Category Archives: Points of Information

SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites; 1st stage landing fails

Capitalism in space: SpaceX this morning successfully launched sixty more Starlink satellites, raising the number in the constellation to 300.

However, though the launch was successful, the first stage, on its fourth flight, failed to land successfully on the drone ship in the Atlantic. Watching the live stream, it appeared from a whiff of smoke on the edge of the screen that the booster missed the target by only a short distance. This is the first time this has happened since 2015 2018 (correction from reader).

That this first stage landing failure is the news story illustrates how far they have come..

The standings in the 2020 launch race:

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

In the national rankings the U.S. now leads China 6 to 3.

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Successful launch today of Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched it Cygnus unmanned cargo capsule on a supply mission to ISS.

This was Northrop Grumman’s first flight in 2020. The standings in the 2020 launch race:

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

The U.S. now leads China 5 to 3 in the national rankings. The U.S. will likely add to that lead with the planned SpaceX launch of another 60 Starlink satellites Monday.

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Coronavirus update

This article about the coronavirus epidemic (the virus is now officially dubbed Covid-19) focuses initially on how the Chinese are even quarantining bank notes in their effort to stem the disease’s spread.

I instead found this quote farther down the page much more significant:

More than 1,380 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 64,400 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions.

The death rate of the disease, even as it has grown, remains about 2%. While tragic, this number suggests this hardly has the makings so far of a worldwide catastrophe. If anything, it appears to be about as deadly as the flu, which isn’t something to take lightly but also does not warrant any need for panic or desperation. The flu in the 2017-2018 season in the U.S. infected an estimated 45 million, killing about 61,000, a far lower death rate but impacting far more people. Like the flu, Covid-19 appears to be more deadly to older patients.

This epidemic needs to be taken seriously, but it so far does not justify any panic.

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Rocket Lab gets launch contract for lunar cubesat

Capitalism in space: NASA has awarded Rocket Lab the contract to launch the privately-built, for NASA, lunar orbiting cubesat CAPSTONE, designed to test technologies and the orbital mechanics required to build its Gateway lunar space station.

This quote says it all:

The firm-fixed-price launch contract is valued at $9.95 million. In September, NASA awarded a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, to develop and operate the CubeSat.

Using two different private companies, one to build the satellite and the other to launch it, NASA will get a lunar orbiter for just over $23 million. That total equals the rounding error for almost all NASA-built projects.

The launch is set for early 2021.

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Justice Dept decides to allow McCabe to skip charges

The law is for only the little people, and Republicans: Our corrupt Justice Department decided today not to prosecute former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe for lying about his leaks to the media.

And what exactly did McCabe do?

As for the case against McCabe, the 2018 inspector general’s report faulted the former deputy director for leaking information to then-Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett for an Oct. 30, 2016 story titled “FBI in Internal Feud Over Hillary Clinton Probe.” The story, written just days before the presidential election, focused on the FBI announcing the reopening of the Clinton investigation after finding thousands of her emails on a laptop belonging to former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, who was then married to Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

The Journal’s account of the call said a senior Justice Department official expressed displeasure to McCabe that FBI agents were still looking into the Clinton Foundation, and that McCabe had defended the agent’s authority to pursue the issue. That leak confirmed the existence of the probe, the report said, which then-FBI director James Comey had up to that point refused to do.

The report said that McCabe “lacked candor” in a conversation with Comey when he said he had not authorized the disclosure and didn’t know who had done so. The IG also found that he lacked candor when questioned by FBI agents on multiple occasions since that conversation.

Or to put it another way, when questioned he lied.

McCabe was also central to the entire effort at Justice and the FBI to use false FISA authorizations to spy on the Trump campaign — for the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign — and to also create the Russian collusion hoax and put in prison a number of Trump associates, for actions in some cases far less egregious than what McCabe did.

But then, he’s an ally of the Democrats, so obviously he is immune from any law or prosecution. The law only applies to Republicans and ordinary citizens who oppose Democrats. Support Democrats, and you will automatically earn a “Get-out-of-Jail” card that will never expire.

Soon, those ordinary citizens are going to get very sick and tied of this double standard, especially when these Democrats start to use their unearned power to impose overbearing restrictions on their freedoms. At some point, that citizenry is going to say, “If the law doesn’t apply to you, then it doesn’t apply to me!”

At that point society collapses, and we have chaos and anarchy.

