Monthly Archives: October 2016

The childishness sweeping America

I find it incredibly depressing to repeatedly post the number of crazy, insane stories I read each day that document the descent into fascism that I see happening in the United States. So, this week, rather than post them as I found them, I have been accumulating them to post them all at once. I do this partly to save my own sanity, but more importantly to lend impact to them all. These stories illustrate the childishness and immaturity of too many Americans who unfortunately are also being given too much power and undeserved respect.

Quite simply, the behavior illustrated by all these links as that of a bunch of spoiled brats, throwing temper tantrums because they aren’t getting their way. Unfortunately, these brats also generally control our culture today, so no one is allowed to call them for what they are. If you do, you will get slammed, verbally, financially, and even violently. (Note that I once worked in academia, and do so no longer. I leave it to my readers to guess why.)

The video below the fold, from the third link above, nicely illustrates the immaturity and intolerance shown by all these stories. Watch as a tattooed student with a weird hairdo (proving she must be for diversity!) rips down the announcements of an event she simply considers “offensive.” The event was a lecture being given by Christina Hoff Sommers entitled “Where feminism went wrong.” The student is offended that anyone would suggest such a thing, and therefore it must not happen! (I guess some diversity isn’t allowed.)

I also encourage everyone to watch the video at the seventh link, second from the bottom. If you can stomach it, you will see a stark illustration of the hate that moves these children.

The worst aspect of all these stories is how this childish intolerant behavior is becoming increasingly violent and aggressive. Unfortunately, our society does not seem to know how to stop it, and thus I expect it to only grow worse in the coming years, no matter who wins this coming election.
» Read more

Share

Sunspot ramp down resumes

On Monday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle. I am posting it here, as I do every month, with annotations to give it context.

September 2016 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

After two months of increased sunspot activity, the decline in sunspots resumed in September, though activity did not drop significantly. Overall though, the ramp down towards the next solar minimum continues to track quite closely the ramp down predicted by weak prediction made by half the solar science community back in 2007 (the lower green curve above). These scientists however do not have much to brag about. Their same prediction completely missed the ramp up, which happened a year later than predicted, as well as the activity peak, which was far weaker than predicted.

In fact, the ramp down now continues to point to the possibility that this very weak solar cycle will also be a very short one, something that is quite unprecedented, and suggests that we might be seeing the lead in to another Grand Minimum, where there are no sunspots for decades. Since no one understands yet exactly why such grand minimums happen, however, this remains pure speculation. We will only find out by watching what happens, as it happens.

Share

Predicting the next Martian global dust storm

Scientists think they now have a method to predict the next global-wide dust storm on Mars, and based on this theory they predict it will happen very soon.

Global dust storms on Mars could soon become more predictable — which would be a boon for future astronauts there — if the next one follows a pattern suggested by those in the past. A published prediction, based on this pattern, points to Mars experiencing a global dust storm in the next few months. “Mars will reach the midpoint of its current dust storm season on October 29th of this year. Based on the historical pattern we found, we believe it is very likely that a global dust storm will begin within a few weeks or months of this date,” James Shirley, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

This is most interesting because my next rover update, later today or tomorrow, is going to note the increasingly dusty atmosphere in Gale Crater. It isn’t a global dust storm, but maybe it is indicative of one that is about to happen.

Share

Success for New Shepard launch abort test

The competition heats up: Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule not only successfully rocketed away from its propulsion module and landed safely, the propulsion module unexpectedly survived today’ launch abort test and landed vertically as well.

This was the fifth flight of the propulsion module, which with the capsule will now be retired and placed on display.

Below the fold is the video of the entire test flight, including countdown and several long holds. The actual launch is at 1:06:19.
» Read more

Share

IRS renews harassment of tea party groups

Still working for the Democratic Party: Despite repeatedly saying it has stopped its harassment of conservatives, the IRS this week issued a new set of invasive questions to one tea party group that has been waiting since 2012 for its non-profit application to be processed.

Worse, the IRS did it publicly, and in the process released confidential information.

More jarringly, the IRS then publicly released one of the sets of questions it sent to the Texas Patriots Tea Party — a move the group’s lawyer says puts secret taxpayer return information, supposed to be protected, out in the public. Tax experts say the IRS may be on safe legal ground, since the filing was made as part of a court case, and that’s one of the few narrow exceptions to strict IRSprivacy laws.

Still, the move to release the information has inflamed an already tense class action legal battle between the IRS and tea party groups who feel the agency is still targeting them more than three years after it promised to cease. “The IRS has taken the unprecedented step of publicly filing actual return information,” said Edward Greim, who is handling the case on behalf of more than 400 groups targeted by the IRS. He said the questions asked by the IRS show the agency has not ceased the intrusive questioning that landed it in trouble in the first place back in 2013.

