Category Archives: Points of Information

Astronomers predict nova outburst later this century

Based on the rate of material spiraling from one star to another in a nearby stellar binary system, astronomers now predict that the two stars will merge sometime between 2067 and 2099, producing a nova that will among the brightest stars in the sky, visible to the naked eye for about a month.

From the press release:

Currently, the faint star V Sagittae, V Sge, in the constellation Sagitta, is barely visible, even in mid-sized telescopes. However, around the year 2083, this innocent star will explode, becoming as bright as Sirius, the brightest star visible in the night sky. During this time of eruption, V Sge will be the most luminous star in the Milky Way galaxy. … “We now have a strong prediction for the future of V Sge,” said Professor Emeritus Bradley E. Schaefer, LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy. “Over the next few decades, the star will brighten rapidly. Around the year 2083, its accretion rate will rise catastrophically, spilling mass at incredibly high rates onto the white dwarf, with this material blazing away. In the final days of this death-spiral, all of the mass from the companion star will fall onto the white dwarf, creating a supermassive wind from the merging star, appearing as bright as Sirius, possibly even as bright as Venus.”

“V Sge is exponentially gaining luminosity with a doubling time scale of 89 years,” said Frank. “This brightening can only result with the rate of mass falling off the normal companion star increasing exponentially, ultimately because the binary orbit is in-spiraling rapidly.”

“In anticipation of this fast decaying of the orbit, the fate of V Sge is sealed,” stated Schaefer. “The critical and simple physics are derived from V Sge having the companion star being much more massive than the white dwarf star, so forcing the rate of mass transfer to rise exponentially. Anticipating the next few decades, V Sge will in-spiral at a rapid pace with increasing brightness. Inevitably, this in-spiral will climax with the majority of the gas in the normal star falling onto the white dwarf, all within the final weeks and days. This falling mass will release a tremendous amount of gravitational potential energy, driving a stellar wind as never before seen, and raise the system luminosity to just short of that of supernovae at peak.”

This explosive event will have peak brightness over a month, with two stars merging into one star. The end result of the merger will produce a single star with a degenerate white dwarf core, a hydrogen-burning layer, surrounded by a vast gas envelope mostly of hydrogen.

The press release has not yet been posted, but the press materials for the announcement can be found here.

If their hypothesis turns out to be true, it will be the first such event ever predicted.

Note that they are not predicting a supernova, an event caused by a variety of ways (all related to the death of a star). This is a less spectacular nova event, though because of its relative nearness will be very bright in our sky.

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Newly discovered repeating fast radio burst breaks rules

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have discovered the second fast radio burst that also repeats its bursts, and the discovery occurred in a place where such bursts were not expected to occur.

On 19th June 2019, eight telescopes from the European VLBI Network (EVN) simultaneously observed a radio source known as FRB 180916.J0158+65. This source was originally discovered in 2018 by the CHIME telescope in Canada, which enabled the team to conduct a very high resolution observation with the EVN in the direction of FRB 180916.J0158+65. During five hours of observations the researchers detected four bursts, each lasting for less than two thousandths of a second.

…With the precise position of the radio source the team was able to conduct observations with one of the world’s largest optical telescopes, the 8-m Gemini North on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Examining the environment around the source revealed that the bursts originated from a spiral galaxy named SDSS J015800.28+654253.0, located half a billion light years from Earth. The bursts come from a region of that galaxy where star formation is prominent.

“The found location is radically different from the previously located repeating FRB, but also different from all previously studied FRBs”, explains Kenzie Nimmo, PhD student at the University of Amsterdam. “The differences between repeating and non-repeating fast radio bursts are thus less clear and we think that these events may not be linked to a particular type of galaxy or environment. It may be that FRBs are produced in a large zoo of locations across the Universe and just require some specific conditions to be visible.”

The actual locations of only five such bursts have been identified, so any generalization about their origin or nature seems premature anyway.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is having its semi-annual convention right now in Hawaii, which is why we are suddenly having a burst of astronomy-related press announcements.

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New evidence: dark energy might not exist

The uncertainty of science: New evidence once again suggests that the assumptions that resulted in the invention of dark energy in the late 1990s might have been in error, and that dark energy simply might not exist.

