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Japan’s Venus probe zeros in on Dec 7 arrival

A Japanese Venus research spacecraft, dubbed Akatsuki, has completed all its preliminary course corrections and is ready for a December 7 orbital insertion attempt, the second since the spacecraft’s main engine failed during the first attempt in 2010.

The space probe accomplished its last targeting maneuver Oct. 11 to aim for its Dec. 7 arrival at Venus, and all systems are go for the encounter, said Takeshi Imamura, Akatsuki’s project scientist at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science. Imamura said the Akatsuki spacecraft, named for the Japanese word for dawn, will zoom 541 kilometers, or 336 miles, above Venus for a 20-minute insertion burn using the probe’s secondary attitude control thrusters. Japanese ground controllers have programmed the probe to use the backup rocket jets after a faulty valve knocked out Akatsuki’s main engine during its first attempt to enter orbit around Venus in December 2010.

Four of the eight attitude control thrusters aboard Akatsuki will fire for 20 minutes and 33 seconds to slow the spacecraft down enough for Venus’ gravity to pull it into an egg-shaped orbit that skims above the planet’s cloud tops on the low end and ranges several hundred thousand miles in altitude at peak altitude. The reaction control thrusters, originally designed to help point the spacecraft, were not rated for such a hefty propulsive maneuver.

To make this second chance possible, they have spent the last five years improvising. First they dumped the fuel from the now-useless main engine to make the spacecraft lighter so that the attitude control thrusters could handle the maneuvers. Then they used those thrusters repeatedly to adjust the course to bring Akatsuki back to Venus after it zipped past in 2010.

If they succeed in getting it in a useful orbit on December 7, it will be real triumph for these Japanese engineers.


The first image of a newly formed exoplanet

Astronomers have captured the first image, using ground-based telescopes, of an exoplanet in the process of forming.

The star is 450 light years away, and the image is really a combined image using data taken by two different telescopes, one in infrared light and the other gathering visible light spectroscopy. So, this really isn’t a photograph like you’d take with your camera, but a re-creation. Nonetheless it provides us a first look at the star and the new planet forming in orbit around it.

Vine to Wine

An evening pause: Making wine, the modern way. It is interesting how many steps here are still done by hand when they clearly could be automated. I suspect that it doesn’t pay for this winery to upgrade to more sophisticated equipment because their overall output is relatively small and it is more efficient for these steps to still be done by hand.

Hat tip Phill Oltmann, who tells me he is thinking of planting his own grape vines this year.

Why the English language is odd

Link here.

The writer outlines the history of English and how the many different languages that contributed to it caused it to be so different from most other languages. Some of the oddities he notes are quite fascinating because we English-speakers take them so much for granted. He only hints, however, at what is probably the English language’s greatest gift — its gigantic vocabulary resulting from its remarkable ability to absorb new words — which probably comes from that same polyglot history.

Israel eases its restrictions on gun use

Faced with rising violence from Islamic and Palestinian terrorists, Israel this month has eased its gun control rules so that more citizens can own and use guns.

Under the new policy, all IDF officers above the rank of 2nd lieutenant and non-commissioned officers from the rank of first sergeant and up can obtain a permit, even if they hold those ranks in the reserves. Parallel ranks in the police and other security services have been given the same access.

This doesn’t help those who came to the country later in life and never served in the military, but it is still a step in the right direction. The Palestinians wish to live by the sword. They then face the increasing possibility that they will die by it.

ULA concedes GPS competition to SpaceX

The competition cools down: ULA has decided against bidding on a military GPS launch contract, leaving the field clear for SpaceX.

ULA, which for the past decade has launched nearly every U.S. national security satellite, said Nov. 16 it did not submit a bid to launch a GPS 3 satellite for the Air Force in 2018 in part because it does not expect to have an Atlas 5 rocket available for the mission. ULA has been pushing for relief from legislation Congress passed roughly a year ago requiring the Air Force to phase out its use of the Russian-made RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s workhorse Atlas 5 rocket.

This decision might be a lobbying effort by ULA to force Congress to give them additional waivers on using the Atlas 5 engine. Or it could be that they realize that they wouldn’t be able to match SpaceX’s price, and decided it was pointless wasting time and money putting together a bid. Either way, the decision suggests that ULA is definitely challenged in its competition with SpaceX, and until it gets a new lower cost rocket that is not dependent on Russian engines, its ability to compete in the launch market will be seriously hampered.