This behavior tells us more about Barack Obama and the Democratic Party than the IRS itself. When the scandal initially broke, Obama expressed outrage and anger that such harassment was happening, but from the beginning has literally done nothing to end it. Instead, the IRS has stonewalled every investigation and court suit, including continuning its harassment of the President’s opponents. That could only be happening if the man running the executive branch, Obama himself, approved that behavior. In addition, the investigations have found that numerous Democratic members of Congress not only demanded this harassment, they continue to help the IRS in its stonewalling.

Expect worse should Hillary Clinton win the election. Her track record when she was first lady was actually worse than Obama’s.

Share

Redesigned Antares launch scheduled for Oct 13

NASA and Orbital ATK have now set October 13 as the date for the first Antares launch in two years.

Though ISS is not short of supplies, this quote underlines the difficulty of the particular situation now.

While the space station has plenty of food, water, experiments and other provisions, NASA officials are eager for the Antares rocket to resume flights as all of the research outpost’s other servicing vehicles are facing delays.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which launches the company’s Dragon cargo craft, is grounded after a launch pad explosion Sept. 1, and Dragon resupply missions to the space station may not start up again until early next year.

The Japanese HTV cargo freighter was supposed to blast off Sept. 30 with several tons of supplies, including new lithium-ion batteries for the space station’s electrical system. But that launch has been delayed until at least December after Japanese engineers discovered a leak during an air tightness test in August.

And a Soyuz crew capsule that was supposed to launch Sept. 23 with three new space station residents will not lift off until at least Oct. 19 after Russian workers discovered a technical problem on the vehicle. The Soyuz delay will likely push back the launch of Russia’s next unpiloted Progress cargo freighter from Oct. 20 until late November or early December.

Even with numerous redundent methods for hauling cargo to ISS, it is still possible for them all to have problems all at once.

Share

Space letter wars in Congress!

Turf war! A bi-partisan group of Congressmen, in response to an earlier letter by ten Republican senators questioning SpaceX’s ability to complete a thorough investigation of its September 1st launchpad explosion, have issued their own letter of support for the company.

In a letter to the heads of the Air Force, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, 24 members of Congress said that it was proper that SpaceX was leading the investigation. “Accidents are unfortunate events, and accident investigations should not be politicized,” wrote the bipartisan group led by Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.). “We encourage you to reject calls for your organizations to abandon established, well-considered and long-standing procedures.”

Ain’t democracy wonderful? It seems that SpaceX might have rounded up its own crony Congressmen to battle ULA’s crony Congressmen.

Share

Vitas – Opera #2

An evening pause: Hat tip Jim Mallamace, who also provides an English translation of the Russian lyrics, which I think combine very well with the dark and intriguing performance.

My house has been built,
But I’m alone in it.
A door was slammed behind my back.
Autumn wind is knocking at the window,
It’s crying over me again.
It was thunderstorm last night,
So it’s foggy in the morning.
The Sun got quite cold.
Old anguishes
Are going in a long train.
Let them get together.

My house has been built,
But I’m alone in it.
A door was slammed behind my back.
Autumn wind is knocking at the window,
It’s crying over me again.
It’s my fate, I can’t
Ask my fate for anything.
I only know, how the winds
Will cry after I’ve gone.

Share

Agriculture Secretary demands Americans reduce their food portions

We’re here to help you! The Obama administraton’s agriculture secretary on Monday called for Americans to stop wasting food by reducing their food portions.

Vilsack declared that “first and foremost, America can stop wasting food.”

“We can reduce portion sizes, we can have a more informed consuming public,” he said. “The USDA is providing an app that allows you to sort of go online and figure out if something’s been in the refrigerator for a couple of days, is it still OK to eat that type of thing? And if we can’t reduce it or reuse it, then we need to recycle it. So that’s one strategy that we’re working on.”

He was trying to outline ways to solve future food shortage issues as well as landfill shortages. However, this is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black. For example, I wonder if he has ever looked at the food that is routinely wasted at every Washington function at the fancy buffet tables that are made available to every participant. I doubt it. I suspect that food alone could probably feed the populations of several third world nations.

Morever, what business is it of his to tell us how much food we are allowed to eat? Since when did the federal government gain this power? Worse, I expect that every proposal that the government will try to solve the problem is only going to make it worse. Instead, the government should just shut up, get out of the way, and allow competition, freedom, and necessity to find solutions, quickly and in the most efficient manner.

