Monthly Archives: July 2016

Russia’s troubled new spaceport

Link here. The article provides a nice summary of the many problems I have posted here on Behind the Black over the past three years, describing the corruption, cost overruns, and delays that have dominated the construction of Russia’s Vostochny spaceport.

I think this excerpt encapsulates the project’s basic problem:

Andrei Ionin of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, who helped draw up the original plans for Vostochny, said the idea was for the facility to boost the economy of the depressed Far East region. “It should have become an innovation cluster … with a smart city to attract bright young specialists,” Ionin said. Instead, the accompanying “innovation hub” was built near Moscow, and according to Oberg, only a skeleton crew is posted to Svobodny, the town that serves the spaceport.

“The original idea was botched,” Ionin said. He added that the project now has “no meaning” and is “like a fifth wheel in the Russian space program.”

The goal was not to improve efficiency or save costs, but to fulfill the idealistic hopes of a central planner whose plans were essentially very much divorced from reality. Meanwhile, the corruption that permeates all of Russian’s big industries honed in on this project as a great way to skim off a lot of cash for their personal bank accounts.

According to an expose by RBC published in July 2015, the original cost of the facility was supposed to be just $1.9 billion in today’s prices. Already, though, the cost of building the first of two launch pads has exceeded $2.4 billion, according data on dozens of state contracts compiled by RBC. Officials did not release an official budget for the spaceport before construction began in 2011.

Russian anti-graft activists allege that much of this overspend can be attributed to corruption. They say that, like many other Russian mega-projects, it has become a gravy train for well-connected embezzlers. “There are a lot of corruption violations,” said Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at the grassroots non-governmental organization the Anti-Corruption Fund. Sobol, who published an exposé on cost overruns at Vostochny last year, added: “The construction is overpriced by billions of rubles.”

Russian prosecutors say that least $165 million was embezzled during the construction process and several contractors have been charged. “I doubt the full extent [of the embezzlement] has been publicized,” said veteran American journalist and historian James Oberg, an expert on the Russian space program.

It will be especially revealing to compare Vostochny’s cost and development time with the spaceport that SpaceX is privately building in Texas. Which do you think will cost less and be fully operational first? I think I know.

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Japan’s troubled space agency

Link here. The article describes how JAXA has pulled some remarkable successes out of the jaws of failure, but in describing these stories it made me realize how many of these failures have occurred, far more than one should expect. Just consider:

  • Nozomi failed to enter Mars orbit when its main engine did not fire as planned. The mission was a total loss.
  • Akatsuki failed to enter Venus orbit when its main engine did not fire as planned. The mission has been partly saved by the use of the spacecraft’s attitude thrusters to put it into Venus orbit five years late.
  • Hayabusa-1 had enormous problems, and was barely able to return to Earth with barely any asteroid samples, as had been the plan.

This list is essentially Japan’s entire interplanetary program since 2000, all of which failed in some significant way. The recovery of Akatsuki and Hayabusa-1 were hailed as great achievements, but in retrospect they both indicated a serious quality control problem in Japan’s space program. The loss of their most recent science X-ray telescope, Hitomi, when a software error caused the spacecraft to breakup in orbit only one month after launch, illustrated this again.

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Juno swings back towards Jupiter

Juno has now passed the farther point from Jupiter in its first orbit and has started dropping back down to the gas giant.

Juno arrived at Jupiter on July 4, firing its main rocket engine as planned for 35 minutes. The flawless maneuver allowed Jupiter’s gravity to capture the solar powered spacecraft into the first of two 53.4-day-long orbits, referred to as capture orbits. Following the capture orbits, Juno will fire its engine once more to shorten its orbital period to 14 days and begin its science mission.

But before that happens, on Aug. 27, Juno must finish its first lap around Jupiter, with a finish line that represents the mission’s closest pass over the gas giant. During the encounter, Juno will skim past Jupiter at a mere 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) above the cloud tops.

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Getting and Installing Linux – Part 6

Installing Windows using VirtualBox

by James Stephens

Today I will be installing Windows on VirtualBox. VirtualBox allows me to easily install and run Windows on my Linux computer without having to partition, format or otherwise disturb my hard drive. Once installed booting into the Windows guest is easy, just open VirtualBox and select Windows and hit start. Given the fact a virtual machine shares hardware resources with it’s host, generally a 64 bit host operating system can only host a 32bit guest operating system. Windows in most cases is still a 32 bit operating system.

