Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Announcement: Testing new anti-spam filter

Readers: Testing of the new anti-spam filter continues. To fix things however, I need your help. I need people to post comments, even if they are merely another “testing” commenting here in this post. The anti-spam programmers need me to mark these as good comments in order to find out why the filter is not doing so automatically.

Moreover, if you post a comment and do not see it appear after several hours, please email me to let me know. Go to the “About” link in the menu, which can be found either at the top of the page or in the right column (which on a smart phone might instead be at the bottom of the page). My email address is at the bottom of that post.

This post will remain at the top of the page while I conduct this testing. Scroll down for new updates.

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Curiosity’s new drilling technique declared a success

In order to bypass a failed feed mechanism in the rover’s drill, Curiosity’s engineering team has declared successful the new techniques they have developed for drilling and getting samples.

They had successfully completed a new drill hole two weeks ago, but are only now are satisfied that the new method for depositing samples in the laboratories will work.

This delivery method had already been successfully tested at JPL. But that’s here on Earth; on Mars, the thin, dry atmosphere provides very different conditions for powder falling out of the drill. “On Mars we have to try and estimate visually whether this is working, just by looking at images of how much powder falls out,” said John Michael Moorokian of JPL, the engineer who led development of the new sample delivery method. “We’re talking about as little as half a baby aspirin worth of sample.”

Too little powder, and the laboratories can’t provide accurate analyses. Too much, and it could overfill the instruments, clogging parts or contaminating future measurements. A successful test of the delivery method on May 22 led to even further improvements in the delivery technique.

Part of the challenge is that Curiosity’s drill is now permanently extended. That new configuration no longer gives it access to a special device that sieves and portions drilled samples in precise amounts. That device, called the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA), played an important role in delivering measured portions of sample to the laboratories inside the rover.

I suspect that they still need to do more tests, and that the new method of shaking off material from the drill itself will not always work. At the same time, it reopens the option of using the drill and getting samples from it, which is a very good thing.

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Sunspot update for May 2018: Solar activity hangs on

NOAA yesterday posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for May 2018. As I do every month, I have annotated the graph and posted it below.

The small uptick in sunspots that we saw in April after the low in March continued.

» Read more

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Narrow victory for religious freedom

The Supreme Court today ruled narrowly in favor of the Christian baker who had refused to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual wedding.

A nice win that’ll hopefully provide the foundation for a more sweeping victory later, but this isn’t the home run righties were hoping for. Conservatives wanted the Court to hold that business owners have a First Amendment right to free exercise of religion that trumps antidiscimination laws, at least with respect to catering gay weddings. What the Court actually held is that *in this particular case* Colorado’s antidiscrimination commission was so openly hostile to Jack Phillips’s religious claims, dismissing his beliefs as insincere and holding him to a double standard that pro-gay business owners weren’t held to, that they violated his particular right to free exercise.

Though the decision’s interpretation was narrow, the court ruled 7-2 in favor of the baker. As the article notes,

[This narrow] ruling may have been as far as Anthony Kennedy (who’s written all of the Court’s landmark gay-rights rulings over the past 25 years) was willing to go. It’s so narrow, in fact, that it produced a not-so-narrow majority: Breyer and Kagan felt comfortable joining the conservatives because all the Court ended up deciding here, really, is that business owners’ free-exercise rights should at least be *considered* when applying antidiscrimination laws against them. In that sense the decision is a solid win for the right.

In other words, the leftist judges were forced to admit that religious people have a right to their beliefs. What a concept!

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Globular clusters not as old as universe?

The uncertainty of science: A new computer model, based on binary star systems found in globular clusters, now estimates that those clusters are far younger than previously believed.

Comprised of hundreds of thousands of stars densely packed into a tight ball, globular clusters had been thought to be almost as old as the Universe itself – but thanks to newly developed research models it has been shown that they could be as young as 9 billion years old rather than 13 billion. The discovery brings into question current theories on how galaxies, including the Milky Way, were formed – with between 150-180 clusters thought to exist in the Milky Way alone – as globular clusters had previously been thought to be almost as old as the Universe itself.

