Readers!

I want to thank all of you for your generous support during July's anniversary fund-raiser. I would thank you each individually but there are simply too many of you. Your donations and subscriptions will help me keep Behind the Black alive and kicking for at least another year.

 

Scroll down for new updates.

NASA extends Hubble contract through 2021

NASA has extended its contract with Lockheed Martin for the operation of the Hubble Space Telescope until June 2021.

This contract is for non-science operations. Science operations are controlled by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Note that when the last repair mission to Hubble took place in 2009, they expected it to add five years to the telescope’s life. This contract says they now expect it to last at least until 2021, which will also be 31 years after its launch and almost forty years since its actual construction. Not a bad track record when you think about it, especially since its original mission was set at 15 years, ending in 2005.

Iran to launch three satellites

What, me worry? Iran has announced it will attempt to launch three satellites into orbit within the next year.

These rockets are closely linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program, so their increased skill at putting satellites into orbit also means they have refined their ability to launch missiles to any point on the globe. The response of the Obama administration?

Asked about the reports on Tuesday, a State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon that it will not take a position on the launch before it has occurred. “We’re not going to speculate on the specifics of something that hasn’t happened yet,” the spokesman said. “Our longstanding concerns regarding Iran’s ballistic missile development efforts remain, and are shared by the international community.”

“If there are specific launches or other actions that are inconsistent with any relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, we will address them through the appropriate channels,” the spokesman continued. “And we will continue to work with our partners, and take any necessary unilateral actions, to counter ongoing threats from Iran’s ballistic missile program.”

That’s telling ’em!

Social Security paid $1.7 million to dead federal workers

Government in action! An audit of Social Security has discovered that the agency paid $1.7 million to dead federal workers.

An audit released by the agency’s inspector general Monday revealed that the Social Security Administration had not crosschecked beneficiaries’ deaths with the Office of Personnel Management, which manages federal employees. Missing just 35 deaths cost taxpayers $1.7 million.

“OPM’s annuitant file contained deaths that were not recorded in SSA’s systems,” the inspector general said. “SSA paid $1.7 million in [Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance] OASDI benefits to 35 deceased beneficiaries. The average payment after death was $49,156 for an average of 84 months. …Additionally, we estimate SSA would have continued paying these beneficiaries approximately $258,000 over the next year had the deaths not been identified,” the inspector general said. Another six deceased individuals received $56,695 after their benefits were terminated by the agency.

The response by Social Security? The agency called the $1.7 million payments to dead government workers an “extremely small number.”

Scientists discover exoplanets orbiting both stars of binary system

Worlds without end: Scientists have discovered a stellar binary system which has giant exoplanets orbiting each of the system’s stars.

The twin stars studied by the group are called HD 133131A and HD 133131B. The former hosts two moderately eccentric planets, one of which is, at a minimum, about 1 and a half times Jupiter’s mass and the other of which is, at a minimum, just over half Jupiter’s mass. The latter hosts one moderately eccentric planet with a mass at least 2.5 times Jupiter’s.

The two stars themselves are separated by only 360 astronomical units (AU). One AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun. This is extremely close for twin stars with detected planets orbiting the individual stars. The next-closest binary system that hosts planets is comprised of two stars that are about 1,000 AU apart.

Dawn moves to higher orbit around Ceres

In order to save fuel as well as obtain a different view of Ceres, engineers are moving Dawn to a higher orbit.

On Sept. 2, Dawn will begin spiraling upward to about 910 miles (1,460 kilometers) from Ceres. The altitude will be close to where Dawn was a year ago, but the orientation of the spacecraft’s orbit — specifically, the angle between the orbit plane and the sun — will be different this time, so the spacecraft will have a different view of the surface.

Big scandal for Virgin Galactic’s investment partner

Virgin Galactic’s biggest investor has been caught up in a big scandal involving two of its top managers, including the arrest of one.

As noted at the link, there is no evidence that anyone at Virgin Galactic was involved in what appears to be an illegal transfer of $3.5 billion from the investment company. However, the collapse of this company, which invested $390 million for a 37% share in Virgin Galactic, could impact the space company’s future efforts.

DNA sequencing successfully done on ISS

Researchers have now confirmed that a new lightweight DNA sequencer has been successfully tested on ISS.