New observations and analysis made by a team of astronomers at Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea), together with their collaborators at Lyon University and KASI, show, however, that this key assumption is most likely in error. The team has performed very high-quality (signal-to-noise ratio ~175) spectroscopic observations to cover most of the reported nearby early-type host galaxies of SN Ia, from which they obtained the most direct and reliable measurements of population ages for these host galaxies. They find a significant correlation between SN luminosity and stellar population age at a 99.5% confidence level. As such, this is the most direct and stringent test ever made for the luminosity evolution of SN Ia. Since SN progenitors in host galaxies are getting younger with redshift (look-back time), this result inevitably indicates a serious systematic bias with redshift in SN cosmology. Taken at face values, the luminosity evolution of SN is significant enough to question the very existence of dark energy. When the luminosity evolution of SN is properly taken into account, the team found that the evidence for the existence of dark energy simply goes away.

…Other cosmological probes, such as CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) and BAO (Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations), are also known to provide some indirect and “circumstantial” evidence for dark energy, but it was recently suggested that CMB from Planck mission no longer supports the concordance cosmological model which may require new physics. Some investigators have also shown that BAO and other low-redshift cosmological probes can be consistent with a non-accelerating universe without dark energy. In this respect, the present result showing the luminosity evolution mimicking dark energy in SN cosmology is crucial and is very timely.

There was also this story from early December, also raising questions about the existence of dark energy.

Bottom line: The data that suggested dark energy’s existence was always shallow with many assumptions and large margins of uncertainty. This research only underlines that fact, a fact that many cosmologists have frequently tried to sweep under the rug.

Dark energy still might exist, but it behooves scientists to look coldly at the data and always recognize its weaknesses. It appears in terms of dark energy the cosomological community is finally beginning to do so.

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Hubble captures giant galaxy

Giant spiral galaxy imaged by Hubble
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The above image, cropped and reduced to post here, was compiled from images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018 of one of the largest known spiral galaxies.

One of the most photogenic is the huge spiral galaxy UGC 2885, located 232 million light-years away in the northern constellation, Perseus. It’s a whopper even by galactic standards. The galaxy is 2.5 times wider than our Milky Way and contains 10 times as many stars, about 1 trillion. This galaxy has lived a quiescent life by not colliding with other large galaxies. It has gradually bulked up on intergalactic hydrogen to make new stars at a slow and steady pace over many billions of years. The galaxy has been nicknamed “Rubin’s galaxy,” after astronomer Vera Rubin (1928 – 2016). Rubin used the galaxy to look for invisible dark matter. The galaxy is embedded inside a vast halo of dark matter. The amount of dark matter can be estimated by measuring its gravitational influence on the galaxy’s rotation rate.

This majestic spiral galaxy might earn the nickname the “Godzilla Galaxy” because it may be the largest known in the local universe. The galaxy, UGC 2885, is 2.5 times wider than our Milky Way and contains 10 times as many stars.

But it is a “gentle giant,” say researchers, because it looks like it has been sitting quietly over billions of years, possibly sipping hydrogen from the filamentary structure of intergalactic space. This fuels modest ongoing star birth at half the rate of our Milky Way. In fact, its supermassive central black hole is a sleeping giant, too; because the galaxy does not appear to be feeding on much smaller satellite galaxies, it is starved of infalling gas.

There are mysteries here, many of which we are as yet entirely unaware of yet.

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China now predicts more than 40 launches in 2020

The new colonial movement: China has increased its launch prediction for 2020 from 30 to more than 40 launches.

The key planned achievements:

The highlights of the space activities include the launch of China’s first Mars probe, the Chang’e-5 lunar probe, which is expected to bring moon samples back to Earth, the final step of China’s current lunar exploration program, as well as the completion of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System constellation.

Three new types of carrier rockets including the Long March-5B, Long March-7A and Long March-8 will make their maiden flights in 2020.

It sure looks like 2020 is shaping up to possibly be the most spectacular year for space since Sputnik.

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Astronaut treated for blood clot on ISS

In a first, an unnamed astronaut had been treated for a blood clot while on a six-month mission on ISS sometime in the last few years.

Ultrasound examinations of the astronauts’ internal jugular veins were performed at scheduled times in different positions during the mission. Results of the ultrasound performed about two months into the mission revealed a suspected obstructive left internal jugular venous thrombosis (blood clot) in one astronaut. The astronaut, guided in real time and interpreted by two independent radiologists on earth, performed a follow-up ultrasound, which confirmed the suspicion.

