Category Archives: Points of Information

Michael Mann finally loses in DC court

It took almost a decade, but the DC Superior Court has finally ruled against Michael Mann in his lawsuit against Rand Simberg and Mark Steyn.

Mann had sued them for libel because they criticized his incompetent and fraudulent global warming research. They demanded evidence of damages, the court agreed and ordered Mann to produce that evidence. He has refused (for almost a decade) and the court has now finally decided that because of his refusal he must pay all the court courts, including Simberg’s and Steyn’s.

Will he pay? Steyn notes what happened when Mann lost in a Canadian court:

I speculated back in October whether Mann, a loser and a liar, would also prove a scofflaw and a deadbeat. Yes, he is. It is ten months since he lost at the BC Supreme Court and, despite Mr Justice Giaschi’s order, Doctor Fraudpants has yet to pay Tim Ball a penny. So he’s a fraudulent plaintiff in every respect. This scumbag has financially ruined Dr Ball, lost at trial, and refuses to pay up. Mann’s conduct is appalling: it’s no wonder so few climate scientists are willing to defend him.

It will be instructive whether Mann defies a U.S. Court as well. I suspect if he does Simberg and Steyn will use the law to put liens on Mann’s assets. In normal times I would have no doubt this would work. Nowadays I sadly have concerns.

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Astronomers claim discovery of six exomoons

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers are now claiming they have detected evidence of the existence of six exomoons orbiting different stars with transiting exoplanets.

“These exomoon candidates are so small that they can’t be seen from their own transits. Rather, their presence is given away by their gravitational influence on their parent planet,” Wiegert said.

If an exoplanet orbits its star undisturbed, the transits it produces occur precisely at fixed intervals.

But for some exoplanets, the timing of the transits is variable, sometimes occurring several minutes early or late. Such transit timing variations – known as TTVs – indicate the gravity of another body. That could mean an exomoon or another planet in the system is? affecting the transiting planet.

What they have basically done is applied the technique used to identify exoplanet candidates when the planet does NOT transit the star (the wobble caused by gravity and indicated by spectral changes), and looked to see if they can see the same variations in these exoplanets.

This is fun stuff, but it is so uncertain as to be almost laughable. If you read the press release closely, you will discover that their work has been submitted for publication, but has not yet been even peer reviewed.

Their concept is good, but I would not pay much attention to these “results.”

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Ocasio-Cortez wins primary with 70% of vote

They’re coming for you next: Proudly communist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) today won her Democratic primary in New York, garnering 70% of the vote.

I know that many conservatives believe that the madness of the past four months will finally convince voters that it is time to reject the Democratic Party. I have seen no evidence of this. Instead, what I see is a Democratic voting block that remains set in concrete, immune to any facts or ideas that challenge its position. And it has remained so my entire life.

This victory by Ocasio-Cortez illustrates this. Despite her campaign to kick Amazon out of New York (costing her district tens of thousands of jobs), despite her clear lack of coherent knowledge of history or science, despite her Marxist agenda (as very well illustrated by her Green New Deal), and despite her generally hateful and racist rhetoric towards those who disagree with her, the voters in her district want her, and voted overwhelmingly for her.

In New York there is no viable Republican Party. Ocasio-Cortez has essentially won another two years in office tonight, as well as an endorsement of her race-based policies.

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Do high water and design flaws threaten China’s Three Gorges Dam?

Heavy rain has caused flooding and a major overload to China’s massive Three Gorges Dam, and a Chinese hydrologist is now warning the dam, which he claims has design flaws, could fail at any time.

Rather than commenting on the validity of the images showing the dam’s warping a year ago, Wang said a more serious concern is the cracks and substandard concrete discovered during its construction. He said a failure of the dam would have catastrophic consequences for individuals residing in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and that they should prepare for evacuation as soon as possible, reported CT Want.