Short circuit on ISS

An electrical failure on ISS has deprived ISS of one of its main circuits.

They have alternative wiring and are using that, so that all equipment is presently functioning. However, a similar failure in 2014 required a spacewalk to fix. Moreover, they don’t have the necessary spare parts on board to fix the problem. They will have to be shipped up, and it is too late to put them on the Cygnus freighter now packed and ready for launch on December 3.

Curiosity heads for the dunes

Bagnold Dunes

The Curiosity science team has decided to send the rover towards some large active dunes, visible in its journey ahead up Mt. Sharp.

On its way to higher layers of the mountain where it is investigating how Mars’ environment changed billions of years ago, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover will take advantage of a chance to study some modern Martian activity at mobile sand dunes.

In the next few days, the rover will get its first close-up look at these dark dunes, called the “Bagnold Dunes,” which skirt the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. No Mars rover has previously visited a sand dune, as opposed to smaller sand ripples or drifts. One dune Curiosity will investigate is as tall as a two-story building and as broad as a football field. The Bagnold Dunes are active: Images from orbit indicate some of them are migrating as much as about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year. No active dunes have been visited anywhere in the solar system besides Earth.

In the image on the right the target dune is in the center beyond the dark ridge line in the foreground. It looks kind of like a pointed mesa. the dark sandy area on the center right just below the dark ridge line in the center of the image. (Newer images released today gave me a more correct idea of the dunes as shown in this image. Click here to see the full image. The rover is presently about 200 yards from the first dune, and should reach it in the next few days.

on account of because

An evening pause: From the 1941 Howard Hawks classic, Ball of Fire, about eight professors who hire a burlesque dancer to explain slang to them. Hat tip to Phil Berardelli, author of Phil’s Favorite 500: Loves of a Moviegoing Lifetime, who notes, “Barbara Stanwyck demonstrates the art of seduction, complete with luminously backlit hair, opposite the uncharacteristically prim Gary Cooper.”

“I’m going to show you what yum-yum is!”

The uncertainty of climate science

For the past five years, I have been noting on this webpage the large uncertainties that still exist in the field of climate science. Though we have solid evidence of an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we also have no idea what the consequences of that increase are going to be. It might cause the atmosphere to warm, or it might not. It might harm the environment, or it might instead spur plant life growth that will invigorate it instead. The data remains inconclusive. We really don’t even know if the climate is truly warming, and even if it is, whether CO2 is causing that warming.

While government scientists at NASA and NOAA are firmly in the camp that claims increasing carbon dioxide will cause worldwide disastrous global warming, their own data, when looked at coldly, reveals that they themselves don’t have sufficient information to make that claim. In fact, they don’t even have sufficient information to claim they know whether the climate is warming or cooling! My proof? Look at the graph below, produced by NOAA’s own National Centers for Environmental Information.
» Read more

Enceladus rises over Dione

Enceladus rising behind Dione

Cool image time! The image on the right was taken by Cassini in September 2015, and shows two Saturn moons, bright Enceladus partly blocked by darker and nearer Dione.

Although Dione (near) and Enceladus (far) are composed of nearly the same materials, Enceladus has a considerably higher reflectivity than Dione. As a result, it appears brighter against the dark night sky.

The surface of Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across) endures a constant rain of ice grains from its south polar jets. As a result, its surface is more like fresh, bright, snow than Dione’s (698 miles or 1123 kilometers across) older, weathered surface. As clean, fresh surfaces are left exposed in space, they slowly gather dust and radiation damage and darken in a process known as “space weathering.”

The image doesn’t contain any earth-shattering discoveries. It is simply beautiful. And in these dark times, seeing beauty is sometimes the most important thing one can do.

Is ISIS Islamic? Islam scholars say yes!

Link here.

The article highlights two realities. First, the claims by today’s politicians (mostly Democratic but also including President George Bush) that Islam is a religion of peace and that its violent radical elements are distorting the religion is downright false. Second, this conclusion is reached not by western rightwing pundits but Islamic scholars themselves. To quote:

Egypt’s Al-Azhar issued a statement Dec. 11, 2014, refusing to declare the Islamic State (IS) apostates. “No believer can be declared an apostate, regardless of his sins,” it read.

