Monthly Archives: June 2017

At the rim

at the rim

On a lark, last week I called Xanterra, the vendor that runs the hotels on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, to see if they had any rooms available anytime during the summer. Diane and I wanted to do a day hike down the Hermit Trail, and to do it we needed to stay at a hotel the night before and the night after.

To my surprise, they had a rim view room available in Bright Angel Lodge, for tonight and tomorrow. The picture on the right is taken from our room, right after we arrived earlier today. I am right now sitting at that window, watching the sun set on the canyon buttes even as I type. Yowza!

I will post more tonight, and some tomorrow night as well. I will also do my podcast with John Batchelor tomorrow, live, from this room. Most cool, I must say.

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Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds Of Silence

An evening pause: From a recent live performance. I’ve posted this song before, sung by others, but not surprisingly, the best version is still performed by the originals.

I also think of this verse today whenever I read of the insane craziness going on in the political world:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Hat tip Peter Fenstermacher.

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T Rex fossils suggest it was covered with scales, not feathers

The uncertainty of science: The only known fossils of a T Rex’s skin suggest that the dinosaur was covered with scales, not feathers as recent research has theorized.

[I]f these large tyrannosaurs had any feathers at all, says the team, their fluff would have been limited to their backs—the only body part for which they were lacking fossil impressions. Because their earlier cousins did have feathers, it’s likely that the large tyrannosaurs lost them somewhere along the way, the team suggests.

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Astronomers confirm that comet caused Wow! signal, not aliens

Astronomers have confirmed that the Wow! signal, thought to be the most promising detection by SETI of alien life, was actually caused by a comet.

Last year, a group of researchers from the Center of Planetary Science proposed a new hypothesis that argued a comet might be the culprit. The frequency could be caused by the hydrogen cloud they carry, and the fact that they move accounts for why it seemingly disappeared. Two comets, named 266/P Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs), happened to be transiting through that region of space when the Wow! signal was detected, but they weren’t discovered until after 2006.

To test the hypothesis, the team made 200 radio spectrum observations between November 2016 and February 2017. Sure enough, 266/P Christensen was found to emit radio waves at a frequency of 1,420 MHz, and to double check, the researchers moved their radio telescope by one degree. As expected, the signal vanished, and only returned when the telescope was trained back on the comet.

This story demonstrates once again why, in science, it is very dangerous to jump to any conclusions. The data we receive is a mystery. We must keep an open mind to solve that mystery.

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China reveals landing site for Chang’e-5 lander/rover

China has chosen the landing site for its Chang’e-5 lander/rover and sample return mission, planned to launch later this year.

Liu Jizhong, director of China Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of China National Space Administration (CNSA), for the first time disclosed the probe landing site, an isolated volcanic formation located in the northwest part of the Moon’s near side.

They also said their focus will be the Moon’s south pole, where there is evidence of the possible presence of water ice.

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Russia lowers its Proton launch plans for 2017

Though they are about to resume Proton launches, Russia today revealed that they only intend to launch the rocket five times in 2017, not seven as announced earlier.

Russia plans five Proton-M carrier rocket launches this year, including three commercial launches, Khrunichev Space Center CEO Andrei Kalinovsky told TASS on Wednesday. “Our plans for this year also additionally include four Proton-M carrier rocket launches. These are two commercial launches with Amazonas 5 and AsiaSat 9 satellites, and also two federal launches,” the chief executive said.

Even more interesting, the article notes that Russia only has contracts to launch 15 commercial satellites through 2023. That’s a launch rate of only about 2.5 to 3 commercial Proton launches per year, a rate that seems much less than in the past. Moreover, while they say they haven’t lost any customers in the past year, it also appears they haven’t gotten any either.

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Climate scientists increasingly show no warming in peer review papers

The uncertainty of science: Climate scientists are increasingly publishing papers that show no clear temperature global trend.

Last year there were at least 60 peer-reviewed papers published in scientific journals demonstrating that Today’s Warming Isn’t Global, Unprecedented, Or Remarkable.

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Just within the last 5 months, 58 more papers and 80 new graphs have been published that continue to undermine the popularized conception of a slowly cooling Earth temperature history followed by a dramatic hockey-stick-shaped uptick, or an especially unusual global-scale warming during modern times.
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Yes, some regions of the Earth have been warming in recent decades or at some point in the last 100 years. Some regions have been cooling for decades at a time. And many regions have shown no significant net changes or trends in either direction relative to the last few hundred to thousands of years.
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Succinctly, then, scientists publishing in peer-reviewed journals have increasingly affirmed that there is nothing historically unprecedented or remarkable about today’s climate when viewed in the context of long-term natural variability. [emphasis in original]

At the link are 80 graphs from the most recent papers. Take a look. If you are convinced that the climate is warming than you must come up with an explanation for this data. Or you can put your fingers in your ears, cover your eyes, and chant “La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!” as loud as you can so that you don’t have to deal with it.

