January 25, 2016
2015 TIN FOIL HATTER POLL UPDATE!
Southern California Gas must badly want this tin foil topper (or its CEO is lusting for infamy as a 2016 nominee). Over the weekend, SoCalGas head Dennis Arriola told a CBS reporter that “Methane is not a toxin,” and then disingenuously blamed cases of local residents suffering with persistent nose bleeds, nausea, headaches and other health problems with the oderant in the natural gas.”The odorant that people are smelling, that’s unfortunately causing a lot of this inconvenience, is a short-term issue for people,” Arriola said. “Once we finish closing or solving the leak and closing the well, the issues go away.”
Arriola is technically, and cynically, correct: methane, is nontoxic. However it is an asphyxiant, which according to a must-read Scientific American article:
Methane can occupy the same place in blood cells that oxygen normally does. Symptoms of methane exposure include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness and loss of coordination.
Gee wiz, sounds vaguely familiar … In other words, breathing high concentrations of methane is dangerous, if not deadly.
Also methane is highly flammable, so depending on the concentration, a spark could cause one spectacular fireball that Darth Vader would be proud of.
So, we guess what Arriola really means is if the residents of Porter Ranch don’t breath or light a match, everything’s peachy.
And let’s not forget that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and is 25 times more potent than CO2 in trapping heat in the atmosphere. (Nothing wrong here, since Arriola didn’t mention anything about that!)
Little did we realize that this competition was going to be so fierce, so if you haven’t yet voted for your favorite 2015 Tin Foil Hatter of the Year, CLICK HERE! (Poll closed)
S e e i n g i s B e l i e v i n g ( U n l e s s Y o u A r e w i t h S t u p i d )
If you go to Google at this moment and punch in “space news,” what do you think is at the top of the list? Hint – it’s a really vital breaking thunderbolt of discovery, spinning in newsrooms around the world!
Can’t guess? Ta-Dah! It’s astronaut Mark Kelly playing ping-pong with a glob of water on the space station. Mind-bending!
It’s days like this when I see vividly clear why I hauled ass out of the mainstream media world…and went rogue. (Please forgive the use of that word, which is so misused on Donald Trump’s current “I’m with Stupid Tour.”)
Every perky news anchor from New York to Australia is gaily reporting the ping-pong story. And yet, what you won’t see in the headlines truly could change our world…or perhaps I should say potential worlds.
Just a few weeks ago, the Kepler Space Telescope found its 1,930th confirmed exoplanet, and that is mind-bending when you consider the fact that scientists were squabbling over whether there even were any other planets besides those in our solar system a scant half-century ago. It’s incredibly important if the ego of humans wants to survive beyond the eventual destruction of this planet. I am not referring to the inevitable burnt crispy cinder Earth will become in 4 billion years thanks to a bloated dying Sun, but to the destruction wrought by greedy climate change deniers and plunderers of resources, which I unhappily believe will render this home of ours uninhabitable – sooner rather than later.
The far right’s battle cry: “Earth First! We’ll mine the other planets later…” is becoming increasingly irritating and unfunny to many of us.
But back to Kepler. This scrappy eye in the sky actually broke in 2013, four years after its mission began, when one of its three reaction wheels failed. The wheels are vital to keep the scope centered precisely on target, and without them the craft could easily be knocked out of position by a micro piece of space junk or high-energy particles. So scientists used the power of the Sun to keep the telescope steady, and it’s working.
Here’s how it works – the Sun on the Kepler’s solar panels is acting as
a third reaction wheel, pushing against the other two to keep enough tension on the magnificent eyepiece to steady it. In fact, the data is coming in so rapidly that astronomers are having a hard time keeping up. To date, the Kepler has actually found an additional 4,696 exoplanets that have yet to be confirmed.
In the past year, the reborn Kepler has found, among many other surprises, three “Super Earths,” all residing around a single star!
Science Recorder.com, however, now reports that a second reaction wheel is damaged, which might curb that information flow considerably.
Nonetheless, at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting held earlier this month astronomers announced that they are certain alien life will be found in the next ten years, probably using space telescopes. If one factors in the upcoming mission of the James Webb Telescope – which will be 100 times more powerful than the Universe-changing Hubble, the prediction seems almost like a certainty. The James Webb is on schedule for launch in October 2018.
I shudder to think how the anti-science faction of the political spectrum will react to the news of alien life, even on a microbial level. If they do not outright deny it, even when it’s shoved under their ruddy noses like global warming was, they will try to capitalize and monopolize it, no doubt. It’s terribly important that projects like the James Webb and the Kepler get funded, so maybe if we let the deniers think they can make money off such discoveries, we can still get the votes for such science.
