Monthly Archives: February 2015

Scientists discover that bigger is not better

Why am I not surprised? An comparison of the size of research labs and the number of impact papers the lab published found that increasing the number of students to the staff above a certain point does little to increase research success.

To publish the most papers, labs should ideally have 10 to 15 members, according to a much-discussed study in PeerJ PrePrints. Adding more and more graduate students and postdocs beyond that number does not guarantee a continued rise in high-impact papers, the study found, partly because the extra workers tend to be much less productive than the principal investigator (PI). Mark Pallen, who heads a microbiology lab at the University of Warwick, UK, tweeted “Nice that PIs matter!”

Not surprisingly, there is much skepticism of this result in the scientific community, as having more workers in their lab tends to give them a justification for requiring more grant funds.

Rocket tank lands on Brazil farm

Chicken Little report: A propellent tank from an as-yet unidentified rocket landed near a house on a Brazilian farm on December 28.

The pictures at the link are neat, especially since the man in the selfie showing the farmer’s family and the tank in the background looks so much like New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

OSIRIS-REx to get more fuel for its asteroid mission

In what might be a first for the planetary science/engineering community, an unmanned probe, being built to bring samples back from the asteroid Bennu, is turning out to be lighter than expected, thus allowing engineers to stuff its tanks with extra fuel to extend its mission.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, being built at a Lockheed Martin facility in Denver, is coming in lighter than the lift capability of the Atlas 5 rocket, which will lift off in its “411” configuration with a four-meter payload fairing, a single-engine Centaur upper stage, and one strap-on solid rocket booster.

The proposal — described as a “heavy launch option” — would add an extra 341 pounds of fuel to the spacecraft’s fuel tank.

Planetary probes never end up lighter than planned, at least until now. During construction scientists have always found it impossible to resist adding more instruments or capabilities, and thus engineers always struggle to get the spacecraft built within its weight budget. For OSIRIS-REx to have this wonderful problem is surely astonishing.

Astronomers find an invisible dwarf galaxy

Using dark matter data that suggested the existence of a faint dwarf galaxy 300,000 light years away on the other side of the Milky Way, astronomers have pinpointed its location by finding a tiny cluster of bright Cepheid variable stars, also located at that distance.

“These young stars are likely the signature of this predicted galaxy,” said Chakrabarti, assistant professor in RIT’s School of Physics and Astronomy. “They can’t be part of our galaxy because the disk of the Milky Way terminates at 48,000 light years.” Invisible particles known as dark matter make up 23 percent of the mass of the universe. The mysterious matter represents a fundamental problem in astronomy because it is not understood, Chakrabarti said.

This result is intriguing because it not only found a previously unknown dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way, it also provides further evidence that dark matter, whatever it is, does exist. The dark matter of this unseen dwarf galaxy showed its gravitational effects on Milky Way stars, and when the astronomers looked at the right spot suggested by those effects, they found distant stars that had to belong to the invisible dwarf galaxy, proving it was there. This is comparable to finding Neptune and Pluto by analyzing their gravitational effects and then predicting their location in the sky.

Five years later a second attempt to put a Japanese spacecraft into Venus orbit

If at first: After failing to place its Akatsuki spacecraft into orbit around Venus in 2010 because of a cracked engine nozzle, Japan has announced its plans for a new attempt later this year.

The attempt will be made on December 7. If successful, the spacecraft will begin studying Venus’s climate and atmosphere only a short time after the end of Europe’s very success Venus Express mission.

“It is ironic a sign warning of the liberal thought police was potentially stolen by the liberal thought police.”

Leftwing facists: A sign advertising a talk being given by Jonah Goldberg about his book Liberal Fascism at the University of Michigan was apparently stolen by liberal fascists who don’t like freedom of speech.

The sign was bright red and declared: “Warning: Liberal thought police. Jonah Goldberg on his best-selling book Liberal Fascism.” It included a picture of a smiley face with a piece of tape over its mouth and the word “censorship.” “The biggest irony is on the front of the poster it says ‘thought police,’” Audia said in an interview with The College Fix. “So a warning on thought police was censored. It’s pretty ridiculous.”

Now of course, we really don’t know exactly who stole the sign, but somehow I don’t believe it was tea party protesters offended by Goldberg’s subject matter. Moreover, such actions have become the typical behavior leftwing students and administrators on college campus.

Annual fund-raiser plus lower price for Genesis

As this year’s birthday fund-raiser ends, I once again want to thank everyone who donated or subscribed to Behind the Black. I appreciate every penny, in ways that are hard to describe.

And though the official fund-raiser is over and this post will now slowly drop down the page like all other posts, don’t think that donations or subscriptions are no longer necessary. To repeat: If you are a regular reader and like what I do here, please consider making a contribution to help defray the costs for running this website. The tip jar on the right will allow you to make a one time contribution, or even subscribe, making monthly contributions as low as $2.

Please consider helping. Without your financial aid I am not sure I will be able to continue this website into the future.

Also, for those who missed the December sale of Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, I have good news. We have officially lowered the price of the ebook to $5.99, before discount. You can now get it at this lower price at all ebook venders. Some vendors, such as, will discount this price even further.