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China to ramp up manned missions to build space station

In order to build its space station, beginning in 2019, China will increase its manned mission rate, completing four missions in five years.

This is still a somewhat glacial pace, compared to other nations. It will seem even slower based on what I expect will start happening once a number of competitive private American rockets begin hauling tourists into space.

The article notes one additional tidbit about China’s station. They plan to run 3 to 6 month long missions there.

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Jupiter gets two more moons

Astronomers using ground-based telescopes have identified two more moon circling Jupiter, bringing its total now to 69.

Both of these discoveries, as with the vast majority of Jupiter’s moons, occupy retrograde orbits, with inclinations greater than 90°, meaning that they move in directions opposite that of the planet’s spin. These distant, irregular orbits imply that these bodies formed elsewhere in the outer solar system and were captured while passing by early in the planet’s history.

A number of the moons recently discovered have since been lost because their orbits were too poorly constrained. However, some of these lost moons have also be recovered.

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Air Force awards SpaceX contract to launch next X-37B mission

Capitalism in space: The Air Force has awarded SpaceX the contract to launch the next X-37B mission, presently scheduled to launch in August.

The contract amount was not announced, but it certainly is going to be less than ULA charged for its own launches of the X-37B. Also, this launch is scheduled only two months hence, which means SpaceX has to somehow wedge it into its already crowded schedule.

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Imans in UK refuse to say prayers for terrorists

It is about time: More than 130 Muslim religious leaders in the United Kingdom are refusing to perform funeral rites for the terrorists who attacked people this past Saturday on London Bridge.

The decision by the Muslim leaders was seen as an “unprecedented” move because the funeral ritual is typically performed on a deceased Muslim no matter the person’s past actions. The group of religious leaders have urged others to join them in declining to pray for the dead killers.

“We, as Muslim imams and religious leaders, condemn the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London in the strongest terms possible,” the Muslim leaders said in a statement. “Coming from a range of backgrounds, and from across the U.K.; feeling the pain the rest of the nation feels, we have come together to express our shock and utter disgust at these cold-blooded murders. We are deeply hurt that a spate of terror attacks have been committed in our country once more by murderers who seek to gain religious legitimacy for their actions. We seek to clarify that their reprehensible actions have neither legitimacy nor our sympathy.”

So, does this mean they had no problems with performing rites for the terrorists of earlier attacks, such as at Westminster earlier this year and the July 7 attacks several years ago? Meh.

I must say that though this is the right response on their part, I am not very impressed. For more that two decades the Islamic community in the west has sat on its hands, making believe they have nothing to do with Islamic terrorism, or quietly supporting it by non-action. They are suddenly realizing now that people are losing patience with them, and that their safe havens in the west are now increasingly threatened. Most politicians might still be mouthing platitudes of “We have to all get along,” but the public is increasingly angry and demanding action, even if it means kicking every Islamic practitioner back to the Middle East.

Thus, though I do not like attacking people with such broad strokes, I can understand why it is happening. And the Muslim community has no one to blame but themselves.

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The atomic rocket that never was

Link here. The article is filled with overstatements and even a few outright errors, such as in the second paragraph when it makes the false assertion that SLS will be “the largest booster ever built.” (The Saturn 5 was more powerful. So was the Soviet Union’s Energia.)

Furthermore, the key to understanding how minor and inconsequencial Project Orion was is to note the total amount of money spent: only $10.5 million. This was merely a design study, something that NASA did (and still does) routinely, most of which never get beyond power-point presentations. Project Orion was similar, never reaching project stage. If it had been done today it would have also been nothing more than a power point presentation.

I also remember when this whole concept got cancelled and was revealed. No one took it seriously, since everyone understood that the technology available in the 1960s was simply not ready for such a project.

Nonetheless, it is interesting reading, especially since the technology today is significantly advanced. We might actually be approaching a time where this concept can finally move to design and construction.

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Fascism at Emerson College

Link here. This includes threats of violence, blacklisting, and bad grades for conservative students. One student has left the school after one year because of the harassment.

The worse aspect of this however is that most of the ill-treatment is coming from students. While the administration simply looks the other way, these future leaders of our society harass, oppress, and attack a dissenting minority, merely because of their opinions.

