The Sun’s oxygen content does match the galaxy’s

A preprint paper [pdf] published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website has found evidence that the oxygen and neon content of our Sun matches the abundances found in the galaxy. This result is important in that previous research has suggested that the Sun’s oxygen abundance was significantly higher than the rest of the galaxy, a possibility that not only caused problems for the theorists but raised interesting questions about the uniqueness of our solar system.

Robot to explore Egyptian pyramid

British engineers/scientists are about to send a robot into the Great Pyramid at Khufu in Egypt to find out what lies hidden behind the doors at the end of two 200 foot long shafts. Fun quote:

No one knows what the shafts are for. In 1992, a camera sent up the shaft leading from the south wall of the Queen’s Chamber discovered it was blocked after 60 metres [200 feet] by a limestone door with two copper handles. In 2002, a further expedition drilled through this door and revealed, 20 centimetres [8 inches] behind it, a second door.

“The second door is unlike the first. It looks as if it is screening or covering something,” said Dr Zahi Hawass, the head of the Supreme Council who is in charge of the expedition. The north shaft bends by 45 degrees after 18 metres [60 feet] but, after 60 metres, is also blocked by a limestone door.

ISS tour, part 1

An evening pause: We talk a lot about the International Space Station. Why not take a tour? In this January 2009 video, part 1 of 4, astronaut Mike Finke starts us out at the docking port used by the shuttle and takes us through the Harmony and Kibo modules. Along the way he gives a great view out the port side of the station.

You can see the remaining parts of Mike’s tour by clicking through, or you can wait until I post them over the next week.

Aqua tracks carbon monoxide over Russia from wildfires

Data from the AIRS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite shows the dramatic increase in carbon monoxide in the atmosphere at 18,000 feet over Russia due to the wildfires there. Key quote from press release:

The concentration of carbon monoxide is continuing to grow. According to Aug. 4 NASA estimates, the smoke plume from the fires spans about 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) from east to west.

Mapping daylight at the Moon’s South Pole

Using data from the Japanese lunar orbiter Kaguya, scientists have identified several locations near the Moon’s south pole that are in daylight from 86 to 94 percent of the time. Key quote from abstract:

The place receiving the most illumination (86% of the year) is located close to the rim of Shackleton crater at 88.74°S 124.5°E. However two other areas, less than 10 km apart from each other, are collectively lit for 94% of the year. We found that sites exist near the south pole that are continuously lit for several months during summer. We were also able to map the locations and durations of eclipse periods for these areas. Finally we analyzed the seasonal variations in lighting conditions, from summer to winter, for key areas near the south pole. We conclude that areas exist near the south pole that have illumination conditions that make them ideal candidates as future outpost sites. [emphasis mine]

Below is a composite close-up image of the rim of Shackleten crator that I assembled using this Lunar Reconnaissance image. The key quote from the full caption :

The full [Narrow Angle Camera] mosaic reveals a shelf on the southeast flank of the crater that is more than two kilometers across and perfectly suitable for a future landing. The extreme Sun angle gives the surface an exaggerated rough appearance, but if you look closely at this scale any area that is between the small craters might make a good landing site.

Rim of Shackleton Crater

First spacewalk to replace pump module

The first spacewalk to replace the failed pump module on ISS is finished, and it did not go as well as hoped. The astronauts had problems removing one of four cooling system ammonia lines to the old pump. They eventually succeeded, actually using a hammer to lightly tap the quick-disconnect latch free. They then had to seal an ammonia leak coming from the problematic line. These issues caused them to run out of time, preventing them from removing the old pump and installing the new one. It is expected they will pick up where they left off on the next spacewalk, presently scheduled for Wednesday.

PG police kill another dog

Yesterday a sheriff’s deputy from Prince George’s County, Maryland, shot and killed a family dog while trying to serve an eviction notice. This comes two years after a mistaken raid by Prince George’s police of the home of the mayor of Berwyn Heights killed his two dogs. Key quote:

[Mayor] Calvo, who is suing Sheriff Michael A. Jackson, alleging his deputies engaged in excessive force when they killed his dogs, said deputies have shown a disturbing propensity to kill family pets. “This is part of a pattern,” Calvo said. From 2005 to 2008, deputies shot at least nine dogs in eight incidents, according to sheriff’s department records.

The real horror of this story for those of us who live in Prince George’s County and own dogs (as I do) is that Michael Jackson is running for county executive, and in some polls, is leading the pack.

Scientists have plans to go to killer asteroid

Talk about thinking ahead! Since 2007 a team of scientists have actually been planning a mission to 1999 RQ36, the asteroid that has a 1 in 1000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2182. Their mission, dubbed OSIRIS-Rex (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer), has already been picked as one of two finalists in NASA’s New Frontiers program. The decision on which mission NASA will fund will be made next summer.

Bat extinctions

An article today in Science describes how scientists now believe that white nose syndrome is probably going to cause the extinction of the little brown myotis bat. Key quote from the press release:

The researchers determined that there is a 99 percent chance of regional extinction of little brown myotis within the next 20 years if mortality and spread of the disease continue unabated. They note that several other bat species may also face a similar risk.

Texas responds to EPA’s effort to regulate CO2

In a letter response to the EPA’s effort to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, Texas has essentially told the EPA to go to hell. Three key quotes from the letter:

In order to deter challenges to your plan for centralized control of industrialized development through the issuance of permits for greenhouse gases, you have called upon each state to declare its allegiance to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently enacated greenhouse gas regulations — regulations that are plainly contrary to United State law. ….. To encourage acquiesence with your unsupported findings you threaten to usurp state enforcment authority and to federalize the permitting program of any state that fails to pledge their fealty to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [emphasis mine]

The State of Texas does not believe the EPA’s “suggested” approach comports with the rule of law.

Texas will not facilitate EPA’s apparent attempt to thwart these established procedures and ignore the law.

Melting Ice on Mars?

These Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images show in increasing magnification a puzzling feature in the southeast part of a ice mound in Louth Crater on Mars. Located at 70 degrees north latitude, this is the farthest south that scientists have found permanent water ice. The close-up image suggests melting ice with the draining water running down hill to the south, though on Mars the low air pressure would cause any liquid water to evaporate instantly. Key quote:

These may be the crests of partially defrosted dark sand dunes or perhaps some other feature that we do not understand. This is the only area on Louth where these enigmatic ridges are found.

wide view of crator mound

Middle view of ice mound

Closeup of ice mound

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