“Oh, she’s going down.”

Rand Paul today became the fourth senator to announce his opposition to Loretta Lynch, Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general.

Earlier Wednesday, in his office in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, Breitbart News watched as the senator’s legal and press team briefed him final time before the interview. Sergio Gor, Paul’s communications director, his press secretary Eleanor May and attorney Brian Darling were all present.

Paul asked the team about Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) question during Lynch’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing about whether she’d oppose using a drone to kill an American citizen on American soil.

When Paul heard about her non-answer—she wouldn’t commit that the federal government does not have such authority—he was incredulous. Furthermore, Paul was appalled that Lynch came out in favor of President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty and the use of asset forfeiture—where the federal government seizes people’s property sometimes with flimsy reasoning, something even the Obama administration has offered slight opposition to—and then told his office staff he’s going to oppose her and aim to derail her nomination chances. “Oh, she’s going down,” Paul said to the room.

The video of Lynch’s non-answer to Cruz’s question is quite shocking. I dare you to watch it and tell me afterward that this administration and Democratic Party is not a threat to your freedom and rights.

Whether the Republicans in the Senate will have the courage to stand up to this threat, however, remains a very big unknown. That four senators have announced their opposition so early is a good sign, but we shall see.

Obama: all religions the same

At his speech today at the National Prayer Breakfast President Obama outlined the moral equivalency between Islam and all other religions, noting that all religions have in the past been “hijacked” by evil people for “for their own murderous ends.”

This is an interesting intellectual argument that is completely meaningless in today’s world. The problem today is not Christian murderers or Jewish murderers or Buddhist murderers. It is Islamic murderers, supported by an Islamic population willing to condone violence in the name of their religion.

You don’t believe me? Then compare the large number of demonstrations in the Islamic world protesting the publication of cartoon drawings of Mohammed by Charlie Hebdo versus the complete lack of outrage in those same places for the burning alive of one prisoner and the beheading of others by the Islamic State. Even if Obama is right, which I do not believe, Islam today is murderous and running amok. We must deal with that reality, not the ivory tower delusions of college professors and incompetent Presidents living in the past.

The Russian spaceport construction still behind schedule

In a detailed update on the status of Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport, russianspaceweb reports that the construction continues to be behind schedule.

Whether they can meet the government imposed deadline of first Soyuz rocket launch by the end of 2015 seems very doubtful. More significant is this interesting quote:

In the meantime, various sensitive systems, which arrived to Vostochny for installation into unfinished facilities, were rusting inside their containers along railway sidings.

Obviously, without enough qualified personnel at the remote construction site, Spetsstroi had little choice but to focus on facilities with the highest profile for visiting Moscow officials. Moreover, the work had to be done in a great haste, increasing the chances for mistakes and leading to a low quality of construction.

Boy, does that sound like the Soviet Union all over again. It also reminds me of how most government agencies operate in the U.S.

SpaceX gives names to its floating landing barges

Elon Musk has named SpaceX’s two robotic landing platform boats after science fiction spacecraft created by Scottish sci-fi legend Iain M. Banks.

The drone boats, designed by SpaceX to act as automated landing platforms for the company’s first stage rocket return system, were given the quirky names “Just Read the Instructions” and “Of Course I Still Love You.”

The government as thief

How civil forfeiture is used by government agencies to steal cash and property from innocent Americans.

More here, including this juicy story:

To the casual observer it appears that Virginia is run by violent psychopaths. That’s the takeaway from the recent report of an anti-poker SWAT team raid in Fairfax County, in which eight assault rifle-sporting police officers moved against ten card-playing civilians. The police possibly seized more than $200,000 from the game, of which 40 percent they eventually kept.

There was no indication that any of the players was armed. As a matter of fact, it appears that a gambler is more likely to be shot without provocation by the Fairfax Police than the other way around. The heavy firepower at the Fairfax raid was apparently motivated by the fact that “at times, illegal weapons are present” at such poker games, and that “Asian gangs” have allegedly targeted such events in the past. This is, then, a novel approach to law enforcement: as a matter of policy, Fairfax police now attempt to rob and steal from people before street gangs get around to doing it.

As the article notes, gambling is not against the law in Virginia, merely regulated. It appears that this regulation was used as a very flimsy excuse by the Virginia state government to rob these citizens and pocket the cash.

The rockets of the world

Link here.

Inspired by a book and poster from 1995, titled “Rockets of the World,” graphic artist Tyler Skrabek has provided a new and updated “clean” look for his latest work. “The ‘Rockets of the World’ poster emulates a 1960 style of drawing,” he said, “employing a consistent pallet across all rockets allowing for a distraction-free look at the size and power of the world’s greatest machines.”

A link to the poster itself can be found here. It is fascinating to compare rockets that no longer exist with those flying today.

New Pluto images from New Horizons

Pluto from 126 million miles

The New Horizons science team has finally released the navigation image of Pluto and Charon that the spacecraft took on January 25.

A cropped version is on the right. The image shows Pluto and its biggest moon Charon, with both appearing somewhat elongated in shape. Why this is so is not explained by the press release, but I suspect it is because the goal of the image was not sharpness but to locate the planet for navigation purposes.