…The “Al-Azhar” referred to is the mosque and university in Cairo that are a center of Sunni learning. So the answer is pretty clear. As far as the center of Sunni learning is concerned, ISIS is not only Islamic but they adhere to most of the same interpretations of Islam. Many scholars have examined ISIS and found that it is very Islamic. And that ISIS is violent precisely because it adheres to Islam. [emphasis mine]

I have trimmed the quotes for length so it is worthwhile to go to the link and read it all. Based on the actions of Islam’s own scholarly leaders, it is a religion that endorses terrorism and murder.

Meanwhile, President Obama remains oblivious, not only to these minor facts but to the ISIS attack in Paris. This weekend his administration released five terrorists, including a man suspected of being one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards.

I ask again, whose side is he really on?

Obamacare causing large numbers of doctors to flee medicine

Finding out what’s in it: Because of Obamacare doctors are abandoning their practices in alarming numbers according to a new report.

Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner says the exodus is alarming, as evidenced by a Physicians Foundation report showing the number of doctors who say they run an independent practice has dropped from 62 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2014. The survey of 20,000 physicians also shows only 17 percent in solo practice. Eighty-one percent of doctors are at full capacity or even overextended. Forty-six percent grade Obamacare as a D or an F. Just 25 percent give the law an A or a B.

For those greatly frustrated by the system, Turner said the government is making their lives miserable. “The doctors cannot navigate this incredible bureaucracy,” she said. “They may see 40 patients during a day, and then they have mountains of paperwork to fill out. If they slip up and say something in carelessness or not understanding the rules and make a mistake, they could be subject to tens of thousands of dollars in fines. They just cannot expose themselves to that kind of jeopardy.”

Hey, not only has Obama contained ISIS and its violent tendencies, he and the Democratic Party have made medicine affordable and a joy for doctors to practice! Let’s all vote for the Democrats again. They care and they are so smart!

Obama declares “we have contained ISIS” even as they execute an attack in Paris

Irony alert! Yesterday, in an interview with WABC’s Chief Anchor and Democratic Party operative George Stephanopoulos President Obama declared that ISIS has been “contained” by his policies.

“I don’t think they’re gaining strength,” the president told Stephanopoulos in an interview at the White House Thursday. “From the start our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq. And in Syria it — they’ll come in, they’ll leave.”

Today, a terrorist attack planned and executed by ISIS took place in Paris across seven different locations, killing dozens, including many of approximately 100 hostages in a concert hall, where the terrorists had been killing them one-by-one. Police moved in ahead of schedule because they had been getting texts from the hostages begging them to attack because they were going to be executed anyway and a police attack was the only way they had a chance of surviving.

Thank god Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama has contained ISIS. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see them do this sort of stuff. And it’s a good thing that France has strict gun control laws so the country is gun-free. Otherwise, how would these terrorists get access to weapons?

Police steal a citizen’s guns and ammo

Theft by police: After securing a citizen’s home after a burglary, police then forced their way into a secure room to seize nine guns and the ammunition for them, all without a warrant.

Officers asked Mr. Bilzerian’s assistant and security guard for permission to break into the room but the aides declined, but the officers accessed it anyway, Mr. Bilzerian said. “They broke into our closet and took them after we were burglarized,” said Mr. Bilzerian’s assistant Jeremy Guymon. “It’s not like we were doing anything wrong.”

The responding officers confiscated nine firearms supposedly under the premise that they wanted to secure the home in case the burglars attempted a second break-in, Mr. Bilzerian said. But strangely, the officers left behind an arsenal of shotguns and a high-powered semiautomatic carbine rifle like the ones used by special operations troops. “The officers told my assistant that they took the handguns because they didn’t want the suspects to come back and get them on a second break-in even though they were unsuccessful at opening the steel reinforced door the first time,” Mr. Bilzerian said. “Essentially they were ‘trying to protect my property and people’s safety.’ This is hard to grasp, when they left my $21,000 FN SCAR17 with thermal optic and shotguns unsecured in that same room.”

After several months, the guns were finally returned but the ammo remains missing, essentially stolen by law enforcement. Read the whole article, as it describes a number of other examples of this kind of theft.