First of all I will download VirtualBox via the my distribution’s Software Manager. Once it’s installed you will usually find its shortcut under Applications/System/Oracle VM VirtualBox in your application launcher. Click on it and VirtualBox will open to its Welcome massage. To create a virtual machine, in this case Windows, choose “new” in the VirtualBox tool bar.

Create Virtual Machine dialogue

The create virtual machine dialogue will appear where you will give the guest operating system a descriptive name and select its type and version, such as Windows XP.
» Read more

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July 29, 2016 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

The podcast is now fixed and available! John Batchelor thanks Willi for spotting the problem.

Embedded below the fold. John Batchelor titled this appearance very accurately: “Condemning Orion.” He likes to say that I am sometimes cranky. I was especially cranky tonight in reviewing why I think the way NASA is selling Orion is an outright lie.
» Read more

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More Junk Science and Journalism

I can’t stand it. I just can’t stand it. It keeps happening and I just can’t stand it.

Yesterday there was this absurd short news piece posted on the website of the so-called journal Science, “Apollo astronauts much more likely to die from heart disease”. describing a research paper published by one of Nature’s side journals, Scientific Reports. Before I even looked at the story I said to myself, “How can they possibly come to that conclusion considering the tiny number of humans who have ever traveled beyond Earth orbit? The sample will simply be too small to allow for any such finding.”

Then I looked at the article and found my instincts confirmed. As Steve Milloy noted on his very aptly named website, Junk Science,

Yes, the result is based on a total of three (3) cases of heart disease deaths of out seven (7) Apollo astronauts. Past the vanishingly small sample size and even smaller number of cases, heart disease is a natural disease of aging and the Apollo lunar astronauts were 10 years older than the other comparison groups.

To put it more bluntly, this was a garbage piece of very bad science. While it was somewhat embarrassing for a Nature journal to publish it, it was far more disgraceful for the journal Science to highlight it. I, however, don’t have to join these two peer-review journals and participate in their stupidity, and thus I made no mention of the story on Behind the Black, because it is my policy to not waste much time on bad science, unless I think that bad science is going to have bad repercussions.

Well the bad repercussions have arrived. Since yesterday, the following so-called news organizations have run with this story, without the slightest indication that they have faintest understanding of science, statistics, or plain common sense:
» Read more

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Martian gullies not formed by water flow

The uncertainty of science: Spectroscopy of many of the gullies on Mars strongly suggests that water had nothing to do with their formation, even though these gullies resemble closely similar gullies on Earth that were carved by flowing water..

Color coding in light blue corresponds to surface composition of unaltered mafic material, of volcanic origin. Mafic material from the crater rim is carved and transported downslope along the gully channels. No hydrated minerals are observed within the gullies, in the data from CRISM, indicating limited interaction or no interaction of the mafic material with liquid water. These findings and related observations at about 100 other gully sites on Mars suggest that a mechanism not requiring liquid water may be responsible for carving these gullies on Mars. (Gullies on Mars are a different type of feature than seasonal dark streaks called recurring slope lineae or RSL; water in the form of hydrated salt has been identified at RSL sites.) [emphasis mine]

In other words, these gullies were formed by flowing lava, not water. Considering Mars’s lower gravity, one third that of Earth’s, we should not be surprised if lava is capable of doing things there that it is not generally capable of doing on Earth. In fact, we should remind ourselves constantly that Mars is an alien planet, and that conditions there are different enough to make any predictions based on our knowledge of Earth very unreliable.

More details here.

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Making a choice in November

Two articles today provide some interesting and worthwhile information and perspective on at least two of the candidates running for President in November.

The first, Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice, makes its argument from a Christian and religious perspective. I know there is at least one regularly reader of Behind the Black who will agree with this author’s arguments wholeheartedly, and I will say that the essay at the link provides some very compelling arguments in favor of voting for Donald Trump. While he makes many very effective arguments, especially on the issue of the the Supreme Court, I think for me his most effective point comes when he asks “How can we know that Trump won’t change his mind?”:
» Read more

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Sierra Nevada preps for Dream Chaser glide tests

The competition heats up: In preparing its Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle for glide tests in California this fall, Sierra Nevada unveiled it to the press yesterday.