Designed to reconsider the evolution of stars, the new Binary Population and Spectral Synthesis (BPASS) models take the details of binary star evolution within the globular cluster into account and are used to explore the colours of light from old binary star populations – as well as the traces of chemical elements seen in their spectra. The evolutionary process sees two stars interacting in a binary system, where one star expands into a giant whilst the gravitational force of the smaller star strips away the atmosphere, comprising hydrogen and helium amongst other elements, of the giant. These stars are thought to be formed as the same time as the globular cluster itself.

Through using the BPASS models and calculating the age of the binary star systems the researchers were able to demonstrate that the globular cluster of which they are part was not as ancient as other models had suggested.

All this study really does is demonstrate again that we really don’t know enough to make a very accurate estimate of the ages of globular clusters. They are very old, but determining precisely how old will require a lot more knowledge.

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Boulder-sized asteroid discovered just before it hit Earth

The Catalina Sky Survey, designed to find asteroid with the potential of hitting the Earth, discovered a boulder-sized such asteroid this past weekend just hours before it burned up in the atmosphere.

Although there was not enough tracking data to make precise predictions ahead of time, a swath of possible locations was calculated stretching from Southern Africa, across the Indian Ocean, and onto New Guinea. Reports of a bright fireball above Botswana, Africa, early Saturday evening match up with the predicted trajectory for the asteroid. The asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere at the high speed of 10 miles per second (38,000 mph, or 17 kilometers per second) at about 16:44 UTC (9:44 a.m. PDT, 12:44 p.m. EDT,6:44 p.m. local Botswana time) and disintegrated several miles above the surface, creating a bright fireball that lit up the evening sky. The event was witnessed by a number of observers and was caught on webcam video.

When it was first detected, the asteroid was nearly as far away as the Moon’s orbit, although that was not initially known. The asteroid appeared as a streak in the series of time-exposure images taken by the Catalina telescope . As is the case for all asteroid-hunting projects, the data were quickly sent to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which calculated a preliminary trajectory indicating the possibility of an Earth impact. The data were in turn sent to the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where the automated Scout system also found a high probability that the asteroid was on an impact trajectory. Automated alerts were sent out to the community of asteroid observers to obtain further observations, and to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA Headquarters in Washington. However, since the asteroid was determined to be so small and therefore harmless, no further impact alerts were issued by NASA.

The video at the link makes it appear that the asteroid has hit the ground, but that is not what happened.

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SpaceX successfully launches commercial satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has successfully launched a commercial satellite using a previously flown first stage.

They did not attempt to recover the used first stage as it was one of their older stages, which they are clearing out as they move to the final Block 5 version of the Falcon 9.

The top leaders in the 2018 launch race:

16 China
11 SpaceX
5 Russia
5 ULA

In the national standings the U.S. has moved back ahead of China, 17-16.

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Stratolaunch still lacks a launch vehicle

In a news interview today about their plans for the next year or so, the CEO of Stratolaunch danced around the lack of a committed and appropriate rocket to act as a second stage for the giant airplane.

At the first flight event, we are going to talk a little bit about what is our suite of product offerings in terms of launch vehicles. We haven’t really talked much about that up until this point, but once we get the plane flying, we want to reveal to everyone exactly what we’re talking about. We have talked about the Pegasus system [from Orbital ATK] and we are going to launch the Pegasus on our first launch. It’s a very small rocket, but it’s a very good rocket, very reliable, which is one of the reasons we want to launch that first.

But it’s a 50,000 pound rocket. This plane can carry 550,000 pounds, so it’s an undersized rocket for the capabilities we’re talking about.

They hope this first launch will occur by summer of this year.

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Reuseability lowers SpaceX launch price to $50 million

Capitalism in space: Reuseability lowers SpaceX launch price to $50 million.

