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Solar panels more climate damaging than coal

Surprise, surprise! A comparison of the entire production process for both solar and coal power has found that solar power is more damaging to the environment and the climate.

Not only does the production, transport, and use of solar panels dump more total CO2 into the atmosphere than coal power plants, the manufacture of the solar panels adds many more toxic chemicals to the environment than coal.

According to Ferroni, the other huge drawback presented by PV systems are the nasty chemicals and industrial gases used for their manufacture. The production of solar panels in China entails nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which are extremely potent heat-trapping gases that leak out during the process. NF3 has a greenhouse gas potency that is 16,600 times greater than CO2; SF6 is 23,900 times more potent. Reports show that these gases emitted annually into the atmosphere from the manufacture of solar panels is equivalent to over 70 million tonnes of CO2 in terms of greenhouse effect. In 2010 over 17.5 GW of rated capacity of solar cells were installed. Thus the emissions per square meter of solar panels comes out to be 513 kg CO2 – a huge amount!

The manufacture of solar cells also uses other chemicals like (HCl), silizium carbide, and silver among others. The total alleged warming potential of these chemicals comes out to be an estimated 30 kg CO2 per square meter of PV module. Oddly (likely to avoid embarrassment) the solar industry has yet to release any detailed data on the warming potential and impacts of the chemicals used in their manufacture.

But President Obama tells us solar power is good! It must be true!

Orion might not be ready for 2018 test flight

Government in action! Last week NASA admitted that the Orion capsule and its service module might not be ready for its 2018 test flight.

Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s human spaceflight directorate, told members of the [NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration] subcommittee the Orion capsule’s European-made service module, which is being developed by Airbus Defense and Space, will probably be the last piece of the critical test flight to be ready for launch.

NASA and ESA officials, together with contractors from Orion-builder Lockheed Martin and Airbus, have discussed shipping the Orion service module from Europe to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida before it is finished. European engineers could travel to the Florida spaceport to complete construction of the service module before its integration with the Orion crew capsule, which is to be assembled by Lockheed Martin at KSC’s Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

Engineers plan to introduce changes to the Orion crew module after a successful orbital test flight in December 2014. The upgrades include a switch from a monolithic heat shield made of ablative Avcoat material to blocks of Avcoat, a change intended to improve the manufacturability of the thermal protection system. [emphasis mine]

I have highlighted the last paragraph above because it is written to give the false impression that the decision to change the heat shield resulted from the December 2014 test flight. The truth is that NASA had already decided to change heat shields before the test flight. Why NASA engineers are still “planning” to introduce these changes illustrates why government operations are absurdly wasteful.

Orion was first proposed by President George Bush in 2004. The first Orion contract was awarded in 2006. It is now a decade later, and NASA is suddenly warning us that they might not get a single capsule and service module built by 2018, 12 years after construction began. During that time they have spent approximately a billion dollars per year on Orion. For what?

Kennedy proposed going to the Moon in 1961. Eight years later Americans were walking there. Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. The U.S. completed the total defeat of Germany, Italy, and Japan in slightly more than three years, by the spring of 1945.

Today’s NASA however can’t get a single capsule and service module built in 12 years. The contrast is striking. Anyone with the slightest bit of common sense would say that with a track record like this, this program should be shut down now.

NASA considers offering SLS for commercial payloads

Squelching the competition: NASA is pushing to redesign its expensive and giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket so that it can be used to launch commercial, military, and scientific payloads as well as proposed manned exploration missions.

At the moment, SLS has no planned payloads or funded flights past its second test flight in 2021. The system is very expensive, however, and the only way other customers could afford it would be if NASA charges them far less than the actual cost to fly. In such circumstances, NASA would essentially be subsidizing SLS so that it could compete, even undercut, private commercial rockets that actually cost far less.

If NASA does this, they could very well squelch the emerging private commercial launch industry.

All Rosetta data through Philae landing released

The Rosetta science team today released all data obtained by the mission through Philae’s landing on November 14.