This is essentially the test vehicle’s first public viewing since its one glide test, when the front landing gear did not deploy correctly and the vehicle was damaged during landing. Since the landing gears were not the gears being developed for the flight craft, and since the glide test itself went well, both the company and NASA considered that glide test to be a success.

It has now been refurbished for new tests in conjunction with the company’s contract to use Dream Chaser as a cargo ship for NASA.

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SpaceX test fires one of its recovered first stages

The competition heats up: SpaceX has completed a full duration test firing of one of its recovered first stages.

The JCSAT-14 stage [which was the third recovered stage and the second to land on a barge] isn’t expected to fly again due to the initial evaluations into damage received via its high-velocity return. However, it will still provide useful test data. “Most recent rocket took max damage, due to very high entry velocity,” noted Elon Musk. “Will be our life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good.”

That testing on the JCSAT-14 booster began on Thursday, with the stage placed on the test stand at McGregor – ironically after the stand was vacated by the JCSAT-16 first stage – which recently completed testing and has since been shipped to Florida for its launch next month. The returned stage is also sported a new cap, which may be providing some simulated weight to aid the required data gathering during the test firing.

The booster conducted a long firing of 2 minutes 30 seconds (the duration of first stage flight), that began around 7pm local time on Thursday (per L2 McGregor), which will provide vital data on the returned stage as SpaceX continue preparations for validating one of its recovered booster for a re-launch later this year.

It is once again important to point out that SpaceX’s engineers here have an enormous advantage over every other rocket engineer who has ever lived. They have in hand a recovered first stage that was actually used to launch a satellite into orbit, giving them the ability to test it and find out precisely how such equipment fares during launch. This will give them the ability, unavailable to others, to make engineering improvements that will make future first stages even more reliable and reusable.

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Documents prove IRS targeted conservatives because of ideology

Working for the Democratic Party: Newly released FBI documents show that the IRS purposely aimed its harassment against conservatives and tea party groups solely because of their opposition to the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.

The FBI 302 documents confirm the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) 2013 report that said, “Senior IRS officials knew that agents were targeting conservative groups for special scrutiny as early as 2011.” Lerner did not reveal the targeting until May 2013, in response to a planted question at an American Bar Association conference. The new documents reveal that then-acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller actually wrote Lerner’s response: “They used names like Tea Party or Patriots and they selected cases simply because the applications had those names in the title. That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate.”

The FBI documents also reveal that IRS officials stated that the agency was targeting conservative groups because of their ideology and political affiliation in the summer of 2011. According to one senior tax law specialist, “The case seemed to be pulled because of the applicant’s political affiliation and screening is not supposed to occur that way … [Redacted] said he thought the cases were being pulled based upon political affiliations.” And IRS senior official Nancy Marks, appointed by Miller to conduct an internal investigation stated, “Cincinnati was categorizing cases based on name and ideology, not just activity.”

Read the whole thing. The documents show that the targeting was under the direct supervision of high IRS supervisors such as Lois Lerner and Holly Paz. The documents also show that the IRS commissioner at the time, Douglas Shulman, lied to Congress when he claimed that “There is absolutely no targeting.” He was clearly informed at the time that conservatives were being targeted for harassment.

Sadly, I will not celebrate when and if Donald Trump uses the precedent of this scandal (whereby the government got away with using the IRS to destroy its opponents) to go after his opponents. I fully expect him to do so, and though some of them might deserve it for their own illegal and oppressive behavior, such retaliation by Trump will only signal the coming end to American freedom.

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“Have you reached your breaking point yet?”

Our government in action! An American citizen has sued and won almost a half a million dollars from the federal government for subjecting her to a random strip search upon her return to the states from Mexico.

Read the article. Customs agents essentially raped her. Worse, the agents won’t pay the bill, it will be you, the taxpayer.

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Heading directly for Balanced Rock

Curiosity's course to Balanced Rock

As I predicted Sunday, the Curiosity science team is aiming the rover directly towards the gap in the mesas, dubbed the Murray Buttes, that also has the balanced rock seen in earlier images.

The image on the right shows the rover’s most recent two traverses, superimposed on a Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image. I have cropped it to focus in on the area of most interest.

Based on the rover’s general rate of travel, I would expect them to enter the gap after about two or three more traverses. This means they will be there in about a week, since after each traverse they usually stop and do science and reconnaissance before resuming travel.

