Monthly Archives: May 2018

Astronomers identify giant exoplanets that might harbor habitable moons

Worlds without end: In reviewing the known exoplanets astronomers have identified more than a hundred giant exoplanets located in the habitable zone that might harbor habitable moons.

The researchers identified 121 giant planets that have orbits within the habitable zones of their stars. At more than three times the radii of the Earth, these gaseous planets are less common than terrestrial planets, but each is expected to host several large moons.

Scientists have speculated that exomoons might provide a favorable environment for life, perhaps even better than Earth. That’s because they receive energy not only from their star, but also from radiation reflected from their planet. Until now, no exomoons have been confirmed.

Using this new database scientists will optimize future instruments on both the ground and in space to look for and study the moons circling these exoplanets.

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Radio telescope in Greenland sees first “light”

Astronomers have successfully initiated operations of a new radio telescope dish, the first ever located in Greenland.

The Greenland Telescope is a 12-meter radio antenna that was originally built as a prototype for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) North America. Once ALMA was operational in Chile, the telescope was repurposed to Greenland to take advantage of the near-ideal conditions of the Arctic to study the Universe at specific radio frequencies, collaborating with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and MIT Haystack Observatory.

ASIAA led the effort to refurbish and rebuild the antenna to prepare it for the cold climate of Greenland’s ice sheet. In 2016, the telescope was shipped to the Thule Air Base in Greenland, 1,200 km inside the Arctic Circle, where it was reassembled at this coastal site. ASIAA also built receivers for the antenna. “It is extremely challenging to quickly and successfully set up a new telescope in such a cold environment, where temperatures fall below -30 degrees Celsius,” said Ming-Tang Chen from ASIAA and the Greenland Telescope project manager. “This is now one of the closest radio telescopes to the North Pole.”

They have also linked this radio telescope to others across the globe, helping to increase the resolution of any data these radio telescopes gather as a unit.

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Max Planck scientists criticize institute for lack of support over animal rights

The coming dark age: The scientists at the Max Planck Society in Germany have written two letters criticizing the institute for its lack of support and its willingness to bow to animal rights protests.

It appears the scientists have followed all the rules, and have acted reasonably, but the longtime director of one of the Society’s main research divisions, Nikos Logothetis, was still indicted for the death of one monkey.

The struggle began in September 2014, when a German television channel aired footage taken by an undercover animal-welfare activist who had infiltrated Logothetis’s lab, purporting to show mistreatment of research monkeys.

Death threats and insults to Logothetis and his family followed — and in 2015, Logothetis decided to wind down his primate lab and replace it with a rodent facility. Events came to a head on 20 February this year, when Logothetis was indicted for allegedly violating animal-protection laws, after an animal-welfare group made complaints to police on the basis of the 2014 footage. Logothetis denies the charges. A trial date has not yet been set.

…The indictment follows contradictory judgements about Logothetis and his work at the MPI-Biocyb. Immediately after the September 2014 documentary was broadcast, an external specialist appointed by the MPS leadership found no welfare violations at MPI-Biocyb. But two months later, the German Animal Welfare Federation, a non-profit organization in Bonn, filed multiple complaints with police about animals at the institute.

In August last year, a local judge in Tubingen dismissed all but one charge; for that charge, allegedly delaying euthanasia in three rhesus monkeys, the judge offered an out-of-court settlement, which Logothetis accepted. But in October, prosecutors in the state capital, Stuttgart, overturned the settlement decision. They pursued the delayed-euthanasia case against Logothetis and two other staff members, who have not been publicly named, leading to their indictment in February.

Logothetis says that the decisions about whether and when to kill the monkeys, which contracted infections after surgery, were appropriate and complied with the law. Veterinary staff attempted to treat the infections, he says, and two of the monkeys recovered. The third was humanely killed when staff decided that it was unlikely to recover.

Despite this history, the Society’s management has removed Logothetis as director. It has also made the research division he headed persona non grata, causing harm to the other researchers who work there.

In response the scientists have submitted two different letters lambasting the actions of the Society, signed by dozens of its scientists.

MPI-Biocyb scientists take issue with the MPS’s decision to impose these sanctions on Logothetis before the case is considered by a court. “We are very upset that the society is failing to uphold the principle of innocence before guilt is proven,” says neuroscientist Hamid Noori, a junior group leader at MPI-Biocyb. “With this attitude, any activist can attack us freely, without consequence.”

