December 19, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Friend or UFOe
Warning – do not adjust your Tin Foil Hat! In an uncharacteristic show of candor, the U.S. Department of Defense fessed up to the existence of a five-year, multimillion-dollar program dedicated to investigating “unidentified aerial phenomena” (i.e, UFOs) spotted by pilots and military personnel, according to reports published nearly simultaneously by the New York Times and Politico last week. Dubbed the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP), the unclassified but highly hush-hush operation that officially “ended” in 2012 was the brainchild of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and late Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Ted Stevens (R-AK), who along with Reid were concerned, not that we were being visited by beings from another world, but rather that other nations were developing high-tech super toys that could pose a security threat to the U.S.
That said, a significant influence on Reid who pushed for the now mothballed program was pal and fellow Nevadian Bob Bigelow, who owns space technology and government contractor Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow, whose firm ultimately received some of the research contracts from the effort, is well known for his outspoken views in which he believes extraterrestrial visitors have frequently travelled to Earth.
While the AATIP program was fiscally shut down in 2012, it recently garnered attention because of the resignation this past October of the career intelligence officer who directed the initiative. According to Politico, in his resignation letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis, Luis Elizondo complained that the AATIP effort was not being taken seriously by the Pentagon.
“We tried to work within the system,” Elizondo told Politico recently. “We were trying to take the voodoo out of voodoo science.”
Elizondo described scores of sightings by Navy pilots and others of strange aircraft with capacities way beyond what is currently regarded to be aerodynamically possible. According to Elizondo, these super-craft were often spotted near nuclear facilities, ships at sea, or power plants. “We had never seen anything like it.”
But, in Elizondo’s view, no one in authority seem particularly alarmed.”If a Russian ‘Bear’ bomber comes in near California, it is all over the news,” he said. “These are coming in the skies over our facilities. Nothing but crickets.”
Elizondo, who is now involved in the for-profit company called To The Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences that claims “there is sufficient credible evidence of UAP [unidentified aerial phenomenon] that proves exotic technologies exist that could revolutionize the human experience,” released previously-classified 2004 footage recorded from the cockpit of a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet in which the pilots can be heard marveling at a wingless object as it seemed to violate the laws of physics.
“I can tell you, I think it was not from this world,” one of the pilots, retired Cmdr. David Fravor, told ABC News this week. “I’m not crazy, haven’t been drinking. It was — after 18 years of flying, I’ve seen pretty much about everything that I can see in that realm, and this was nothing close.” “I have never seen anything in my life, in my history of flying that has the performance [and] acceleration,” added Fravor, who witnessed seeing the 40-foot-long wingless “white Tic Tac” that flew at incredible speeds in an erratic pattern.
“No aircraft that we know of can fly at those speeds, maneuver like that and looks like that,” ABC News contributor and former Marine Col. Stephen Ganyard commented.
Fravor offers no rational explanation for what he and his co-pilot saw that day. “I don’t know if it was alien life, but I will say that in an infinite universe, with multiple galaxies that we know of, that if we’re the only planet with life, it’s a pretty lonely universe.”
December 4, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Hi-tech empresario and human mimic Elon Musk had tongues wagging again late last week after tweeting that he plans to blast one of his Tesla cherry red Roadsters atop the first launch of Space X’s Falcon Heavy rocket early next year.
“Falcon Heavy to launch next month from Apollo 11 pad at the Cape. Will have double thrust of next largest rocket. Guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another,” Musk tweeted on Friday, adding the kicker, “Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing [David Bowie’s] Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.”
While Musk is known as a practical joker, his commercial space company has a history of sending eyebrow-raising choice of payloads aboard its maiden voyages. Although it is most likely the sacrificial coupe will end up in flaming midnight-cherry pieces rather than anywhere near the Red Planet.
Blast from the Past
NASA announced last week that it successfully fired up a set of backup thrusters aboard the interstellar-traveling Voyager 1 spacecraft last Wednesday – just 37 years since they were last used. “With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years … we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Every so often the probe – now more than 13 billion miles from Earth – relies on tiny, millisecond-long pulses or “puffs” from its main attitude control thrusters to ensure the craft’s antenna is pointed towards our planet.
However, since 2014, NASA engineers noticed that the primary boosters had been degrading, so after putting a few heads together, the space agency decided to give the orientation job to the mothballed thruster set that had been dormant since 1980. “The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters,” said Jones, chief engineer at JPL. Following the successful thruster firings, NASA plans to switch to the backup boosters in January. In fact, Voyager 1’s backup thrusters performed so well, the JPL team is expected to perform a similar test on the craft’s twin, Voyager 2, which is expected to enter interstellar space within the next few years.
Thrice in a Blue Moon
Last night’s full moon was the first of three consecutive “supermoons” that will include an “extra-special” celestial show on January 31, 2018 featuring a total lunar eclipse visible from western North America, the Pacific, and Eastern Asia. The next “supermoon” will occur New Years Day, followed by a “blue moon” happening January 31, which is also the night of the lunar eclipse. These full moons, occurring when our satellite is at it closest orbital point to the Earth (called perigee), appear up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than when the moon is at its furthest point from our planet (apogee).
Worth a Thousand Words
NASA’s Juno spacecraft snapped the above spectacular pix on October 24th, the top image capturing a cloud system in Jupiter’s northern hemisphere when the probe was a mere 11,747 miles above the swirling gases, and the lower photo featuring the gas giant’s southern hemisphere when Juno whizzed 20,577 miles by the planet. “Citizen scientists” Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran processed both photos using data from the JunoCam imager.
LOUD AND CLEAR
November 20, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Under the Rainbow
As Donald Trump spouted his “America First” trade rhetoric to gatherings of gleefully unimpressed representatives of Asia-Pacific nations earlier this month, one could sense a not-so-subtle diminution of America’s mojo as leader of the global pack as China challenges our perennial alpha dog status. And while Trump closes his eyes, clicks his heels three times and recites, “There’s no place like home,” most of the rest of the world is racing to cooperate in an increasingly tech-connected and environmentally-marred world.
This paradigm shift includes humanity’s endeavors to understand and explore the cosmos, as a recent Atlantic article about China’s spanking-new, state-of-the-art, alien-searching radio telescope illustrates. The 1,650-foot-wide “Tianyan” dish, the first such instrument built specifically for eavesdropping on extraterrestrial civilizations (as well as possibly snooping on other countries’ military satellites), showcases China’s intellectual gusto and political will to jump into the unknown head first, while our own leaders abandoned the original SETI program a quarter of a century ago, declaring “the end of Martian-hunting season at the taxpayer’s expense.”
China’s cosmic bugging device also embodies that country’s transition from a focus on applied sciences such as building the world’s fastest supercomputer, to fundamental sciences that includes constructing an atom smasher that will “conjure thousands of ‘god particles’ out of the ether,'” making Cern’s Large Hadron Collider look like a technological has-been. And of course the “Celestial Kingdom” has it eyes on this century’s ultimate photo-op: landing astronauts on Mars.
So while our “Prosimian-in-chief” and his neo-Nazi buddies are busy channelling the status quo from a time when America wasn’t so great, others in the US chain of command are starting to panic a bit regarding our stature as a cosmic superpower. For instance, a couple of weeks ago Air Force Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast expressed concern that China is bearing down on our rear view mirror when it comes to leadership in space, at least militarily. “In my best military judgment, China is on a 10-year journey to operationalize space. We’re on a 50-year journey,” Kwast told CNBC. Kwast, who authored a recent study called “Fast Space” in which he stresses that public-private partnerships must be the nation’s focus, not an “an Air Force in space” is obviously also focused on national security matters.
Militaries will soon operate between the Earth and moon, said Kwast, adding that “China is working on building a ‘navy in space'” that would work even beyond Earth’s gravity. However, China is the not the prime threat that’s keeping him awake at night. North Korea, with its continued missile testing, is “a real problem,” Kwast warned, adding that “Right now, if North Korea were to launch a missile into space and detonate an electromagnetic pulse, it would take out our eyes in space.”
The problem facing Kwast, as well a host of other more grounded bureaucrats and policy experts, is that they are paddling upstream against the most scientifically-bereft administration in perhaps the past 80 years. And as anyone with a modicum of intelligence tries to deliver the message, “Donald, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” all they get back are the lumbering strains of “If I Only Had a Brain.”
November 6, 2017
Editor’s Note: We will be back next week, November 13, with a new Weekly Revolution column. In the meantime, enjoy the part of our Milky Way as seen recently from somewhere in the U.S. Rocky Mountains – if you squint a bit, you can also see the Andromeda Galaxy in the upper left-hand corner. (Photo: Agnett Bonwitt)
OUTSIDE THE BOX
October 23, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Ripple EffectIn what is being hailed as a new era of astronomy by an army of cosmologists, scientists for the first time have directly detected both gravitational waves and energy covering most of the electromagnetic spectrum of the same cosmic event – the “spectacular collision” of two neutron stars. Scientific dividends from the discovery are still pouring in; however brainiacs are already gushing how this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon has increased their understanding of the nature of short gamma ray bursts, as well as given them the clearest explanation to date on how heavy metals are produced in the universe.
The sighting was also a huge feather in the cap of the US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the European-based Virgo detector, as well as a gaggle of 70 ground- and space-based observatories that joined in an unprecedented opportunity of global collaboration.
“It is tremendously exciting to experience a rare event that transforms our understanding of the workings of the universe,” says France A. Córdova, director of the National ScienceFoundation (NSF), which funds LIGO.
According to the LIGO-Virgo results published last week in the journal Physical Review Letters; on August 17th this year, two identical LIGO detectors, located
in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, in addition to the Virgo detector situated near Pisa, Italy, picked up the gravitational waves – or ripples in spacetime – caused by the cosmic smashup of two tiny, super-dense neutron stars (dubbed that occurred 130 million years ago in the elliptical galaxy NCG 4993 that many light years from Earth (a neutron star, which is generally only 12 miles in diameter, is so compact that a teaspoon of its material has a mass of about a billion tons).
As these neutron stars corkscrewed together, they belched out gravitational waves lasting 100 seconds, followed by a flash of gamma rays two seconds later. According to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, in the following days and weeks, other forms of electromagnetic radiation — including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio waves — were also spotted.
In additional to what is the astronomical equivalent of having snatched a great white whale, what has made all these researchers giddy is that having the unparalleled opportunity to view two colliding neutron stars has provided them the key to unlock some of the nagging mysteries of the universe. For instance, observations made by the U.S. Gemini Observatory, the European Very Large Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed “signatures of recently synthesized material,” including gold and platinum (worth approximately 100 octillion dollars in today’s market prices), solving a longstanding conundrum of where about half of all elements heavier than iron are produced. In addition the European Space Agency’s gamma-ray observatory INTEGRAL, was able to confirm that at least some short gamma-ray bursts are spawned by the mingling of neutron stars — something that was only theorized before.
“From informing detailed models of the inner workings of neutron stars and the emissions they produce, to more fundamental physics such as general relativity, this event is just so rich. It is a gift that will keep on giving,” said David
Shoemaker, spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and senior research
scientist in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.
Down the Tubes
A massive network of lava tubes found beneath the Moon’s surface could be large enough to accommodate a lunar colony the size of several large Earth cities, according to a study by Japanese astronomers published last week in the science journal Geophysical Research Letters. In fact, a mammoth open lava tube, found in the Moon’s Marius Hills region, could provide a ready-made shield against human-killing space radiation say researchers from the Japanese space agency JAXA (take note NASA scientists who are dreaming of creating Frankenastronauts to make them impervious to electromagnetic energy found in deep space). “It’s important to know where and how big lunar lava tubes are if we’re ever going to construct a lunar base,” says Junichi Haruyama of JAXA that operates the Japanese lunar orbiter SELENE, which along with NASA’s GRAIL gravitational field mission, was designed to find the underground volcanic lunar structures. According to the scientists who are looking for additional smaller lava conduits, the recently-discovered tunnel will need to be mapped and scanned by a future robotic probe mission to accurately determine its size and condition.
Dawn of New Days
Fans of the dwarf planet Ceres have a renewed season of scientific binging to look forward to now that NASA has given the green light for a second extension of the Dawn mission currently parked in orbit around the largest – and enigmatic – asteroid between Jupiter and Mars. According to NASA, the Dawn probe, which has been circling around Ceres since March 2015, will be placed in a new elliptical orbit that could take the spacecraft just 120 miles from the orb’s surface – about half the distance of the closest encounter to date. In fact the spacecraft is expected to remain in its final, stable orbit indefinitely after the newest scientific investigation ends and its hydrazine fuel runs out. In addition to its extended imaging and mapping studies, the probe will be online as Ceres reaches its closest approach to the Sun (or perihelion) in April 2018 at which time a significant portion of ice on Ceres’ surface may turn to water vapor, and create a thin atmosphere similar to one detected by European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory before Dawn’s arrival a few years ago.
Up to Speed
While NASA held a PR party last week to show off the test of its old-school, heavy-lifting RS-25 rocket engines that are planned to someday power the space agency’s SLS rocket designed to launch humans to Mars, a group of researchers at the University of Michigan working with NASA unveiled a new ion-based “X3” thruster capable of propelling spacecraft eight times the speeds of chemical-propulsion rockets. “You can think of electric propulsion as having 10 times the miles per gallon compared with chemical propulsion,” said Alec Gallimore, leader of the X3 project, who added, “We have shown that X3 can operate at over 100 kW of power. It generated 5.4 Newtons of thrust, which is the highest level of thrust achieved by any plasma thruster to date.” Instead of igniting highly flammable rocket fuel, ion engines vibrate plasma atoms resulting in a blast of energy that creates – compared to what we have now – phenomenal speeds.
Cradle May Have Fallen
An analysis of data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicates that undersea hydrothermal activity on Mars may have been present about 3.7 billion years ago at the same time similar conditions were present on Earth where life may have emerged. Based on the recently-released international report, this cradle-of-life scenario on the Red Planet has been strengthened by what appear to be extensive deposits found in a basin on southern Mars that are being interpreted as evidence of heated water from volcanic activity located at the bottom of an ancient sea nearly 10 times as massive than all of North America’s Great Lakes combined. “Ancient, deep-water hydrothermal deposits in Eridania basin represent a new category of astrobiological target on Mars,” the report states. The researchers, however, don’t seem phased if their hunch turns out to be a dead end. “Even if we never find evidence that there’s been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth,” said Paul Niles of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston. “It is evocative of the deep-sea hydrothermal environments on Earth, similar to environments where life might be found on other worlds — life that doesn’t need a nice atmosphere or temperate surface, but just rocks, heat and water,” Niles added.
Bravado New World
RUNNING AROUND IN CIRCLES
October 16, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Blown’ in the Wind
A new study published last week has breathed new life into efforts to use deep-ocean-based wind farms as a viable means of supplying a non-fossil fuel source for the world’s energy needs. The research, conducted by the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, CA, concludes that there is so much wind power packed in the world’s oceans that it could theoretically be used to generate “civilization scale power.;” however, in practice it would be difficult to commit entities to find ways to install wind turbines located over huge stretches of global seas often in extreme environments.
While it’s highly unlikely that we would ever construct open ocean turbines on such a grand scale (the scientists also warned that a gianormous network of wind farms could actually affect global weather patterns), the study does send a more modest message that floating wind farms over deep waters could be the next major step in wind energy technology, reports the Washington Post.
“I would look at this as kind of a green light for that industry from a geophysical point of view,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford.
Unlike land-based wind generators that lose a lot of potential energy from friction and immediate use, ocean-based turbines, while being able to collect up to 70 percent higher wind speeds, also can take advantage of what is known as wind replenishment. In other words, the new research found that over the mid-latitude seas, storms typically transfer powerful wind energy down to the surface from higher altitudes, providing a lot more bang for the buck.
