Category Archives: Essays And Commentaries

NOAA’s prediction for the next solar maximum

Last week NOAA introduced a newly revamped graph for tracking the monthly activity of sunspots on the Sun’s visible hemisphere. (You can see an example of the old graph, used by them for more than fifteen years, here.)

In order to properly understand the context of future sunspot activity, it is important to understand how the new graph aligns with the old. My first attempt to do so in my April 3, 2020 sunspot update, unfortunately was a failure. While most of my conclusions in that update remain correct, my attempt to place NOAA’s prediction for the next solar cycle on my graph was in error.

I had not realized that NOAA had changed its sunspot number scale on graph’s vertical axis. In their old graph they had used the monthly sunspot number count from the Royal Observatory of Belgium. The new graph instead used the sunspot number from NOAA’s own Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). Both numbers are creditable, but the solar scientist community has switched entirely to the latter in the past few years because they consider its criteria for determining the count across all past cycles to be more accurate.

The Belgium numbers have traditionally been about one third lower than SWPC’s. Not realizing that NOAA’s new prediction,was based on the SWPC numbers. I therefore placed it on the graph using the Belgium numbers and thus made the peak of the solar maximum 33% too high.

Below is NOAA’s new graph, annotated properly with both the past and new solar cycle predictions added now correctly.
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Sunspot update: tiny uptick in March activity

UPDATE: In doing some analysis and prep work for future updates, I have discovered that the graph below is in error in its placement of the prediction for the next solar maximum in 2025. I have revised the graph to note the error, and will post a new solar update tomorrow.

My original post:
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This week NOAA unveiled a major revamping of the graph it has used for the past decade-plus to show the monthly progression of the sunspot cycle, and that I have been using since the start of this website to do my monthly sunspot updates.

Overall they did a very nice job. The new graph not only shows the present state of the cycle, but it allows you to zoom in or out on this cycle as well as all sunspot cycles going back to 1750, about the time the sunspot cycle was first recognized and the sunspot count became reliable.

The new graph also includes a new more precise prediction for the upcoming solar cycle, forecasting the peak in 2025, higher than the weak solar maximum that has just passed. I have taken the old graph (see my last update on March 12, 2020) and revised it to place this new prediction in context with the previous cycle. I have also added the March sunspot numbers to it.
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COVID-19 is NOT going to overwhelm our healthcare system

As part of the panic that has been overwhelming the world because of COVID-19, one of the typical lies that is being spread is that the epidemic is going to overwhelm the world’s healthcare systems. This CNN article from yesterday, entitled “‘That’s when all hell broke loose’: Coronavirus patients start to overwhelm US hospitals”, is typical:

“We ended up getting our first positive patients — and that’s when all hell broke loose,” said one New York City doctor.

The doctor, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity out of concern for his job, described a hospital that was woefully unprepared for an influx of Covid-19 patients that started roughly two weeks ago — which has already stretched the hospital’s resources thin and led to severely ill patients outnumbering ventilators.

“We don’t have the machines, we don’t have the beds,” the doctor said.

“To think that we’re in New York City and this is happening,” he added. “It’s like a third-world country type of scenario. It’s mind-blowing.” [emphasis mine]

We’re all gonna die!

Not! To dispell these mainstream media lies, I am going to give my readers an example of what a real journalist does, in comparison to the brainless non-researchers at CNN (and elsewhere) who make believe they are journalists but instead play them, on television and cable each day, in order to push an anti-American and leftist agenda that is downright evil and destructive.

I’m going to do some real research, and provide it to my readers so that they can get some context and a deeper understanding of the fake Wuhan flu “pandemic.”
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Today COVID-19 made my doctor and I criminals

Because I have in my later years developed a minor case of chronic asthma, I make quarterly visits to a lung specialist to take a basic lung function test to monitor the progress of my workout regimen plus medicines. This began two years ago when the asthma was first diagnosed, forcing me to take puffs of an inhaler twice each day, in the morning and evening.

My long term goal is to get off these meds, but to do so I need to improve the numbers in this quarterly check-up.

Today was my appointment for the first checkup in 2020. I get to the doctor’s office and, not surprisingly, cannot enter without letting them take my temperature and confirm that I have no cough or cold. I expected this, since a doctor’s office is one of the most likely places to catch a disease from others, and with the COVID-19 panic dominating society, they need to be sure everyone is uninfected before allowing them in.

I don’t object to these precautions. I just wonder why they didn’t do such testing last year, when we were having the worst flu season in decades, killing far more people than the Wuhan virus. This contradiction once again illustrates the irrationality of the COVID-19 response.

The office was empty, obviously because many people have cancelled their regular checkups out of a media-induced terror.

When it comes time for my checkup, the doctor’s medical assistant started going through the normal preliminaries, taking my blood pressure, pulse, etc. However, he then tells me that he will not be doing the lung function test, as is normal.