Noori is one of four MPI-Biocyb scientists who spoke to Nature about the situation. Their criticisms are echoed in the two letters: the first, sent in December, was signed by 54 scientists; the second, sent in February, was signed by 94, a majority of those who work with animals at MPI-Biocyb, says Noori. The February letter describes “an extremely distressful situation” that “has seriously compromised our working conditions”.

In other words, even though the evidence strongly indicates that Logothetis followed the rules and did not act with malice towards the primates in his care, the Society has caved to the animal rights protesters.

This is the present, and the future. Someone with an ax to grind, usually from the left, will make a complaint, and everyone will bow to them out of cowardly fear, no matter how baseless or unproven the charge. Science research will stop, free speech will end, and an oppressive shadow will fall upon western civilization.

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Why you got Trump, part 2,398,105

Link here. The author focuses on the “Never Trump” wing of the Republican Party, individuals who have completely abandoned any pretense that they stand for conservative values in their no-holds-barred opposition to Trump, even when he does things they should like.

This quote illustrates however why Trump won, and continues to be popular with the general public:

[T]he main point these [Never Trumpers] whom we have no choice but to refer to as former conservatives miss is that in our political system the choice is still binary. Other conservatives may not like Trump but they understand that the voters preferred him in no small measure because they were sick of the clubby elitism that characterizes the anti-Trump alliance.

Moreover, they understand that, thanks to Trump’s unlikely victory, the choice isn’t between a conservatism tainted by association with Trump and one that isn’t. Rather the choice is between a Trump-led Republican Party that is championing the same issues that the pre-Trump GOP supported and liberals who want a return to the Obama era of high taxes and appeasement of Iran to mention just two key issues on which many Never Trumpers have abandoned their principles. [emphasis mine]

It is that clubby elitism of Washington — and the bankrupt incompetent government it has given us — that most offends the voters who went for Trump. Trump’s actions since his elections, though imperfect for sure, have confirmed the wisdom of this choice. It has also revealed the fake conservatives in the Republican Party who clearly prefer that clubby elitism above any effort that might try to fix the problem.

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New impact craters on Mars

New impact crater on Mars

Cool image time! The high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) keeps finding recent impact craters, all of which the science team try to monitor periodically to see how the surface evolves over time. The image on the right, cropped to post here, is one such crater, the image taken in January 2018 and released with as one of the captioned images from this month’s image catalog release. If you click on the image you can see the full picture.

What is notable about this particular impact are the colors.

The new crater and its ejecta have distinctive color patterns. Once the colors have faded in a few decades, this new crater will still be distinctive compared to the secondaries by having a deeper cavity compared to its diameter.

Those colors of course have importance to researchers, as they reveal the different materials found beneath the surface at this location, normally hidden by surface dust and debris.

Nor is this the only impact crater revealed in this month’s image release. Earlier in the month the science team highlighted an image that captured two small impacts. While all three of these impacts are in the general region called Elysium Planitia, they are not particularly close to each other. They are however surrounding the landing site for the InSight lander now heading to Mars. This last link takes you to my January 28, 2018 post detailing some information about this landing site, and also includes another recent crater impact, found at the center of the landing zone.

It is not clear if these recent impacts are related to each other. As noted by Alfred McEwen of the science team, “Often, a bolide breaks apart in the atmosphere and makes a tight cluster of new craters.” It could be that all these recent impacts came from the same bolide, which is why there appear to be a surplus of them in Elysium Planitia.

Then again, our surface survey of Mars is very incomplete. These impacts could simply be marking the normal impact rate for Mars. We will not know until we have completed a detail survey of all recent impacts on Mars, and have been able to date them all.

Who wants to do it?

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Chinese regulations sends recycling into the trash

New Chinese regulations on what is acceptable recycled trash is causing trash companies throughout the U.S. to send the recyclables into the trash heap.

In the past, the municipalities would have shipped much of their used paper, plastics and other scrap materials to China for processing. But as part of a broad antipollution campaign, China announced last summer that it no longer wanted to import “foreign garbage.” Since Jan. 1 it has banned imports of various types of plastic and paper, and tightened standards for materials it does accept.