Since NASA had not encountered this condition in space before, multiple specialty discussions weighed the unknown risks of the clot traveling and blocking a vessel against anticoagulation therapy in microgravity. The space station pharmacy had 20 vials containing 300 mg of injectable enoxaparin (a heparin-like blood thinner), but no anticoagulation-reversal drug. The injections posed their own challenges – syringes are a limited commodity, and drawing liquids from vials is a significant challenge because of surface-tension effects.

The astronaut began treatment with the enoxaparin, initially at a higher dose that was reduced after 33 days to make it last until an oral anticoagulant (apixaban) could arrive via a supply spacecraft. Anticoagulation-reversing agents were also sent.

Although the size of the clot progressively shrank and blood flow through the affected internal jugular segment could be induced at day 47, spontaneous blood flow was still absent after 90 days of anticoagulation treatment. The astronaut took apixaban until four days before the return to Earth.

On landing, an ultrasound showed the remaining clot flattened to the vessel walls with no need for further anticoagulation. It was present for 24 hours after landing and gone 10 days later. Six months after returning to Earth, the astronaut remained asymptomatic.

What is not known is whether weightlessness caused the clot, or whether it would have occurred regardless. The former seems very possible as the astronaut had no history of such clots, and returned to normal almost immediately upon return to Earth. As noted at the link, more research is necessary, especially in anticipation of long interplanetary flights.

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Yutu-2 completes 13th lunar day

China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover and its lander Chang’e-4 have completed their thirteenth lunar day on the far side of the Moon and have been placed in sleep mode.

During the twelve lunar day the rover traveled about 12 meters, or about 40 feet.

The rover has found materials from deep inside the moon that could help unravel the mystery of the lunar mantle’s composition and the formation and evolution of the moon and the earth. Using data obtained by the visible and near-infrared spectrometer installed on Yutu-2, Chinese scientists found that the lunar soil in the landing area of the Chang’e-4 probe contains olivine and pyroxene which came from the lunar mantle deep inside the moon.

Due to the complicated geological environment and the rugged and heavily cratered terrain on the far side of the moon, the rover drives slowly but steadily and is expected to continue traveling on the moon and make more scientific discoveries.

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U.S. kills leader of Iranian Quds Force

In response to Iran’s attack against the U.S. embassy several days ago, the U.S. today killed several key leaders in Iran’s Quds Force, central to that nation’s terrorist attack network.

Hajj Qasem, the “shadow commander,” Israel’s “most dangerous enemy,” has been killed in Iraq alongside his key disciple Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. An airstrike near or at Baghdad International Airport targeted a motorcade with the men in it just days after their followers stormed the US Embassy compound and scrawled “Soleimani is our leader” on its walls. US President Donald Trump approved the airstrike. The Pentagon confirmed the US killed the Iranian Quds Force leader. The US said Iran was responsible for killing 608 US troops during the Iraq war.

…Reports emerged after four in the morning, Iraqi time. A mysterious airstrike near the airport had led to rumors of its closure hours earlier. Two flights were inbound at the time. A Pegasus and Iraq airways flight. Three or four rockets impacted near the airport. US helicopters were reported buzzing in the distance.

It appears a cryptic tweet from US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the US policy to begin pre-emptive strikes against Iranian adversaries or their proxies. “To Iran and its proxy militias: We will not accept the continued attacks against our personnel and forces in the region. Attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner and place of our choosing. We urge the Iranian regime to end malign activities.”

The article at the link provides a lot of good information about who these men were and what they have done for the past few decades to initiate violence and terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East.

Here’s the deal: We are still struggling with these bad guys because George Bush Jr. was a disaster as president. Had he been in charge after Pearl Harbor in 1941 he would have invaded France, but then stopped at the German border and declared victory, allowing Hitler and the Nazis to remain in power.

The simple fact is that unless you intend total victory you will lose every war you fight, and Bush demonstrated this fact starkly.

He was then followed by Barack Obama, who’s loyalties were aligned more with Iran and the Islamic terrorists than with the United States and its allies.

I have no idea if Trump understands this. I doubt it. However, it does appear that he is willing to meet violence with violence in the Middle East, the only negotiating tactic these thugs understand.

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The new pogrom in New York

This story provides a thorough listing (including videos) of all the recent anti-Semitic attacks in the New York City metropolitan area in the past year.

Those attacks included the mass shooting in a Kosher supermarket in Jersey City (killing four), and the machete attack in a Rabbi’s home (injuring five).