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ExoMars successfully completes long mid-course burn

ExoMars 2016, the European/Russia orbiter/lander mission on its way to Mars, successfully completed a 52 minute mid-course engine burn today in preparation for its October 19th arrival at Mars.

Officially known as the deep-space maneuver, DSM, it was the longest engine burn for the ExoMars-2016 mission before the Mars orbit insertion on October 19, 2016. As a result of the July 28 orbit correction, the spacecraft will need less propellant during its maneuvers in the vicinity of the planet and the Schiaparelli lander will experience slightly less thermal loads during its planned entry into the Martian atmosphere.

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How Comet 67P/C-G was made

Using the data from Rosetta, scientists have developed a detailed scenario for the birth process that created Comet 67P/C-G.

During its two-year sojourn at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, Rosetta has revealed a picture of the comet as a low-density, high-porosity, double-lobed body with extensive layering, suggesting that the lobes accumulated material over time before they merged.

The unusually high porosity of the interior of the nucleus provides the first indication that this growth cannot have been via violent collisions, as these would have compacted the fragile material. Structures and features on different size scales observed by Rosetta’s cameras provide further information on how this growth may have taken place.

Earlier work showed that the head and body were originally separate objects, but the collision that merged them must have been at low speed in order not to destroy both of them. The fact that both parts have similar layering also tells us that they must have undergone similar evolutionary histories and that survival rates against catastrophic collision must have been high for a significant period of time.

In other words, the comet’s two lobes formed slowly as separate bodies but always in the same general region, and then moved closer and closer together until they gently merged. Based on this scenario, Comet 67P/C-G had to have formed very early in the solar system, and also was not in the inner solar system — as it is now — when the great early bombardment occurred there about a billion years ago.

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Atlas 5 successfully launches U.S. surveillance satellite

Atlas 5

The competition heats up: A ULA Atlas 5 rocket today successfully launched a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) surveillance satellite, dubbed NROL-61.

The image on the right is courtesy of Orbital ATK. From the link above:

NROL-61, however, launched atop an Atlas V 421 rocket, a configuration that has not previously been used by the NRO. The spacecraft itself was encapsulated within an Extra-Extended Payload Fairing (XEPF) – at 14 metres (46 feet) in length the longest of three available four-metre (13-foot) diameter fairings – which has also never before been used for an NRO mission.

…The most likely explanation is that NROL-61 will be the first in a new generation of Quasar satellite; which would appear to be larger in both size and mass than its predecessors. Quasar, also known as the Satellite Data System, or SDS, is a constellation of communications satellites operated by the NRO to support its other intelligence-gathering activities; relaying data from other satellites to the ground in real-time, without having to wait for the intelligence-gathering satellites to pass over ground stations on friendly territory. If NROL-61 represents a new version of Quasar, it will be the fourth generation of the constellation.

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GAO warns of more cost overruns for SLS/Orion

The Government Accountability Office today issued two reports, both of which said that the SLS and Orion programs are faced with more cost overruns and schedule delays.

The GAO found that cost overruns for Orion could be as high as $707 million and that work is “not being accomplished as scheduled.” It also found challenges with the capsule’s software and heat shield, and said that the space capsule’s cost and schedule “estimates are not reliable.”

Other than that, everything is peachy keen! These reports, (the Orion report is found here [pdf] and the SLS report here [pdf], especially the Orion one, also suggest that the first manned Orion mission, now scheduled for 2021, stands a good chance of being delayed again, possibly for two more years.

This just confirms what I have written in my soon-to-be published policy paper, Exploring Space in the 21st Century. In fact, I need to add these GAO reports to my sources!

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NASA guesses SpaceX’s Dragon-Mars mission will cost $300 million

At a meeting of NASA’s Advisory Council yesterday a NASA official estimated that SpaceX will probably spend about $300 million on its Dragon mission to Mars.

Asked by the committee how much SpaceX was spending, Reuter indicated that the company’s investment was 10 times that of NASA. “They did talk to us about a 10-to-1 arrangement in terms of cost: theirs 10, ours 1,” he said. “I think that’s in the ballpark.” Given NASA’s investment, that implies SpaceX is spending around $300 million on Red Dragon.

