Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Poor leadership by Obama on NASA

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit today said the following (in recognizing Jeff Foust’s op-ed for Technology Review):

CONGRESS BLOWS IT: Commercial Spaceflight, We Have A Problem. Congress will always choose short-term pork over long-term development unless there’s strong Presidential leadership. But while the Obama space policy is good, the White House hasn’t provided the kind of legislative push it takes to make it work. Without strong leadership, a good policy will always lose out to pork.

Didn’t someone say this already? In fact, didn’t that someone say this more than once?

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Your Show of Shows: the clock skit

An evening pause: Yesterday we had a modern animation of a machine that made music. Tonight let’s watch a very different take on a vaguely similar idea, this time to produce comedy. This is a classic skit from Your Show of Shows, Sid Caesar’s variety show from early television. The four performers are, left to right, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coco, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris.

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Solar sail conference

Solar sail engineers from around the world gathered in Brooklyn last week for the Second International Symposium on Solar Sailing. Ben Diedrich, fellow caver, solar sail expert, and the man behind wiki.solarsails.info, gave two papers. He also emailed me to say that “Japan’s contingent gave several talks – many of which compared analysis of deployment, flight, or steering with actual flight data” of Ikaros. A review of the program [pdf] revealed some fascinating uses for solar sails. I like this paper title the best: “Deflecting Apophis with a flotilla of solar sails.” [ed. Apophis is an asteroid with the potential of hitting the Earth.]

Update: Japanese scientists have now announced that they have been able to adjust Ikaros’s attitude using sunlight.

Another update: Ben Diedrich emailed me the link to read the actual proceedings from the conference. See pg 103 to read the paper on using solar sails to deflect Apophis.

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Single Rope Techinque — on the Moon

James Fincannon of NASA took the two images of the Marius Hills lunar pit taken at different times by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (which I posted here) and did an overlay so that the shadow produced by pit’s rim could be easily compared with the rim itself (see below). He then did some calculations based on the sun’s angle of light shining into the cave and came up with the following calculations:

I estimate it is 60 meters from rim to bottom. The floor is flat below the surface. The rocks on the flat surface below ground are in stark relief (hard shadows) compared to above ground due to the sun coming only at one angle while above ground the albedo/reflections makes for soft shadows at this high sun angle (65 deg elevation). I cannot tell if the black portion of the combo image is a slope or more flat floor. Need a different high sun angle or azimuth to fill that in. Still I like the general pattern of the rim matching the shadow on the floor, although the image I found originally has that edge of the cave rim in shadow for a large extent.

overlay of Marius Hill cave

A 60 meter drop is about 200 feet deep. This result is reasonably close to the depth estimated by Japanese scientists, 88 meters or 288 feet, based on images of the same lunar pit taken by their Kaguya probe.

Knowing the approximate depth of the entrance pit raises the much more important question: How will future lunar explorers to get to the bottom of this pit? It is ironic » Read more

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Kepler finds more than 100 Earthlike planets

In its first six weeks of observation, the Kepler mission apparently found almost 150 planets similar in size to the Earth. The results, learned by accident because a talk given by one of the co-investigators was posted on the web, have not yet been officially announced because the project scientists feel a need for additional time to confirm them. Many of these so-called planets might turn out to be false positives, so some caution is in order.

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Deniers of science

On Saturday (July 24) the American Geophysical Union published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters, entitled “Northern Hemisphere winter snow anomalies: ENSO, NAO and the winter of 2009/10.” This paper attempted to explain the unusually cold 2009-2010 winter, with its record snow falls.

The conclusions of the paper were reasonable, noting that this past winter experienced both an El Nino event in the Pacific as well as a very negative (cold) North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). To quote the paper’s conclusions: “In winters when an El Nino event and a negative NAO combine, analysis reveal that there are positive snow anomalies across the southern U.S. and northern Europe.”

The authors of the paper made no attempt to explain why these two climate events “combined” this past winter, which in the field of climate change is actually the essential question. What caused it? Moreover, did the deep and extended negative (cold) phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) contribute as well, and if so, why did the AO also go negative this winter? And finally, were all these climate events somehow related to the Sun’s unusally long and deep solar minimum?

That they didn’t answer these fundamental questions is not surprising. Climotogists have been struggling with them for decades, and to expect this quickly written paper focused on this one climate event — the cold winter of 2009-2010 — to answer them would be unreasonable. In fact, considering the state of our knowledge, it probably is impossible for any paper to answer these questions at this time.

