Monthly Archives: March 2015

Tiny grains from the interior ocean of Enceladus

Using Cassini scientists have detected tiny grains of rock orbiting Saturn that they think were formed on the floor of the interior ocean of Enceladus and then spewed out its vents into space.

They believe that these silicon-rich grains originate on the seafloor of Enceladus, where hydrothermal processes are at work. On the seafloor, hot water at a temperature of at least 90 degrees Celsius dissolves minerals from the moon’s rocky interior. The origin of this energy is not well understood, but likely includes a combination of tidal heating as Enceladus orbits Saturn, radioactive decay in the core and chemical reactions.

As the hot water travels upward, it comes into contact with cooler water, causing the minerals to condense out and form nano-grains of ‘silica’ floating in the water. To avoid growing too large, these silica grains must spend a few months to several years at most rising from the seafloor to the surface of the ocean, before being incorporated into larger ice grains in the vents that connect the ocean to the surface of Enceladus. After being ejected into space via the moon’s geysers, the ice grains erode, liberating the tiny rocky inclusions subsequently detected by Cassini.

Additional data suggest that the interior of Enceladus is very porous, which means that interior ocean might not be one large bubble but a complex liquid-filled cave.

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Feel the middle-class rage

While this story is about the testimony of a mother before the Arkansas State Board of Education, objecting to Common Core standards and demanding that they be changed or abandoned, I think its most important take-away is watching the intelligent and thoughtful anger she expresses.

I have included the video of her testimony below the fold. Anyone who thinks the tea party movement is dead needs to watch this video to find out how wrong they are. This woman speaking as a representative of over a thousand parents and teachers, all of whom object to Common Core, the federally-imposed education standards. She also reveals the increasing level of rage and anger that is percolating in the general public over the incompetent and destructive dictates that are being imposed on them by bureaucrats in Washington.

The Republican leadership in the House and Senate might think they were elected to keep the government open, but this woman’s testimony tells me that the mid-term elections were a demand by the public for the Republicans to shut it down.

And they better do it soon, because the rage is continuing to build. If our elected officials don’t respond to it soon the very system of democracy on which our society was built — founded on the principle that government is the servant to the people — is going to become very seriously threatened.

» Read more

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The Milky Way is like ripples in a pond

Milky Way ripples

The uncertainty of science: New survey data of the stars in the Milky Way suggest that the galaxy is not only corrugated with concentric ripples — like you’d see if you dropped a stone in a pond — it is also about 50% larger than previous estimates.

I have watched the size of the Milky Way fluctuate up and down depending on the research for the past forty years. Sometimes it is larger than expected. Sometimes smaller. Without doubt we are getting a better idea of its actual size, but don’t be surprised if the numbers continue to bounce about for decades, even centuries, to come.

The confirmation that the spiral arms are the equivalent of ripples in a pond is also not surprising, as it confirms the intuitive conclusion of anyone who looks at a whirlpool-shaped spiral galaxy: It is a whirlpool spiraling into the gravity well at its center.

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Virgin Galactic test flights to resume in 2015?

I’ll believe it when I see it: The executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, which runs Spaceport America, said Tuesday that she hopes Virgin Galactic will resume test flights of a SpaceShipTwo suborbital ship sometime in 2015, with commercial flights beginning in 2016.

She claimed that work on the new ship is about 80% completed, with construction of another ship also underway.

Forgive me if I have my doubts. Virgin Galactic has spent more than a decade making these promises, with no results.

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A new song for space

At a press conference Sarah Brightman yesterday revealed that she is working with Andrew Lloyd Webber to create a new song to sing when she visits the International Space Station later this year.

She also said that she will sing it from the station near the end of her visit. While the reason she gave for this schedule was because she needed time to adjust to weightlessness, I also see this as good marketing, allowing time for a pr build-up to get the largest audience possible.

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Two astronauts gear up for one year in space

The final preparations are under way for sending two astronauts, one American and one Russian, to ISS for a full year.

Their launch is scheduled for March 27 in a Soyuz capsule.

One other cool aspect of this long mission: The American astronaut, Scott Kelly, has a twin brother, Mark Kelly, who is also an astronaut, though retired. Mark will be duplicating some of Scott’s in-space activities during the mission. Doctors will also compare how Scott’s body changes in weightlessness over time, in comparison to his brother here on Earth.

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More evidence NOAA has tampered with climate data

More global-warming fraud: Scientists have uncovered more tampering by NOAA of its climate temperature data to create the illusion that the climate is warming.

When Dr. Roy Spencer looked up summer temperature data for the U.S. Corn Belt, it showed no warming trend for over a century. But that was before temperatures were “adjusted” by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientists. Now the same data shows a significant warming trend.

Spencer, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said that the National Climatic Data Center made large adjustments to past summer temperatures for the U.S. Corn Belt, lowering past temperatures to make them cooler. Adjusting past temperatures downward creates a significant warming trend in the data that didn’t exist before. “I was updating a U.S. Corn Belt summer temperature and precipitation dataset from the NCDC website, and all of a sudden the no-warming-trend-since-1900 turned into a significant warming trend,” Spencer wrote on his blog, adding that NCDC’s “adjustments” made the warming trend for the region increase from just 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per century to 0.6 degrees per century.

