Monthly Archives: June 2015

Astronomers have discovered an exoplanet smaller than Earth

Worlds without end: Scientists have measured the size and mass of the smallest exoplanet yet, a Mars-sized planet orbiting a star about 200 light years away.

The planet, named Kepler-138 b, is the first exoplanet smaller than the Earth to have both its mass and its size measured. It is one of three planets that orbit the star Kepler-138 and that pass in front of it on every orbit as viewed from Earth — a maneuver that astronomers call a transit. “Each time a planet transits the star, it blocks a small fraction of the star’s light, allowing us to measure the size of the planet,” said Dr. Daniel Jontof-Hutter, a research associate in astronomy at Penn State who led the study.

“We also measured the gravity of all three planets, using data from NASA’s Kepler mission, by precisely observing the times of each transit,” Jontof-Hutter said. The astronomers also were able to measure the masses of these planets. “Each planet periodically slows down and accelerates ever so slightly from the gravity of its neighboring planets. This slight change in time between transits allowed us to measure the masses of the planets,” Jontof-Hutter explained. After measuring both the mass and size of an exoplanet, astronomers then can calculate its density and its bulk composition.

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OPM ignored warnings last year its computers were insecure

An inspector general report last year had advised OPM to shut down many of its computer systems because they were running without sufficient security. The agency ignored that recommendation.

In the audit report published November 12, 2014, OIG found that 11 out of 47 computer systems operated by OPM did not have current security authorizations. Furthermore, the affected systems were “amongst the most critical and sensitive applications owned by the agency.” Two of the unauthorized systems are described in the report as “general support systems” which contained over 65 percent of all OPM computer applications. Two other unauthorized systems were owned by Federal Investigative Services, the organization which handles background investigations in connection with government security clearances. OIG warned bluntly, “any weaknesses in the information systems supporting this program office could potentially have national security implications.”

Because of the volume and sensitivity of the information involved, OIG recommended OPM “consider shutting down systems that do not have a current and valid Authorization.” But OPM declined, saying, “We agree that it is important to maintain up-to-date and valid ATOs for all systems but do not believe that this condition rises to the level of a Material Weakness.”

The head of OPM also claimed in House hearings yesterday that their failure to close these systems down was justified since the hackers were already in the system when the recommendation was made.

In other words, we didn’t do anything to make the system secure, and when hackers broke in it was further justification for not doing anything.

Yeah, let’s put our healthcare under their control also!

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UrtheCast releases its first commercial videos of Earth

The competition heats up: UrtheCast has released high resolution videos of three Earth cities taken from its camera on ISS.

Take a look. The cameras are quite successful in capturing the motion of vehicles on highways and road, which is amazing considering the vibrations that ISS experiences merely from astronaut movements.

The company plans to offer the imagery in several tiers, from a free video feed on its website to an API that will allow customers, including corporations, governments and individuals, to purchase imagery data from its database or make real-time requests for a look at a given spot on the earth. The cameras scan the ground under the ISS, which tracks the earth between about 51 degrees north and south latitude.

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France sells Arianespace to Airbus Safran

The competition heats up: In negotiations resulting from increased competition in the launch industry, France and its space agency have agreed to sell their stock in Arianespace to Airbus Safran, builders of the new Ariane 6, giving that private company 74% ownership.

I have reported on this deal earlier. This report makes it clear, however, that Arianespace will essentially become irrelevant after the deal is completed. Airbus Safran will build and own the rocket, and will be in charge.

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Saudia Arabia and Russia sign space exploration agreement

The competition heats up: Saudia Arabia has signed a deal with Russia to work together to explore space for peaceful purposes.

This deal has less importance to the exploration of space. Instead, it signifies clearly the worsening relations between the U.S. and Saudia Arabia. For decades the Saudis would always turn to the U.S. for such deals. They are now looking elsewhere, having found the U.S. to be an unreliable partner during the Obama administration.

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Rosetta repositions to improve contact with Philae

Engineers have begun shifting Rosetta’s trajectory paralleling Comet 67P/C-G in order to maximize communications with the lander Philae.

Commands to adjust the trajectory were successfully uploaded Monday evening; further commands will be uplinked on Thursday evening. The spacecraft will perform two manoeuvres, one on Wednesday morning and the second on Saturday morning. The effect of the two ‘dog-leg’ burns will be to bring the orbiter to a distance of 180 km from the comet and to reproduce the orbiter-comet geometry of the first contact.

We should therefore not expect further news from Philae for the rest of this week.

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Another successful course correction for New Horizons

New Horizons has successfully completed another course correction and is shipshape for its fly-by of Pluto on July 14.

A 45-second thruster burst on June 14 refined New Horizons’ trajectory toward Pluto, targeting the optimal aim point for the spacecraft’s flight through the Pluto system. This was only the second targeting maneuver of New Horizons’ approach to Pluto; Sunday’s burst adjusted the spacecraft’s velocity by just 52 centimeters per second, aiming it toward the desired close-approach target point approximately 7,750 miles above Pluto’s surface.

The maneuver was based on the latest radio tracking data on the spacecraft and range-to-Pluto measurements made by optical-navigation imaging of the Pluto system taken by New Horizons in recent weeks.

