Tag Archives: science

End coming for twin Van Allen spacecraft

Engineers at the Applied Physics Lab in Maryland on July 19 turned off one of the two Van Allen probes, with the second probe expected to receive a similar command later this year.

As expected, following final de-orbit maneuvers in February of this year, the spacecraft has used its remaining propellant to keep its solar panels pointed at the Sun and is now out of fuel. Since it depends on the Sun to provide power to the instruments, and can no longer orient itself to acquire power, the spacecraft has been turned off. The spacecraft is in a stable, circular orbit around Earth and, in about 15 years, will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up safely. The de-orbit maneuvers in February were designed to ensure this would happen and prevent the spacecraft from becoming “space junk” in orbit.

The other Van Allen Probes spacecraft, spacecraft A, is expected to operate normally until early September.

Both spacecraft functioned five years longer than expected, and during that time discovered that there are three Van Allen belts, not two as previously thought.

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Possibility of meteorites from bright fireball in Ontario

Astronomers were successfully able to track and photograph a bright fireball over Canada early today, and think it is strongly possible that pieces of it might have hit the ground.

Preliminary results indicate that the fireball first became visible just south of Oshawa over Lake Ontario at an altitude of 93 km. It traveled over Clarington and passed just west of Peterborough before extinguishing just west of Bancroft. The fireball rivaled the full moon in brightness and had a number of bright flares near the end of its flight. The meteoroid was roughly the size of a small beachball (approx. 30cm in diameter) and likely dropped a small number of meteorite fragments in the tens to hundreds of grams size-range on the ground.

Brown and his collaborators at Western and the Royal Ontario Museum are interested in connecting with people from the area of the potential fall, who may have heard anything unusual, or who may have found possible meteorites.

…Meteorites can be recognized by their dark, often scalloped exterior. Usually they will be denser than a ‘normal’ rock and will often be attracted to a magnet due to their metal content. Meteorites are not dangerous, but if recovered, it is best to place them in a clean plastic bag or wrap them in aluminum foil. They should also be handled as little as possible to help preserve their scientific value. In Canada, meteorites belong to the owner of the land upon which they are found. If individuals plan to search, they should always obtain permission of the land-owner before venturing onto private land.

If you live up in that neck of the woods, take a look around. You might find something.

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The glaciers of Mars

The glaciers on Mars

For the future colonists of Mars, the question of finding water will not be that much of a problem. Not only have planetary geologists mapped out the existence of extensive water-ice in the Martian poles, they have found that the planet apparently has widespread glacier deposits in two mid-latitude belts from 30 to 60 degrees latitude.

The question will be whether those Martian settlers will be able to easily access this water. The data so far suggests that much of the Martian underground water at high latitudes is likely mixed with dust and debris. Extracting it might not be straightforward. There are hints that the ice table at latitudes about 55 degrees might be more pure, but could be somewhat deep below ground, requiring the settlers to become miners to obtain their water. Moreover, all these high latitude locations are in environments that are more hostile, and therefore more difficult to establish a colony.

What about the glaciers? The global map of Mars above, reduced and annotated to post here, shows what are believed to be extensive glacial deposits at lower latitudes, and comes from a recently published paper on the subject. The different colors indicate the different types of glacial deposits the scientists have identified.

Green and yellow indicate what scientists call lineated valley fill (LVF) and lobate debris aprons (LDA) respectively, glacial deposits found in the transition zone between the southern highlands and either the northern lowland plains or the basins of the southern hemisphere, Hellas and Argyre. These glaciers are in many ways most similar to glaciers found on Earth, flows heading downhill along natural geographic features.

Magenta represents concentric crater fill (CCF), glacier features which seem very evenly distributed across both the northern and southern lower mid-latitude belts. Here scientists appear to have detected buried ice within the floors of craters.

The paper which included this map focused on describing a new glacial feature, something they dubbed valley fill deposits (VFD), that they had found so far in only one place, as indicated by the black square on the map.

