Category Archives: Points of Information

Russia replaces Brightman with Kazakhstan astronaut

Rather than fly a different tourist on the September ISS flight that Sarah Brightman has backed out of, Russia has instead given the seat to an astronaut from Kazakhstan.

The article suggests that Russia might be doing a barter deal with Kazakhstan, saving money on its lease for Baikonur in exchange for the astronaut flight.

Supreme Court rules government cannot confisicate farmer crops

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 today that a 66 year old program that allowed the federal government to confiscate the crops of farmers in order to manage the supply and demand was unconstitutional.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said the government must pay “just compensation” when it takes personal goods just as when it takes land away. He rejected the government’s argument that the Hornes voluntarily chose to participate in the raisin market and have the option of selling different crops if they don’t like it. “‘Let them sell wine’ is probably not much more comforting to the raisin growers than similar retorts have been to others throughout history,” Roberts said. “Property rights cannot be so easily manipulated.”

The Constitution on property rights is very clear. The government has to pay for any property it takes. That it required a Supreme Court decision to enforce this plain language should distress us all.

When to doubt a scientific consensus

Link here.

This is a beautifully written and thoughtful analysis of the state of climate science, and why intelligent and educated citizens should continue to remain skeptical of the claims coming from the global warming activist community (which now includes the Pope).

He gives a dozen different reasons for remaining skeptical of the claims of the global warming community, based both on the science as well as how they sell their position. Number 10 — “When [the claimed consensus] it is being used to justify dramatic political or economic policies” — is probably the most important:

Imagine hundreds of world leaders and nongovernmental organizations, science groups, and United Nations functionaries gathered for a meeting heralded as the most important conference since World War II, in which “the future of the world is being decided.” These officials seem to agree that institutions of “global governance” need to be established to reorder the world economy and massively restrict energy resources. Large numbers of them applaud wildly when socialist dictators denounce capitalism. Strange philosophical and metaphysical activism surrounds the gathering. And we are told by our president that all of this is based, not on fiction, but on science — that is, a scientific consensus that human activities, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, are leading to catastrophic climate change.

We don’t have to imagine that scenario, of course. It happened in Copenhagen, in December 2009. It will happen again in Paris, in December 2015.

Now, none of this disproves the hypothesis of catastrophic, human induced climate change. But it does describe an atmosphere that would be highly conducive to misrepresentation. And at the very least, when policy consequences, which claim to be based on science, are so profound, the evidence ought to be rock solid. “Extraordinary claims,” the late Carl Sagan often said, “require extraordinary evidence.” When the megaphones of consensus insist that there’s no time, that we have to move, MOVE, MOVE!, you have a right to be suspicious.

A closer close-up of Ceres’ double bright spot

Closer look at Ceres' double bright spot

Cool image time! In a new press release, the Dawn science team has unveiled a new close-up of Ceres’ double bright spot, shown on the right.

At least eight spots can be seen next to the largest bright area, which scientists think is approximately 6 miles (9 kilometers) wide. A highly reflective material is responsible for these spots — ice and salt are leading possibilities, but scientists are considering other options, too.

In other words, they still have not confirmed through spectroscopy, that these bright spots are ice.

Note also that they have reduced the image’s brightness so that the bright spots do not over expose as much as in past images. This not only allows more details to come out, but it portrays Ceres’ very dark surface more accurately. Even so, the image still shows that surface as brighter than it actually is.

A mountain on Ceres

The press release also described a second image, showing a single lonely mountain on the planet’s horizon, rising up three miles from the planet’s surface, shown in the cropped image to the left. Overall this image, as well as the others, suggest that the surface of Ceres is generally far less rough than we should expect.

Another science mystery to unravel!

Government forces closure of another Christian business

Fascists: Another Christian business forced to close because the owners refused to host a homosexual wedding.

If the trend continues as it has, expect the homosexual community to soon demand the imprisonment of some Christians for their beliefs, and expect some to go to prison as a result. And expect this to happen even though no one is preventing any homosexuals from having homosexual relations.

And we all know that the gay agenda has everything to do with tolerance, don’t we?

TMT construction to resume on Wednesday

The managers of the Thirty Meter Telescope project have announced that they will resume construction of the telescope on Wednesday.

Since the state of Hawaii has refused to remove the protesters, who have been camping illegally on the road up to the mountaintop, expect some conflict come Wednesday when the first construction vehicle tries to drive past.

Federal Court rules in favor of lawsuit against IRS for harassment

The federal court of appeals today ruled in favor of the pro-Israel organization Z Street in its lawsuit against the IRS for specifically harassing them because their positions disagreed with the Obama administration.

