Monthly Archives: October 2019

Compliation video of violent leftist protesters at Minnesota Trump rally

The video, embedded below the fold, breaks my own rules regarding obscenities, but I think it is necessary for every American to view it. I think it is even more important that ordinary Democratic voters view it. The party these decent people support has nothing to do with the party of John Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. It has instead become a fascist violent machine, aimed at destroying any opposition. And we know this because Democratic politicians have not only not condemned this ugly violence, but some have even endorsed it.

I obtained the video from an article by John Hinderaker at Powerline, which he titled, quite bluntly, “How Evil Is the Left? This Evil.” He notes an additional reason to distribute this video as widely as possible.

Some of the victims of the liberals’ violence are interested in suing the parties responsible, potentially including organizers of the violence and public officials who may have been implicated. If you recognize any of the criminals shown in the video, please send information to powerlinefeedback@gmail.com.

Any help my readers can provide in this effort would be an important step in re-establishing the rule of law and free speech in the United States.

» Read more

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500 climate scientists challenge the UN on global warming

On September 23, 2019 letter, five hundred established scientists from across the globe told the United Nations that there is no climate emergency and that it as yet far from certain that human activity is warming the climate.

I should have reported this when it happened, but missed it until today. The letter made six main points:

  • Nature as well as anthropogenic factors cause warming
  • Warming is far slower than predicted
  • Climate policy relies on inadequate models
  • Carbon dioxide is “plant food, the basis of all life on Earth”
  • Global warming has not increased natural disasters
  • Climate policy must respect scientific and economic realities

None of these points is radical or unreasonable. Regular readers of this website will recognize all six, as I have been repeating them all incessantly for almost a decade. They fit into standard scientific practice, which requires solid, reliable, and confirmed data before any theory can be accepted wholesale. None of the models, based on the theory that the rise in carbon dioxide is causing the climate to warm, have worked. As far as we know now, CO2 might have nothing or little to do with climate change. We. just. don’t. know.

Not surprisingly, the letter was immediately attacked by global warming activist Michael Mann (who still tries to pose as a climate scientist though very few buy it). Rather than rationally question these points with data, he simply made an ad hominem attack, calling the letter “craven and stupid” while implying that anyone who signed it was beyond evil.

Worse, the UN itself decided to ignore the letter, instead pushing forward with its global warming agenda designed to destroy capitalism and make us all as poor as the citizens of Venezuela, all in the name of a scientific theory that no one has been able to prove, in any way at all.

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Lava-draped terrain on Mars

Lava surrounding hill and partly covering crater
Click for full image.

Hill surrounded by lava flows
Click for full image.

Cool image time! Continuing this week’s series of lava-related images from Mars (previous posts here, here, and here), today’s post is ironically the first to actually show lava flows.

The two images to the right, reduced and cropped to post here, are sections taken from an uncaptioned picture, titled “Lava-Draped Surface in Cerberus Palus” and found in the most recent download from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

It is obvious why the MRO scientists gave this image this title. The hills in both pictures clearly seem to stand up like islands in a surrounding sea of frozen lava. Older craters, created prior to the lava flow, are partly obscured by the lava flows, their interior floors filled and their rims broken as the lava flooded this region.

Nor are these the only high points captured in the image that this flood of lava inundated. If you look at the full image there is even a low mound where it appears the surrounding lava flood worked its way up the hill’s gently sloping flanks only to freeze just before it completely covered the top of the mound.

The location of this image, shown by the red box in the overview map below and to the right, gives us a hint where the lava came from, though the distances involved to the nearest giant volcano, Elysium Mons, are so large it is likely that this flow is not directly linked to that volcano.
» Read more

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The 1572 Tycho supernova, as seen by Chandra

Remnant of Tycho's supernova

Cool image time! The Chandra science team has released a beautiful X-ray image of the remnant from the 1572 supernova first discovered by astronomer Tycho Brahe.

As with many supernova remnants, the Tycho supernova remnant, as it’s known today (or “Tycho,” for short), glows brightly in X-ray light because shock waves — similar to sonic booms from supersonic aircraft — generated by the stellar explosion heat the stellar debris up to millions of degrees. In its two decades of operation, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has captured unparalleled X-ray images of many supernova remnants.

Chandra reveals an intriguing pattern of bright clumps and fainter areas in Tycho. What caused this thicket of knots in the aftermath of this explosion? Did the explosion itself cause this clumpiness?