The photograph below and on the right, reduced and cropped to post here, is from figure two of the linked paper.
» Read more

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Tsunamis on Mars?

New research has found further evidence of past tsunamis on Mars along the transition zone between the northern lowlands (where an intermittent ocean might have once existed) and the southern highlands, caused when a bolide crashed into that ocean.

The new research simulated the height of the tsunami waves and their propagation direction, run-up elevation and distance for three potential sea levels and compared these models with the Martian deposits.

The study’s results suggest several potential impact craters, 30 to 50 kilometers (19 to 31 miles) in diameter, as the source of the tsunami events. The largest tsunami waves may have been 300 meters (984 feet) high – nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower – following the impact, and waves up to 75 meters (246 feet) high – nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty. The waves ultimately reached the Martian coast, potentially traveling up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) past the shoreline.

Below the fold is a video showing the simulation of one such impact and tsunami.
» Read more

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Jackson Crater on the Moon’s far side

Jackson Crater

Central peaks of Jackson Crater

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, let’s look at another cool Moon photograph. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team on July 19 released a new breath-taking oblique image of Jackson crater, located on the Moon’s far side. The image above, reduced significantly to post here, shows that photograph and the crater’s cluster of near-center peaks. From the caption:

East-to-west view of Jackson crater (44 miles diameter). Image was acquired when LRO was at an altitude of [69 miles] and the Sun was to the west of the crater (LROC was facing somewhat towards the Sun; phase angle 114 degrees). The central peak rises about [5900 feet] above the crater floor and the top of the crater rim in the background has more than [13,000 feet] relief relative to the floor. Image width is about [40 miles] and north is to the right

The white box indicates the area covered by the close-up to the right. From the article:

What is the composition of the crust from top to bottom? It is relatively easy to measure the surface, but what lies beneath the surface? On the Earth geologists can dig and drill deep into the crust. We do not have that luxury on the Moon, at least not yet! However, we can take advantage of natural drill holes in the crust – impact craters! When impacts occur they dig into the crust and the central peaks expose the deepest material. Jackson crater formed on what was rather uneven terrain: to the east of the crater the elevation is about +6000 meters and to the west about +3000 meters. The bottom of the crater sits at +1000 meters, and the material exposed in the central peak comes from more than 1000 meters deeper still. By studying the rocks exposed in the central peak we can get a glimpse of materials that have come up from five or more kilometers below the surface (>3 miles).

The black pile of giant boulders near the top of the close-up suggests molten material dredged up from deep below the surface. So do the many black boulders on the nearer mountain slopes.

Why this dark material does not cover the entire surface is not clear. The lighter and darker material indicates different materials and ages, but the specifics are not known, as yet.

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India successfully launches Chandrayaan-2

The new colonial movement: India yesterday successfully launched its lunar orbiter/lander/rover Chandrayaan-2 into orbit.

India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle GSLV MkIII-M1, successfully launched the 3840 kg Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft into an earth orbit today (July 22, 2019). The spacecraft is now revolving round the earth with a perigee (nearest point to Earth) of 169.7 km and an apogee (farthest point to Earth) of 45,475 km. Today’s flight marks the first operational flight of the GSLV Mk III.

They will slowly raise the spacecraft’s apogee over the next two months to bring it into the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence, when they will begin lowering the orbit leading to a separation of the lander/rover for a September 7 landing near the Moon’s south pole.

This was the third launch of the upgraded GSLV Mark III. With this launch India now has an operational rocket it can use to launch its astronauts into space in 2022.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

9 China
9 Russia
8 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. continues to lead in the national rankings, 14 to 9.

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The Untouched Moon

Montes Carpatus
Click for full image.

In celebration of Apollo 11: Continuing the theme of yesterday’s cool image, where I noted how little of the Moon we have really seen, today’s cool image gives us a breath-taking glimpse of one such untouched region, the Montes Carpatus region.

