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Mars’ weird windblown surface

Wind scoured Martian surface

Cool image time! The image on the right, taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and cropped from a wider view of a small crater and a small volcano caldera, certainly appears blurred and out of focus. Is MRO malfunctioning?

Nope. The blurring is actually an optical illusion caused almost entirely by our own assumptions of what a planet surface should look like combined with the alien processes occurring on Mars that have no equivalent here on Earth.

Below the fold is a wider view from the full image, showing the area of the cropped image to the right as well as the entire crater. Below that is another full resolution inset, this time showing the features on the crater rim that are sharp and stand out clearly. The blurriness of the rest of the image is not because the image is out-of-focus, but because a steady northwest-to- southeast wind has distorted everything in the same direction.
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The outbursts on Comet 67P/C-G

The Rosetta science team has released a detailed analysis of the jets and outbursts that they observed coming from Comet 67P/C-G during the comet’s close approach to the Sun.

Brief but powerful outbursts seen from Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko during its most active period last year have been traced back to their origins on the surface.

In the three months centred around the comet’s closest approach to the Sun, on 13 August 2015, Rosetta’s cameras captured 34 outbursts. These violent events were over and above regular jets and flows of material seen streaming from the comet’s nucleus. The latter switch on and off with clockwork repeatability from one comet rotation to the next, synchronised with the rise and fall of the Sun’s illumination.

By contrast, outbursts are much brighter than the usual jets – sudden, brief, high-speed releases of dust. They are typically seen only in a single image, indicating that they have a lifetime shorter than interval between images – typically 5–30 minutes. A typical outburst is thought to release 60–260 tonnes of material in those few minutes.

They have also released a new image taken by the navigation camera of Rosetta’s September 30th landing zone.

Stratolaunch loses top executive

Today it was revealed that Vulcan Aerospace, the company building Stratolaunch, is losing one of its top executives.

Aerospace veteran Chuck Beames is leaving his post as president of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s spaceflight company, Vulcan Aerospace. Word of Beames’ departure came from Allen in an internal email that was sent to Vulcan employees and obtained by GeekWire today. Allen said Jean Floyd, the CEO of Vulcan’s Stratolaunch Systems, will expand his role to become Vulcan Aerospace’s interim executive director as well.

Allen’s email, which you can read in its entirety at the link, also called Orbital ATK “a valued partner.” The last we had heard of this partnership, however, was that Orbital ATK had backed out of it. Allen’s email instead suggests that some renegotiations are going on, and the partnership is not quite dead.

Russia to break safety rules to repair Soyuz capsule

In order to replace a burnt capsule quickly in its Soyuz capsule, Russia will ignore its own safety rules and allow the engineers to work without draining the capsule of its propellants and gases.

Sources close to investigation told RussianSpaceWeb.com that a cable located behind the cosmonaut seats inside the Descent Module of the Vehicle No. 732 had accidentally been bent severely enough to damage its insulation. As it turned out, the problem had nothing to do with the encapsulation of the spacecraft inside its payload fairing on September 15, as was initially thought.

Replacing the damaged cable is relatively straight forward, but it now has to be conducted on the vehicle fully loaded with toxic propellants and pressurized gases. Such an attempt would violate usual safety rules, but draining the spacecraft off its propellants and gases would likely be even more unprecedented and require lengthy repairs.

The big issue here is not the willingness of Roscosmos management to break its safety rules. In fact, believe it or not, those rules are possibly too strict. The repairs are taking place inside the capsule where the astronauts sit. If it is too dangerous for engineers to be there with the capsule fueled, then it would be too dangerous for the astronauts. Granted, engineers don’t usually sign up for those kinds of dangers, but then, if you are an engineer in the field of rocket science I suspect you did sign up, and expect them.

No, what is significant about this story is the bent cable and its damaged insulation, which was bad enough that the cable actually burnt, based on other reports. It suggests a variety of issues in the construction of this capsule, all of which are worrisome. First and foremost, how is it possible for insulation to break simply by bending a cable? Is the insulation that badly made? Or have they such low tolerances for the insulation (possibly to save weight) that it requires a very careful installation that in this case was done badly?

This is also only the second launch of an upgraded Soyuz capsule. Could it be that they haven’t worked out all the kinks in its design? If not, they have been making Soyuz capsules for literally decades. One would think that the people that install this wiring would know its tolerances and not make such a mistake.