To review:

Z STREET filed its lawsuit against the IRS in August, 2010, on the basis of statements made to its counsel by the IRS agent reviewing Z STREET’s application for 501(c)(3) charitable tax exempt status, filed in 2009. That agent revealed that the IRS has an “Israel Special Policy” which gave differential treatment to tax exemption applications from organizations holding views about Israel inconsistent with those espoused by the Obama administration, scrutinizing such applications differently and at greater length, than those made by organizations which did not hold such views. [emphasis mine]

As I like to say, the IRS, rather than doing tax enforcement, has been instead very specifically working as a lobbying agent for the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. The Z Street case documents it, and is now going to document it far more thoroughly than any Democrat or Obama can imagine.

The organization says it looks forward to the discovery phase of litigation in which it will seek to learn the nature and origin of the “Israel Special Policy” which the IRS applied to Z Street’s tax exemption application. Z Street will seek to learn how such a policy was created, who created it, who approved it, to whom it was applied, as well as all other information regarding this policy.

What Z Street learns will be directly useful to the conservative organizations that the IRS also harassed illegally. It might also do great political harm to a number of prominent Democratic Party elected officials.

Falcon 9 landing barge replaced and upgraded

The competition heats up: SpaceX has replaced one of its automated first stage landing barges with an upgraded version.

With dimensions virtually identical to Marmac 300, she carries some new features, including a steel blast wall erected between the rear containers and the landing deck, in addition to the steel bow wall as previously seen on Marmac 300. Ongoing work visible on deck suggests that a second blast wall may be installed at the forward end of the landing deck as well.

The article also provides us a nice contrast between the government and the private sector. While a private company is now willing to buy a flight with a recovered first stage, even before a successful landing, the government is far more cautious:

According to Mr. Musk, officials have asked for “repeated, successful” demonstrations of a first stage landing on the drone ship before a landing attempt will be allowed at the Cape.

That the company has already demonstrated twice that the first stage can return very precisely to its target should have already satisfied these officials. Moreover, the landing site would be well secured and maintained by SpaceX, and they appear quite willing to bear any repair costs should the stage crash on that landing site.

Philae contacts Rosetta again

Philae today sent another 2 minutes worth of information to Rosetta.

The downlink was stable; the two contacts received by Rosetta lasted two minutes each. Both delivered numerous packets of lander housekeeping and status data, 185 in total, which are still being analysed at the time of this writing. No science data were anticipated or received.

SES wants to launch with a recovered Falcon 9 first stage

The competition heats up: Commercial satellite company SES has requested SpaceX that one of its satellites be the first to be launched with a recovered Falcon 9 first stage.

SES has seven satellites under construction, five of which are contracted for SpaceX launches, starting with SES-9. SES said it has been given a guarantee by SpaceX that the launch will occur no later than September. SES has agreed to allow SES-9 to be the first launch using an upgraded Falcon 9 main-stage Merlin 1D engine, whose performance is being increased to allow SpaceX to attempt first-stage recovery even on launches to geostationary transfer orbit, the destination of most telecommunications satellites.

Just as it secured an attractive SpaceX price for the SES-8 by being one of the first established customers, SES now wants a cut-rate price on a Falcon 9 with a previously used first stage. “Our launch vehicle for SES-9 will be a recoverable vehicle,” Halliwell said. “We believe they will be able to recover it on this mission. We actually asked them: If we do recover it, can we use it again and get a good price discount? We’re still in discussions.”

In other words, if SpaceX is successful in landing the first stage after it puts SES-9 into orbit in September, they want first dibs, at a good price, of using that stage on a future SES launch.

SES’s willingness to do this changes my estimated time frame for the first successful reuse of a first stage. I had assumed that the commercial satellite companies would all be reluctant to put one of their payloads on a rocket using a recovered first stage, until they had seen at least one test flight of such a stage. SES proves this assumption wrong, to my delight.

Supreme Court voids local sign ordiance

Some good news: In a 9-0 ruling the Supreme Court struck down a local Arizona town’s ordiance that restricted a church’s right to post signs about its upcoming events.

What is most encouraging about this ruling is that all nine justices agreed to it. This suggests that there is a strong majority on the court that supports freedom of speech, and will not look kindly at the Obama administration’s effort to impose its will on the speech and activity of religious and conservative organizations.

Fast track trade authority passes in House

The House today passed a revised fast track authority bill for any trade bills that President Obama might negotiate.