Amherst students demand punishment for those expressing opinions they disagree with

Fascists: A student protest group at Amherst College in Massachusetts are demanding the university punish those who put up “All Lives Matter” and “Free Speech” posters.

A group calling themselves the Amherst Uprising listed 11 demands they want enacted by next Wednesday. Among them is a demand that President Biddy Martin issue a statement saying that Amherst does “not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the ‘All Lives Matter’ posters, and the ‘Free Speech’ posters.” The latter posters called the principle of free speech the “true victim” of the protests at the University of Missouri.

Going further, the students demand the people behind “free speech” fliers be required to go through a disciplinary process as well as “extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

This group also issued ten other demands, including being excused from classes so they can protest. The other demands are just as absurd and odious.

If the college president agrees to any of these demands the question I ask is this: Why is anyone spending a dime to send their kids to this trash heap? If I had my kids there they would be pulled immediately.

Playwright forces play cancellation for racist reasons

Liberal bigot: A student production of a play was canceled just prior to its first public performance because the playwright didn’t like the ethnicity of the actors.

Marilouise Michel, Clarion University professor of theater and the play’s director, explains what she was told. “On Monday afternoon, I received an email from the playwright telling me that he demanded that we recast the show with Asian actors or shut down our production,” she said.

A lot easier said than done for the primarily white state university. “We don’t have a large population of Asian students at the university,” Michel said. “We opened our auditions to all of the students at the university.”

College students demand professor be punished for expressing an opinion

Fascists: Students at Vanderbilt University are demanding the firing or suspension of a tenured professor for writing an editorial they disagree with.

So far, the chancellor of the university has merely gotten on his knees to apologize to the students, saying “he was sorry if any Vanderbilt students felt hurt or unwelcome” and that some opinions have “no place in this university.” Thus, I expect him to cave to the bullies at some point.

Note that I haven’t mentioned what this professor wrote in her editorial, because it really doesn’t matter. If you think about it you can probably guess, but first, she has the first amendment right to that opinion no matter what it is, and second, the goal of these fascists is to shut anyone up that doesn’t support them blindly, so any opinion they see as a threat will be attacked.

Denial by everyone

Link here. The article is a careful analysis of the new narrative by the press and the conservative establishment in which the presidential campaign is now coming down to a competition between Rubio vs Cruz, while apparently ignoring the fact that Trump and Carson have been dominating the polls for months.

All of which is to say that, yes, a battle royale between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz would make for absolutely fascinating political theater, in the best sense of the term. But on what grounds should this possible outcome, for which some in elite conservative circles are evidently yearning, be considered somewhat inevitable, or even all that likely? Donald Trump and Ben Carson have occupied first place in every major national poll since the beginning of July. Since early August, their combined support has hovered around 50 percent, with the other dozen candidates divvying up the scraps. This is not indicative of fleeting, flash-in-the-pan appeal. We’ve now gone months with virtually unchanged fundamentals, as the various spikes and swoons of lower-tier candidates have had little impact on the dominant top two. [emphasis in original]

What I struck me about this however is that it isn’t just the press and the conservative elites who are in denial. As the article also notes, Trump and Carson are clearly “two political novices with strange political instincts and undeniable knowledge blindspots.” The voters seem as much in denial about those blindspots as the elites are about Trump and Carson’s lead.

The voters are justifiably angry. They don’t trust the elites and professional politicians from either party who have lied to them repeatedly. These passions have apparently gotten so strong that the public is now ready to ignore some obvious candidate weaknesses that in the past would have made these same candidates unelectable. Instead, they are ready to put these flawed outsiders in power.

Then again, not one voter has yet voted. When it comes time to actually pull the lever, it could be that the pundits are right and the support for these outsiders will suddenly vanish. To me, this narrative appears increasingly unlikely, but we shall see.

Mysterious piece of space junk burns up over Indian Ocean

Though scientists have not yet identified it, the piece of space junk discovered last month in an unusual orbit with a predictable moment of decay has burned up over the Indian Ocean,

Estimated to measure 1–2 metres across, WT1190F had circled the Earth–Moon system since at least 2009, says independent astronomy-software developer Bill Gray, who has been working with NASA to track the debris. It most likely came off a recent lunar spacecraft, but it is not out of the question that it could have dated to the Apollo era.