The image to the right, reduced to post here, is a composite of both X-ray (the remnant) and optical light (the background stars).

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Boris Johnson strikes Brexit deal with EU

Boris Johnson has made a deal with the European Union for Great Britain’s exit, but the deal’s approval by the UK’s parliament remains in doubt.

Johnson now needs to secure the votes needed at an extraordinary session of parliament on Saturday. But the arithmetic is not easy or straightforward for him.

The Northern Irish party that Johnson needs to help ratify any agreement, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has refused to support it, saying it is not in Northern Ireland’s interests. The head of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said he was “unhappy” with the agreement and would vote against it. Labour has said it wants any deal to be subject to a public vote, but as yet has not indicated whether it will back any move for a second referendum on Saturday.

Johnson appears intent on presenting parliament with a stark choice — the deal he has struck or no deal — in the hope of securing enough votes to get approval. “The PM’s position is that it’s new deal or no deal but no delay,” said a senior British government official.

The main issue is Northern Ireland, which now has open borders with the rest of Ireland, as part of the peace deal that settled decades of unrest. Leaving the EU requires some sort of border control, since Ireland is in the European Union. Northern Ireland politicians oppose any border controls.

Johnson’s deal calls for limited border controls. If Great Britain exits with no deal, than full border controls would be imposed. Since Johnson seems very intent on honoring the voters’ decision to leave, one way or the other, we shall have to see which option Parliament chooses.

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House committee rejects extra funding for 2024 moon landing

Not surprisingly, the Democratically-controlled House committee overseeing NASA’s budget requests has rejected the Trump administration’s request for an additional $1.6 billion to fund a manned Moon landing by 2024.

“I remain extremely concerned by the proposed advancement by four years of this mission,” said Jose Serrano, a Democrat from New York who chairs the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. “The eyes of the world are upon us. We cannot afford to fail. Therefore, I believe that it is better to use the original NASA schedule of 2028 in order to have a successful, safe, and cost-effective mission for the benefit of the American people and the world.”

…Serrano and other committee members also raised questions about cost. NASA has asked for an additional $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2020 but has not specified the total cost of the Artemis Program between now and 2024. “Unless we know what this is going to cost at the end, it would be irresponsible for us to take the first step,” Serrano said. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words are a lie. NASA’s original mandate for returning to the Moon, first set by President Bush Jr. in 2004, was to land eleven years later by 2015. The agency has repeatedly rewritten that schedule in the fifteen years since, always pushing it into the future so that it never gets closer than nine to eleven years.

The concerns about cost by the Democratic House members is also a lie. They have no interest in saving money, in the slightest. Their interest is solely to oppose anything Trump. When a Democratic president is in charge they will jump over themselves to fund this program, even though they know it will likely go over-budget and be delayed again endlessly.

Everything related to SLS and Artemis reeks of Washington corruption. In the past fifteen years the project has done nothing but funnel money to big contractors (mostly Boeing and Lockheed Martin) or favored congressional districts, with an actual Moon program forever receding into the future even as the costs rise.

If these Democrats were really concerned about cost and budget and getting to the Moon, they would demand that Artemis be killed, immediately, to be replaced with a more effective program that buys cheap rockets and capsules from the private sector. If they did that we could land on the Moon easily by 2024 (probably earlier), and do it for a tenth the cost.

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Rocket Lab & China launch rockets

Rocket Lab and China successfully completed launches today.

Rocket Lab used its Electron rocket to put a large cubesat into the highest orbit the company has yet achieved. This was the company’s nineth successful launch, and the fifth in 2019.

China in turn used its Long March 3B rocket to place a military communications satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

20 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
5 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 21 to 20 in the national rankings.

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Sinkholes on Mars

Collapse pit on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! In this week’s exploration of Martian geology that is reminiscent of Earth-based lava geology, today’s image is of a collapse pit in Ceraunius Fossae, the vast region of north-south fissures found to the south of the volcano Alba Mons. The photo to the right, cropped to post here, zooms in on that pit.

The picture was part of the most recent image release from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). What makes it especially interesting is the sharpness of its rim, in comparison to the collapse channel to the east. This suggests the pit is younger and fresher than the channel, and happened more recently. This also implies that the voids below the ground in which the surface is sinking are either still there, or due to on-going processes might be still be forming (like caves are on Earth).

