Bob Hope singing “Buttons and Bows”

An evening pause: Remembered mostly today for his dedication to entertaining our American troops overseas as well as his comedy movies with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope was more than this. He had one of the quickest wits of any comic in history combined with a manner that was gentle but honest. It is a shame that few comics today can put this combination together, going instead for a kind of Don Rickles-type insult humor instead. Here is Hope (with his co-star Jane Russell) in the movie The Paleface, showing that he could sing as well. The second-half of the clip shows a not-too-interesting skit with Roy Rogers and (again) Jane Russell with all three singing the same song:

Bolden interview with al-Jazeera

This interview of Charles Bolden, NASA administrator, is another example (in a long list of examples) of the clearly misplaced priorities of the Obama administration when it comes to NASA and space exploration.

The key quote is in the first two minutes of the interview [emphasis mine]:

Bolden: When I became the NASA Administrator – before I became the NASA Administrator – [President Obama] charged me with three things: One was that he wanted me to re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, that he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with predominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.

Though all three of these priorities (inspire kids, international cooperation, and help the Muslim world develop) sound nice, none have anything to do with space exploration. More specifically, they have absolutely nothing to do with NASA’s original charter, which was to explore the solar system and encourage the development of the American aerospace industry.

At about 9:50, Bolden then states that “We’re not going to go anywhere beyond low Earth orbit as a single entity. The United States can’t do it. China can’t do it. No single nation is going to go to a place like Mars alone.”

Gee, I wonder what international consortium put those men on the Moon? I always thought the U.S. did it alone. According to Bolden, however, that was impossible: No single nation can do anything alone beyond Earth orbit.

There are more inanities in this interview. Listen for example to his clueless discussion of solar flares at around 19:00 and his statement at 20:30 where he claims an asteroid made of “sand” poses no threat to the Earth.

With leadership like this, the future does not look good for the American aerospace industry.

Avalanches on Mars

Saturday’s weekly dump of publications from the American Geophysical Union also included a paper that showed visual proof of avalanches on Mars! In this case, the location is Russell Crater, “a large crater in the southern hemisphere that exposes a large dune field in its center.” The avalanches occur because a frost layer made up of dry ice and a little bit of frozen water builds up on the crest of the dunes. When that frost melts, dark streaks about three to six feet wide and about 150 feet long appear, flowing downhill. The scientists believe these are avalanches made up of “a mixing of sand, dust, and unstable CO2 gas.”

wide shot of before and after
Before and after shots of the dark streaks flowing down the dune.

close-up, before and after
Close-ups of the streaks, before and after.

A complete survey of nearby sunlike stars

A very long (182 pages) and detailed preprint paper was published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website, describing the completion of a survey of just about all the sunlike stars within approximately 82 light years of the Earth. I haven’t had time to read the whole thing, but the abstract made these notable points:

  • The study found that more the fifty percent of all sunlike stars are single stars.
  • Among double and triple systems, the bell curve for the orbital periods peaked at 300 years.
  • The more heavy elements the star has (atoms more complex than hydrogen and helium), the more likely it will have planets.
  • The very intriguing conclusion: “The fraction of planet hosts among single, binary, and multiple systems are statistically indistinguishable, suggesting that planets are as likely to form around single stars as they are around components of binary or multiple systems with sufficiently wide separations. This, along with the preference of long orbital periods among stellar systems, increases the space around stars conducive for planet formation, and perhaps life.” [You need to download the full pdf to see this quote in the unabridged abstract.]

In other words, the evidence continues to suggest that solar systems like ours are very common.

Finding underground water on Mars

For those who fantasize that Mars might still have vast underground lakes with fish, the recent data is unfortunately not encouraging. A paper published today by the American Geophysical Union suggests that if groundwater exists on Mars, it is going to be increasingly difficult to find, possibly only in the low latitudes at low elevations. These paragraphs from the conclusion of the paper say it all:

Various lines of evidence suggest that at the time of the Late Hesperian, Mars possessed a planetary inventory of water equal to a global ocean ~0.5 km deep, much of which is believed to have been stored as ground ice and groundwater in the subsurface. The potential survival of groundwater to the present-day has important implications for understanding the geological, hydrological and mineralogical evolution of the planet, as well as the potential survival of native Martian life. The two most important factors affecting the persistence of groundwater on Mars are the depth and pore volume of the cryosphere.