In at least one case, scientists were able to image the object as it burned up. The data from this will allow them to determine its chemical composition, which in turn might help them identify it.

Astronomers measure 5,400 mph winds on exoplanet

Category 5! Astronomers have for the first time measured wind speeds on an exoplanet and they are a doozy!

Discovered on the exoplanet HD 189733b, the Warwick researchers measured the velocities on the two sides of HD 189733b and found a strong wind moving at over 5400 mph blowing from its dayside to its night side. Mr Louden explains: “HD 189733b’s velocity was measured using high resolution spectroscopy of the sodium absorption featured in its atmosphere. As parts of HD 189733b’s atmosphere move towards or away from the Earth the Doppler effect changes the wavelength of this feature, which allows the velocity to be measured.”.

This exoplanet was one of the first discovered by Kepler, which means its orbit transits its sun. In this case it does so every 2.2 days, and astronomers have taken advantage of these frequent transits to study the planet’s atmosphere as the star’s light travels through it. The result is that HD 187733b is probably one of the most studied exoplanets.

Next Blue Origin test flight before end of year

The competition heats up: Blue Origin not only intends to launch another test flight of its suborbital New Shepard rocket/capsule before the end of 2015, they hope to begin commercial unmanned flights by the second quarter of 2016.

Manned flights will follow, though they don’t say when. Based on this schedule, however, it appears that Blue Origin, which had hardly been on anyone’s radar for most of the last decade, is going to beat Virgin Galactic and XCOR in flying their first commercial flight.

Copenhagen Phil – Ravel’s Bolero

An evening pause: You really can’t pick a better classical piece for a flash mob performance than Bolero. It builds bit by bit, allowing the performers to slowly gather as if by accident. I also noticed that they seemed to be really enjoying the casual dress nature of this performance, which occurred at Coperhagen Central Station on May 2, 2011..

Hat tip Danae.

Annual Sept 11 event banned at University of Minnesota

More insanity: The student government at the University of Minnesota has rejected doing an annual moment of silence in memory of Sept 11 because it might make Islamic students feel “unsafe.”

At-large MSA representative and Director of Diversity and Inclusion David Algadi voiced severe criticism of the resolution. He also made sure to emphasize 9/11’s status as a national tragedy in his response. “The passing of this resolution might make a space that is unsafe for students on campus even more unsafe,” said Algadi, “Islamophobia and racism fueled through that are alive and well.” Algadi added that holding a moment of recognition over a tragedy committed by non-white perpetrators could increase racist attitudes on campus, asking, “When will we start having moments of silence for all of the times white folks have done something terrible?”

I suspect Algadi would have no problem with any event that made whites or Europeans uncomfortable. In fact, by his very comments it appears he would celebrate it. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he would celebrate the destruction of two skyscrapers and the killing the 3,000 innocents, merely because the act was committed by brown people against white perpetrators.

EPA rewards Gold King contractor with more contracts

Shut them down! The EPA has given an additional $2.7 million to the contractor who caused the Gold King Mine spill in Colorado.

That’s in addition to a $1 million bonus awarded the day before the spill itself.

The level of corruption here is astounding. Read the whole article at the link, as it outlines a number of other examples of corrupt actions by the EPA, both in wasting taxpayer dollars for their own personal benefit as well as routinely working with environmentalists to shut down businesses, without any objective review.

Florida school district threatens homeschool parents with arrest

Fascists: A Florida school district is threatening to arrest and prosecute homeschooling parents if they do not register their children for public or private school immediately.

This threat was issued despite the fact that state law does not require such registration. The home-schoolers plan to attend the next school board meeting on November 17. That should be another interesting school board meeting.

Decline to solar minimum continues

It’s that time again buckos! On Monday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the Sun’s sunspot activity in October. As I have done every month since 2010, I am posting it here, with annotations to give it context.

The decline in sunspot continue steadily, matching the red prediction curve except that, as it has for this entire solar maximum, the number of sunspots continues to be less than expected. Not only did the ramp up start later and not quite reach the levels predicted, the ramp down started early. Overall, this now ending solar maximum is the weakest in a century. The big question remains: Is the Sun about to head into its first Grand Minimum since the 1600s, or is this weak maximum a one-time event to be followed by stronger activity in later cycles.

No matter what anyone tells you, no one knows.

October 2015 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

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