As Spencer notes, correcting the data for errors would normally cause adjustments in both directions. NOAA’s adjustments, however, are always in one direction: from cooler to warmer. This suggests manipulation and fraud, not an effort to improve the data. And that they have consistently refused to explain their adjustments in detail further reinforces this conclusion.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne to cut costs and streamline operations

The competition heats up: In renaming itself from GenCorp to Aerojet Rocketdyne, the company also announced today a four year program to cut costs and reduce its workforce by 10%.

It appears that most of the cuts will come from upper management, which suggests the company has identified fat it needs to get rid of in order to compete effectively in the re-energized aerospace industry.

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India’s space budget remains stable

India this year has budgeted $1.2 billion for ISRO, the government agency that runs its space program.

The most astonishing thing I learned from this article however was this tidbit:

The total, presented to the parliament Feb. 28, is roughly level with the 2014-15 budget presented last year. However, ISRO typically spends significantly less money than is allocated in any given budget year — for 2014-15 it spent just 58 billion rupees of the 72 billion rupee allocation — so it seems likely that spending in the coming year will fall short of 73.9 billion rupees. ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik acknowledged the possibility that ISRO’s budget will be reduced before the end of the year. [emphasis mine]

Who ever heard of any government agency in the United States routinely spending less than its budget. The idea is unheard of!

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Monitoring for a signal from Philae to begin this week

Beginning on Thursday Rosetta engineers will start searching for a signal from their lander Philae, hidden somewhere on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

The likelihood of getting an answer this soon is not high, but the lander is now getting about twice as much sunlight as it did when it landed in November. There is a chance it will warm up enough and get enough stored power to come to life.

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Social Security still has 6.5 million people older than 112 active in its files

Obviously we must give the government more responsibility! An inspector general audit of the Social Security administration has found more than 6.5 million names of people older than 112 still in the agency’s files.

The audit, dated March 4, 2015, concluded that SSA lacks the controls necessary to note death information on the records of number-holders who exceed “maximum reasonable life expectancies. … We obtained Numident data that identified approximately 6.5 million number holders born before June 16, 1901 who did not have a date of death on their record,” the report states.

Some of the numbers assigned to long-dead people were used fraudulently to open bank accounts. And thousands of those numbers apparently were used by illegal immigrants to apply for work: “During Calendar Years 2008 through 2011, SSA received 4,024 E-Verify inquiries using the SSNs of 3,873 numberholders born before June 16, 1901,” the report said. “These inquiries indicate individuals’ attempts to use the SSNs to apply for work.”

Moreover, to even think of trimming the budget of any government agency is madness! Madness! They need every penny!

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The ATF does not have the legal right to ban AR-15 ammo

The law is such an inconvenient thing: The Obama administration’s attempt to ban from public sale the most popular ammo used with AR-15 rifles is not based on any law on the books.

Even though the ATF currently claims that the round was always covered under the 1986 law defining armor-piercing ammunition and that the agency only temporarily exempted it from regulation and prohibition, that is also false. ATF never had that authority. It was the clear language of the statute, not the ATF’s good graces, that excluded M885 ammo from its definition. The ATF didn’t have the authority then, and the Obama administration doesn’t have the authority now, to ban this ammunition. It is a lawless power grab that should be treated as such by each court that is given an opportunity to review it.

The author does a careful analysis of the actual law, and finds the Obama administration in clear violation of it.

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Sunspots crash in February


NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in February. As I have done monthly for the past five years, I am posting it here below the fold, with annotations to give it context.

In the past two months I have noted how the ramp down from solar maximum has closely tracked the 2009 prediction of the solar scientist community (indicated by the red curve).

In February, however, that close tracking ended, with sunspots plunging far below the prediction. Note also that sunspot activity in March has also been weak.

» Read more

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New CBO report reveals that Obamacare will add more than a trillion to debt

Finding out what’s in it: A new CBO report has revealed that Obamacare will add $1.35 trillion to the federal government’s debt over the next decade.

Anyone want to bet me against me when I say that I have no doubt that this is an understatement? Also, the link above makes sure to include this juicy quote from President Obama, made in 2009 while he was selling Obamacare:

First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future. I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period. And to prove that I’m serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don’t materialize.

It seems that whenever Obama uses the word “period” to emphasize his position, he is signalling to everyone that either he hasn’t the faintest idea what he is talking about, or he is a bald-faced liar. Personally, I think it is both.

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Supreme Court throws out Obamacare contraceptive mandate again

The law is such an inconvenient thing: The Supreme Court has thrown out a lower court ruling that had favored the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate under Obamacare.

What this ruling essentially does is announce to the courts, and the nation, that its decision in the Hobby Lobby case — where it was ruled that the mandate was unconstitutional and that the administration could not force Hobby Lobby to buy contraceptives for its employees — applies nationwide to all companies.