In his interview with Radio France Internationale, the Chinese water expert also criticized the Chinese government and state media for refusing to acknowledge the potential danger of the reservoir. He said that scientists who have spoken the truth have been criminalized by Beijing, resulting in a society with no communication.

According to Chinese stated-owned CNTV, water inside the Three Gorges Dam continues to accumulate and has risen two meters above its flood-prevention level. Although the dam has been hailed by Beijing as one of the greatest engineering achievements in human history, its structural integrity continues to be questioned.

The dam was only completed in 2009, after decades of planning and construction. If it fails it will be a disaster for China and its communist government, much worse that the Wuhan flu has been.

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More strange terrain in the Martian “Death Valley”

More strange terrain in Hellas Basin
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image, rotated cropped, and reduced to post here, might show what the science team for the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have labeled “strange banded terrain”, but anyone who has spent any time perusing images of Hellas Basin, what I have labeled the basement of Mars because it has the lowest elevation on the planet, will recognize the features.

They might be inexplicable, but for Hellas Basin they are entirely familiar. Just take a look at some of my earlier posts:
» Read more

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Perseverance: update on launch rehearsal and helicopter

Two news stories today about the launch of the United States’ next Mars rover, Perservance.

First, ULA yesterday successfully completed a dress rehearsal countdown with the Atlas 5 rocket that will launch Perseverance on July 20 at 9:15 am (Eastern)..

The rover will be mounted onto the rocket at the end of this week.

Second, JPL provided this press release describing how Perseverance’s test helicopter Ingenuity will be deployed on the Martian surface, where it will then test to see if such helicopters will work in the Martian atmosphere.

Sixty Martian days (dubbed sols) after landing in Jezero Crater on February 18, Perseverance will find a nice large flat area and deploy the helicopter six sols later. The helicopter will then begin its 30-sol test program. If it is found to work, future rovers will almost certainly be equipped with such helicopters, acting as scouts able to go places the rover cannot.

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Local authorities in Scotland have approved spaceport concept

Capitalism in space: Local authorities in northern Scotland have recommended that planning of a private spaceport in Sutherland should move forward.

Will this happen? I wonder, based on this detail from the article:

Councillors on Highland Council’s north planning applications committee will consider the proposals for Space Hub Sutherland on Friday.

The local authority has received 457 objections to the plans and 118 representations in support of them. Impact on the environment and risk to human health are among the reasons for the objections.

Local community councils have supported the project because it is expected to create new jobs.

The article implies that the local communities support the project, but I’m not sure. Either way, in our fear-driven society today getting that many objections would be is a major hurdle for any project to leap.

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Trump official skeptical of point-to-point suborbital transportation

During the FAA’s annual commercial space conference, the executive secretary for Trump’s National Space Council, Scott Pace, expressed strong skepticism about plans by some companies to develop point-to-point transportation using suborbital spacecraft.

“I still see that as somewhat speculative and somewhat over the horizon,” he said. “I see us working right now on trying to get the suborbital market up, running and sort of stabilized. I think people look forward to the possibility of point-to-point passenger and cargo travel, but right now just getting routine suborbital access to space and pushing hard on the unmanned hypersonic and military applications is where the action is.”

“Maybe it’s not too soon to think about,” he added, “but I still think that’s a bit farther out until I see how the initial market settles out.”

In this context Pace noted his primary focus was in helping Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin get their space tourism businesses off the ground. Virgin Galactic has been making noises that it wants to do point-to-point transportation as well. His skepticism of this is actually quite realistic, since Virgin Galactic has not even completed its first commercial tourism flight and its rocket and spacecraft are underpowered as well.

If Pace’s skepticism is however aimed at SpaceX’s Starship plans to do point-to-point transportation, he is exhibiting a typical Washington bureaucrat’s timidity about new technology.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic has gotten a contract from NASA to train private astronauts. To my mind this is NASA’s attempt to keep this company above water, as it certainly isn’t the most qualified to do this kind of training. If I wanted training for going on a private space mission, SpaceX and Boeing would be better places to get that preparation.