Even so, the very fact that the administration seems to care so little about reigning in this fascist behavior should be a reason for parents and college-bound students to consider attending a different college. As the student who is fleeing the school noted in the second link above:

She’s said she feels disappointed with [Emerson President Lee] Pelton’s response to her situation and a lack of serious consequences for the students involved. “When it comes to the bigger picture, is the school responding well? No. Not really. They don’t feel the need to stand up for us, because they aren’t too many of us,” she said.

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Jupiter’s cloud-tops, up close

Jupiter's cloud tops

Cool image time! On the right is a cropped and reduced resolution section from this image from Juno. It shows the top of some of Jupiter’s clouds, swirling about chaotically.

What I find most fascinating is how this image reveals the different elevations of some of these cloud belts. The swirling clouds on the left and bottom of the image are clearly higher than the dark areas to the top and right. They are in fact casting their shadows on those lower cloud-tops.

To really understand the interactions taking place here, however, will require satellites capable of continually tracking these clouds over time. Unfortunately, Juno cannot do this. Though it will provide us periodic snapshots of specific areas, its long 53-day orbit means that it will not return to view the same areas very frequently. Making movies of the evolution of these clouds will be difficult, if not impossible.

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Exoplanet hotter than some stars

Astronomers have identified an Jupiter-sized exoplanet with a surface that is apparently hotter than the surfaces of some stars.

With a day-side temperature of 4,600 Kelvin (more than 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit), planet KELT-9b is hotter than most stars, and only 1,200 Kelvin (about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than our own sun…. For instance, it’s a gas giant 2.8 times more massive than Jupiter but only half as dense, because the extreme radiation from its host star has caused its atmosphere to puff up like a balloon. And because it is tidally locked to its star—as the Moon is to Earth—the day side of the planet is perpetually bombarded by stellar radiation, and as a result is so hot that molecules such as water, carbon dioxide, and methane can’t form there. The properties of the night side are still mysterious—molecules may be able to form there, but probably only temporarily.

The most interesting aspect of this discovery is that it was done with small, inexpensive ground-based telescopes.

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More near Earth objects found by WISE

NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Explorer (WISE) has released its third year of survey data, including the discovery of 97 previously unknown objects.

Of those, 28 were near-Earth objects, 64 were main belt asteroids and five were comets. The spacecraft has now characterized a total of 693 near-Earth objects since the mission was re-started in December 2013.

For reasons that baffle me, NASA added “Near-Earth Object” to the telescope’s name when they restarted the mission, making its official name now NEOWISE.

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NASA considering using used first stages for Dragon cargo launches

Capitalism in space: With SpaceX’s successful launch on June 3 of a used Dragon cargo capsule to ISS, NASA is now considering using used Falcon 9 first stages for later cargo missions.

“That question has been posed,” Ven Feng, manager of the ISS Transportation Integration Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said during a post-launch press conference Saturday. “We are looking at it,” he added. “We’re evaluating every aspect of it very carefully, and there is no schedule yet when we might go down that path.”

NASA officials made the same kind of cautious statements several years ago when SpaceX proposed flying a used Dragon capsule. In other words, they are going to do it, it just takes the bureaucracy time to mull the idea over and finally accept it.

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Turkish company announces plans to build commercial rocket

Capitalism in space: A Turkish company, Roketsan, has announced its plans to build a rocket capable of launching both commercial and Turkish government satellites.

A Rocketsan press release that came out right before the Turkish International Defence Industry Fair held May 9-12, 2017, revealed the company’s plan to develop an independently funded satellite launch vehicle (SLV). The SLV will be Turkey’s first domestically produced rocket and it will be capable of launching low-Earth-orbiting satellites to an altitude of 500–700 km.

The SLV development is still in the conceptual design phase, but is planned to have a liquid propulsion system and falls in line with the SLS project. The SLS project involves a three-fold plan, the first step of which is to develop an SLV for the Turkish government.

Even though the SLV development is a fully private venture by Rocketsan, it will be Turkey’s own vehicle to use for government missions. That being said, the SLS project has much bigger and ambitious goals that require two additional phases. The next steps of the project will be the establishment of both a Satellite Launch Centre and Remote Earth Stations.

There is a video animation at the link showing the launch of their imagined rocket. It is worth watching because its almost cartoon quality indicates how far they probably have to travel to make this project happen.

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Proton rolled to launchpad for June 8 launch

After a pause in launches lasting one day short of a full year, Russia has rolled its Proton rocket to the launchpad for a hoped-for June 8 launch of a commercial communications satellite.

The article provides a nice overview of Russia’s struggles during the past year, attempting to track down the reasons why their rockets were having problems (corruption at the rocket engine factory) and their repeated attempts to get this rocket off the ground.