Using a hand-held, USB-powered sequencing device called the MinION, astronaut Kate Rubins, PhD, sequenced samples of mouse, bacteria and virus DNA. This portable sequencing technology could eventually help diagnose sick astronauts, monitor space station food, water, and environment for microbes, and identify extraterrestrial life forms.

As part of a collaboration with NASA on the Biomolecular Sequencer project, Earth-bound researchers – a bicoastal team at UCSF and Weill Cornell Medical College – analyzed the sequencing data from space and compared it to identical samples sequenced on the ground. The analysis would tell whether the journey to space and conditions aboard the space station affected the sequencing results.

…[An] analysis of the space and Earth data found comparable results. “We essentially got equivalent data, and it’s of very high quality, probably within the top 20 percent of nanopore runs that we do routinely here on Earth,” Chiu said.

The press release makes a big deal about how this new equipment will be beneficial for research in space, but I am betting that its creators are as much if not more interested in the profits they will make selling it to customers on Earth, where its portability will make a very useful and beneficial to Earth-bound patients and researchers.

Three professors ban skepticism of human-caused climate change

Academic fascists: Three professors teaching an online course at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs have told their students that they are forbidden to raise any skeptical data or sources or even questions when the issue of man-made global warming is discussed.

Signed by the course’s professors Rebecca Laroche, Wendy Haggren and Eileen Skahill, it was sent after several students expressed concern for their success in the course after watching the first online lecture about the impacts of climate change. “Opening up a debate that 98% of climate scientists unequivocally agree to be a non-debate would detract from the central concerns of environment and health addressed in this course,” the professors’ email continued. “… If you believe this premise to be an issue for you, we respectfully ask that you do not take this course, as there are options within the Humanities program for face to face this semester and online next.”

The professors also note this ban on debate extends to discussion among students in the online forums. Moreover, students who choose to use outside sources for research during their time in the course may select only those that have been peer-reviewed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the email states.

Putting aside the fact that the study claiming that 97% of scientists agree with man-made global warming has been debunked, this refusal to allow open debate by these fake teachers makes them the poster child for fascism in academia.

Hat tip to commenter cotour for finding this story.

An update on Stereo-B’s status

The engineers working to recover Stereo-B, the solar observatory that was lost for 22 months, have released an update on the spacecraft’s condition.

In the subsequent days, analysis revealed the spacecraft was in a complex spin, with its fuel tanks frozen and the battery state of charge at 30%. The prime goal is now to fully recover battery power and gradually thaw STEREO-B’s instruments and fuel tanks from its deep freeze. It may be clear that the spacecraft is still in a critical condition and that it will take quite some time before imagery, such as those from its twin STEREO-A, will be available again.

If you are interested in more details, go to the Stereo-B update website, where they are posting almost daily reports.

Third Lunar X-prize competitor signs launch contract

The competition heats up: The Google Lunar X-prize has confirmed that a third competitor, Synergy Moon, has signed a launch contract to send its privately built and funded rover to the Moon.

The Synergy Moon mission will use a Neptune 8 rocket, built and launched by Interorbital Systems, to carry a lunar lander and at least one rover to the surface of the moon, launching from an open-ocean location off the California coast during the second half of 2017. Team Synergy Moon is one of three Google Lunar X-Prize teams now set to compete in 2017, joining SpaceIL and Moon Express. The remaining 13 teams have until December 31, 2016 for their launch agreements to be verified by X-Prize in order to proceed in the competition.

In looking at the website of the launch company, I am not impressed. I hope they succeed, but I would not put much money on this Lunar X-Prize competitor.

Richard Feynman explains the Scientific Method

An evening pause: During last week’s failed attempts to explain the concept of doubt and skepticism in science to a global warming adherent (which begins here and also in the comments of this post), Edward Thelen provided a link to the video below of one of Richard Feynman’s lectures. I thought it entertaining enough to be an evening pause, and educational enough that more people should see it. Listen especially near the middle when he begins to talk about the uselessness of theories that are vague and poorly defined. It will strike a nerve if you have been paying attention to the climate debates during the past two decades.

Michigan court rules against civil forfeiture

Good news: The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that civil forfeiture denies citizens their due process rights under the Constitution. As the court wrote:

“Because of her indigency and inability to pay the required bond, [Kinnon] was excluded ‘from the only forum effectively empowered to settle [her] dispute.’ … Ultimately, Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture scheme operated to deprive [Kinnon] of a significant property interest without according her the opportunity for a hearing, contrary to the requirements of the Due Process Clause.”