If you go here you can browse all the images the spacecraft’s high resolution camera took during that time period. You might even discover something the project scientists missed in their first perusal.

Republican leaders find support for Boehner’s speakership very weak in House

Whoa! The Republican leadership tried prior to the August recess to squelch an effort to oust Speaker John Boehner and discovered they did not have the votes.

House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) had been planning to call up on the House floor last week a measure from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) that would have removed him as Speaker of the House if it succeeded—intending to embarrass Meadows—but abandoned the plan after his entire leadership structure learned that they did not have the votes to re-elect him as Speaker before the August recess.

Though a lot of the information in the article is about complicated House rules issues, what some call “inside baseball” and quite boring, it is very much worth reading because it indicates strongly that John Boehner’s position as Speaker is very exposed. He could very well be ousted when Congress reconvenes in September.

There are 25 members who voted for a Republican alternative at the beginning of this Congress, and now there are plenty more who are disaffected with the tactics of Boehner and his allies in leadership. More members, those who want to replace Boehner suspect, will, over the course of the month of August, come out publicly against Boehner at town hall events and in interviews with media. Unless Democrats bail Boehner out in September or October, if and when such a vote for the speakership would occur, by that point there would be enough members opposed to Boehner’s re-election for him to lose his position.

Even if Boehner survives, the dynamics here suggest that the conservatives have the stronger hand, and are going to try to force him to cater to their desires — something he has not been interested in doing — or face removal.

Twenty arrested for blocking trucks to different mountain telescope in Hawaii

Twenty protesters were arrested on Friday trying to block trucks leaving for the summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui, as part of the work building the new Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope there.

This protest did not involve Mauna Kea. It suggests that the hostility to astronomy and outsiders on Hawaii is growing. It also suggests to me that maybe astronomers and outsiders should consider going somewhere else for their research and tourism. Let’s find out how happy these Hawaiian protesters will be if the money these industries bring to their island disappears.

Another article notes that seven others were arrested on Mauna Kea as well. It thus appears that the Hawaiian government is finally moving to enforce the law there.

New Ebola vaccine 100% successful in trial

Using a different experimental approach aimed not only to test a new vaccine but also to stem an Ebola outbreak, scientists have found the new vaccine is 100% successful in providing exposed individuals protection from the virus.

Rather than create a complicated time-consuming trial with a control group getting a placebo — which also allows the epidemic to rage undisturbed — they focused on a different approach:

The Guinea trial — called ‘Ebola, ça suffit’ in French (‘Ebola, that’s enough’) — tested a ring vaccination design, a strategy that was borrowed from successful smallpox eradication efforts in the 1970s. After one patient contracts the disease, their close contacts are vaccinated in the hope of stemming the onward spread of the virus.

The Guinea trial included two arms: one in which adults who had been in contact with someone infected with Ebola and their subsequent contacts were vaccinated shortly after the original patient developed Ebola, and a second in which contacts instead received the vaccine three weeks later. The trial tested a vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV, which is composed of an attenuated livestock virus engineered to produce an Ebola protein. The vaccine was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and then licensed to the drug companies NewLink Genetics and Merck.

Of the 2,014 people who received the vaccine immediately as part of the first arm, none developed Ebola ten days after getting the vaccine. The 10-day window allows the vaccine to summon an immune response and accounts for any pre-existing Ebola infection. (A few people in the immediate vaccination group, however, did develop the disease between 1 and 10 days after vaccination.) That compares with 16 infections among the 2,380 people in the second arm.

The findings mean that the vaccine provided 100% protection from the virus.

The results bring hope that Ebola is now a defeated virus.

Alan Stern gives the IAU a piece of his mind

New Horizons’ principle investigator yesterday told the International Astronomical Union what he thinks of their definition of a planet:

“It’s bulls—,” he told Tech Insider (and said we could quote him on that).