For example, if there is underground ice, temperature changes or even thermal heat from the nearby giant volcanoes could melt that underground ice periodically, allowing it to flow and erode the surrounding material, forming voids. That this pit is located at 30 degrees north latitude, just inside the northern hemisphere band where glaciers are found, adds weight to this possibility.

The image below, reduced and rotated so that north is to the left, shows the entire sequence of collapse channels, with the more distinct pit from above in the bottom center of the picture.
» Read more

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California’s first cubesat to be named after Jerry Brown

O boy! This week California’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom announced that not only will he go forward with building a climate cubesat but he want to name it after the previous Democratic governor, Jerry Brown.

Newsom said Tuesday that he intended to honor his predecessor by attaching his name to a satellite that would gather information on climate change, one of Brown’s overriding interests during his second stint as governor from 2011-19.

While Newsom didn’t set a date for the launch, he said it is just a start for the state’s venture into outer space. “This is one of many we’ll launch,” Newsom said during a speech Tuesday at a San Francisco conference on technology and climate change, sponsored by Planet, a local company that provides satellite imaging. “We’ll collect real-time data” on things like fires, land use, carbon concentrations and other information connected to environmental health, the governor said.

I’m so glad California has the money for this, rather than schools or roads or brush-clearing to prevent wildfires or any number of silly things that are the fundamental responsibility of state governments. It shows their priorities are focused, that they know that only thing that matters is climate change (and honoring Democratic politicians), rather than providing basic services to their citizens.

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Hubble snaps photo of Comet Borisov

Comet Borisov by Hubble
Click for full image.

Cool image time! Using the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers have snapped the best image so far of interstellar Comet Borisov. The image to the right, reduced and cropped to post here, is that photograph.

Comet 2I/Borisov is only the second such interstellar object known to have passed through our Solar System. In 2017, the first identified interstellar visitor, an object dubbed ‘Oumuamua, swung within 38 million kilometres of the Sun before racing out of the Solar System. “Whereas ‘Oumuamua looked like a bare rock, Borisov is really active, more like a normal comet. It’s a puzzle why these two are so different,” explained David Jewitt of UCLA, leader of the Hubble team who observed the comet.

The comet was 260 million miles away when Hubble took this picture.

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Non-stories from NASA reveal mainstream press corruption

The mainstream press coverage of three NASA press releases in the past two days reveals quite starkly the fundamental corruption that permeates both the Washington establishment and the mainstream press.

First we have NASA’s announcement about its new Artemis spacesuits: Orion Suit Equipped to Expect the Unexpected on Artemis Missions.

I have spotted almost a dozen major news articles, from the New York Times to NPR to the Guardian, all buying into the spin put forth from NASA, that these spacesuits are another grand achievement by the space agency, and that with them NASA will take Americans to the Moon and Mars!

All balderdash. The suit might be real, but NASA’s planned lunar and Mars missions right now are nothing more than Powerpoint presentations. They do not exist, either with funding or with hardware. Any major news source that makes a big deal about this NASA press announcement while playing along with NASA’s Moon and Mars fantasies is not doing its job.

And sadly, not doing its job describes exactly what these mainstream news organizations are doing.

Next we have the quiet announcement by NASA that it has finally picked someone to run its manned bureaucracy: » Read more

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SpaceX expands Starlink concept from 12,000 to 42,000 satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has filed new paperwork for an additional 30,000 proposed satellites for its Starlink constellation, raising the number of satellites it could launch to 42,000 total.

This would be more than five times the total number of satellites launched by every nation since Sputnik in 1957.

The article notes that this paperwork does not mean that SpaceX definitely plans to launch this many Starlink satellites, only that it wants the option to do so. It does suggest however that even if SpaceX loses all of its market share of commercial launches, the company’s rockets will have plenty of work, launching the company’s own satellites.

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Dream Chaser’s primary structure completed

Capitalism in space: The primary structure for Sierra Nevada’s reusable mini-shuttle, Dream Chaser, has been completed and delivered to the company’s Colorado facility for final assembly.

Essentially, this structure, built by Lockheed Martin, is basically the hull of Dream Chaser. Sierra Nevada now has to install the guts.

They won the contract to build Dream Chaser from NASA in 2016, and for the past three years the company has said little about its progress, causing me concern that there might be issues. This story dispels those concerns.

It is also instructive to compare their progress with SLS, if only to illustrate the advantage of NASA buying what it needs from private companies, who retain ownership of their work, rather than having NASA design and own its hardware.