“What?” I say. “That’s the prime reason I’m here. It gives us data for measuring my progress.”
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Power is what the COVID-19 government panic is really about

While common sense, caution, and the human ability to adapt to fluctuating circumstances requires our society to react to the COVID-19 epidemic spreading across the globe, our additional ability to think coolly and rationally requires us to not allow our emotions to run wildly and out-of-control, taking actions that might feel good for a moment but do no good and maybe more harm in the long run.

It also requires to look closely at the actions of our lawmakers, whose motives are now commonly not driven by an interest in the country but by their own interests and an insatiable desire for power. Two stories this past weekend were quite revealing in this context.

First we have the incredible request by the Justice Department for new special powers so that it can supposedly react to the epidemic properly.
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Friday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Global distribution of Martian ice scarps
Today was supposed to have been the last day at the cancelled 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference. As such, only a half day of presentations had been scheduled in order to give participants the option of returning home sooner.

While many of the abstracts of the planned-but-now-cancelled presentations were on subjects important to the scientists but not so interesting to the general public, two sessions, one on Martian buried glaciers/ice and a second focused on Mercury, would have made the day very worthwhile to this science journalist, had I been there.

The map above, from the first abstract [pdf] of the Mars session, might possibly epitomize our present knowledge of ice/glaciers on Mars. It provides an update of the continuing survey of ice scarps in the high mid-latitudes of Mars (see the most recent post on Behind the Black from February 12, 2020). Clearly, the more they look, the more they find of these ice scarps, cliff faces with visible exposed pure ice layers that will be relatively easy to access.

But then, finding evidence of some form of buried ice on Mars is becoming almost routine. Of the thirteen abstracts in this Mars session, ten described some sort of evidence of buried ice or glaciers on Mars, in all sorts of places, with the remaining three abstracts studying similar Earth features for comparison. The scientists found evidence of water ice on the top of one of Mars’ largest volcanoes (abstract #2299 [pdf]), in faults and fissures near the equator (#1997 [pdf]), in the eastern margin of one of Mars’ largest deep basins (#3070 [pdf]), in Gale Crater (#2609 [pdf]), in the transition zone between the northern lowlands and southern highlands (#1074 [pdf]), and of course in the northern mid-latitude lowland plains (#2648 [pdf] and #2872 [pdf]).

The results tell us not that there is water ice on Mars, but that it is very plentiful, and that its presence and behavior (as glaciers, as snowfall, and as an underground aquifer) make it a major factor in explaining the geology we see on Mars. I’ve even begun to get a sense that among the planetary scientists researching Mars there is an increasing consideration that maybe ice formed many of the river-like features we see on the surface, not flowing water as has been assumed for decades. This theory has not yet become dominate or even popular, but I have been seeing mention of it increasingly in papers, in one form or another.

If this possibility becomes accepted, it would help solve many Martian geological mysteries, primary of which is the fact that scientists cannot yet explain how water flowed as liquid on the surface some time ago in Mars’ long geological history, given its theorized atmosphere and climate. If ice did the shaping, then liquid water (in large amounts) would not be required.

Now, on to the Mercury session.
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Thursday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Jezero Crater, under theorized ocean

It is now time for today’s virtual report from the non-existent 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference, cancelled because of the terrified fear of COVID-19.

Unlike the previous three days, the bulk of the abstracts for presentations planned for today are more what I like to call “in-the-weeds” reports. The science is all good, but it is more obscure, the kind of work the scientists will be interested in but will generally hold little interest to the general public. For example, while very important for designing future missions, most of the public (along with myself) is not very interested in modeling studies that improve the interpretation of instrument data.

This does not mean there were no abstracts of interest. On the contrary. For today the most interesting sessions in the conference program centered on Mars as well as research attempting to better track, identify, and study Near Earth asteroids (NEAs).

The map above for example shows the location of Jezero Crater, where the rover Perseverance will land in 2021, under what one abstract [pdf] proposed might have been an intermittent ocean. The dark blue indicates where the topography suggests that ocean might have existed, while also indicating its shoreline. If it existed in the past, Perseverance might thus find evidence of features that were “marine in origin.” This ocean would also help explain the gigantic river-like delta that appears to pour into Jezero Crater from its western highland rim.

There were a lot of other abstracts looking closely at Jezero Crater, all in preparation for the upcoming launch of Perseverance in July, some mapping the site’s geology, others studying comparable sites here on Earth.

Other Mars-related abstracts of interest:
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Wednesday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

The Moon's south pole

My virtual coverage of the cancelled 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference continues today with a review of the abstracts of presentations that were planned for today, but unfortunately will never be presented.

As a side note, the social shutdown being imposed on America due to the panic over COVID-19 has some side benefits, as has been noted in a bunch of stories today. Not only will this possibly destroy the power the left has on college campuses as universities quickly shift to online courses, it will also likely put an end to the endless science conferences that are usually paid for by U.S. tax dollars. (That cost includes not just the expense of the conference, but the fees and transportation costs of the participants, almost all of whom get the money from either their government job or through research grants from the government.)