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Images reveal changes in Betelgeuse’s shape as it has been dimming

Betelgeuse dimmed
Click for full image.

Using the Very Large Telescope in Chile astronomers have produced before and after images of the red giant Betelgeuse, showing the changes to the star in the past year as it has dimmed by about 36%.

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken in December and shows the star in its dimmed state. Below the fold is a short video that compares this image with a photograph taken in January 2019. The star was then more spherical and evenly bright.

Betelgeuse’s misshaped profile and uneven brightness is not actually a new thing. See for example this 2017 image, where I noted that the bulge on the star’s side suggested “that continuous observations would reveal the outer atmosphere waxing and waning almost like the stuff inside a lava lamp.” The star is a giant gasbag that in the past has frequently been observed with dark patches on its surface and a sense that it is not always spherical. Those changes however have not occurred with such a significant dimming, a full magnitude

In late December I had posted a story noting that the dimming appeared to be expected, caused by the alignment of two different regular fluctuations of brightness, one 5.9 years long and the other 0.5 year long. It was expected that the star would begin brightening again.

Right now astronomers estimate that the low point in these cycles will occur on approximately February 21st. If the star begins to brighten following that date it would confirm that this dimming is just part of its cycles. If not, then it could be that we are in the preliminaries to a supernova event that would probably make Betelgeuse bright enough to be seen during the day.
» Read more

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Engine failure during test for startup rocket engine company

Capitalism in space: The rocket engine startup Rocket Crafters experienced what the company called “an anomaly” during an engine test yesterday, requiring the local fire department to put out brush fires surrounding the test site.

The company is trying to use 3D printing to build its engines, but appears to have had a string of engine failures, none quite so spectacular, during previous tests.

According to an earlier post about Rocket Crafters in 2018, they had hoped to launch a rocket in 2020. It does not appear they will. Moreover, they are testing the use of hybrid fuels in a somewhat radical design.

[T]he rocket fuel consisted of plastic tubes made from the same base materials as Legos, measuring two feet long and weighing about five pounds, that were stacked on shelves and safe to touch. Combined with nitrous oxide — commonly known as “laughing gas” — the small-scale test engine on Monday generated about 200 pounds of thrust firing at half-power.

They are not the first to try hybrids and have issues. Virgin Galactic has tried it to, and suffered probably a decade delay in development and a spaceship that does not have as much thrust as they would like.

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Virgin Galactic relocates SpaceShipTwo Unity to New Mexico

Capitalism in space: In what appears to be preparation for the final tests before beginning commercial flights, Virgin Galactic yesterday used its carrier airplane WhiteKnightTwo to transport SpaceShipTwo Unity to New Mexico.

The relocation of VSS Unity to Spaceport America enables the Company to engage in the final stages of its flight test program. This will begin with a number of initial captive carry and glide flights from the new operating base in New Mexico, allowing the spaceflight operations team to familiarize themselves with the airspace and ground control. Once these tests are complete, the team will carry out a number of rocket-powered test flights from Spaceport America to continue the evaluation of VSS Unity’s performance. During this phase, the final spaceship cabin and customer experience evaluations will also be concluded in preparation for the start of commercial spaceflight operations.

They are aiming for a July 18, 2020 first flight, carrying Richard Branson on his 70th birthday. Whether they can meet that date remains open. Based on the company’s track record, don’t bet on it.

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Anomaly during OSIRIS-REx flyover of secondary landing site

During its close fly-over of its secondary candidate touch-and-go landing site on the asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-REx’s laser altimeter failed to work as planned.

On Feb. 11, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft safely executed a 0.4-mile (620-m) flyover of the backup sample collection site Osprey as part of the mission’s Reconnaissance B phase activities. Preliminary telemetry, however, indicates that the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) did not operate as expected during the 11-hour event. The OLA instrument was scheduled to provide ranging data to the spacecraft’s PolyCam imager, which would allow the camera to focus while imaging the area around the sample collection site. Consequently, the PolyCam images from the flyover are likely out of focus.

They are analyzing their data to figure out what went wrong and whether it can be fixed. The press release implies that this loss will not impact the touch-and-go at the primary landing site, but does not say so directly. Without the laser altimeter I wonder, how they will know their exact distance as they approach?

Then again, they have not yet downloaded the full dataset from the fly-over, so they might be able to get the instrument working again.

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Large glacier-filled crater/depression on Mars?