It appears that the majority of the attackers are black, which likely also means they are Democrats, spurred by the irrational and bigoted identity politics of that party, that celebrates all minorities except those who happen to be considered either white or conservative in its eyes. They are also probably spurred by the generally hateful and emotional rhetoric of that party, which today bases its entire policy platform on hating Donald Trump and anyone who supports him.

Still, the people who should be punished for these attacks are the people who committed them. Sadly, in New York the Democratically-controlled legislature has changed the law so that these violent individuals now have an almost automatic “Get out of Jail” card.

Much of this violence is closely related to the violence we have seen on college campuses the past three years, all aimed at conservatives. It comes from the left, and it comes as an attempt to strike fear into people’s hearts so that they will no longer be willing to publicly express their opinions.

Sadly, I think it is working. I wonder how many of my readers have found themselves silencing themselves out of fear that expressing their opinion might get them ostracized. I would not be surprised if most have done so.

The ballot box however is private. You can express your opinion there quite safely. I think it is time to do so.

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Darkened craters on Mars

Darkened craters on Elysium Planitia
Click for full image.

It’s time for the first cool image of 2020! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on October 10, 2019. It shows a handful of darkened craters on the vast volcanic Elysium Planitia plain between the giant volcanoes Olympus Mons to the east and Elysium Mons to the north.

My first thought was that these dark craters were recent crater impacts, possibly a set of secondary impacts from a larger nearby impact. However, in looking at the archive of MRO’s high resolution camera at this location (Latitude 5.925° norther; Longitude 164.965°) I found that almost no high resolution images have been taken in this region, as shown by the overview map below to the right.
» Read more

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India picks its first astronauts; confirms new lunar rover

The new colonial movement: The head of India’s space agency ISRO yesterday confirmed that their plans to build and land a rover on the Moon in 2020, while also announcing that they have chosen the first four astronauts to train for their first manned mission in 2022.

He also confirmed that the land acquisition for a second launch site is proceeding.

The astronauts, whose identity has not been revealed, will be trained by Russia.

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Modern cars automatically invade your privacy

Buy dumb! According to a December 17, 2019 news story, modern cars automatically collect a vast amount of incredibly private information about their owners, especially if the owner uses the installed blue tooth phone and GPS.

[The reporter] discovered that the car was recording details about where the car was driven and parked, call logs, identification information for his phone and contact information from his phone, “right down to people’s address, emails and even photos.” In another example, Fowler bought a Chevy infotainment computer on eBay and was able to extract private information from it about whoever owned it before him, including pictures of the person the previous owner called “Sweetie.”

While GM was the subject of Fowler’s experiments, it’s not the only company collecting data on its drivers. In 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office looked at automakers and their data privacy policies and found that the 13 car companies it looked at are not exactly using best practices. For example, while the automakers say they obtain “explicit consumer consent before collecting data,” the GAO says they “offered few options besides opting out of all connected vehicle services to consumers who did not want to share their data.”

There is no justified ethical reason for any car company to collect and keep this information, especially without asking the owner permission to gather it. It simply does not belong to them, under any reasonable definition.

As I said, buy dumb. Better to get a used car without these invasive tools, or disable them if the car has them.

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White House slashes National Security Council staffing

No more leaks of Trump phone conversations: Under the leadership of National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien,the White House is reducing the staffing of the National Security Council, returning it to numbers similar to what it was prior to the Obama administration.

Under President Obama, the NSC staff mushroomed to as many as 450 people. Mr. O’Brien plans to cut the staff to fewer than 120 policy officials by early next year. The downsizing will be carried out by consolidating positions and returning officials to agencies and departments such as the CIA, the State and Defense departments and the military.

Mr. O’Brien noted that the NSC had a policymaking staff of 12 in 1962 when President Kennedy faced down the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis. During the 2000s and the George W. Bush administration, the number of NSC staff members increased sharply to support the three-front conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terrorism.

However, it was during the Obama administration that the NSC was transformed into a major policymaking agency seeking to duplicate the functions of the State and Defense departments within the White House. “The NSC staff became bloated during the prior administration,” Mr. O’Brien said. “The NSC is a coordinating body. I am trying to get us back to a lean and efficient staff that can get the job done, can coordinate with our interagency partners, and make sure the president receives the best advice he needs to make the decisions necessary to keep the American people safe.”