While some waste managers already send their recyclable materials to be processed domestically, or are shipping more to other countries, others have been unable to find a substitute for the Chinese market. “All of a sudden, material being collected on the street doesn’t have a place to go,” said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services, one of the largest waste managers in the country.

In other words, there is no market for recycled trash. It has no value. No one wants it. Thus, even though it sounds good and allows people to make believe they are saving the environment by recycling, it is an inefficient waste of resources, as the article notes:

Recycling companies “used to get paid” by selling off recyclable materials, said Peter Spendelow, a policy analyst for the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon. “Now they’re paying to have someone take it away.”

In some places, including parts of Idaho, Maine and Pennsylvania, waste managers are continuing to recycle but are passing higher costs on to customers, or are considering doing so. “There are some states and some markets where mixed paper is at a negative value,” said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling at Waste Management, which handles 10 million tons of recycling per year. “We’ll let our customers make that decision, if they’d like to pay more and continue to recycle or to pay less and have it go to landfill.”

Economic realities always rule. The problem is when people create fantasies that have no connection with those rules.

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Not one citizen of New Jersey complies with bump stock ban

Update: It appears that the same thing has happened in Denver, where no one has turned in their bump stocks also.

Pushback: Despite a new law that criminalizes the possession of bump stocks and requires their surrender, not a single citizen of New Jersey has complied.

Despite the fact that New Jersey residents who are caught with bump stocks could face up to 5 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines, reports have claimed that not a single bump stock has been turned in, even though the deadline to turn the newly illegal accessories over to police was last month.

New Jersey is not alone. Massachusetts became the first state to ban bump stocks earlier this year, and even though the state’s new legislation threatens violators with up to 18 months in jail, only four people have complied by voluntarily surrendering their bump stocks to police.

These laws are stupid, and are unconstitutional in that they are a taking of private property without due compensation, one of the main reasons people are not complying.

As the gun control efforts by the left accelerate and become more radical, expect more people to defy their efforts. Sadly, that is not really a defeat for the left, as one of their goals here is to encourage contempt for the law, thus making it culturally easier for them to defy it as well. Since they can never win at the ballot box, they need to create a circumstance where it becomes acceptable for them to take power by force, and this can only happen if they have convinced enough people that such illegal action is acceptable.

Everything the left (and the Democratic Party) has been doing politically since Donald Trump’s election suggests this. The worst aspect of it unfortunately is that they are succeeding. Nor has this effort been limited to their gun control proposals. The ability of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to avoid all prosecution for some very obvious crimes contributes to this effort as well.

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China offers its space station to the UN

The United Nations and China have signed an agreement whereby UN member nations can apply to run experiments on China’s space station, due to become operational in the 2020s.

The UN press release states that it is especially interested in applications from developing nations.

This isn’t a surprise. China is following the approach of the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev during the 1970s and 1980s, using its space station program to generate positive international propaganda. This will also give them an opportunity to obtain technology ideas from other nations.

At the same time, this will force China to become more open with other nations, a side effect of Brezhnev’s space station program that was not expected or even wanted by the Russians at the time.

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More budget cuts expected for Roscosmos

According to one story in the Russian press today, the Russian space industry, run by Roscosmos, is expected to experience more budget cuts due to a shortage of funds.

The Russian federal space program might face cuts as the Roscosmos state corporation is likely to suffer funding shortages amounting to 150 billion rubles (almost $2.4 billion) in the next three years, a source in the industry told Sputnik.

“The shortages of budgetary funds planned for allocation to Roscosmos from the previous parameters for the next three years is about 150 billion rubles … the lack of funds has already become a reason of delays in the development of interplanetary projects, slowing down construction of the second stage of the Vostochny Cosmodrome and the development of new rocket and space equipment,” the source said.

The shortfall almost certainly comes from a lack of international launch customers, most of whom have shifted their business to SpaceX because of the quality control concerns in the Russian aerospace industry. Whether Russia can regain any of this business in the coming years will depend wholly on whether they can demonstrate some reliability in their launch cadence, something they have failed to do for the past five years.

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Canada exits WFIRST project

Like rats fleeing a sinking ship: The Canadian government has decided not to fund that country’s contribution to NASA’s WFIRST space telescope project, presently expected to cost $3.2 billion total (already over-budget in the design phase) and set to launch sometime in the 2020s (don’t bet on it).