Anyway, for good or ill, the virus shut down the planetary conference in Texas this week, forcing me to post these daily summaries based not on real presentations where I would have interviewed the scientists and gotten some questions answered, but on their abstracts placed on line beforehand. Today, the three big subjects were the south pole of the Moon (as shown in the map above from one abstract [pdf], produced by one instrument on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [LRO]), the Martian environment, and Titan. I will take them it that order.
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COVID-19: the unwarranted panic

Four more stories today indicate once again that the worldwide panic over the corona/COVID-19/Wuhan virus is strongly unwarranted:

The first report, from the science journal Science, provides an update on the situation in South Korea, where testing for the virus has been the most thorough of any nation in the world and where, because of that extensive testing, has shown the death rate has turned out to be far lower than the preliminary statistics have suggested. Out of a population of 50 million, slightly more than 8,000 have been infected, with only 81 dying. This is a death rate of 0.9%, higher than the flu’s 0.1% but not horribly so. And like the flu, most of those deaths have been among the elderly.

The numbers there are now dropping, indicating that the disease might have run its course without causing a catastrophic disaster. There is still a chance it could break out again, but the data suggests otherwise.

Moreover, South Korea controlled the situation without any strong-arm authoritarian tactics, as seen in China and as becoming popular here in the formerly free U.S.

“South Korea is a democratic republic, we feel a lockdown is not a reasonable choice,” says Kim Woo-Joo, an infectious disease specialist at Korea University.

It sadly appears that South Koreans might value freedom more than too many of today’s Americans.

The second article describes research from Wuhan in Hubei province in China, reconfirming the South Korean data. There it appears the death rate was 1.4%, only slightly higher than in South Korea. And once again, the death rate is mostly confined to the older population with already existing health issues, like the flu:
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Tuesday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Boulder on Bennu with changes in layered texture changes

Today was supposed to have been the second day of the week-long 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Conference, sadly cancelled due to fear of the Wuhan virus. As I had planned to attend, I am now spending each day this week reviewing the abstracts of the planned presentations, and giving my readers a review of what scientists had hoped to present. Because I am not in the room with these scientists, however, I cannot quickly get answers to any questions I might have, so for these daily reports my reporting must be more superficial than I would like.

On this day the most significant reports came from scientists working on the probes to the asteroids Bennu and Ryugu as well as the probes to the Moon. The image to right for example is from one abstract [pdf] that studied the texture differences found fourteen boulders on Bennu. The arrows point to the contacts between the different textures, suggesting the existence of layers. Such layers could not have been created on Bennu. Instead, these rocks must have formed on a parent body large enough and existing long enough for such geological processes to take place. At some point that parent body was hit, flinging debris into space that eventually reassembled into the rubble pile of boulders that is Bennu.

Other abstracts from scientists from both the Hayabusa-2 mission to Ryugu and the OSIRIS-REx mission to Bennu covered a whole range of topics:
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Monday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Today I had planned on attending the first day of the 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science Conference in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Sadly, for the generally foolish and panicky reasons that is gripping America these days, the people in charge, all scientists, decided to cancel out of fear of a virus that so far appears generally only slightly more dangerous than the flu, though affecting far far far fewer people.

Anyway, below are some of the interesting tidbits that I have gleaned from the abstracts posted for each of Monday’s planned presentations. Unfortunately, because I am not in the room with these scientists, I cannot get my questions answered quickly, or at all. My readers must therefore be satisfied with a somewhat superficial description.
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New inspector general report slams NASA’s SLS management

A new report [pdf] by NASA’s inspector general released today harshly slams the management of NASA for the never-ending cost overruns and scheduling delays that have plagued the agency’s effort to build and launch the Space Launch System (SLS).

From the report’s introduction:

Based on our review of SLS Program cost reporting, we found that the Program exceeded its Agency Baseline Commitment (ABC)—that is, the cost and schedule baselines committed to Congress against which a program is measured—by at least 33 percent at the end of fiscal year 2019, a figure that could reach 43 percent or higher if additional delays push the launch date for Artemis I beyond November 2020.

… [T]he SLS Program now projects the Artemis I launch will be delayed to at least spring 2021 or later. Further, we found NASA’s ABC cost reporting only tracks Artemis I-related activities and not total SLS Program costs. Overall, by the end of fiscal year 2020, NASA will have spent more than $17 billion on the SLS Program—including almost $6 billion not tracked or reported as part of the ABC.

The graph below, taken from page 45 of the report, illustrates the management failures here quite starkly.
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SpaceX raises $500 million for Starship, twice the amount planned

Capitalism in space: In a just completed fund-raising round, SpaceX raised twice the investment capital proposed, $500 million instead of $250 million.