This shouldn’t be rocket science, as the language and intent of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is quite plain.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The problem today is that this has become rocket science. Too many people either don’t know this plain language, or work dishonestly to distort it to empower government to oppress us.

Obama to ratify Paris climate treaty, bypassing Senate

The Constitution is such an inconvenient thing: The Obama administration is claiming that, should Obama sign the Paris climate accords when he visits China next week, it will be sufficient to make it law, even though it will not have been approved by a two-thirds majority in the Senate as required by the Constitution.

White House senior adviser Brian Deese said the president has the legal authority to ratify the accord without the two-thirds Senate vote required for treaties. He said the pact negotiated by 195 countries in December is merely an “executive agreement. … The president will use his authority that has been used in dozens of executive agreements in the past to join and formally deposit our instrument of acceptance, and therefore put our country as a party to the Paris Agreement,” Mr. Deese said at a White House press conference. “That’s a process that is quite well-established in our existing legal system and in the context of international agreements and international arrangements,” Mr. Deese said. “There is a category of them that are treaties that require advice and consent from the Senate, but there’s a broad category of executive agreements where the executive can enter into those agreements without that advice and consent.”

Gee, I wonder what clause in the Constitution Mr. Deese can name that delineates the President’s power to sign and make binding “executive agreements” with foreign powers? My copy of the Constitution doesn’t seem to have any such clause. What it does say about foreign treaties is quite clear and blunt: The President “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.” (Article 2, Section 2).

But then, when has the law ever really meant anything to this President and the modern Democratic Party? In fact, it means so little to them that they have nominated a candidate for President who willfully ignores it, and then lies about that lawbreaking repeatedly.

Russian hackers attack US election systems

What, me worry? Russian hackers attempted and were partly successful in June in accessing the election databases of Arizona and Illinois.

Hackers targeted voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona, and the FBI alerted Arizona officials in June that Russians were behind the assault on the election system in that state. The bureau described the threat as “credible” and significant, “an eight on a scale of one to 10,” Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan (R), said Monday. As a result, Reagan shut down the state’s voter registration system for nearly a week.

It turned out that the hackers had not compromised the state system or even any county system. They had, however, stolen the username and password of a single election official in Gila County.

The article describes in detail the overall bad situation, including a number of additional attacks as well as the poor security surrounding the online voting option that more than 30 states use.

As usual, we are being told not to worry by the responsible government officials:

Tom Hicks, chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, an agency set up by Congress after the 2000 Florida recount to maintain election integrity, said he is confident that states have sufficient safeguards in place to ward off attempts to ma­nipu­la­te data. For example, if a voter’s name were deleted and did not show up on the precinct list, the individual could still cast a provisional ballot, Hicks said. Once the voter’s status was confirmed, the ballot would be counted. Hicks also said the actual systems used to cast votes “are not hooked up to the Internet” and so “there’s not going to be any ma­nipu­la­tion of data.” However, more than 30 states have some provisions for online voting, primarily for voters living overseas or serving in the military.

Hicks has made me feel so much better!

World record for largest 3D printed object

Oak Ridge National Laboratory has entered the Guinness record books with the successful printing of the world’s largest 3D printed object.

Made from carbon fiber and ABS thermoplastic composite materials, the new tool measures 17.5 x 5.5 x 1.5 ft (5.3 x 1.7 x 0.5 m) and weighs around 1,650 lb (748 kg). To meet the requirements of the record, the item needed to be one solid piece of 10.6 cubic ft (0.3 cubic m), which a Guinness World Records judge confirmed at a ceremony. “The recognition by Guinness World Records draws attention to the advances we’re making in large-scale additive manufacturing composites research,” says Vlastimil Kunc, leader of [Oak Ridge] team. “Using 3D printing, we could design the tool with less material and without compromising its function.”

Of course, the tool wasn’t designed just for world record glory: printable in just 30 hours, it’s an impressive time and cost saver, considering the existing metal version currently takes about three months to manufacture. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text illustrates in one sentence why there is a push toward 3D printing. It is cheaper, faster, and will eventually provide much greater flexibility.

