Masks, social distancing, and mass hysteria

This past weekend Diane and I went hiking, as we try to do at least once a week. With the gyms closed by our petty dictator governor, Republican Doug Ducey, we need to find a way to get out and exercise, both for our sanity and to strengthen our immune systems, since outdoor exercise is probably the most effective way to prevent yourself from getting sick from any respiratory illness.

As we were hiking along a single male hiker, probably in his mid- to late- twenties, approached us from the other direction. When he saw me in the lead, he immediately cringed off to the side of the trail in what seemed literal terror, holding a bandana to his face.

I looked at him in irritation. “You don’t need the mask, we don’t have cooties and we won’t make you sick.”

“I don’t want to make you sick,” he said as I passed him.

“What makes me sick,” I responded as I continued past him down the trail, “is the irrational terror and fear I see in everyone’s eyes, over something that really is not much more different than the flu.”

I will admit to have become somewhat of a cranky grump these days when I see everyone wearing masks. And I feel this way because of the utter mindlessness of mask-wearing. This healthy young hiker, who almost certainly was not contagious in any way with any illness, including COVID-19, was only within four feet of me for about one second. Even if he had COVID-19 and was infectious to me and tried to pant in my face as I went by it would have been almost impossible for him to infect me. We were just not in close enough contact for long enough.

Moreover, he stood there holding the bandana to his mouth and nose, with his hand. That its exactly the wrong thing to do if you want to protect yourself, as your hands are the most likely transmission point for infection, and by pressing his bandana against his face with his hand he risked placing that infection at the very place he breathed.

He might have reduced my chances of getting infected by an infinitesimal amount, but he increased his own risk substantially.

Mask-wearing is just plain irrational, and for intelligent Americans to go along with this silliness is beyond shameful, especially because in almost every jurisdiction, even those that mandate mask use, you can opt out by simply stating you have medical reasons for not wearing a mask, and are not required under HIPPA regulations to even show documentation proving that statement in any way. It must be accepted on its face, without question.

Let’s review the absurdity of this situation, and maybe remind people why it is foolish.
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Sunspot update: Hints of the next maximum

It’s time for another monthly sunspot update! NOAA yesterday updated its monthly graph for tracking the Sun’s monthly sunspot activity, and as I do every month, I am posting it below with additional anotations by me to show the past and new solar cycle predictions.

July 2020 sunspot activity

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community for both the previous and upcoming solar maximums. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007 for the previous maximum, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The blue curve is their revised May 2009 prediction. The red curve is the new prediction, first posted by NOAA in April 2020.

July continued the trend from June, with a slight uptick in activity. The SILSO graph below for July illustrates this.
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Study: Mars’ meandering canyons formed under ice

A new study comparing Mars’ meandering canyons with those found in the Arctic regions on Earth suggests that the Martian valleys were formed by water melting under large ice sheets, not flowing water on the surface.

A large number of the valley networks scarring the surface of Mars were carved by water melting beneath glacial ice, not by free-flowing rivers as previously thought, according to new research published in Nature Geoscience. The findings effectively throw cold water on the dominant “warm and wet ancient Mars” hypothesis, which postulates that rivers, rainfall and oceans once existed on the red planet.

To reach this conclusion, lead author and postdoctoral research scholar Anna Grau Galofre of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration developed and used new techniques to examine thousands of Martian valleys. She and her co-authors also compared the Martian valleys to the subglacial channels in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and uncovered striking similarities. The western edge of the Devon ice cap on the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

I have noted previously on Behind the Black my sense that the planetary science community was beginning to shift away from the hypothesis of flowing liquid surface water on Mars as an explanation for the planet’s riverlike and oceanlike features to some form or ice/glacial activity. For a half century the scientists have tried and failed to come up with some scenario that could allow water to flow on the surface in Mars’ cold climate and thin atmosphere.

Ice or glacial activity rather than flowing liquid water might solve this problem, and today’s paper is a push in this direction.

Private Japanese lunar lander redesigned, flight delayed one year

Capitalism in space: The privately financed Japanese lunar landing company Ispace has redesigned its lander and delayed the first flight by one year, to 2022.

Since a preliminary design review in 2018, ispace has reduced the size of Hakuto-R. Previously 3.5 meters high and 4.4 meters wide with its landing legs deployed, the lander is now 2.3 meters high and 2.6 meters wide. The spacecraft’s mass has decreased from 1,400 to 1,050 kilograms, primarily by reducing the amount of propellant on board.

A smaller lander is less expensive to develop, said Ryo Ujiie, manager of the lander system engineering group at ispace, during a call with reporters July 30. It also reduces the size and complexity of the landing legs. The spacecraft will use a different trajectory to go to the moon, employing a low-energy transfer orbit that requires less propellant but takes roughly twice as long as previously planned. “We had to pick a more propellant-efficient orbit” given the reduction in propellant, said Chit Hong Yam, manager of the mission design and operations group. “We’re confident that, with enough checking, we should be able to execute this orbit.”

While the overall lander is smaller, it still maintains a payload capacity of 30 kilograms. Once on the surface, likely at one of several mid-latitude sites on the moon under consideration by ispace, it will operate for 12 days.

That first flight will launch on a Falcon 9. The company raised $95 million in private capital in 2017, and still plans a second lander launch in 2023.

Endeavour safely splashes down

Splashdown of Endeavour

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Endeavour Dragon capsule has successfully splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, returning two humans back to Earth safely after completing the first two month long manned commercial space mission.

If you go to the live stream to watch recovery operations, note that the boats and ships and persons involved are all property and employees of SpaceX. This is entirely an operation of the private company. The government is not involved, other than NASA’s justified monitoring as SpaceX’s customer.

One cool tidbit for the future. Endeavour is scheduled to fly again, in the spring of 2021. On that flight will be Megan McArthur, the wife of astronaut Bob Behnken, and she will likely sit in the same place he did on his flight.

Russians sign deal to fly two tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Now that their Soyuz capsule is no longer required to fly NASA astronauts to ISS, the Russians have spare seats, and have now signed a deal with Space Adventures to fly two tourists to ISS in late 2021.

They will announce the tourist’s names later this year.

Space Adventures also has a deal with SpaceX to fly two tourists on a Dragon capsule on a week-plus long orbital mission (not docking with ISS). SpaceX also has a deal with the space station company Axiom to fly tourists to ISS. Next year could thus see two or three tourist flights to space.

Isn’t competition wonderful?

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