Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Branson seeks new capital for Virgin Galactic/Orbit

Capitalism in space: Apparently short of cash because of his cancellation of a $1 billion investment space deal with Saudi Arabia, Richard Branson has hired a finance firm to find him new capital for his two space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Sources said this weekend that Sir Richard was seeking funding that would value Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, which launches satellites for commercial customers, at a combined sum of well over $2bn (£1.55bn).

The precise amount that he is looking to raise has yet to be determined, but people close to the process suggested it would be at least $250m (£193m), representing a minority stake.

The structure of a deal could see new shareholders injecting money into either, or both, Virgin-branded space companies.

I will not be surprised if Branson gets the investment capital for Virgin Orbit. I will also not be surprised if he has trouble finding anyone willing to invest a lot in Virgin Galactic. In fact, this shortage in capital might spell the end of this fourteen year effort at building a reusable spacecraft designed to provide suborbital tourism.

Share

Belarus willing to remerge with Russia

The Russian empire resurgent: Belarus’s leader yesterday said his country is now willing to re-unite with Russia.

Putin has built his reputation as the man who added territory to the Russian Federation, not one who allows it to be taken away. However, there is a higher calling in a formal union of the two countries. It seems the Kremlin may believe that upon such a real union, the Russian constitution becomes ‘invalid’ and guess what, the new country needs a new president – none other than Vladimir Putin! Those pesky term limits of the old constitution will no longer be a problem.

“The two of us could unite tomorrow, no problem,” Lukashenko said in a video shared by a Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid Kremlin reporter on Twitter Friday, reported The Moscow Times.

Russia has been applying strong pressure to force Belarus back into its fold, and it appears that pressure is working. And as the article correctly notes, nations neighboring Russia should be prepared for the same treatment.

Share

Widespread Yellow Vest protests in France

The “Yellow Vest” protests in France appear to be expanding, with numerous protests appearing to take place today throughout the country.

The reasons for these protests are complex, but they appear mostly rooted in a growing distrust of and contempt for the status quo French ruling class, which like the U.S. ruling class has not served its citizenry well in the past two decades, from either side of the political spectrum.

The response of the leftist Macron French government to these protests, which have been on-going for the past two months?

On February 5th the National Assembly passed a new law to restrict protests, a law pushed by President Macron and his party “La Republic En Marche”.

It would give local authorities the right to exclude specific people from protesting and allow judges to ban protests entirely.

I am not surprised that the protests have grown since this law was passed. It goes against every principle of western civilization, and can only spark outrage.

Share

Nigerian national elections postponed suddenly for a week

Nigerian government officials today suddenly postponed Nigeria’s national elections, delaying them for a week.

Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, said the election would now be held on Feb. 23, adding that the date was “sacrosanct” and that campaigning would be suspended until then.

Buhari, in power since 2015, faces a tight election contest against Atiku of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and its top oil producer.

Not surprisingly, Atiku and his supporters accused Buhari of pushing this behind the scenes for political reasons. The electoral commission and Buhari’s people of course deny this.

We shall see what happens in a week.

Share

A good summary of the FBI coup attempt against Trump

Link here. After more than two years of “Trump colluded with Russia!”, it is now been clearly documented that there was never anything to this, and that it was instead a ploy by the Democratic Party, the FBI, and the hostile Democratic mainstream press to overturn the legal election of an American president.

This article provides a concise and clear summary of the FBI’s illegal and criminal participation in this coup attempt, now admitted to by fired FBI official Andrew McCabe. It lists and details the following seven takeaways:

  • 1. McCabe Proves Trump Firing Comey Was Justified
  • 2. McCabe and His Co-conspirators Only Ever Had The Dossier to Go On
  • 3. Much Of This Seems Like A Cover-up
  • 4. The Conspirators Might Be Turning On Each Other
  • 5. McCabe Might Be Telling The Truth About Rosenstein
  • 6. The Whole Russia Probe Is Tainted And Corrupt
  • 7. Comey, McCabe, Clapper, And Brennan Are Unpatriotic Dopes

For emphasis, I want to quote this description of McCabe’s actions, from the start of the article:

Here we have a formerly powerful and unelected government official, for all the world to see, admitting that the FBI tried to launch a coup against the constitutionally elected president of the United States, in only the first few months of his tenure.