The photograph to the right, reduced to post here, was released by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team in March 2018. From the release:

Volcanic rocks are our best window to the deep interior of the Moon, and the Montes Carpatus has no shortage of volcanic landforms: lava flows, pyroclatic deposits, rilles, and more! Lavas are formed as the mantle begins to melt, so by sampling volcanic rocks of various ages from regions across the Moon scientists can reconstruct the range of compositions and processes over time. The Montes Carpatus formed as a result of the giant impact that formed the mighty Imbrium basin, the mountains are actually the raised rim of the basin.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. If you had told anyone involved in that mission that fifty years later no significant further manned exploration of the Moon had yet occurred, they would have scoffed.

It is a terrible condemnation of my generation, the generation that followed Apollo 11, that we did nothing grand like this. I challenge the generations today to reach higher, and do better.

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The Taurus-Littrow valley

Taurus-Littrow Valley
Click for full image.

It might not be Apollo 11, but during this 50th anniversary week of that mission, why not look at where the last Apollo 17 crew landed, in the middle of the Taurus-Littrow valley, as shown on the right in a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LR) image released by the LRO science team in 2018.

The image illustrates how ambitious NASA had become by this last Apollo mission. The Apollo 11 site was chosen because it was flat with as few risks as possible. By Apollo 17, the Apollo engineers and astronauts were quite willing to drop the LM down into this valley between gigantic mountains. Granted, the valley was more than 400 miles wide, but considering the risks of every Apollo flight, the choice was daring to say the least.

Taurus-Littrow also has a cluster of craters believed to have been formed by material flung out from the formation of 86-kilometer-wide Tycho crater about 100 million years ago. Tycho is 2250 kilometers from Taurus-Littrow, but the impact that formed it was violent enough that it cast material far across the Moon.

Nor is this location the most spectacular on the Moon. In fact, considering that all the manned and unmanned missions in total have probably covered less ground than a New York cab driver does in a single day, we have seen almost nothing there.

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A wave on the Moon

A lunar ejector blanket

Continuing this week’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission means we get to look at another cool image from the Moon. The photograph on the right, reduced to post here, was released by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team in 2016.

What are we looking at? At first glance it looks like a black & white photograph of The Wave in northern Arizona. What it is instead is the pattern of ejecta laid down across the surrounding terrain immediately after the impact that created relatively fresh Chaplygin Crater. From the website:

The delicate patterns of flow across, over, and down local topography clearly show that ejecta traveled as a ground hugging flow for great distances, rather than simply being tossed out on a ballistic trajectory. Very near the rim lies a dark, lacy, discontinuous crust of now frozen impact melt. Clearly this dark material is on top of the bright material so it was the very last material ejected from the crater.

Below the fold is a wider shot of the entire crater and its surrounding terrain, with the rectangle indicating the region covered by the close-up above The dark crust near the rim mentioned in the quote can clearly be seen.
» Read more

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Weird lunar crater

Concentric crater in Apollo Basin on the Moon

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, it is time for another cool image from the Moon. The photograph on the right, reduced to post here, was taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in 2013. It shows a weird crater with concentric features that is found within Apollo Basin, a large 334-mile-wide double-ringed impact feature in the southern hemisphere of the Moon’s far side.

Concentric craters have an inner rim whose formation mechanism is not yet entirely understood, but the concentric mounds may indicate that there is a discontinuity, such as layers with different strengths, in the subsurface excavated by the impact.

Or to put it more bluntly, they really have no idea why this crater ended up looking as it does.

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Apollo 11 First Stage liftoff

An evening pause: This was originally posted as an evening pause in 2016. I think that today, the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, it is appropriate to repost it. As I wrote then,

Though the video is more than 8 minutes long, the actual events recorded lasted only about 30 seconds, beginning 5 seconds before T minus 0.

What struck me most as I watched this was the incredible amount of complex engineering that went into every single small detail of the rocket and the launch tower and launchpad. We tend to take for granted the difficulty of rocket engineering. This video will make you appreciate it again.