These funds are in addition to the $1.33 billion raised previously. And according to the SpaceX official in charge of their Starlink satellite constellation, most of this money is not for Starlink:

While SpaceX expects it will cost about $10 billion or more to build the Starlink network, [vice president Jonathan] Hofeller said the company’s fundraising so far has largely not been directed to the Starlink division, as “we’ve been able to fund the development of Starlink primarily from our internal businesses.” He declared the company is in a “different position” in how it raises funds compared to other companies that are building satellite networks. “That’s why, in general, we’ve been very quiet about what we’re doing because we don’t need to go out and raise money for this particular venture,” Hofeller said.

This means the $1.83 billion raised is almost certainly all for developing Starship/Super Heavy.

Can SpaceX build this new heavy lift completely reusable rocket for that price? Considering that it cost them $500 million to develop Falcon Heavy, and that much of the engineering work from that will be applicable for the new rocket, I am willing to bet that they can.

My prediction is further reinforced by the company’s recent activities testing Starship’s tanks at Boca Chica, Texas. Only two weeks after a test to failure (resulting in some spectacular fireworks), the company has apparently successfully completed new tank tests on the next prototype.

In other words, they blew up a prototype, were able to clean up the mess, redesign what failed, and test it successfully, in only two weeks. To say such a pace would be impossible for NASA and its big space contractors like Boeing is probably the biggest understatement I’ve ever made.

This success should not make anyone think that the challenge of building Starship/Super Heavy will be easy or fast. This effort will be cutting edge engineering that in many ways will be beyond that edge. SpaceX is guaranteed to have further test failures along the way. Their pace, management approach, and track record however shows that the company knows how to deal with such issues, and will thus be able to proceed to completion.

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Thank you!

Readers!

I want to thank everyone who contributed in the past month as part of my now-completed annual February birthday fund-raising drive. This was the best February campaign ever. For my readers to so generously give their hard-earned money for something that I offer for free humbles me greatly. Thank you! I will try to live up to your expectations.

For those who have not yet contributed, you can still do so, by checking out the options as outlined in the tip jar either in the right column (near the top) or at the bottom of the page (on mobile phones).

This thank you announcement will remain at the top of the page for the next week. Scroll down for today’s newest posts.

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Coronavirus and the madness of crowds

Yesterday I got a bit of frustrating and disappointing news. The 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC-51) to be held in the Houston suburbs beginning on March 15 (to which I was planning to attend) had been canceled due to coronavirus/COVID-19 fears. From the organizers’ email:

We regret to inform you that LPSC 51 will be cancelled due to concerns about COVID-19. This difficult decision has been made after a careful assessment of the risks as determined by the CDC and WHO; consultation with NASA PSD leadership; and consideration of community feedback. We are fully committed to ensuring that our conference attendees remain safe and well.

The organizers had earlier in the week sent out an email stating that they were considering their options because of the epidemic, and would announce a decision on March 6. That they pushed forward the cancellation decision by two days was almost certainly prompted by the revelation yesterday that a case of coronavirus had been confirmed in Houston.

To say this is a disappointment is an understatement. I was very much looking forward to meeting face-to-face many of the planetary scientists I have been corresponding with during the past few years. I was also eagerly anticipating getting an up-front look at the most recent discoveries in the exploration of the solar system, and to pass those discoveries on to my readers.

My disappointment however must pale in comparison to the disappointment of the scientists involved, especially the younger ones trying to establish themselves in the field. They need conferences like this to not only promote their work, but to network and to learn for themselves what others in their field are doing.

What makes this decision more appalling to me is how completely pointless and fear-driven it is. While it makes sense to try to slow the spread of the disease while scientists scramble to understand it and possibly develop a vaccine, it also makes no sense to stop living and to cease all effort out of mindless fear and ignorant panic.

And what we have today is the latter. This planetary conference was not the only one cancelled this week. On March 2 the American Physical Society panicked and cancelled its only annual convention, only 36 hours before it was about to begin, out of a fear that a gathering of 11,000 scientists from all over the world would help spread the disease.

This decision was absurd, however, as a large bulk of the conference’s attendees had already arrived. The cancellation thus accomplished practically nothing to stop coronavirus, while succeeding ably in stymying the spread of knowledge.

The simple fact is that though COVID-19 is a concern and must not be ignored, it is hardly the worldwide crisis being touted by our mindless press, odious politicians, and largely politically correct intellectual community.

A rational look at the facts give a bit of context that deflates the balloon of this madness. Several facts, both good and bad:
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Mars rover Update: March 4, 2020

Panorama looking south and uphill
Click for full resolution.

Curiosity

[For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.]

Map of Curiosity's travels

Since my last rover update on January 13, 2020, Curiosity has finally moved on from the base of Western butte, where it spent more than a month drilling a hole and gathering a great deal of geological data. Rather than head downhill and around the plateau and back to its planned route (as indicated by the red line in the map to the right), the Curiosity science team decided to push upward and onto the Greenheugh Piedmont (as indicated by the yellow line).

They had always planned to reach the top of this plateau, but not for several years. First they were going to head east to study a recurring slope lineae (see my October 2019 update), an example of a dark streak that darkens and fades seasonally and could provide evidence of water seepage from below ground.

