Category Archives: Points of Information

An exposed dry waterfall on Mars

An exposed dry waterfall on Mars
Click for full image.

Close overview map

Wide overview map

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on April 30, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Uncaptioned, the science team titled the release as a “Cataract in Osuga Valles.”

To understand what we are looking at it is necessary to also see a wider view, as provided by the context map below and to the right. As you can see, this image straddles across the canyon called Osuga Valles, and heads downstream to the east. It also shows a point where the grade of that canyon suddenly drops. If water ever flowed here this place would have been the location of a truly spectacular waterfall.

More likely, these cataracts mark the location where sometime in the past a glacier had flowed down this valley, cutting a path until it broke out into the large and wide dead end area that appears to have no clear outlet. For some reason at this point the downhill grade of this canyon suddenly dropped, with the glacier following that sudden steep drop.

There is no glaciers here now, as this location is at 14 degrees south latitude, too close to the equator for any ice to remain close to the surface. Instead, dust dunes remain as the only feature flowing down through these cataracts.

The second overview map provides further context, showing the location of Osuga Valles relative to nearby Valles Marineris, the largest known canyon system in the solar system. Whatever process formed that gigantic canyon system certainly was a factor in forming Osuga Valles. The details however are not yet understood with any certainty. All we presently have are theories.

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InSight mole team reports some digging success

InSight scoop pushing against mole as it digs
Click to watch movie.

A new strategy devised in February to use the scoop on the Mars InSight lander to push down on the mole digging tool so that it could gain traction and dig downward has apparently had some success.

We started about seven centimetres above the surface on Sol 458 (11 March) and we are now at the surface with the scoop on Sol 536 (30 May 30), after six cycles of hammering over 11 weeks.

If you click on the image on the right you can see a movie assembled from images taken since February as they pushed down. The mole has clearly descended into the Martian soil about seven centimeters, or about three inches. The issue now, as shown in the movie, is that the mole is now deep enough that the scoop is pressed against the ground. It can’t really push down anymore on the mole, at least in this configuration.

They have the option of using the scoop’s tip to push farther into the ground, but that involves some risk. First they plan to let the mole continue to dig, without the scoop’s help, in the hope that it is now finally deep enough into the ground that the ground is finally able to provide the friction required to hold the mole in place. If this doesn’t work, they will then try using the scoop to fill the hole up to provide more friction.

If that doesn’t work, they will then try using the scoop tip to provide the added pressure.

All in all, it does appear there is now hope that the mole will eventually get the heat sensor for measuring the internal temperatue on Mars deep enough to do its primary mission. Stay tuned!

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Rethinking the theories that explain some supernovae

The uncertainty of science: New data now suggests that the previous consensus among astronomers that type Ia supernovae were caused by the interaction of a large red giant star with a white dwarf might be wrong, and that instead the explosion might be triggered by two white dwarfs.

If this new origin theory turns out to be correct, then it might also throw a big wrench into the theory of dark energy.

The evidence that twin white dwarfs drive most, if not all, type Ia supernovae, which account for about 20% of the supernova blasts in the Milky Way, “is more and more overwhelming,” says Dan Maoz, director of Tel Aviv University’s Wise Observatory, which tracks fast-changing phenomena such as supernovae. He says the classic scenario of a white dwarf paired with a large star such as a red giant “doesn’t happen in nature, or quite rarely.”

Which picture prevails has impacts across astronomy: Type Ia supernovae play a vital role in cosmic chemical manufacturing, forging in their fireballs most of the iron and other metals that pervade the universe. The explosions also serve as “standard candles,” assumed to shine with a predictable brightness. Their brightness as seen from Earth provides a cosmic yardstick, used among other things to discover “dark energy,” the unknown force that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. If type Ia supernovae originate as paired white dwarfs, their brightness might not be as consistent as was thought—and they might be less reliable as standard candles.

If type Ia supernovae are not reliable standard candles, then the entire Nobel Prize results that discovered dark energy in the late 1990s are junk, the evidence used to discover it simply unreliable. Dark energy might simply not exist.