Right now all looks good for the fly-by.

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Federal government has no system for verifying Obamacare subsidies

Finding out what’s in it: An audit by the inspector general of Health and Human Services (HHS) has found that the agency has no internal system to verify that $2.8 billion in Obamacare subsidies were paid correctly, or even to the right people.

The [inspector general] said the agency did not have a system to “ensure that financial assistance payments were made on behalf of confirmed enrollees and in the correct amounts.” In addition, [HHS] relied too heavily on data from health insurance companies and had no system for state-based exchanges to “submit enrollee eligibility data for financial assistance payments.”

The government does “not plan to perform a timely reconciliation” of the $2.8 billion in subsidies. [emphasis mine]

Not only have they given out billions without proper record-keeping or proper verification, the agency has no intention of fixing the problem. “Ain’t my job, man!”

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Anti-drilling environmentalists trash environment during protest

Environmental activists protesting the launch of a drilling rig in Seattle did serious damage to a nature reserve, costing $10K to clean it up.

I am not surprised. The left and environmental movement has this annoying habit of blaming everyone else for the world’s problems, insisting that only they have the solutions. When their solutions fail, or when they screw up, however, they are never willing to admit their error, take personal responsibility, and look for a more effective solution. To them, it is always someone else’s fault.

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Maryland DJ under attack for not working a homosexual party

Facists: Because a Maryland DJ refused to work a birthday party for a homosexual couple they have now registered a complaint to the Montgomery County Human Rights Commission.

In this case, Lampiris [the owner of the DJ company] said he had never heard of [Maryland’s anti-discrimination] law, “but it’s important for us to make a stand. We don’t want to go against the law, but we also sometimes are called to do that if it goes against your faith. To me it would be like a synagogue having to cater to a neo-Nazi party or black DJ having to do a KKK dance,” he said. Gay clients don’t pose a “physical threat – it’s a conscience thing, and conscience is very important for everybody. In fact, I think it’s the most important thing.

Once again, the homosexual has not been denied service. There are plenty of DJs in the DC area that would handle this party. By filing the complaint they have instead waved the flag that demands that everyone approve of their behavior, even though it is considered morally wrong by many. (I must note that no one in this case is trying to stop their homosexual lifestyle. The DJ company is merely refusing to endorse it or agree to it.)

Or to put it another way, you will be made to agree.

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The complicated status of Obamatrade in Congress

Link here. To sum up, the fast track trade authority for Obama actually passed, but the companion part of the law, dubbed TAA, failed badly. Since the Senate had passed both, the approved law needs to go back to conference so that both houses pass the same bill, or the House can vote again on the portion that was defeated.

That the House leadership is still fighting for this considering the strong opposition from the voters as well as from their own caucus tells us how little they understand the present political situation.

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Philae returns to life!

After more than six months of silence after its bouncing landing on Comet 67P/C-G, Rosetta’s Philae comet lander has awakened and resumed communications with the science team.

More details here. The data they have so far received, which is still being analyzed, suggests that the lander has awakened previously and gathered data at that time. More to come!

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SpaceX – The Blue Danube

An evening pause: This SpaceX video taken by a camera attached to the fairing of the Falcon 9 rocket is cool not because of the video itself. Cameras on rockets have become routine, even for NASA. What is cool is that they have unveiled it using the same Johann Strauss waltz used in the move 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It shows that SpaceX is aware of the cultural impact of what they do.

Hat tip Tom Wilson, Tom Biggar, and others.

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75% of Russia’s satellite electronics come from U.S.

It isn’t just us dependent on them: One Russian aerospace industry expert noted today that three-quarters of all their satellite electronics comes from the United States.

According to [Nikolay Testoyedov], up to 75 percent of the electronic components for Russian satellites come from the US. Consequently, if it retaliates should Moscow refuse to sell RD-180 rocket motors to Washington – which Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has threatened – Russia’s satellite program would be frozen for at least two years. “The imported electronic components in our satellites represent 25 to 75 percent of the total in communications; in military ones, somewhat less; in commercial ones, more,” Testoyedov says. Of these imported components, approximately 83-87 percent come from the United States thus giving Washington the whip hand.

If we stop providing these electronics he estimates that after their present stock runs out in about a year it would take at least two years before Russia could replace these American-made parts.

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Flashback to ABC’s 2008 climate predictions for 2015

Working for leftist global warming activist community and the Democratic Party (but I repeat myself): In 2008 ABC News did a special on what global warming was going to do to the climate in the coming years, and predicted disaster by June 2015.

New York City underwater? Gas over $9 a gallon? A carton of milk costs almost $13? Welcome to June 12, 2015. Or at least that was the wildly-inaccurate version of 2015 predicted by ABC News exactly seven years ago. Appearing on Good Morning America in 2008, Bob Woodruff hyped Earth 2100, a special that pushed apocalyptic predictions of the then-futuristic 2015. The segment included supposedly prophetic videos, such as a teenager declaring, “It’s June 8th, 2015. One carton of milk is $12.99.” (On the actual June 8, 2015, a gallon of milk cost, on average, $3.39.) Another clip featured this prediction for the current year: “Gas reached over $9 a gallon.” (In reality, gas costs an average of $2.75.)