First relaunch of Falcon 9 1st stage announced

The competition heats up: SpaceX and the Luxembourg satellite company SES today announced that the of SES 10 this fall will use one of the Falcon 9 first stages that has flown previously and been recovered. From the SES press release:

“Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket. We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES. “This new agreement reached with SpaceX once again illustrates the faith we have in their technical and operational expertise. The due diligence the SpaceX team has demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the SES-10 mission launch vehicle gives us full confidence that SpaceX is capable of launching our first SES satellite dedicated to Latin America into space.”

I also like how they call the used first stage “flight-proven.” This story notes that the insurance cost for the launch weren’t raised either.

The exact date has not yet been set, but it will be in the fourth quarter of 2016.

New and very distance outer solar system objects beyond Neptune

Astronomers have discovered several new objects orbiting the Sun at extremely great distances beyond the orbit of Neptune.

The most interesting new discovery is 2014 FE72:

Another discovery, 2014 FE72, is the first distant Oort Cloud object found with an orbit entirely beyond Neptune. It has an orbit that takes the object so far away from the Sun (some 3000 times farther than Earth) that it is likely being influenced by forces of gravity from beyond our Solar System such as other stars and the galactic tide. It is the first object observed at such a large distance.

This research is being done as part of an effort to discover a very large planet, possibly as much as 15 times the mass of Earth, that the scientists have proposed that exists out there.

The evening pause

Thank you to all my many readers for the numerous suggestions for my nightly evening pause that I have received in the past day. I am somewhat overwhelmed with the numbers, so it will likely take a few days before I can go through them all.

One suggestion however for the future: Please do a quick search on Behind the Black first before you submit an evening pause suggestion. Considering that I have been posting one per night now for about five years, no one should be surprised at the number of suggestions I get that have already been posted. If you check first it saves me the work of checking myself.

Regardless, thanks again to everyone for the enthusiastic response. The evening pause shall live on, due entirely to the readers of this webpage.

Beautiful and mysterious Saturn

A bright spot in Saturn's rings

Cool image time! The image to the right (reduced in resolution to show here) was posted today on the Cassini gallery page. The release focused on the bright spot in the widest ring just above the center of the image.

An ethereal, glowing spot appears on Saturn’s B ring in this view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. There is nothing particular about that place in the rings that produces the glowing effect — instead, it is an example of an “opposition surge” making that area on the rings appear extra bright. An opposition surge occurs when the Sun is directly behind the observer looking toward the rings. The particular geometry of this observation makes the point in the rings appear much, much brighter than would otherwise be expected.

I however am more interested in the black outline at Saturn’s limb that visually separates the planet from the rings. Is that natural or introduced intentionally in data processing to make the image more pleasing? If it is natural than I wonder how Saturn’s top cloud layer could produce such an opaque and sharply defined region able to so successfully block the light coming from the rings. If introduced intentionally I question the wisdom, as I can’t see any reason to do it and therefore am worried that they might have done some other unnecessary manipulation that makes it difficult to draw any honest conclusions from the image.

Either way, from an aesthetic perspective the image still remains breath-taking. It also underlines once again the amazing engineering that made it possible. All things remain possible, if we maintain our ability to build this kind of engineering.

New EPA toxic spill in Colorado

Government in action: The EPA has once again accidently released toxic waste into the same Colorado river it mistakenly dumped 3 million gallons of toxic waste from an abandoned mine last year.

Local officials said this week’s release was not large enough to warrant a public advisory. Last year’s spill sent nearly 1 million pounds of metals into the waterways of the Animas and San Juan rivers, which traverse three states. The metals include arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc.

This week’s spill came from the treatment plant that the EPA set up near the mine to filter water coming from the mine before releasing it into the creek and river systems. A large amount of rain in Colorado caused the treatment facility to overflow and some of the untreated water to spill into the waterways. EPA said the water that spilled from he plant was partially treated, and the metals present in it should quickly settle to the bottom of waterways where they are less harmful.

How many of you out there trust the EPA in this? Considering the stonewalling and lying the agency practiced when the original spill occurred, I see no reason to believe anything they say now.

Antarctica defies global warming predictions

The uncertainty of science: Despite numerous climate model predictions during the past two decades predicting that the ice cap in Antarctica will shrink because a global warming, recent data shows its ice cap to have grown to record size.