What galls me about this possibility is that it was always the case. The certainty in the 1990s about using type Ia supernovae as a standard candle to determine distance was entirely unjustified. Even now astronomers do not really know what causes these explosions. To even consider them to always exhibit the same energy release was just not reasonable.

And yet astronomers in the 1990s did, and thus they fostered the theory of dark energy upon us — that the universe’s expansion was accelerating over vast distances — while winning Nobel Prizes. They still might be right, and dark energy might exist, but it was never very certain, and still is not.

Much of the fault in this does not lie with the astronomers, but with the press, which always likes to sell new theories as a certainty, scoffing over the doubts and areas of ignorance that make the theories questionable. This is just one more example of this, of which I can cite many examples, the worst of all being the reporting about global warming.

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Exoplanet in Earth-like orbit circling Sun-type star

Worlds without end: Astronomers have found evidence suggesting the existence of an exoplanet about twice as massive as the Earth and orbiting a solar-twin star in an orbit almost the same as the Earth’s.

The star, Kepler-160, is about 3,000 light years away, and had previously discovered to have two exoplanets.

“Our analysis suggests that Kepler-160 is orbited not by two but by a total of four planets,” Heller summarizes the new study. One of the two planets that Heller and his colleagues found is Kepler-160d, the previously suspected planet responsible for the distorted orbit of Kepler-160c. Kepler-160d does not show any transits in the light curve of the star and so it has been confirmed indirectly. The other planet, formally a planet candidate, is KOI-456.04, probably a transiting planet with a radius of 1.9 Earth radii and an orbital period of 378 days. Given its Sun-like host star, the very Earth-like orbital period results in a very Earth-like insolation from the star – both in terms of the amount of the light received and in terms of the light color. Light from Kepler-160 is visible light very much like sunlight. All things considered, KOI-456.04 sits in a region of the stellar habitable zone – the distance range around a star admitting liquid surface water on an Earth-like planet – that is comparable to the Earth’s position around the Sun.

“KOI-456.01 is relatively large compared to many other planets that are considered potentially habitable. But it’s the combination of this less-than-double the size of the Earth planet and its solar type host star that make it so special and familiar,” Heller clarifies. As a consequence, the surface conditions on KOI-456.04 could be similar to those known on Earth, provided its atmosphere is not too massive and non-Earth-like. The amount of light received from its host star is about 93 percent of the sunlight received on Earth. If KOI-456.04 has a mostly inert atmosphere with a mild Earth-like greenhouse effect, then its surface temperature would be +5 degrees Celsius on average, which is about ten degrees lower than the Earth’s mean global temperature.

These results have many uncertainties, so we should not be surprised if further research produces significant revisions in these conclusions. Nonetheless, the number of Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars in orbits like the Earth’s continues to rise.

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A detailed update on SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation

Link here. With yesterday’s launch, SpaceX now has put 420 satellites in orbit.

In a recent interview with Aviation Week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said that they should begin beta testing the network this year and would want to complete around 14 launches before publicly promoting Starlink service. That could allow service to begin as soon as early 2021 depending on how fast launches can be performed.

In a recent ITU filing, SpaceX laid out a very aggressive schedule for continuing the Starlink deployment, with 13 launches in the May to September time period. This schedule is likely to spread out a bit as they run into normal launch cadence issues such as weather, range coordination, booster recovery operations, and booster refurbishment.

The first launch in that group (June 3 in Florida) has been delayed nearly a month for the above reasons. Regardless of exactly how long those launches end up taking, Ms. Shotwell’s comments indicate SpaceX doesn’t think satellite production will be a gating factor for their deployments in the near future.

An interesting feature of the schedule is that after this frenzy of launches, there would be a gap with only one launch in four months, followed by a period of twice-monthly launches to finish out the initial 1584 satellite shell of the constellation. SpaceX may have options to make changes to the satellites during that pause in the deployments, such as adding the optical inter-satellite links that have been mentioned as debuting later in 2020.