The deal however has done wonders for Virgin Galactic’s stock, causing it to rise almost 16% yesterday following the announcement of this contract. Great timing for Richard Branson, who by coincidence just happens to be trying to sell some of his stock at this moment.

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China’s Long March 3B launches GPS-type satellite

The new colonial movement: China today used its Long March 3B rocket to launch the last satellite needed to complete its GPS-type constellation.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

13 China
9 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 15 to 13 in the national rankings.

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Oklahoma Supreme Court gives Trump permission to hold political rally

O thank you my Lords! The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Friday that it will allow Trump to hold a political rally in that state today.

[T]he state’s Supreme Court ruled against the request to force everyone attending to wear a mask and stay at least six feet apart from one another — a policy that would have complicated the massive event with thousands of people. The court ruled that the two local residents among those filing the suit couldn’t establish that they have a clear legal right to the relief they sought. In a concurring opinion, two justices wrote that the state’s reopening plan is “permissive, suggestive and discretionary.”

“Therefore, for lack of any mandatory language in the (plan), we are compelled to deny the relief requested,” that opinion said.

The legalities aside, can you imagine any time in our past history where a sitting president and presidential candidate had to get a court’s approval to hold a political rally? I can’t. The idea would have been inconceivable to past American generations. But the precedent is now clearly set. The courts apparently do have the power to allow or block political rallies. All Trump’s opponents need do to shut down future events is to go to court. Sooner or later a court will go along and forbid the event from occurring, and based on Trump’s behavior up to now, he will bow to that court’s will.

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DOJ attorney refuses to resign as announced by Attorney General Barr

The swamp continues to win: Today attorney general William Barr announced that U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman, who has overseen a number of investigations and witch hunts against Trump associates (including his lawyer Michael Cohen), was resigning.

This evening Berman denied he was resigning, stating that he had no intention of leaving his post until the Senate approves his successor.

I have no idea what is going on here, but if Barr is supposed to be in charge, it sure doesn’t look like it. Instead, it looks like this member of the anti-Trump swamp, recognizing Trump’s weakness during the Wuhan panic and the recent anti-American riots, has decided he can defy his superiors and get away with it. And even if Trump does fire him, he will benefit financially because he knows the leftist Democratic press will pour money into his pockets for being a Trump opponent.

UPDATE and more proof the swamp is winning: Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has now blocked Trump’s nominee (which is for the NY office of the Justice Department), claiming that it must first be approved by New York’s senators.

The article also makes the incredible claim that Trump, the sitting president of the United States and with whom Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution clearly states holds that executive power, cannot fire Berman.

Can Trump fire Berman? Uh … probably. It would be strange and likely a violation of separation of powers if the head of the executive branch couldn’t fire an employee at the Department of Justice. (We went through this with Mueller, remember.) The fact that Berman was appointed by a federal court, not the president, adds a wrinkle, though. And federal law adds another wrinkle about how, exactly, a court-appointed U.S. Attorney is to be replaced:

“To recap: 1) Berman was appointed under 28 U.S.C. § 546(d). 2) That statute contemplates that he keeps his job until a permanent successor is confirmed by the Senate. 3) 28 U.S.C. § 541(c) says U.S. Attorneys are subject to removal by the President. So the statutes conflict,” — Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) June 20, 2020

This Vladeck then adds

Of course, the Trump DOJ may argue that § 546(d) is unconstitutional insofar as it prevents the President from removing Berman, but that’s complicated here by Berman being an *Acting* U,S. Attorney—over whose appointment and removal Congress can arguably exercise *more* control.

If we have reached the insane situation where a Republican President can no longer fire those under him, then our Constitutional government is truly dead.

UPDATE: Trump has now fired Berman. We shall see whether the courts and the swamp will let that action stand.