I know I am being somewhat harsh here, but that harshness comes after seeing repeated quality control problems in a variety of Russian-built aerospace hardware in recent years. In the previous cases, however, the problems did not involve a manned flight. This one did, and if those same quality control problems are now showing up with Soyuz, that is a very bad thing.

Arab columnist discovers that Arab youth admire Hitler

The coming dark age: A Bahrainii columnist was shocked to discover that within the Middle East there is a strong admiration by young people for Adolf Hitler.

The young girls’ admiration of Hitler’s personality and their inclination towards powerful [figures] led me to search for [material] on ‘Hitler adoration’ and fandom, and indeed, I discovered a wide spectrum of young Arabs who love Hitler. Some said they admired him for killing the Jews, but most were enchanted by his strength, determination, and steadfastness. This begs the question: What is behind these young peoples’ love of strength? Are they fans of the violence engulfing the region? Or does the sense of helplessness and weakness [cause them] to adore of a figure who challenged the world with his strength and led an entire people to fight the world?

We are facing a generation of young people who read [books], in an age when reading is considered obsolete – except that these [young people] read [material] of a very worrisome stripe, and acquire twisted values that could impact their future awareness, the extent of their control over things, and their situational assessments. The desire for acquiring and expressing power and for challenging the other has become a secret wish that steals into the hearts of these young people and which is expressed in many ways. This wish reflects the reality of a crisis-ridden, unstable society, [a reality whose expressions] range from suppression of free expression to the use of extreme violence on all levels – verbal, physical, and electronic [media violence].”

There are so many aspects of this story that are tragic and horrifying for the future that I myself do not know where to begin. The only saving grace that I can find is the intelligent and thoughtful horror expressed by the Arabian columnist herself, suggesting that within the Arab world there still remains some good will and a desire for civilization. Unfortunately, my sense is that she is part of a small minority who is losing ground steadily.

Republican leadership pushes Democrat-approved budget deal

Betrayal: Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has finally released the language of the next short term continuing resolution that would fund the federal government through December 9, 2016, and it appears it was written by the Democratic leadership in the Senate.

As far as conservative priorities go, the bill is a failure. Among its many obvious flaws, it funds the government through Dec. 9—setting up a lame-duck session of Congress. In the lame-duck session, which occurs after the election but before new lawmakers are sworn in, unaccountable legislators are likely to pass a bevy of backroom deals, to the detriment of representative democracy (and, we can assume, to the wallets of the taxpayer).

Even though it only funds the government for a scant 69 days, the McConnell continuing resolution manages to do it at the bloated Boehner-Obama spending levels that were jammed down the throats of conservatives in 2015. In doing so, the continuing resolution sets up yet another spending cliff that will spawn a false panic in the lame-duck session, and lay the groundwork for more “must-pass” terrible deals. In other words, in December, lawmakers will once more have to pass yet another spending bill in order to ensure the government continues normal operations.

There’s more. Read it all. The bottom line is that McConnell has forged a deal that allows Democrats to gloat and Republican conservatives to tear their hair out in horror. No wonder outsiders like Trump and Cruz did so well in the primary season, and why Trump is now their Presidential candidate. The Republican leadership, which still doesn’t comprehend why this happened, also has no idea why the public gave them strong House and Senate majorities in 2010 and 2014. Maybe they don’t care and simply want to cash in quickly even if it destroys the country. Either way, they continue to betray the very people that voted them into power.

Windows 10 breaks computers

Why I use Linux, part 3,332,468: A consumer organization is calling for Microsoft to compensate people for the hardware damage caused by upgrades to Windows 10.

Microsoft needs to pay compensation to customers who have suffered after upgrading to its latest operating system, consumer watchdog Which? has urged. Since the US technology firm pushed out the new software last year, it has been flooded with complaints. Customers who moved to Windows 10 experienced a slew of issues, including printers, webcams, wifi cards and speakers no longer working with their PC. Instances of lost files and email accounts no longer syncing, and, most significantly, computer encountering such significant issues customers had to pay someone to repair it were not uncommon, Which? has reported.

The consumer group surveyed views on the upgrade from over 5,500 members in June this year. Of the 2,500 users who had been upgraded to Windows 10 from an older version of Windows, more than one in ten ended up rolling back to their previous version of the operating system.