To date, the orbital radar sounding data from MARSIS [an instrument on Mars Orbital Express] has provided little evidence of any deep reflectors potentially indicative of subpermafrost groundwater. Here we have examined two (of several) possible explanations for this lack of evidence: (1) that subpermafrost groundwater no longer survives on Mars or (2) that groundwater is present, but that a thicker than expected cryosphere has restricted its occurrence to depths that exceed the estimated ~3 km maximum sounding depth of MARSIS.


Which one (or combination) of explanations discussed here is responsible for the lack of deep reflectors on Mars is unknown. But our revised estimates of cryosphere depth suggest that a successful detection of subpermafrost groundwater, outside of those areas on Mars that combine low latitude and low elevation, is unlikely. In an effort to better constrain this problem, a more comprehensive investigation of the MARSIS sounding data obtained over Athabasca Valles, and four other low-elevation, near-equatorial sites, is currently underway.

Co-hosting the John Batchelor Show tonight

Tonight, from 9 pm to 1 am (EDT), I will be on the John Batchelor Show. John is off tonight, so the guest host is Simon Constable, with yours truly acting as his co-host. For my part, I’ve arranged four guests:

  • Dr. Roy Spencer, climatogist and former NASA scientist, who will discuss the recently published global warming black list as well as other climate change issues.

Then I have brought in three guests to talk about the Obama administration’s new space policy and the space war developing between the administration and Congress over the administration’s effort to cancel the Constellation program:

  • Scott “Doc” Horowitz, former astronaut and designer of the Ares rocket. He will offer his reasons for opposing the Obama space proposals.
  • Dr. Charles Lurio, space analyst and publisher of the Lurio Report. He will outline reasons to support the Obama proposals.
  • Dr. David Livingston, host of the Space Show. He will fill us in on the state of the aerospace community and what it thinks of the Obama proposals.

Each will have his own 15 minute segment to express his views. Should be a fun time tonight.

Redundancy is all

I just thought I’d note the interesting juxtaposition illustrated by my previous two posts: In one case there is a battle between Congress and the President over the future of the American manned space program, prompted by the impending shutdown of the shuttle program with no immediate replacement in sight. In the other case, the only remaining program with the capability to provide manned access to the International Space Station has a serious docking failure.

With manned spaceflight, redundancy is all important. This juxtaposition illustrates very clearly the precarious position we will be in once the shuttle is retired.

Docking at ISS of Progress freighter fails

The arrival of a new unmanned Progress freighter at ISS has gone wrong, with the freighter drifting past the station by several miles. What happened is not yet clear, but as far as I know from my research into the Russian space station program, this is the first time the automatic docking of a Progress freighter has failed this wildly. There have been some near collisions, but to miss by miles is unprecedented.

Whether they can redirect the freighter back to the station also remains as yet unknown.

Press Release Journalism

The Penn State University investigation report on Michael Mann might be a whitewash, but what is really a travesty is the way some so-called professional journalists have covered this story. First, go and read the these two news articles at the New York Times and the Washington Post. I’ll wait till you’re back.

All done? Okay. Note how both news articles say very little about the report itself, other than its conclusions. Instead, the news articles follow the same boring news formula for writing these kinds of stories:

  • First, report the conclusions in the opening paragraphs.
  • Then, follow with a quote from a supporter of those conclusions, combined with a quick very superficial summary of the controversy.
  • Top this with by another quote from a supporter, slamming the opposition.
  • Then, add for balance a single quote from an opponent. (I find it ironic and a bit hilarious that both news articles went to the same global-warming skeptic for this particular quote, suggesting that these so-called professional reporters have very limited contact with the skeptics in the scientific community.)
  • Finally, finish things off with another quote from a supporter to emphasize the correctness of the report’s conclusions.