Glacier-filled depression?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photograph on the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on December 21, 2019. It shows the eastern half of the floor and interior rim of a large squarish-shaped crater or depression in what seems to be an unnamed region of chaos terrain located in the transition zone between the Martian southern highlands and the northern lowland plains.

The floor of this depression has many of the features that indicate the presence of a buried ice glacier, including flow features on the depression floor, linear parallel grooves, and repeating moraine features at the slope base. In fact, all these features give the strong impression that this crater is ice-filled, to an unknown depth.

Chaos terrain, a jumble of mesas cut by straight canyons, are generally found in this transition zone, and could be an erosion feature produced by the intermittent ocean that some believe once existed in the northern lowlands. Whether or not an ocean lapped against these mesas and created them, this chaos terrain is believed to have been caused by some form of erosion, either wind, water, or ice.

Wide context view

The location is of this chaos terrain in that transition zone is illustrated by the context map to the right. It sits on the edge of the vast Utopia Basin, one of the largest and deepest northern lowland plains. It also sits several hundred miles due north of the planned landing site of the Mars2020 rover in Jezero Crater. There is a lot of chaos terrain in this region, with lots of evidence of buried glaciers flowing off the sides of mesas.

Today’s image, with its numerous features suggesting the presence of a buried glacier filling the depression, reinforces this evidence.

Closer context view, showing the chaos terrain region

What impresses me most about this particular depression — should it be ice-filled — is its size. I estimate from the scale of the image that the depression is about six miles across, somewhat comparable though slightly smaller than the width of the Grand Canyon. And yet, unlike the Canyon it appears to have a wide flat floor across its entire width. The second context map to the right zooms in on this chaos region to show how relatively large the depression is. It would not be hard to spot it from orbit. We don’t know the depth, but even if relatively shallow this depression still holds a heck of a lot of water ice.

While the depression appears like a crater in lower resolution wider photographs, higher resolution images suggest it is not round but squarish. Why is not clear, and unfortunately MRO’s high resolution camera has taken no other images of it. This image was also one of their terrain sample photographs, taken not because of any specific research request, but because they need to use the camera regularly to maintain its temperature. This location, having few previous images, fit this schedule and made sense photographing.

Thus, no one appears to be specifically studying this location, making it a ripe subject for some postdoc student who wants to put their name on some Martian geology.

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Dragon capsule for first manned mission shipped to Florida

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday shipped to Florida the Dragon capsule it will use for its first manned mission, now set for sometime between April and June.

No official word yet on any specific launch date, though there are reports that they are targeting May 7.

In that same story at the second link a NASA official admitted that one of the big issues is filling out the paperwork.

“Even though it sounds mundane, there is a load of paper that has to be verified, and signed off, and checked to make sure we’ve got everything closed out,” [said chief of human spaceflight Doug Loverro.] “It is probably one of the longest things in the tent to go ahead and do. It’s underappreciated but critically important. You’ve got to make sure you’ve done everything you need to do along the way.”

Properly documenting what you are doing is always essential, but if you over do it you raise costs unnecessarily while simultaneously delaying things. And isn’t it interesting that both of these issues — budget overruns and scheduling delays — have been systemic on all of NASA’s projects for decades?

Furthermore, while good documentation can help prevent problems and help you figure out what went wrong, when things go wrong, doing more of it will not further reduce problems or failures. If anything, too much paperwork will likely increase mistakes by focusing workers on the wrong things. This seems to be one of NASA’s problems in recent years.

Regardless, it does look like that first privately built launch will happen in mere months. The one decision remaining that could legitimately delay it would be if NASA decides to make it a longer mission, requiring more training for its astronauts.

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A baffling repeating fast radio burst

Astronomers are baffled by a fast radio burst, a phenomenon that is a mystery in its own right, that also repeats its bursts in what appears to be a regular pattern.

Researchers looking at data from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst Project (CHIME/FRB) first spotted this FRB, known as FRB 180916.J0158+65, in 2019. In January 2020, they published a paper in the journal Nature that reanalyzed old data and found more than one burst from FRB 180916.J0158+65. They traced this FRB back to a relatively nearby spiral galaxy. What’s new in this latest paper, published Feb. 3 to the arXiv database, is the regular pattern in the bursts. The FRB, they found, goes through four-day cycles of regular activity, bleating out radio waves into space on an almost hourly basis. Then it goes into a 12-day period of silence. Sometimes the source seems to skip its usual four-day awake periods, or lets out only a single burst. CHIME/FRB is able to watch the FRB only some of the time, they noted, so it’s likely the detector misses many FRBs during the awake period.