It is also mesmerizing. A lot happens in a very short period of time.

Tonight’s evening pause begins eight days of pauses dedicated to celebrating, and reliving, the Apollo 11 mission. To the Moon!

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A lunar crater wall two miles high

Giordano Bruno crater

Cool image time! Considering this week is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, it seems appropriate to show some cool images from the Moon.

Today the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team released a spectacular oblique image of Giordano Bruno crater. The image on the right is cropped and very significantly reduced to post here. It looks across the crater, with the near rim across the bottom of the picture and the wall of the far rim filling the photograph’s top half.

That wall is what makes this image cool. It is a cliff about 10,000 feet high, equaling almost two miles. Moreover, at its base is a now-solidified melt pool left over from the impact that made the crater.

Faster than a speeding bullet – or rather ten times faster than a speeding bullet – is a good starting point in terms of grasping the energy released in a typical impact event. That is, for a bullet approaching 2 kilometers in diameter! The pressure and heat that were released during the collision not only excavated a hole much larger than the impactor but also melted a tremendous amount the target rock. Melt was sprayed and sloshed on the forming crater walls where much of it flowed back, seeking the lowest point in the impact crater. From the LROC vantage point you can follow the path taken by impact melt as it flowed across the irregular floor, ponding in closed depressions, and some of it ultimately reaching the lowest point.

Below the fold is a much higher resolution section of this photograph, focused on the crater wall and the melt pool. I have still been forced to reduce the resolution somewhat to post it here. Along that cliff wall can be seen partial avalanches (the dark splotch near the center) as well boulder tracks with the boulders (probably larger than most houses) still visible as white spots at the wall’s base.

The scale here is difficult to imagine. This cliff wall is three times as high as The Abyss, the steepest single drop viewpoint along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
» Read more

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Chandrayaan-2 launch scrub caused by leak in helium bottle

Engineers today announced that the July 14 scrub of India’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter/lander/rover was caused by a leak in a helium bottle in the GSLV rocket.

“The good news is that we can fix the leak without dismantling the rocket, since there is an access door to the gas bottle which is atop the oxygen tank,” a senior scientist told TOI. “The bad news is that unless we ascertain the reason for the leak, there is a probability of the problem recurring.” Not having to dismantle means Chandrayaan-2 may be able to fly before the end of the July launch window, but a final failure analysis will be available only in a day or two.

Sources told TOI that the leak wasn’t serious enough to impair the flight, but Isro decided to apply “abundant caution,” given the importance of the Rs 978-crore project that would make India only the fourth country – after the US, Russia and China – to land a craft on the lunar surface.

I am willing to bet that if their investigation does not pinpoint the cause of the leak in the next few days, they will stand down from the July launch window. This mission, as well as proving the reliability of their GSLV rocket, are both too important to risk on an unknown and unsolved engineering issue.

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Hayabusa-2: Carbon-rich asteroids too delicate to reach Earth surface

New data from Hayabusa-2 has confirmed the long-held suspicions of astronomers that the reason they find so few fragments of C-class asteroids, such as Ryugu, on Earth is because they are too delicate to reach the Earth’s surface.

Ryugu and other asteroids of the common ‘C-class’ [chondritic] consist of more porous material than was previously thought. Small fragments of their material are therefore too fragile to survive entry into the atmosphere in the event of a collision with Earth.

…Until now, only a few chondritic meteorites found on Earth have been identified as fragments of C-type asteroids, which are very common in the Solar System (‘C’ is the chemical symbol for the element carbon). …”We can now confirm that fragments of these asteroids are very likely to break up further when they enter Earth’s atmosphere, and then usually burn up completely. This means that only the largest fragments reach the Earth’s surface,” explains Grott. “That is why meteorites from this type of asteroid are so rarely found on Earth.”

The good news is that, because of this, Earth’s atmosphere offers increased protection from C-type asteroids, which account for 75 percent of all asteroids. …However, further research is necessary to determine the maximum asteroid size for which this atmospheric protection is effective.