The problem, Stern said, is that the reclassification largely stemmed from the opinions of astronomers, not planetary scientists. His beef here is that astronomers study a large variety of celestial objects and cosmic phenomena, while planetary scientists focus solely on planets, moons, and planetary systems.

“Why would you listen to an astronomer about a planet?” Stern said. He compared it to going to a podiatrist for brain surgery instead of a brain surgeon. “Even though they’re both doctors, they have different expertise,” Stern said. “You really should listen to planetary scientists that know something about this subject. When we look at an object like Pluto, we don’t know what else to call it.”

Stern’s opinion is not unique among planetary scientists. I have interviewed many, and read reports by others, which consistently say that they object strongly to the IAU’s definition. To them, if a object has enough mass to force it into a sphercial shape, it is a planet.

Philae results published

Cool image time! The Philae science team yesterday published in Science a set of papers describing their results from the lander’s approach and bouncing landing on Comet 67P/C-G.

Data were obtained during the lander’s seven-hour descent to its first touchdown at the Agilkia landing site, which then triggered the start of a sequence of predefined experiments. But shortly after touchdown, it became apparent that Philae had rebounded and so a number of measurements were carried out as the lander took flight for an additional two hours some 100 m above the comet, before finally landing at Abydos.

Some 80% of the first science sequence was completed in the 64 hours following separation before Philae fell into hibernation, with the unexpected bonus that data were ultimately collected at more than one location, allowing comparisons between the touchdown sites.

The images from lander so far released show the approach to the first site, with one boulder getting larger and larger as it descends, followed by images at the final landing site, showing a fractured, uneven, and very rough surface with the lander apparently sitting sideways with one foot off the ground.

An animation of the first touchdown, created by these images, can be viewed here.

Update: A good summary of the results can be read here.

The supernova of 1987 finally begins to fade

Almost thirty years after Supernova 1987a became the first naked eye supernova since the invention of the telescope, the necklace ring of spots that the explosion’s shockwave ignited in the late 1990s are finally beginning to fade.

But now the hotspots have slowly begun to fade, Claes Fransson (Stockholm University, Sweden) and colleagues report in the June 10th Astrophysical Journal Letters. The team studied images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope from 1994 to 2014, and spectra from the Very Large Telescope spanning 2000 to 2013. Based on the rate at which the hotspots are fading, the researchers predict the glittering necklace will fade away sometime between 2020 and 2030, with the calculations favoring closer to 2020. The clumps of gas in the central ring are likely dissolving, thanks to a combination of instabilities and conduction in the hot gas surrounding the clumps. In other words, the central ring is being destroyed.

The show really isn’t over. The aftermath of a star exploding goes on for thousands of years. So to will SN1987a’s show.

Astronomers confirm existence of Earthlike exoplanet 21 light years away

Worlds without end: Astronomers have confirmed the existence of a rocky Earthlike exoplanet only 21 light years away.

HD 219134b is also the closest exoplanet to Earth to be detected transiting, or crossing in front of, its star and, therefore, perfect for extensive research. “Transiting exoplanets are worth their weight in gold because they can be extensively characterized,” said Michael Werner, the project scientist for the Spitzer mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This exoplanet will be one of the most studied for decades to come.”

The planet has a mass 4.5 times that of Earth, and orbits its sun every three days, which means it is not likely to harbor life. Its sun also harbors three other small exoplanets, but little is known of them.

Expect a lot more news coming from HD 219134b, however. With transits every three days, astronomers are going to have a lot of opportunities to study its atmosphere and make-up.

Arrested for playing Star-Spangled Banner on July 4, man reject plea deal

Fascists: A man who was arrested on July 4 for playing the Star-Spangled Banner on the street, has refused a plea deal.

What can I say? That the police even considered arresting him is beyond reasonable, no matter what excuses they give. That they did it anyway, and that the state has proceeded to press charges, illustrates again the madness that is taking over our society.

Obamacare co-ops losing money

Finding out what’s in it: 22 of the 23 nonprofit co-ops created under Obamacare to replace for-profit insurance companies lost money, with the majority failing badly to sign up customers.