Instead, they decided the close proximity of the top of the piedmont and its geology was too tempting. The piedmont is apparently made up of a layer that is very structurally weak, and breaks up easily, as you can see by the panorama above. It also appears to sit on softer, more easily eroded material, which thus accentuates this break up. If you look at the left part of the panorama you can see what I mean. The piedmont layer there is the thin unbroken layer sitting on what looks like sand. As that sand erodes away the layer quickly breaks into small pieces, as shown in the rest of panorama.

Traveling on the piedmont will likely be difficult and threaten Curiosity’s wheels. I suspect this reality prompted them to choose to get to the top and obtain data now, rather than wait several more years of rough travel that might have made access to the piedmont difficult if not impossible.

They presently sit just below the top, and are studying their options before making that last push.
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The coming small satellite revolution

Today I received a press release from the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), announcing a half-day symposium in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2020 entitled ““The SmallSat Revolution: Doing More with Less.” The announcement was an invitation for the working press to register and attend, noting that the speakers will include, among others, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator science, Jeffrey Mamber, president of NanoRacks, and Patricia Cooper of SpaceX.

As interesting as this might sound at first glance, I will not attend. For one thing, it is on the other side of the continent, and I can’t afford to fly cross country for such a short meeting. For another, I don’t see the point. I attended a lot of these DC symposiums when I lived in Maryland, and though they were often very educational and the free food (paid for almost always by the taxpayer) was always enjoyable, I routinely found them somewhat lacking in newsworthy content.

Thirdly, and most important, yesterday I attended a much more newsworthy one day conference here in Tucson on exactly the same subject, dubbed the Arizona Academic CubeSat Symposium. Unlike the Washington event above — which will likely be a mostly superficial look at the burgeoning cubesat industry — yesterday’s symposium was focused on letting students and scientists describe actual and very ambitious cubesat projects presently under construction or design.

In less than seven hours I saw the following:
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Watch a liberal lynch mob form and riot, in real time

Since the 2016 election campaign, the number of examples of physical attacks by leftists against conservatives, journalists, Trump supporters at campaign events, on college campuses, in restaurants, or simply on the street, has grown so much that they now seem to occur almost every day, and have become ubiquitous. In fact, they have grown so frequent that there are no longer unique and — in that sense — no longer newsworthy.

Just last week for example a couple was arrested for trying to run down two teenage boys with their car because the boys were riding bicycles with Trump flags.

According to an affidavit from Lake County, Indiana, Cailyn Smith, 18, and Kyren Jones, 23, were each charged on Thursday with two felony counts of intimidation and criminal recklessness over the incident involving the teens, who are brothers.

The brothers told police that they were riding their bikes at around 8:30 p.m. when a blue Chevy Malibu “swerved as if the driver wanted to hit them” and they had to ride their bikes into the grass, the affidavit stated.

A woman later identified as Smith then yelled “y’all scared just like your president” and “America is not great [expletive].” The couple reportedly sped off after the boys threatened to call the police.

As I say, this behavior has becoming horribly typical. The American left has become the most intolerant, close-minded, and vicious community I have ever seen in the U.S. in my entire life.

And with each passing day it is becoming even more violent and intolerant, its behavior rising to such levels of blind emotional hatred that we can almost guarantee it will soon lead to murder.

Don’t believe me? Then watch the video below.
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Chicago demonstrates the abject failure of Democratic Party policies

Two stories in the past week illustrate the routine failure of the urban political policies in cities nationwide that have been traditionally controlled by Democrats:

The first story proves the absurdity of gun control laws. Chicago, like most cities and states controlled by Democrats, has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation. And Chicago, like most cities and states controlled by Democrats, is also home to one of the highest crime rates, using guns, in the nation. Routinely there are more people shot per week with in Chicago then in any hot spot in the Middle East.

This particular story further demonstrates how pointless those laws are in keeping guns from both criminals and even ordinary citizens. It not only describes the premeditated use of guns by young adults against each other, it documents two examples where children accidently shot a playmate because they were playing with guns that happened to be in their homes.

If those gun control laws had done what the Democrats had promised, those children would not have had those guns available to them. But they did, because first, criminals did not obey the laws and are thus very well armed in Chicago, and second, to defend themselves against these armed criminals Chicago citizens are forced to get guns illegally themselves. Instead of reducing access to guns, the gun control laws appear to have increased it. Worse, because those guns are illegal, proper training in gun use and safety is inaccessible. The result are stories like this.

The second story describes the consequences of these bad Democratic Party policies. Chicago’s population has now shrunk four years in a row, with many of those fleeing coming from the very black community that the Democrats supposedly care so much about. The reasons?

They have been driven out of the city by segregation, gun violence, discriminatory policing, racial disparities in employment, the uneven quality of public schools and frustration at life in neighborhoods whose once-humming commercial districts have gone quiet, as well as more universal urban complaints like rising rents and taxes.