The article is mostly about tonight’s commercial launch of an SES communications satellite. In it however it notes this comment by Musk:

SpaceX is in the process of flying and discarding older, less advanced Block 4 first stages to clear inventory – the company will likely fly just one more before moving its entire manifest to the Block 5 iteration, which CEO Elon Musk says can fly up to 10 times with minimal refurbishment between missions. Beyond that, the boosters could launch up to 100 times with moderate inspections and changes.

The next-generation vehicles feature improved reusability, upgraded thrust, retractable black landing legs that can reduce time between launches, a new black interstage and a slightly larger payload fairing, to name a few. It will also help SpaceX reduce costs from $60 million to about $50 million per launch, Musk said in May. [emphasis mine]

This price is about a third less than what both Arianespace and ULA have estimated they will charge for their new rockets, Ariane 6 and Vulcan respectively. This is also about half the price that the Russians had been charging for their Proton, which used to be the lowest price in town.

I’ll make a prediction: The drop in prices has only just begun.

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The upcoming Falcon Heavy schedule

Link here. After the estimated October launch of an Air Force technology demonstration satellite, the next launch is a communications satellite for Saudi Arabia set for the December/January time frame.

After that there are no scheduled Falcon Heavy launches, though three companies, Intelsat, Viasat, and Inmarsat, have options for launches.

In related SpaceX news, the company came within 200 feet of catching one half of the fairing from last week’s launch. The picture of the fairing coming down by parachute is very cool, and indicates that SpaceX is very close to recovering them.

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Certain microbes survive in clean rooms by eating the cleaning fluids

Researchers have found that the reason certain microbes seem to survive in all spacecraft clean rooms is that those microbes actually live off the very cleaning fluids used to scrub the rooms.

Despite extensive cleaning procedures, however, molecular genetic analyses show that the clean rooms harbor a diverse collection of microorganisms, or a spacecraft microbiome, that includes bacteria, archaea and fungi, explained Mogul. The Acinetobacter, a genus of bacteria, are among the dominant members of the spacecraft microbiome.

To figure out how the spacecraft microbiome survives in the cleanroom facilities, the research team analyzed several Acinetobacter strains that were originally isolated from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities.

They found that under very nutrient-restricted conditions, most of the tested strains grew on and biodegraded the cleaning agents used during spacecraft assembly. The work showed that cultures grew on ethyl alcohol as a sole carbon source while displaying reasonable tolerances towards oxidative stress. This is important since oxidative stress is associated with desiccating and high radiation environments similar to Mars.

The tested strains were also able to biodegrade isopropyl alcohol and Kleenol 30, two other cleaning agents commonly used, with these products potentially serving as energy sources for the microbiome.

With this information, the space engineering community will be able to refine their clean room operations to eliminate these microbes so as to better sterilize spacecraft heading on life-seeking missions.

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Cubesats heading to Mars complete first course correction

The two cubesats, MarCO-A and MarCO-B, that were launched with NASA’s InSight Mars lander, have both completed their first course corrections, the first ever done in interplanetary space by cubesats.

While MarCO-A corrected its course to Mars relatively smoothly, MarCO-B faced some unexpected challenges. Its maneuver was smaller due to a leaky thruster valve that engineers have been monitoring for the past several weeks. The leak creates small trajectory changes on its own. Engineers have factored in these nudges so that MarCO-B can still perform a trajectory correction maneuver. It will take several more weeks of tracking to refine these nudges so that MarCO-B can follow InSight on its cruise through space.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that MarCO-B can follow MarCO-A,” said Joel Krajewski of JPL, MarCO’s project manager. “But we wanted to take more time to understand the underlying issues before attempting the next course-correction maneuver.”

Once the MarCO team has analyzed data, they’ll know the size of follow-on maneuvers. Several more course corrections will be needed to reach the Red Planet.

Since these two cubesats are an engineering test, even MarCo-B’s fuel leak issue provides valuable information that will make future interplanetary missions more likely and viable.

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The surface properties of 122 asteroids revealed

Using archive data produced by the Wide-field Infrared Explorer telescope (WISE, renamed NEOWISE) astronomers have been able to estimate the surface properties of 122 small asteroids located in the asteroid belt.