Dream Chaser: Sierra Nevada first began development of Dream Chaser in 2011, but full construction did not begin until the 2016 contract award. They hope to launch by the end of 2021. This means they will go from award to flight in five years.

The contract’s specific amount was never published, but NASA’s did say that the maximum it would spend for all missions performed by all three cargo capsules (SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada) would be $14 billion. This means Sierra Nevada’s share is probably around $4 to $5 billion.

SLS: NASA began its first design work on this heavy lift rocket in 2004, but the first design, dubbed Constellation, was cancelled by President Obama in 2010. Congress then stepped in and mandated that construction continue, under a revised design, now dubbed the Space Launch System. Launch of the first SLS is now expected in 2021.

The cost? Based on my research for my policy paper, Capitalism in Space, the cost by 2021 will be $25 billion.

So, while Sierra Nevada will take five years and $4 to $5 billion to fly its spacecraft, NASA will take eleven years and $25 billion to fly its. I admit the scale is different, but SLS fares as badly when a similar comparison is made with Falcon Heavy.

The difference? Dream Chaser is privately owned, privately designed, and privately managed, by one company, with the goal of making a profit as quickly as possible. SLS is government owned, government designed, and managed by a host of agencies, lawmakers, and contractors, with no set clear goal and no requirement to make a profit at any time.

Which product would you buy?

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Paul Robeson – Ol’ Man River

An evening pause: From the 1936 movie adaptation of the Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein Broadway musical Showboat. While some of the visuals are a bit overstated and feel a bit preachy, this is still the best movie version of this song I have seen. Rather than strut about with big visuals, the film focuses on Robeson, who sings the song introspectively, as if it is something he is thinking.

A bit of trivia: The film’s director was James Whale, the man who made the 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.

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California moves to shut down ham radio

They’re coming for you next: In a move of astonishing stupidity, the fascist government of California has decided to charge new and exorbitant fees to ham radio operators, ranging in the thousands of dollars, for their relay towers on state lands, previous leased for free.

This decision will essentially shut down this voluntary activity that has routinely helped government agencies in times of real emergencies. As noted at the link,

Ham operators have been assisting fire and emergency services for free for years. Their contributions are well-documented. The equipment costs the state nothing, as it is operated by the owners. There is no benefit to removing it and, in fact, removing the only source of communication available when the power is out and the cell towers are down is downright criminal. Ham radio is a time-tested, low-cost, reliable means of communication when emergencies strike. OffGrid Survival reports, “What is infuriating here is people are going to die because of this decision. It costs the State of California nothing to allow these repeaters on public land; in fact, Ham Radio Operators pay for the equipment and maintain the equipment at their own cost. Ham Radio operators also make nothing from running these radio repeaters; they do so as a service to the public to help ensure the public’s safety during natural disasters and emergencies.”

It appears the reason for this action is that the California government has attempted to create its own cell phone emergency system, has failed miserably after spending billions, and doesn’t like the fact that ham radio operators continue to do the same thing successfully for nothing. To once again quote OffGrid Survival:

We make them look stupid! They spend billions on infrastructure that breaks down, while we can literally take a hundred bucks in equipment, some random wires, and in minutes set up a radio system that can communicate with anyone in the world.

This is just another typical example of what a socialist power-hungry centralized government does, on its journey to the Soviet Union or Venezuela: Destroy what works for petty reasons, then blame others for that failure.

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A discontinuous Martian channel

Discontinuous channel near Olympica Fossae
Click for full image.

Close-up of channel

Time for more strange Martian geology! As I said in my post yesterday of a cool image of skylights into what might be a Martian lava tube, this is lava week on Behind the Black. The image at the right, rotated, reduced, and cropped to post here, is similar to yesterday’s photograph, showing a line of sinks and depressions that strongly suggest the existence of an underground lava tube.

The problem with this theory is that at present we really have no idea what flowed here. It could have been lava, but it also could have been mud, water, ice, or some as yet unimagined Martian geological process.

The image was part of the most recent image release from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and was uncaptioned. The top image shows the whole channel as captured by the photograph, with the white box indicating the area covered by the second image, posted here at full resolution.

Though the overall slope of the terrain here is downhill to the west, the grade is relatively shallow, so there is no guarantee that the local slope of this particular channel follows that trend. Downhill could be either to the west or the east.

