Bean Counting for Dummies

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February 29, 2016

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
And Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor

H a c k  t o  t h e  M o o n

Members of the illustrious tin foil-crowned House Science, Space and Technology Committee are trying to introduce a bill that would make NASA Obama-proof, I mean, Hillary-proof, oops! ….  Basically, they say they want the agency to be “President-proof” in the future.

Yeah.  Right.

Screen shot 2016-02-28 at 1.04.01 PMThe bill is called the Space Leadership Preservation Act, and the Republicans on the Committee (which is about 99 percent of the entire body) say it would render NASA impervious to Presidential terms by changing the President-appointed NASA Director position into a ten-year tenure, chosen from a Board of Directors made of astronauts and scientists (I am surprised they didn’t require aerospace lobbyists to be on this dream team).

Oh, and Congress would pick eight of the members and the President would pick three.  When it comes time for a new NASA director, the President would have to pick one from the Board – and only if the current chief’s 10-year tenure was up –, and that same Board would also be organizing and submitting NASA’s $19-billion budget, not the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Lamar holding mag

US Congressman Lamar Smith.

Do you get the feeling that Science Committee gavel-banger and Charlie McCarthy look-alike Lamar Smith (R- Seceded Texas) is still a little irritated about how that “socialist” Obama dumped the Back-to-the-Moon Constellation Program in 2010 for the Mars Mission?

“Presidential transitions often have provided a challenge to NASA programs that require continuity and budget stability, but few have been as rocky as the administration change we experienced seven years ago,” Smith declared when he opened the hearing.

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Ex NASA head Merv Griffin.

But if you think Lamar is spitting sawdust, check out former NASA chief Merv Griffin, who testified at the hearing last Friday.  To say he was filled with piss and vinegar is an understatement.

“The OMB [Obama’s Office of Management and Budget] is a haven for largely unelected, unappointed, not very well qualified staff who seek to exercise a level of power and control in their area that their accomplishments have not earned,” groused Griffin during the hearing.

constellation artworkI can understand Griffin’s frustration (but not Lamar’s, because he is a corrupt, power-mad witch hunter).  Under President Little George Bush, NASA had been directed to work on a back-to-the-Moon mission, called Constellation, which was supposed to include a push for Mars in the latter part of its goal.  Griffin and many Republican Obama-bashers say the current President trashed years of work and money when he called for an end to the Moon return effort and redirected NASA’s goal to get directly to Mars, while maintaining the International Space Station work.

Constellation program with Lunar Lander Altair

“Altair” lunar lander.

But the fact is that Obama and his bean counters realized that without a massive influx of money into the NASA budget, the Moon mission was impossible.  That should not have been a surprise to the Bush cheerleaders since it was discovered some years before 2010 that Bush and President Cheney had put the $3-trillion Iraqi War (when we cluster-bombed the wrong country and killed some 300,000 people) on a credit card which they thought had no ceiling.  They figured the little people taxpayers would pick up the tab.  And they did!  With a big smile, and a hearty “U.S.A., U.S.A.!”

The Cheney Administration, er, Bush reign was, simply put, dreadful when it came to budgets.

Constellation posterNonetheless, Griffin, in Friday’s hearing, tried to slip in a condition of the “NASA Leadership Preservation Bill” that would reinstate the Constellation Program!  Using what for money, Griffin?  Beans?

Knowing Lamar Smith’s infamous pandering toward any anti-Obama voice, I have no doubt that when this kangaroo hearing resumes this week, the Committee will pass it with flying colors and push it hard on Mitch McConnell to bring it up on the Senate floor.

in the end, I don’t think that any work accomplished on figuring out how to get off this planet is done in vain.  And NASA has mentioned lately that going back to the Moon is not only part of their Asteroid-Redirect Program, but also may be important for resourcing a way to Mars as well.

If only these guys would present recent history unrevised and keep Lamar Smith’s jaw locked.

H o m e w a r d  B o u n d

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Record-breaking orbital duo Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko.

International Space Station sojourners US astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are slated to return to Earth this week after spending a record 340 days circling the globe. The spacefarers’ marathon stay in orbit provided researchers a rare chance to ponder over various medical, physiological, psychological, and performance challenges astronauts will face during long duration journeys to Mars, and inevitably, beyond. Kelly’s identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, conducted parallel biological studies on Earth to provide scientists the closest apples to apples comparison on how space-based environments affect humans.

NASA TV will begin coverage of the duos’ homecoming starting at 3:10 PM EST (US), and will continue through landing in Russia at 11:27 March 1 (10:27 a.m. on March 2, Kazakhstan time). US astronaut TIm Kopra (who will be the ISS’s new commander), Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos and Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), will operate as a skeleton station crew until the arrival of three new astronauts in two weeks. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka are scheduled for liftoff from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on March 18 EST.

K i c k i n g  i n t o  H ig h  G e a r

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Potential star system destinations about 25 light years from us.

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Artist rendition of laser driven spacecraft.