Note that the blame for most of these failures (gun control, corrupt police, bad schools, rising taxes) can be traced directly to the polices of the Democratic Party that has run Chicago unopposed for almost a century, the same party that for decades these same blacks have voted for repeatedly.

As they say, you get the government you deserve. I just hope the blacks remaining in Chicago as well as the blacks who have fled will reconsider their blind loyalty to the Democratic Party. As Donald Trump told them directly during the 2016 campaign, “What have you got to lose?”.

So far, less than nothing, based on the disasters that the Democrats have brought upon them. I pray they will finally realize this.

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America’s modern rocket industry illustrates the power of freedom

SpaceX's first Starship prototype
SpaceX’s first Starship prototype

Capitalism in space: Today’s launch by SpaceX of another sixty Starlink satellites in its planned constellation of thousands of satellites, designed to provide worldwide internet access, was significant in a way that is actually not obvious at first glance. To understand its significance, it is necessary to look at the launch in a wider context.

Below is the list of launches that have so far occurred in 2020. I keep track of this, and post an update here on Behind the Black after each new launch:

3 China
3 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)
1 Rocket Lab
1 Russia
1 Japan
1 ULA
1 Northrop Grumman

Notice anything? While the launches of every other nation in the world are centralized under one rocket company or agency, the United States has many different and independent companies competing for this business. Right now the U.S. has four different companies on this list, with one (SpaceX) now tied after today’s launch with China for the overall lead, and three (Rocket Lab, ULA, and Northrop Grumman) tied with Europe, Russia, and Japan for second place.

Only in America can you have individual private rocket companies competing head-to-head with whole nations, and beating them. (Some might argue that China’s rocket industry is also made up of competing companies, but that is a lie. While those companies might function somewhat independently, they are all under the strict supervision of the central communist government. They are not functioning as free and privately-owned companies.)

Nor is this pattern seen only in the launch market. Among airline companies it has been the norm since the beginnings of cheap passenger flight after World War II. While most other nations have a single national airline (British Airways, Aeroflot, El Al, Air Canada, Korean Air, Saudi Arabian Airlines, to name a few), the U.S. has a plethora of competing independent companies, with many flying many more passengers than these national airlines, sometimes even to their own countries.

How is this possible? Why does the U.S. so often dominate so many industries in this way?
» Read more

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Democrats in VA and AZ issue a warning: “We will oppress you if you elect us!”

They’re coming for you next: Much has been made of the onerousness gun control laws passed by the Democrats in the Virginia state legislature this past week.

When it became clear that the Democrats were going to pass such laws, having gained control of both the legislature and the governorship, 95 counties and cities in the state made it publicly clear they would not enforce these laws, announcing that they were now second amendment sanctuary counties. Then, more than 22,000 Virginians gathered in protest at the statehouse, peacefully but forcefully declaring their opposition to these proposed laws.

None of that mattered to the modern Democrats now in charge in Virginia. They passed the laws, one of which gives the state “the authority to confiscate certain types of magazines that are considered ‘high capacity.'” I don’t know how they think they will enforce that confiscation right, but since they think it appropriate and just, don’t be surprised if they impose new laws to strengthen their ability to do so, including the right to do house-to-house searches.

Most of the the discussion about this story has been focused on the opposition to the laws themselves. I want to focus on what it tells us about the modern Democratic Party. You see, these fascist actions — which do nothing to reduce violence or crime while making law-abiding citizens criminals — are being planned by practically every local Democratic Party operation across the nation. All they require to make them law is to obtain power, as they have in Virginia.

My proof? Consider the comparable gun control law proposed yesterday by the Democrats in the Arizona state legislature:
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Trump proposes an increase in science spending in 2021

Read any analysis by any mainstream news or science publication of Trump’s 2021 proposed science budget, released this week, and you will come away thinking that the future of science research in the U.S. is doomed and that Donald Trump is a neanderthal who wishes to send us back to the dark ages.

Consider for example this article from the journal Science, Trump’s new budget cuts all but a favored few science programs, which begins like so:

For the fourth straight year, President Donald Trump has proposed sizable reductions in federal research spending. To be sure, it’s no longer news that the president wants deep cuts to the budgets of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and science programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) and NASA. And in past years, Congress has rejected similar proposals and provided increases. But Trump’s 2021 request brings into sharper focus what his administration values across the research landscape—and what it views as unimportant.

The article then outlines how Trump is slashing spending on science research across the board, even to the point of spinning the NASA budget to make a significant budget increase appear as a cut, by cherry-picking only some of that budget’s science programs.

This article is typical of the mainstream press. These articles never provide any context for the proposed budget numbers. They look at what was spent the year before, see what is being proposed for the next year, and if they see any reduction they scream. And if it is an evil Republican president proposing the cuts they scream far harder, implying that those cuts will guarantee the coming of a new dark age.

Trump's proposed science budget compared to Obama's last science budget

To the right however are the budget numbers (shown in thousands) for five of the biggest science agencies in the federal government, comparing Trump’s 2021 proposed budget numbers with the last science budget approved at the end of the Obama administration in 2016.