“Using archived data from the NEOWISE mission and our previously derived shape models, we were able to create highly detailed thermophysical models of 122 main belt asteroids,” said Hanuš, lead author of the paper. “We now have a better idea of the properties of the surface regolith and show that small asteroids, as well as fast rotating asteroids, have little, if any, dust covering their surfaces.” (Regolith is the term for the broken rocks and dust on the surface.)

It could be difficult for fast-rotating asteroids to retain very fine regolith grains because their low gravity and high spin rates tend to fling small particles off their surfaces and into space. Also, it could be that fast-rotating asteroids do not experience large temperature changes because the sun’s rays are more rapidly distributed across their surfaces. That would reduce or prevent the thermal cracking of an asteroid’s surface material that could cause the generation of fine grains of regolith. [emphasis mine]

If this conclusion holds, it means that mining these asteroids might be much easier. Dust can be a big problem, as it can clog up equipment and interfere with operations. It also acts to hide the underlying material, making it harder to find the good stuff.

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Customs steals $58K, a man’s life savings

Theft by government: U.S. Customs stole $58,000 from a man traveling to Albania, his life savings, though they charged him with no crime.

“This is to notify you that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized the property described below at Cleveland, OH on October 24, 2017: $57,330 in U.S. Currency,” the notice states. “Enforcement activity indicates that the currency was involved in a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation.”

The first thing the Kazazis noticed was that the dollar amount listed was $770 less than the amount that Kazazi said he took with him. The family said that the cash was all in $100 bills, making it impossible for it to add up to $57,330.

Customs might claim this had to do with “smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering” but they found no evidence of such when they strip-searched the man, and have followed up with no charges. And that $770 of the cash that appears missing suggests strongly that several Customs agents pocketed the difference, a nice illegal bonus for these despicable thieves.

Civil forfeiture on its face violates the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which clearly states that citizens are not to “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” These Customs agents, the Custom managers, and everyone else involved with this crime should be fired immediately.

It won’t happen, unfortunately. Our corrupt federal government no longer follows the Constitution. It follows its own corrupt power games, for its own benefit. And the people who should act to stop this, our elected officials, are part of the game.

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Heavier astronauts more likely to have vision issues in zero-G

An analysis of the physical characteristics of astronauts who develop vision problems after long missions in weightlessness has found that heavier body weight increases the risk.

The research team examined data collected by NASA from astronauts who had made long-duration space flights (averaging 165 days). The data included the astronauts’ sex and pre-flight height, weight, waist and chest size, as well as information about post-flight eye changes. The findings were related to body weight, not body mass index. They found that none of the female astronauts analyzed—who weighed less than the males—returned to Earth with symptoms of SANS. To rule out sex differences as a cause for the disparity, the researchers also examined the men’s data separately. “Pre-flight weight, waist circumference and chest circumference were all significantly greater in those who developed either disc edema or choroidal folds. This was still true when only the male cohort was analyzed,” the researchers wrote. “The results from this study show a strong relationship between body weight and the development of ocular changes in space.”

That such small differences in weight can make such a difference suggests again that adding just a small amount of artificial gravity, rather than 1g, might mitigate these issues. No tests of this however have ever been done, mostly because the engineering is complex and expensive. For humans we would need to build a vessel large enough that any rotation would be unnoticed. If the vessel is small it must rotate faster and the body’s inner ear gets confused. However, if we only need to simulate a tiny amount of gravity the spin rate can be reduced, simplifying the engineering.

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Proposed new FCC regulations would shut out student cubesats

We’re here to help you! Proposed new FCC regulations on the licensing of smallsats would raise the licensing cost for student-built cubesats so much that universities would likely have to shut down the programs.

In a move that threatens U.S. education in science, technology, engineering and math, and could have repercussions throughout the country’s aerospace industry, the FCC is proposing regulations that may license some educational satellite programs as commercial enterprises. That could force schools to pay a US$135,350 annual fee – plus a $30,000 application fee for the first year – to get the federal license required for a U.S. organization to operate satellite communications.

