Government high speed railroad and elections

The federal government’s very expensive and probably unnecessary project to build a high speed railroad line between two cities in Wisconsin — using stimulus money — is having a significant influence on the elections there. Key quote:

With the U.S. economy in shambles and our national debt strangling the country, it doesn’t bode well for Feingold that he supported the wildly unpopular health-care bill, which [challenger] Johnson wants repealed, as well as last year’s big clunker, the stimulus bill. Feingold’s support for the unfunded and bottomless money pit of [high speed rail] doesn’t appear to be working for him either. If an entrenched insider like Feingold loses, it could have serious ramifications for the future of high-speed rail across the country. [emphasis mine]

Space Makes Polymers Hard

The harsh environment of space, normally hostile to most materials, acts beneficially to cure certain epoxy resins. Key quote:

“You don’t have to take it up there in the shape that you eventually want,” said University of Sydney physicist Marcela Bilek, a co-author of the new study. “You can take something in a packaged form, all folded up, and then inflate it in space and have it cure into a mechanically solid structure.”

Read the research paper here.

Scientists predict when the first Earthlike planet will be discovered

Don’t bet the bank on this: In a preprint paper posted tonight on the astro-ph website, scientists predict the discovery of the first Earthlike extrasolar planet — using statistical analysis alone! Fun quote:

Using a bootstrap analysis of currently discovered exoplanets, we predict the discovery of the first Earth-like planet to be announced in the first half of 2011, with the likeliest date being early May 2011.

The pain of spacesuit gloves

The number one injury reported by astronauts appears to be fingernail and hand injuries resulting from the use of spacesuit gloves. Key quote:

A previous study of astronaut injuries sustained during spacewalks had found that about 47 percent of 352 reported symptoms between 2002 and 2004 were hand related. More than half of these hand injuries were due to fingertips and nails making contact with the hard “thimbles” inside the glove fingertips. In several cases, sustained pressure on the fingertips during EVAs caused intense pain and led to the astronauts’ nails detaching from their nailbeds, a condition called fingernail delamination.

ISS’s life expectancy

Engineers are reviewing the life expectancy of the International Space Station, in light of the desire of politicians to keep it operating through the 2020s. Intriguing quote:

Airlines and airplane contractors commonly inspect aircraft for such fractures, but with the space station out of reach more than 200 miles up, engineers rely on complex models to predict their growth in orbit.

Our Debt Is More Than All the Money in the World

There is a lobbying push among a lot of space activists to get the House NASA authorization bill changed so that more money is spent for commercial space. Unfortunately for these activists, reality is about to strike (almost certainly on November 2). Also see this story: Our debt is more than all the money in the world.

With a new Congress almost certainly dominated by individuals who want to shrink the size of government, I doubt anyone in the space industry is going to get much of what they want in the coming years.

The variability of stars according to Kepler

More data from Kepler! In a paper [pdf] published today on the astro-ph website, scientists outline Kepler’s census of the variability of stars. Key quote from the abstract:

We have separated the sample in 129,000 dwarfs and 17,000 giants, and further sub-divided, the luminosity classes into temperature bins corresponding approximately to the spectral classes A, F, G, K, and M. G-dwarfs are found to be the most stable with < 20% being variable. The variability fraction increases to 30% for the K dwarfs, 40% for the M and F dwarfs, and 70% for the A-dwarfs. At the precision of Kepler, > 95% of K and G giants are variable.

Amateur detection of Jupiter impact

The detection in June by two different amateur astronomers of an impact on Jupiter bodes well for asteroid/comet research. You can read the actual paper here. [pdf] Key quote from the abstract:

A systematic study of the impact rate and size of these bolides can enable an empirical determination of the flux of meteoroids in Jupiter with implications for the populations of small bodies in the outer Solar System and may allow a better quantification of the threat of impacting bodies to Earth. The serendipitous recording of this optical flash opens a new window in the observation of Jupiter with small telescopes.

John Wilcox dies

Updated and bumped: John’s obituary can now be read here.

John Wilcox, the man most responsible for finding the connection between Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and the Flint Ridge Cave system and thereby producing the world’s longest cave system, died today after a three week long illness. To quote Roger Brucker, co-author of The Longest Cave, Wilcox “was known for his systematic approach to exploration and laser-like focus on detailed mapping.” R.I.P.

Philadelphia police steal citizens’ guns

Two stories from the so-called “city of brotherly love”:

First, a woman whose son was murdered decided she needed to protect herself. She legally obtained a concealed carry permit and purchased a gun, only to have the police come to her home, arrest her, and confiscate it. Key quote:

“I thought they were coming to my door to tell me they had my son’s murderer,” [the woman] said. “But they were coming to take me and my gun, and now I’m defenseless.”

In the second story, it appears that Philadelphia police are making a policy to arrest security guards and confiscate their guns, even though the guns were lawfully obtained and legally permitted. At least nine different security guards have experienced this form of Philadelphia thuggery. Key quote from Lieutenant Fran Healy, special adviser to the police commissioner:

“Officers’ safety comes first, and not infringing on people’s rights comes second.”

By the way, Philadelphia is the same city that now wants to charge a $300 business license for anyone writing a blog, regardless of whether they are running a business or hobby, and thus effectively stifling free speech.

Someone in a tree

An evening pause: From Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overture, the song “Someone in a Tree,” from the 1976 Broadway production.

It’s the fragment, not the day
It’s the pebble, not the stream
It’s the ripple, not the sea
That is happening.
Not the building but the beam
Not the garden but the stone
Only cups of tea
And history
And someone in a tree.

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