Russian engineers locate short circuit problem on Soyuz

Russian engineers have now located the short circuit that scrubbed this week’s manned Soyuz launch to ISS.

The official added that there would be no need dismantling the space carrier to fix the detected problem “as we will replace certain parts and then conduct the required tests before the launch.” Solntsev also said that the required spare parts to fix the malfunction and specialists to carry out the repair works were already present at the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, where the spacecraft was scheduled to take off.

Though the repair will be quick to fix, they are still sticking with the November 1st launch date, probably because any earlier slot is now taken by Orbital ATK’s Antares/Cygnus launch.

Update: The wording of a new report today, one day later than the report above, describing the problem as “a burnt cable”, is intriguing. A short circuit implies that they sensed some of the circuitry was not reading correctly and that some wiring had to be inspected and either rerouted or given more insulation. A “burnt cable” however suggests the short circuit was far worse and almost turned into a fire.

Big warming, or no warming, depending on dataset

The uncertainty of science: Depending on the dataset, the most up-to-date climate data now shows either no warming since 1993, no warming since 1996, or significant warming continuously since then.

On several different data sets, there has been no statistically significant warming for between 0 and 23 years…. Cl stands for the confidence limits at the 95% level.

The details for several sets are below.

  • For UAH6.0: Since August 1993: Cl from -0.006 to 1.810. This is 23 years and 1 month.
  • For RSS: Since December 1993: Cl from -0.008 to 1.746. This is 22 years and 9 months.
  • For Hadsst3: Since December 1996: Cl from -0.022 to 2.162 This is 19 years and 9 months.
  • For Hadcrut4.4: The warming is statistically significant for all periods above three years.
  • For GISS: The warming is statistically significant for all periods above three years.

The quote above lists all the major climate datasets that everyone in the climate field uses. I’ve rearranged the order from the original to put similar datasets together and thus make it easier to digest the information.

The first two datasets are from satellite data. The Hadcrut datasets both use historical ground and sea surface temperature records and are both produced by the Climate Research Unit headed by Phil Jones, who when other scientists asked him for his raw original data in order to check it admitted that he had lost it. Jones was also one of the scientists whose climategate emails revealed a desire to destroy the careers of any skeptics, prevent their work from being published, and an effort to conceal or change data that contradicted the theory of global warming. GISS is the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences, run for decades by global warming advocate James Hansen and now the source of today’s claims that every month of every year is the hottest ever recorded. GISS is also the NASA institute that has been adjusting past datasets to cool the past and warm the present, thus creating a significantly steeper rise in global temperature than is shown by the original raw data.

Of these datasets, three show no significant warming in the past two decades, while two show significant warming. Which is it? Your guess is as good as mine. However, I must point out that the two datasets that show statistically significant warming have both come under question in the past few years because of questionable science practices, which from my perspective makes their conclusions suspect.

Regardless, even if we accept all of these datasets as completely sincere and honestly obtained, they still are in conflict with each other. Under any reasonably scientific analysis, this tells us that the science here is definitely not settled, and that a lot more work needs to be done before anyone can hazard a guess as to what’s going on with the climate.

IRS chief John Koskinen makes excuses

Still working for the Democratic Party: In House hearings today IRS chief John Koskinen claimed that he was misled and never ordered the destruction of evidence in direct defiance of Congressional orders.

At a hearing designed to lay the ground for his possible impeachment, Mr. Koskinen implied he was let down by his subordinates, who allowed hundreds of backup tapes to be destroyed, losing tens of thousands of emails from former senior executive Lois G. Lerner. It is the loss of those emails, even as they were under a subpoena issued by Congress, that has landed Mr. Koskinen in the hot seat, with conservative Republicans demanding he be ousted from office for his behavior.

Mr. Koskinen in 2014 testified that all of the information was being preserved, but now says that was faulty information and he, too, was misinformed. “I accept that it is up to you to judge my overall record, but I believe impeachment would be improper,” Mr. Koskinen told the House Judiciary Committee.

He flatly denied that he gave orders for the backup tapes to be deleted, saying he had actually issued orders that everything related to the tea party targeting be preserved. He said that message was received by everybody save for two workers on the graveyard shift at the West Virginia facility where the deletions happened. [emphasis mine]

Yup, and the dog ate my homework also. Note also that Koskinen has not punished anyone at the IRS for misleading him and not following his orders. It’s almost as if he is winking at them approvingly as he sheds crocodile tears before Congress.