“Over land, the turbines are just sort of scraping the kinetic energy out of the lowest part of the atmosphere, whereas over the ocean, it’s depleting the kinetic energy out of most of the troposphere, or the lower part of the atmosphere,” said Caldeira.
If taken seriously, the new research points to a kind of third act for wind energy following well-established land, turbines and offshore installations located in relatively shallow waters. However, to reach to the next stage where floating structures accompanied by cables anchoring the wind generator to the seafloor over a mile below will take a considerable leap over the current technology. “The things that we’re describing are likely not going to be economic today, but once you have an industry that’s starting in that direction, should provide incentive for that industry to develop,” said Caldeira.
That said, experimentation with deep sea wind technology is beginning to happen. For instance, energy exploration company Statoil has committed to building a large floating wind farm off the coast of Scotland, which will be located in waters around 100 meters deep and have 15 megawatts (million watts) of electricity generating capacity.
On a down note though, in light of increasingly dismal news on health of our planet (at least from a human survivability standpoint), one wonders again if this is all too little to late. The latest dire report comes from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) that has recorded the greatest greenhouse gas spike in the last 2,000 years occuring during the 2015-16 El Nino period, as well as monitoring overheated tropical forests oozing with CO2. Perhaps we can leave a note of warning for future civilizations, so unlike us, they can hoist their sail when the wind is fair.
The astronomy world is abuzz overt the discovery of a ring around an odd-shaped dwarf planet located beyond Neptune,making it the furthest object in our solar system to own such a feature. According to a team of scientists who published their findings in the journal Nature, the 43 mile-wide, 1,400 mile-long ring system belonging to the planetoid Haumea was spotted on January 21st this year using a battery of 12 telescopes from 10 countries as the tiny orb passed in front of a distant star. “There are different possible explanations for the formation of the ring; it may have originated in a collision with another object, or in the dispersal of surface material due to the planet’s high rotational speed,” said study team leader Jose Ortiz, who added that the new discovery shows that the presence of ringed bodies could be more common the in universe than previously thought. One of the most bizarrely-formed objects in our solar system, Haumea takes 284 years to orbit the Sun and rotates on its axis once in only four hours.
Splice of Life
One of the main problems to solve if humans are to successfully settle Mars and beyond (besides air) is how to overcome the dangers of radiation in space once we leave the protection of our Earthbound bubble. Well, some brainiacs at NASA are taking a creepy Victor Frankensteinish approach to this puzzle and are proposing the possibility of actually altering the DNA of travelers to the Red Planet so their bodies would act as radiation-repellent armor. “We’re looking at a range of things,” NASA’s acting Chief Technologist Douglas Terrier told The Times “following a talk in London he gave on the idea of creating GMO astronauts. “From drug therapies, and those seem to be quite promising, to more extreme things like epigenetic modification all the way to manipulation. I think those have a lot of ethical consequences so they’re still in the experimental thought stages,” Terrier added. While the space agency is considering far less extreme remedies such as special suits or spacecraft modifications, we’re afraid this is just the excuse for a wide-eyed geneticist with a God complex (and a wad of cash from someone like Elon Musk) to open a Pandora’s Box of Gattaca-like quandaries and miseries.
Lost and Found
Two separate scientific teams appear to have solved the mystery of why, under the current models of our universe, we can’t seem to find roughly half of the “normal” matter that should exist (not counting dark matter and dark energy). Apparently, the “missing” protons, neutrons, and electrons – called baryons – have been lurking between galaxies, linking them via filaments of hot diffuse gas.“The missing baryon problem is solved,” said Hideki Tanimura at the Institute of Space Astrophysics in Orsay, France, leader of one of the groups. The other separate study was led by Anna de Graaff at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “There’s no sweet spot – no sweet instrument that we’ve invented yet that can directly observe this gas,” says Richard Ellis at University College London. “It’s been purely speculation until now.” Since none of our X-ray telescopes are sensitive enough to pick up the tiny threads of intergalactic gas, both teams had to analyze data collected by the Planck satellite that mapped light left over from the Big Bang, and through a process of creative data “stacking” of between 260,000 and a million pairs of galaxies, were able to “observe” the ghostly baryon wisps.
Planet Nine from Caltech
Just in time to confuse a public whose collective cognitive skills are already on life support as claims of a mythical Nibiru/Planet X cataclysm continue to echo throughout the internet, a pair of astronomers have updated a paper published in January 2016 in which they predicted the existence of a humongous planet hidden in the outer realms of our solar system beyond Neptune which they dubbed, “Planet Nine.” “There have been new detections of distant Kuiper belt objects since the publication of our original paper,” says Konstantin Batygin, a Caltech professor of planetary science and co-author of the original paper. ”We now better understand how the expanded observational dataset shaped by the gravity of Planet Nine,” he added. Basically the planet-seeking gumshoe (along with Alessandro Morbidelli, from the University of Côte d’Azur) has created an up -to-date computer simulation, which defines the orbital behavior of “Planet Nine.” “With our new understanding of how Planet Nine sculpts the observed patterns in the data, we have been able to zoom in on its true orbit further,” Batygin explains.
In the meantime, the hunt continues, with Batygin and Mike Brown, co-author of the original paper, spending a few nights last month at the Mauna Kea Observatory scanning the skies for a sign of their great white whale of a planet. “Frustratingly, we do not yet know if we found Planet Nine this time around. The data is still in the process of being processed and analysed, there is a lot of data. So nothing observational to share yet.”
Crash Test Dummies
Set your clocks for the year 2079 when there is a 1 in 750 chance that the house-sized Asteroid 2012 TC4 that safely whizzed by Earth last Wednesday at an altitude of only 27,500 miles will return for a possible direct hit following additional flyby in 2050. “We know today that it will also not hit the Earth in the year 2050, but the close flyby in 2050 might deflect the asteroid such that it could hit the Earth in the year 2079,” Rüdiger Jehn of the European Space Agency said. Fortunately 2012 TC4, if it does strike, will not pose a doomsday threat, and will likely cause a brief hullabaloo much like the bolide that burst over Russia in 2013, and blew out a few windows.
In a more imminent threat, the abandoned Chinese space station Tiangong-1 that has been careening out of control for the past year is expected to break up into Earth’s atmosphere anytime from now until April 2018. While authorities believe the odds of being nailed by pieces of the falling 9.4-ton space station whose name translates to “Heavenly Palace 1” are slim since most of the structure will burn up on reentry, astrophysisist Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian that hunks weighing 200 pounds or more could hit the Earth, so keep your hard hats ready! In fact, you can checkout the satellite-tracking website NSYO.com where you can monitor Tiangong-1’s spiral Earthward. Meanwhile, China’s “Heavenly Palace-2” launched last year housed Chinese “taikonauts” for 30 days 2016 along with various uncrewed missions.
Blown Out of Proportion
Speaking of headgear, Galactic Sandbox’s Tin Foil Hatter of the Week collectively goes to the media in general, and the New York Times in particular, for inadvertently turning its coverage of a recent study that looked at the timing of the Yellowstone supervolcano eruption 631,000 years ago into a frenzy of end-of-the-world headlines reading something like, “Yellowstone Supervolcano Could Erupt Sooner Than Expected.” According to Robert Walker of the excellent Science 2.0 site who confirmed with one of the study’s authors that the research had nothing to do with predicting any imminent blowup, “Nobody even knows if it will ever erupt again as a supervolcano. It may have finished doing that.” Walker added that there are between 1.4 and 22 supervolcanic eruptions globally every million years, and the chances per century of a catastrophic kablooey are between 1 in 500 and 1 in 7000. Walker also published the following instructive email from Mike Poland of the USGS, scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory”
“Unfortunately, the NY Times article, which was then picked up by a number of other news outlets, is a good example of how some research can be misunderstood, exaggerated, and sensationalized. The research being described by the news articles is actually about the eruption that occurred approximately 631,000 years ago. Researchers think that there might have been some sort of magma mixing event a few decades before that eruption. The research has nothing to do with the current conditions beneath Yellowstone. This is a critically important bit of information that most news outlets seem to have omitted, perhaps in order to make their story more attractive to readers.”
“We have no indication that there is any similar magma mixing event happening now, and surely we would know from earthquake activity, ground deformation, thermal anomalies, water chemistry, and other indicators that would show changes. Yellowstone is one of the best monitored volcanoes on Earth, so these are changes we would not miss! “
On a similar note, in light of all the Planet-X/judgement day flapdoodle bouncing around cyberspace recently, one should check out Walker’s Doomsday Debunked Facebook group intended to help young adults 13 years and older as well as parents with children who get scared that the world will end before they group up. ” By scared I mean vomiting, panic attacks, crying constantly, often unable to eat or sleep … [or otherwise] severely impacted in their lives by stories that suggest the world will end suddenly and completely before they can grow to adulthood.” Walker’s group, it should be noted, is not just for kids. Believe me, the rest of us need some hand-holding too.
October 9, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
It’s finally official – or at least as conclusive as anything can be in Trumpland. Aftter months of hemming and hawing, the Trump administration, as articulated by Vice President Mike Pence at the first assembly of the newly-reconstituted National Space Council, announced its intention to boldly go where we’ve been before (and probably shouldn’t have left) and direct NASA to land humans on the Moon and sooner than later establish a continual occupancy on the lunar surface. The move is an about-face to former President Obama’s focus on Mars, and hearkens back to ex-chief George W Bush’s lunar priorities, as well as aligns with the focus of many other countries vying for lunar real estate..
“We will return NASA astronauts to the Moon — not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation, we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said to a gaggle of representatives and press at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
While this move hardly comes a surprise, it does create a whiplash effect for the US space agency, which has been preparing to send humans to mars since 2010, and currently has no official plans for sending people to the Moon. Giving the old college try, NASA is expected to retool its deep-space transportation duo comprised of the Space Launch System and Orion crewed spacecraft to deliver the new lunar mandate. The space agency also is expected to forge partnerships with commercial space concerns to help shoulder the current priorities. In fact, a large part of last week’s Space Council fete concentrated on how NASA can buddy up with private space firms both for lunar and solar system exploration and for maintaining Earth-orbit operations. “American companies are on the cutting edge of space technology, and they’re developing new rockets, spaceships, and satellites that will take us further into space faster than ever before,” Pence said. “By fostering much stronger partnerships between the federal government and the realm of industry, and bringing the full force of our national interests to bear, American leadership in space will be assured.”
Some feel, however, that NASA’s future is as cloudy as before, since much of Space Council meeting was big on talk and slim on concrete measures. Seems that the gathering was another opportunity for space industry leaders to hawk there wares and for Trump’s proxy to score political points, grandstanding that the days of America’s lost edge is space “are over,” without providing any real follow-up.
While future lunar inhabitants won’t be taking long, unsuited constitutionals at the Sea of Tranquility, a recent paper published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters indicates that the ancient Moon 3 to 4 billion years ago actually had an atmosphere created when violent volcanic eruptions belched more gases than could escape into space. “This work dramatically changes our view of the Moon from an airless rocky body to one that used to be surrounded by an atmosphere more prevalent than that surrounding Mars today,” said David King of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). King, along with Debra H. Needham,of NASA Marshall Space Center calculated the amounts of gases that rose from the erupting lavas to form a transient lunar atmosphere that was the thickest around 3.5 billion years ago and lasted for about 70 million years before dissipating into space.
More relevant for today, says Needham, is that some of the water released during the eruptions may have found its way to the lunar poles and now exists as ice.This, according to the scientists, has important ramifications for future exploration, and in fact, the new analysis can quantify a source of frozen H2O in the shadowed polar regions suitable for sustained lunar missions, providing fuel and air for astronauts on the surface as well as for excursions beyond the Moon.
Flare for the Eccentric
Since two years ago when a team of astronomers led by Tabetha Boyajian revealed a mysterious, long-term dimming of star KIC 8462852 (now known as “Tabby’s star”) wild theories have swirled around cyberspace claiming that the puzzling observation is evidence of anything from a giant network of solar panels to a destroyed planet, and even proof of the existence of a highly-advanced alien “megastructure.” And not surprising, a new study published last week in the The Astrophysical Journal, advanced a more prosaic explanation for at least some of “Tabby’s” star’s weirdness, concluding that the dimming is caused by dust, which is more pronounced in ultraviolet light. “This pretty much rules out the alien megastructure theory, as that could not explain the wavelength-dependent dimming,” lead author Huan Meng of the University of Arizona said in a statement. “We suspect, instead, there is a cloud of dust orbiting the star with a roughly 700-day orbital period.”
The new report, however, does not solve all of KIC 8462852’s enigmas. For example, it does not account for the short-term 20 percent brightness dips detected by NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. On top of that, a different study — spearheaded by Joshua Simon of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, California — just discovered that Tabby’s star experienced two brightening cylces over the past 11 years. “Up until this work, we had thought that the star’s changes in brightness were only occurring in one direction — dimming,” Simon said in a statement. “The realization that the star sometimes gets brighter in addition to periods of dimming is incompatible with most hypotheses to explain its weird behavior.” Alien megastructures anyone?
Dishing the Dirt
Climate change scientists are starting to sweat a bit more following the release of data from a 26-year study showing that carbon released into the atmosphere by warmed soil is a greater contributor, and in fact an accelerator, of global greenhouse emissions than previously thought. Ominously, the report, published in the journal Science, indicates that 17% of carbon discharged from bacterial microbes in the earth is the direct result of heat, and with the planet topping temperature records each year, the process ultimately worsens climate transmutation by adding to the overloaded stockpile of human-caused carbon dioxide smothering us. And with more than 3,500 billion tons of carbon lurking under our feet, it’s hard to imagine how our current iteration of life on Earth will end well. According to Jerry Melillo of the U.S. Marine Biological Research Laboratory (one of the three research groups involved in the study), this self-reinforcing feedback loop with soils – once it starts – might be very difficult to turn off. “When we think about the current climate change, the soil wasn’t given any attention. It plays a significant role in climate change which cannot be ignored,” he added.
Hold the Sugar
A senior astronomer from the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute made splashy headlines last week following his semi-bold wager that he “bet everybody a cup of coffee that we’ll find intelligent life [outside the Earth] within 20 years.” Aside from generating more press for SETI since the release of the movie Contact 20 years ago (even the non-sciency publication Food and Wine picked it up), researcher Seth Shostak proceeded with some pretty boiler plate pablum during an interview with Futurism at the Worlds Fair in Nano, NY that was packed with snorers such as, “We may find microbial life – the kind you’d find in the corners of your bathtub. We many that a lot sooner, but that remains to the seen. But it’s gonna happen, I think, in your lifetime.” And when he says “find,” he doesn’t necessarily mean in your face, take-me-to-your-leader stuff. “I don’t know about contact,” Shostak said. “I mean if they’re 500 light years away. . .you’ll hear a signal that’ll be 500 years old, and if you broadcast back ‘Hi we’re the Earthlings, how’re you doing?’ — it’ll be 1,000 years before you hear back from them. If you ever hear back from them. So, it’s not exactly contact, but at least you know they’re there.” So .. I guess that’s where the coffee bet comes in – to keep us awake while we continue to wait.
October 2, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
The 6-Gazillion Idea Man
A recent excellent article in The Verge makes a strong case for our suspicions that Space X chief Elon Musk is really a replicant from some dismal Blade Runner-type future as the author Andrew J. Hawkins rips apart the lack of human consideration in his latest seemingly off-the-cuff proposal to use his company’s future mega rocket launcher to blast people between major cities on Earth in 60 minutes or less.