Though unstated by O’Brien, a side benefit of these cutbacks is that it will remove Obama holdovers from the NSC, many of whom have been implicated or even admitted to leaking the contents of several of Trump’s private phone conversations with foreign leaders.

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NY, Illinois, California populations in decline

According to several different analyses of census data, all released in the past few days, the Democratically-controlled liberal states of New York, Illinois, and California are seeing either historic drops in population or historic drops in population growth.

For these major states to experience reductions in population growth or declines at this time, during an economic expansion, suggests that other factors are driving people from them. Could it be their leftist socialist policies, which routinely bring high taxes, heavy regulation, and an oppressive political climate? I suspect so, especially because in the past century such socialist/communist policies have routinely caused the same result repeatedly in other countries. People fled the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in Europe (controlled by the Soviet Union), they fled North Korea, they fled China for Hong Kong, they fled Cuba, and they have been fleeing from Venezuela.

And where do they go? Foreign refugees in large numbers clamor to enter the U.S., but if that destination is unavailable they then favor other capitalist nations, where freedom and private enterprise are honored. And in the U.S. the populations continues to generally shift toward more conservative states, places where those same concepts are also honored.

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U.S. embassy in Iraq attacked

Militia linked to Iran today attacked the U.S. embassy in Bagdad, breaking into the compound while chanting “Down, Down USA!” and “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”.

Iraqi security forces made no effort to stop the protesters as they marched to the heavily-fortified Green Zone after a funeral held for those killed in the U.S. airstrikes, letting them pass through a security checkpoint leading to the area.

The mob of marchers, many of them in militia uniforms, shouted “Down, Down USA!” and “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” outside the compound, hurling water and stones over its walls. The mob set fire to three trailers used by security guards along the wall. AP journalists saw some try to scale the walls.

Others then smashed the gates used by cars to enter and dozens pushed into the compound. The protesters stopped in a corridor after about 5 meters (16 feet), and were only about 200 meters away from the main building. Half a dozen U.S. soldiers were seen on the roof of the main building, their guns were pointed at the protesters. Smoke from the tear gas rose in the area. [emphasis mine]

The protests were apparently in response to the Sunday U.S. airstrikes against Iran-backed militia in Iraq, launched in retaliation for the killing of an American contractor by those same Iranian militia.

That Iraq security allowed the protesters through their security checkpoints is a very bad thing. It suggests that Iraq, caught between the U.S. and Iran, is shifting its alliance toward Iran.

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Betelguese fades a full magnitude

Long term observations of the red giant star Betelguese have found it to have faded a full magnitude in the past few months, dropping it from 6th brightest in the sky to the 21st.

You will see a lot of bad journalism related to this story, hyping the fact that Betelguese is considered one of the top nearby stars to someday in the far future go supernovae. However, the recent change in brightness is unlikely related to this and is nothing unusual, as the star fluctuates regularly.

The current faintness of Betelgeuse appears to arise from the coincidence of the star being near the minimum light of the ~5.9-yr light-cycle as well as near, the deeper than usual, minimum of the ~425-d period.

The star is definitely interesting, because it is so large (if placed in our solar system its surface would be around the orbit of Jupiter) and so defuse, more like a partly filled gasbag. However, the odds of it going supernovae in the near future is quite unlikely.

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Russia’s population to shrink?

The coming dark age: According to a report from Russia’s national statistics office, the country’s population could drop by as much as 12 million by 2035.

The report outlined three scenarios, based on present trends, with only the most optimistic predicting any population increase, though even that saw population growing by only about four million by 2035. Meanwhile, the numbers the last two years were stark:

Russia’s overall population dropped for the first time in a decade last year, totaling 146.8 million as migration inflows hit record lows. It totaled 146.7 million so far in 2019, the State Statistics Service Rosstat said this month, as Russia experienced its highest natural population decline in 11 years.

These numbers are very disturbing, for they carry terrible consequences for both Russia and the rest of the world.

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Protesters continue to shut down TMT

Mob rule: Though an agreement has been reached between the anti-telescope protesters and the mayor of the Big Island to move a tent blocking the access road to Mauna Kea, the deal also provided that no construction will proceed, even though the consortium that is building the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has gotten legal permission to do so.

They agreed to move the so-called “kupuna tent,” referring to the Hawaiian word for elder, as part of a deal announced by Big Island Mayor Harry Kim.