Under President Barack Obama’s overhaul, taxpayers provided $2.4 billion in loans to get the co-ops going, but only one out of 23 — the one in Maine — made money last year, said the report out Thursday. Another one, the Iowa/Nebraska co-op, was shut down by regulators over financial concerns. The audit by the Health and Human Services inspector general’s office also found that 13 of the 23 lagged far behind their 2014 enrollment projections.

The probe raised concerns about whether federal loans will be repaid, and recommended closer supervision by the administration as well as clear standards for recalling loans if a co-op is no longer viable. Just last week, the Louisiana Health Cooperative announced it would cease offering coverage next year, saying it’s “not growing enough to maintain a healthy future.” About 16,000 people are covered by that co-op.

In other words, the $2.4 billion was really a pay-off to friends of the Democratic Party, taken from the taxpayers and handed over to that party’s supporters. The Obama administration will never demand that money back, nor do I expect it to increase its oversight of these co-ops.

Read the whole article. It illustrates once again how terrible a law Obamacare is, and how it must be repealed — in full — if the American economy is ever going to have a hope of recovering from the slump it has been in since 2007.

“I will haul into court the IRS Commissioner to hold him personally in contempt.”

A federal judge yesterday threatened to hold IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in contempt if he and the IRS continued to disobey his orders to release newly recovered Lois Lerner emails in connection with that agency’s harassment of conservatives.

During the a status hearing today, Sullivan warned that the failure to follow his order was serious and the IRS and Justice Department’s excuses for not following his July 1 order were “indefensible, ridiculous, and absurd.” He asked the IRS’ Justice Department lawyer Geoffrey Klimas, “Why didn’t the IRS comply” with his court order and “why shouldn’t the Court hold the Commissioner of the IRS in contempt.” Judge Sullivan referenced his contempt findings against Justice Department prosecutors in the prosecution of late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and reminded the Justice Department attorney he had the ability to detain him for contempt. Warning he would tolerate no further disregard of his orders, Judge Sullivan said, “I will haul into court the IRS Commissioner to hold him personally in contempt.”

Until he actually throws some of the IRS officials or their lawyers into jail, however, nothing is going to change.

Kazakhstan gets a cut rate deal from Russia

It’s who you know: Russia has sold Kazakhstan Sarah Brightman’s space tourist seat at a price more than a third less than it charges NASA.

Kazakhstan will pay a mere $20 million to send an astronaut to the International Space Station on a Russian rocket — less than half the sum reportedly asked of a British passenger to make the same trip and less than one-third of the price routinely paid by NASA for U.S. astronauts, news agency RIA Novosti reported Wednesday, citing a Kazakh space agency official.

Tourists pay somewhere around $35 million while NASA pays $75 million. Kazakhstan, however, owns Russia’s spaceport Baikonur, so they have some leverage in the negotiations. Moreover, there are hints that it won’t have to lay out any cash at all, and that the fee will simply be deducted from the $115 million annual rent that Russia pays.

Counting bats on a Saturday evening

While most normal people spend their Saturday evenings going out to dinner followed by either a movie or a show, I spent this past Saturday doing something entirely different: counting bats!

There is a local cave here in the Tucson area that is a maternity colony for one species of bats. During the summer the females gather here to gossip and then give birth to their babies, after which they move on until next year. Because of a desire to help these bats, a few years ago the managers of the cave decided to close it during the summer months. This way humans wouldn’t be there to disturb the mothers during their labor.

The managers also decided to do regular bat counts of the bats leaving the cave each evening to feed, in order to get an estimate of the population size. To everyone’s delight they found the numbers rising year-to-year, following the summer closure. The total population of bats isn’t actually going up, but it appears that bats are finding this cave to be a good place to give birth, so more and more of them are making it their summer residence.

In the end the situation will contribute to an actual rise in population, as providing the maternity colony a safe haven will allow for more successful births and more babies.