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A gravel pile floating in space that might hit the Earth

flat rock near Osprey
Click for full image.

Come October the probe OSIRIS-REx will attempt a quick touchdown on the asteroid Bennu to grab some tiny particles, all smaller than 0.8 inches across.

Bennu is what scientists have described as a “rubble-pile” asteroid. They use that name because it is simply a conglomeration of a lot of rocks, pebbles, boulders, and stones, all jagged and of all sizes. The overall gravity has never been strong enough to squeeze them together, at least as far as we can see, and so they are piled up loosely across the asteroid’s surface wherever we look.

I think a better name for this asteroid would a floating gravel pile, since the material on it, as clearly shown in the image to the right (reduced and rotated to post here), more resembles the tailings one finds at a mine or quarry. This photo was taken by OSIRIS-REx on May 26, 2020 during its first dress rehearsal over its back-up touch-and-go sample grab site, Osprey. As the release caption notes,

The field of view is 12 ft (3.8 m). For reference, the bright rock [near] the tip of the boulder is 1 ft (0.3 m) across, which is about the size of a loaf of bread.

I have rotated the image 90 degrees so that east is up, because the full mosaic of the entire Osprey landing site, shown below, is oriented that way, and by rotating it to match it is easier to locate this image within it.
» Read more

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A bunch of new contracts for smallsat rocket companies

Capitalism in space: Two news stories outlined today a bunch of new launch contracts for a number of smallsat rocket companies, with Rocket Lab getting the biggest share.

In the first award, the six companies were Rocket Lab, Aevum, Astra, X-Bow, Space Vector and VOX Space, of which only Rocket Lab is presently operational. The deal calls for the launch within the next 24 months of two cubesats from each company The money was authorized under the March Wuhan flu stimulus bill, and is apparently meant as reimbursement for each company’s losses because of the lock downs. No contract amount however was provided,

The second award to Rocket Lab came from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and is likely a reward for the company’s successful launch of three NRO satellites on June 12th. It also might involve two almost simultaneous launches on two different launchpads.

In a demonstration of its responsive launch capabilities, Rocket Lab said in a statement announcing the contract that the two launches will take place “within weeks” of each other. However, in an interview, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said he hopes the time between the two launches is much less than that. “We’re looking forward to having two vehicles sitting on two pads simultaneously, and we’ll see how close together we can actually get them to launch,” he said. “We’re planning internally to see how close we can get those two together.

The company is also hoping in the fall to attempt their first recovery of a first stage.

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Three Dog Night – Mama told me not to come

An evening pause: Performed live in 1970. Nice piece of music and performance, but it epitomizes well the sixties generation and its carefree decadence. Freedom is a wonderful thing, but it also requires responsibility or everything will fall apart. In the end, unfortunately, the sixties generation did not put much stock in responsibility. We are now reaping the harvest they sowed. (And I speak as a member of that generation.)

Hat tip Roland.

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New Florida company to offer stratospheric tourist balloon flights

Capitalism in space: A new Florida company dubbed Spac Perspective plans to offer six-hour-long tourist balloon flights to altitudes of 100,000 feet for $125,000 per ticket.

“Spaceship Neptune,” operated by a company called Space Perspective from leased facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, will carry eight passengers at a time on six-hour flights. The passenger cabin, lifted by a huge hydrogen-filled balloon, will climb at a sedate 12 mph to an altitude of about 30 miles high. That will be followed by a slow descent to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean where a recovery ship will be standing by to secure the cabin and crew.

Test flights carrying scientific research payloads are expected to begin in 2021. The first flights carrying passengers are expected within the next three-and-a-half years or so, with piloted test flights before that.

While the company initially will operate out of the Florida spaceport, the system could be launched from multiple sites around the world, with Hawaii and Alaska near-term possibilities.