SpaceX has not disclosed its estimated cost of the mission, or how it will pay for it. “I have no knowledge” of how the company is financing the mission, Reuter said when asked by the committee.

I suspect that the guess is significantly wrong. NASA is providing $32 million. SpaceX plans to charge customers $90 million for a single Falcon Heavy launch, which means its cost for that launch is likely half that, say $45 million. That adds up to $77 million. The cost for a Dragon capsule is not even close to $223 million, which is what remains if NASA’s guess is right, which based on this rough estimate I seriously doubt. I would bet that a single Dragon probably costs far less than $20 million. Remember, they are nothing more than basic manned capsules, and SpaceX is building enough of them to almost have an assembly line going.

So, let’s round up and say that the cost for the mission is really about $100 million (including NASA’s contribution). Other costs, such as the staff to run the mission for at least a year, will increase this cost, but not enough to bring the total to NASA’s guess of $300 million. I suspect that SpaceX will not spend anything close to $100 million of its own money for this Dragon mission to Mars.

All in all, this amount of investment seems reasonable, based on the scale of costs in the launch industry. And SpaceX’s willingness to invest some of its own money for this mission is probably wise. In publicity alone it is priceless.

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Great Red Spot hottest spot on Jupiter

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a giant storm that has been raging for at least three centuries, turns out to be the hottest spot on Jupiter.

They suspect that the spot is heated from below, but really understand much else, or even that.

Juno is specifically designed to study the weather patterns of Jupiter, so we will get some of these answers, plus a lot more questions, in the coming years as the spacecraft gathers its data.

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Lower Waterholes Canyon, Arizona

An evening pause: Waterholes Canyon is a side canyon leading down into the Colorado River, north of the Grand Canyon. The people canyoneering here are caving friends of mine. The video was created by Kimberly Franke, whom you pretty much only see in the opening still shot, since she was wearing the camera most of the time. Her husband Kevin Franke is also a fellow caver who is the person with the white helmet and thick whitish beard. The woman in the red helmet doing the very long drop near the end is Belinda Norby, also a fellow caver. The music is “Point of No Return” by Roger Subirana Mata.

The world is filled with amazing things to see. This video does a nice job of highlighting just one of them.

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The Lie that is Orion

Several weeks ago NASA put out one of its periodic press releases touting the wonders of the engineering the agency is doing to prepare for its future missions to Mars. In this case the press release described a new exercise device, dubbed ROCKY (for Resistive Overload Combined with Kinetic Yo-Yo), for use in the Orion capsule.

“ROCKY is an ultra-compact, lightweight exercise device that meets the exercise and medical requirements that we have for Orion missions,” said Gail Perusek, deputy project manager for NASA’s Human Research Program’s Exploration Exercise Equipment project. “The International Space Station’s exercise devices are effective but are too big for Orion, so we had to find a way to make exercising in Orion feasible.

As is their habit these days in their effort to drum up support for funding for SLS and Orion, the press release was filled with phrases and statements that implied or claimed that Orion was going to be the spacecraft that Americans will use to explore the solar system.

…engineers across NASA and industry are working to build the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket that will venture to deep space for the first time together…

…Over the next several years, NASA’s Human Research Program will be refining the device to optimize it not only for near-term Orion missions with crew, but for potential uses on future long-duration missions in Orion…

These are only two examples. I have clipped them because both were very carefully phrased to allow NASA deniablity should anyone question these claims. For example, in the first quote they qualify “deep space” as specifically the 2018 unmanned lunar test flight. And the second quote is qualified as referring to missions to lunar space. Nonetheless, the implied intent of this wording is to sell Orion as America’s interplanetary spaceship, destined to take us to the stars!

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at NASA’s own Orion webpages, starting with the very first words on their Orion Overivew page.
» Read more

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The pro-Clinton mainstream media, challenged by one guy with a camera

The video I have posted below the fold, posted at this link, was taken outside the convention after Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton.

[O]nce Bernie Sanders endorsed Secretary Clinton via a rules change request throwing all delegate votes to Hillary, the vast majority of movement democrats left the arena. Immediately following the roll call vote, the DNC quickly moved to bar any pro-Sanders signage from the venue. Anyone holding Sanders signs was warned they were subject to forced removal and loss of convention credentials. Outside the arena the Bernie Sanders supporters gathered to voice their protest to the strong arm tactics. [emphasis in original]

The video shows a pro-Clinton (and former Sanders) delegate talking to the press about how wrong the Sanders protesters are. As he talks he is challenged by one of those protesters, who loudly disagrees with him.