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A historian’s testament to Rush Limbaugh

It was very strange to me to hear yesterday’s sad announcement by Rush Limbaugh that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. In the last six months or so my mind had actually been contemplating the fact that Limbaugh had been doing his show for more than three decades, was in his late sixties, and was not immortal. I had been trying to imagine what it would be like when he was no longer a fixture in the daily news reporting cycle, and I had been failing. I couldn’t imagine it.

Now it appears we might all be finally facing it. As they say, reality bites.

For those who have listened to him regularly these past three decades, the loss will be immeasurable. Without question Rush Limbaugh has been the best political analyst, from a conservative perspective, for the past half century. You might disagree with his opinions, but no one has been as correct and as pertinent and as thoughtful, consistently getting to the heart of every political battle, and doing it in an amazingly entertaining manner.

I first heard Rush Limbaugh back in 1988, when I lived in New York and was starving for a different and refreshing perpective on the news.
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Mock and Real Mars habitats on Earth

On January 31, 2020 the Mars Society issued a press release touting its newest mock Mars habitat mission to its Mars research station in the high desert of Utah.

During this mission, one crew is operating at MDRS, while a second crew works out of the MAU habitat, which consists of a series of interlocking geometric tents that house crew quarters and a research area. The crew is made up of medical professionals who are testing how two teams on the same planet would collaborate on emergency medical procedures.

Located in southern Utah, MDRS serves as a home base for crews participating in Mars surface simulation testing and training. Depending on the individual crew’s specialization, its scientific focus ranges from geology to engineering, communications to human factors, robotics to microbiology. A wide variety of scientific and engineering research and educational outreach are typically conducted by crews at MDRS.

The newly-arrived MAU participants (designated as Crew 220) have set up their temporary second habitat close to MDRS, with part of the crew staying at the MDRS facility, while an additional crew is housed in the MAU-developed habitat out of sight of the main station. Halfway through the mission, the crews will rotate stations, thereby allowing each team an opportunity to experience both operational habitats.

While this simulated mission will certainly learn a few things about long term isolation by small crews, it does not appear to me to be a very real simulation of living on Mars. While the MDRS facility is quite sophisticated, it isn’t an entirely closed system. Moreover, the environment here, even in winter, does not come close to simulating the Martian environment. It is too warm and it has is a full atmosphere. And it certainly is not isolated. If someone gets seriously ill, or the facility experiences an irreversible failure, immediate evacuation is always an option.

Still, the Mars Society has been using this facility for simulating Mars missions since 2001, and has completed eighteen field seasons involving more than 1,200 participants. I am sure they have accumulated a great deal of useful data that can be applied on future Mars missions.

However, the U.S. has been running a much more realistic Mars simulation habitat since just after the end of World War II, and it appears that few realize it.
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Trump’s Mideast peace plan: What it really reveals

This week President Trump unveiled his proposed comprehensive peace plan for settling the differences between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The plan has not garnered a lot of press attention, partly because of the media’s general bias against Trump, but mostly because no one expects it to be adopted. The plan is crucially important, however, not because it might become reality but because of what it reveals about the various players involved, telling us everything we need to know about them as well as what they really stand for.

The details of that plan, discussed here at great length, suggest that it offers a mixed bag to both sides. While it will give billions in aid to the Palestinians to help jump start their own sovereign state, carved out of the territories they presently hold, it also recognizes Israel’s hold on the parts of the West Bank it presently occupies.

It also demands the following from the Palestinians:

Before Palestine can unlock any benefit, the Hamas government in Gaza must be removed from power and replaced with the Palestinian Authority. If Hamas wants to remain in power, the group must renounce violence, fully disarm, and accept the existence of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. That’s a non-starter. Hamas faces political and economic pressure, but a capitulation of its ideology or its power is unlikely. The plan also requires the new State of Palestine to safeguard freedom of speech and religion and promote financial and government transparency. [emphasis mine]

The responses to this plan are, as I said, quite revealing.
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The Democratic Party: Elections are bad, let’s end them!

So, have you all been closely hooked to your televisions or computers, watching nonstop the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump going on in the Senate this week?

Yup, me neither. No one in their right mind and with the freedom to avoid it would spend eight-plus hours each day watching this obscene impeachment effort by the out-of-control and power-hungry Democratic Party. They have nothing to offer but lies and policy differences, hardly sufficient to justify their campaign to remove a duly elected president, merely because he has the audacity to oppose them. Better to read summaries and commentary afterward.

In fact, the ratings of the impeachment trail in the Senate bear this out. On the first day the ratings showed a 20% decline in viewership from the numbers seen during the House impeachment vote, from 13.8 million to 11 million. This trend continued on day two, when the ratings plunged another 19% to 8.9 million.