McCabe however was not alone. He was part of a cadre of upper FBI management that teamed up to try to overturn an election, many of whom are still in office. We shall see if the new attorney general, William Barr, is willing to clean house. If he isn’t, this kind of misbehavior will only get worse.

Share

Democratic LA City Council votes to blacklist NRA linked contractors

They’re coming for you next: The Democratic LA City Council voted last week to require any contractor who works for the city to reveal if it has any ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell spearheaded the effort to pass the legislation, which still awaits Mayor Eric Garcetti’s signature.

“For the sake of transparency, the city’s residents and stakeholders deserve to know how the city’s public funds are being spent, and whether taxpayer funds are being spent on contractors that have contractual or sponsorship ties with the NRA,” the motion states, according to CBS News.

The ordinance comes on the heels of a number of gun measures taken up by the city council. In August, a motion was introduced making it a misdemeanor offense in the city to possess, download or distribute a blueprint for 3D firearms in the city of L.A.

Why does this remind me of that famous McCarthy era line, “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Then, liberals rightly screamed this was a direct attack on American freedom. It was no politician’s right to demand such information.

Now, the left thinks it good policy. And don’t think the information won’t be used to establish a blacklist. That is exactly what is intended. The left will not tolerate any opposition to its agenda. None. And if you try it, it intends to squash you like a bug.

Share

New LRO image of Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2

Chang'e-4 and Yutu-2

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released its third and best image of the Chinese Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover. The image on the right is a full resolution cropped section, with the lander on the bottom and the rover above and to the left.

Just after midnight (UTC) on 1 February 2019 LRO passed nearly overhead the Chang’e 4 landing site. From an altitude of 82 kilometers the LROC Narrow Angle Camera pixel scale was 0.85 meters (33 inches), allowing a sharper view of the lander and Yutu-2 rover. At the time the rover was 29 meters northwest of the lander, but the rover has likely moved since the image was acquired. This view has close to the smallest pixel size possible in the current LRO orbit. In the future however, LROC will continue to image the site as the lighting changes and the rover roves!

These future LRO images will allow us to track Yutu-2 and get an idea of its research, even if the Chinese do not release any information.

Share

Progressive group harasses, demands firing of professor, because of his religion and his political beliefs

They’re coming for you next: An administrator and teacher at Kingsborough Community College in New York now requires full time security to protect him from harassment by a leftist group that wants him fired, because he is Jewish, conservative, and is a supporter of Israel.

As he wrote at the link:

The vandals defaced a photo of my father with anti-Semitic graffiti, including the words “F–k Trump Goldstein, Kill the Zionist Entity.” I later learned the incident came one day after Kingsborough Professor Katia Perea apparently told an administrator who refused her request to fire me, “I guess I will have to handle this myself.”

Perea, whom I have never met or spoken to, is a member of the Progressive Faculty Caucus, a radical faculty group at Kingsborough.

…In May, more than 1,000 flyers were distributed around campus calling for my firing and attributing vile, false allegations of racism, sexism and anti-Muslim sentiments to me.

I’ve never promoted any of my private or religious opinions in the classroom — or anywhere else on campus. Nor have I held any of the hateful views the flyers attached to me. In her earlier attempt to get me fired, Perea went from office to office showing staff my private Facebook photos as her “evidence” that I’m racist and sexist. The PFC’s efforts then escalated into what the flyers described as an imperative to “build a movement” against me.

And that’s exactly what it has been — an orchestrated, aggressive movement to destroy me. May’s flyers included a picture of my 13-year-old daughter. I’ve chaired a food committee at Kingsborough for eight years, and suddenly, a PFC member new to the committee began investigating my activity. [emphasis mine]

Up until now, it was perfectly legal and proper in this once free nation for a person to be Jewish, conservative, and a supporter of Israel. Now such individuals apparently must be hunted down and destroyed, by any means necessary. Worse, this 2-minute hate now includes his children.