They hope, if all goes well, to complete seven Proton launches through the end of 2017 in order to clean up their backlog while also demonstrating that they have solved their quality control problems.

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India successfully launches its first GSLV Mark 3 rocket

India today successfully launched its most powerful rocket, the GSLV Mark 3, for the first time.

The first orbital launch of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk.III) marked a milestone in India’s space program, with the more powerful rocket allowing the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to begin launching heavier payloads aboard its own vehicles – both for spaceflight applications such as communications and in support of the country’s nascent manned space program.

Monday’s launch came two and a half years after the GSLV Mark III’s maiden flight, a successful suborbital test for which only the rocket’s lower stages were live. The test flight, conducted on 18 December 2014, carried a prototype crew capsule and also served to validate the rocket’s design and demonstrate the stage performance and operation of the rocket’s solid-fuel first stage and liquid-fuelled second stage.

This is India’s third launch this year, which amazingly ties them at this moment with Russia. This will change, as Russia hopes to resume Proton launches this week, but the fact both speaks well of India’s growing success in space and Russia’s continuing problems.

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Another proposal for dealing with the Outer Space Treaty

Link here. The author has made an interesting analysis of my earlier essay on this subject, and come up with what I think is a very intriguing and most encouraging idea:

Government establishes a legal framework for enforcing law. So, rather than allow nations to make claims of territory, let us instead allow private enterprises to go to the Moon or elsewhere, stake a claim, and then, to establish a legal framework for resolving any disputes that arise, choose the government under whose legal jurisdiction their claim will reside. No governments would appropriate territory. They would merely be lending their courts to render judgments on legal disputes arising outside their territories. That would seem to satisfy Article 2. This scheme would not require a new Treaty but could probably be implemented via United Nations resolutions. [emphasis in original]

I actually like this, as it puts the power in the hands of the citizens or companies, allowing them to pick the nation to which they wish to align.

What I find most encouraging however is that the subject of the Outer Space Treaty is now becoming a major issue worth discussing, by many others. I have my ideas, others have theirs. Either way, the issues and weaknesses of the treaty are now being debated, and people are proposing solutions. In the fifty years since the treaty was signed it has previously been impossible to generate this much discussion on this issue. (Believe me, I have tried.) That others are now responding and proposing alternative approaches means that maybe the time has finally arrived where this problem will be dealt with.

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Hoax “penis as concept” paper finally retracted

It only took ten days, but the journal Cogent Social Sciences has finally retracted the hoax paper it published entitled “The conceptual penis as a social construct.”

In retracting the paper, the journal merely stated, “This article has been retracted by the publisher. For more information please see the statement on this article.”

That statement was filled with a lot of excuses and platitudes about “working closely with the academic editorial teams of all our journals to review our processes,” but little apparent recognition that the hoax demonstrated without question that quality of the gender studies field is simply crap. In fact, it appears the goal of their reviews isn’t to question the quality of the academic research, but to establish policies that will prevent another hoax. As far as they are concerned, it is okay to publish this exact same junk, as long as its authors sincerely believe it to be true.

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Coalition of leftwing states and cities to uphold Paris climate treaty

The squealing of pigs: A coalition of leftwing states and cities has formed to uphold the Paris climate treaty from which President Trump has withdrawn.

Thirty cities, three states, more than 80 university presidents, and more than 100 companies are part of a growing group intending to uphold the Paris Agreement, the climate-change accord that President Donald Trump on Thursday announced the US would be exiting.

The group is being organized by the billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg.

The coalition plans to submit a plan to the United Nations that commits to greenhouse-gas limits set in the Paris Agreement, according to The New York Times. It is negotiating with the UN to form its own National Determined Contribution — a set of emissions standards for each participating nation under the Paris Agreement — that is accepted alongside the other countries in the accord.

There is one big problem with this effort. It is plainly forbidden by the U.S. Constitution, which states in Article 1, section 10 that “No state shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation. … No state shall, without the consent of Congress, … enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power.”

But then, I am not surprised. The left, led today by the Democratic Party, has shown itself in recent years to either be completely ignorant of some basic Constitutional laws, or eagerly willing to defy or ignore them.

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California’s bankrupt house industry, crippled by government

Link here. I can’t quote anything because I’d have to quote the entire article, filled as it is with endless nuggets describing how California’s liberal government policies have made its housing industry unaffordable and dysfunctional. Worse, the solutions proposed by that state’s legislature appear generally to be more of the same, higher taxes, more regulation, and increased restrictions on where and when anyone can build.

As the first commenter at the link says, “Think the Soviet Union.” For California’s future I think Venezuela.

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