It is likely that even the largest rubble-pile C-asteroids will not pose much risk. Even if some pieces reach the Earth’s surface they are probably going to be small and unable to do much harm.

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Two new science papers strongly question theory of man-made global warming

The uncertainty of science: Two new science papers, from researchers in Finland and Japan respectively, both strongly question the theory that human activity and the increase of carbon dioxide are causing global warming.

From the Finnish paper’s [pdf] conclusion:

We have proven that the [climate]-models used in IPCC report AR5 cannot compute correctly the natural component included in the observed global temperature. The reason is that the models fail to derive the influences of low cloud cover fraction on the global temperature. A too small natural component results in a too large portion for the contribution of the greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. That is why 6 J. KAUPPINEN AND P. MALMI IPCC represents the climate sensitivity more than one order of magnitude larger than our sensitivity 0.24°C. Because the anthropogenic portion in the increased CO2 is less than 10 %, we have practically no anthropogenic climate change. The low clouds control mainly the global temperature. [emphasis mine]

From the Japanese paper:

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has discussed the impact of cloud cover on climate in their evaluations, but this phenomenon has never been considered in climate predictions due to the insufficient physical understanding of it,” comments Professor Hyodo. “This study provides an opportunity to rethink the impact of clouds on climate. When galactic cosmic rays increase, so do low clouds, and when cosmic rays decrease clouds do as well, so climate warming may be caused by an opposite-umbrella effect. The umbrella effect caused by galactic cosmic rays is important when thinking about current global warming as well as the warm period of the medieval era.”

Essentially, both criticize the climate models for not considering changes in cloud cover and how those effect the global climate. The first paper looks back at the known climate data and compares it with known changes in cloud cover, and finds that cloud cover is a major factor in temperature changes.

The second paper looks at the causes for some of the changes in cloud cover, noting how the increase in galactic cosmic rays during the solar minimum can be tied to an increase in cloud cover, and thus colder temperatures.

Do these papers disprove man-made global warming caused by the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Of course not. They just demonstrate again that the science here is very unsettled, that there are many large gaps in our knowledge, and that it would be foolish now to abandon western civilization and replace it with socialist totalitarian rule in order to prevent a disaster that either might not be happening, or if it is we may have no power to control.

I want to also point out that this post talks about scientists challenging the theory of man-made global warming. Attention must be paid to their conclusions. As for the ignorant opinions of politicians on this subject, who cares?

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Russia successfully launches Spektr-RG carrying two X-ray space telescopes

Russia today successfully used its Proton rocket to launch Spektr-RG, carrying two X-ray space telescopes.

Spektr-RG was first conceived in the 1990s, but got shelved then because Russia did not have the money to launch it. The project got revived in 2005 when the Germans came on to build one of the two telescopes.

“We had an ambitious plan for the project which didn’t correspond to the power of the country of that moment,” [lead scientist Mikhail] Pavlinsky told Spaceflight Now. “We decided to restart it with a smaller version.”

The Russian and German space agencies signed an agreement in 2009 to jointly develop the Spektr-RG mission, but the project faced additional schedule delays due to technical problems and a decision to switch the observatory from a Zenit launcher to a Proton rocket.

Designers also changed Spektr-RG’s observing location from an orbit around Earth to a looping trajectory around the L2 Lagrange point.

Spektr-RG is the largest Russian astronomy satellite to launch since the Spektr-R radio observatory in 2011. Spektr-R stopped responding to commands from the ground in January after exceeding its planned five-year mission lifetime, and Russian officials declared the mission over in April.

Spektr-RG’s planned mission is set for seven years.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

9 China
8 SpaceX
8 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China in the national rankings 14 to 9.

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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image of Curiosity

Curiosity as seen from orbit

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) science team today released an image taken on May 31, 2019 by the orbiter’s HiRISE high resolution camera of Curiosity when it was nestled against the cliff at the bottom of Vera Rubin Ridge.