Share

Harpoon concept for removing space junk tested in orbit

A harpoon, the second of three engineering experiments for capturing space junk, was successfully fired last week.

A British satellite released from the International Space Station last year has successfully demonstrated a harpoon that could be used on future missions to clean up space debris, officials announced Friday.

The harpoon fired out of the RemoveDebris spacecraft Feb. 8, striking a target plate extended from the satellite on a 4.9-foot (1.5-meter) boom. The experiment was one of the main objectives of the $17 million (15.2-million-euro) RemoveDebris mission, conceived as a testbed for technologies engineers hope will allow future satellites to tidy up busy orbital traffic lanes by collecting dead satellites and rockets and driving them back into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up.

In a dramatic video released by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., the harpoon is seen catapulting out of the RemoveDebris spacecraft at a velocity of about 45 mph — 20 meters per second — and spearing its target. A cable attached to the harpoon kept the device from flying off and becoming its own piece of space junk.

The first experiment was a test of a net, tested successfully in September. The last of the three experiments, scheduled in a month, will test a sail designed to slow the satellite’s speed so that it gets de-orbited quickly.

I have embedded the video of the harpoon test below the fold.
» Read more

Share

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Variation 18 on a theme by Paganini

An evening pause: One of the greatest and most beautiful melodies ever written, as part of a larger work. The pianist is Valentina Lisitsa, supported by the London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Francis conducting. Her playing style is the most fluid and relaxed I have ever seen.

Share

NASA to put humans on the Moon soon!

Wanna bet? According to NASA officials, the agency is accelerating its manned effort and expects to return to the Moon with humans by 2028 at the latest!

Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, told reporters Thursday that the agency plans to speed up plans backed by President Donald Trump to return to the moon, using private companies.

“It’s important that we get back to the moon as fast as possible,” said Bridenstine in a meeting at NASA’s Washington headquarters, adding he hoped to have astronauts back there by 2028.

“This time, when we go to the Moon, we’re actually going to stay. We’re not going to leave flags and footprints and then come home to not go back for another 50 years” he said.

Why does this announcement remind me of similar enthusiastic predictions made by Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, all of which have never come true? In fact, why does Bridenstine’s prediction remind me of many past NASA predictions since the 1980s, all of which either never happened, or happened decades behind schedule and in a manner that was far from grand?

If NASA is the agency to run this program, this prediction will not happen, period. For NASA to get back to the Moon by 2028 would require them to somehow build Gateway (which Bridenstine labels as a key component in this program) while also accelerating the launch schedule of SLS, a rocket NASA has spent fifteen years building that it doesn’t expect to launch for at least two more years, and will not put humans on it until 2024, at the earliest.

Gateway has not even been funded. It provides no way to get to the lunar surface. If it is funded it will cost billions, and likely take as long to build as SLS. SLS itself is expensive, unwieldy, and incapable of providing launch services for such an ambitious program.

Bridenstine’s announcement though did contain a ray of hope. He and his associates made a big deal about how they wish to hire many different private companies to achieve their goals. If the agency gets out of the way and lets free Americans do the job, then maybe it will happen.

We shall see. NASA’s track record when it comes to letting privately-built manned commercial spacecraft do the job is dismal, and that’s being kind.

Share

Rather than use American manned capsules, NASA is considering buying more Soyuz astronaut flights

Because of the delays imposed by its safety panel in the development of two American-made manned capsules, NASA is now considering buying more Soyuz astronaut flights from Russia.

Past experience has shown the difficulties associated with achieving first flights on time in the final year of development. Typically, problems will be discovered during these test flights. The consequences of no US crew on ISS warrant protection by acquiring additional seats. The absence of U.S. crewmembers at any point would diminish ISS operations to an inoperable state,” noted a procurement document published on February 13.

NASA is considering contracting with the State Space Corporation “Roscosmos” for these services on a sole source basis for two (2) Soyuz seats and associated services to the International Space Station (ISS) on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft vehicle. This transportation would be for one crewmember in the Fall of 2019 and one crewmember in the Spring of 2020.