In exchange, Kim promised protesters there will be no attempts to deliver construction equipment to the telescope site “anytime soon,” according to Kim’s offer letter to Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the protest leaders who is considered a kupuna. “I, Mayor Kim give you my personal assurances that no attempt will be made to move TMT construction equipment up the mountain for a minimum of two months,” his letter said.

Legally Kim doesn’t really have the right to do this, unless Hawaii has decided to completely abandon the rule of law. Then again, Hawaii has decided to abandon the rule of law, as it now lets mobs, not the law, determine who can build where and when.

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ExoMars2020 passes new parachute tests

Revisions to Europe’s ExoMars2020 parachutes have successfully passed tests at JPL in California.

Working with Nasa, ESA made modifications to the way the parachutes are released from the bag, which avoids creating so much friction. Using a special rig at JPL, the parachutes have now been tested up to their expected extraction speed of just over 200km/h with no sign of damage. Further confirmatory tests will now take place.

Time remains very short however. The launch window for ExoMars2020 is this coming summer.

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Rockot launches three communications satellites

The last Russian Rockot this morning successfully placed three communications satellites and a cubesat into orbit.

The Russians are abandoning Rockot, a repurposed ballistic missile, because it uses Ukrainian hardware.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

32 China
22 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 32 to 27 in the national rankings. At this moment no other launches are scheduled for 2019, though an unannounced military launch could still happen.

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China’s Long March 5 rocket successfully launches

In what appeared to be a picture perfect launch, China’s most powerful rocket, the Long March 5, successfully placed a test communications satellite into orbit.

This success follows two previous launch failures in 2016 and 2017, and a redesign of the rocket’s first stage engines that caused a two year delay in China’s space program. It now opens the door for China’s entire manned and planetary program, as they require the Long March 5 (or variations thereof) to lift their space station modules and all their planetary probes. I have embedded an english broadcast of the launch below the fold. The launch is about 54:00 minutes in.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

32 China
21 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China now leads the U.S. 32 to 27 in the national rankings.

At this point there is only remaining one launch for this year that is publicly scheduled, from Russian.
» Read more

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Landslide primary win for Netanyahu

In a primary election today for the leadership of the conservative Israeli Likud Party, in advance of another general election on March 2nd, Benjamin Netanyahu won a landslide victory over his party challenger.

The primary election saw 49% of all Likud party members show up to vote in spite of the stormy weather, a slight increase over the last time a primary election was held by the Likud. Of the nearly 60 thousand people that cast a ballot, 72.5% did so for the incumbent Netanyahu and 27.5% for his challenger Gideon Sa’ar.

Netanyahu’s win was expected, but the landslide proportions of it were not and thus the primary challenge itself had most assuredly worked to Netanyahu’s advantage. It reaffirmed his complete hold over the Likud party and gave him a reason to re-energize his base ahead of the March 2nd general election.

While the article touts the election victory as an indication that Likud’s position is strong in the coming election, I would not be so sure. This is the third general election in Israel in less than a year, all because the voters have refused to chose a clear leader. Though they have favored the conservative parties, those parties have not been able to form a government because one party refuses to join a coalition that includes the orthodox religious parties.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu faces a court fight, as he is under indictment and there is the possibility that the high court in Israel will rule that under those conditions he cannot form a government.

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China has a shortfall of jet engines

Apropos of the engine problems on the Long March 5, it is reported today that China has a serious manufacturing shortage of the jet engines it needs for its new stealth fighters and bombers.

Aviation website Alert 5 spotted a stock-exchange filing by the Hebei subsidiary of China’s Central Iron & Steel Research Institute. The filing including production projections for military engines for the next decade, and reveals some startling shortfalls. Production and development gaps could result in the latest Chinese warplanes flying with older engine models, including imported Russian motors that might be underpowered and unreliable. The mismatch between airframes and engines could be a drag on the overall performance of Chinese military aircraft.

Perhaps the biggest shortfall is in the production of WS-15s and WS-19s, the custom motors respectively for J-20 stealth fighters and FC-31 export stealth fighters. “Data provided by Hebei Cisri Dekai Technology Co. Ltd. shows a maximum of only five WS-15 and WS-19 engines each year from 2020 ‘til 2026,” Alert 5 reported.

Apparently China will be flying these jets and bombers using inadequate Russian engines for the next five to eight years, as the country’s own industry seems unable to make them.

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A minor eruption on the Sun

How about another cool image, this time a movie taken by Solar Dynamics Orbiter (SDO) back in August 13, 2018 of what they call a minor eruption on the surface of the Sun.