At present they have no idea what is causing the pattern, other than a realization that it defies all the theories for explaining the previously discovered fast radio bursts.

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NASA breaks ground on new communications antenna

NASA has broken ground on the construction of the first new communications antenna since 2003 at its Goldstone, Californa, site, one of three the agency maintains worldwide for communicating with its planetary probes.

There has been a desperate need to both expand and upgrade this network, dubbed the Deep Space Network, for years, a need that will grow even more desperate next year with the addition of two more rovers on Mars.

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The range for exposed ice scarps on Mars keeps growing

Overview of ice scarp locations on Mars

In January 2018 scientists announced the discovery of eight cliffs with visible exposed ice layers in the high mid-latitudes of Mars. At the time, those eight ice scarps were limited to a single crater in the northern hemisphere (Milankovic Crater) and a strip of land in the southern highlands at around latitude 55 degrees south.

In the past two years scientists have been using the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to monitor these scarps for changes. So far they have seen none, likely because the changes are below the resolution of the camera.

They have also been able to find more scarps in the southern hemisphere strip beyond that strip at 55 degrees south.

Now they have found more scarps in the northern hemisphere as well, and these are outside Milankovic Crater. As in the south, the new scarps are still all along a latitude strip at about 55 degrees.

The map above shows with the black dots the newer scarps located in the past two years. The scarp to the east of Milankovic Crater is typical of all the other scarps, a steep, pole-facing cliff that seems to be retreating away from the pole..

The scarp to the west of Milankovic Crater is striking in that it is actually a cluster of scarps, all inside a crater in the northern lowland plains. Moreover, these scarps are more indistinct, making them more difficult to identify. According to Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona,
» Read more

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SpaceX hires Bill Gerstenmaier as consultant

SpaceX has hired NASA’s former manager of its human exploration program, Bill Gerstenmaier, as a consultant working with their “reliability team.”.

It appears that SpaceX wants to take advantage of Gerstenmaier’s expertise on human spaceflight as it is about to begin manned Dragon flights. It also appears that Musk wants to return a favor as well, as Gerstenmaier was likely the main person behind the decision to award SpaceX its initial Dragon cargo contract in December 2008. Musk has said repeatedly that this decision in many ways saved his company.

Overall, a wise decision by SpaceX. In his later years at NASA, Gerstenmaier lost sight of the importance of budget and schedule in his management of SLS and Orion, leading to his ouster. However, his knowledge of human spaceflight and the political mechanics needed to do it with NASA is unsurpassed. SpaceX will definitely benefit from this hire.

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An update on Comet 2I/Borisov

Link here.

Overall, this second known interstellar object to pass through the solar system appears to be a very typical comet. They have found however that its nucleus is much smaller than at first thought, only 200 to 500 meters across, which means that radiation pressure from the Sun could cause its rotation to spin up, with the possibility that this spin could get fast enough to cause the comet to break up.

The comet made its closest approach to the Sun in December, and will spend the next year-plus flying outward to beyond Saturn.

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Scientists admit worst case global warming prediction won’t happen

The uncertainty of science: In a commentary published in the science journal Nature last week, a scientist admitted that the worse case global warming prediction, cited more the 2,500 times in the literature and a favorite of politicians and global warming activists, is not likely to happen and should no longer be referenced.

What is surprising here is not the discovery that this climate computer model doesn’t work, but that Nature was willing to publish the admission, and that this scientist, who still fears human-caused global warming, was willing to write it. The major science journals have in recent years taken sides in this scientific field, advocating the theory that increased carbon dioxide will cause the climate to warm, something no journal should ever do.

The article however has this quote that clearly illustrates the uncertainties of all climate predictions:

Scientists are still uncertain as to how sensitive global temperatures are to a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. The value, known as the Charney Sensitivity still isn’t known for certain, over 40 years after it was first introduced in 1979 by the United States National Academy of Sciences and chaired by Jule Charney. He estimated climate sensitivity to be 3 °C (5.4 °F), give or take 1.5 °C (2.7 °F).

Without knowing the true climate warming response to increased CO2, essentially all climate models become a crap-shoot. It is a glaring illustration of just how imprecise climate science actually is.

Note that this area of ignorance is only one of many. We don’t know the influence of pollution on the climate. We don’t know the influence of the Sun on the climate. And we don’t know the influence of clouds on the climate. And I could go on.

