200 new lunar impact craters discovered

In a paper [pdf] presented this week at a lunar science conference, scientists announced the identification of more than 200 new impact craters on the Moon from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

As of 1 May 2015, we have scanned and classified changes in 14,182 NAC temporal pairs using our automated change detection tool leading to the discovery over 200 impact craters ranging in size from 1.5 to 43 m. In addition, we also identified thousands of other surface changes, including about 44,000 low reflectance splotches, 3,500 high reflectance splotches, 850 mixed reflectance splotches, [and] 1 Chinese lander/rover.

They think the splotches are created from impacts too small to see with LRO.

Hat tip James Fincannon.

Islamic State in retreat in Iraq?

Good news? Reports out of Iraq strongly suggest that the Islamic State is in retreat there.

The most encouraging part of the above report is this however:

[I]n the face of a host of problems, Iraq is continuing the democratic process. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for all his faults (some of which contributed to the rise of Islamic State), relinquished power peacefully. He didn’t give in to the self-fulfilling spiral of paranoia that infects so many Middle Eastern rulers, where you ruthlessly hold on to power in order to keep yourself from being killed by your political opponents. Flawed as Maliki was, he’s been nowhere near as bad as Saddam Hussein, or Bashar Assad, or Ayatollah Khamenei. While Islamic State has rampaged north and west, the Iraqi parliament has investigated the fall of Mosul, pushed back against government corruption, and passed a budget. They’ve plodded along like a normal country, despite their abnormal circumstances

There actually may be cause for some hope in at least this one corner of the Middle East.

This year’s building El Niño?

A comparison of satellite data between 1997 and 2015 strongly suggests that an El Niño as strong as the one in 1998 is developing in the Pacific.

The animation is below the fold. Climate scientists have been predicting a strong El Niño for the last few years, with little success. It might finally be happening, however, and if so, it should at least help alleviate the drought in California.

» Read more

New cheap way to turn sea water drinkable?

Egyptian researchers have developed what they think could be a cheap and easy way to desalinate sea water.

In a paper published last month in the journal, Water Science & Technology, researchers Mona Naim, Mahmoud Elewa, Ahmed El-Shafei and Abeer Moneer announced that they have developed a new way to purify sea water using materials that can be manufactured easily and cheaply in most countries, and a method that does not rely on electricity.

The technology uses a method of separating liquids and solids called pervaporation. Pervaporation is a simple, two-step process – the first step involves filtering the liquid through a ceramic or polymeric membrane, while the second step requires vaporizing and collecting the condensed water. Pervaporation is faster, cleaner and more energy efficient than conventional methods, not least because the heat required for the vaporization stage does not necessarily have to be electrically generated.

The technology is not yet proven, but if it bears fruit, many of the world’s water problems will soon vanish.

Obamacare causes school shutdowns in Tennessee

Finding out what’s in it: A Tennessee school district has been forced to shutter classrooms, putting more than a thousand students out of school, because of the cost of Obamacare.

It is important to repeatedly note the disaster that is Obamacare, because many of the same people who wrote and imposed Obamacare on the nation, the Democratic Party, are still in office and are running for office again. Do we want these people writing additional laws?

Or are we so stupid that we are willing to ignore their failure and give them an opportunity to screw us again?

MTNS – Lost track of time

An evening pause: The song, which is really nice, is really just background music to a beautiful video of what it is like to fly fish in Montana. As always, I want to note the sophistication of the human engineering and design that makes this activity possible. It is as beautiful as the countryside and the music.

Hat tip Rocco.

Eleven more Obamacare co-ops face bankruptcy

Finding out what’s in it: Eleven more Obamacare state health insurance co-ops are on the verge of bankruptcy, according to an assessment that the Obama administration is keeping secret.

The key to this story is this quote:

Just in the last three weeks, five of the original 24 Obamacare co-ops announced plans to close, bringing the total of failures to nine barely two years after their launch with $2 billion in start-up capital from the taxpayers under the Affordable Care Act. All 24 received 15-year loans in varying amounts to offer health insurance to poor and low income customers and provide publicly funded competition to private, for-profit insurers. Among the co-ops to announce closings were those in Iowa, Nebraska, Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, Nevada, Tennessee, Vermont, New York and Colorado.

