An evening pause: In our modern “politically correct” society, many people object strenuously when I express my unwavering preference for the British-American culture that founded the United States. It seems that today’s polite society considers it judgmental and unfair to suggest our way of life is superior to others. Well, before you protest, please listen to this speech from the movie Gettysburg, in which Colonial Joshua Chamberlain explains why he decided to fight for the Union in the Civil War. To quote, “We are here for something new. This has not happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free.” Then he adds this most important point: “Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was.”
That is our culture. That is what we as a society have always stood for. And it is these values that I wish to propagate to the stars, a desire for which I will make no apologizes.
As I mentioned previously, last weekend I was in West Virginia exploring and surveying some newly discovered cave passages. These pictures, taken by Nikki Fox, will give you a flavor of what it is like to visit a place never before seen by human eyes.
Here I am, trying to sketch the final section of a clean, generally dry flowstone and bedrock passage. Trust me, it isn’t easy drawing a place that your body almost fills.
The lead where this virgin passage began had been known for decades, but had never been entered because » Read more
An evening pause: Of all the animators in the world today, Hayao Miyazaki is probably the best. Every single one of his films is an incredible viewing experience. Here is a clip from Whisper of the Heart (1995), a truly wonderful film about young love and hope. Though he didn’t direct it, Miyazaki wrote the screenplay and storyboards as well as produced it. Not surprisingly, the film is seeped in his style, with the same unique but believable characters, unpredictable but compelling story-telling, and a magical originality that is rare in movies today.
Russian mission control has indicated that the debris left over from destruction of a Chinese satellite in 2007 poses a “danger” to the International Space Station. Key quote from a Russian official:
“If the calculations show that the debris is approaching the station at an unacceptably close range, the six astronauts will receive the order to take shelter in the two Russian Soyuz spacecraft which are docked with the ISS.”
Astronomers have concluded that the high levels of carbon monoxide that they have detected in the upper layers of Neptune’s atmosphere are the leftover fingerprint of a cometary impact some 200 years ago.
An evening pause: In the 1960s, the Jackie Gleason Show was one of television’s most popular variety shows. Each episode had one regular routine, where Gleason played Joe the bartender, visited by an unseen Mr. Dunnaghy. Invariably, Joe would bring out his friend, Crazy Guggenheim, played by Frank Fontaine. Fontaine, as Crazy, would then hold everyone spellbound for five plus minutes with the most silly charactor humor one can imagine.
Zephr, a British-built solar-powered unmanned plane was ordered to return to Earth after flying continuously for two weeks without refueling. Key quote:
Zephyr is set to be credited with a new world endurance record (336 hours, 24 minutes) for an unmanned, un-refuelled aircraft – provided a representative of the world air sports federation, who was present at Yuma, is satisfied its rules have been followed properly.
In today’s version of global warming fear-mongering, Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) declared that the Arctic will be ice-free in “five or 10 years.” He apparently based this statement on a 2009 Geophysical Research Letters paper [pdf] that, using computer models, predicted an ice-free Arctic in September could occur as soon as the late 2020s but was more likely in the late 2030s.
Wanna bet? Since that 2009 paper was published, Arctic ice has seen a rebound in ice extent. Moreover, the Arctic oscillation remains in the deepest freeze it has seen in years. And the sun remains quiet, less active than we have seen it since scientists began tracking its behavior from space. Such inactivity means a dimmer sun, which in turn brings with it cold temperatures. Here is the most recent graph (updated on July 20) from the Total Solar Irradiance Time Series produced by Physikalisch- Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos (PMOD) using satellite data since 1978:
Even though the sun’s total irradiance has shown an up-tick recently as it slowly moves from solar minimum towards solar maximum, if you look closely you will see this up-tick still remains below the lowest points for the previous three solar minimums. And as I have noted here, we appear to be heading for the weakest solar maximum in two centuries.
Of course (as stock brokers say), the past performance of all of these trends is no guarantee of the future performance. Nonetheless, the data indicates clearly the simplistic nature of statements like Kerry’s.