The co-CEO of this company, Jane Poynter, had been the head of WorldView here in Tucson when that company was first planning to do tourist flights like this. She got pushed out a little over a year ago as the company shifted away from tourist flights to military surveillance, only to reappear now in Florida with a new company proposing the same thing.

All power to her. I hope this new company succeeds. It is offering a product at half the price of Virgin Galactic that is actually far superior (30 miles altitude for six hours vs 50 miles for five minutes).

NOTE: 100,000 feet elevation equals 30 kilometers, not 30 miles. I think the “30 mile” number in the quote is probably a mistake.

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Two new multi-wavelength Hubble images of planetary nebulae

Hubble images of the Butterfly and Jewel Bug planetary nebulae
Click for full image.

Cool images from Hubble! Astronomers have used the Hubble Space Telescope’s entire suite of instruments to produce spectacular new multi-wavelength images of two planetary nebulae, stars that for some reasons not yet entirely understood are surrounded by breath-taking jets and cloud-formations of all shapes and sizes.

The two images are to the right, cropped and reduced to post here.

Planetary nebulas, whose stars shed their layers over thousands of years, can turn into crazy whirligigs while puffing off shells and jets of hot gas. New images from the Hubble Space Telescope have helped researchers identify rapid changes in material blasting off stars at the centers of two nebulas — causing them to reconsider what is happening at their cores.

In the case of NGC 6302, dubbed the Butterfly Nebula, two S-shaped streams indicate its most recent ejections and may be the result of two stars interacting at the nebula’s core. In NGC 7027, a new cloverleaf pattern — with bullets of material shooting out in specific directions — may also point to the interactions of two central stars. Both nebulas are splitting themselves apart on extremely short timescales, allowing researchers to measure changes in their structures over only a few decades.

This is the first time both nebulas have been studied from near-ultraviolet to near-infrared light, a complex, multi-wavelength view only possible with Hubble.

The press release suggests that the most likely and popular explanation for the formation of planetary nebula is the interaction of two closely orbiting stars. While this might be true, it remains only one theory among many, all of which explain some of what we see and none of which explain everything. As I noted in my November 2014 cover story about planetary nebulae for Sky & Telescope:
» Read more

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Three Starship prototypes in line for testing

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s assembly line for building Starship prototypes is heating up, with three such ships completed or under construction in Boca Chica, Texas.

Initially numbered 5 through 7, the goal of the first two will be to do the first full scale vertical hops, flying as high as 7.5 miles.. #7 however has a different purpose:

While stouter than an actual Starship-class methane or oxygen tank, this particular test tank is maybe only 25% shorter than the methane tanks installed on Starship prototypes. According to Musk and effectively confirmed by writing all over the prototype, this particular test tank – formerly Starship SN7 – was built to determine if a different kind of steel could be preferable for future ships.

Shortly after the June 15th test began to wind down, Musk announced that the new material (304L stainless steel) had performed quite well, reaching 7.6 bar (110 psi) before it sprung a leak. The fact alone that it sprung a leak instead of violently depressurizing is already a major sign that 304L is preferable to 301L, as it means that Starships built out of it could fail much more gracefully in the event of a leak instead of collapsing or violently exploding. A step further, SpaceX has already managed to repair the leak on SN7 and will likely test the tank again in the next few days.

SpaceX is once again demonstrating how to properly do this kind of cutting edge development. You test, you fix or, you change, based on what your tests tell you. You don’t lock down design in the early stages, because at that point you really don’t know enough to do so.

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Astra schedules next launch attempt

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Astra has scheduled its next launch attempt for July 20.

The company tried twice to launch in March, with the second attempt destroying the rocket and launchpad. They have now rebuilt, though they also admit that this first launch might also fail, and that it is part of a three launch program. By the third launch they expect to reach orbit for sure.

If Astra succeeds, they will leap ahead of Virgin Orbit as the second smallsat rocket company, following Rocket Lab, to become operational.

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Enigmatic layering and chasms on Mars

Enigmatic layering and chasms
Click for full image.