In the past three years the bat count numbers over each summer would exhibit a typical bell curve, going up and then declining as the summer progressed, with the largest numbers ranging between 75 to 150 each night. However, last year there was one evening in which no bats left the cave. The bat biologist leading the bat count, Sandy Wolf, has theorized that this might be because the mothers are synchronizing their labor so that everyone gives birth at the same time and, because of that, on that night no one exits for feeding.. She knows that some species do this, but for this particular species such behavior has never been documented.

Anyway, she decided to find out. This has required that someone be at the entrance counting the bats at least every other evening. (In past years the counts were only done about once a week.) This has required more help, and thus Sandy has called for volunteers to do the work.

And that is how I and fellow caver Jerry Isaman ended up hiking up the hill to the cave with digital camera, infrared lights, and monitor this past Saturday.

» Read more

Puzzling red arcs on the Saturn moon Tethys

Red arcs on Tethys

Baffling image time! Images taken in April 2015 by Cassini of the Saturn moon Tethys have produced the best images yet of the puzzling red arcs on the moon’s surface, first identified in 2004.

The origin of the features and their reddish color is a mystery to Cassini scientists. Possibilities being studied include ideas that the reddish material is exposed ice with chemical impurities, or the result of outgassing from inside Tethys. They could also be associated with features like fractures that are below the resolution of the available images.

Except for a few small craters on Saturn’s moon Dione, reddish-tinted features are rare on other moons of Saturn. Many reddish features do occur, however, on the geologically young surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. “The red arcs must be geologically young because they cut across older features like impact craters, but we don’t know their age in years.” said Paul Helfenstein, a Cassini imaging scientist at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, who helped plan the observations. “If the stain is only a thin, colored veneer on the icy soil, exposure to the space environment at Tethys’ surface might erase them on relatively short time scales.”

I could also file this under “the uncertainty of science”, as the scientists at this point haven’t the slightest idea what created these arcs.

Four skeletons at Jamestown identified

Archeologists have now linked four recently discovered skeletons at the first British North American settlement at Jamestown with historic individuals among the first settlers.

Skeletal remains buried beneath a historic church in Jamestown, Virginia, belonged to four prominent settlers of North America’s first English colony. The group included a minister, two military captains and the first English knight ever buried on the continent, a research team announced on 28 July at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. “These men witnessed the first three years of the establishment of the colony,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation.

Smithsonian anthropologists teamed up with archaeologists at Jamestown Rediscovery to identify the four incomplete skeletons, which were excavated in 2013. First, the researchers narrowed down the potential candidates by analysing a handful of surviving documents from the colony’s early years. Then they used chemical tests, genealogical records, digital analysis of bones and artefacts and contextual clues to make the final identifications.

Having studied the history of Jamestown in great detail for my own masters degree, I can say that this scientific work is spectacular. I would add that I hope that the researchers, having identified these remains, will now allow them to be buried again in peace.

If you want to be amused, you can also read Science’s short article on this discovery. As is typical of that politically driven journal, the article feels compelled to insert a comment about global warming, even though it has nothing to do with this particular research and the claim — that “some scientists think Jamestown (on the Virginia coast) could be overtaken by rising sea levels by the end of this century” — has not yet been proven and is in fact a very speculative assertion.

Hawaii government not enforcing Mauna Kea emergency rule

Surprise, surprise! The emergency rule imposed by the Democratic governor of Hawaii at Mauna Kea, restricting access and forbidding camping, is not being enforced.

A week after Governor David Ige signed the rule into effect on July 14, signs informing the public were posted on along the Mauna Kea summit access road. Days later on Thursday, July 23, DLNR Conservation and Resource Enforcement officers started distributing what officials are calling educational handouts.

Cell-phone video taken by protesters, who say they’re standing in protection of the mountain as a sacred Native Hawaiian place, captured the first exchange. “We’re here just to serve you these papers, okay? And basically what you need to do is just to read them and understand that this is the emergency proclamation that went through,” a DOCARE officer explained.