Neither news article provides the reader with the slightest analysis of the investigation report itself. Neither bothers to describe its superficial nature and its almost obsessive desire to find Michael Mann innocent.

Finally, both news articles read as if the reporters barely read the report itself and knew little about the content of the East Anglia emails. Instead, their stories read as if they simply scanned the press releases about the report and worked from those.

Another example of press release journalism at its worst.

Another Climategate Whitewash

The investigation at Pennsylvania State University of Michael Mann and his behavior as revealed in the East Anglia emails was released today, clearing him of all but one minor charge. You can read the actually report here. I suggest you do, as you will be amazed by the absurdity of this so-called investigation.

First, the manner in which the university investigated and then cleared Mann of the main charges was a joke. The panel reviewed the East Anglia emails, then brought Mann in to answer questions. When he essentially told them he had done nothing wrong, they decided that was evidence enough, clearing him of three of the four main charges.

Then, on the one remaining minor charge, the sharing of other people’s unpublished manuscripts without permission, the panel brought in other scientists for independent opinions, though only one of which, Richard Lindzen, is a skeptic of Mann’s work. Lindzen’s reaction when he learned he was not being interviewed on any of the main charges is quite entertaining. To quote the report itself,

When told that the first three allegations against Dr. Mann were dismissed at the inquiry stage . . . Dr. Lindzen’s response was: “It’s thoroughly amazing. I mean these are issues that he explicitly stated in the emails. I’m wondering what’s going on?”

The Investigatory Committee members did not respond to Dr. Lindzen’s statement.

On this final charge, the committee decided only that Mann’s distribution without permission of other people’s unpublished manuscripts was “careless and inappropriate,” and then finished by essentially saying in very stern words: next time, ask first.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times report on the conclusions of the investigation is somewhat joyous.

Unfortunately, this whitewash will only do harm to the reputation of science and the modern scientific community, and will almost certainly increase the general public’s distrust of climate research (and the reporting of it by mainstream publications like the NY Times).

Julie Andrews singing Burlington Bertie from Star!

An evening pause: Julie Andrews, in her prime, had one of the most incredible screen presences of any actor in the history of film. Unfortunately, though everyone will agree that she has had a marvelous career, except for a few rare but truly wonderful exceptions (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music) I have always felt that her amazing ability to mesmerize an audience with a mere look was generally wasted in most of the movies she made.

Here is Julie in the movie Star!, which did not do well when released because it came out at a time (1968) when filmgoers seemed uninterested in entertaining musicals. Movies then had to relevant (oh that word!). She is playing a young woman whose deepest passion is to perform on the stage. This scene is her first real chance to do something solo. Stay till the end. Her first words after the she leaves the stage says it all. Unfortunately the versions available now cut that last line, where she so sincerely says, “That was wonderful.”

why I remain skeptical about global warming

Here is another example of why I remain skeptical of any claims that the science of global warming is settled. Ken Stewart, a retired school teacher in Australia, decided to make a very detailed comparison between the raw data and adjusted data of all thirteen weather stations in the state of Victoria, and found that, for unknown reasons, the adjusted “data [has] been arbitrarily adjusted to cool earlier years,” thereby creating the illusion that the region’s climate has been warming since the 1930s.

Take a look at the many graphs on his webpage. It will make you wonder.

why I never use Wikipedia

Why I never use Wikipedia. Key quote:

The larger moral of this story is that Wikipedia itself is a fundamentally flawed and unreliable source. In fact, it is wrong even to describe — much less to use — Wikipedia as a source. Wikipedia is merely a platform. Since anyone and everyone can edit Wikipedia entries and since they can do so anonymously, Wikipedia is, by its very nature, susceptible to constant manipulation.

More images of Ikaros

A new picture of the Japanese solar sail Ikaros has been released, showing the sail in operation. By turning power on and off to different sections along the sail’s rim, engineers can change the way light reflects off those sections to control the sail’s attitude in space without using fuel. Note also that the power comes from sunlight, not from batteries. The picture below illustrates this, with different parts of the rim either bright or dark, depending on whether they are powered or not.

Ikaros as seen on June 19, 2010

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