Nor is this drop in ratings surprising. Everyone knows that there no chance Trump will be convicted by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Not only are the charges against him bogus, the Democratic managers appointed by the House to argue their case in the Senate have done a terrible job making their case. Instead, they have offended the few Republican senators who might have considered conviction. Both Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) were considered unreliable Republicans, willing to listen to the Democrats’ line of reasoning, with the possibility that they might even have voted against Trump.

Instead, manager and congressman Jerry Nadler (D-New York) offended both deeply with his accusations that anyone who voted for blocking the introduction of new witnesses was participating in a “cover-up.”
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Another pro-gulag Bernie Sanders campaign organizer reveals the increasingly fascist Democratic Party

In the third installment of Project Veritas’s undercover series exposing revolutionary, pro-gulag, Marxists within the Bernie Sanders campaign structure, we get to watch Martin Weissgerber, a Sanders field organizer, who seems to know more about the history of the Soviet Union than he does of his own country. Worse, that knowledge appears limited solely to Soviet-era propaganda, which Weissgerber seems to take entirely on faith.

He is also all for the idea of suspending Congress and the Judiciary and making a Sanders presidency a dictatorship ruled by decree. He also says, with great enthusiasm, “Guillotine the rich!”

Note also that in my comments about the second installment, I predicted Project Veritas was not finished, and would reveal more such violent, murderous people within the Sanders campaign. I am sure they are not done yet, especially because the Sanders campaign has not only not commented on the first two videos and has done nothing in response. As James O’Keefe says, “Perhaps the reason the [Sanders campaign] has not issued a response is that they know that these are not isolated incidences, they know that these people are not unique in their thinking, they know that more is coming.”

I have embedded the video below the fold. As before, I am on my knees pleading with the decent liberal Democrats in my readership. Watch this video and the first and second installments. These people represent what the power structure in the Democratic Party has become. It is not the party you might think it is. In fact, it is likely far worse than you can imagine.
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The long term ramifications of SpaceX’s crew Dragon on the future of the human race

Crew Dragon's parachutes deployed
Crew Dragon soon after its parachutes had deployed
during the launch abort test.

The successful unmanned launch abort test by SpaceX of its crew Dragon capsule today means that the first manned flight of American astronauts on an American rocket in an American spacecraft from American soil in almost a decade will happen in the very near future. According to Elon Musk during the press conference following the test, that manned mission should occur sometime in the second quarter of 2020.

The ramifications of this manned mission however far exceed its success in returning Americans to space on our own spacecraft. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine touched upon this larger context with his own remarks during the press conference:

We are doing this differently. NASA is going to be customer, one of many customers. I want SpaceX to have lots of customers.

Bridenstine is underlining the real significance of the entire commercial program at NASA. Unlike every previous manned space project at the space agency, NASA is not doing the building. Instead, as Bridenstine notes (and I recommended in my 2017 policy paper Capitalism in Space), it is merely a customer, buying a product built entirely by a private company. And while NASA is involving itself very closely with that construction, it is doing so only as a customer, making sure it is satisfied with the product before putting its own astronauts on it.

NASA also does not own this product. As Bridenstine also notes (and I also recommended in Capitalism in Space), SpaceX owns the product, and once operational will be free to sell seats on crew Dragon to private citizens or other nations.

This different approach also means that NASA is not dependent on one product. From the beginning its commercial crew program has insisted on having at least two companies building capsules — Dragon by SpaceX and Starliner by Boeing — so that if there is a launch failure with one, the second will provide the agency with redundancy.

Bridenstine was very clear about these points. He wants multiple manned spacecraft built by competing American capsules, both to provide the government with redundancy but also to drive innovation and lower costs.

SpaceX of course is the quintessential example of how to lower costs.
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Curiosity climbs a hill

Overview map of Curiosity's journey through sol 2643

[For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.]

Since my last Curiosity update on November 6, 2019, the science team has sent the rover climbing up what they call Western Butte, the butte directly to the west of Central Butte and part of the slope/escarpment that separates the clay unit from the Greenheugh Piedmont and the sulfate unit above that.

The overview map to the right gives a sense of the journey. The thick yellow line indicates its route since it climbed up from the Murray Formation onto Vera Rubin Ridge in 2017. The thick red line indicates their planned route, which they have only vaguely been following since their arrival in the clay unit.

Below the fold are two panoramas that I created from a sequence of images taken by Curiosity’s left navigation camera from the high point on Western Butte, the first looking north across the crater floor to the Gale Crater rim approximately 30 miles away and indicated by the thin yellow lines on the overview map. The second looks south, up hill towards Mount Sharp, and is indicate by the thin red lines.
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Sunspot update: The record flatline continues

In the month of December 2019 the Sun continued its longest stretch of overall sunspot inactivity ever recorded, reaching seven months in length. At no point since the last grand minimum in the 1600s have scientists ever seen so few sunspots over so long a time period.

Below is NOAA’s December update of its graph showing the long term sunspot activity of the Sun. As I have done now every month since this webpage began in 2011, it is posted below, with annotations:
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