The article then provides a great deal of information about the system’s design and status for beginning operations in the U.S. Well worth a close read.

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ArianeGroup developing new rocket engine

Capitalism in space: The private company ArianeGroup has now gotten the okay from the European Space Agency (ESA) to begin full development of its new Prometheus rocket engine, intended to reduce costs 10x.

By applying a design-to-cost approach to manufacturing Prometheus, ESA aims to lower the cost of production by a factor of ten of the current main stage Ariane 5 Vulcain 2 engine. Features such as variable thrust, multiple ignitions, suitability for main and upper stage application, and minimised ground operations before and after flight also make Prometheus a highly flexible engine.

This Prometheus precursor runs on liquid oxygen–methane which brings high efficiency, allows standardisation and operational simplicity. Methane propellant is also widely available and easy to handle.

Essentially, ArianeGroup is going to try to build its own methane-powered rocket engine, having seen the success that SpaceX has so far had with its own Raptor methane engine. This also signals an increased recognition at ESA and ArianeGroup that their new Ariane-6 rocket, whose first launch is still about a year away, is not going to be competitive with SpaceX’s offerings, and needs to be upgraded or replaced.

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Live feed of tonight’s SpaceX Falcon 9 Starlink launch

UPDATE: A successfully launch, with a successfully landing of the first stage, the fifth time this particular stage has completed a mission.

10 China
8 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 13 to 10 in the national rankings.

Original post:
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Since there was such a positive response to the embedded live feed of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch a few days go, I’ve decided to embed below the live feed of their next launch tonight of 60 Starlink satellites. The launch is set for 9:25 pm (Eastern), with the live feed starting fifteen minutes before that.

Enjoy. Watching that first stage land never gets old.

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The strange squashed ridges at the basement of Mars

Squashed ridges at the basement of Mars
Click for full image.

Overview map

Cool image time! The photo on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on April 9, 2020, and shows the very weird and very packed ridges and layers that are found routinely at the deepest part of Hellas Basin, what I have dubbed the basement of Mars.

Be sure to click on the image to see the full photograph. There’s lots more strangeness to see there. And be sure to read my post in the second link, which highlights a similarly strange set of packed ridges, and where I note:

This is the basement of Mars, what could be called its own Death Valley. The difference however is that unlike Death Valley, conditions here could be more amendable to life, as the lower elevation means the atmosphere is thicker.

The context map to the right shows Hellas, with the location of today’s image indicated by the white box, close to basin’s lowest point, more than five miles below the basin’s rim. Overall the Hellas Basin is about the size of the western United States, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. It is believed that the entire basin was created by a single gigantic impact that occurred about four billion years ago when the solar system’s inner planets were undergoing what has been labeled the Late Heavy Bombardment.

The specific process that formed these ridges, dubbed honeycomb terrain by scientists, remains unknown however. There are of course theories, none of which are very convincing. Here’s mine, as outlined in the previous post:
» Read more

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New proposal to end the “qualifified immunity” held by police

Justin Amash, former Republican and almost certainly to be out of Congress after the 2020 elections, has proposed a law that would eliminate the “qualified immunity” that police presently enjoy that prevents anyone from suing them personally for any egregious acts they commit.

U.S. Representative Justin Amash, a former Republican turned Libertarian, won support from a Minneapolis Democrat on Monday for his “Ending Qualified Immunity Act,” which would allow civil lawsuits against police, a recourse that the Supreme Court has all but done away with.

The high court’s adoption of the qualified immunity doctrine has largely shielded police from financial settlements for victims or grieving families. The doctrine protects cops even when courts determine that officers violate civil rights

As my wife Diane so eloquently notes, two things protect the police when they commit crimes, this qualified immunity and their police unions. If we want police to start behaving properly, we need to eliminate both. This law at least addresses the former.