This bill did not include the job training section that was defeated last week and that the Senate included in its version of fast track. Thus, the Senate must now vote again on fast track, this time on the House-passed version. It is unclear whether the Senate will agree, as Democrats have opposed fast track without the jobs aid.

Overall this whole incident illustrates how misguided our elected leaders are. Right now we have much bigger problems than negotiating a new trade agreement, especially considering the secrecy in which Obama wishes to complete that negotiation.

The newest Republican proposal on Obamacare

Trying to avoid what’s in it: Faced with the possibility that the Supreme Court could declare that the Obamacare subsidies are illegal in most states, House Republicans have come up with a new bill to revise the law.

In the tentative responses discussed in separate closed-door meetings Wednesday, House GOP leaders said they would continue the subsidies for a year. Then, states could receive federal block grants for the following two years that they could structure into any kind of health care aid they wish. All of the health law’s regulations would end for those states, including popular ones like assuring coverage of children until age 26. In 2017 — when Republicans hope to control the White House — the entire health law would be eliminated.

The law would also immediately repeal the Obamacare tax on medical devices as well as the Obamacare advisory board designed to ration care to save money.

We know already that Obama will veto this plan, which to my mind is a good thing. The only solution that will work to fix Obamacare is to repeal it in toto. Partial fixes, even ones that last only a few years, can only cause more harm and will increase the chances that legislators will chicken out of full repeal when it is finally time to kick in.

Active lava flows found on Venus

volcanoes on Venus

Cool image time! Using archival data from Venus Express, scientists have identified several spots on Venus where it appears there are active lava flows.

Using a near-infrared channel of the spacecraft’s Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC) to map thermal emission from the surface through a transparent spectral window in the planet’s atmosphere, an international team of planetary scientists has spotted localised changes in surface brightness between images taken only a few days apart. “We have now seen several events where a spot on the surface suddenly gets much hotter, and then cools down again,” says Eugene Shalygin from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, and lead author of the paper reporting the results in Geophysical Research Letters this month. “These four ‘hotspots’ are located in what are known from radar imagery to be tectonic rift zones, but this is the first time we have detected that they are hot and changing in temperature from day to day. It is the most tantalising evidence yet for active volcanism.”

The hotspots are found along the Ganiki Chasma rift zone close to the volcanoes Ozza Mons and Maat Mons. Rift zones are results of fracturing of the surface, which is often associated with upwelling of magma below the crust. This process can bring hot material to the surface, where it may be released through fractures as a lava flow.

There have been hints of volcanic activity on Venus since Pioneer Venus Orbiter first circled the planet from 1978 to 1992. This appears to be the first solid evidence of it.

Astronomers have discovered an exoplanet smaller than Earth

Worlds without end: Scientists have measured the size and mass of the smallest exoplanet yet, a Mars-sized planet orbiting a star about 200 light years away.

The planet, named Kepler-138 b, is the first exoplanet smaller than the Earth to have both its mass and its size measured. It is one of three planets that orbit the star Kepler-138 and that pass in front of it on every orbit as viewed from Earth — a maneuver that astronomers call a transit. “Each time a planet transits the star, it blocks a small fraction of the star’s light, allowing us to measure the size of the planet,” said Dr. Daniel Jontof-Hutter, a research associate in astronomy at Penn State who led the study.

“We also measured the gravity of all three planets, using data from NASA’s Kepler mission, by precisely observing the times of each transit,” Jontof-Hutter said. The astronomers also were able to measure the masses of these planets. “Each planet periodically slows down and accelerates ever so slightly from the gravity of its neighboring planets. This slight change in time between transits allowed us to measure the masses of the planets,” Jontof-Hutter explained. After measuring both the mass and size of an exoplanet, astronomers then can calculate its density and its bulk composition.

OPM ignored warnings last year its computers were insecure

An inspector general report last year had advised OPM to shut down many of its computer systems because they were running without sufficient security. The agency ignored that recommendation.

In the audit report published November 12, 2014, OIG found that 11 out of 47 computer systems operated by OPM did not have current security authorizations. Furthermore, the affected systems were “amongst the most critical and sensitive applications owned by the agency.” Two of the unauthorized systems are described in the report as “general support systems” which contained over 65 percent of all OPM computer applications. Two other unauthorized systems were owned by Federal Investigative Services, the organization which handles background investigations in connection with government security clearances. OIG warned bluntly, “any weaknesses in the information systems supporting this program office could potentially have national security implications.”