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China’s next space station will also receive unmanned freighters

The competition heats up: The chief engineer of China’s manned program revealed that they are building an unmanned cargo freighter for their next space station, Tiangong-2, with both scheduled for launch in 2016.

Essentially the Chinese are repeated the steps the Russians took, adding docking ports to each new station module. The second will have two docking ports, one for manned craft and the second for cargo. Later modules will have multiple ports to which additional modules can be added.

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Japan successfully tests new solar power technology

The competition heats up: In a test of technology necessary to make space-to-Earth solar power generation possible, Japanese engineers were successfully able to precisely control the transmission of microwaves over a distance of 55 meters.

The main obstacle to generating electricity in space for use on Earth has been getting that power down to Earth. Microwaves can do it, but beaming microwaves through the atmosphere is no good as it will cook everything in the beam’s path. Being able to beam that transmission very precisely for long distances, something not yet possible, will reduce this problem.

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Americans demand mandatory food labels for DNA

We are doomed: A new survey has found that more than 80 percent of Americans support the idea of requiring labels on any foods that contain DNA.

If the government does impose mandatory labeling on foods containing DNA, perhaps the label might look something like this: “WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children.”

I truly fear for the future, not so much because so many people haven’t the slightest idea what DNA is, but because so many people are so eager to force food labeling (or any other regulation you can think of) on others at the slightest whim.

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The only Republican Presidential contender to be honest in Iowa

During an event in Iowa, only one Republican Presidential candidate had the courage to oppose ethanol subsidies.

[Ted] Cruz reiterated his opposition to the Renewable Fuels Standard, a popular policy in Iowa that presents a thorny problem for many Republicans who campaign against crony capitalism but want to win the GOP presidential nomination.

“I recognize that this is a gathering of a lot of folks where the answer you’d like me to give is ‘I’m for the RFS, darnit;’ that’d be the easy thing to do,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, people are pretty fed up, I think, with politicians who run around and tell one group one thing, tell another group another thing, and then they go to Washington and they don’t do anything that they said they would do. And I think that’s a big part of the reason we have the problems we have in Washington, is there have been career politicians in both parties that aren’t listening to the American people and aren’t doing what they said they would do.”

All the other candidates, including Scott Walker, pandered to the audience by saying they supported, in some manner, a continuation of the subsidies. Thus, it might be that Ted Cruz might actually be the only candidate with whom we can actually trust what he says.

And then, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton explained private enterprise to everyone at a campaign event for a Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor, “Don’t let anybody tell you it’s corporations and businesses create jobs,” Clinton said.

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Drill design flaw source of short circuit on Curiosity

NASA engineers have confirmed that the rover’s drill is the source of the intermittent short circuit that forced them to shut down Curiosity temporarily.

“The most likely cause is an intermittent short in the percussion mechanism of the drill,” Erickson said in a statement. (Curiosity’s drill doesn’t simply rotate; it hammers into rock, via that percussion mechansism, as well.) “After further analysis to confirm that diagnosis, we will be analyzing how to adjust for that in future drilling.” A brief short occurred during a test on Thursday (March 5) that used the drill’s percussive action, NASA officials explained.

This is not a surprise, as it has been known since before launch that a design flaw in the drill could cause short circuits, possibly serious enough to permanently shut down the rover. They have thus used the drill much less than they had originally planned, and with great care.

Once they get a handle on the specifics causing this short, they say that Curiosity will go back into operation. However, I suspect that they may no longer use the drill, or if they do, they will use it under very very very limited circumstances.

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????? – John Wilson Orchestra

An evening pause: This pause is going to be a challenge. I am curious who can most quickly identify the film that this suite comes from, performed here live in 2013. I am sure that anyone that knows anything about movies will figure it out by around 2:30, but can you do it sooner? One hint: this is one of the greatest and most popular films ever made.

Hat tip to Phil Berardelli, author of Phil’s Favorite 500: Loves of a Moviegoing Lifetime.

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El Niño has finally arrived, far weaker than predicted

The uncertainty of science: The periodic warm weather pattern called El Niño has finally arrived in the mid-equatorial Pacific Ocean, more than a year late and far weaker than predicted by scientists.

The announcement comes a year after forecasters first predicted that a major El Niño could be in the works. At the time, NOAA predicted a 50% chance that an El Niño could develop in the latter half of 2014. The agency also said the wind patterns that were driving water east across the Pacific were similar to those that occurred in the months leading up to the epic El Niño of 1997, which caught scientists by surprise and contributed to flooding, droughts and fires across multiple continents.

In the end, last year’s forecasts came up short, in part because the winds that were driving the system petered out. Researchers, who have been working to improve their forecasting models since 1997, are trying to figure out precisely what happened last year and why their models failed to capture it.

But remember, these same climate scientists are absolutely sure that their climate models can predict the temperature rise of the climate to within a degree one century hence. Yet, they have no idea why this El Niño turned out weak and late, even though it exhibited the same early features as the epic 1997 El Niño.

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