Sadly, the bill probably stands little change of passage, mostly because of the Congressman proposing it. Amash used to be part of the very conservative Republican Freedom Caucus in the House. He then became a NeverTrumper willing to abandon all his principles (and his party) while sticking a knife in the backs of his former allies. This is why he is no longer a Republican, and why he almost certainly will be dumped come the 2020 elections.

No matter how wise his proposal might be, he has burned all the bridges he once had for getting any support. While he might get some in the Democratic Party to back him, most will turn their noses up at him because he is a former Republican. And the Republicans now want nothing to do with him.

This bill will unfortunately die, even though it is actually targeting very precisely one of the main causes of most police abuse. Such rationality is no longer given much play in our society. Instead, everyone else seems more interested in spouting hate and anger and rioting and destroying the lives of innocent people, out of blind emotional rage.

Such is a response now to the horrible murder by police of George Floyd. And it really is no different than the insane response to COVID-19: Rather than focusing rationally on the actual problem, our leaders — egged on by too many in the general population — instead focus on blaming and oppressing the wrong people.

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Second exoplanet confirmed orbiting Proxima Centauri

Worlds without end: Using archived Hubble data, astronomers have now independently confirmed the existence of a second exoplanet orbiting the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

Dubbed Proxima c, this is not the same Earth-sized exoplanet confirmed to orbit the star last week. That planet, Proxima b, orbits close to the star every 11.2 days. The new planet is much farther out.

Benedict found a planet with an orbital period of about 1,907 days buried in the 25-year-old Hubble data. This was an independent confirmation of the existence of Proxima Centauri c.

Shortly afterward, a team led by Raffaele Gratton of INAF published images of the planet at several points along its orbit that they had made with the SPHERE instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Benedict then combined the findings of all three studies: his own Hubble astrometry, Damasso’s radial velocity studies, and Gratton’s images to greatly refine the mass of Proxima Centauri c. He found that the planet is about 7 times as massive as Earth.

Though I am unaware of any hints of additional planets orbiting Proxima Centauri, the presence of two strongly implies the likelihood of more.

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Smallest satellite yet detects exoplanet

The smallest satellite yet, a cubesat, has demonstrated the potential of cubesats to do real cutting edge astronomy by successfully detected a known exoplanet.

Long before it was deployed into low-Earth orbit from the International Space Station in Nov. 2017, the tiny ASTERIA spacecraft had a big goal: to prove that a satellite roughly the size of a briefcase could perform some of the complex tasks much larger space observatories use to study exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. A new paper soon to be published in the Astronomical Journal describes how ASTERIA (short for Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics) didn’t just demonstrate it could perform those tasks but went above and beyond, detecting the known exoplanet 55 Cancri e.

Scorching hot and about twice the size of Earth, 55 Cancri e orbits extremely close to its Sun-like parent star. Scientists already knew the planet’s location; looking for it was a way to test ASTERIA’s capabilities. The tiny spacecraft wasn’t initially designed to perform science; rather, as a technology demonstration, the mission’s goal was to develop new capabilities for future missions. The team’s technological leap was to build a small spacecraft that could conduct fine pointing control – essentially the ability to stay very steadily focused on an object for long periods.

…The CubeSat used fine pointing control to detect 55 Cancri e via the transit method, in which scientists look for dips in the brightness of a star caused by a passing planet. When making exoplanet detections this way, a spacecraft’s own movements or vibrations can produce jiggles in the data that could be misinterpreted as changes in the star’s brightness. The spacecraft needs to stay steady and keep the star centered in its field of view. This allows scientists to accurately measure the star’s brightness and identify the tiny changes that indicate the planet has passed in front of it, blocking some of its light.

This success is mostly a proof of concept, but it lays the groundwork for less expensive future space astronomy, using low cost cubesats capable of doing what the expensive orbiting space telescopes have done so far.

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Musk confirms cause of most recent Starship prototype failure

Capitalism in space: During a press event following the successful launch of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon, Elon Musk confirmed that the cause of the most recent Starship prototype failure was a leak at the connection point, called a quick disconnect or QD, for one of the umbilical cords that fuel the spacecraft.

