Monthly Archives: August 2012

New Horizons — on its way to Pluto — will take a look at a different Kuiper Belt object in January 2015.

New Horizons — on its way to Pluto — will take a look at a different Kuiper Belt object in January 2015.

The encounter will take place at a range of about 75 million km, a distance somewhat subject to change depending on how the probe makes its course correction. At such a great distance, New Horizons will not be able to discern features on the surface of the KBO, nor will it be able to make spectroscopic observations to try to determine the composition of the surface material.

However, New Horizons will be in an excellent position to look for small, close-in moons around the object. It will also be in a position to observe the object’s phase curve, which is a measure of how the reflectivity of the surface changes as a function of viewing angle. This will reveal a great deal about the fluffiness of the surface material (note – fluffiness is a technical term meaning, roughly, “the opposite of dense”). These two observations cannot be made from Earth, even with the most powerful telescopes available.

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“While partisan activists tune in when their team’s big show is on the air, most unaffiliated voters view the conventions as a waste of time and money.”

Scott Rasmussen: “While partisan activists tune in when their team’s big show is on the air, most unaffiliated voters view the conventions as a waste of time and money.”

Read the whole thing. His analysis of the meaninglessness of the political conventions to the ordinary voter is right on the money. More significant, his willingness to separate himself from the political atmosphere of Washington and try to empathize with those ordinary voters illustrates clearly why he is today’s most reliable pollster.

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Police once again raid the wrong house and kill a pet dog.

Police once again raid the wrong house and kill a pet dog.

What is it with these damn cops and their eagerness to kill dogs? There is simply no justification for this. First, the dog is someone else’s property. They have no right to destroy it, even if they do have a warrant. Second, there are many better and more humane ways to pacify a dog than killing it. With all their training, paid for by tax dollars, you’d think someone might tell them this.

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Scientists have determined that the shape of a beer glass can influence how much beer you drink.

Science marches on! Scientists have determined that the shape of a beer glass can influence how much beer you drink.

After watching video of both sessions and recording how much time it took for the drinkers to finish their beer or sodas, Attwood’s team found that one group consistently drank much faster than the others: the group drinking a full glass of lager out of curved flute glasses. In a paper published this month in PLoS ONE, the team reports that whereas the group with straight glasses nursed their 354 milliliters of lager for about 13 minutes, the group with the same amount of beer served in curved glasses finished in less than 8 minutes, drinking alcohol almost as quickly as the soda-drinkers guzzled their pop. However, the researchers observed no differences between people drinking 177 milliliters of beer out of straight versus fluted glasses.

The last sentence reveals the large amount of uncertainty that surrounds this important research.

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The makers of a documentary critical of the Occupy Wall Street movement have received threats of violence against themselves and their families

Leftwing civility: The makers of a documentary critical of the Occupy Wall Street movement have received threats of violence against themselves and their families in advance of the film’s premiere.

“We’ll be legitimately raping Brandon Darby and Lee Stranahan for the next several days while they are tied up with the movie premier at the RNC,” reads an email from occupyaunmasked2012@gmail.com. The email includes Darby’s and Stranahan’s cell phone numbers.

One tweet reads, “While @Shanahan is in Tampa this week, should Texas rapists be told where to find his wife since he supports the rape of everyone else?”

“My wife is home with our four kids and freaked out,” Stranahan told The Hollywood Reporter. “She’s sick to her stomach.” Stranahan and Darby each said their home addresses have been published online by those who claim sympathy to OWS.

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Two astronauts completed an eight hour spacewalk today, extended because of problems with several stuck bolts.

Two astronauts on ISS completed an eight hour spacewalk today, extended because of problems with several stuck bolts.

Williams and Hoshide initially progressed well through their tasks, but the astronauts struggled with difficult bolts when removing a faulty power box from the exterior of the space station, and then again when replacing the defunct unit with a new spare.

More information here. In the end they were forced to leave the replacement unit only temporarily attached because the bolts would simply not screw in. It was thought there might be debris in the screw holes.

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The long term credit rating of the United States was lowered today by Standard and Poors.

The day of reckoning looms: The long term credit rating of the United States was lowered today by Standard and Poors.

The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics. More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.