It would be a dramatic increase in costs. The most common type of small satellite used in education is the U.S.-developed CubeSat. Each is about 10 inches on a side and weighs 2 or 3 pounds. A working CubeSat that can take pictures of the Earth can be developed for only $5,000 in parts. They’re assembled by volunteer students and launched by NASA at no charge to the school or college. Currently, most missions pay under $100 to the FCC for an experimental license, as well as several hundred dollars to the International Telecommunications Union, which coordinates satellite positions and frequencies. [emphasis mine]

If these new and very high licensing fees are correct I find them shocking. As noted in the quote, building a cubesat costs practically nothing, only about $5,000. The new fees thus add gigantic costs to the satellite’s development, and could literally wipe the market out entirely. They certainly will end most university programs that have students build cubesats as a first step towards learning how to build satellites.

These new regulations appear to be part of the Trump administration’s effort to streamline and update the regulatory process for commercial space. It also appears that the FCC has fumbled badly here in its part of this process.

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Dunes on Pluto?

Dunes on Pluto

Cool image time! Scientists reviewing images taken by New Horizons when it flew past Pluto in 2015 have discovered what appear to be dunes of methane on the icepack of nitrogen of Sputnik Planitia. The image on the right, cropped to post here, shows these dunes. You can see the full image if you click on it.

Following spatial analysis of the dunes and nearby wind streaks on the planet’s surface, as well as spectral and numerical modelling, scientists believe that sublimation (which converts solid nitrogen directly into a gas) results in sand-sized grains of methane being released into the environment.

These are then transported by Pluto’s moderate winds (which can reach between 30 and 40 kmh), with the border of the ice plain and mountain range providing the perfect location for such regular surface formations to appear.

The scientists also believe the undisturbed morphology of the dunes and their relationship with the underlying glacial ice suggests the features are likely to have been formed within the last 500,000 years, and possibly much more recently.

There remains a lot of uncertainty here. The features do look like dunes in the image, but it is also possible that other phenomenon not yet understood could have caused this pattern on the icepack surface. Also, the resolution of the image is not sufficient to really see detail at this level. A different process on the surface could be fooling our eyes.

Nonetheless, the scientists hypothesis makes sense, and fits the data known. It also demonstrates again that, even billions of miles from the Sun, in as alien an environment we can imagine, the planet Pluto is an active and complex place.

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Astronomers identify giant exoplanets that might harbor habitable moons

Worlds without end: In reviewing the known exoplanets astronomers have identified more than a hundred giant exoplanets located in the habitable zone that might harbor habitable moons.

The researchers identified 121 giant planets that have orbits within the habitable zones of their stars. At more than three times the radii of the Earth, these gaseous planets are less common than terrestrial planets, but each is expected to host several large moons.

Scientists have speculated that exomoons might provide a favorable environment for life, perhaps even better than Earth. That’s because they receive energy not only from their star, but also from radiation reflected from their planet. Until now, no exomoons have been confirmed.

Using this new database scientists will optimize future instruments on both the ground and in space to look for and study the moons circling these exoplanets.

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Radio telescope in Greenland sees first “light”

Astronomers have successfully initiated operations of a new radio telescope dish, the first ever located in Greenland.

The Greenland Telescope is a 12-meter radio antenna that was originally built as a prototype for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) North America. Once ALMA was operational in Chile, the telescope was repurposed to Greenland to take advantage of the near-ideal conditions of the Arctic to study the Universe at specific radio frequencies, collaborating with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and MIT Haystack Observatory.

ASIAA led the effort to refurbish and rebuild the antenna to prepare it for the cold climate of Greenland’s ice sheet. In 2016, the telescope was shipped to the Thule Air Base in Greenland, 1,200 km inside the Arctic Circle, where it was reassembled at this coastal site. ASIAA also built receivers for the antenna. “It is extremely challenging to quickly and successfully set up a new telescope in such a cold environment, where temperatures fall below -30 degrees Celsius,” said Ming-Tang Chen from ASIAA and the Greenland Telescope project manager. “This is now one of the closest radio telescopes to the North Pole.”