On June 12, 2008, correspondent Bob Woodruff revealed that the program “puts participants in the future and asks them to report back about what it is like to live in this future world. The first stop is the year 2015.” As one expert warns that in 2015 the sea level will rise quickly, a visual shows New York City being engulfed by water. The video montage includes another unidentified person predicting that “flames cover hundreds of miles.” Then-GMA co-anchor Chris Cuomo appeared frightened by this future world. He wondered, “I think we’re familiar with some of these issues, but, boy, 2015? That’s seven years from now. Could it really be that bad?”

ABC is also the same network that sees nothing wrong with its main news anchor, George Stephanopolos, giving tens of thousands of dollars to aid the presidential campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton. Think of these details the next time you see any news reporting from them.

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Things look bad for Obamatrade fast track

It is early and the vote hasn’t yet happened, but it appears that the House is going to reject fast track trade authority for Obama.

I need to provide some clarification. This fast track authority is not an actual trade bill, but a procedure that has been used since FDR to make the negotiation process on trade bills easier for the president. For some reason Congress needs to now renew it for Obama.

That Congressmen from both parties are reluctant to renew this grant of presidential power indicates a shift of political power back to Congress. The argument, that this power has been routinely granted since FDR, is not carrying the weight it once did. Instead, there is movement to refuse the president this extra power, partly because there is distrust of Obama because of his abuses of power and executive authority and partly because the voters have elected a lot of new congressmen who in general just don’t like giving presidents more power.

Expect this shift to increase in the coming years. It appears to me that this battle over fast track might be a very positive sign for the future.

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NASA to launch first interplanetary cubesats

The competition heats up: When it launches its next Mars mission, a stationary lander, NASA will piggyback two cubesats, designed to fly past Mars and relay communications during the landing.

As I’ve noted earlier, standardized small cubesats are the future of unmanned satellite operations. Expect them to increasingly replace all types of larger satellites. And because they are small and cheap (both to make and launch), expect them to lead to a burst of new capitalistic activity in space.

Update: In related news, a small private company has delivered to NASA the first thrusters designed for cubesats. Up until now, cubesats have not been maneuverable. These thrusters will change that.

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New images from New Horizons of Pluto

Images taken by New Horizons over a four day period at the end of May show Pluto to be a planet with distinct areas of bright and dark.

The images are still very fuzzy and require a great deal of processing to tease out the detail that is seen. If anything, they resemble images of Mars taken from Earth before the space age. Thus, one must treat these the dark and light areas with great skepticism. We are seeing evidence of different surface topography and geology, but to pin it down more precisely at this time would be a mistake. The spacecraft has to get closer for us to know better what we are seeing.

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Death by 1000 lashes for writing a blog post

The religion of peace: The sentence of 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for a Saudi blogger who wrote some mild criticisms of Saudi Islamic rule has been upheld by that country’s supreme court.

Words fail me when faced with this kind of barbarism. But hey, here in the states we have to deal with some real oppression, like the fact that women in business are sometimes addressed by the phrase “you guys!”.

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“It’s declassified and made public once it’s agreed to.”

Does the quote above, said by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) during debate over the secret Obamatrade bills, remind you of anything? Weren’t we forced to try this dubious legislative approach by Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and the Democrats with Obamacare?

Finding out what was in it after Obamacare was made law has very clearly turned out to be a disaster. The last thing the Republicans should be doing now is to repeat this corrupt practice themselves.

Update: Support for this foolishness in the House appears tepid at best:

According to The Hill, only 116 Republicans and 19 Democrats in the House are committed or leaning to supporting the bill, while 130 Democrats and 29 Republicans are committed or leaning to opposition. That leaves 139 up in the air, most of them Republicans. To get to 218, Boehner and Pelosi will have to find at least 82 more votes out of the 139, a tall order indeed.

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Is this Philae?

Philae?

Cool image time! The Rosetta science team has spent much effort trying to locate Philae, which attempted to land on Comet 67P/C-G in November. The image on the right shows what they think is their best candidate, the bright feature in the center. It was not there prior to Philae’s landing attempt.

Because there are many uncertainties, however, this might not be Philae.

Ultimately, a definitive identification of this or any other candidate as being Philae will require higher-resolution imaging, in turn meaning closer flybys. This may not be possible in the near-term, as issues encountered in navigating close to the comet mean that the opportunity to make flybys at significantly less than 20 km from the surface may be on hold until later in the mission. But after the comet’s activity has subsided, Rosetta should be able to safely operate in close proximity to the comet nucleus again.

The other possibility of further refining Philae’s location would come if the lander were to receive enough power to wake-up from its hibernation and resume its scientific study of 67P/C-G. Then, CONSERT could be used to perform additional ranging measurements and significantly reduce the uncertainties on the lander’s location. At the moment, Philae is still in hibernation, but the mission team remain hopeful that, as the comet moves closer to the Sun along its orbit, the lander will receive enough power in the coming weeks or months to wake up and transmit a signal to Rosetta.

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