If so, this cause is generally good engineering news, as it indicates the problem was not related to the prototype itself but with equipment that is more easily fixed. The article at the link notes:

Given that Starships are currently being tested independently on spartan launch mounts, it’s unclear if the current generation of prototypes has been outfitted with advanced QD panels. More likely, Musk was referring to a test of a less advanced QD panel similar to the rough version used on Starhopper last year, and SpaceX simply wanted to test its ability to disconnect and reconnect to Starship on command.

The explosion itself had not only completely destroyed the prototype, it rendered the test stand unusable. Yet, as another demonstration of SpaceX’s agility and competence as a company, the test stand was “fully dismantled and scrapped in the two days since the anomaly.”

Two days! More important, the fifth prototype is ready to go, with a sixth almost finished. They expect to resume tests before the end of the month.

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Thar’s ice in them Martian hills!

Icy mountains in Erebus Montes?
Click for full image.

Overview map of Starship landing site images

Cool image time! Today we return to the Erebus Mountains, located just to the west of SpaceX’s prime candidate landing site for Starship on Mars. The photo to the right, taken on April 4, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows one particular area between the peaks in those mountains, and also happens to be very close to what I have labeled image #1 in SpaceX’s Starship landing site photos.

The second image below and to the right shows an overview map of this region, with the SpaceX photos indicated by the numbered white boxes and the location of this image indicated by the red box, right next to image #1. The black boxes were images that SpaceX had obtained from MRO earlier, when it was first planning to send a Dragon capsule to Mars using a Falcon Heavy, a project the company has put aside in its focus on building Starship.

To my eye, everything in the first image above reeks of an icy, glacial terrain. I certainly am guessing, but it is an educated guess based on looking at numerous similar images in this region (see here and here, ) as well as in the nearby Phlegra mountains to the west. I also base my guess on what I have learned interviewing planetary scientists who are studying these images. The reasonableness of this guess is further strengthened in that the location is at 39 degrees north latitude, dead center in the mid-latitude bands where scientists have found evidence of numerous buried glaciers.

If Starship lands just to the east of the Erebus Mountains, the first colonists will likely not only have water available at their feet close to the surface in the flat lowland plains, if they find that resource insufficient they will need only climb uphill a bit into these hills to dig out as much ice as they could ever need.

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China’s Long March 2D launches Earth observation satellite

The new colonial movement: China’s Long March 2D rocket today launched an Earth observation satellite, described as designed to study Earth resources.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

10 China
7 Russia
7 SpaceX
3 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 12 to 10 in the national rankings.

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Dragon docks with ISS; astronauts reveal its name is Endeavour

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s first manned Dragon capsule successfully docked today with ISS.

A few hours after launch the two American astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, also revealed that they had named the capsule “Endeavour.”

I know this is really old news from late last night and early this morning, but I was out on a cave trip (taking a work break to have some fun underground for the first time in three months). I post it for completion. I also know that the live stream of these events was active here all day for my readers to follow things, as they happened.

Prepare for even more increasing space excitement in the coming years. The Trump administration increasingly is shifting NASA’s gears to have private companies build its spaceships and rockets and science instruments. The more they do this, the less expensive and the more capabilities we shall have as a nation. This success will be a challenge for other nations to match, which in turn will raise the stakes and increase the competition, the excitement, and the action in space.

Yes, the 20s I hope are going to roar, at least in space.

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Another coup leader at the FBI forced to resign

More house-cleaning at the FBI: The FBI’s general counsel, Dana Boente, yesterday resigned as demanded by William Barr, the attorney general of the Justice Department, apparently due to his participation in the effort to frame former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Boente signed one of the warrants renewing the FBI’s authority to surveil Flynn. The warrants, known as FISA warrants, were renewed several times and had to be approved by a judge.

Boente also said in a recently leaked memo that material put into the public record about Flynn was not exculpatory for the former national security advisor. The memo undermines the Justice Department’s latest position that material about Flynn was mishandled by prosecutors.