“His [Musk’s] frustration with our current outdated methods of transportation is understandable,” Hawkins writes. “After all, we’ve been stuck with four modes of travel (road, air, water, and rail) for almost a century … And while throwing cold water on his ideas has become a media cottage industry unto itself, his latest pitch to connect cities by suborbital rocket needs much closer scrutiny.”
According to Hawkins, Musk’s quixotic proposal would involve his yet-to-be built “BFR” super rocket that would lift a spacecraft into orbit around the Earth, and would then alight down on floating landing pads near each destination city. While both launcher and spaceship are still only a gleam in his eye, Musk said he hopes to begin construction on the rocket within six to nine months.
Specifically, here are a few item’s in Hawkins’ laundry list of complaints about Musk’s newly-announce plan and obsession that “no trip between any two cities on the planet should last longer than an episode of The Big Bang Theory.”
- Musk hardly touches on the ginormous risks passengers would take ” by boarding one of these rockets “for a breezy trip from Shanghai to Paris or Dubai.” While’s SpaceX ‘s Falcon 9 rockets have had more successes than failures, the current triumph-to-defeat ratio is still unacceptable on a commercial basis (see recent blooper reel).
- From a physics standpoint, Musk’s idea is doable; however the human stress from spaceflight, even on short trips, could have adverse consequences too great just for shaving a few hours off a trip. “You can’t fly humans on that same kind of orbit,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning for Secure World Foundation, told The Verge. “For one, the acceleration and the G-forces for both the launch and the reentry would kill people.”
- Another danger with launching people like intercontinental ballistic warheads is the radiation exposure present in space. And while most deep space particles are deflected by Earth’s magnetic field thereby posing a less significant health threat, Anderson feels that the high-tech empresario’s “indifference toward the impact that these interstellar concepts would have on human bodies is classic Musk.”
- Another huge hurdle is costs. Musk declared that these express trips would be competitive with commercial air travel. However this would be possible only if reusable rockets were able to be operated for up to 10,000 flights as conventional airplanes are. And since a recent US Air Force study found that recycled rockets were only good for about 100 flights, Musk’s space-age shuttle jaunts are “probably going to be 10 times the cost per-seat,” said Charles Miller, president of NexGen Space LLC. “He may be 1-in-10,000 [for] loss of vehicle, but it’s nowhere near the 3-and-10 million reliability of airlines,” Miller noted.
- One of the surprising conclusions from a recent Department of Transportation paper is the effects that futuristic commercial space travel would have on pilots. “The pilot will have to deal with activities ranging from direct control of the vehicle to oversight and situational awareness to planning,” said the paper’s author, Ruth A. MacFarlane Hunter. “The much larger array of instruments and situations may require the pilot to quickly shift to a different activity using different instruments,” subjecting him or hert “to confusion and cognitive overload,” she added.
While America’s Congress, intelligence agencies, and special prosecutor continue their sleuthing into the extent of Russia’s presidential election meddling, US and Russian space agencies quietly signed an agreement last week on a new venture to orbit the Moon, and to potentially explore other parts of the solar system.Coming one week before the 60th anniversary of the historic Sputnik satellite launch (October 4, 1957) that sparked the space age revolution, the newly-inked “deep space gateway” deal between NASA and Roscosmos initially calls for a lunar-orbiting station where astronauts can evaluate systems needed for interplanetary travel, and for logging time in space while only being a couple of days from Earth. Eventually, the two agencies hope to establish a lunar base that would serve as a staging area for more exotic celestial locales such as Mars and beyond.
Below is a spectacular series of pix taken by NASA’s Juno Cam on September 1 as swooped by Jupiter during its latest in a series of scheduled fly-bys of the gas giant. The sequence of 11 color-enhanced images from “Perjove 8” spans 95 minutes, starting with the Jovian north pole on the right of the first image and the planet’s south pole on the left of the 11th photo.
In a not-so-related story, European Space Agency scientists were surprised and delight to find a final snapshot transmitted by its Rosetta space probe before the craft ended its 12-year mission and crash-landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P) just over a year ago on September 29, 2016. Apparently the final moments of photo data originally not recognized by the agency’s automatic processing software, but in a recent manual scan, technicians were able to reconstruct the final clear pic of the comet’s surface:
New research suggests that a combo of low temperatures and ultraviolet light makes ice behave like a liquid, and could explain how planets began to form in the earliest epoch of our solar system, reports Science Alert. According to scientists at Hokkaido University in Japan, when these deep-space conditions are present, the resultant mutant ice can gobble up dust and other cosmic debris. forming a chain reaction that ends up with, for instance, a giant gas ball like Jupiter. Head researcher Shogo Tachibana and his team reached their tentative conclusions after deep-freezing a brew of water, methanol, and ammonia, and as it began to warm, the scientist noticed that the icy substance began to bubble like boiling water and had a viscosity similar to honey. “The liquid-like ice may help dust accrete to planets because liquid may act as a glue,” said Tachibana. “However, further experiments are needed to understand the material properties of the liquid-like ice,” he added.
Cutting the Cheese
A newly-released study sponsored by NASA has climatologists raising their eyebrows over updated figures showing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions flatulated/excreted by livestock worldwide is 11 percent higher than estimates made over 10 years ago, reports Gizmodo. If correct, the new research published in Carbon Balance and Management, is a fresh blow to efforts fighting climate change since methane gas, while being less abundant in the atmosphere than CO2, is 30 times more efficient in trapping the Sun’s heat and consequently rising the Earth’s temperatures. And with approximately 1.5 billion bovines expelling 30-50 gallons of the planet-warming gas a day, that’s a problem the world will have to collectively hold its nose and address before we roast ourselves into extinction.
While it’s not hard to recall less than five offensive brain farts Donald Trump has billowed out in the past couple of months, our Twerp-in-Chief’s recent racially-charged comments regarding Charlottesville and NFL players protesting during the national anthem caught the attention to former shuttle astronaut and NFL gridironer Leland Melvin, who had a few choice things to say in an essay to friends that was recently published in Boing Boing.
Below are excepts from Melvin’s essay (Note: Melvin also is a former NASA educator and author of “Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances,” is pictured here with his two adorable pups):
To Donald Trump
I believe in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of this country even though at the time they were drafted, … only applied to a select group of people and not ones that looked like me.
… I listened to your Alabama rally rant and could not believe how easily you say what you say.
… I used to walk the grounds of UVA in Charlottesville, VA as a graduate student only to watch in horror as those same grounds became a battlefield being trod by Nazi and anti-Semitic worshippers armed with assault style weapons ready to fight to make America White again. (their words). You actually said there were nice people on both sides.
… Comparing this to what you say in condemnation of an unarmed black man peacefully protesting by exercising his constitutional First Amendment rights by silently taking a knee is appalling, unnerving and reprehensible.
Today, you called Colin Kaepernick “a son-of-a-bitch.”
You said he should be fired.
… The strong contrast in language for a black man and a Nazi is very telling. Do you have any sense of decency or shame in what you say to the American people that are part of your duty to serve respectfully with dignity, presidentially?
Our National Anthem has been edited to try not to offend, because when Francis Scott Key penned the song he watched freed slaves fighting for the British and wrote this stanza:
“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
I guess if I were a slave back then
I probably would have done anything to obtain freedom from my American oppressors who were whipping, killing, raping, dismembering, hanging or releasing the dogs on people like me all under our Constitution.
… I served my country not in the military, but as 1 of 362 American Astronauts that have explored the universe to help advance our civilization. Not just Americans, but all humans. I also was briefly in the NFL and stood for the National Anthem with my hand over my heart. What makes us great is our differences and respecting that we are all created equally even if not always treated that way.
Looking back at our planet from space really helps one get a bigger perspective on how petty and divisive we can be. Donald Trump, maybe you should ask your good friend Mr. Putin to give you a ride on a Soyuz rocket to our International Space Station and see what it’s like to work together with people we used to fight against, where your life depends on it. See the world and get a greater sense of what it means to be part of the human race, we call it the Orbital Perspective.
Donald Trump, please know that you are supposed to be a unifier and a compassionate and empathetic leader. If you can’t do the job then please step down and let someone else try. I pray that you do the right thing.
May God bless you.
Former Astronaut and NFL Player
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
September 25, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
The newest in a long line of schemes spanning 30 years or more calling for a lunar colony was revealed last week at the European Planetary Science Conference in Latvia where attendees were spun tales of a hundred people living on the Moon by 2040 who will melt ice for water, live in 3D-printed homes, munch on plants grown in lunar soil, and play low-gravity “flying sports.” Bernard Foing, ambassador of the European Space Agency’s “Moon Village” enthusiastically tried to sell the feasibility of populating our natural satellite first with 6 to10 researchers and technicians by 2030 and within two decades increasing the number of lunar denizens to 1,000, with the possibility of children being born on the colony by then.
With the International Space Station planned for decommission by 2024, scientists and commercial impresarios are keen on turning the long-abandoned Moon into the hub of a new space-age renaissance. However politicians – many of whom seem hell-bent on turning back the clock on matters of the Earth – in general have yet to commit to such a vision. “It is highly frustrating … We still don’t have the top leaders interested,” said physicist Vidvuds Beldavs of the University of Latvia, who runs a project called the International Lunar Decade, advocating joint exploration of the Moon. To get the attention of policy makers, Beldavs believes it’s necessary “To demonstrate that industrial activity on the Moon is feasible, that … large markets can emerge,” Such lunar commerce, Beldavs notes, could include the following: transforming volcanic rock into 3D-printing material to construct satellites that are launched from the Moon at a fraction of the cost than from Earth; mining the isotope helium-3 for safe nuclear energy (this has been pitched since the 1980s); and extracting oxygen and hydrogen from water ice from the lunar poles to serve as rocket fuel. “To go into Earth orbit … it is 40 times cheaper to go from the Moon than from Earth, because the Earth has such high gravity that you have to fight against it,” explained Foing in his presentation.
But before you think now’s the opportunity to jump ship with a home planet battered by climate change and threatened with nuclear war, physicist Christiane Heincke warns that planetary pioneering it is a “tough” life, and not for everyone. “[The Moon] is completely devoid of any vegetation, all they see is rocks, regolith (loose rocks and dust), and a sky that is different from ours on Earth,” said Heiincke, who spent a year in a mock Mars environment in Hawaii.”Being either inside [a lunar] habitat or inside a suit means that you’re never able to actually FEEL the moon/planet you’re on. You can’t feel the wind (if there is any, like on Mars), you don’t feel the Sun on your skin, and whatever you touch feels like the inside of your gloves.” Another problem: Heincke told the AFP news agency “You can never escape your crew mates.”
However Foing, who himself has spent time in a planetary isolation cell is not put off by these negatives, and hopes to join the “village” by 2040. The only hesitation he has for toting his family along would be the sticker shock: “that will depend on the price … The price of the ticket is in the order of 100 million euros. That’s now, but in 20 years, the price of the ticket could be 100 times less.”
While the human tragedy is yet to be fathomed in the aftermath of hurricane Maria’s pummeling of Puerto Rico last week (and should be of fundamental concern), the scientific community is experiencing a significant loss of its own as it has learned that the famed Arecibo Observatory and its signature radio telescope suffered significant damage when the monster storm passed over the island with beyond punishing 155 MPH winds. While observatory staff members are safe (although they only have generator power, water, and food for a week), an atmospheric radar line feed and a 39-foot dish used for Very Long baseline Interferometry were lost to the tempest. Fortunately the humongous 1,000-foot diameter central dish is intact, although it was punctured in places when the line feed collapsed. According to Engadget, the storm damage has exasperated an already tough time for the observatory as the National Science Foundation has been looking for partners to help shoulder the costs, and considering the amount of repairs – along with the primary need to rebuild the lives and infrastructure of the island – the future of the instrument is certainly in limbo.
Odd One Out
Just when you think you know a place. Researchers at Yale University announced in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal that our Milky Way galaxy, might not be a “typical” as previously thought, and in fact, Milky Way-based models used to understand how other galaxies in the universe work could be misleading. “We use the Milky Way and its surroundings to study absolutely everything,” said Marla Geha of Yale University and lead author of the paper. “Hundreds of studies come out every year about dark matter, cosmology, star formation, and galaxy formation, using the Milky Way as a guide. But it’s possible that the Milky Way is an outlier,” Geha added.
What makes our home galaxy so different, the study found, is that it’s surrounded by smaller “satellite” galaxies, which unlike other galactic systems whose similar satellite structures pump out new stars, are fairly inert. making the Milky Way a poor choice as a standard cosmological study and possibly forcing a rethink of many studies on how galactic systems work.
Katherine Johnson, the African American mathematician whose calculations were critical to some of the most important NASA missions in the 1960s and whose story was told in the film, Hidden Figures,” was recognized last week with a new research facility that now bears her name. On Friday, the 99-year-old cut the ribbon to the Katherine G. Johnson Computation Research Facility at Langley Research Center in Hampton,Virginia where where she was honored as a trailblazing “human computer.” According to The Guardian, in a pre-taped message, Johnson was asked about the distinction of having a space agency building named after her: “You want my honest answer? I think they’re crazy,” she said. “I was excited at something new, always liked something new, but give credit to everybody who helped. I didn’t do anything alone but try to go to the root of the question and succeeded there.”
Please Make Up Your Mind Department
ON ANOTHER PLANET
September 18, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
The now defunct Cassini spacecraft took its last pic of Saturn (above) less than a day before its fiery plunge into the gas planet’s atmosphere. According to NASA, the view was snapped 394,000 miles from the planet when the point of Cassini’s atmospheric impact was still on the planet’s night side. The spacecraft’s kamikaze descent occurred around 6:22 am ET, although news of its demise didn’t reach NASA for an hour and 23 minutes later (the amount of time radio waves travel 930 million miles).
Below are some of Cassini’s final pix taken last Wednesday that Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist and a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters were “the final picture postcards of the Saturn system.”
According to an article in the excellent DCReport.org, US weather forecasters are woefully behind their European counterparts in predicting storm paths, as illustrated earlier this month when Europe’s meterologists correctly called hurricane Irma’s westward path a week away while US weather folks relying heavily on The Global Forecast System model embarrassingly projected the monster storm to head north, probably missing the mainland US – a 194-mile whiff. While US weather prognosticators using computer modeling, satellites, weather balloons, and airplane dives into the eye of hurricanes are getting better, other countries are getting better faster. In fact, Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, said in 2016 U.S. global weather predicting was in fourth place, behind European, British and Canadian forecasters. Things are so bad that the U.S. Air Force now uses British modeling software.“The United States needs a ‘moon shot’ program to dramatically improve weather prediction,” said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist and critic of U.S. forecasts. Unfortunately, the current system could deteriorate under Trump, who’s calling for a 16 percent cut for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) In addition, the National Weather Service is already understaffed, and still operates a system that has been putting out alerts in the same all caps format for 170 years because it was designed for the telegraph. DCReport.org urges readers to 1) call the White House at 202-456-1414 to give your opinion about staffing at NOAA and funding for weather forecasts; 2) contact your senators and representatives: 3) for more information, reach the Environmental Defense Fund, which has raised questions about proposed NOAA cuts, at 800-684-3322.
Clouding the Issue
For the first time ever, scientists have been able to study wind and upper cloud patterns of Venus’ night side, and have been startled to discover that they behave very differently than those on the planet’s side facing the Sun. According to Javier Peralta of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), whose team used ESA’s “Venus Express” craft to gather data for its published report in the journal Nature Astronomy, “While the atmospheric circulation on the planet’s dayside has been extensively explored, there was still much to discover about the night side. We found that the cloud patterns there are different to those on the dayside, and influenced by Venus’ topography.”