Note also that this hearing is only happening because House conservatives forced the Republican leadership into holding it.

Democrats blame lack of gun control for knife and bomb attacks

You can’t make this stuff up. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) told reporters on Tuesday that the Islamic knife and bomb terrorist attacks this past weekend in Minnesota, New York, and New Jersey were the fault of Republicans for blocking new gun control legislation.

Nor was Durbin alone. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) joined him in blaming Republicans and the lack of new gun control rules for the terrorist attacks.

Michigan public school official calls first American flag symbol of “exclusion and hate”

The coming dark age: The first American flag, the flag that Betsy Ross designed for George Washington in the Revolutionary War, now “symbolizes exclusion and hate,” according to a Michigan public school superintendent.

A Michigan public school superintendent wrote in a published “letter to the community” that students at a high school football game injected “hate” and “hostility” because they waved a historical Betsy Ross flag that has 13 stars to represent the original 13 colonies.

The students waved the flag at a Sept. 9 football game at Houseman Field between Forest Hills Central and Ottawa Hills. The students also brought a Donald Trump for President banner to the event.

The superintendent received a complaint from a parent and then published the letter which is dated Sept. 12. “And to wave a historical version of our flag, that to some symbolizes exclusion and hate, injects hostility and confusion to an event where no one intended to do so,” Forest Hills Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Behm wrote. Behm continued with an apology: “To our gracious hosts — the students, families, staff, and community of Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills High School and Grand Rapids Public Schools — and to the student-athletes, coaches, officials, and supporters of both teams, we are truly sorry. These actions are not characteristic of our schools, our staff, our students, or our community, and they represent a lack of knowledge.”

This is where modern academia and the racist left that dominates it is taking us. Any reference to American past history, any reference at all, is going to be considered a racist act, and must be censored, banned, silenced, and rewritten. It doesn’t matter that this flag had nothing to do with hate or exclusion, but was simply the flag of the United States in its war of independence from British rule (a war, by the way, that led to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the eventual end of slavery). It is an integral part of American history, and for young people to learn anything about that history must be prevented, at all costs.

College students using coloring books to ease stress

The coming dark age: In an effort to help the modern college student deal with the stress of life — and the possibility that someone might express an opinion different from their own — universities nationwide are increasingly offering them coloring books as a relaxant.

There was once a time that students went to college eager to face life and its challenges. Now, they need help coping, and apparently are willing to use techniques formerly reserved for 5-year-olds

Vandenberg wildfire expands to 12,000 acres

The wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base that caused the cancellation of an Atlas 5 launch this past weekend has now grown to over 12,000 acres.

According to officials it is now 45% under control. This map, when compared to earlier maps, shows that the expansion has all been to the west and towards ULA’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4 and SpaceX’s Falcon 9/Falcon Heavy launchpads. Essentially, all of the hillsides behind and surrounding the launchpads shown below in a picture I took back in 2015 during my photo tour of Vandenberg are now in flames.

looking south at ULA and SpaceX launch complexes

An avalanche pile on Mars

Avalanche pile on Mars

Cool image time! The Mars Odyssey science team has released this very interesting image, cropped on the right, of an avalanche debris pile formed when the large section of cliff on the left broke off and collapsed into the valley below. The valley is called Tiu Valles and is located close to Mars’ equator.

The wide spread of the debris is an indication of several things. For one, it illustrates the light Martian gravity, which allowed the debris to flow much farther than it would have on Earth.

For another, the spread of the debris pile suggests to me that the material that fell was very crumbly. It might have been able to hold together as a cliff for a long time, but when it collapsed the material broke apart almost like sand. Think of a sand castle you might have built as a kid on the beach. With a little moisture you can pack the sand to form solid shapes, but if your shape breaks apart the sand falls not as large blocks but as crumbly soft and loose sand. That is what appears to have happened here.

There is also the suggestion to me that water might have been involved somehow in this collapse. I am not a geologist so this speculation on my part is very unreliable. However, the shape of the debris pile suggests a liquid flow. The flow itself wasn’t liquid, but liquid might have somehow been involved in causing this geological event. We would need a geologist however to clarify these guesses on my part.