Because the movie is a somewhat large file, I have embedded it below the fold. Or you could go here to see a higher resolution version. This is the description by the SDO science team:

This close-up of the Sun from a two-hour period on Aug 13, 2018 shows a minor eruption of charged particles rising up and twisting about before falling back into the Sun. Imaged in extreme ultraviolet light, these kinds of events are difficult to see except when they occur along the sun’s edge, also known as the limb. At its peak the plasma rises several times the diameter of Earth. [emphasis mine]

» Read more

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Giant scallops on Mars

Scallops on Mars
Click for full image.

It’s a slow news week, with the too much partying only real space news today the expected third launch of China’s Long March 5 rocket (supposedly scheduled for this morning but so far no word). (To my gentle reader: For some reason I have been losing a day during this whole week, always thinking that Christmas was on Thursday and that today was Friday. Thus my error in thinking the Long March 5 flight was today. It is tomorrow morning. Forgive me for my absent-mindedness.) So let’s look at a cool image!

The photo on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken my the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on October 8, 2019. Entitled “Scalloped Depressions in Utopia Planitia,” it shows a strangely eroded surface in the northern lowlands of Mars, where an intermittent ocean might have once existed.

The location of these scallops is shown to the right.

Location of scallops in Utopia Planitia

I have taken the same overview map used from two recent cool image posts, showing how these scallops relate in location to the strange crater in Utopia Planitia as well as the glacial-surrounded mesa in Protonilus Mensae.

In caves, scallops like this form from water or wind flow, but when they do, they are all oriented the same way. Here the scallops are at different orientations, terracing down from the center of the image. In this case it appears that scientists believe [pdf] the formation process is related to the sublimation of underground ice at this location.

According to [one hypothesis] scallop formation should be ongoing at the present time. Sublimation of interstitial ice could induce a collapse of material, initially as a small pit, then growing southward because of greater solar heating on the southern side. Nearby scallops would coalesce together as can be seen to have occurred.

What is most cool is that the geologists think the process that forms these scallops is related to the same processes that cause the formation of the swiss cheese landforms in the south polar regions.

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A Christmas Carol

An afternoon pause: As I have done for several years on Christmas day, I bring you the classic 1951 version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim. To my mind this movie is still by far the best adaption of the book. It is also a truly wonderful movie.

As I wrote last year,

Dickens did not demand the modern version of charity, where it is imposed by governmental force on everyone. Instead, he was advocating the older wiser concept of western civilization, that charity begins at home, that we as individuals are obliged as humans to exercise good will and generosity to others, by choice.

It is always a matter of choice. And when we take that choice away from people, we destroy the good will that makes true charity possible.

Enjoy, and have a Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas!

I have found myself being very lazy today. Rather than posting, I’ve been watching Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol and videos on how to wrap your cat for Christmas.

All silliness, but the music for that Magoo film remains top-notch and worth listening to.

Regardless, a Merry Christmas to my many readers. And a Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish readers. May we all have good will to all, even when we disagree.

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Crater in the Martian northern lowlands

Crater in Utopia Planitia
Click for original full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on October 26, 2019. It shows a crater in the western edge of Utopia Planitia, the largest and deepest region of the Martian northern lowlands where it is theorized that an intermittent ocean might have once existed.

My first uneducated guess at looking at this image is that the impact occurred in some sort of wet slushy mud or ice, which then melted and filled the crater interior, ponding in the crater’s center as it froze.

A more educated guess, based on what I have learned in the past year, is not much different. The crater is located at 40 degrees north latitude and therefore sits in the middle of the mid-latitude band where scientists think there are a lot of buried inactive glaciers.

Overview map

The map to the right, revised from my December 20, 2019 post about glaciers flowing off the slopes of a mid-latitude mesa, illustrates this even more clearly.

This crater, indicated by the white cross, sits at approximately the same latitude as that mesa and its glaciers in Protonilus Mensae. It also sits at in an area where accumulated data from several spacecraft have mapped a lot of water ice, close to the surface.

Thus, it is reasonable to suppose that the impact that made this crater pushed into that ice-table, melting the water which subsequently froze and then subsided downward into the ground to form the crater’s central ponded features.

Or to put it as I did initially, the impact smashed into some wet slushy mud/ice, melting it so that it filled the crater interior to then freeze as we see it.

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