Remind me again: What country does NASA work for? From this I think it is Russia, not the United States. The agency has no problem putting its astronauts on a Soyuz rocket, even though Russia has had chronic quality control problems that not only caused a Soyuz launch abort last year but also had someone drill a hole in a manned capsule, an act of sabotage that Russia has still not explained or solved.

Meanwhile, it slow-walks and delays in any manner it can the manned efforts of two American companies, so that it is forced to use Russian rockets. This is unconscionable. Where is Trump, the “America-First” guy? Why isn’t he stepping in and putting an end to this political gamesmanship that clearly favors a foreign power over American companies?

Share

IAU approves China’s proposed names for Chang’e-4 landing site

That was fast! The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has approved all of the proposed names that China submitted for the features at or near Chang’e-4 landing site.

The IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature has approved the name Statio Tianhe for the landing site where the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 touched down on 3 January this year, in the first-ever landing on the far side of the Moon. The name Tianhe originates from the ancient Chinese name for the Milky Way, which was the sky river that separated Niulang and Zhinyu in the folk tale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”.

Four other names for features near the landing site have also been approved. In keeping with the theme of the above-mentioned folk tale, three small craters that form a triangle around the landing site have been named Zhinyu, Hegu, and Tianjin, which correspond to characters in the tale. They are also names of ancient Chinese constellations from the time of the Han dynasty. The fifth approved name is Mons Tai, assigned to the central peak of the crater Von Kármán, in which the landing occurred. Mons Tai is named for Mount Tai, a mountain in Shandong, China, and is about 46 km to the northwest of the Chang’e-4 landing site.

Compare this fast action with the IAU’s approval process for the names the New Horizons team picked for both Pluto and Ultima Thule. It took the IAU more than two years to approve the Pluto names, and almost three years to approve the Charon names. It is now almost two months after New Horizons’ fly-by of Ultima Thule, and the IAU has not yet approved the team’s picks for that body.

Yet it is able to get China’s picks approved in less than a month? Though it is obviously possible that there is a simple and innocent explanation for the differences here, I think this illustrates well the biases of the IAU. Its membership does not like the United States, and works to stymie our achievements if it can. This factor played a part in the Pluto/planet fiasco. It played a part in its decision to rename Hubble’s Law. And according to my sources, it was part of the background negotiations in the naming of some lunar craters last year to honor the Apollo 8 astronauts.

The bottom line remains: The IAU has continually tried to expand its naming authority, when all it was originally asked to do was to coordinate the naming of distant astronomical objects. Now it claims it has the right to approve the naming of every boulder and rock anywhere in the universe. At some point the actual explorers are going to have to tell this organization to go jump in a lake.

Share

Major natural gas discovery off of South Africa coast

The French oil and gas company Total has made a major natural gas discovery off the coast of South Africa that could contain one billion barrels.

Total said it had made a significant gas condensate discovery after drilling its Brulpadda prospects on Block 11B/12B in the Outeniqua Basin.

“It is gas condensate and light oil. Mainly gas. There are four other prospects on the license that we have to drill; it could be around 1 billion barrels of total resources of gas and condensate,” [Chief Executive Patrick] Pouyanne said.

Big money here, which can change the balance of power in terms of fossil fuel energy resources.

Hat tip Max Hunt. I had missed this when it was announced on February 7.

Share

Monitoring a fresh-looking Martian landslide

2012 image of Martian landslide
Click for full image

2018 image of Martian landslide
Click for full image

Time for two cool images! To the right are two images taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the top one taken in April 2012, and the bottom taken in December 2018. Both have been cropped and reduced slightly in resolution to post here.

The second image is trying to answer, in only a small way, one of the most fundamental questions of the Martian environment: How fast does it change? The images from orbit have periodically seen evidence of new impacts. MRO images have tracked dust devil tracks. And we know that somehow water, ice, wind and volcanic activity have eroded and reshaped the surface over eons.