What the video shows clearly is that the mainstream press is only interested in recording and interviewing the pro-Clinton guy. In fact, when the guy taking this video begins to note loudly this obvious bias to everyone (beginning at around 1:50), the press suddenly realizes how biased they look and some make a half-hearted effort to make believe they are interested in talking to the Sanders protester.

What I find most significant about this video, and quite entertaining, is how it demonstrates how completely useless today’s mainstream press is, and how that press is increasingly losing all influence because the general public has access to many other lone guys with a camera, videotaping events and showing us what is really happening.

In other words, don’t depend on just television news for your information. You will not only be uninformed, you will be misinformed.

» Read more

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Astrobiologists meet to better their search for exoplanet life

The uncertainty of science: Astrobiologists are meeting this week in Seattle to discuss and refine their methods for detecting astrobiology on exoplanets.

The Seattle meeting aims to compile a working list of biosignature gases and their chemical properties. The information will feed into how astronomers analyse data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, slated for launch in 2018. The telescope will be able to look at only a handful of habitable planets, but it will provide the first detailed glimpse of what gases surround which world, says Nikole Lewis, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

No single gas is likely to be a slam-dunk indicator of alien life. But Domagal-Goldman hopes that the workshop will produce a framework for understanding where scientists could trip themselves up. “We don’t want to have a great press release,” he says, “and then a week later have egg on everybody’s faces.”

A few years ago I was told by one astronomer that the field’s biggest and most exciting area of research in the coming decades will be the effort to study the thousands exoplanets they only just discovered. I agree. The Webb telescope might have been built to study cosmology, but the data it will produce about exoplanets will be much more real and less uncertain, thus making it more compelling and convincing.

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China unveils world’s largest amphibious plane

China has built the world’s largest amphibious plane, designed initially for rescue and fire-fighting duties.

Made by the state’s aircraft maker, the AG600 is around the size of a Boeing 737 and will be used to douse forest fires and rescue people in danger offshore. Measuring 37 m (121 ft) long with a wingspan of 38.8 m (127 ft), the gargantuan amphibious aircraft is capable of taking off and landing both on terra firma and stretches of water, provided they are more than 1,500 m long, 200 m wide and 2.5 m deep (0.93 mi, 656 ft and 8.2 ft). It has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes (59 tons), a top cruising speed of 500 km/h (310.7 mph) and a range of 4,500 km (2,800 mi), and can fly for 12 hours at a time, according to its builder, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

Much like the Russians, the Chinese aerospace industry is controlled and supervised by the government. Unlike the Russians, however, the Chinese for the moment seem much more capable under this top-down system to develop new designs. They say for example that this new amphibious plane already has 17 domestic orders.

I must admit to a bit of skepticism however. Was this plane built because there was a demand, or because the powers-that-be decided they wanted it built? I am not sure. The video at the link suggests to me the latter, with its hard core sales pitch similar to a lot of other government projects I have seen, where the project is built because some politician or bureaucrat conceived and pushed it, but it doesn’t really have a viable purpose.

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“They can’t be real.”

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have now detected and measured a new class of large but very dim galaxy that previously was not expected to exist.

‘Ultradiffuse’ galaxies came to attention only last year, after Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and Roberto Abraham of the University of Toronto in Canada built an array of sensitive telephoto lenses named Dragonfly. The astronomers and their colleagues observed the Coma galaxy cluster 101 megaparsecs (330 million light years) away and detected 47 faint smudges.

“They can’t be real,” van Dokkum recalls thinking when he first saw the galaxies on his laptop computer. But their distribution in space matched that of the cluster’s other galaxies, indicating that they were true members. Since then, hundreds more of these galaxies have turned up in the Coma cluster and elsewhere.

Ultradiffuse galaxies are large like the Milky Way — which is much bigger than most — but they glow as dimly as mere dwarf galaxies. It’s as though a city as big as London emitted as little light as Kalamazoo, Michigan.

More significantly, they have now found that these dim galaxies can be as big and as massive as the biggest bright galaxies, suggesting that, surprise!, there are a lot more stars and mass hidden out there and unseen than anyone had previously predicted.

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