The Canadian instrument would have been focused on studying dark energy, the mysterious force that is theorized to cause the universe’s expansion rate to accelerate over vast distances.

I can understand the skepticism of the Canadian government. Why commit anything to a project that is already over-budget and has unreliable support in the U.S. (Trump tried to ax it, Congress restored it, for now)? The project is also so far in the future it makes more sense to spend this money on astronomy projects that could be built and used now.

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Astronomers identify 25 stars that have or will come within 3 light years of Sun

Using the second data release from Gaia, astronomers have identified 25 stars that have or will come within 3 light years of Sun sometime within fifteen million years.

But the authors are confident that the 25 stars represent only a sliver of the actual encounters that have occurred over this time period. “They’re still just scratching the surface,” Mamajek agrees. That’s because the Gaia satellite eliminates low-mass stars (which are simply too faint to see at the moment) and high-mass stars (which are often so bright they saturate the satellite’s detectors) — thus limiting the data to stars that range between 0.5 and 1.3 times the mass of the Sun.

As such, the team suspects that they have only spotted 15% of all the encounters that likely pummel our solar system. “It’s a good first step, but one should not look at this as the final word,” Mamajek adds.

In reading their paper (available here), they identify three stars come come within a light year, therefore disturbing the theorized Oort Cloud of comets thought to exist at this distance from the Sun. One, Gliese 710, will do so in 1.3 million years..

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Update on Hawaiian lava eruption

Link here. This news article is particularly informative, as it includes a map that outlines the extent of the lava flows and what they have engulfed, including the most recent flows that are threatening a geothermal power plant that has been providing the Big Island about 25% of its power.

“Lava flow from Fissures 7 and 21 crossed into PGV [Puna Geothermal Venture] property overnight and has now covered one well that was successfully plugged,” declared the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency in a statement released on Sunday, May 27 at 6:00 pm local time. “That well, along with a second well 100 feet [30 meters] away, are stable and secured, and are being monitored. Also due to preventative measures, neither well is expected to release any hydrogen sulfide.”

Those preventive measures included a complete shutdown of the geothermal plant, the capping of all 11 wells, and the removal of some 60,000 gallons of flammable liquid. Those precautions aside, this is the first time in history—as far as we know—that lava has ever engulfed a geothermal power plant, so it’s all uncharted territory. There’s fear that a rupture of the wells could set off an explosion, releasing hydrogen sulfide and other dangerous gasses into the environment. As of this posting, the lava flows on the PGV grounds have stopped moving.

Environmentalists often promote geothermal power as an alternative to fossil fuels. Environmentalists also sued to prevent this plant from being built because of its proximity to the volcano.

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Italy in uproar: President rejects election results

This is how you get Trump: Having rejected under their parliamentary system the nation’s recent election results that produced a government coalition strongly controlled by anti-European Union candidates, Italy’s president is now facing calls for his impeachment.

This was the first time in the history of the Italian republic that a president had thrown out the proposal for a government from elected parties, and even critics of the populist victors have acknowledged that the Italian people will take the move as a slap to Italian voters and the entire democratic process.

The bone of contention, Mattarella said in his rejection speech, was the candidate for the post of finance minister, Paolo Savona. “I have agreed with and accepted all the proposals for the Ministers, except that of the finance minister,” he said Sunday. “The designation of the finance minister always sends an immediate message, of confidence or of alarm, for economic and financial operators,” he added.

Paolo Savona, whom even his critics admit is eminently qualified for the post, has expressed concerns over the growth in power and reach of the European Union (EU) as well as the common EU currency, the euro, which he has referred to as a “German cage.”

Essentially he is saying that Italy’s elections are irrelevant, that no matter who the voters choose the government must be subservient to the European Union.

Expect new elections to produce an even more powerful populist government, even more hostile to the European Union.

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China loses contact with one of two lunar cubesats

China has lost contact with one of the two test cubesats that were launched to the moon with their Queqiao Chang’e-4 communications satellite.

Though they continue to receive telemetry from one cubesat, without the second they will be unable to do the radio astronomy and interferometry experiments planned.

The interferometry experiments would have seen the observations made simultaneously by the DSLWP/Longjiang microsatellites to be combined. The test would be verification of technology for a constellation of small, low-frequency radio astronomy satellites that would emulate a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the satellites.