What we don’t know truly and with detail is the pace of these changes, with any accuracy. The pace of some things over time seems obvious. For example, Mars’s inactive but gigantic volcanoes suggest that once volcanism was very active, but over time has ceased so that today it is unclear if any is occurring. Similarly, the geological evidence suggests that in the far past water flowed on the surface, producing catastrophic floods. Now that liquid water is all but gone, and this erosion process as ceased.
» Read more

Share

Hawai’i public radio joins campaign against spaceport

According to an article today by Hawaii’s local NPR station, it would be a bad idea to build a new spaceport there, based on the experience of Alaska residents near their own similar spaceport.

This article could be the poster child for fake news. It very biased, indicating that this local NPR station has decided to join the campaign to block construction of the spaceport on the state’s Big Island. For example, despite a title (“Alaska Residents Urge Caution to Hawaiʻi Officials Considering Spaceport”) that implies strong opposition in Alaska to their spaceport, there is no evidence in the article to support that implication. The article only inteviews two Alaska residents, both of whom admit to being strong opponents of their own spaceport, from the beginning. This is hardly a fair sampling of local opinion, and certainly does not give us a good picture of the impact the spaceport has had in Alaska.

This article’s bias is further compounded in that it only quotes one Hawaiian, a state senator who strongly opposes the proposed Hawaiian spaceport.

While there might be strong opposition to both the Alaskan and Hawaiian spaceports, this article is not very convincing. If anything, it makes me skeptical, and suspicious that the entire opposition is a ginned up political campaign, of which this NPR station is now willingly participating.

Share

SpaceX protests NASA launch contract to ULA

Turf war! SpaceX has filed a protest against a NASA launch contract award to ULA for almost $150 million for the Lucy asteroid mission in 2023.

In a statement, SpaceX, the California company founded by Elon Musk, said it was the first time it had challenged a NASA contract.

“SpaceX offered a solution with extraordinarily high confidence of mission success at a price dramatically lower than the award amount,” the company said in a statement to The Washington Post. “So we believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers.”

This protest might explain the politics of two other stories recently:

In the first case two California politicians are using their clout to pressure the Air Force for the benefit of SpaceX. In the second the Air Force inspector general office is using its clout to pressure the Air Force to hurt SpaceX.

All these stories illustrate the corrupt crony capitalism that now permeates any work our federal government does. In order to get government business, you have to wield political power, which means you need to kowtow to politicians and bureaucrats. Very ugly, and very poisonous.

Share

Asteroid to eclipse Sirius, the sky’s brightest star, on February 18

On February 18, 2019 a four-mile wide asteroid is going to pass in front of Sirius, the sky’s brightest star, and block its light for just under two seconds.

Can a 7-kilometer-wide asteroid make Sirius disappear? You bet it can. That just might happen on Monday night, February 18th. That evening around 10:30 p.m. MST (5:30 UT February 19th), there’s a good probability that the 17th-magnitude 4388 Jürgenstock will occult the sky’s brightest star for up to 1.8 seconds. Visibility stretches along a narrow path from the southern tip of Baja California to the Las Cruces–El Paso region, up through the Great Plains, and north to the Winnipeg area. While only a limited number of people may see this event, anytime Sirius disappears, however briefly, it’s news!

In the U.S. the narrow path cuts through New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. If you live in or near this path, this is definitely worth watching, especially since it will be happening at a convenient hour in the evening.

Share

Update your GPS before April 6 or it might not work!

Older GPS and those that have not recently updated their firmware might not work properly after April 6, 2019.

GPS signals from satellites include a timestamp, needed in part to calculate one’s location, that stores the week number using ten binary bits. That means the week number can have 210 or 1,024 integer values, counting from zero to 1,023 in this case. Every 1,024 weeks, or roughly every 20 years, the counter rolls over from 1,023 to zero.

The first Saturday in April will mark the end of the 1,024th week, after which the counter will spill over from 1,023 to zero. The last time the week number overflowed like this was in 1999, nearly two decades on from the first epoch in January 1980.

You can see where this is going. If devices in use today are not designed or patched to handle this latest rollover, they will revert to an earlier year after that 1,024th week in April, causing attempts to calculate position to potentially fail. System and navigation data could even be corrupted, we’re warned.

Devices after 2010 should be all right, but it is advised to update the firmware to the latest version. Earlier devices might not fare so well.