The hallmark of Venus’ atmospheric winds it that they churn much faster that the planet rotates itself. Known as “super-rotation,” these Venusian breezes spin up to 60 times faster than the planet below. While traditional modelling predicted the night-side super-rotating winds to act the same as the daylight side, the JAXA team’s findings show them to be surprisingly chaotic and irregular,and are dominated by puzzling, unmoving stationary waves.“Stationary waves are probably what we’d call gravity waves — in other words, rising waves generated lower in Venus’ atmosphere that appear not to move with the planet’s rotation,” says co-author Agustin Sánchez-Lavega of University del País Vasco in Bilbao, Spain. “These waves are concentrated over steep, mountainous areas of Venus; this suggests that the planet’s topography is affecting what happens way up above in the clouds.”
Hot New TIcket
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered a smoldering gaseous planet outside our solar system that absorbs nearly 94 percent of light hitting it, making the Jupiter-like orb virtually pitch-black. “We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet,” said Taylor Bell of McGill University and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, lead researcher of the Hubble study. “Most hot Jupiters reflect about 40 percent of starlight.” According to NASA, newly found planet, dubbed WASP-12b, is so close to its sun that most molecules are unable to survive its 4,600 Fahrenheit day side, making it impossible for light-reflecting clouds to form, resulting in light penetrating deep into the planet’s atmosphere where it is swallowed up by hydrogen atoms and converted into heat. However, the planet’s fixed nighttime side is a different story. and is more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit cooler, allowing water vapor and clouds to form. “This new Hubble research further demonstrates the vast diversity among the strange population of hot Jupiters,” Bell said. “You can have planets like WASP-12b that are 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit and some that are 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, and they’re both called hot Jupiters.”
Prophet of Doom
Hold on to your Tin Foil Hats! According to a Christian numerologist citing passages from the New Testament that the recent solar eclipse and Hurricane Harvey (Irma wasn’t bad enough?) are the predictive signs that the world will come to an end this Saturday when the famously-mythical Planet X (also known as Nibiru) will have a catastrophic encounter with Earth. According to British tabloid The Sun, Christian numerologist David Meade came up with September 23 as the day Nibiru will pass Earth, causing volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes, by extrapolating “codes” from the Bible and also a “date marker” shown by the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. NASA has repeatedly insisted the existence of Planet X is a hoax. Also, it’s only fair to note that Mead’s views are not endorsed by any other Christian or religious sect.
FORWARD AND BACKWARD
September 11, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
The Cassini spacecraft will end its unprecedentedly-successful seven-year run this Friday when it plunges into Saturn’s atmosphere, sending real-time science data just before the tiny capsule burns to a crisp. According to NASA, its mission operators are committing probiside to “ensure Saturn’s moons will remain pristine for future exploration—in particular, the ice-covered, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus, but also Titan, with its intriguing pre-biotic chemistry.” Since last April, Cassini has been on a 22-orbit “Grand Finale” tour of Saturn and its rings, providing unparalleled front-row observations of the Saturnian system.
- Make detailed maps of Saturn’s gravity and magnetic fields that will help determine exactly how fast the ringed planet rotates.
- Vastly improve scientists’ knowledge of the rings’ material and origins.
- Sample icy ring particles being funneled into Saturn’s atmosphere.
- Take ultra-close pix of Saturn’s rings and clouds.
Cassini’s greatest hits
Recently, NASA compiles a list of “Nine Ways Cassini-Huygens Matters,” which we think best eulogizes one of the space agency’s most successful planetary endeavors:
Nine Ways Cassini-Huygens Matters
1. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and ESA’s Huygens probe expanded our understanding of the kinds of worlds where life might exist.
2. At Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, Cassini and Huygens showed us one of the most Earth-like worlds we’ve ever encountered, with weather, climate and geology that provide new ways to understand our home planet.
3. Cassini is, in a sense, a time machine. It has given us a portal to see the physical processes that likely shaped the development of our solar system, as well as planetary systems around other stars.
4. The length of Cassini’s mission has enabled us to observe weather and seasonal changes, improving our understanding of similar processes at Earth, and potentially those at planets around other stars.
5. Cassini revealed Saturn’s moons to be unique worlds with their own stories to tell.
6. Cassini showed us the complexity of Saturn’s rings and the dramatic processes operating within them.
7. Some of Cassini’s best discoveries were serendipitous. What Cassini found at Saturn prompted scientists to rethink their understanding of the solar system.
8. Cassini represents a staggering achievement of human and technical complexity, finding innovative ways to use the spacecraft and its instruments, and paving the way for future missions to explore our solar system.
9. Cassini revealed the beauty of Saturn, its rings and moons, inspiring our sense of wonder and enriching our sense of place in the cosmos.
The Slight Stuff
Acting against expressed objections of having a politician lead NASA, Donald Trump has picked Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine to head the space agency in a move consistent with his other administration appointees who are either ninth-round picks or nowhere near qualified for the job. Bridenstine, a Republican from Oklahoma (hmm .. sounds familiar) since 2012, was once executive director of the Tulsa Air & Space Museum & Planetarium, and served as a Navy combat pilot during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In addition, as a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee (chaired by anti-science corporate schillster Lamar Smith), Bridenstine led the charge toward a revitalized NASA with his starry-eyed American Space Renaissance Act.
First the good news: Bridenstine has rightfully warned about the dangers of the ever-accumulating orbital debris, calling it “a problem that cannot be ignored any longer.” On a more debatable point, he also believes that the discovery of water ice on the Moon should be enough of a reason to deploy rovers and other exoplanetary tools to extract lunar materials to bring the cost down on space exploration. However, Bridenstine, with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, croons his masters’ mantra that human-based activities are not the cause of climate change. (Bzzzzzz! Thanks for playing Jim!) Of note, in a 2016 Aerospace America interview, Bridenstine provided a unique twist to the classic denier shuck and jive: “I would say that the climate is changing. It has always changed. There were periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the Earth was much warmer than it is today,” Well, there’s one thing for certain: at the rate the oceans are warming, Bridenstine – if approved by the Sentate – will soon have to change his sights from the Moon to mop-up detail for water-logged Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers as greenhouse gas-fueled superstorms force NASA – and many Americans – to furiously tread water.
Speaking of which, just days before Hurricane Irma plowed into the Sunshine State, SpaceX successfully launched the Air Force’s super-secret X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on its fifth experimental test mission (see last week’s Revolution). As planned, the Falcon rocket’s first stage landed safely back at Kennedy Space Center within minutes of liftoff. The X-37B is the commercial space company’s first military contract.
Very Haute Couture
SpaceX chief Elon Musk last week released a pic featuring a full-body shot of his company’s proposed space suit designed for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that will ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The image, which Musk shared on Instagram, shows an outfitted space suit model standing next to the firm’s Crew Dragon capsule.
New Kid in Town
Japanese astronomers announced recently the discovery of what they believe to be an enormous black hole 100,000 times more massive than the Sun lurking in the midst of a gas cloud near the heart of the Milky Way. If confirmed, the monster gravity well would rate as the the second-largest black hole found in our galaxy, just behind the supermassive “Sagittarius A” located at the Milky Way’s dead center. According to Tomoharu Oka of Keio University in Tokyo whose findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the newly-found exotic object could be the heart of an old dwarf galaxy that was tore apart during the creation of the Milky Way billions of years ago.
HELL OR HIGH WATER
September 4, 2017
Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
A handful of the Galactic Sandbox team and friends had the privilege to witness the total solar eclipse last month from a front-row perch in the Idaho Rockies. Below are a few photos of the experience, including an exclusive shot of the totality by filmmaker and photographer John Zibell who was with us (note, the planet Mercury can be seen at about 8 o’clock from the Sun/Moon), and partial eclipse pix taken by yours truly.
As we stood agog over the spectacularly silent celestial show, it wasn’t hard to understand how such an event has made an indelible impression on humanity for thousands of years, and how little we’ve scratched the surface of our wondrous universe. It was also hard not to think of how our dear friend Kate Woods would have loved to have been there — in a just cosmos, she should not only be in a place looking up to the stars, but looking out from them! — Agnett Bonwitt
While the human and economic toll from Hurricane Harvey continues to (rightfully) remain as a top concern for rescue and relief efforts as well as the focus of media attention, the general public may forget that NASA’s mission control is headquartered in besieged Houston. According to Space News, Johnson Space Center was drenched with 42 inches of rain last week, and through Labor Day is being manned by a skeleton crew to monitor International Space Station operations. In addition, the space agency’s next-generation, $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope that is scheduled to launch late next year, has been at JSC for testing and while the building it’s being housed at was flooded, the telescope fortunately remains unscathed.
Quick Editorial Aside: Obviously, the recent flooding – not only in the Gulf Coast, but also the catastrophic deluge which has left over a thousand dead and one third of Bangladesh under water – if not directly caused by climate change, does offer a chilling preview of things to come if Trump and his cronies continue to willfully and greedily turn their backs from the ability of humankind to survive a greenhouse gas-choked Earth.
Days of Future Past
As many US citizens continue to reel from the political, environmental, and cultural devastation that has reach a possible point of no return with the Trump administration, ultimately we can’t say that we weren’t warned of such an Orwellian scenario. Making the internet rounds lately is an excerpt from a 1996 Carl Sagan book, “The Demon Haunted World,” in which Sagan paints an eerily familiar picture of our present time:
“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or my grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”
Sagan also provides a warning that applies all too fittingly to our orange-tinted sociopath-in-chief: “Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
Investors’ appetite for commercial space ventures continued to be ravenous in 2016, according to newly-compiled data from industry consulting group Bryce Space and Technology that reported a record-smashing $2.8 billion in more mainstream capital thrown at out-of-this-world projects last year – a $400 million increase since 2015. And while the SpaceXs and Blue Origins continue to be the darlings of the burgeoning sector, it is a new generation of small, relatively inexpensive satellites beaming terabytes of data to Earth that have venture capitalists drooling over the potential returns on everything from the satellites themselves, to software used to interpret their data, and from the new rockets designed to boost them into orbit. “Fundamentally, investors go after opportunity, and the way I would sum it up is, this is one of the last frontiers, to be a little cliché,” said Tom Barton, chief operating officer at Planet, whose 190 imaging birds grind out 7 terabytes of new Earth imagery each day. “It’s still old-school; it hasn’t really been touched by Moore’s Law,” Barton told CNBC.
However, according to authors of the Bryce study, the industry has advanced to the point that investors are anxious to see a return on dollars, not just pie-in-the-sky dreams. “We’re not yet seeing the outcome of investment in a lot of funded companies,” said Bryce’s CEO Carissa Christensen. “We’re seeing their ability to raise money, we’re seeing their ability to design and deploy their systems, but we’re not seeing their ability to return profits,” she added. It’s also a make or break time for many start-ups which according to Planet’s Barton, could go bankrupt in the next few years. “As much as I say that we’re at the start of consolidation in the new space sector, I think we’re probably at the start of some of these companies going bankrupt,” Planet’s Barton says, adding, “I would guess that over the next two years we see five or 10 significant bankruptcies or acquisitions for pennies on the dollar for people that just aren’t going to make it on their own.”
US astronaut Peggy Whitson returned to Earth last weekend from the International Space Station, breaking the record of cumulative days in space for any American or any woman worldwide. According to Phys.org, Whitson’s homecoming aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule at a desolate region of Kazakhstan early Sunday morning local time marked 665 days in orbit, with 288 days for her just-completed mission. As well as time marked in space, Whitson broke past a few other milestones: world’s oldest spacewoman, at age 57; the most experienced female spacewalker with 10; and the first woman to command the ISS twice.
The largest asteroid in more than a century to cruise safely pass Earth reached within 4.4 million miles our planet on Friday as professional and amateur astronomers stampeded optical and radio telescopes to get a detailed glimpse of the mountain-sized space rock that last visited our neck of the solar system in 1890. Nicknamed “Florence” after nursing pioneer Florence Nightengale, the 3 mile-wide boulder provided scientists with a celestial living room view of an object we usually have to send multi-million dollar spacecraft to chase down and study. And in fact a team of researchers operating the humongous radar-equipped dishes at NASA’s Goldstone tracking station in California and Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico took advantage of Florence’s lumbering speed and discovered that it has two moons, each estimated at 300 to 1000 feet across.
In a related story, on October 12, researchers will have a rare opportunity to assess Earth’s “planetary defense” systems – or lack thereof – when a house-sized asteroid travels harmlessly by our planet at a distance of only an eighth of that between us and the Moon. “It’s damn close,” said Rolf Densing, who heads the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany as he commented on the hair’s-breath 27,300 miles the wayfaring space rock dubbed 2012 TC4 will approach before continuing its path into the void of space. Observing TC4’s movements “is an excellent opportunity to test the international ability to detect and track near-Earth objects and assess our ability to respond together to a real asteroid threat,” said an ESA statement.
Keeping the Dream Alive
Sierra Nevada’s mini-me “Dream Chaser” space shuttle completed a “captive carry” test above the Mojave Desert in California at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, as part of a significant step toward returning American-made civilian winged spacecraft to orbit by 2020. While the Colorado-based firm lost out to Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronaut crews to the international space station, NASA approved Sierra Nevada’s development of a dwarfed, robotically-piloted spaceplane that will deliver supplies to the orbiting station. “Today was a great accomplishment on Sierra’s planned march towards doing that approach and landing test,” said Mike Lee of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which is led from Kennedy Space Center, following the captive carry test. Their are at least two launches of the reusable Dream Chaser slated from Cape Canaveral atop United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.
Relatedly, the Air Force’s fifth X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) mission is slated for launch this Thursday aboard a SpaceX Falcon rocket, and will carry an Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader payload that will study the long-durational exposure of experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in space, reports Space Daily. “It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community,” said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office. The uncrewed X-37B space plane completed its fourth mission last May, landing after 718 days in orbit and extending the total number of days off the Earth to 2,085.
Scientists are scratching their heads over the origin of 15 recently-recorded radio bursts from a galaxy 3 billion light years away that have ignited a barrage of sensational headlines speculating that the mysterious signals could have been produced by an alien civilization. A UC Berkeley-based team employing the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia caught the ancient radio beacons on August 26 and reported their initial findings as an Astronomer’s Telegram that can be read here. The California researchers are part of the Breakthrough Listen project, a global astronomical initiative launched in 2015 by Internet investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner and famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking to “observe nearby stars and galaxies for signatures of extraterrestrial technology.”
Another report that sent news outlets in a tin foil hat tizzy involve findings by an astronomy team using the Hubble Space Telescope suggesting that the outer Earth-sized planets orbiting the recently-discovered Trappist-1 solar system might still harbor substantial amounts of water, making them prime candidates for habitable life. Swiss astronomer Vincent Bourrier, lead researcher of the squad that studied the effects that ultraviolet rays from the Trappist dwarf star have on breaking up water vapor on its now famous seven planetary offspring, noted that information garnered by our our current scientific instruments is insufficient to draw final conclusions on how wet these planets are. “While our results suggest that the outer planets are the best candidates to search for water with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, they also highlight the need for theoretical studies and complementary observations at all wavelengths to determine the nature of the TRAPPIST-1 planets and their potential habitability,” Bourier said.
Clap Traps – Tin Foil Hat Pusher Alert!