DLNR officers have been back five times since then, but no citations or arrests have been made.

This is typical behavior when faced with liberal illegal protesters for most modern political leaders, especially Democrats. Even when they talk a good game, when it comes time to actually enforce the law, they chicken out. And until Governor Ige enforces the law, I do not see how construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope can resume.

How Comet 67P/C-G interacts with the solar wind

Accumulating data from Rosetta is now giving scientists an excellent picture of how this comet interacts with the solar wind as it moves in towards its closest approach to the Sun.

They have seen that the number of water ions – molecules of water that have been stripped of one electron – accelerated away from the comet increased hugely as 67P/C-G moved between 3.6AU (about 538 million km) and 2.0AU (about 300 million km) from the Sun. Although the day-to-day acceleration is highly variable, the average 24-hour rate has increased by a factor of 10,000 during the study, which covered the period August 2014 to March 2015.

The water ions themselves originate in the coma, the atmosphere of the comet. They are placed there originally by heat from the Sun liberating the molecules from the surface ice. Once in gaseous form, the collision of extreme ultraviolet light displaces electrons from the molecules, turning them into ions. Colliding particles from the solar wind can do this as well. Once stripped of some of their electrons, the water ions can then be accelerated by the electrical properties of the solar wind.

Not all of the ions are accelerated outwards, some will happen to strike the comet’s surface. Solar wind particles will also find their way through the coma to hit home. When this happens, they cause a process called sputtering, in which they displace atoms from material on the surface – these are then ‘liberated’ into space.

There’s more at the link, including animations and simulations.

Where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean

An evening pause: But not very relaxing. Hat tip to Phill Oltmann, who notes “This video is of commercial fishing boats returning from fishing off the coast of Washington and Oregon. They are crossing the Columbia Bar, which is the site the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.”

SpaceShipTwo accident report released

The National Transportation Safety Board today released the results of its investigation into last year’s SpaceShipTwo crash, concluding that the accident was caused by pilot error combined with the failure of the ship’s designers to include systems that could have prevented that error.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded Tuesday that the developer of a commercial spacecraft that broke apart over the Mojave Desert last year failed to protect against the possibility of human error, specifically the co-pilot’s premature unlocking of a braking system that triggered the in-flight breakup of the vehicle.

In its recommendation, the board took pains to make clear that Scaled Composites, an aerospace company that has partnered with Virgin Galactic to develop the spacecraft, should have had systems in place to overcome the co-pilot’s mistake. NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said he didn’t believe the company took shortcuts that compromised the spacecraft’s safety. Rather, he said, it didn’t consider that the crew would make such a mistake. “The assumption was these highly trained test pilots would not make mistakes in those areas, but truth be told, humans are humans,” Hart said after the hearing’s conclusion. “And even the best-trained human on their best day can make mistakes.”

This really isn’t news. This was the conclusion reached only weeks after the accident. It also does little to ease the problems at Virgin Galactic.

The UK launches a 3D printed airplane drone

A University of Southampton team, under a project for the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, have built and launched an entirely 3D printed unmanned air vehicle (UAV) from a navy ship.

Produced under the institution’s Project Triangle, the Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (SULSA) UAV was launched via catapult from the patrol vessel HMS Mersey, and flew over the Wyke Regis training facility near Weymouth in the south of the country to land on Chesil beach. The 5min sortie covered a range of some 500m, with the UAV carrying a small video payload to record the mission so that operators could monitor it during the flight.

SULSA measures 150cm (59in) and weighs 3kg (6.6lb), and is made via 3D printing using laser sintered nylon. The university claims that SULSA is the world’s first UAV made entirely via the technique. It consists of four separately manufactured main parts that are assembled without the need for any additional tools.

The specific achievement here is interesting, but its significance in illustrating the growing use of unmanned drones and 3D printing is more important. Very soon, a large percentage of everything we own will be built with 3D printing technology, lowering the cost while making construction easier. As for drones, they carry both positive and negative possibilities.

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