Nearly half a million failing co-op customers will have to find new coverage in 2016. More than $900 million of the original $2 billion in loans has been lost. [emphasis mine]

In other words, this part of Obamacare was really nothing more than a way to funnel a lot of cash to Democratic activists and supporters. That the co-ops are going bankrupt really doesn’t matter, because the money will remain in those Democratic hands regardless.

Study questions scientific dating method

The uncertainty of science: A new study has raised questions about the methods scientists have used to date the late heavy bombardment in the early solar system.

A study of zircons from a gigantic meteorite impact in South Africa, now online in the journal Geology, casts doubt on the methods used to date lunar impacts. The critical problem, says lead author Aaron Cavosie, a visiting professor of geoscience and member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the fact that lunar zircons are “ex situ,” meaning removed from the rock in which they formed, which deprives geoscientists of corroborating evidence of impact. “While zircon is one of the best isotopic clocks for dating many geological processes,” Cavosie says, “our results show that it is very challenging to use ex situ zircon to date a large impact of known age.”

The problem is that the removal of the zircon from lunar rocks changes the data enough to make the dating unreliable. The method might work on Earth, but the dating done on Apollo samples can be questioned. This means that much of the supposed history of the solar system, centered on what planetary scientists call the late heavy bombardment, a period 4 billion years ago when the planets were being hit by innumerable impacts as they cleared the solar system of its dusty debris disk, might not have happened as dated from lunar samples. If so, our understanding of when that bombardment ended and life began to form on Earth might be considerably incorrect.

The solution? Get to the planets in person, where you can obtain many samples in situ and thus gather a much deeper understanding of the geology.

SpaceX switches payloads for next launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX has rearranged the payloads for its next two launches, delaying the SES-9 geosynchronous communications satellite launch until December to instead launch 11 Orbcomm low-orbit satellites in November.

Using the upgraded Falcon 9, this switch will give them more fuel to try a vertical landing of the first stage on this first launch. They will then try again on the second launch.

R.I.P. George Mueller

One of the most important managers during the 1960s and 1970s at NASA, George Mueller (pronounced “Miller”) has passed away at 97 after a short illness.

NASA and sources close to Mueller’s family confirmed his passing on Thursday (Oct. 15).

Mueller, as associate administrator, headed the Office of Manned Space Flight at NASA’s Washington headquarters from 1963 through 1969. During that time, Mueller brought together NASA’s three human spaceflight centers under a common management system, introduced an approach to testing that made landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade possible, played a key part in the design of the United States’ first space station and advocated for a reusable space transportation system that became known as the space shuttle.

Unlike the many government managers that followed him, Mueller’s goal was never to build an empire, but to get humans into space as quickly and as efficiently as possible. If only we had more people like him.

Fractures on Enceladus’s north pole

Enceladus's North Pole

The Cassini science team has released the first image from Wednesday’s flyby of the Saturn moon Enceladus.

Scientists expected the north polar region of Enceladus to be heavily cratered, based on low-resolution images from the Voyager mission, but the new high-resolution Cassini images show a landscape of stark contrasts. “The northern regions are crisscrossed by a spidery network of gossamer-thin cracks that slice through the craters,” said Paul Helfenstein, a member of the Cassini imaging team at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. “These thin cracks are ubiquitous on Enceladus, and now we see that they extend across the northern terrains as well.”

To see more you can browse the raw images here.

The next flyby later this month will be especially interesting as they will dip to within 30 miles of the surface.

Ben-Hur – The Chariot Race

An evening pause: This clip is actually only the last half of the chariot race scene from Ben-Hur (1959), still one of the greatest action sequences ever put on film. And not only was it on film, but they did it without any computer animation. What you see is real, real horses and real chariots and real actors and real very skilled and brave stunt men. (See this short film on how the even earlier 1925 silent-era epic film Ben-Hur version was made, in a similar manner.)

If you get the chance, watch the 1959 film. Truly a great Hollywood epic.

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

Two more Obamacare state co-ops fail

Finding out what’s in it: Obamacare co-ops in Tennessee and Kentucky have announced that they are going out of business and their customers need to find new health insurance plans.