Overview map

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on April 28, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (MRO). The science team entitled it “Enigmatic Uplifts in Echus Montes,” indicating a sense of bafflement on their part about this geology.

The features here are certainly somewhat puzzling. At first glance the terrain is reminiscent of Martian chaos terrain, mesas cut by canyons in an almost random pattern. As I explained at the link,

Chaos terrain is typically a collection of mesas separated by straight-lined canyons. It is found in many places on Mars, most often in the transition zone between the southern highlands and the northern lowlands where an intermittent ocean might once have existed. It is believed to form by erosion, possibly caused by either flowing water or ice, moving along fault lines. As the erosion widened the faults, they turned into canyons separating closely packed mesas. With time, the canyons widened and the mesas turned into a collection of hills.

What makes this particular image puzzling however is that there seem to be multiple layers of mesas and canyons. Look at the top of the rectangular mesa in the upper middle of the image. It appears to have its own miniature chaos terrain on its plateau. Somehow that first layer of chaos was abandoned when the more prominent larger canyons started to form around it.

The location of this feature is indicated by the black cross on the overview map to the right. It is in the middle of the large and wide northward trending part of the giant valley dubbed Kasei Valles. And as usual, knowing the location helps explain what we are seeing.
» Read more

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A fast radio burst that beats every sixteen days

Astronomers have now added to the mystery of fast radio bursts (FRBs), of which about a hundred are known, by discovering one in a nearby galaxy that has a regular outburst every 16.35 days.

Earlier this year CHIME worked with astronomers in Europe to pinpoint the origin of a particular FRB emission — called FRB 180916.J0158+65 — to a galaxy located 500 million light years from Earth.

Now CHIME has determined that FRB 180916 pulses at predictable intervals more than two weeks apart. “It tells us that the origin of at least some FRBs is astrophysically regular in nature, but on long enough time scales that they may be tied to something different than a rotating, compact object — perhaps something like an orbiting system,” said Newburgh, whose lab builds instrumentation for collecting data about the history of the cosmos

Or to put it another way, they really haven’t any idea yet what exactly causes these bursts. The new data however will help formulate better theories, that I guarantee will be contradicted by subsequent new data. At the moment there is so little known about FRBs that any theory must be looked at with great skepticism.

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U.S. & U.K. sign space agreement

Anticipating the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the Trump administration has signed an new space agreement with the U.K. in order to facilitate the ability of U.S. companies export British technology as well as launch from its spaceports.

I cannot find the actual text of the agreement so my description, based on news reports and the press release (linked above) might be wrong. It does appear however that the agreement is designed to smooth out the regulatory environment that might block commercial space development involving both countries.

It also seems required because of the UK’s exit from the EU. They need to sign bilateral agreements with other nations to replace the EU framework.

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SpaceX hiring engineers for building floating Starship spaceport

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has issued advertisements looking for two engineers to help build an offshore floating spaceport for launching its Starship/Super Heavy reusable rocket.

This plan is not really a surprise, as Musk from his first description of Starship said that it would likely launch and land on floating platforms. The rocket is big, so putting its launch and landing in the ocean reduces the risk to populated areas, while giving the company some flexibility about where it will land. The latter point reinforces the company’s stated goal of using this rocket not only to make interplanetary travel affordable but to also provide point-to-point transportation on Earth.

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Yutu-2 to resume travels after day of rest

The new colonial movement: After lunar day of no activity, China has reactivated its Yutu-2 rover on its 19th lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

The Yutu 2 rover had remained stationary during lunar day 18 (May 16-29), while teams back on Earth upgraded ground stations in preparation for the Tianwen-1 Mars mission, due to launch in late July or early August. Upgrades to the tracking and command facilities at Jiamusi, northeast China, and Kashi in the northwest were completed June 13 according to CLEP, meaning normal roving service can now resume.