The reason I favor lava (as an amateur geologist) is the location of this channel, as shown in the overview map below and to the right.
» Read more

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Democrats decimated in Louisiana election

Good news? In state elections in Louisiana this past weekend the Democratic Party experienced losses across the board, with Republicans also gaining a veto-proof majority in the state senate.

Among statewide office-holders, the incumbent GOP Lieutenant Governor (68 percent), Attorney General (66 percent), Treasurer (60 percent, and Agricultural Commissioner (58 percent) were all re-elected without the need for a run-off, under the state’s ‘jungle primary’-style system. It also appears that the solid Republican majorities in both state legislative chambers will remain intact — with the GOP expanding its Senate advantage into super-majority territory by picking up a pair of Democratic seats:

And the two elections that are going to a run-off, the governor and secretary of state, both appear likely to go Republican as well.

This is what needs to happen nationwide. The Democratic Party needs to be decimated everywhere, in order to allow a new crop of sane Democrats to retake that party from the far-left power-hungry and anti-American radicals that now control it.

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October 14, 2019 Zimmerman Space Show appearance

David Livingston has now posted the podcast for my two hour appearance on the Space Show last night, making it available for download.

David had this to say about the show in an email this morning, “Thanks for a good, passionate, and opinionated discussion. A Zimmerman show at its best!”

The discussions on Starship, Musk, and the Thirty Meter Telescope I think were especially interesting. Other topics included the debt vs NASA’s budget, China’s future in space, and the lies of the Green New Deal.

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Europe schedules new parachute tests for ExoMars 2020

Following the failure on all previous tests of the parachutes for its ExoMars 2020 Mars lander, the European Space Agency has now made some design changes and is planning to do additional tests in the first quarter of 2020.

ESA has also requested support from NASA to benefit from their hands-on parachute experience. This cooperation gives access to special test equipment at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that will enable ESA to conduct multiple dynamic extraction tests on the ground in order to validate any foreseen design adaptations prior to the upcoming high altitude drop tests.

The next opportunities for high altitude drop tests are at a range in Oregon, US, January–March. ESA is working to complete the tests of both the 15 m and 35 m parachute prior to the ExoMars project’s ‘qualification acceptance review’, which is planned for the end of April in order to meet the mission launch window (26 July–11 Aug 2020).

Their schedule is incredibly tight, since their launch window to Mars is in July 2020, and if they fail to meet it the launch will have to be delayed two years until the next launch window.

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Unexplained issues with assembling SLS’s core stage?

It appears that in its effort to finally assembly SLS’s core stage so that it can be tested prior to its first launch, probably in 2021, NASA and Boeing recently experienced an issue that required “corrective action.”

Neither NASA nor Boeing have provided any detailed explanation for what the issue was, but according to the story at the link,

…one source suggested to Ars that Boeing technicians are having difficulty attaching the large rocket engines in a horizontal configuration rather than a vertical position. NASA and Boeing made a late change to the final assembly process, deciding to mate pieces of the core stage horizontally rather than vertically to save time. However, this source said horizontal mating of the engines has created problems.

Despite this, NASA officials said progress is being made. “NASA and Boeing are expected to have the first engine soft mated to the core stage next week,” Tracy McMahan, a spokesperson for Marshall Space Flight Center, said on Saturday. “However, there are many steps in engine installation that have to occur before the installation is complete.”

I applaud them for finally trying to “save time,” a concept that up until now the entire SLS project has never had much interest in. That this effort ended up causing a delay however is symptomatic of the design of the project, which remains cumbersome and inefficient, a fault not of the engineering but of some fundamental decisions at the top by Congress and NASA’s management.

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Preparations begin for China’s next Long March 5 launch

China has apparently begun preparations for a long-delayed third and critical Long March 5 launch by the end of this year.

Two cargo transport ships left port on the Yangtze river late Friday Eastern for the northern city of Tianjin. They are expected to collect components of a third Long March 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle, which has been grounded since a 2017 launch failure.

After expected arrival Oct. 15 and subsequent loading, Yuanwang-21 and 22 ships will deliver the rocket to the island province of Hainan. Launch preparations requiring about two months will then commence at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center.

Without this rocket, which is the world’s second most powerful after the Falcon Heavy, China cannot build its space station or launch either of its 2020 Mars orbiter or its Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission.