What makes this particular paper really noteworthy, however, is a quote in its introductory paragraphs:

The wintry winter has encouraged deniers of global warming » Read more

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Chamberlain’s speech from movie Gettysburg

An evening pause: In our modern “politically correct” society, many people object strenuously when I express my unwavering preference for the British-American culture that founded the United States. It seems that today’s polite society considers it judgmental and unfair to suggest our way of life is superior to others. Well, before you protest, please listen to this speech from the movie Gettysburg, in which Colonial Joshua Chamberlain explains why he decided to fight for the Union in the Civil War. To quote, “We are here for something new. This has not happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free.” Then he adds this most important point: “Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was.”

That is our culture. That is what we as a society have always stood for. And it is these values that I wish to propagate to the stars, a desire for which I will make no apologizes.

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Exploring virgin cave passage

As I mentioned previously, last weekend I was in West Virginia exploring and surveying some newly discovered cave passages. These pictures, taken by Nikki Fox, will give you a flavor of what it is like to visit a place never before seen by human eyes.

Bob surveying

Here I am, trying to sketch the final section of a clean, generally dry flowstone and bedrock passage. Trust me, it isn’t easy drawing a place that your body almost fills.

The lead where this virgin passage began had been known for decades, but had never been entered because » Read more

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Whisper of the heart

An evening pause: Of all the animators in the world today, Hayao Miyazaki is probably the best. Every single one of his films is an incredible viewing experience. Here is a clip from Whisper of the Heart (1995), a truly wonderful film about young love and hope. Though he didn’t direct it, Miyazaki wrote the screenplay and storyboards as well as produced it. Not surprisingly, the film is seeped in his style, with the same unique but believable characters, unpredictable but compelling story-telling, and a magical originality that is rare in movies today.

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ISS and Chinese satellite debris

Russian mission control has indicated that the debris left over from destruction of a Chinese satellite in 2007 poses a “danger” to the International Space Station. Key quote from a Russian official:

“If the calculations show that the debris is approaching the station at an unacceptably close range, the six astronauts will receive the order to take shelter in the two Russian Soyuz spacecraft which are docked with the ISS.”

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Jackie Gleason and Frank Fontaine

An evening pause: In the 1960s, the Jackie Gleason Show was one of television’s most popular variety shows. Each episode had one regular routine, where Gleason played Joe the bartender, visited by an unseen Mr. Dunnaghy. Invariably, Joe would bring out his friend, Crazy Guggenheim, played by Frank Fontaine. Fontaine, as Crazy, would then hold everyone spellbound for five plus minutes with the most silly charactor humor one can imagine.

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Solar powered plane flies for two weeks

Zephr, a British-built solar-powered unmanned plane was ordered to return to Earth after flying continuously for two weeks without refueling. Key quote:

Zephyr is set to be credited with a new world endurance record (336 hours, 24 minutes) for an unmanned, un-refuelled aircraft – provided a representative of the world air sports federation, who was present at Yuma, is satisfied its rules have been followed properly.

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An ice-free Arctic in 10 years?

In today’s version of global warming fear-mongering, Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) declared that the Arctic will be ice-free in “five or 10 years.” He apparently based this statement on a 2009 Geophysical Research Letters paper [pdf] that, using computer models, predicted an ice-free Arctic in September could occur as soon as the late 2020s but was more likely in the late 2030s.

Wanna bet? Since that 2009 paper was published, Arctic ice has seen a rebound in ice extent. Moreover, the Arctic oscillation remains in the deepest freeze it has seen in years. And the sun remains quiet, less active than we have seen it since scientists began tracking its behavior from space. Such inactivity means a dimmer sun, which in turn brings with it cold temperatures. Here is the most recent graph (updated on July 20) from the Total Solar Irradiance Time Series produced by Physikalisch- Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos (PMOD) using satellite data since 1978:

PMOD graph, July 20, 2010

Even though the sun’s total irradiance has shown an up-tick recently as it slowly moves from solar minimum towards solar maximum, if you look closely you will see this up-tick still remains below the lowest points for the previous three solar minimums. And as I have noted here, we appear to be heading for the weakest solar maximum in two centuries.

Of course (as stock brokers say), the past performance of all of these trends is no guarantee of the future performance. Nonetheless, the data indicates clearly the simplistic nature of statements like Kerry’s.

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