The issue here is not so much handheld outdoor GPS units, but the GPS in smartphones as well as elsewhere. If you think a device you own uses GPS in any aspect, it is probably wise to update its firmware. The world is not going to end if you don’t, but you will guarantee that you will avoid some annoying inconvenience by doing so.

Share

The anti-Semitic and bigoted Democratic Party

Link here. I was going to write up something similar today, but Jeff Dunetz has done it for me.

His focus is partly that of the mainstream press’s effort to cover-up this bigotry, but in the process he also documents that bigotry quite well, documenting the support given to known anti-Semites and their causes by more than three dozen major Democratic elected officials, including Barack Obama, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-California), Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Congressman Jerold Nadler (D-New York), Senator Kamala Harris (D-California), Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Congressman James Clyburn (D-South Carolina), as well as newly elected Congress critters Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), and this week’s star bigot, Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota).

Nor have I listed every elected Democrat named. The bigotry that is taking over the Democratic Party is extensive. Nor is this a sudden event. It has been on-going now for decades, with no push back from the press or anyone within that party. It has now gotten so bad that the party routinely and willingly seeks the endorsements of known bigots like Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan.

Yet, in America it is still a safe bet that a large percentage of Jews will still be knee-jerk Democratic voters. It is this blind support that makes me so pessimistic for the future. The Democratic Party needed a house-cleaning by the voters more than twenty years ago, during the 1990s, and did not get it. Since then the corruption has grown to a point that it now is running the party. Yet the voters still support them.

Be warned. The worst is yet to come.

Share

NASA officially declares Opportunity dead

NASA today officially announced that the rover Opportunity — built to last 90 days — is dead, only three weeks after celebrating its fifteenth anniversary operating on the Martian surface.

This is what project scientist Steve Squyres had to say about the rover’s finish:

“When I saw that the storm had gone global, I thought this could be it,” said Squyres, explaining that Opportunity was a solar-powered vehicle and needed the sun for energy. “To have Opportunity – designed for 90 days – taken out after fourteen and a half years by one of the most ferocious dust storms to hit the planet in decades, you have got to feel pretty good about it.”

He said: “It was an honorable end, and it came a whole lot later than any of us expected.”

The article gives some nice background into the personal stories of many of the scientists who worked on Opportunity for all those years. For some overall scientific context, see this article. Or you can read the many rover updates I have written in the past two and a half years, which will give you a detailed sense of Opportunity’s travels along the rim of Endeavour Crater.

Share

Recent Cuba meteorite estimated to have weighed about 360 tons

Using its imaged track from several sources, scientists have now estimated the size and weight of the recent spectacular fireball over Cuba as being several meters across and weighing about 360 tons.

After reconstructing the trajectory in the atmosphere, the Colombian astronomers “played back” the impact and found that the culprit, a rock with an estimated size of several meters and a weight of about 360 tons, came from an eccentric orbit around the Sun with an average distance to our star of 1.3 astronomical units (1 astronomical-unit = 150 million km). Before impacting the Earth, the rock completed a turn around the Sun every 1.32 years. All that came to an end on February 1, 2019 when both, the rock and the Earth, found themselves at the same point in space, at the same time. The worse part was for the rock!

The article spends most of its time selling a computer model the scientists have developed that they claim can predict the approach trajectory of meteorites, something I find quite unconvincing. However, the result above is important for different reasons. Routinely astronomers today discover new small asteroids just days before they zoom harmlessly past the Earth. Each time one of these new near Earth asteroids is found, the press automatically goes into “Chicken Little mode,” suggesting that should this object have hit the Earth it would have caused massive damage.

Most of these newly discovered asteroids are about the same size as the Cuba meteorite, if not smaller. Thus, this meteorite gives us a clear idea of how completely harmless these other near Earth asteroids are. In fact, this impact suggests to me that in most cases an asteroid would have to be about ten times larger to pose a significant threat.

Keep this number — 360 tons — in mind the next time another near Earth asteroid is discovered.

Share

InSight deploys heat sensor onto Mars surface

InSight has successfully deployed its temperature instrument onto the Martian surface, where it will next begin drilling its heat sensor about sixteen feet down into the ground.