Over the past week or so, there has been an avalanche of news items covering the above puzzling radio bursts and Trappist-1 water stories that range from a mild ding to a full-blown, circus clown horn blast on our Tin Foil Hat meter, suggesting, and in some cases unabashedly asserting, that these inconclusive cosmic observations involve proof that alien civilizations exist. One of the more blatant offenders was the UK’s Daily Star that laughingly proclaimed the following:
As if this error-laced screamer weren’t bad enough, scattered throughout the actual “story” like IQ-reducing buckshot were unsubstantiated (and grammatically incorrect) claims such as “Scientist find [sic] evidence aliens could have been living on Trappist for billions of yea [sic],” and “more than 40,000 Americans have taken out insurance against being abducted by aliens,” While all of this is neither surprising or new, it does show that Carl Sagan’s prophesied “celebration of ignorance” continues to rage at a fevered pitch. Tin Foil Hats all around!
August 28, 2017
Editor’s Note: We will be back online next week, September, 4th, after we regroup from our solar eclipse travels. Stay tuned for exclusive photos and first-hand observations! — Agnett Bonwitt
August 7, 2017
By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
While preparations in the US reach a fevered pitch in advance of the “Great American” Solar Eclipse on August 21st, some astrologers (yes, you read that right) are pouring over their charts and concluding that the celestial event could have disastrous implications for Donald Trump’s presidency. “There’s been a lot of conversation about this eclipse in terms of what’s going on with Donald Trump,” says Wade Caves, an astrological consultant who in July published a 29-page “analysis” of this month’s eclipse. “The astrological world has been completely buzzing with this for quite some time, even more so since Donald Trump was inaugurated.” Modern-day astrological practitioners point out that Trump was born during a lunar eclipse (when the Earth casts a shadow on the Moon), making him susceptible to the power of eclipses, which they believe have monumental impacts on mere mortals.“What we’re talking about is the ability of the sun to be able to give light and life-generating heat, and all these things being momentarily taken away,” says Caves, the astrological consultant. “So there’s this symbolism that’s built in with eclipses about…things coming to a close, and in often a very dramatic fashion.”
“At the moment that he was born, certain degrees were activated. This eclipse is activating those same degrees,” Caves says about Trump. When other features of the event are taken into account, he adds, “a lot of astrologers are expecting some kind of downfall, some kind of ruin, some kind of difficulty.”
(Hmm… if you ask us, it doesn’t take an astrologist, psychic, shaman, or clairvoyant to see that our Lunatic-in-Chief has long been eclipsed by a host of other factors in his ability to truly lead in any capacity.)
Meanwhile, authorities from areas falling under the eclipse’s path of totality are increasing their own disaster-level preparations with as many as 7.4 million astronomical devotees expected to cram into the 70-mile swath of land stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, creating emergency evacuation-like scenarios that include clogging interstates, state, and local roads for days before and after the 21st, says Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster operations and logistics for the American Red Cross. “Some of these places are never going to see traffic like this,” he told Newsweek, adding that in some areas, “the population will be double or triple.”
Local resources also will be stretched razor thin, with local planners stocking extra water bottles and ordering auxiliary port-a-potties (creating what some fear may be a national port-a-potty shortage). Not to be left out, the Red Cross is preparing hundreds of emergency shelters in case of non-eclipse related catastrophes, and hospitals are stocking up on medical supplies since such materials may be difficult to deliver due to visitor-choked roads. Also, don’t expect to broadcast the celestial spectacular live on your blog from the total eclipse zone because cellphone, GPS and smartphone internet services will likely be nonexistent there since cellular service towers will be overloaded due to the additional half-million to a million people per state.
In other words – to all eclipse adventurers: Don’t wing it. Come prepared for delays, shortages, and LOTS of people.
Editor’s note: Stealing a cue from La-Z-Boy-in-Chief, we are taking the next two Mondays off, and will return on August 28th. Part of that time, we plan to forgo the golf links and will be covering the total eclipse from an undisclosed location looking for a port-a-potty and a sign – any sign – that the Trump presidency will be over soon.
Recently, astronomers were astonished to observe a massively-bright storm located at Neptune’s equator that’s nearly the size of Earth. The disturbance, about 6,000 miles in diameter, is rare for its luminosity and low-latitude location, said UC Berkeley grad student Ned Molter, who spotted it between June 26 and July 2 this year from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. “Seeing a storm this bright at such a low latitude is extremely surprising,” Molter said, adding that “Normally, this area is really quiet and we only see bright clouds in the mid-latitude bands, so to have such an enormous cloud sitting right at the equator is spectacular,” Since telescope viewing time is competitive, Molter will have to get back in line and wait until this fall to set his sights on Neptune again, hopefully gaining further insights on nature of the mysterious system and the gas planet’s atmosphere that could also advance the understanding of giant exoplanets too far away to be spied on by Earth-bound instruments.
Out with the New, In with the Old
In typical twelve-year-old Trumpian fashion, the US government via the State Department delivered a written notice to the UN last Friday of its official intention to the exit the Paris climate accord (two years too early) while at the same time reserving the right to reverse its position, and demanding a seat at the table at all international climate-change negotiations “to protect U.S. interests and ensure all future policy options remain open to the administration. Additionally, the State Department missive said the US “will continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions through innovation and technology breakthroughs, and work with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and deploy renewable and other clean energy sources” – a position we feel is laughingly on the wrong side of history. In fact, we couldn’t have articulated our disgust better than “bareshark1957” commenting on the New York Magazine site:
Occupant (and the Republican numbskulls who enable [Trump]) are throwing away America’s economic future with both hands. While he flirts with the nineteenth century (coal! oil! mercantilism! isolationism! xenophobia! Whee!) China will be eating our lunch in every facet of the new energy economy. They are already the biggest manufacturer of solar panels and wind turbines, they have stronger economic ties to Latin America and Africa than the US does now, soon they will make more batteries (for EVs and power storage) than the rest of the world combined.
Every day the bass-ackward class and their donors keep the fantasy of fossil fuels alive and obstruct renewables, is one more day the US will be playing catch-up when the dime finally drops …
(I know that many companies in the US are trying to move in the right direction, but they are dealing with two problems companies in other countries don’t have: active government opposition, and very little government investment.)
The Heat is On
And while the “Grim Tweeter” continues dithering with the delusion of “clean” fossil fuels, scientists and economists are redoubling their urgent pleas with the Trump administration to take immediate countermeasures in the light of two new reports confirming previous findings that the Earth’s temperature will likely climb two degrees Celsius by 2100. Specifically, alarmed parties are calling on the federal government to invoke carbon pricing and invest in carbon capture technologies to possibly retard the process of global warming, as well as establishing measures to thwart inevitable temperature rises. The just-released reports, published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, build on the existing climate change research, and demonstrate that “we have to move even faster,” said Michael Mehling, deputy director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at MIT. “The trend overall has been us underestimating climate change,” he said, adding that “Each new study has been more and more sobering.”
Get a Job
NASA is reeling a bit from the attention given to its recent job posting for a Buck Rogers-sounding “Planetary Protection Officer” position, which sparked the dreams of 9-year-old Jack Davis from New Jersey, who wrote the space agency a handwritten note, claiming despite his age, he was “fit for the job.” “One of the reasons is my sister thinks I’m an alien,” Jack wrote, adding that his qualifications include seeing “almost all the space and alien movies I can see.” The third-grader concluded his case by reminding the agency of his “great” video game skills and and his youth, making it easy to “learn to think like an alien,” signing the letter, “Jack, Guardian of the Galaxy.”
And before you could say, “to infinity and beyond,” James Green of NASA’s Planetary Science Division responded to Jack’s inquiry telling the youngster that the “position is really cool and is very important work,” adding that “It’s about protecting Earth from tiny microbes when we bring back samples from the Moon, asteroids and Mars.” According to Green’s response obtained by ABC News, the post – created in the 1960s – is “also about protecting other planets and moons from our germs as we responsibly explore the Solar System.” Green told Jack that he hopes he will “study hard and do well in school,” and that “We are always looking for bright scientists and engineers to help us….We hope to see you here at NASA one of these days!”
Well, if NASA isn’t going to nab this kid, we know of another executive government position in desperate need of a level head, a willingness to work hard, and the ability to kick the butts of Russian oligarchs and planet-killing fossil-fuel pushers.
FAST AND DUBIOUS
July 31, 2017
By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Burning Down the House
While the US media continues to be gobsmacked by “The Apprentice – White House Edition” meat grinder narrative where contestants cannibalize each other as our Republic burns to the ground, concertmaster der Trumpenfuhrer makes sure his administration keeps on truckin’ in its accelerated fossil-fueled assault on planet Earth and the US citizens it purports to govern.
In a recent DCReport.org article titled, “An Environmental Disaster in the Making,” author Sarah Okeson sounds the alarm bells, reporting that the US Interior Department is fast-tracking drilling permits for the “New Texas Oil Boom,” while the EPA turns a blind eye as it works to unravel “Obama-era regulations on methane, a greenhouse gas that worsens climate change and has been linked to asthma.”
The recipe for this environmental time bomb starts with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (the same goon who last week threatened Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan with retaliatory actions agains their state if Murkowski continued to vote against the [ultimately] failed Republican healthcare reform bill), who is making it easier for energy companies to slice up the Permian Basin, a region covering Texas and New Mexico that is rich in oil and gas reserves with “more recoverable oil than any field outside Saudi Arabia.” So much crude, in fact, that North American drillers plan to drop most of their $84 billion play money this year in the area, which Citigroup estimates “could be producing 5 million barrels of oil a day by 2020, more than Iran or Iraq.”
Then the EPA – led by big-oil stooge Scott Pruitt – steps in and stonewalls new regulations restricting methane emissions at new oil and gas wells even though more than 203,000 Americans, about a quarter of them children, live within half a mile of the 18,000 gas and oil facilities subject to the EPA rule, according to the FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit that studies oil and gas development. (The Interior Department also is quashing a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) dictum limiting the amount of methane that can be vented, burned or wasted from oil and gas operations on federal and Native American lands.)
Fortunately, a federal appeals court has blocked Pruitt’s attempt to delay the EPA statute, and .environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, are suing Zinke and the Interior Department for not enforcing provisions of the BLM rule. The attorney generals in California and New Mexico have also sued over the delay in enforcing the BLM edict.
“As much as Zinke talks about valuing our public lands and emulating Teddy Roosevelt, the truth is that he and Donald Trump share the same priority: giving Big Oil free rein on our publicly-owned lands, whatever the cost to our health and our environment,” said Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club.
To keep the fire blazing under their toes and not ours, we encourage folks to send love messages to both Pruitt (Facebook and Twitter sites,Pruitt.scott@Epa.gov / Phone: 202-564-4700) and Zinke (202-208-3100, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240, Facebook and Twitter sites).
Facts of Life
Researchers are abuzz over the detection within the smoggy nitrogen/methane atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, of a molecule instrumental in the creation of life. The European Space Agency last week revealed that the international Cassini-Huygens mission may have found a “universal driver for prebiotic chemistry,” forming conditions that may be similar to those that led to the development of life on Earth. The new Cassini-Huygens findings, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, describes the unexpected discovery of a particular type of highly-reactive, negatively-charged molecules “understood to be building blocks towards more complex molecules, and may have acted as the basis for the earliest forms of life on Earth.” When exposed to sunlight, these energetic particles generate reactions involving nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon, leading to more complex compounds that eventually drift down towards Titan’s lower atmosphere, possibly reaching the moon’s surface.
Over the Moon
In a potential new coup for the Kepler Astronomy Telescope, scientists are reporting initial findings showing that the space-based planet-seeker may have recorded data of an extraordinarily-large moon the size of Neptune orbiting a giant planet nearly 4,000 light years away, reports the National Geographic. If confirmed, the discovery of the ridiculously-huge satellite marks the existence of an “exomoon,” opening a new chapter in the study of worlds beyond our solar system. In order to affirm their detected signals, researchers have booked time this October to aim the Hubble Space Telescope at the planet’s home star. “This candidate is intriguing, and we obviously feel good enough about it that we’ve asked for Hubble time,” coauthor Alex Teachey, a graduate student at Columbia University, says in an email. “But we want to be crystal clear that we are not claiming a detection at this point.” Until then Teachey’s team will be keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that Kepler will add a remarkably new feather in its cap, on top of the already confirmed 2,000 alien worlds and 4,000 potential exoplanets it has spotted.
According to a newly-released report obtained by Buzz Feed, NASA passed up the opportunity to send astronauts around the Moon in 2020 – not because it wasn’t safe – but due to lack of sufficient funding. The document explains the reason space agency acting head Robert Lightfoot last May declined the Trump administration’s urging to include humans on the first mission of the jumbo Space Launch System rocket that would make an eight-day express trip around our nearest celestial neighbor in 2019. “NASA concluded crew could have flown on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), provided timely and sufficient funding,” if the launch were postponed until 2020, the report signed by Lightfoot read, A crewed EM-1 mission would have had “significant” benefits, the report adds, including a “better overall flow” of future flights and by accelerating the possibility of shipping humans to Mars aboard spacecraft launched via SLS rockets. “NASA wants people to know it could have done this, if they had the money, but won’t because they don’t,” Keith Cowing of NASA Watch told BuzzFeed News. While NASA usually refrains from sending human guinea pigs on maiden space voyages, the maturity of the repurposed space shuttle rockets integrated into the SLS vehicle and the successful flight test of an Orion capsule in 2014 dispelled signifiant fears regarding astronaut safety. However, the $600 million $900 million NASA needed to cough up in order to add life support systems was the ultimate show-stopper.
Up in Arms
The U.S,. along with France, Germany, and Britain, cried foul last week after Iran announced that it had successfully tested a rocket that can launch satellites into orbit, a move the group of nations said breached a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding ballistic missile development. Acting further, citing continued “provocative actions,” the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on six Iranian missile manufacturing firms owned or controlled by the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group that was involved in the production of the rocket. According to Reuters, the move enables the U.S. government to block those companies’ properties under its jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. citizens from conducting business with the firms. “The U.S. government will continue to aggressively counter Iran’s ballistic missile-related activity, whether it be a provocative space launch … or likely support to Yemeni Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia such as occurred this past weekend,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the other hand, defended his country’s space program on Twitter, arguing that it does not build missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons. “Iran—unlike the U.S.—has complied in good faith with the letter and spirit of JCPOA [the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S., and five other powers],” Zarif said, adding that the United States’s “rhetoric and actions” “show[ed] bad faith.”
New Kids in Town
A Russian-made Soyuz rocket lofted three astronauts – including veteran American, Russian, and Italian space farers, to the International Space Station, joining two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonauts already onboard the orbiting laboratory. According to NASA, the new Expedition 52 crew members will spend more than four months conducting a smorgasbord of approximately 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. The new additions also mark the first time the space agency has four crew members (including Italy’s Paolo Nespoli) available for these scientific demonstrations, effectively doubling the amount of research time for NASA and its partners.
AS THE WORLDS TURN
July 24, 2017
By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
SpaceX CEO and uncharismatic Tony Stark action figure Elon Musk continues to kick his plans for a space-faring civilization down the information-overloaded corridors of public opinion, recently calling for a human outpost on the Moon. “To really get the public real fired up, I think we’ve got to have a base on the moon,” Musk told attendees of the 2017 International Space Station Research and Development (ISSR&D) conference held in Washington, D.C last week. “Having some permanent presence on another heavenly body, which would be the kind of moon base, and then getting people to Mars and beyond — that’s the continuance of the dream of Apollo that I think people are really looking for,” the gazillionaire entrepreneur told NASA Space Station program manager Kirk Shireman, who interviewed him onstage at the conference.