The article is from NBC, so it exudes both ignorance and hostility about this resignation. The FISA warrants that Boente signed have been repeatedly proven to have been falsely obtained, dependent on unverified and outright false and fake information. His actions clearly showed he was part of the coup attempt in the FBI attempting to find by any means necessary a way to overthrown the legal election of Donald Trump. Framing Flynn was only one part of that effort.

We’ve only just begun. There are a lot of people still working at both the FBI, the Justice Department, and throughout the executive branch, who have been willing to violate the Constitution and some fundamental laws, all because they did not like how the American people voted in 2016. They all need to be shown the door, with many escorted next to a prison cell.

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“The Trump-Russia investigation was a politically driven fraud”

The first two paragraphs of this summing up of what we now know of the corrupt attempt to overthrow the legal election of an American president by the FBI and the Department of Justice, instigated by the Obama administration and continuing during the first two years of the Trump administration says it all, quite succinctly:

No need to build to a crescendo — let’s just say it: The Trump-Russia investigation was a politically driven fraud from beginning to end. It was opened on false pretenses, sustained by investigative abuses, and will undoubtedly end in recriminatory angst, which is what happens when the kind of accountability the victims demand does not, indeed cannot, come to pass.

Worst of all is the damage wrought, though even that isn’t fully understood. Obama administration officials exploited the awesome national security powers that we trust our government to use for counterintelligence operations that safeguard America from jihadists and other foreign hostiles. Because of the abuse, and the growing awareness that few of the abusers will be held to meaningful account, those powers have lost the solid constituency they had maintained in Congress for nearly two decades. Thus, this episode will prove to be a catastrophe for American national security.

Make sure you read it all, carefully. Andrew McCarthy outlines a truly illegal power-grab by Washington insiders, who did not want power transferred to an outsider who did not share their goals and political beliefs but who the American people had legally elected. And they were willing to toss out the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and all previous legal precedent and history to overthrow that outsider.

These crooks should all find themselves behind bars for many years. That they likely will not tells us that we are in for some very perilous times. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were specifically written to protect us, the ordinary citizen, from abuses of power by corrupt power-hungry people like this. If we are no longer honoring these documents we ordinary citizens cannot expect much justice in the coming years.

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Fuel leak in Russian rocket in French Guiana

According to French engineers in French Guiana, “systematic signals from the alarm system [have been detected] indicating the presence of oxidizer vapors” from the Fregat upper stage for a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket.

Russia is sending a team of its own engineers there to trouble-shoot what is essentially a fuel leak.

It also suggests that Russia’s systemic quality control problems in its aerospace industry have not been solved.

From my perspective, I don’t see how Russia can really eliminate what appears to be poor workmanship throughout their space industry without introducing competition, something they have banned with the consolidation of their entire aerospace industry into a single government-run corporation.

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China launches its new quick-launch Long March 11 rocket

The new colonial movement: China has successfully launched its new quick-launch Long March 11 rocket for the ninth time, placing two engineering test satellites into orbit.

The Long March-11 (Chang Zheng-11) is a small solid-fueled quick-reaction launch vehicle developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) to provide an easy to operate quick-reaction launch vehicle, that can remain in storage for long period and to provide a reliable launch on short notice.

LM-11 is a four-stage solid-fueled launch vehicle equipped with a reaction control system on the fourth stage.

It is also designed to launch smallsats, and essentially uses military missile technology to do it.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race (for the moment):

9 China
7 Russia
6 SpaceX
3 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 11 to 9 in the national rankings. That lead will widen should SpaceX successfully launch later today.

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New Zealand confisicates guns; gun crime goes up

This is par for the course: New Zealand’s April 2019 gun control law, which made almost all guns illegal and required their confiscation, has resulted in the past year in the most gun crimes in a decade.

This week the first evidence vindicating this position came in when Radio New Zealand (RNZ) published figures it had obtained from the government showing that for last year crime involving firearms was the highest it had been since 2009.