They have also linked this radio telescope to others across the globe, helping to increase the resolution of any data these radio telescopes gather as a unit.

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Max Planck scientists criticize institute for lack of support over animal rights

The coming dark age: The scientists at the Max Planck Society in Germany have written two letters criticizing the institute for its lack of support and its willingness to bow to animal rights protests.

It appears the scientists have followed all the rules, and have acted reasonably, but the longtime director of one of the Society’s main research divisions, Nikos Logothetis, was still indicted for the death of one monkey.

The struggle began in September 2014, when a German television channel aired footage taken by an undercover animal-welfare activist who had infiltrated Logothetis’s lab, purporting to show mistreatment of research monkeys.

Death threats and insults to Logothetis and his family followed — and in 2015, Logothetis decided to wind down his primate lab and replace it with a rodent facility. Events came to a head on 20 February this year, when Logothetis was indicted for allegedly violating animal-protection laws, after an animal-welfare group made complaints to police on the basis of the 2014 footage. Logothetis denies the charges. A trial date has not yet been set.

…The indictment follows contradictory judgements about Logothetis and his work at the MPI-Biocyb. Immediately after the September 2014 documentary was broadcast, an external specialist appointed by the MPS leadership found no welfare violations at MPI-Biocyb. But two months later, the German Animal Welfare Federation, a non-profit organization in Bonn, filed multiple complaints with police about animals at the institute.

In August last year, a local judge in Tubingen dismissed all but one charge; for that charge, allegedly delaying euthanasia in three rhesus monkeys, the judge offered an out-of-court settlement, which Logothetis accepted. But in October, prosecutors in the state capital, Stuttgart, overturned the settlement decision. They pursued the delayed-euthanasia case against Logothetis and two other staff members, who have not been publicly named, leading to their indictment in February.

Logothetis says that the decisions about whether and when to kill the monkeys, which contracted infections after surgery, were appropriate and complied with the law. Veterinary staff attempted to treat the infections, he says, and two of the monkeys recovered. The third was humanely killed when staff decided that it was unlikely to recover.

Despite this history, the Society’s management has removed Logothetis as director. It has also made the research division he headed persona non grata, causing harm to the other researchers who work there.

In response the scientists have submitted two different letters lambasting the actions of the Society, signed by dozens of its scientists.

MPI-Biocyb scientists take issue with the MPS’s decision to impose these sanctions on Logothetis before the case is considered by a court. “We are very upset that the society is failing to uphold the principle of innocence before guilt is proven,” says neuroscientist Hamid Noori, a junior group leader at MPI-Biocyb. “With this attitude, any activist can attack us freely, without consequence.”

Noori is one of four MPI-Biocyb scientists who spoke to Nature about the situation. Their criticisms are echoed in the two letters: the first, sent in December, was signed by 54 scientists; the second, sent in February, was signed by 94, a majority of those who work with animals at MPI-Biocyb, says Noori. The February letter describes “an extremely distressful situation” that “has seriously compromised our working conditions”.

In other words, even though the evidence strongly indicates that Logothetis followed the rules and did not act with malice towards the primates in his care, the Society has caved to the animal rights protesters.

This is the present, and the future. Someone with an ax to grind, usually from the left, will make a complaint, and everyone will bow to them out of cowardly fear, no matter how baseless or unproven the charge. Science research will stop, free speech will end, and an oppressive shadow will fall upon western civilization.

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Why you got Trump, part 2,398,105

Link here. The author focuses on the “Never Trump” wing of the Republican Party, individuals who have completely abandoned any pretense that they stand for conservative values in their no-holds-barred opposition to Trump, even when he does things they should like.

This quote illustrates however why Trump won, and continues to be popular with the general public:

[T]he main point these [Never Trumpers] whom we have no choice but to refer to as former conservatives miss is that in our political system the choice is still binary. Other conservatives may not like Trump but they understand that the voters preferred him in no small measure because they were sick of the clubby elitism that characterizes the anti-Trump alliance.