Musk also said this September in Australia he plans to announce a tweaked version of his Interplanetary Transport System designed to colonize Mars, and possibly lead to further human expansion on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, and Saturn’s tantalizingly enigmatic satellite, Enceladus. According to Musk, the downsized ITS spaceship — originally designed to carry at least 100 people — will now be used in some profit-generating “Earth-orbit activity” to help make Mars colonization economically feasible, reports NBC News. “That’s one of the key elements in the new architecture,” Musk said. “It’s similar to what was [unveiled earlier this year] at IAC, but it’s a little bit smaller — still big. I think this one’s got a shot at being real on the economic front. You know, that’s the trick.”
The high-tech empresario also touted yet another of his ventures, The Boring Company, which he said could assist in Mars colonization by burrowing space-age catacombs to shield Red Planet pilgrims from high doses of radiation on the Martian surface. “You can build a tremendous amount underground with the right boring technology on Mars, so I do think there’s some overlap in that technology-development arena,” Musk said. However, unlike Earth-optimized tunneling juggernauts that weigh several tons, Martian counterparts would need to be featherweights by comparison. “The Earth ones are really heavy. Like, really heavy,” Musk said. “You’re not worried about weight for an Earth tunneling machine; actually, you want one that’s nice and heavy. But a Mars one, you’d have to redesign it to be superlight — that’s a tricky one — and then just take into account the different conditions on Mars and everything else.”
Musk earlier this month claimed that The Boring Company had received verbal government approval to build an underground, supersonic hyperloop transportation system connecting New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. The New York to Washington, D.C. hyperloop, which Musk boasts will take 29 minutes to travel from city center to city center, will be built in parallel with the Los Angeles tunnel system announced in May.
Last week, Google maps officially linked Earth and the cosmos, publishing “Street View” images of the International Space Station. Taken by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet during his just-completed six-month stint aboard the ISS, the annotated photos were produced using DSLR cameras and other equipment already on the orbiting laboratory and then beamed down to Earth where they were “stitched together to create panoramic 360 degree imagery of the ISS,” said Pesquet. “The mission was the first time Street View imagery was captured beyond planet Earth … [and] provide additional information or fun facts like where we work out to stay physically fit, what kind of food we eat, and where we conduct scientific experiments,” Pesquet added in a Google blog posted last Thursday.
NASA’s eagle-eyed Hubble Space Telescope continues to amaze with a short string of photographs released by the space agency showing Mars’ tiny moon Phobos zipping around the Red Planet. Apparently the football-shaped satellite photobombed Hubble’s portrait of Mars as it recently snapped a series of 13 separate pix over a 22-minute time period. The tiny, pockmarked Phobos, which measures just 16.5 miles by 13.5 miles by 11 miles making it one of the smallest moons in the solar system, appears as a small star in a short video NASA released last week produced from the multiple Hubble images.
In a follow-up to last week’s “Grab Bag” item, the auctioned satchel used by astronaut Neil Armstrong to bring back the first lunar dust samples to Earth was sold to an anonymous winning bidder who snatched the historic item for the gavel price of $1.8 million — less than the anticipated $2-4 million reported last week. According to USA Today, Sotheby’s was still beaming about its space memorabilia sale marking the 48th anniversary of the first moonwalking mission, as it raked in $3.8 million from other items that sold way above their appraised values including the Apollo 13 Flight Plan that fetched $275,000, a $17,500 pic of man’s first look at the Earth from the Moon, and a Snoopy astronaut doll that went for a galactically-inflated price of $27,500.
Trillions and Trillions
Bigwigs from science and politics congregated deep underground at an abandoned gold mine in South Dakota last week for a stone-turning ceremony at the planned site of a gargantuan particle detector that will serve as part of the next grand physics experiment designed to determine the nature of the spooky, elusive neutrino. “We couldn’t be more excited to be actually starting construction,” says Mike Headley, head of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority in Lead, adding, We’re absolutely thrilled that [the project] is moving forward and about what it’s going to do for the U.S. scientifically,” Known as the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF), the $1.5 billion project will fire neutrinos from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, to a the Lead detector 1300 kilometers away, and will help determine how different neutrino types morph into one another as well determine how slight asymmetries between neutrinos and antineutrinos caused the infant universe to form.
Can of Worms
A team of researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, are giving a new meaning to the phrase “creepy crawler,” with a newly-created robot that expands exponentially as it slithers with the determination of a Terminator T1000 to accomplish its programmed mission. A recently-published article in Science Robotics introduces the grow worm concept that was conceived by the group lead by Elliot Hawkes, a roboticist at UCSB who was inspired by watching his English ivy plant grow around a corner seeking sunlight. Up until now most robot designers have used locomotion similar to humans or animals to move their machines; however the UCSB team’s “growbot” expands by using eversion powered by either pneumatic or hydraulic pressure basically turning inside out as the material coiled in it emits from its tip. The scientists believe self-propagation has advantages over typical locomotion such as the ability to maneuver in constrained spaces, widen, and become 3D. Until now, rudimentary cyborgs’ ability to extend had been constrained to only about 5 times their body length and it was done very slowly (centimeters per hour). Depending on the dimension of the coil and power of the pressure this new contraption can grow very quickly from inches to hundreds of feet at 22 miles per hour! Tests have shown that it can withstand surfaces covered with nails and glue, squeeze through small crevices, move around awkward angles, lift heavy weights, and still keep going. Cameras installed on the tip allow the operator to see what is happening, and maneuver it. It has been tested on several tasks so far, including pulling cable, spraying water on a fire, lifting a heavy crate, and generally going places that would be dangerous or un-accessible to humans. All sorts of practical applications from search and rescue emergency response, medical procedures to the more mundane construction and packing tasks, to more out-of-this world uses (see “Getting a Grip” below on a similar idea) could be made possible/easier by this type of device. For now it is constructed of easily procured, lightweight plastic but more robust materials are also being tested.
Getting a Grip
Engineers at Stanford University are working on a robotic “gripper” that would be used to help mop up the approximately 500,000 pieces of space junk orbiting our planet at potentially destructive speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour, reports Space Daily. Abandoning traditional terrestrial adhering materials that fail in extreme space environments as well as more invasive tactics that could ricochet debris into more dangerous trajectories, researchers are testing “gecko-inspired adhesives” as an “outgrowth of work we started about 10 years ago on climbing robots that used adhesives inspired by how geckos stick to walls,” says Mark Cutkosky, professor of mechanical engineering and senior author of a study published in the June 27 issue of Science Robotics. The team has already performed tests aboard the International Space Station, and look to see how their concept works outside the craft. “We could also eventually develop a climbing robot assistant that could crawl around on the spacecraft, doing repairs, filming and checking for defects,” adds Aaron Parness of NASA JPL.
In related news, Space Daily also reports that students at the Moscow State University of Mechanical Engineering are cheering the launch earlier this month of a satellite they designed that will test aero-braking techniques used in removing space junk from Earth’s orbit.
Nothing to Hear Here
The red dwarf star in the nearby Ross system known as Ross 128 has been used as the setting for a few science fiction novels and even a video game from the 90’s, so when it was reported recently that there were some very odd and inexplicable radio signals coming from it, ET hunters went into speculative high gear. Alas for those persistent zealots, the truth, it seems, is probably much less fantastic and possibly downright snooze worthy. Abel Mendez, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo’s Planetary Habitability Laboratory, suggested in a blog post this week they could be caused by: 1) solar flares from Ross 128; 2) emissions from another object in the field of view; or just 3) bursts from a high orbit satellite (sigh). But while these are good working interpretations, they are not watertight, so our faithful scientists will be looking and listening again to try to clarify which it is – or not. True believers can take heart in Mendez’s sign off that “In case you are wondering, the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations.” Mendez jokes that he “has a pina colada ready to celebrate if the signals result to be astronomical in nature.” Amen to that!
July 17, 2017
By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
That Sinking Feeling
Our celestial observatories do more than just look skyward; they are also used to stockpile valuable data about what is going on right here on our home planet. An important example of this is the project started in 1958 by Charles Keeling who began to measure the amount of CO2 in our air from the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. It was originally planned to run for only a year, but half a century later the project is still being run by his son Ralph, and the information produced is used to measure how human activity is affecting the planet. This knowledge has been employed many times by climate scientists who call it the “Keeling curve”, an uncomfortably rising line that we have not successfully leveled out despite the lowering of emissions in the last few decades.
And now we may have the answer as to why we’re continuously chasing our tail. It seems that humans have nearly maxed out ‘carbon sinks’ – large areas of land and ocean that absorb huge amounts of CO2 as we pump it into the atmosphere. In the past, these carbon eaters helped keep the planet from warming as quickly as it otherwise could have, but now they are approaching capacity. Ralph Keeling explains that the sinks we have now can only suck up about half of greenhouse gases, the rest builds up in the atmosphere. In order to at least stop the toxic hemorrhaging, we would have to reduce our emissions by a drastic 50%, a number no country is anywhere near, and is far more radical that what is called for in the 2015 Paris climate change accord. As the sinks reach saturation we have to continue to lower our greenhouse gas belching to basically zero and then begin creating new carbon collectors to take out what we have already produced.
So for the past several decades, the full effects of our emissions have been kept somewhat in check, allowing many to disavow that the situation calls for urgent action because the data is not sufficient. But now some are sounding the alarm that our window of opportunity for avoiding the worst effects is closing fast.
An open letter by six scientists and diplomats states that we have approximately three years before the worst effects of climate change take hold. They aren’t just Cassandra’s with no solutions however, they propose six goals to hit by 2020 to avert this catastrophe, but the whole world would have to adopt them. And this is of course at the time our current de-evolutionary administration has declared climate change is not on the agenda, and has freed the US from the burden of ensuring the Earth has a chance of supporting the existence of future generations. Unfortunately, by the time it’s no longer possible to deny the science on CO2 emissions and our part in them, it will be too late to update anyone’s agenda.
Last week, NASA’s state-of-the-art Juno probe in its most recent Jupiter flyby snapped the most detailed pix of the gas giant’s iconic Red Spot, displaying what the space agency calls “a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval.” Stretching 10,159 miles wide (as of April 3, 2017), the famous Jovian “storm” is 1.3 times as wide as Earth, and has been monitored since 1830. The magnificent maelstrom, which is believed to have lasted 350 years, appears in recent years to be shrinking. “For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorizing about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyze all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno’s eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present and future of the Great Red Spot.” As with other photos snapped by Juno, “citizen scientists” have been taking the available raw images and transforming them into glorious works of art. “I have been following the Juno mission since it launched,” said Jason Major, a JunoCam citizen scientist and a graphic designer from Warwick, Rhode Island. “It is always exciting to see these new raw images of Jupiter as they arrive. But it is even more thrilling to take the raw images and turn them into something that people can appreciate. That is what I live for.”
Skating on Thin Ice
In a CNN opinion piece written by John Sutter titled, “That huge iceberg should freak you out. Here’s why,” the author challenges the media blitzkrieg last week that scientists believe the trillion-ton runaway ice block that broke off of the Larsen C South Polar shelf has nothing to do with human-created climate change – a characterization which he calls at best misleading, and at worst, wrong. Among the five “takeaways” Sutter concludes after spending time discussing the Antarctic ice shelf calving with scientists is that we shouldn’t brush the event off as just a naturally-occurring event, with many researchers worried that their compatriots are failing to see the forest for the trees. “They’re looking at it through a microscope” rather than seeing macro trends, including the fact that oceans around Antarctica are warming, helping thin the ice,” Sutter quotes Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. Again, Sutter records the concerns of another leading researcher: “To me, it’s an unequivocal signature of the impact of climate change on Larsen C,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California, Irvine. “This is not a natural cycle. This is the response of the system to a warmer climate from the top and from the bottom. Nothing else can cause this.” Colleagues who say otherwise, added Rignot, are burying their heads “in the ice.” (To read Sutter’s full column, click here.)
Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin kicked off a multi-year commemoration leading up to the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing in July 2019 with his own version of a star-studded gala as he raised $190,000 for his ShareSpace Foundation and rolled out the red carpet to hype his goal of landing humans on Mars by 2040. According to CBS News, Apollo astronauts Walt Cunningham, Michael Collins and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt joined Aldrin at the sold-out fete held under the shadow of a historic Saturn V rocket. “I like to think of myself as an innovative futurist,” Aldrin told a crowd of nearly 400 people in the Apollo/Saturn V Center. “The programs we have right now are eating up every piece of the budget and it has to be reduced if we’re ever going to get anywhere.” (Editors Note: Although, if NASA is forced to blitz its Earth observing programs, we may not have a place here to come from.) Aldrin’s Foundation also awarded Amazon.com and spaceflight company Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos with the first Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award. “We can have a trillion humans in the solar system. What’s holding us back from making that next step is that space travel is just too darned expensive,” Bezos said. “I’m taking my Amazon lottery winnings and dedicating it to (reusable rockets). I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do that.”
Also honored at the festivities was former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space, who was bestowed with the Buzz Aldrin Space Pioneering Award. “When Buzz says, ‘Get your ass to Mars,’ it’s not just about the physical part of getting to Mars. It’s also about that commitment to doing something big and audacious,” Jemison told The Associated Press. “What we’re doing looking forward is making sure that we use our place at the table.”
There may be, however, no table to scoot up to, at least according to the gloomy assessment by a NASA official, who speaking at the recent propulsion symposium, admits that at current costs, the space agency doesn’t have the resources to “put boots on the face of Mars,” by 2030 as Vice President MIke Pence put it just as week or so ago. “I can’t put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is the other piece, at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars,” NASA’s William H. Gerstenmaier said on Wednesday during a propulsion meeting at the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics. “And that entry, descent and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars.”
That said, NASA is expecting to get more funds to focus on human exploration to the Red Planet, and, according to Gerstenmaier, returning to the Moon is still within the agency’s grasp. “If we find out there’s water on the Moon, and we want to do more extensive operations on the Moon to go explore that, we have the ability with Deep Space Gateway to support an extensive Moon surface program,” he said. “If we want to stay focused more toward Mars we can keep that.”
The tale of a long-lost sack used by Apollo 11 moonwalker Neil Armstrong to collect lunar dust should be coming to an end this week when it is expected to be auctioned off for about $4 million along with other space memorabilia by Sotheby’s in New York City. The 12 by 8.5-inch bag tagged “Lunar Sample Return” disappeared for decades after the first Moon landing, and eventually turned up in the garage of a Kansas museum manager who was convicted in 2014 of pinching It. After the U.S. Marshals Service unsuccessfully put it up for auction three times, the satchel was bought in 2015 by a Chicago-area attorney Nancy Lee Carlson for $995. When she sent it to NASA for authentication, the space agency decided to keep it after discovering that it still had traces of moon dust inside. Carson successfully sued NASA’s butt, and the hoopla generated by her legal challenge brought several potential buyers out of the woodwork, so Carlson decided to have it auctioned again. Sotheby’s Cassandra Hatton told Reuters she was confident the bag would find a good home. “Just know that the kind of person that would pay money like this for this item is going to take excellent care of it,” she said. “Nothing is lost forever.”
Piece of the Pie
One of the contestants looking to nab Google’s $20 million Lunar XPRIZE contest has revealed its long-term plans to mine the Moon and bring back samples by 2020. Last week, Florida-based startup Moon Express unveiled its ambitious two-phase proposal that will include 1) a 2019 “Lunar Outpost” mission that will establish a research station on the Moon’s south pole to search for ore as well as ice lurking in dark, chilly craters, and 2) “Harvest Moon” slated for a 2020 launch that will employ three robotic spacecraft to bring lunar rocks back to Earth to be available for scientific research as well as for collectors. Still, the private firm needs to get its MX-1E robotic lander off the ground and prove that it can get the craft to the lunar surface and perform the required hopping around and video taking by the December 2017 deadline so it can qualify for the XPRIZE gold ring. So far, however, the company’s “Lunar Scout” mission continues to face some roadblocks in that the experimental “Electron” rocket designed to launch the lander from New Zealand has in tests only reached sub-orbital space, and the MX-1E itself has yet to be completed. Other that that, if the firm can clear these hurdles, it will become the first private company to squish its toes on our nearest celestial neighbor.