According to an RNZ article titled, “Rates of gun crimes and killings using guns at highest levels in a decade in 2019,” last year “there were 3540 occasions where an offender was found with a gun​.” The report went on to note that “in both of the last two years, the rate of deadly incidents involving a firearm was the highest it had been since 2009” and that “[t]he number of guns seized by police is also on the rise, up almost 50 percent on five years earlier at 1263 last year.​” Making clear that the figures cited in the article were not skewed by the horrific shooting in Christchurch, the report noted that “[t]he 15 March terror attacks were listed as two separate firearms-related incidents.​”

This is the pattern in Chicago, New York, Australia, Great Britain, anywhere strict gun control laws are passed. Gun crime goes up. The criminals routinely don’t obey the law, so they keep their guns, while the innocent citizens who do obey the law and turn in their guns become helpless targets for the criminals.

But what matters logic and facts. The gun control made us feel good, and feel-good gestures are the rule of modern society. God help us.

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SpaceX and NASA will reassess weather for launch in morning

Because of the 50-50 weather conditions for launching the first manned Dragon mission to ISS tomorrow at 3:22 pm (Eastern), managers at both SpaceX and NASA have decided to maintain the schedule but reassess whether they will proceed come morning.

Thus, it is possible they might scrub the launch attempt very early in the countdown, and instead focus on the Sunday, May 31st launch opportunity. We shall have to wait.

In the meantime the embed of the live stream will appear here at Behind the Black at around midnight (Eastern). If the launch proceeds, the feed begins officially at 11:00 am (Eastern) tomorrow.

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Explosion during test of 4th Starship prototype

Capitalism in space: SpaceX engineers experienced another explosion during testing of their fourth Starship prototype today, completely destroying the protoype.

They already have their fifth prototype almost complete, so I expect they will clean up the debris, analyze again what went wrong, and start testing again.

At a certain point however these explosions have got to end, or else the project will begin to be in trouble.

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More evidence masks are merely a symbolic gesture

A new study has found that both improvised and surgical masks are ineffective in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

They found that “neither surgical nor cotton masks effectively filtered SARS–CoV-2 during coughs by infected patients.” They also “found greater contamination on the outer than the inner mask surfaces,” suggesting that any contact with a mask worn for a long time will likely mean the mask increases the chance of spreading the virus.

Their conclusion?

[B]oth surgical and cotton masks seem to be ineffective in preventing the dissemination of SARS–CoV-2 from the coughs of patients with COVID-19 to the environment and external mask surface.

Granted the experiment only tested four individuals in a controlled situation, but what they found matches what many others have been saying. It also illustrates the uncertainty of the science. Considering that the World Health Organization (WHO) states now that healthy people should not wear masks, and that there are also health risks for those that do, it once again seems very inappropriate (I am using a very mild word here) for our leaders or anyone to now demand that we all wear them, all the time, in all situations, blindly.

If others wish to wear masks, all power to them. I however will not submit to something I consider irrational. And I suspect sadly that I am mostly alone in this, because I think that most who say they agree with me will still cooperate and put on a mask when told to do so. I will not. At the moment I am fighting with two doctors, who will not see me for regular doctors appointments unless I wear a mask. I have told them I will not, have cited the medical reasons why (I have asthma), and they so far have not bent.

If it means I no longer have any doctors to treat me, then fine. I would rather die than live in such a society. I was born free, I will die free. Or as Ronald Reagan once said:

I am no longer young. You might have suspected that. [Laughter] The house we hope to build is one that is not for my generation, but for yours. It is your future that matters. And I hope that when you’re my age, you’ll be able to say as I have been able to say: We lived in freedom, we lived lives that were a statement, not an apology.

I intend to live my life as a statement, not an apology.