Equipped with a self-hammering spike, mole, the instrument will burrow up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface, deeper than any previous mission to the Red Planet. For comparison, NASA’s Viking 1 lander scooped 8.6 inches (22 centimeters) down. The agency’s Phoenix lander, a cousin of InSight, scooped 7 inches (18 centimeters) down.

“We’re looking forward to breaking some records on Mars,” said HP3 Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which provided the heat probe for the InSight mission. “Within a few days, we’ll finally break ground using a part of our instrument we call the mole.”

Whether the spike will be able to get to 16 feet will depend on many factors, such as whether a rock below the surface happens to be in the way.

Share

California governor abandons high speed rail boondoggle

Reality strikes? Gavin Newsom, California’s new Democratic governor, announced during his state of the state speech today that he wants to abandon the very-overbudget-and-behind-schedule high speed rail project that the previous Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, had been pushing for years.

“Let’s level about the high-speed rail,” Newsom said. “Let’s be real, the current project as planned would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were.”

Recent estimates assessed former Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan would be cost about $77 billion and be completed in 2033. Newsom then pivoted to his alternate proposal, to instead connect the two Central Valley cities, 160 miles apart.

Newsom wasn’t really arguing for common sense, since he proposed replacing this big project with a smaller rail project connecting two smaller cities in the middle of the state. Like the bigger project, the logic of this escapes me. It is very unlikely enough Californians will be want to use the new route to make it profitable, or even practical.

In addition, he also said he didn’t want to return the federal dollars provided for the big project, essentially saying he wants to steal that money from the federal government to use in ways it was not intended.

Share

Abraham Lincoln – an annual tribute

An evening pause: On this, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it is once again time to remember a man who stands as one of our nation’s — and possible one of the world’s — greatest leaders. Of our Presidents possibly only George Washington is more significant. We must above all not forget the incredible and now all too rare good will he held for everyone, even to those who hated him and wished to kill him. As I said in 2015: “We should also remind ourselves, especially in this time of increasing anger, bigotry, and violence, of these words from his second inaugural address, spoken in the final days of a violent war that had pitted brother against brother in order to set other men free:”

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Share

NASA about to pull plug on Opportunity

Rumors today say that during a press conference tomorrow NASA will announce that it is closing the books on the incredibly successful rover Opportunity.

From the first link:

NASA said Tuesday it will issue a final series of recovery commands, on top of more than 1,000 already sent. If there’s no response by Wednesday — which NASA suspects will be the case — Opportunity will be declared dead, 15 years after arriving at the red planet.

Opportunity was supposed to last 90 days. Instead, it lasted just under fifteen years, drove 28 miles, and saw far more of the Martian surface than anyone ever expected.

It now sits inside the rim of fourteen-mile Endeavour Crater, waiting for those first explorers to come and get it. I wonder when that will be.

Share

Strange crescent-shaped pit near Martian south pole

crescent-shaped pit near Martian south pole

Cool image time! The south polar cap of Mars is a strange place. It is largely ice, with a seasonal cap of frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice. Because the dry ice sublimates away during the summer months, the cap undergoes regular changes that reshape it, producing alien features that are not seen on Earth.

The image on the right is another example of these alien features. I found it in the February image release from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. I have merely cropped the full image to focus at full resolution on its primary feature, a region of stippled-like surface surrounding an area of black striping that in turn surrounds a crescent-shaped pit outlined by whiter material.

Why is there a pit here? Why is it crescent-shaped? Why is it surrounded by that whiter material? I could guess and say that the pit is a vent from which water vapor from the lower cap of water sprays out onto the upper cap of frozen carbon dioxide, staining it with white ice, but I am most likely wrong.

Moreover, what causes the black striping, as well as the stippled material surrounding it? The black stripes are probably related to a similar process that forms the spider formations found in the polar regions, except that these are not spiders. Why the parallel straight lines?

A lot of questions with no answers. While many features on Mars are strange, the features near the poles are probably stranger still, as they form in a place with chemistry, temperatures, gravity, and materials in a combination and scale that we on Earth have no experience with.

Share
1 2 3 651