A team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge has boasted finding the smallest star yet measured, with a size just an ooch larger than Saturn, and a gravitational pull about 300 times stronger than what’s felt on Earth. Part of a binary system, the newly-measured, fun-sized “EBLM J0555-57Ab” is about 600 light years away, and was discovered as it passed in front of its much more significant other, using a method usually employed to detect exoplanets. “Our discovery reveals how small stars can be,” said Alexander Boetticher, the lead author of the team’s findings that will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.“Had this star formed with only a slightly lower mass, the fusion reaction of hydrogen in its core could not be sustained, and the star would instead have transformed into a brown dwarf,” he added. Such celestial mini-mes are of particular interest to scientists, since they are the best candidates for being the home of temperate Earth-sized, liquid-water containing planets such as those recently-found surrounding the ultra-cool TRAPPIST-1 dwarf star.
NASA scientists are monitoring a new, rapidly-growing dark patch on our Sun that is currently facing Earth. Spotted by the space agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the ominous sunspot area, which is appearing at a relatively low ebb in solar activity, could create flares, which at a minimum can generate increased amounts of polar auroras to at worse possibly creating potential disruptions in communication satellites and electric power grids here at home.
July 10, 2017
By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Out of Step
In times past the United States was a world leader who set the agenda for meetings like the G-20 which took place in Hamburg, Germany last week. What a difference an election cycle makes! Donald Trump mostly stuck with the script, which is to say didn’t completely embarrass both himself and the United States and may be evidence that his handlers are finally getting a grip on what keeps him mostly on track. Unfortunately, we are so desperate for him to do his job, that any time he stays remotely on script the media praises it as ‘Presidential’ as if they think he has finally grown into the job and decided to care about the country/world and its citizens. But his hyperbolic praise, and stunningly simplistic responses to complex issues did nothing last week to ease the rest of the Western Leader’s concerns about the U.S. vacating its leadership position.
So it is no surprise that nineteen of the nations at the summit re-affirmed the Paris Accord, calling it “irreversible” and then seemed to leave the door open for the U.S. to rejoin at a later date (thank you so much for having even a little hope that U.S. citizens can fix this mess). The wording was careful and gave a nod to the departure of the U.S.
Despite this awkward part of the meeting, Trump could still have used this opportunity to rally the group to do something more than symbolic about the growing nuclear threat in North Korea, showing at least some minimal leadership, but he let that opportunity slide, instead falling back on bland, shallow platitudes that pass for policy in this sound-bite Presidency – again, another opportunity wasted.
Sadly for the U.S., vacuums don’t last for long, particularly the leadership kind, and if nothing changes, Russia and China seem prepared to step up to the plate, not only in the terrestrial arena, but the celestial one too (in fact, The Guardian featured a story last year titled, “China, the new space superpower”). These nations’ view of the world is very different from the one the West has been working on for the past half century, and the course of the Earth could be altered in a way that most of us reading this column could find uncomfortable.
Out of Hand
Last Friday, Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to Kennedy Space Center where he sang the praises of the newly-rebooted National Space Council, a Cold War relic that hasn’t been active since being mothballed in 1993 by then President Clinton. Under its new iteration, the NSpC will include members of Trump’s Cabinet, the president’s counterterrorism assistant, other executive branch officials, and NASA’s Administrator, who has yet to be named by Trump. The executive order creating the NSpC also calls for a “users’ advisory group” to “ensure that the interests of industries and other non-Federal entities involved in space activities, including in particular commercial entities, are adequately represented” in the council.
“After being dormant since 1993, I’m proud to report that the National Space Council is up and running once again. And it will be my great honor, as vice president of the United States, to serve as its chair,” Pence gushed, adding that theNSpC ‘will be a central hub, guiding space policy within the administration, filling a void that’s existed in American policy for nearly a quarter-century.” Pence also vowed that the US will return to the Moon, and that “we will put American boots on the face of Mars.” (It’s worth noting that in 2005 as a member of the US House of Representatives Pence worked hard to deep-six NASA’s space exploration plans.)
Soon after his speech, in one of his first actions as NSpC head, Pence put himself in an embarrassing position as he took a lead from his boss by patting NASA’s Orion spacecraft’s titanium forward bay cover,just below a sign that read: “Critical Space Flight Hardware ‘DO NOT TOUCH.’ Trying to make light of the obvious “faux paw,” the “I’m-with-stupid”-in chief defended himself from the inevitable lampooning by internet memers and the twitterverse by jokingly throwing Florida Senator Marco Rubio under the bus, saying that his KSC tour companion “made him do it.” For its part, NASA forgave the whole episode by tweeting that the hardware was going to be cleaned anyway.
Asininity and Beyond
Speaking of the resurrected National Space Council, during the ceremony at its Executive Order signing late last month, Apollo 11 moonwalker and MIT doctoral graduate Buzz Aldrin failed to contain his bewilderment over the blizzard of nonsense belched by the current White House denizen as he hopelessly abandoned anything resembling a logical train of thought when it came to space exploration. Starting with the usual hyperbole that “We’re going to lead again like we never led before,” Flash Gordon Jr. then claimed all of space for the U.S., calling it the “next great American frontier.” However, what really sent Aldrin’s eyes popping out of his skull was afterTrump referred to outer space as “providing the security that we need to protect the American people,” and puzzlingly added, “At some point in the future, we’re going to look back and say, ‘How did we do it without space?’”
As he was ready to sign the executive order, Trump continued his ramble saying, “We know what this is, space. That’s all it has to say: space,” He then turned to Aldrin and asked, “There’s a lot of room out there, right?” “To infinity, and beyond,” Aldrin retorted to a wave of laughter. However, Trump didn’t get the “Toy Story” reference, and continued like a spacewalking astronaut who’s tether had been cut: “This is infinity here. It could be infinity, We don’t really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something — but it could be infinity, right?” (Why, oh Flying Spaghetti Monster, have you forsaken us?)
The White House gathering was also notable for its not-too-subtle misogyny when BOTH Trump and Vice President Pence failed to acknowledge the lone female astronaut in the room. Besides Aldrin, three additional former and current astronauts were on hand for the signing, including the unheralded former shuttle and space station veteran Sandy Magnus, who is currently the executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Apparently , Trump and Co. view the cosmos as one humongous boys club too.
A new study by a pair of Astrobiologists at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland shows that the Sun’s ultraviolet rays hitting chlorine compounds in the Martian soil may be a huge deterrent in supporting any microbial life – at least such as we know it. Known as perchlorates, these aggregates are abundant on the Martian surface, and have been thought to be favorable to life on the Red Planet by, for instance, drastically lowering the freezing point of water. However, in this new report, the two scientists recreated radiation and perchlorate conditions that common spacecraft contaminant bacteria would encounter on the Red Planet’s top soil, and found that the microbes were killed off within minutes. According to Scientific American, experiments also found that adding additional substances found in Marital soil only increased the bacteria death-rate several fold.
So,the researchers conclusion was, if you’re looking for life on Mars, it’s best to start digging: “If you’re looking for life, you have to additionally keep the ionizing radiation in mind that can penetrate the top layers of soil, so I’d suggest digging at least a few meters into the ground to ensure the levels of radiation would be relatively low,” one of the scientists told Space.com. Fortunately, the European/Russian ExoMars rover, which is scheduled for launch in 2020 on a mission to search for life on the Red Planet, will be capable of drilling up to 6.5 feet. One caveat in the study’s results is that the garden-variety microbe used in the experiments is not an “extremophile,” or an organism evolved to survive the harsh Martian conditions. “It’s not out of the question that hardier life forms would find a way to survive” at or near the Martian surface,” one of the authors added.
Third Time’s A Charm
Physicists using the word’s most sophisticated pinball machine have discovered a new kind of heavy particle that could lead to a deeper understanding of the fundamental “strong” force that cements subatomic particles together. Using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, scientists from the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics have tongues wagging over the discovery of a “doubly charged, doubly charmed xi particle” called Xi-cc++ (pronounced “Ski-CC plus-plus”) that has twice the positive charge and is four times heavier than its the more famous proton sibling, and is comprised of a rare combination of three out of six possible quark “flavors” known to science (up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom). “We produce charm [heavy] quarks in pairs, but having two charm quarks in the same particle is very rare,” physicist Patrick Koppenburg told Gizmodo. “Finding a doubly heavy quark baryon is of great interest, as it will provide a unique tool to further probe quantum chromodynamics [QCD]—the theory that describes the strong [force], one of the four fundamental forces,” LHCb spokesperson Giovanni Passaleva said, according to Scientific American. “Such particles will thus help us improve the predictive power of our theories.”
When They Were Young
Combining the eagle-eye of the Hubble Space Telescope and the natural magnification power of gravitational lensing, astronomers have been able to fabricate a combined pic featuring an edge-on disk galaxy studded with brilliant patches of newly formed stars as they appeared 11 billion years ago, only 2.7 billion years after the Big Bang. “When we saw the reconstructed image we said, ‘Wow, it looks like fireworks are going off everywhere,’” said astronomer Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA scientists were able to perform this photographic feat by using the gravity of a giant galactic cluster between the ultra-distant target galaxy and Earth and then employing a special computer code to remove the stretched arc distortion caused by the gravitational lens phenomena, revealing the disk galaxy as it would normally appear. In the reconstructed image (seen above) shows two dozen clumps of newborn stars are visible, each spanning about 200 to 300 light-years across, contradicting the currently held theory suggesting that star-forming areas in the early universe were much larger — perhaps up to 3,00 light years or more in size.
BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON
July 2, 2017
By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Valhalla in the Sky
Ok, I’m definitely getting too old and cynical. For proof, I offer my response to what you would think should be happy, or at least interesting tidbit about a new ‘nation’ that will orbit Earth that its creators have named ‘Asgardia’ after Norse mythology’s city in the sky ruled by Odin and Frigg of Valhalla fame, or so they say. (Asgard also just happens to be an outer plane in the Dungeon’s and Dragons game, and the fictional extraterrestrial race in the Stargate series, but that doesn’t sound quite as good.) Still in its conceptual stage, the space-based nation will, according to its “founding fathers,” mine asteroids and defend Earth from dangerous meteorites, space debris, solar flares, and I guess anything else incoming that is a bad idea. Well that’s just great! (Of course, it has to first defend ITSELF from these existential threats). It’s nowhere near an actual country yet, but listen to the nice things its originators also have in mind for this new Earth-orbiting ‘nation-in-a-can’: “Asgardia will be a space nation that is trans-ethnic, trans-national, trans-religious, ethical, peaceful entity trying to settle humanity in space.” Well who wouldn’t be a part of that! Space geeks and adventurers sign up now! This could be even more fun, and a good deal cheaper than Elon Musk’s planned adventures to colonize Mars (see June 26, 2017 Galactic Sandbox.) Our species has such a firm grasp on ethics and works together so well, what could possibly go wrong? (🎵 strains of, “It’s Only a Paper Moon “🎵)
Right now mighty Asgardia exists as a nonprofit, non-governmental organization based out of Vienna, Austria, and currently largely funded by founding member Igor Ashurbeyli, a Russian aerospace engineer and billionaire and led by Ram Jakhu, the director of McGill Unversity’s Institute of Air and Space Law. Well that sounds legit enough, however the next bits have me thinking more cynically. Hundreds of thousands of people (256,345 to be exact) have signed up to become citizens and vote on a constitution, which supposedly is going to be initially set up as a constitutional monarchy. (Wonder who they have in mind for the ‘monarch’ – some fun thoughts come to mind. Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, wanna be a space czar!?)
So, what are Asgardia officials planning first to literally get things off the ground? Launching a ‘nanosat’ the size of a loaf of bread with 512 GB of pre-loaded data that will proudly be the proto-nations “first presence” in space, carrying data uploaded by Asgardian citizens. Quoting Ashurbeyli such beamed material will be important things like “maybe the photo of your little cat or of your neighbor, of your mother, or a child – whatever comes to mind, this will be for as long as Asgardia exists. In other words, forever.” Really?! This little ‘nanosat nation’ is expected to crash through the atmosphere and burn up in 5 years, which is a bit shy of forever by my calculations. Oh, but before then they will re-upload your 300 KB of space (that’s less than one frame of a typical DVD video) on to their next little microsat. Great – how space Instagram of them. Just what we need, more space debris to hit the for-real, actually functioning International Space station with real international people on it.
Ultimately, what this space-age social experiment IS, in my world-weary opinion, is a pretty nifty way to get a lot of people to give personal information to another Russian Oligarch. On the bright side, however, if we don’t destroy ourselves in the next hundred years, we will have Earth orbiting cities and probably colonize nearby planets too. And it WILL be great if we get there. But I just wonder why all these rich folks want to get off earth so badly? Do they know something we don’t? If actions speak louder than words, then they are a good deal more worried about what is going on on this planet than they are saying. After all, nothing we are going to build will house the entire population of earth – nowhere near.
The inaugural mission of China’s new Long March-5 Y2 heavy-lift rocket carrying what the government called its heaviest satellite ever, failed yesterday sometime after launch, reports the Xinhua news agency. According to Reuters, the Y2 is the same model slated to blast China’s lunar probe later this year that is designed to return with samples back to Earth, and at this time, it’s unclear how that mission’s timetable will be affected by Sunday’s failed flight.
An Entangled Web to Weave
While the US continues to be crippled from a leadership beholden to anti-science, Russian election meddling, and one large dollop of megalomaniacal, narcissistic paranoia, the Chinese are busy revolutionizing the way the internet is protected from hackers and spooks, while at the same time leap-frogging the rest of the world in a 21st Century space race. According to a report in Science, researchers at Hefei University have conducted a groundbreaking experiment by beaming proton twins from a satellite to two different ground-based stations 1200 kilometers apart without breaking their quantum entanglement property in which subatomic particles are linked even while being great distances apart. (Apparently this feat smashed the previous distance record by nearly tenfold.)
So what does this stunning achievement have to do with web security? Well, these Chinese brainiacs plan – with the help of a fleet of specialized satellites -to use an encryption technique based on quantum communication to design super-secure internet networks. “In physics we are trying, and we have demonstrated some encryption techniques that rely on the law of physics rather than the mathematical complexity and we call this quantum key distribution,” professor Ping Koy Lam from the ANU’s Department of Quantum Science told news.com.au last year, before China launched its first “quantum” satellite in August. “For that to work you need to send laser beams that carry certain information, quantum information, and then you need the senders and the receivers to get together to find a protocol to secure the communication,” Lam continued, adding that “The reason it can’t be hacked is because the information carried in the quantum state of a particle cannot be measured or cloned without destroying the information itself.” So, while the 12-year-old in the White House (not Barron) continues to “make America great again,” China marches toward developing a quantum kryptonite lock for a future world wide web, leaving concerned and sane American citizens fruitlessly stuck in an alternative reality attempting to hack Donald Trump’s brain.
Asking for the Moon
Japan is the latest nation to throw its hat into the lunar sweepstakes, announcing last week that its plans to land a human on the Moon by 2030. The mission, which was proposed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will constitute that country’s first crewed space concern beyond the International Space Station. A spokesperson for JAXA has said that the effort will be an international one due to the exorbitant costs of sending a Japanese rocket on a cislunar trajectory, and hopes to hitch a ride aboard another nation’s (possibly China) lunar excursion. The agency expects to unveil its proposed human-based Moon jaunt in time for the Japan’s International Space Exploration Forum in March 2018.