Share

The mystery of Tabby’s star deepens

Astronomers looking at the light variations of the star dubbed by some Tabby’s star have become even more baffled.

Spurred by a controversial claim that the star’s brightness gradually decreased by 14 percent from 1890 to 1989, Montet and Simon decided to investigate its behavior in a series of Kepler calibration images that had not previously been used for scientific measurements. “We thought that these data could confirm or refute the star’s long-term fading, and hopefully clarify what was causing the extraordinary dimming events observed in KIC 8462852,” explained Simon.

Simon and Montet found that, over the first three years of the Kepler mission, KIC 8462852 dimmed by almost 1 percent. Its brightness then dropped by an extraordinary 2 percent over just six months, remaining at about that level for the final six months of the mission. The pair then compared this with more than 500 similar stars observed by Kepler and found thata small fraction of them showed fading similar to that seen in KIC 8462852 over the first three years of Kepler images. However, none exhibited such a dramatic dimming in just six months, or a total change in brightness of 3 percent.

“The steady brightness change in KIC 8462852 is pretty astounding,” said Montet. “Our highly accurate measurements over four years demonstrate that the star really is getting fainter with time.  It is unprecedented for this type of star to slowly fade for years, and we don’t see anything else like it in the Kepler data.” 

At the moment, there is no good theory based on what astronomers know of stellar evolution to explain this star’s behavior. This does not mean the only explanation left is that aliens are building a Dyson sphere around the star, but it also leaves everyone at a loss to explain what is happening.

Share

Not sabotage!

This closer look at the circumstances behind the September 1 Falcon 9 launchpad explosion outlines why sabotage by a sniper is almost certainly not the cause of the explosion.

The rocket was destroyed about eight minutes before it could start its engines for the static test fire. The supposed sniper could have waited until first-stage engine ignition, which would have covered the sound of a shot. Even a suppressed rifle can be quite loud, and the passage of the bullet through the air would have generated a distinctive sound. As Elon Musk wrote on Twitter a while ago, his team did not come to that conclusion. “Particularly trying to understand the quieter bang sound a few seconds before the fireball goes off,” Musk tweeted. “May come from rocket or something else.”

The .50-caliber Barrett rifle has a maximum effective range of little over a mile. It would be extraordinarily difficult (albeit not impossible) for a trained sniper to get within rifle range of the launch pad, given the tight security at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The article also notes that fuel tanks simply don’lt explode when you fire a bullet into them. Moreover, the problem came from the rocket’s second stage helium tank, and it would have been easier for a sniper to fire at the rocket’s first stage.

It was necessary for the investigation to look into this possibility, but it is also necessary to put the suspicion aside when it is found to be invalid. SpaceX had a rocket failure of significant importance on September 1st, and they need to uncover its actual cause in order to prevent it from happening again. Getting distracted by theories that don’t work will prevent them from doing that.

Share

Firefly shuts down

More details have been released by the shut down of operations at Firefly Space Systems.

They have furloughed all their employees, having lost one of their major investors. According to the company, the investor did not pull out because of the company’s litigation with Virgin Galactic, but because of its own internal considerations. The article also includes hints that Firefly might be one of the options that Vulcan Aerospace is looking at for building the rocket that its giant airplane Stratolaunch will launch.

Share

Curiosity moves on

The Curiosity science team today put out press release summarizing what they have accomplished at Murray Buttes and what they hope to do next.

For those who have been reading my weekly rover updates on Behind the Black, most of this release will be old news. However, the release did provide the following interesting geological information that supplements what I have been reporting:

This latest drill site — the 14th for Curiosity — is in a geological layer about 600 feet (180 meters) thick, called the Murray formation. Curiosity has climbed nearly half of this formation’s thickness so far and found it consists primarily of mudstone, formed from mud that accumulated at the bottom of ancient lakes. The findings indicate that the lake environment was enduring, not fleeting. For roughly the first half of the new two-year mission extension, the rover team anticipates investigating the upper half of the Murray formation. “We will see whether that record of lakes continues further,” Vasavada said. “The more vertical thickness we see, the longer the lakes were present, and the longer habitable conditions existed here. Did the ancient environment change over time? Will the type of evidence we’ve found so far transition to something else?”

The “Hematite Unit” and “Clay Unit” above the Murray formation were identified from Mars orbiter observations before Curiosity’s landing. Information about their composition, from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, made them high priorities as destinations for the rover mission. Both hematite and clay typically form in wet environments.

It also appears that the problems they had while doing the last drill hole were related to the electrical design flaw of Curiosity’s drill. It caused a short circuit this time, which is worrisome based on what I understand because this design flaw has the capability of shorting out the rover’s entire electrical system, ending the mission.