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The history of the U.S.’s giant off-road land trains

Link here. These massive and very impressive working trains designed as trucks that could travel across roadless terrain, in the Arctic, is quite fascinating. This paragraph about their designer and builder however illustrates the kind of nation that made the fast building of such things possible:

Born in 1888, Robert Gilmore LeTourneau was an inventor of heavy machinery. In WWII, 70 percent of the Allies’ earthmoving equipment was created by LeTourneau Technologies, Inc. Having very little formal education, LeTourneau began his working career as an ironmonger. By the time he died in 1969 he was tremendously wealthy and personally held nearly 300 patents. He is buried on the campus of the University he founded in his name, where his gravestone reads “MOVER OF MEN AND MOUNTAINS.” Just a little character development for you.

Our country can still such a place, where we are not afraid and allow anyone to do anything, if they have the courage and the brains and the commitment. It requires however that we be both free and brave. Wearing masks for symbolic reasons and out of fear is certainly not a path to such a nation.

Hat tip Tom Biggar.

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Chandra captures black hole outburst over eight months

Four-frame movie of black hole outburst

Astronomers using the Chandra X-ray space telescope have documented the motion of two blobs moving away from a stellar-mass black hole over a period of eight months, producing a four-frame movie from their images and estimating the speed of those blobs to be 80% that of the speed of light.

The gif animation to the right shows that short movie.

The black hole and its companion star make up a system called MAXI J1820+070, located in our Galaxy about 10,000 light years from Earth. The black hole in MAXI J1820+070 has a mass about eight times that of the Sun, identifying it as a so-called stellar-mass black hole, formed by the destruction of a massive star. (This is in contrast to supermassive black holes that contain millions or billions of times the Sun’s mass.)

The companion star orbiting the black hole has about half the mass of the Sun. The black hole’s strong gravity pulls material away from the companion star into an X-ray emitting disk surrounding the black hole.

While some of the hot gas in the disk will cross the “event horizon” (the point of no return) and fall into the black hole, some of it is instead blasted away from the black hole in a pair of short beams of material, or jets. These jets are pointed in opposite directions, launched from outside the event horizon along magnetic field lines. The new footage of this black hole’s behavior is based on four observations obtained with Chandra in November 2018 and February, May, and June of 2019, and reported in a paper led by Mathilde Espinasse of the Université de Paris.

Hubble has produced similar movies of the activity around the Crab Nebula. Sadly, we don’t have enough space telescopes like these in orbit to monitor such objects more frequently and thus photograph their behavior more completely. If we did we’d be able to get a much better understanding of their ongoing activity. We would also be able to produce more movies such as this, with much higher resolution and more continuous coverage.

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That Jupiter Trojan comet-like asteroid was neither an asteroid nor a Trojan

Astronomers have now found that the asteroid that had suddenly become active, like a comet, and they had thought was part of the asteroids in Jupiter orbit called Trojans, was neither an asteroid nor a Trojan.

Instead, it is an actual comet captured in a strange unstable orbit around Jupiter.

[W]hen amateur astronomer Sam Deen used software on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s solar-system dynamics website to calculate the object’s orbit, he found P/2019 LD2 recently had a close encounter with Jupiter that left its orbit unstable. The model showed that the comet had likely been a Centaur, part of a family of outer solar system asteroids, with an orbit reaching out to Saturn. Then, on February 17, 2017, it passed about 14 million kilometers from Jupiter, an encounter that sent the comet on a wild ride and inserted it into an odd Jupiter-like orbit.

Yet although the swing past Jupiter put P/2019 LD2 into a Jupiter-like orbit, it didn’t move it near to one of the two Lagrange points where the combination of gravitational forces from Jupiter and the Sun hold Trojan asteroids. Instead of being 60° — one-sixth of the giant planet’s orbit — from Jupiter, P/2019 LD2 is only 21° ahead of Jupiter.

The orbit is unstable. It will bring the comet to within 3 million miles of Jupiter in 2063, but beyond that predictions are impossible. The exact closeness of that approach cannot be predicted with much precision, partly because of the chaotic nature of the orbit, and partly because of the random orbital changes that can occur because the comet is venting.

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