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Remnant moraine on Mars

Remnant moraine on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! Using both Martian orbiters and rovers scientists are increasingly convinced that Mars has lots of buried glaciers in its mid-latitudes. These glaciers are presently either inactive or shrinking, their water ice sublimating away as gas, either escaping into space or transporting to the colder poles.

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows some apparent proof of this process. Taken by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on December 23, 2019, it shows a weird meandering ridge crossing the floor of a crater. The north and south parts of the crater rim are just beyond the cropped image, so that the gullied slope in the image’s lower left is actually a slope coming down from that rim.

My first reaction upon seeing this image was how much that ridge reminded me of the strange rimstone dams you often find on cave floors, formed when calcite in the water condenses out at the edge of the pond and begins to build up a dam over time.

This Martian ridge was certainly not formed by this process. To get a more accurate explanation, I contacted Dan Berman, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, who had requested this image. He explained:
» Read more

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NASA get boost in Trump proposed budget for 2021

The 2021 budget request by the Trump administration includes a big budget increase for NASA while also proposing major cuts to many of its science programs.

According to the analysis at the second link, the big gainer is Artemis. The losers in astronomy are the space telescope WFIRST and the airborne telescope SOFIA, both of which the administration wants terminated. Also on the chopping block are two climate satellites.

I plan to go through the budget in the next day or so and do my own analysis, which will also provide a longer term context that I guarantee no other news source will do. For example, routinely when most mainstream sources declare a cut in any program, it only means either a reduction in its growth rate, or a reduction to spending levels deemed entirely satisfactory only a few years before. To understand any new budget proposal, you need to look at the long term spending trends.

I will, as I have done in the past, also include more than just NASA in my analysis, reviewing the budget changes for all the science agencies.

I would do this today, but an eye doctor’s appointment this afternoon takes priority.

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The terrible consequences of NOAA’s data tampering

Link here.

In 2017 Tony Heller broke the story of how NOAA and NASA have been routinely adjusting their historic global temperature records to cool the past and warm the present in order to create the illusion that the climate is warming, far more than it is.

The post by Heller at the link above focuses in on how that tampering, which erased from the temperature data the record-hot year of 1934, is then used by both NOAA and NASA to claim each year for the past decade was the hottest ever.

The raw data however tells a far different story. The raw data from 1934, as reported amply at the time, recorded big heat waves and murderous droughts and extensive dust storms, all far more extreme than anything we have experienced in the past decade. Moreover, that raw data matches well with public news stories, and also matches well with all the published science prior to the 2000s.

Since then, however, intellectual honesty and the real scientific method has been replaced by an agenda-driven political manipulations. Having 1934 be the hottest year ever cannot stand, especially if present temperatures do not exceed that year’s records. Global warming demands a correction!

The nicest interpretation we can give to these adjustments is that the scientists are innocently engaged in confirmation bias. They believe the Earth is warming due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and thus they must find evidence of that warming, even if it requires data adjustments to past record-hot years like 1934, adjustments that they then rationalize as necessary and scientifically justified.

More likely, they have decided that their political agenda to prove human-caused global warming requires them to be intellectually dishonest and the falsify the global temperature record. If so, this is a tragedy beyond words, as it signals that the revolution in human thought that began with the Renaissance and Galileo and was reinforced and cemented by the Enlightenment and Francis Bacon, has now ended.

That revolution made possible a burst of human creativity and civilization that lasted more than five hundred years. The consequences for future generations should that revolution be rejected now cannot be good.

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Martian dust devil!

Martian dust devil!
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The science team for the high resolution camera today posted a new captioned image, cropped by me to the right to post here, showing an active Martian dust devil as it moves across the surface of Mars.

Dust devils are rotating columns of dust that form around low-pressure air pockets, and are common on both Earth and Mars. This Martian dust devil formed on the dust-covered, volcanic plains of Amazonis Planitia. The dust devil is bright, and its core is roughly 50 meters across. The dark streak on the ground behind the dust devil is its shadow. The length of the shadow suggests the plume of rotating dust rises about 650 meters into the atmosphere!

That’s about 2,100 feet tall, almost a half mile in height. The location, Amazonis Planitia, is part of the northern lowlands of Mars, flat and somewhat featureless. It is also somewhat near the region near Erebus Montes that is the candidate landing site for SpaceX’s Starship rocket, a region that appears to have a lot of ice just below the surface.