The image above is that enhanced color image, reduced and annotated to post here. I have added the track of Curiosity’s route down from Vera Rubin Ridge leading up to the point where this picture was snapped.

In the image, Curiosity appears as a bluish speck. Vera Rubin Ridge cuts across the scene north of the rover, while a dark patch of sand lies to the northeast.

Look carefully at the inset image, and you can make out what it is likely Curiosity’s “head,” technically known as the remote sensing mast. A bright spot appears in the upper-left corner of the rover. At the time this image was acquired, the rover was facing 65 degrees counterclockwise from north, which would put the mast in about the right location to produce this bright spot.

Mirror-like reflections off smooth surfaces show up as especially bright spots in HiRISE images. For the camera to see these reflections on the rover, the Sun and MRO need to be in just the right locations. This enhanced-color image of Curiosity shows three or four distinct bright spots that are likely such reflections.

From this location Curiosity first continued along the cliff’s base to study that dark patch of sand to the northeast, then it turned almost due south in order to get back to its nominal route into Gediz Valles canyon, as shown in my May 30, 2019 rover update.

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Hayabusa-2’s second touchdown an apparent success

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe has successfully completed its second touch-and-go sample grab on the asteroid Ryugu.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 successfully completed its second touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu and probably captured material from its interior that was exposed by firing a projectile into the asteroid earlier this year. It is the first collection of subsurface materials from a solar system body other than the moon.

Engineers and technicians in the spacecraft’s control room near Tokyo could be seen erupting into cheers and applause on a YouTube live stream when Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda proclaimed the operation a success just before 11 a.m. local time. At an afternoon press briefing, Tsuda said, “Everything went perfectly.” He joked that if a score of 100 indicated perfection, “I would give this a score of 1000.”

They will now begin the journey home, with the samples arriving on Earth in December 2020.

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TMT construction begins July 15

According to a press announcement today from the governor’s office in Hawaii, construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope will finally begin during the week of July 15 following several years of delays due to protests.

The State Department of Transportation announced that Mauna Kea Access Road will be closed and there could be lane and other road closures associated with large equipment movement beginning July 15. In addition, hunting units A, K, and G in the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve area will be temporarily closed to hunting effective July 15. Both measures are being taken to ensure the safety and security of the public and personnel involved in moving equipment for the TMT project up the Mauna Kea Access Road.

Expect more protests. The real question is whether the Democratic governor David Ige can stand up to them, especially because these protesters have been using the kind of identity politics that the Democratic Party relies on. Ige would have to defy that, and I haven’t seen a Democrat do that in decades.

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Trump drops plan to establish independent climate review panel

The Trump administration has abandoned a plan to create a more balanced climate science review panel to review the climate change claims within government research.

It appears that while the idea to put government-paid research under a wider range of scientific review was laudable, the White House could not figure out how to do it, even as factions within the administration fought the proposal.

The idea to create the panel has caused strife within the White House. Among its critics are deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell; Kevin Hassett, the outgoing chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council; and Kelvin Droegemeier, the president’s science adviser. Those supporting the plan include Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Brooke Rollins, assistant to Trump in the Office of American Innovation.

An official at NSC disputed the characterization that the panel was dead, even while confirming that it had been indefinitely delayed. The plan has suffered several downgrades over the months. It was initially proposed as a rapid response team of climate science critics who would challenge government publications on human-caused warming. Recent discussions have centered on the idea of forcing government climate scientists to participate in a debate with critics of their work who deny that humans are causing widespread changes on Earth (Climatewire, June 6). Most recently, the plan was diminished to creating dueling white papers that would elevate climate denialism to the level of consensus science.

The bottom line remains that a lot of climate research being done on the government dime today is, at a minimum, very suspect, and at the worst, demonstrably corrupt. A house-cleaning is necessary, even though it will likely be accompanied by a lot of squealing from those who get cleaned out.