The rocket’s failure on its second launch in July 2017 occurred because of an engine failure that required a major redesign. Since much of China’s space technology is initially stolen from others, it does not surprise me that they had problems. When you steal this kind of technology, rather than develop it yourself, your engineers might not fully understand it to the degree necessary to make it work.

At the same time, the track record of China’s engineers in eventually figuring out how their stolen technology works and even improving it has been very good. I would expect this December launch to be successful.

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InSight’s mole digs an inch

The InSight science team today tweeted that their attempt to use the lander’s robot arm to help the mole push downward in its effort to insert a heat sensor fifteen feet into the Martian interior has resulted in a gain of about an inch or three centimeters.

This success, small as it seems, is important in that it proves that the reason the drill had been stopped penetrating downward was not because of the presence of a rock, but because the drill hole had become so wide that the drill no longer had side friction to hold it in place. They are now using the arm to give the mole that friction.

The goal was to insert to heat sensor five meters or about sixteen feet into the ground. They are presently a little over a foot down. If this effort has really succeeded, they can then proceed to drill the remaining distance.

One issue however is whether the unexpected weak and porous nature of the soil, which allowed the hole to become so wide, might affect any data produced by the heat sensor. This is presently unknown, but it is a significant question that the scientists involved must ask. If the sensor ends up inside a very wide shaft that allows the surface environment to reach the sensor then it will not really be measuring the temperature of the Martian interior.

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The bad consequences from California’s imposed blackouts

Link here. The blackout was imposed to avoid electric lines from causing wildfires. However, the reason there is a risk of wildfires is not because of electricity but because the Democratically-controlled government in California would rather inconvenience its citizens than simply clear the brush from the forests and thus to lower the risk of wildfires.

The consequences? Supermarkets might go out of business because of food spoilage. Cancer research was destroyed. And at least one man died because his oxygen supply was cut off when the power shut down.

And in a remarkable example of irony, home owners with solar power discovered that solar power doesn’t work if there is a blackout, as their power is not fed to their homes but into the electric grid. With the grid shut down, the electricity from their panels vanished into the ether. Similarly, the owners of electric cars have suddenly discovered their cars won’t work without a power supply.

But don’t worry Californians! You clearly want Venezuela and the Democrats who run California sincerely and passionately want to give it to you. These blackouts are only the beginning. Socialism and centralized rule by government always leads to bankruptcy, starvation, failure, and the deaths of millions. And it has done it so many times in the past century that it makes me despair for a human race that cannot seem to learn anything from these horrific lessons.

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Skylights into Martian lava tube?

Possibly connected skylights into lava tube
Click for full image.

Close-up of skylights
Click for full image.

Cool image time! In the archive of images from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) I came across the uncaptioned image on the right, dubbed “Possibly Connected Lava Tube Skylight Pair in Tharsis Region.”

The top image, cropped and reduced to post here, is a wide view, showing a narrow depression oriented in a north-south direction. Downhill is to the north, with the caldera of the giant volcano Arsia Mons to the south. The white box indicates the area covered by the bottom image, cropped and expanded to post here. Within this close-up are two dark spots, each about 150 feet across.

The two dark spots surely look like small pit openings. Their alignment with the north-south depression strongly suggests that an underground lava tube is below. That this depression is also aligned with the downhill slope further reinforces this supposition.

The depression itself also aligns with the gigantic fault that runs from the northeast to the southwest through all three of the giant Tharsis Bulge volcanoes. Arsia Mons is the southernmost of the three. It is also where that fault is most clearly expressed by two dramatic breaks in the volcano’s rim in the northeast and southwest, as seen in the overview image below. Scientists have taken of lot of images of these breaks in an effort to better understand the geology and how it fits in with the formation of the volcanoes.

Overview of Arsia Mons

However, a review of the entire image archive of MRO’s high resolution camera shows that scientists have taken very few close-up images in this region. The black box in the overview map on the right is the location of this image. As of now, only three other high resolution images, as indicated by the white boxes, have been taken by MRO of this part of the volcano’s north slope.

That the skylights and depression align with this giant fault is not evidence that this supposed lava tube is linked to that fault. Lava will flow down the mountain’s slopes, fault or no fault. At the same time, the fault’s existence is also going to encourage north-south cracks and fissures, which in turn could have served as a convenient flow route for the lava. Without a closer look, on site, it is hard to know one way or the other..

I’ve located a few more lava related cool images in the MRO archive, so I’m going to make this week lava week on Behind the Black. Stay tuned!

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