I will post a new rover update later this week, once I get back from Illinois.

Share

A detailed look at SpaceX’s Raptor engine

Link here. This story confirms for me a thought I had had while I watched Elon Musk’s talk last week outlining his proposed Interplanetary Transport System: SpaceX is still a good long way from actually building this rocket, since they have barely begun developing the rocket engine. They have made excellent progress in engine development, but they have a lot to do, with many pitfalls certain.

I therefore think that the company will be relying on its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, with their Merlin engines, for many more years to come.

Share

Dark matter unnecessary?

The uncertainty of science: A new analysis of the infrared data from 153 galaxies using the Spitzer Space Telescope suggests that dark matter might not be necessary to explain the rotation of galaxies.

First, this concise and nicely written explanation from the link of why dark matter has been proposed:

Newton’s laws of motion predict that planets that revolve closer to a star move faster than those that are farther away. In principle this should also hold true for stars circling the cores of galaxies, but for nearly a century, astronomers have seen that stars near the outskirts of galaxies orbit at nearly the same velocities as ones near galactic centers.

To explain why these outlying stars travel as quickly as they do without flying out into the void beyond, researchers came up with the idea of dark matter, a substance whose gravitational pull is thought to keep whirling stars in check. Scientists have largely ruled out all known particles as possible explanations for dark matter, and the consensus is that dark matter must be a kind of invisible, intangible material that is only detectable via its gravitational influence.

However, despite decades of trying, researchers have failed to capture a single mote of dark matter, even though it is supposed to make up roughly five-sixths of all matter in the universe. This raises the possibility that dark matter might not be real.

The new research, which I must admit I do not really understand, supposedly suggests that dark matter is unnecessary to explain the motions of stars.

Previous analyses of the orbital velocities of the stars in galaxies often depended on visible wavelengths of light. However, the stars that produce the most visible light are relatively short-lived and prone to fluctuations, and so may not provide the best picture of how matter is scattered overall throughout a galaxy. Instead, McGaugh and his colleagues analyzed near-infrared images collected by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope over the past five years. “The stars that generate the most near-infrared light are red giants, that are pretty stable in their output, and so are much better representative of a galaxy’s total mass of stars,” McGaugh said.

The researchers found an extraordinarily close association between the location of normal matter and the way it accelerates around the centers of galaxies. “We were surprised at how tight that relationship was,” McGaugh said. “It looks tantamount to a law of nature.”

Neither the article nor the scientists who did this research however explain clearly how this tight association negates the need for dark matter.

Share

Sabotage?

The competition really heats up: The SpaceX investigation into the September 1 Falcon 9 launchpad explosion has apparently also included looking into the possibility that sabotage could have played a part.

As part of the investigation, SpaceX officials had come across something suspicious they wanted to check out, according to three industry officials with knowledge of the episode. SpaceX had still images from video that appeared to show an odd shadow, then a white spot on the roof of a nearby building belonging to ULA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The SpaceX representative explained to the ULA officials on site that it was trying to run down all possible leads in what was a cordial, not accusatory, encounter, according to the industry sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The building, which had been used to refurbish rocket motors known as the SMARF, is just more than a mile away from the launchpad and has a clear line of sight to it. A representative from ULA ultimately denied the SpaceX employee access to the roof and instead called Air Force investigators, who inspected the roof and didn’t find anything connecting it to the rocket explosion, the officials said.

To quote Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” In this case, it appears that they have eliminated this impossibility, though it is interesting that SpaceX felt compelled to consider it.

Share

Cash shortage and court problems for Firefly

In the heat of competition: Firefly Space Systems appears to be in serious trouble with a court case going against it and what appears to be a loss of funding.

The legal battle took a turn in Virgin Galactic’s favor earlier this month when the arbitrator in the case (case no. 01-12-0002-2467) made a terminating sanctions ruling determining that Markusic did take Virgin Galactic trade secrets, destroyed evidence, impeded the arbitration process, and transferred Virgin Galactic confidential information to Firefly computers. This ruling makes any further legal action by Virgin Galactic much simpler as they no longer have to prove Markusic took their confidential information.

Things appeared to be going well at Firefly before this ruling, with a high volume of new hiring going on, a $5.5 million Venture class launch services contract with NASA, test firings of their engine, and a successful raise of $19 million in funding. Things may have changed with a statement posted to Twitter today on their @Firefly_Space account stating they have “experienced a setback on funding”.

Freedom and competition produces results fast and of high quality. It also carries risk and allows for failure. It appears that unfortunately Firefly might be illustrating the failure part of the equation.

Share
1 4 5 6