While the rover has been stationary, the Yutu 2 science team have identified a nearby crater for examination. The 4-foot-wide (1.3 meters), 8-inch-deep (20 centimeters) crater contains reflective material which may be similar in nature to suspected impact melt glass the rover discovered last year. After checking out the crater, Yutu 2 will continue its journey northwest from the Chang’e 4 landing site. Yutu 2 has driven a total of 1,469 feet (447.68 meters) since setting down on the far side of the moon in January 2019.

Generally Yutu-2 has averaged about a hundred feet for each lunar day of actual travel.

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NOAA awards contract to private company for solar observatory

Capitalism in space: NOAA today awarded a contract to the private company Xplore to study development of a commercial solar observatory at the Earth-Sun L1 point.

The press release at the link is somewhat vague about the contract. It appears to be a study to see if Xplore’s proposed Xcraft spacecraft can be used as platform for such a solar observatory, not an actual contract to build the observatory.

Regardless, this award is a strong indicator that the Trump administration is applying pressure at NOAA to get it out of the business of building weather satellites and instead be a customer buying such satellites from the private sector. The weather agency has been, like NASA earlier this decade, resistant to this concept, with its bureaucracy wanting to retain control over everything. Maybe the success of SpaceX at NASA is now helping to fuel the change at NOAA.

Let us hope so. NOAA’s present fleet of solar observatories in space is years past their due date, with no sign of a replacement fleet. The agency just can’t seem to get its act together to build these satellites. For example, NOAA has been trying and failing to build a new solar observatory to monitor sunspot activity now for more than a decade.

Maybe, like NASA, giving the job to private enterprise might get things going.

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Astronomers discover giant arc spanning a third of the night sky

Astronomers have discovered a giant arc of hydrogen gas near the Big Dipper that span a third of the night sky and is thought to be the leftover shockwave from a supernova.

Ultraviolet and narrowband photography have captured the thin and extremely faint trace of hydrogen gas arcing across 30°. The arc, presented at the recent virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, is probably the pristine shockwave expanding from a supernova that occurred some 100,000 years ago, and it’s a record-holder for its sheer size on the sky.

Andrea Bracco (University of Paris) and colleagues came upon the Ursa Major Arc serendipitously when looking through the ultraviolet images archived by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX). They were looking for signs of a straight, 2° filament that had been observed two decades ago — but they found out that that length of gas was less straight than they thought, forming instead a small piece of a much larger whole.

This is a great illustration of the uncertainty of science. Earlier observations spotted only 2 degrees of this arc, and thus thought it was a straight filament. Newer more sophisticated observations show that this first conclusion was in error, that it was much bigger, and curved.

I wonder what even more and better observations would reveal.

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Antares’ vast blobby atmosphere

The atmosphere of Antares
Click for full image.

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), astronomers have been able to map out the gigantic atmosphere of gas that surrounds the red gas supergiant star Antares, the closest such star to our solar system.

The ALMA and VLA map of Antares is the most detailed radio map yet of any star, other than the Sun. ALMA observed Antares close to its surface (its optical photosphere) in shorter wavelengths, and the longer wavelengths observed by the VLA revealed the star’s atmosphere further out. As seen in visible light, Antares’ diameter is approximately 700 times larger than the Sun. But when ALMA and the VLA revealed its atmosphere in radio light, the supergiant turned out to be even more gigantic.

“The size of a star can vary dramatically depending on what wavelength of light it is observed with,” explained Eamon O’Gorman of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in Ireland and lead author of the study published in the June 16 edition of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. “The longer wavelengths of the VLA revealed the supergiant’s atmosphere out to nearly 12 times the star’s radius.”

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is what these two telescopes detected. As you can see, the outer atmosphere of the star is very uneven, confirming what other observations of both Antares and Betelgeuse has seen.

These stars are giant gasbags. It appears their shape fluctuates depending on the local “weather” in each star’s atmosphere.

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