C h a l l e n g e r A n n i v e r s a r y
Note: This Thursday is the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, and the loss of its seven astronauts including commander Dick Scobee; pilot Mike Smith; mission specialists Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ron McNair; and payload specialist Greg Jarvis, in addition to teacher Christa McAuliffe. The National Geographic Channel is airing a special documentary tonight featuring rare behind-the-scenes footage surrounding the tragedy, For more information on the NGC’s “Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes,” click here.
Also, check out the excellent 8-part series originally written for NBC News in 1997 by By Jay Barbree entitled “The Challenger Saga: An American space tragedy.”
T h e H e a t i s O n
In a stunning display of one-upmanship to Space X’s failed Falcon 9 Death Star explosive landing test earlier this month, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin commerciall space venture announced Friday that it successfully launched and returned its recycled New Shepard booster for a second time. According to the aerospace company led by Amazon CEO tycoon Bezos, the rocket, which performed a similar maneuver in November, reached a maximum altitude of just over 333 miles (the International Space Station flies just under that height) before it was brought back to Earth for a soft upright landing.
One of the major breakthroughs demonstrated in last week’s test is with the New Shepard’s navigational software. Rather than having the craft perform a bulls eye touchdown, the system now targets the midpoint of the landing pad and then “intelligently” adjusts for the most convenient point, avoiding last second course corrections that could destabilize the craft. Blue Origin boasts that the new guidance system acts similar to an airline pilot who will land a pane a few feet off-center on the runway rather than dangerously swerving last minute to achieve an exact mid-tarmac arrival.
E n t e r t h e D r a g o n . . .
Not to be left eating Blue Origin’s dust, Space X has posted footage from last November of its manned Dragon 2 spacecraft undergoing successful hovering tests of its “SuperDraco” thrusters. Designed to taxi astronauts to the International Space Station starting in 2017, the Dragon 2 will fly atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, and eventually will ferry humans back to Earth in a controlled descent with the accuracy of a helicopter. For the first few crewed flights, however, the Dragon 2 capsule will sport parachutes for an ocean splashdown.
I C a n Do A n y t h i n g B e t t e r T h a n Y o u
To cap off the most recent volley of technological muscle-flexing, Virgin Galactic’s head honcho Richard Branson bragged that his company’s SpaceShipTwo is superior to the competing Falcon-9 or New Shepard reusable craft. The disarmingly charming space-age raconteur, who was iintervewed by CNBC during last week’s World Economic Forum in Switzerland, trash talked his fellow gazillionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, stating that, “Our spaceship comes back and lands on wheels. Theirs don’t. Because ours is shaped like an airplane, we hope to do point-to-point air travel one day. Theirs is not,” he told the financial news network.
Branson did concede that Musk and Bezos would have good reasons to tout their crafts’ competitive edge over Virgin’s spaceliner. In fact, Bezos recently sung praises of his spacecraft’s old school upright design:
Though wings and parachutes have their adherents and their advantages, I’m a huge fan of rocket-powered vertical landing. Why? Because — to achieve our vision of millions of people living and working in space — we will need to build very large rocket boosters. And the vertical landing architecture scales extraordinarily well.
T o p o f t h e C h a r t s
For the first time in its 11-year history, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report has ranked an environmental risk – climate change – as the most severe economic peril facing the world. According to the ranking by nearly 750 experts, “failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation,” led the pack of the greatest economic dangers including weapons of mass destruction, water crises, large-scale involuntary migration, and severe energy price shock. In terms of the likelihood of occurring, climate change held its own at third place behind large-scale involuntary migration and extreme weather events.
E T n o t H o m e ?
A new study published in the journal Astrobiology suggests that while the ingredients for life in the universe are plentiful, the common default is extinction, thereby explaining the paradox of why we haven’t seen any evidence of life outside our planet even though the cosmos should be teaming with biological activity. Authors Aditya Chopra and Charles H. Lineweaver explain this “Gaian bottleneck” in which life rarely evolves quickly enough to “regulate greenhouse gases … thereby maintaining surface temperature compatible with liquid water and habitability. ” Hmm, is it us, or does this sound a little too close to home?
L u c y i n t h e S k y
The Hubble Space Telescope’s latest portrait unveils the most populous – and youngest – star cluster in our Milky Way Galaxy, featuring a stunning display of diamond-like massive white-blue stars. The area, known as Trumpler 14, is a cosmically infantile 500,000 years old, with its stellar inhabitants spending their hydrogen fuel so quickly that it will only be a mere few million years before they go out with a bang as supernova bursts.