The Chang’e-4 mission could however see some interferometry tests carried out, with Queqiao carrying the Netherlands-China Low-frequency Explorer (NCLE) astronomy instrument, and a Low Frequency Spectrometer (LFS) on the Chang’e-4 lander, which is expected to launch in November or December, following testing of Queqiao.

All is not lost. The cubesat that still functions has a camera, built in Saudi Arabia, and if it takes and successfully transmits any pictures this will be a cubesat landmark, the first interplanetary images ever taken by a cubesat.

Meanwhile, Queqiao Change’-4 is working as expected, laying the ground work for the launch of the Chang’e-4 lander later this year.

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NASA reconfiguring future SLS planning

Link here. This is a long (4 parts) and detailed overview of the changing state of the SLS system and its future missions. As it notes right at the start,

NASA has started updating plans and schedules for additional SLS Block 1 launches in the early 2020s after Washington added federal budget money for a second Mobile Launcher (ML) platform and umbilical tower in late March.

Construction of a new Mobile Launcher frees the first ML from a three-year long downtime for teardown and reassembly after the first SLS launch of Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), currently projected for mid-2020. Instead of being retired after one launch, the Block 1 configuration could fly multiple times.

With two mobile launches (costing almost a billion to build), NASA has more flexibility (assuming it gets full funding). It can now fly both the smaller Block 1 configuration of SLS multiple times without delaying the first launch of the planned more powerful Block 2 version expected to come later.

The article discusses in great detail the possible variations in design and scheduling for the first unmanned mission, the Europa mission, the first manned mission, and possible missions beyond, all of which are based on Congress’s continued blank check support for this very expensive and very questionable program.

Sadly, it increasingly appears that Congress is going to throw a lot of money at this program. SLS looks like it is going to fly several times, and maybe more. It will likely send Europa Clipper to Jupiter, and later astronauts on a stunt mission around the Moon. Later, the Washington cartel of big aerospace companies, NASA, Congress, and our international partners in Europe and Russia are gearing up to get LOP-G funded as well, with SLS the vehicle to launch and supply it.

All of this will cost a lot, take forever, and not make the future exploration of the solar system possible in the slightest. None of that matters however. Congress wants it, and Congress being corrupt and irresponsible is going to get it.

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China’s lunar communications satellite eases into position

China’s lunar communications satellite Queqiao Chang’e-4 successfully fired its engines during a lunar fly-by yesterday.

The maneuver sends the spacecraft into position in one of the Lagrange points beyond the Moon, where it can relay data from the yet-to-be launched Chang’e-4 lander.

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China, the Moon, and the Outer Space Treaty

Link here. The article speaks to the problems of sovereignty, ownership, and political borders created by the language of Outer Space Treaty, specifically illustrated now by China’s newest effort to put a lander on the far side of the Moon.

[This] pioneering space travel has raised concern that China is also interested in the tiny spots on the moon that never go dark, the polar peaks of eternal light. Those peaks are vanishingly small, occupying one-one hundred billionth of the lunar surface − roughly equivalent to three sheets of NHL ice on Earth. But their near-ceaseless sunshine gives them great value as a source of solar energy, to power everything from scientific experiments to mining operations.

Their small size could also, scientists have argued, allow one country to take sole occupancy of this unique real estate without falling afoul of the Outer Space Treaty. That agreement stipulates that no state can exert sovereignty in outer space. But it also calls on countries “to avoid interference” with equipment installed by others.

That provides a loophole of sorts, researchers say. The installation of very sensitive equipment on the peaks of eternal light, such as a radio telescope − a 100-metre long uncovered wire used to study transmissions from the sun, and deeper corners of the universe − could use up much of the available space while also providing a rationale to bar others from the area on the grounds that the telescope is too sensitive to be disturbed.

“Effectively a single wire could co-opt one of the most valuable pieces of territory on the moon into something approaching real estate, giving the occupant a good deal of leverage even if their primary objective was not scientific inquiry,” researchers from Harvard University, King’s College London and Georg-August Universitat Gottingen wrote in a 2015 paper.

Because the Outer Space Treaty outlaws any nation from claiming territory, it provides no method for any nation, or private company, to establish its borders or property rights. To protect what they own nations are therefore will be forced to create their own rules, willy-nilly, such as the one speculated above. And when they disagree, only the use of force will be available to either defend or defy these arbitrary rules.

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