It seems that the Trump administration is not prepared to deal with that squealing, especially because it appears that Trump himself is not passionate about this subject. He went after EPA aggressively, cutting the size of the agency and changing how it did business, but these actions were because he saw EPA as an out-of-control government agency imposing inappropriate regulations on American citizens. Corruption and data tampering and the politicization of the climate research field does not concern him so much. It appears he does not see this as directly affecting the American citizen.

For now.

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Study says space radiation less of a risk

A newly released study now claims that, based on a long term review of astronauts who have spent a considerable time in space, it appears that space radiation does not cause an increase in cancer later in life.

The new study analyzed information from 418 space travelers, including 301 NASA astronauts who had traveled to space at least once since 1959, and 117 Russian or Soviet cosmonauts who had traveled to space at least once since 1961. These participants were followed for about 25 years, on average.

During this time, 89 of the participants died. Among the 53 NASA astronauts who died, 30% died from cancer and 15% from heart disease; while among the 36 Russian or Soviet cosmonauts who died, 50% died from heart disease and 28% from cancer.

The researchers used a special statistical technique to determine whether deaths from cancer and heart disease likely had a common cause — in this case, the common cause would be space radiation. But their results did not point to a common cause of death. “If ionizing radiation is impacting the risk of death due to cancer and cardiovascular disease, the effect is not dramatic,” the authors wrote in their study, published July 4 in the journal Scientific Reports.

This story first appeared about two weeks ago, but I didn’t think it significant, and still don’t. The sample is just not large enough to draw any solid conclusions. Moreover, this is exposure in low Earth orbit, not on interplanetary missions where the radiation risk is higher. It would be a big mistake for future space engineering to accept these findings blindly.

Still, news reports keep popping up about it, and I decided I should at least note it here on Behind the Black.

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Hayabusa-2 begins second touch&go sample grab on Ryugu

The Hayabusa-2 science team has begun the approach to Ryugu for the spacecraft’s second tough-and-go sample grab.

The link outlines the plan and timing of the operation. You can view real-time images taken by the probe’s navigation camera here. The actual touchdown will take place on July 11 (Japan time).

You can also view a set of stereoscopic images of Ryugu produced by Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen who clearly wants to return to his roots as a trained astrophysicist.

As they note at the first link:

The 2nd touchdown is the last big operation at Ryugu for the Hayabusa2 project. We will proceed with caution and the upmost care. Please wish us success…!

If successful, their next big operation will be getting those samples back to Earth.

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Faking gravity in space with a spinning table

Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder are experimenting with the use of a rotating table to give space-farers short doses of artificial gravity in order to mitigate the negative consequences of weightlessness.

In a series of recent studies, the pair and their colleagues set out to investigate whether queasiness is really the price of admission for artificial gravity. In other words, could astronauts train their bodies to tolerate the strain that comes from being spun around in circles like hamsters in a wheel?

The team began by recruiting a group of volunteers and tested them on the centrifuge across 10 sessions.

But unlike most earlier studies, the CU Boulder researchers took things slow. They first spun their subjects at just one rotation per minute, and only increased the speed once each recruit was no longer experiencing the cross-coupled illusion. “I present at a conference and everyone says, ‘she’s the one who spins people and makes them sick,'” Bretl said. “But we try to avoid instances of motion sickness because the whole point of our research is to make it tolerable.”

The personalized approach worked. By the end of 10th session, the study subjects were all spinning comfortably, without feeling any illusion, at an average speed of about 17 rotations per minute. That’s much faster than any previous research had been able to achieve.

The idea is that you could install this rotating table on a interplanetary ship, and have its occupants periodically spend time on it to get their daily dose of gravity. This way you would not have to build a giant spinning spaceship.

The research has potential. The one question that remains unanswered and is probably central to this concept is how little gravity is needed to avoid the problems of weightlessness. Right now, we do not know. It could be for example that 30 minutes at 1/10 g could do the job. Or maybe 1 g for 2 hours. If the former the engineering challenges become minor. If the latter the problems are more difficult.