The science team also linked to a 2012 active dust devil image that was even more spectacular. I have also posted on Behind the Black a number of other dust devil images, highlighting this very active, dramatic, and somewhat mysterious aspect of the Martian surface:
» Read more

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ULA’s Atlas 5 launches Solar Orbiter

Capitalism in space: ULA tonight successfully launched a new solar science spacecraft Solar Orbiter.

For more information about Solar Orbiter, which will take the first high resolution images of the Sun’s poles, see the link above or video I’ve embedded below the fold.

Earlier today Northrop Grumman aborted the launch of its Cygnus cargo freighter to ISS only three minutes before launch because of an issue with a ground support sensor. Right now they are are targeting a new launch date of February 13, 2020.

The status in the 2020 launch race:

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

In the national ranking, the U.S. now leads China 4-3. If Northrop Grumman had launched, that lead would have been 5-3, and the U.S. total would have been comprised of four different and completely independent competing launch companies, all capable of topping the efforts of entire nations. If that doesn’t illustrate the power of freedom, capitalism, competition, and private ownership, I don’t know what does. Moreover, this is only the start. The U.S. right now has numerous other new launch companies rushing to join the competition.

Even more startling, the way we do things is freely available to every other nation in the world. All they have to do is to embrace freedom and the reduction of control and power by their governments. Sadly, very few in these times are willing to do this. In fact, even the U.S. resisted this concept for the entire last half of the 20th century. Only in the past decade have we returned to our roots, and that decision is now beginning to bear abundant fruit.
» Read more

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Sunspot update: A tiny burst of activity that might mean something

On February 3, 2020, NOAA posted its January of its monthly 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:

After seven months of practically no sunspot activity, the longest such stretch in probably a century, January had a tiny burst of activity, breaking that string. Of the month’s four sunspots, two had a polarity from the old solar cycle, two from the new.

January 2020 sunspot activity
The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community for the previous solar maximum. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction, extended in November 2018 four years into the future.

Despite their low number and general weakness, the continuing appearance of sunspots with polarities aligned with the new cycle strongly indicates that we will have a solar maximum in the next five years, not a grand minimum lasting decades that some scientists are predicting. While the year is young and it is certainly too soon to trust any trends, the fact that January saw an increase in activity over the past seven months suggests that we might have passed the low point of the minimum. We shall find out this year.

It must be remembered that the uncertainties in this field of science remain gigantic. No one really understands why the Sun’s magnetic dynamo goes through these cycles and flips in polarity. No one really understands why it produces sunspots as it does. And no one for sure yet knows exactly how the Sun’s cyclical behavior directly effects the climate. We only have circumstantial evidence, some of which can be legitimately questioned.

What is certain is that we don’t know very much, and are always in error when we forget this fact. Remember this always when some politician or scientist claims the science is settled or certain, and they know without doubt what is going to happen. They are either lying, fooling themselves, or are simply fools. In any case, such certainty in science should never be trusted.

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The impact of coronavirus on China’s space industry

Link here. The focus when discussing the epidemic, which continues to grow, should certainly not be on how it is slowing China’s space industry. At the same time, any slow down in their space effort will give us a good indicator on how the virus is effecting their entire economy.

Anyway, it appears, at least as this moment, that the biggest effect in space is the halt of operations for the Kuaizhou smallsat rocket.

Expace, a launch service provider for solid-propellant Kuaizhou rockets, has temporarily halted work due to its proximity to the epicenter of the outbreak. A new Kuaizhou-11 rocket, larger than the Kuaizhou-1A currently in service, was reportedly scheduled for a test flight late February.

Expace is situated in the Wuhan National Space Industry Base, a hub designed to facilitate commercial space activities. The firm is a spinoff from defense contractor CASIC and its subsidiary, China Sanjiang Space Group. The Kuaizhou launch vehicle series are understood to be derived from missile technology.

Other impacts probably won’t become obvious for months, when we can gauge whether there has been a slow down in Chinese launches below the predicted 40 for 2020.

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Voyager-2 back in action

Engineers announced yesterday that Voyager-2 has resumed science operations after going into safe mode in late January.

“Mission operators report that Voyager 2 continues to be stable and that communications between Earth and the spacecraft are good,” agency officials wrote in a mission update yesterday. “The spacecraft has resumed taking science data, and the science teams are now evaluating the health of the instruments following their brief shut-off.”

Still ticking after 42 years in space. Take that, Timex!

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