It Takes Two to Tango
Was a twin of our sun responsible for slinging the dinosaur-killing asteroid into our Earth? It has long been suspected as such, but the long-sought ‘Nemesis’ star has never been found. We know that many stars have companions (our nearest sun neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is a triplet system) and astronomers have questioned if they were ‘born that way,’ were somehow captured, or split up later and become single stars. Now according to a new analysis of the Perseus molecular cloud (located about 600 light years from Earth and about 50 light years long) by a UC Berkeley Physicist and a radio astronomer from Harvard, most of the sun-like stars in the universe start out as twins.
This new assertion – the result of a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud filled with new stars in the Perseus constellation – is currently the only mathematical model that explains the observations has all the sun-like stars born with a companion. Co-author Steven Stahler, from UC Berkeley explains, “We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide binaries. These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years [which is a blink-of-an-eye in universe time].” Wide, in this case means two stars that are more than 500 astronomical units apart, so any binary partner to our sun would have been 17 times farther than its distance is from Neptune today! So it seems that Nemesis most likely escaped and mixed with all the other stars in our region of the Milky Way, never to be identified as the trouble-maker it likely was.
Kepler and Company
The European Space Agency (ESA) is joining NASA’s Kepler observatory in seeking habitable planets with the planned launch in 2026 of a deep space observatory of its own. Green-lit last Tuesday, the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) will be blasted 932,000 miles into space and use 26 onboard telescopes to monitor thousands of stars as it scans for planets in the ‘Goldilocks zone’, not so close to its star that water evaporates, but not so far away that it freezes. The scientists are hoping to answer questions like “How common are Earth-like planets” and “Is our solar system unusual or even unique?” And of course, the most important question of all for most of us, the possible detection of extra-terrestrial life! But of course there is no solar system close enough for us to reach unless we go all Star Trek and develop warp-drive space travel.
So far Kepler has provided a good head start, discovering 3,400 confirmed exoplanets, 30 of which seem to be in the habitable zone. Hubble and several dozen ground-based telescopes have also contributed to the search. So we can expect these numbers to go up dramatically with the addition of new ‘eyes’ in space.
We Still Want to Believe
Tin Foil Hatter Alert! Long-suffering Roswell UFO buffs received a much-needed shot of adrenaline recently after an extraterrestrial and paranormal “expert” claimed to have received “ultra top-secret” report with proof that the alleged 1947 alien spaceship crash actually happened. According to The Express, Heather Wade, host of the Midnight in the Desert radio program, told her jazzed-up listeners that the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) dossier obtained from an unnamed “trusted” source details how the UFO met terra firma on July 2 or 3, 1947 (hmm… exactly 70 years this week), and also describes how four decomposing alien bodies were discovered two miles from the New Mexico crash site.
According to Wade, the supposed government sources states that, “Aerial reconnaissance discovered that four small human-like beings had apparently ejected from the craft at some point before it exploded … All of the four alien crew members were dead and badly decomposed.” Wade has passed the documents on to Roswell believer and investigator Stanton Friedman, who also happens to be a nuclear physicist. Upon looking at the material, Friedman’s first reaction was, ‘I have never seen anything like this, this is new MJ [Majestic] 12 information.’ According to Wade’s website, Friedman will continue to scrutinize the records for authenticity, “but at the time we can find no evidence of forgery.”
Son of a Pizzagate
As if NASA doesn’t have enough on its plate to worry about, last week it was forced to deny the bats-in-the-belfry claim made by an Alex Jones/ InfoWars guest that for years children have been shanghaied and sent to Mars to be sex slaves. According to Robert David Steele, who was invited to speak about child trafficking on The Alex Jones Show (which airs on 118 radio stations nationwide), “there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride … once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony.” And before
you could pick your jaw up from the floor and bestow Steele his Tin Foil Hat of the decade trophy, his story turned really bonkers, claiming the pirated children were not only being taken for space labor, but also murdered for their blood and bone marrow. “Pedophilia does not stop with sodomizing children,” explained Steele. “It goes straight into terrorizing them to adrenalize their blood and then murdering them. It also includes murdering them so that they can have their bone marrow harvested as well as body parts.” “This is the original growth hormone,” added Jones, who seemed nonplused by his guest’s bizarre theory, which dwarfs last year’s baseless Pizzagate tale (which Jones helped in hyping) that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was running a child sex ring under the basement of a D.C. pizza joint that in fact has no cellar.
When asked by The Daily Beast to comment on this galactic pile of horse pucky, NASA’s spokesperson for Mars exploration provided an awkward response as if he didn’t understand Steele’s fundamental charge (or the reporter’s question): “There are no humans on Mars. There are active rovers on Mars.There was a rumor going around last week that there weren’t. There are. But there are no humans.” Ultimately, the only thing worth noting regarding Steele’s fantasy is that the sort of person who would take a loopy leap of logic and take this smoldering piece of fiction seriously is none other than fake news crusader Donald Trump, who as recently as 2015 publicly complemented Alex Jones on his “amazing” reputation, and vowed not to let him down. At least we’re not expecting Elon Musk to start recruiting commandos to pick off Martian pedophiles and rescue the phantom kinder-chattel.
LAND OF COUNTERPANE
June 26, 2017
By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Mayors and CEOs and Governors, Oh My!
How has the Divider-in-Chief managed to unite 3 state governor’s, 30 mayor’s, over 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses? By putting ‘America First’ and not caring about the rest of the planet’s well being and reneging on our participation in the Paris Climate Accord! This is such an abysmal abandonment of America’s responsibility (after all, we are the second biggest contributor to CO2 levels in the world) that others in positions of relative power are ready to step in to fill the vacuum left by President Tyrannosaurus Rex.
So far this group has not created a moniker for itself, while former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is coordinating the effort, reports the New York Times. “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” he said, adding that cities, states and corporations could achieve, or even surpass the pledge of the Obama administration. The United States is required to continue reporting its emissions for now, as a formal withdrawal cannot take place for several years (during which we had better figure out how to get the oil-backed greedy politicians out and the real human beings back in to our elected offices). Hopefully this is just the first of many more local and state level leaders to join this important move towards true ‘homeland security’ – an Earth with air we can breath and water we can drink!
And so while der Trumpenfuhrer has mastered branding himself (even while walking away from multiple business bankruptcies) he is going to find that ‘branding’ America as a standalone island becoming ‘great again’ all by itself is not going to work. Bankrupting an entire country’s reputation in the world is not something you can bail on and recover in a lifetime. Just like the manufacturing jobs that left, never to return (despite Trump’s PT Barnum promises to the contrary), America’s leadership role will slip away, allowing other more Earth-aware, science believing nations to fill the void. This is not something that a state such as California whose GDP is sixth in the world or Mayors who see the effect of climate change on their cities (Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Atlanta to name a few) want to happen.
In fact, most of the actual decisions that create climate action are made locally so if these actors remain committed to the Paris accord the goals can be reached, according to Bloomberg. For instance, the state of Washington, California, and New York, have adopted a cap on carbon pollution, invested in growing clean energy jobs and subsidizes electric vehicle purchases. Significantly, much of California’s booming economy is in the clean energy field and it risks losing out on this growing business sector to China if we follow President “Job Creator’s” lead and step away from being competitive in the world’s market.
And it isn’t just generous planet-hugging empathy that is motivating the CEO’s and Governors. These ‘American’ corporations do business all over the world, and if they piss off their overseas customers too much they risk losing enough business to put them out of the game. So while some corporations still have CEO’s on the ‘I can’t hear you unless you are singing my praises’ Presidential Advisory panels hoping against all apparent logic to make a difference, some, like Elon Musk, have called it a day and left. I can’t help but feel that this time around cutting loose the usual channels of power and talking with China (as California governor Jerry Brown did last week) is actually the more safe and sane approach. (If you had told me this in the seventies when we were just normalizing relations with China I would have thought you had lost your mind…but then haven’t we all these days, if only by reading the daily news!) – Elizabeth McMahon
Of Musk and Men
High tech tycoon Elon Musk unveiled his Red Planet survivalist manifesto last week, claiming that a million-person Martian urban center complete with ‘iron foundries and pizza joints’ could be achieved within 50 years, reports the Telegraph. According to the billionaire SpaceX impresario who published his Mars-civilization-for-dummies in the journal New Space, earthlings would need an escape rout from Earth to avoid a ‘Doomsday event’ and our ‘eventual extinction.’ “I think there are really two fundamental paths. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction. The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planetary species,” he said.
Musk estimates that the first wave of “colonists” could be sent to Mars in a decade, and explained that it would take between 40 and 100 years to transport enough people to populate a city on the Red Planet. Sounding more like an intergalactic Spring Break, rather than a perilous migration of humankind to another world, Musk describes the journey:
It has got to be really fun and exciting. It cannot feel cramped and boring. Therefore the crew compartment or the occupant compartment is set up so that you can do zero-gravity games. You can float around. There will be movies, lecture halls, cabins and a restaurant. It will be really fun to go. You are going to have a great time.
And once you get to Mars, the merriment doesn’t stop, says Musk. “It would be quite fun to be on Mars because you would have gravity that is about 37 per cent of that of Earth, so you would be able to lift heavy things and bound around.”
In addition to “iron foundries and pizza joints,” Musk envisions there will be methane plants on the Martian surface to provide fuel for rockets schlepping to and from Earth, a route he predicts will only take as few as 30 days (one way) in the future.
So, aside from the obvious questions like who/how will the million astro-squatters be selected, what they will breathe for air once they reach the Red Planet, and who will pull the short straw to build and work the foundries and methane plants, Musk’s dream of a Martian metropolis eerily reminds one of a cosmic groundhog day in which we tote our dirty laundry to the next unwrecked planet only to eventually slip on the same evolutionary banana peel that’s brought us to the edge of extinction here on Earth, thus truly becoming a multi-planetary species of wandering locusts dooming everything in its path.
It’s a Small World After All
In a less dumbed-down version of “stop the world, we want to get off,” famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking recently called for leading countries to unite in sending astronauts to the Moon by 2020 where they would complete a lunar base within 30 years, and also send humans to Mars by 2025, according to the BBC. Presenting his thoughts at the science and the arts Starmus Festival in Norway, the real-life Mr. Peabody communicated that he hoped such a shared endeavor would re-ignite a new sense of purpose for humanity as well as “unite competitive nations in a single goal, to face the common challenge for us all,” and “stimulate interest in other areas, such as astrophysics and cosmology.”
While not diminishing the need to also address Earth-bound crises such as a greenhouse gas apocalypse (unlike, he said, Donald Trump, “who may just have taken the most serious and wrong decision on climate change this world has seen.”), the renown physicist implored, “We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.”
Believing the Pentagon is dragging its feet regarding America’s military readiness in space, key members of the US House Armed Services Committee have formally submitted proposed language to the National Defense Authorization Act calling for the creation of a dedicated “Space Corps,” by January 1, 2019 – a role traditionally held by the Air Force. “We are convinced that the Department of Defense is unable to take the measures necessary to address these challenges effectively and decisively, or even recognize the nature and scale of its problems,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee for Strategic Forces, and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the subcommittee’s ranking member, in a joint statement. “Thus, Congress has to step in.”
The new Space Corps would be led by its own chief of staff, and would answer to the civilian secretary of the Air Force, who, interestingly, is pushing back on the proposed new military entity. Secretary Heather Wilson said on Wednesday that she opposes the Space Corps, complaining that “The Pentagon is complicated enough. We’re trying to simplify. This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart and cost more money.’ Congressional champions of the idea, who are pig-biting mad at Wilson’s cold shoulder, argue that the creation of a space fighting branch is essential in protecting America’s network of communications and navigation satellites from weapons developed by nations such as China or Russia.
A research team from aerospace firm Thales Alenia and the Polytechnic University of Turin are dusting off and putting a new spin on a decades-old idea, and studying a conceptual design for a reusable, electric-powered “space tug.” Powered much like NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on economical “Hall Effect Thrusters,” the proposed vehicle would tow cargo (and perhaps humans),between Earth and the Moon, and would be refueled in low Earth orbit and be serviced by astronauts on the lunar surface and those on the International Space Station.
Under a similar theme of cheap and recyclable rocket motors, the European Space Agency and Airbus Safran Launchers (to be renamed ArianeGroup on July1) inked a deal last week to cook up a low-cost, reusable liquid oxygen/methane rocket engine dubbed “Prometheus” to go online after 2030 that will be made with the use of 3D printers to keep costs dow to around $1.1 million, reports the New York Times. “The commercial market – at least the European one – is asking for reliability, on-time delivery and cost, and we have to find the best way to answer these market expectations,” Safran’s CEO, Alain Charmeau, told Reuters. Charmeau noted that in particular, the expected boom in driverless cars and their need to have data transmitted to them globally, will increase the demand for communications satellites – and therefore rockets to launch them.
The US Postal Service last week released a special stamp commemorating this August 21st’s total solar eclipse that will cut a 70-mile shadow through 14 states from South Carolina to Oregon. The collector’s dream features a pic taken by retired NASA astrophysicist and solar eclipse guru Fred Espenak, and boasts the first-ever use of thermochromic ink on a postage sticker, allowing the image to morph when the heat of a thumb or fingers presses the surface. (The underlying thermal-triggered Moon image, transforms to the classic lunar occultation shot once the surface cools.) For fanciers who want to preserve the longevity of their philatelic gem, the USPS is selling a special envelope for a nominal fee. And for those who want to do more than just ogle at literally a postage-stamp sized version of this year’s astronomical event, click here for the best spots to view the celestial show.
NASA last week tossed a penalty flag on claims that a miracle healing patch being hawked on Gwyneth Paltrow’s putridly pretentious “Goop” website is made with the same high tech wizardry employed to monitor astronauts’ health in space. Sold alongside such scientifically-sound products as vitamin supplements for women named “Balls in the Air,” and “The Mother Lode,” the “Body Vibes” wearable stickers claimed to “promote healing” and to “rebalance” the body’s “energy frequency” with the “same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut’s vitals” via “bio-frequency” resonating with one’s “natural energy field.” So, before you can say, “Houston, we have a problem,” Gizmodo’sRae Paoletta contacted space agency reps who reported that spacesuits “do not have any conductive carbon material lining.” In addition, a former chief NASA scientist, not surprisingly, added, “What a load of BS this is.” Goop on its part distanced itself from the fray, issuing the standard “we don’t formally endorse the advice and recommendations of overpriced crap that’s sold our our site” statement, while the Body Vibes dudes threw a company engineer and distributor under the bus, saying that it was all just a miscommunication between the two. According to Vox, the company, however, still stands by its wonder patch, saying that “the origins of the material do not [in] anyway impact the efficacy of our product.” Goop on the other hand has removed the controversial claims, awaiting further verification, and Gwyneth is, well you know the saying, “in space no one can hear you scream.”
L A T E S T E V E N T H O R I Z O N !
Tom Chargin’s Astronomy of the Absurd and the New Cosmology of John Dobson and Halton Arp (Part 1) is now on our Event Horizon page! Click here to read now!
Can’t get enough of Kate’s no-nonsense, one-woman lampooneries? Check out Quicksilver Chronicles, Kate’s surreal, satirical memoirs depicting what life throws at her family of gem-mining misfits who struggle to live with a lethally polluted watershed in a forgotten western ghost town called New Idria.
Join the highjinks as Kate’s clan battles with highgraders, UFOs, “Littlefoot,” the insane “War on Drugs,” and the absurd politics of the Bush/Cheney years — not to mention the intolerable decrees enacted by her people-hating orange tabby cat whom the tiny community elects as Mayor to represent their forlorn micro-nation.