Professor Layton in search of “the Golden Apple”.

Now, there are literally thousands of video games out there, so why did I feel this one was worthy of its own review here on Gadling, and why didn’t I just leave the game reviews to our friends at Joystiq?

Well, there are several reasons. The most important is of course that the game is just good clean fun. There is no shooting, no ripping the heads off zombies, and no complicated combination of keys to punch your opponents in the face.

Instead, the game is built around loads of puzzles and brain teasers. Some of them should be no problem for us travelers, as they involve following directions and reading maps.

The game pace is nice and calm, making it perfect for killing some time at the airport or on a flight, and since the Nintendo DS can be put to “sleep” just by closing it, you won’t be slaughtered by aliens when you need to get up and use the bathroom, you can simply put it aside, and continue where you left off. Battery life is also great for travel, at around 19 hours non stop fun.

As I said – the puzzles are a ton of fun, some will take you a couple of seconds to figure out, others will drive you insane while you try and figure them out.

I am by no means a gamer, and most games annoy me since I usually die in the first 3 minutes, but Professor Layton and the Curious Village has me hooked, and I’m finding myself bringing the Nintendo DS everywhere I go, and playing some more when I can.

The combination of a challenging game with a very travel friendly game console is fantastic, and I am already dreading the moment when I finish this game, because it means I’ll have to find more games to play! In addition to games, the Nintendo DS can also be used as a language coach when you add one of the 5 language games to it.

The game is available from all video game retailers, and costs $29.95. If you don’t yet own a Nintendo DS, you can pick one up for $129.99, or the new Nintendo DSi with a larger screen and a camera for $169.99. If you’d like to take the game for a spin, check out the Professor Layton web site, where you can play a demo.

Daily deal – Nintendo DS Lite – Pink ribbon edition for $99.95

UPDATE: Sorry, the deal is already over.

My daily deal for today is for the Nintendo DS Lite (Limited Edition Pink Ribbon edition). This portable gaming console usually retails for $129, but if you select the limited edition version at Amazon.com, you can pick one up for just $99.95.

I’ve carried a Nintendo DS Lite for for quite some time when I travel, and it is the perfect way to kill a couple of hours in the air (or on the ground if you are unlucky). I’ve always found that the battery life of the DS Lite is more than enough for several hours of non stop gaming, and the standard headphone jack means you can plug in your (noise canceling) headphones and play in peace and quiet.

Of course, the unit does not come with any games, so expect to invest some more to pick up games. When you click the link to Amazon, be sure to select the “Limited Edition Pink Ribbon” version, or you will not see the low price.