On the subject of caves on the Moon, Paul Spudis has directed me to his very cogent October 2009 post for Air & Space magazine. Here he notes correctly that though lava tube caves on the Moon have value, they are unfortunately apparently not located in the best places for settlement.
As the sun sets on Bhabha crater on the Moon’s farside, small boulders on the crater’s central peaks become visible in this Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter image, with inset below. (It is very worthwhile to click on the link above and stroll through the full resolution image.) Scientists believe that the impact which created this crater excavated these boulders from deep within the Moon’s crust, thereby making them valuable tools for determining the geological history of the Moon. Of course, to use these tools requires the geologist to be there, something that might not happen for a while.
Keith Cowing at NasaWatchnotes quickly that the current budget battles over NASA have people in NASA concerned about the future of the James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope has further cost overruns, and should NASA end up operating under a continuing resolution rather than a full budget, there won’t be enough money to keep the project above water.
This Slate article not only describes the new symbol India has chosen for its currency, it also gives a nice thumbnail description of the origins of other currency symbols, such as the U.S. dollar sign and the English pound sign.
This Orlando Sentinel analysis of the various Congressional NASA budget proposals working their way through the House and Senate right now concludes, as I have been saying for months, that the future for NASA is not good. Key quote:
The plan orders NASA to build a heavy-lift rocket and capsule capable of reaching the International Space Station by 2016. But it budgets less money for the new spacecraft — about $11 billion during three years, with $3 billion next year — than what the troubled Constellation program would have received. That — plus the short deadline — has set off alarms.
A star with an appetite: Astronomers have used the Chandra X-Ray Observatory to take a closer look at an engimatic star in the constellation Pisces and found that the dust cloud that surrounds it as well as the unusual and enormous jets that shoot from it probably originated when the star evolved, expanded, and swallowed an orbiting companion, either a giant planet or companion star.
Tucker Carlson, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller, has written a lengthy essay on his organization’s series on the scandal surrounding the defunct liberbal Journolist listserv. Key quote:
We’re not contesting the right of anyone, journalist or not, to have political opinions. (I, for one, have made a pretty good living expressing mine.) What we object to is partisanship, which is by its nature dishonest, a species of intellectual corruption. Again and again, we discovered members of Journolist working to coordinate talking points on behalf of Democratic politicians, principally Barack Obama. That is not journalism, and those who engage in it are not journalists. They should stop pretending to be. The news organizations they work for should stop pretending, too.
The space war continues. The House Committee of Science and Technology has amended its budget proposal to include an extra shuttle flight, making its proposal match the Senate’s proposal in at least this one way.
The Russians unveiled today a new proposed replacement for their Soyuz capsule, capable of carrying six astronauts into orbit. Interestingly, the design does not use parachutes to land, but solid rocket engines.
FIRE has an update on that story of a college teacher fired because he described the Catholic doctrine on homosexuality to his students — in a Catholic doctrines class. It appears the college is backing down.
Want to poke around on Mars? Since it might be a while before you can actually go there, I suggest you instead make frequent visits to the images page for the HiRise camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The pictures that appear here are routinely breath-taking. Below is a cropped image showing the flat top of a mesa in Coprates Chasma. The full image shows detailed layers down the side of the mesa as well as rippled dunes on the mesa top. Everything is remarkably reminescent of something you’d see if you visited the Grand Canyon. Only on Mars, this grand canyon is many times larger and deeper.
Astronomers have discovered a runaway star flying away from the Milky Way galaxy at about 450 miles per second. What makes this star even more interesting is that its flight path suggests that it was thrown from the very center of our galaxy by the 4 billion solar mass black hole that sits there.
In a blunt rejection of the Obama proposals for NASA, the Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee today reworked the NASA plan — handed to them last week by the committee that authorizes NASA’s budget — so that it more closely matched the House version. These changes cut in half the money for private commercial space while adding $3 billion to continue the development of the Orion capsule and the heavy lift version of the Ares rocket.