Because of the volume and sensitivity of the information involved, OIG recommended OPM “consider shutting down systems that do not have a current and valid Authorization.” But OPM declined, saying, “We agree that it is important to maintain up-to-date and valid ATOs for all systems but do not believe that this condition rises to the level of a Material Weakness.”

The head of OPM also claimed in House hearings yesterday that their failure to close these systems down was justified since the hackers were already in the system when the recommendation was made.

In other words, we didn’t do anything to make the system secure, and when hackers broke in it was further justification for not doing anything.

Yeah, let’s put our healthcare under their control also!

UrtheCast releases its first commercial videos of Earth

The competition heats up: UrtheCast has released high resolution videos of three Earth cities taken from its camera on ISS.

Take a look. The cameras are quite successful in capturing the motion of vehicles on highways and road, which is amazing considering the vibrations that ISS experiences merely from astronaut movements.

The company plans to offer the imagery in several tiers, from a free video feed on its website to an API that will allow customers, including corporations, governments and individuals, to purchase imagery data from its database or make real-time requests for a look at a given spot on the earth. The cameras scan the ground under the ISS, which tracks the earth between about 51 degrees north and south latitude.

France sells Arianespace to Airbus Safran

The competition heats up: In negotiations resulting from increased competition in the launch industry, France and its space agency have agreed to sell their stock in Arianespace to Airbus Safran, builders of the new Ariane 6, giving that private company 74% ownership.

I have reported on this deal earlier. This report makes it clear, however, that Arianespace will essentially become irrelevant after the deal is completed. Airbus Safran will build and own the rocket, and will be in charge.

Saudia Arabia and Russia sign space exploration agreement

The competition heats up: Saudia Arabia has signed a deal with Russia to work together to explore space for peaceful purposes.

This deal has less importance to the exploration of space. Instead, it signifies clearly the worsening relations between the U.S. and Saudia Arabia. For decades the Saudis would always turn to the U.S. for such deals. They are now looking elsewhere, having found the U.S. to be an unreliable partner during the Obama administration.

Rosetta repositions to improve contact with Philae

Engineers have begun shifting Rosetta’s trajectory paralleling Comet 67P/C-G in order to maximize communications with the lander Philae.

Commands to adjust the trajectory were successfully uploaded Monday evening; further commands will be uplinked on Thursday evening. The spacecraft will perform two manoeuvres, one on Wednesday morning and the second on Saturday morning. The effect of the two ‘dog-leg’ burns will be to bring the orbiter to a distance of 180 km from the comet and to reproduce the orbiter-comet geometry of the first contact.

We should therefore not expect further news from Philae for the rest of this week.

Another successful course correction for New Horizons

New Horizons has successfully completed another course correction and is shipshape for its fly-by of Pluto on July 14.

A 45-second thruster burst on June 14 refined New Horizons’ trajectory toward Pluto, targeting the optimal aim point for the spacecraft’s flight through the Pluto system. This was only the second targeting maneuver of New Horizons’ approach to Pluto; Sunday’s burst adjusted the spacecraft’s velocity by just 52 centimeters per second, aiming it toward the desired close-approach target point approximately 7,750 miles above Pluto’s surface.

The maneuver was based on the latest radio tracking data on the spacecraft and range-to-Pluto measurements made by optical-navigation imaging of the Pluto system taken by New Horizons in recent weeks.

Right now all looks good for the fly-by.

Federal government has no system for verifying Obamacare subsidies

Finding out what’s in it: An audit by the inspector general of Health and Human Services (HHS) has found that the agency has no internal system to verify that $2.8 billion in Obamacare subsidies were paid correctly, or even to the right people.

The [inspector general] said the agency did not have a system to “ensure that financial assistance payments were made on behalf of confirmed enrollees and in the correct amounts.” In addition, [HHS] relied too heavily on data from health insurance companies and had no system for state-based exchanges to “submit enrollee eligibility data for financial assistance payments.”

The government does “not plan to perform a timely reconciliation” of the $2.8 billion in subsidies. [emphasis mine]

Not only have they given out billions without proper record-keeping or proper verification, the agency has no intention of fixing the problem. “Ain’t my job, man!”

Anti-drilling environmentalists trash environment during protest

Environmental activists protesting the launch of a drilling rig in Seattle did serious damage to a nature reserve, costing $10K to clean it up.

I am not surprised. The left and environmental movement has this annoying habit of blaming everyone else for the world’s problems, insisting that only they have the solutions. When their solutions fail, or when they screw up, however, they are never willing to admit their error, take personal responsibility, and look for a more effective solution. To them, it is always someone else’s fault.

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