The following two paragraphs about the failure of the Kentucky co-op illustrate succinctly what conservatives were saying about Obamacare before it was launched about why it was never going to work:

The co-op lost $50 million last year, partly because over 20,000 more people had purchased the insurance than originally estimated. Glenn Jennings, Kentucky Health Cooperative’s interim CEO, told the Herald-Leader that further financial woes came because many of their new members had not previously had health insurance, leading to “a lot of people with pent up medical needs.” Then, said Jennings, “when they suddenly had health insurance…they began using their benefits.”

Jennings said that they had slowed their losses to $4 million in the first half of 2015, but were counting on substantial federal loans to continue operations. Instead, the feds announced they would only provide 12.6 percent of the funds requested by insurers through the assistance program. Kentucky’s insurers were hoping to get a total of $77 million in loans, but only received $9.7 million.

If insurance companies are forced to take anyone, as Obamacare does, then no one is going to buy insurance until they need it, defeating the entire premise of insurance. Thus, the Kentucky co-op was quickly saddled with too many sick customers and not enough healthy ones to pay the costs. To solve this they were then depending on the government to make up the difference. This however is simply impossible. There just isn’t enough of other people’s tax dollars to fund such inefficiencies.

The unsurprising result: Bankruptcy. As the article notes, of the 23 state co-ops still in operation, 21 are losing money. Expect more bankruptcies to come.

Iran writes its own bill

The bill approved by Iran’s legislature this week is not the deal negotiated by John Kerry and approved by Obama.

Instead, the Majlis approved by a 161 to 59 vote, with 13 abstentions, a nine point document they created which authorizes the Iranian government to move forward on a path that will do at least two things: one, remove international sanctions against Iran, and two, end Israel’s nuclear weapons program.

Got that?

End Israel’s nuclear weapons program. Not end Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Ending Israel’s program is apparently point one of the nine point document approved by the Majlis on Tuesday.

Read it all. Rather than agree to limit their nuclear production, as declared by the idiots in the Obama administration, the legislation allows them to accelerate it. As the article notes, the only person sticking with Obama’s Iran nuclear deal is Obama.

More evidence of giant flash floods on Mars

Mangala Valles

A newly released image from ESA’s Mars Express orbiter shows that catastrophic flooding — caused by ice melted from volcanic activity — created the Mangala Valles channels on Mars.

The perspective image on the right shows the topography of the region, with low points indicated in blue and high points by red. The channel along the right side of the image is Mangala Valles itself, though you can also see additional flood channels to the left of it passing around and through a large crater whose floor now stands above the surrounding terrain caused by the erosion of the rim plus the deposit of sediment inside the crater during the flooding.

I have a soft spot for Mangala Valles. When it was first photographed by the first orbiter missions to Mars in the early 1970s I was struck by its river-like appearance and striking topography. I therefore placed my Martian colony here in one of my efforts at science fiction writing. I figured it a good location for colonization, as there would likely be water and, by roofing over the deep canyon, a colony could be built relatively easily.

Better locations on Mars have since been found, but the location still intrigues me.

Smallsat rocket launchers get NASA contracts

The competition heats up: NASA this week awarded contracts ranging from $4.7 to $6.9 million to three different smallsat launch companies.

The companies are Firefly Space Systems, Rocket Lab USA, and Virgin Galactic. The second is the company that just won the contract to put a privately-built lunar rover on the moon (part of the Google Lunar X-Prize).

In the past, cubesats and other small satellites could only afford to be secondary payloads on much larger rockets. Thus, they were at the mercy of the needs of the primary payload, often resulting in significant unplanned delays before launch. This in turn acted to discourage the development of smallsats. Now, with these private launch companies designed to service them exclusively the smallsat industry should start to boom.

Note also the low cost of these contracts. The small size of cubesats and the launchers designed for them means everything about them costs much less. Putting an unmanned probe into space is thus much more affordable.

Antares failure wipes out Aerojet’s 2nd quarter profits

The settlement between Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne over the failure of an Aerojet Russian engine that failed during an Antares launch has wiped out Aerojet’s entire second quarter profit.