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Ryan’s speech

If you depend on the conservative commentary about Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech yesterday at the Republican convention to find out how he did, you would have no doubt that this was the greatest and most effective speech since Genesis. To quote just one report:

Paul Ryan’s speech, in two words? Nailed it. Everything that I like (and surmise that others will like as he becomes more and more familiar to them) about Paul Ryan was on perfect display during his half hour-ish on stage. He was intelligent without being intimidating; he was stern and serious but still optimistic and even funny; and he hinted at his wonkiness without getting into jargon and maintained his approachability. But the most beautiful thing about Paul Ryan as the potential vice president of the United States is his uncanny knack for breaking through populist myths and shrill leftist attacks and instead communicating the merits of free-market economics and small government, all without being shrill or polarizing.

Because I’m not spending a lot of time watching these conventions, mostly because they really are nothing more than public relations events staged by both parties, I didn’t see the speech live. After reading reports like the one above, however, I decided late last night to go to youtube and dig up Ryan’s speech and see this amazing performance for myself.
» Read more

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At 4:05 am last night the two Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), designed to study the Van Allen radiation belts, were successfully placed in orbit by an Atlas 5 rocket.

At 4:05 am last night the two Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), designed to study the Van Allen radiation belts, were successfully placed in orbit by an Atlas 5 rocket.

I am sure these two spacecraft will do good research and find out things about the Van Allen radiation belts that we will need to know when humans start traveling through them routinely. However, I must say that their name, the Radiation Belt Storm Probes, usually abbreviated as RBSP, is probably the worst name NASA has ever devised for a spacecraft: Impossible to remember, boring to hear, and completely forgettable. Other than that, it’s a public relations winner.

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It’s the ideology, stupid.

It’s the ideology, stupid.

It’s easy to forget, but Republicans swept the 2010 midterms not through a sweeping indictment of Obama’s economic stewardship, but by hammering Congressional Democrats over their support of the president’s health care law, the stimulus and Democrats’ pursuit of a cap-and-trade energy policy. Running on a firmly ideological agenda, House Republicans picked up 63 House seats – a larger pickup for Republicans than in any election since 1946.

What’s remarkable is that all the fundamental indicators from that historic moment have hardly changed – and in some ways, have worsened for the president. The 2010 midterm NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed 32 percent believing the country was headed in the wrong direction; their latest poll shows that “right track” number exactly the same, with even more believing the country was on the wrong track. Obama’s job approval in the October before the midterm was at 47 percent; it’s only inched upwards to 48 percent in the most recent survey. [emphasis mine]

2010 wasn’t a fluke, it was a trend. And running on the “ideology” of fiscal responsibility, a balanced federal budget, and a smaller federal government does not seem to me to be very ideological. Rather, it is simple common sense, which is why it worked in 2010 and will work again in November.

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An analysis of the survey data produced by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has uncovered literally millions of black hole candidates as well as a thousand of the brightest galaxies yet found.

An analysis of the survey data produced by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has uncovered literally millions of black hole candidates as well as a thousand of the brightest galaxies yet found.

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Romney, the Republicans, and Space

The Republican Party, as part of their national convention taking place in Florida this week, yesterday released their party platform for the upcoming election campaign.

Normally, I don’t waste my time with party platforms. No one really reads it, and no president ever follows it. Granted, it can give you a general sense of where a party and candidate is headed philosophically, but this is politics. If you think philosophy is their number one priority then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you.

However, this document is helpful to us, at least when it comes to the nation’s space effort, as it actually devotes one entire (though short) section on the subject. Considering how vague Mitt Romney has been on what he will do with NASA and space, and how schizophrenic the Republicans in Congress have been, any hint on how they might approach this particular program should they win the election is helpful.

Here is the entire statement of the Republican party platform on the subject of space exploration:
» Read more

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The ex-Marine, arrested and placed in a psychiatric ward because government officials didn’t like his Facebook postings, has announced he is suing the officials involved.

Go for it: Brandon Raub, the ex-Marine who was arrested and placed in a psychiatric ward because government officials didn’t like his Facebook postings, has announced he is suing the officials involved.

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More rumors about a year-long mission on ISS

The possibility that NASA might finally agree with Russia’s repeated request to fly a year-long mission to ISS grew stronger this morning with two stories:

The first, by James Oberg, digs into the underworld of NASA politics to find that plans might very well be more advanced than NASA is letting on:
» Read more

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