Moreover, they understand that, thanks to Trump’s unlikely victory, the choice isn’t between a conservatism tainted by association with Trump and one that isn’t. Rather the choice is between a Trump-led Republican Party that is championing the same issues that the pre-Trump GOP supported and liberals who want a return to the Obama era of high taxes and appeasement of Iran to mention just two key issues on which many Never Trumpers have abandoned their principles. [emphasis mine]

It is that clubby elitism of Washington — and the bankrupt incompetent government it has given us — that most offends the voters who went for Trump. Trump’s actions since his elections, though imperfect for sure, have confirmed the wisdom of this choice. It has also revealed the fake conservatives in the Republican Party who clearly prefer that clubby elitism above any effort that might try to fix the problem.

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New impact craters on Mars

New impact crater on Mars

Cool image time! The high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) keeps finding recent impact craters, all of which the science team try to monitor periodically to see how the surface evolves over time. The image on the right, cropped to post here, is one such crater, the image taken in January 2018 and released with as one of the captioned images from this month’s image catalog release. If you click on the image you can see the full picture.

What is notable about this particular impact are the colors.

The new crater and its ejecta have distinctive color patterns. Once the colors have faded in a few decades, this new crater will still be distinctive compared to the secondaries by having a deeper cavity compared to its diameter.

Those colors of course have importance to researchers, as they reveal the different materials found beneath the surface at this location, normally hidden by surface dust and debris.

Nor is this the only impact crater revealed in this month’s image release. Earlier in the month the science team highlighted an image that captured two small impacts. While all three of these impacts are in the general region called Elysium Planitia, they are not particularly close to each other. They are however surrounding the landing site for the InSight lander now heading to Mars. This last link takes you to my January 28, 2018 post detailing some information about this landing site, and also includes another recent crater impact, found at the center of the landing zone.

It is not clear if these recent impacts are related to each other. As noted by Alfred McEwen of the science team, “Often, a bolide breaks apart in the atmosphere and makes a tight cluster of new craters.” It could be that all these recent impacts came from the same bolide, which is why there appear to be a surplus of them in Elysium Planitia.

Then again, our surface survey of Mars is very incomplete. These impacts could simply be marking the normal impact rate for Mars. We will not know until we have completed a detail survey of all recent impacts on Mars, and have been able to date them all.

Who wants to do it?

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Chinese regulations sends recycling into the trash

New Chinese regulations on what is acceptable recycled trash is causing trash companies throughout the U.S. to send the recyclables into the trash heap.

In the past, the municipalities would have shipped much of their used paper, plastics and other scrap materials to China for processing. But as part of a broad antipollution campaign, China announced last summer that it no longer wanted to import “foreign garbage.” Since Jan. 1 it has banned imports of various types of plastic and paper, and tightened standards for materials it does accept.

While some waste managers already send their recyclable materials to be processed domestically, or are shipping more to other countries, others have been unable to find a substitute for the Chinese market. “All of a sudden, material being collected on the street doesn’t have a place to go,” said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services, one of the largest waste managers in the country.

In other words, there is no market for recycled trash. It has no value. No one wants it. Thus, even though it sounds good and allows people to make believe they are saving the environment by recycling, it is an inefficient waste of resources, as the article notes:

Recycling companies “used to get paid” by selling off recyclable materials, said Peter Spendelow, a policy analyst for the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon. “Now they’re paying to have someone take it away.”

In some places, including parts of Idaho, Maine and Pennsylvania, waste managers are continuing to recycle but are passing higher costs on to customers, or are considering doing so. “There are some states and some markets where mixed paper is at a negative value,” said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling at Waste Management, which handles 10 million tons of recycling per year. “We’ll let our customers make that decision, if they’d like to pay more and continue to recycle or to pay less and have it go to landfill.”

Economic realities always rule. The problem is when people create fantasies that have no connection with those rules.

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