Obamacare website allows commercial companies access to personal data

Finding out what’s in it: The Obamacare website allows the personal data of users to be gathered by commercial advertising companies like Google, Twitter, and Yahoo.

I should add that this is only a minor invasion of privacy. Much worse is the federal government’s insistence that your actual medical record, required on Obamacare to be digitized, shall be made available to scientists for research purposes, without asking your permission.

Republicans to stand firm on blocking Obama’s illegal over-reach on immigration?

“There is no plan B”

The Republicans, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), are vowing to hold the line on tying funding for the Homeland Security Department to language reversing Obama’s executive actions on immigration — even after Senate Democrats blocked their bill from being considered in the upper chamber. “There’s not a Plan B, because this is the plan,” Scalise said minutes after the Senate vote, according to Fox News’s Chad Pergram. Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) echoed that message, saying “many of us agree that we should stand behind the one bill that we sent over there.” “Most of us feel that way,” he said just before the Senate vote. “Anything less than that, we’re not going to get any better result anyway. So why not just go for what’s really right?”

Tuesday’s Senate vote was 51-48 to end debate on the House-passed Homeland Security bill — far shy of the 60 supporters GOP leaders needed to move to a vote on final passage. Every Senate Democrat voted against proceeding to the package, as did Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

If no agreement is reached than funds for Homeland Security run out on February 28. And I say amen! Homeland Security provides us no safety or security in the war against violent Islam, and has instead worked to destroy the very things that make us different from the dictators of the Old World: freedom and the power of the individual over the power of the state. Let it shut down. We had no shut KGB-type agency for the country’s first 225 years and we don’t need it now.

Whether the Republicans will have the courage to actually let Homeland Security shut down, however, is the real question. Since the government shutdowns in the 1990s they have shown themselves to be very fearful of the blowback from any government shutdown, even though there is no evidence in recent years that these shutdowns have hurt them. The liberal press might scream that the public blames the Republicans only, but that is ridiculous, since every shutdown was a team effort by both parties.

In fact, the shutdown two years ago probably contributed to the Republican midterm election triumph in November. If anything, it certainly did them no harm.

Life found that hasn’t changed in 2 billion years

Scientists have discovered a micro-organism that has not evolved in more than 2 billion years.

Schopf and his colleagues used a variety of spectroscopic imaging techniques to study sulfur bacteria fossils embedded in deep sea rocks of varying ages. Analysis of the microorganisms from 1.8 billion-year-old rocks from Western Australia and 2.3 billion-year-old rocks collect off the coast of Chile showed that ancient sulfur bacteria looks the exact same now as it has for more than two billion years.

Paul introduces bill to rein in government property seizures

Good news: A new bill introduced this week by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) would put strict limits on the use of civil forfeiture by both state and federal agencies.

I normally don’t post links to stories about bills that have merely been introduced, not passed, but I think the trend that this bill indicates is important. It was only a short time ago that politicians ran around touting their achievements in establishing civil forfeiture laws. Now the cool place for politicians to be is to show how they are acting to end this practice.

Roscomos puts the squeeze on Ukraine

Two more stories this week provide additional evidence that Roscosmos, the new Russian government-run space corporation that controls Russia’s entire space industry, intends to eliminate its dependence on any foreign contributions, even if that contribution comes from the former Soviet province of Ukraine.

In the first story, Roscosmos ends the commercial use of the Dnepr anti-ballistic missile, built originally in the Ukraine. In the second story Roscosmos makes it very clear that it will focus on using its Russia-made Angara rocket rather than depend on the Ukrainian Zenit, even though Zenit is what the Roscosmos-owned Sea Launch platform was designed to use and Angara is far from operational.

The main result of these decisions will be the bankrupt many Ukrainian space companies. Whether it will bring more business to Angara, however, remains to be seen. Angara has only had one orbital launch, and has hardly tested its many different configurations. At this stage it is highly unlikely that the commercial customers who have depended on Dnepr and Zenit will flock to it, especially since they now have other competitive options available in the west.

The Obama administration’s 2016 NASA budget proposal

Eric Berger takes a look at the key budget items in today’s proposed budget. More details here.

As has happened in the last few years, Obama has tried to boost commercial space at the expense of SLS/Orion, one of the few positions of the Obama administration to which I heartily agree. Unfortunately, I expect Congress to also do as it has also done in the last few years, boost SLS/Orion at the expense of commercial space.

As I’ve noted before, I don’t mind that Congress trims commercial space, as giving them too much government money will make them lazy and prone to waste. What I do mind is all the money Congress spends on SLS/Orion, which is a complete waste and could be cut entirely and help reduce our debt.

The Hubble Space Telescope lives on!

At a press conference at the January meeting of the American Astronomical Society scientists and engineers of the Space Telescope Science Institute that operates the Hubble Space Telescope reported that it is functioning far better than expected and is likely to continue to function until 2020 or beyond.

This is good news, since there is nothing being planned to replace Hubble. The article implies that the James Webb Space Telescope has that job, but Webb is an infrared telescope, not optical, and thus observes the universe in wavelengths not visible to the human eye.

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