I am aware of only one centrifuge experiment ever done in weightlessness, on a Russian space station. They rotated a plant at a very tiny percentage of g’s and found it might help plants prosper in space. The data point however is too small, with no followup. This is the kind of research that should be going on on ISS, and is not.

Hat tip Marcus A.

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Wheel update on Curiosity

Periodically, the Curiosity science team stops from its research to reassess the condition of the rover’s wheels. To do this they use the rover’s color camera, dubbed the Mast Camera (Mastcam), taking close-up pictures of the wheels to compare those with earlier photographs see if there has been any additional damage and deterioration over time.

Yesterday Mastcam took a new series of images of the rover’s wheels. Below are two pictures, the left taken on August 27, 2017, the right taken on July 7, 2019. I have annotated the images to help indicate where they match.
» Read more

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Engineers adjust Voyagers 1 & 2 because of steadily dropping power

In recognition that the available power on both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 continues to drop due to the age of the spacecraft, engineers have decided to make some major changes in how they operate both spacecraft.

For example, to save power on Voyager 2 they have turned off the heaters for the instrument that confirmed last year that the spacecraft had entered interstellar space. Even so, the instrument is still functioning and sending back data. It is expected it will continue to work for some time before finally succumbing to the cold of deep space.

They have also decided to reactivate the back-up thrusters on Voyager 2, just as they did with Voyager 1 in 2017.

Another challenge that engineers have faced is managing the degradation of some of the spacecraft thrusters, which fire in tiny pulses, or puffs, to subtly rotate the spacecraft. This became an issue in 2017, when mission controllers noticed that a set of thrusters on Voyager 1 needed to give off more puffs to keep the spacecraft’s antenna pointed at Earth. To make sure the spacecraft could continue to maintain proper orientation, the team fired up another set of thrusters on Voyager 1 that hadn’t been used in 37 years.

Voyager 2’s current thrusters have started to degrade, too. Mission managers have decided to make the same thruster switch on that probe this month. Voyager 2 last used these thrusters (known as trajectory correction maneuver thrusters) during its encounter with Neptune in 1989.

It is thirty years since those thusters on Voyager 2’s were used. If they work it will be an incredible testament to the engineers who designed both spacecraft.

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The Greatest Scientific Fraud Of All Time — Part XXIII

Link here. The author continues a long running series outlining the data manipulation and tampering that has been going on at NOAA and NASA to distort the global temperature record so it will confirm the theories of global warming activists. As he notes,

Sure enough, there have been additional adjustments, as always in the same direction — older down, and newer up. But those adjustments between v.3 and v.4 have been relatively minor. More significantly, Kirye discovered a different maneuver which is even more incredible, and which he proves by direct links back to NASA’s own website: In the v.4 graphs that it provides, NASA has relabeled the hugely-adjusted v.3 data as “unadjusted.”

He pinpoints how NASA is now taking its adjusted data and labeling them unadjusted, so that it can justify even more adjustments, all always cooling the past and warming the present. As he adds,

Funny that once again, each one of the adjustments somehow enhances the warming trend. Is it really possible that never once does any new data, or adjustment to data, lead to a change in the other direction?

This is political hackwork disguised as science. Until the climate science community does something to stop this and clean up the mess in its global temperature data, they will find themselves unable to convince anyone of their scientific credibility. Which by the way is generally in the sewer.

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Sunspot update June 2019: Down to zero again, with next cycle making an appearance

Below is the June graph of sunspot activity released by NOAA yesterday. As I do every month, I am posting it here, annotated to give it some context.

After three months of slightly increased sunspot activity, the Sun in June was essentially blank, with sunspots visible on its facing hemisphere on only five days. In addition, the 36 day stretch of spotless days that began in May and stretched through most of June was the longest such stretch since the last minimum in 2009.
June 2019 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.

Even while the solar minimum continues and heads for its low point, the first indications of the next solar solar cycle have appeared:
» Read more

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