Climate models predicted Antarctic sea ice would shrink as a result of global warming, but the opposite happened. Antarctic sea ice actually increased in the last two decades. Chinese scientists compared climate model sea ice predictions to actual observations from 1979 to 2005 and found “the main problem of the [climate] models is their inability to reproduce the observed slight increase of sea ice extent.” As it turns out, natural variability plays a big role here as well. “Sea ice extent is strongly influenced by the winds and these have increased from the south over the Ross Sea, contributing to a small increase in total Antarctic sea ice since the late 1970s,” Turner said. “The increase in ice seems to be within the bounds of natural variability.”

Had Chinese researchers gone beyond 2005, they would have found more than just a slight increase. 2014 was the first year on record that Antarctic sea ice coverage rose above 7.72 million square miles. By Sept. 22, 2014, sea ice extent reached its highest level on record — 7.76 million square miles.

The data overall suggests that all the fluctuations seen so far Antarctica appear to be entirely attributable to natural variation, not climate change.

The alien buttes of Mars

Weird Mars

The image above is cropped from a panorama created by reader Phil Veerkamp from images taken by Curiosity’s mast camera on August 25, 2016 of the terrain that partly surrounds the rover since it passed the Balanced Rock and traveled beyond Murray Buttes

The full image is too large to post here. However, if you click on the first link above you can either download it and peruse it at your leisure, or view it with your browser. You will definitely want to do so, as it is high resolution and shows a lot of strange and alien geology, including multiple slabs seemingly hanging in space because of the low gravity. (Hint: Be sure to pan all the way to the right!) On the image’s left Mount Sharp can be seen raising in the background. Below the fold I have annotated the most recent Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image of Curiosity’s location to indicate what I think is the area included in this panorama. This MRO image also shows that once Curiosity gets through the narrow gap to the south, the path heading south up the mountain’s slopes will, for awhile at least, be relatively open with few large obstacles. The view will also change, as the rover will be out of the region of buttes.
» Read more

Suggesting Evening Pauses

It appears that my request on Friday for evening pause suggestions from my readers was not clear. I am therefore posting my request again, in its own post, with the hope that I will get lots of pause suggestions, but done correctly this time so that I can use them.

If you’ve already emailed me an evening pause suggestion in the past, you know the routine. Note that my scheduled list of future evening pauses is getting very short, and will run out in only a few more days. If you’ve got something you’ve been planning to send me, please do so.

If you’ve never emailed me an evening pause suggestion and want to, please comment here. DON’T mention what the pause is. DON’T provide the youtube link here either. Just comment that you have one or more suggestions and I will then email you for the information. (If you post the link here and now in a comment, I then really can’t use it in the future, as it will already be posted. This happened on Friday, with several people offering some great suggestions, which I now sadly can’t use. The idea of the evening pause is to have it happen daily and to be an upcoming surprise that people can anticipate.)

Some guidelines: I prefer live performances. Strange and interesting engineering pieces are also good. So is anything that is creative, funny, entertaining, and different. For my pauses I prefer if we avoid politics or newsy pieces, as the idea here is to take a pause from the news of the day to be either entertained or educated in a way that is unique and profound.

Anyway, send those suggestions! And thank you all again for your support and help in making Behind the Black the website I want it to be.

India tests scramjet successfully

The competition heats up: Using a newly developed suborbital sounding rocket, India today successfully tested its first scramjet engines.

The scramjet engine, used only during the atmospheric phase of the rocket’s flight, will help in bringing down the launch cost by reducing the amount of oxidiser to be carried, along with the fuel. Later, the ISRO in a statement said: “With this flight, critical technologies such as ignition of air-breathing engines at supersonic speed, holding the flame at supersonic speed, air intake mechanism and fuel injection systems have been successfully demonstrated.” The scramjet engine designed by ISRO uses hydrogen as fuel and the oxygen from the atmospheric air as the oxidiser.

The real question is whether India can do something that NASA has never been able to do, go beyond tests and get a scramjet engine installed in a rocket and put it to use. NASA’s history is filled with many similar test programs, each hailed as great achievements that will someday revolutionize the launch industry, and then forgotten and shelved.

Concrete poured for Blue Origin factory

The competition heats up: Blue Origin this week began pouring concrete for its new rocket factory in Florida.

The Florida facility will be devoted to orbital operations, involving a spacecraft currently known as “Very Big Brother.” The orbital craft could eventually be offered to NASA as a transport ship for cargo or astronauts flying to and from the International Space Station. It could take on other missions as well.

They hope to open the facility by 2018.

1 2 3 491