The Rancho Cordova rocket engine maker reported a $38.1 million quarterly loss Tuesday, largely the result of a spectacular launchpad explosion last October that forced Aerojet to pay a hefty settlement to a key customer and prompted the end of a profitable supply contract. Aerojet, which has embarked on a cost-cutting program, said the third-quarter loss came to 62 cents a share. It compared to a year-ago loss of $9.9 million, or 18 cents a share.

The company’s stock has also been declining, probably linked to its loss of business to Blue Origin.

Real clam digging

An evening pause: Rocco had suggested this short video about the joys of going out and digging clams. I prefer the video below, of a real clam doing its own digging, because it shows us something we normally don’t see and that is really amazing. Who would have thought that a clam could bury itself so quickly, with a single digging foot?

Kepler finds a star no one can explain

Observations using Kepler have uncovered a star whose light fluctuations can only be explained in two ways.

First,

If another star had passed through the unusual star’s system, it could have yanked a sea of comets inward. Provided there were enough of them, the comets could have made the dimming pattern. But that would be an extraordinary coincidence, if that happened so recently, only a few millennia before humans developed the tech to loft a telescope into space. That’s a narrow band of time, cosmically speaking.

Second? Maybe the star’s light is being blocked by a swarm of megastructures built by an alien civilization. They intend to look for radio emissions from the star in wavelengths associated with technology to see if this theory has any possibility.

New global maps of Titan

Titan's North Pole

The Cassini science team has released new maps of Titan, including new maps of both poles, assembled from images taken during the 100 flybys that the spacecraft has made of the moon since it arrived in orbit around Saturn.

The scale is rough, just less than a mile at best, and there is no topographic information because the thick atmosphere allows for no strong sunlight or shadows. The images show differences in surface brightness, which does tell us where Titan’s dark methane lakes are.

This is likely the best we will get of Titan for decades, until another spacecraft is sent there.

“There are kindergarten classes with more realistic assessments of cost-benefit tradeoffs than the crowd watching this debate at the Wynn Las Vegas.”

Link here. The headline, noting how the Democratic Party debate revealed it to be an openly socialist party, is hardly news. The Democrats have been radically communist since 2004, when the party thought Joe Lieberman was too much a moderate for their taste. Since then, their candidates and policies have all be very hardcore left, demanding everything be controlled and run by the government.

The sad thing has been that the voting public has either been blind to this, or actually has wanted it. I don’t know which is worse.

Putin delays first launch from Vostochny

During an inspection tour of Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport, Vladimir Putin announced that the first launch should be delayed from December to the spring of 2016.

“We do not need any drumbeating reports, we need high-quality results,” Putin said. “So let us agree: you finish the work related to water supply and wastewater disposal. It is necessary to prepare spaceships for launches. And be ready to carry out the first launches in 2016, somewhere in the spring.” “If you do that before Cosmonautics Day, that will be fine,” the president added.

Cosmonautics Day is the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first spaceflight, April 12, so this is the new deadline Putin is setting. He doesn’t mention anything about the launch assembly building supposedly built to the wrong size.

Cassini’s last flybys of Enceladus

As Cassini approaches the end of its decade-long mission at Saturn it will begin its last series of flybys of the moon Enceladus starting October 14.

Images will arrive a day or two afterward. The last two flybys will take place in late October and then in December, with the second October flyby getting closest, only 30 miles from the surface.

Beginning next year they will shift the spacecraft’s orbit so that it can get a better look at Saturn’s poles during its last two years. In that orbit flybys of the moons cannot be done.

New weather maps of Jupiter

Using the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers have compiled a new set of maps of Jupiter, showing changes in the gas giant’s bands and spots, including the Giant Red Spot.

The scientists behind the new images took pictures of Jupiter using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 over a ten-hour period and have produced two maps of the entire planet from the observations. These maps make it possible to determine the speeds of Jupiter’s winds, to identify different phenomena in its atmosphere and to track changes in its most famous features.

The new images confirm that the huge storm, which has raged on Jupiter’s surface for at least three hundred years, continues to shrink, but that it may not go out without a fight. The storm, known as the Great Red Spot, is seen here swirling at the centre of the image of the planet. It has been decreasing in size at a noticeably faster rate from year to year for some time. But now, the rate of shrinkage seems to be slowing again, even though the spot is still about 240 kilometres smaller than it was in 2014.

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