Orbital ATK aims for October 9-13 Antares launch

Orbital ATK and NASA have now scheduled the first Antares/Cygnus launch since the rocket’s failure in October 2014 for no earlier than October 9.

Orbital ATK is targeting Oct. 9-13 for the launch of the company’s upgraded Antares 230 rocket. Liftoff will occur from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport to send the OA-5 Cygnus spacecraft, called S.S. Alan G. Poindexter, to the International Space Station (ISS). According to a news release from the company, a more specific date and time will be selected upon completion of final operational milestones and technical reviews. Launch times on these dates range from 10:47 p.m. EDT Oct. 9 to 9:30 p.m. EDT Oct. 13 (2:47 GMT Oct. 10 to 1:30 GMT Oct. 14).

Mars rover update: September 20, 2016

Opportunity comes first this time because it actually is more interesting.

Opportunity

For the overall context of Opportunity’s travels at Endeavour Crater, see this post, Opportunity’s future travels on Mars.

Having several choices on where to head, the Opportunity science team this week chose took what looks like the most daring route, heading almost due east towards the floor of Endeavour Crater. In fact, a review of their route and the images that the rover continues to take suggests that the panorama I created last week looked almost due east, not to the southeast as I had guessed. I have amended the most recent overhead traverse image, cropped and reduced below, to show what I now think that panorama was showing.
» Read more

How cats conquered the world

Link here. This first large scale study of the DNA of ancient cat remains tracks how felines initially spread through human society in the ancient world.

The article and the researchers appear to make one mistake, however, in questioning whether cats have been domesticated. Anyone who owns a cat can answer that question unequivocally: No! Cats merely agree to live with us, on the condition that we treat them as they demand.

Update on wildfire at Vandenberg

Despite efforts to be rein it in, the wildfire at Vandenberg continues to burn and spread.

It has grown to include at least 5,000 acres.

The overhead image of the burn area at the link shows three launch sites. The SLC-3E site is ULA’s launchpad for the Atlas 5. The SLC-4E site is SpaceX’s launchpad at Vandenberg. The SLC-6 site was the site originally built for the space shuttle, never used, and has now been redesigned for ULA’s Delta rockets as well as payloads that need to be integrated vertically. For some close-up pictures, see my Vandenberg photo tour from 2015.

Manned Soyuz launch delayed until November

Roscosmos today confirmed that the short circuit discovered during prelaunch tests will delay the launch of a manned Soyuz to ISS until November.

Though they still have not described the problem in any detail, this article gives some insight:

According to industry sources, the delay was caused by a short circuit, which took place during roll-on of the payload fairing, which protects the spacecraft during its ascent through the atmosphere. The problem was not detected until the vehicle had been rotated back to a vertical position and was being prepared for the second fit check at Site 254 in Baikonur. The situation was complicated by the fact that engineers could not immediately identify the location of the short circuit in the fully assembled spacecraft. Preliminary estimates indicated that such an issue inside the descent module, SA, could require several weeks to fix, however if the problem was in the instrument module, PAO, it could take several months to resolve.

In worst case scenario, mission officials might decide to replace the Soyuz vehicle No. 732, which was affected by the problem, with Vehicle No. 733 originally intended for the Soyuz MS-03 mission. According to the official Russian media, the launch of the Soyuz MS-02 might be postponed until at least the beginning of October.

Putin to revive the KGB

The coming dark age: One day after Putin’s party won an easy election victory it has announced that they plan on reviving the secret security force known previously as the KGB.

“The KGB was one of the strongest special services in the world – everyone recognised this,” Sergei Goncharov, who served in Russia’s now disbanded Alpha counter-terror unit in the 1990s, told state media. Mr Goncharov also said the creation of the MGB would provide Russia with a “strong fist” overseen by a unified leadership.

Kremlin critics were horrified by the possible rebirth of an organisation synonymous in Russia with political oppression. “It’s time to get out [of the country],” wrote Elshad Babaev, a Twitter user. “Anyone who can should take the opportunity.”

Unlike the 20th century, however, the west can no longer be called “the free world”, as it was then. Instead, we are lumbering toward the same evils, and thus do not necessarily provide a safe haven for real political refugees that we were then. Instead, our bankrupt intellectual leadership has been rushing to bring in fifth columnists from the Middle East while leaving the real refugees there to suffer persecution by Islamic radicals.

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