A recent NASA-funded paper by a University of California physics professor suggests that directed energy photonic technology has developed to the point where some day we could see the potential of sending astronauts to Mars in as little as three days or propelling  probes to nearby stars in less than a human lifetime. According to Philip Luben of UC Santa Barbara, it is now possible to start building macroscopic systems capable of reaching relativistic speeds that would be “a watershed in our path to the stars” In fact, this sea change in directed energy know-how would allow for modular and scalable technology without “dead ends,” with laser-driven spacecraft zipping along at one quarter the speed of light.

In addition, this same laser technology used to drive probes into deep space can also create a beacon visible to other planetary systems, thus exponentially broadening our search for extraterrestrial life. “The implications for SETI searches are quite profound,” writes Professor Luben. In fact, optical SETI scans would not only inspect nearby planetary systems, but could examine the entire universe for similar of more advanced civilizations than our own. The ramifications are staggering, given the number of potentiall planetary candidates within eye shot is 10 to the 22nd power.

C o s m i c  C a s i n o

That sonic boom you may have heard recently was probably the sound of risk capital reaching the heavens as venture funding into commercial space start-ups grew twice as much last year than the previous 15 years combined. According to a new report by The Tauri Group,  Daddy Warbucks-types wishing to hitch their wagon to a star shot $1.8 billion toward cosmic enterScreen shot 2016-02-27 at 9.45.49 AMprises in 2015, with $2.7 billion in total investment and debt financing.  “Sophisticated senior investors believe that significant returns from space ventures are possible and are willing to accept the risk for those transformative results,” observes Carissa Christensen, Tauri Group’s managing partner. You can now make money with space investment, which wasn’t largely a true statement before,” said one equity backer.

According to the Virginia-based Tauri Group, the 21st Century galactic gold rush has attracted 250 investors that the firm has identified as supporting space-related ventures, with 110 VC companies coughing up seed capital since 2000. The Tauri Group also reported that 66 percent of these patrons are based in the US, with half of these located in California. Tauri Group’s report also gave a tip of the hat to our favorite space gazillionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Brason, and Elon Musk, who lead the pack of  21 on Forbes’ Billionaaires List having some affiliation to a space-based enterprise.

B l a s t  f r o m  t h e  P a s t

Screen shot 2016-02-27 at 9.37.47 AMAfraid to be left behind eating the hydrazine fumes of Elon Musk’s private space taxi? Then for a mere $19,000, you can still cash in and snatch a vintage, one-ton Titan or Juno rocket engine from 1957. Owner and former aerospace engineer Jim Milburn is also considering best offers for the retired workhorse he bought at an auction 20 years ago along with other space-related items for $10,000. After years of enjoyment, Milburn figures it’s time to pass the rusted torch to a new generation. “Let some youngster buy it,” he  told a local television station recently.

S t a r r y  N i g h t

Screen shot 2016-02-27 at 2.47.47 AMAn astonishing new image of the Milky Way reveals a nearly frozen universe of gas and dust only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero. The icy portrait completes the mapping of the Galactic Plane visible from the southern hemisphere by the 12-meter APEX telescope in Chile. Focusing on submillimeter wavelengths between infrared light and radio waves, the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL) is the sharpest such atlas of our galaxy to date. (Click on image to enlarge)

L u n e y  T u n e s

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Apollo 10 astronauts and radio interference connoisseurs Eugene Cernan, Thomas Stafford, and John Young (left to right).

The latest much ado about nothing item —  or shall we dare say Tin Foil Hat moment — is the media buzz about “UFO conspiracy” allegations regarding “strange music” heard by Apollo 10 astronauts back in 1969 as they sailed above the far side of the Moon out of radio contact with Earth. Apparently, a recent episode of the Science Channel’s “NASA’s Unexplained Files” program was the ground zero causing all the hubbub in which the show aired an audio file of the Apollo moon travelers discussing an unexplained whistling sound they could hear in their headsets for over an hour.   In an attempt to diffuse the media feeding frenzy and “reports” of  “accusations” of a government cover-up, NASA’s took to Tumbler to set the record straight:

“While listed as ‘confidential’ in 1969 at the height of the Space Race, Apollo 10 mission transcripts and audio have been publicly available since 1973. Since the Internet did not exist in the Apollo era, NASA has only recently provided digital files for some of those earlier missions.

“The Apollo 10 audio clips were uploaded in 2012, but the mission’s audio recordings have been available at the National Archives since the early 1970s. As for the likely source of the sounds questioned in the television program, Apollo 10 Lunar Module Pilot Gene Cernan told NASA on Monday, ‘I don’t remember that incident exciting me enough to take it seriously. It was probably just radio interference. Had we thought it was something other than that, we would have briefed everyone after the flight … We never gave it another thought.”

To put things in perspective, the far more famous Apollo 10 moment at the time involving a radio broadcast was when Cernan cussed over an open channel for everyone’s five-year-old to hear. To be fair, he probably doesn’t remember that being a big deal either.

 

 

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Up and Away

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M a k e  H u m a n s  G r e a t  A g a i n

Trump and finger

Not great.

As I write this, I can hear in the background the droning of endless victory speeches from the mouths of deluded Republican presidential candidates in South Carolina.  It’s amazing to me that while they beat their chests about a massive wall running the length of the nation’s southern border and closing off all northerly movement of humans and wildlife, scientists are still working diligently on moving the human race to a different planet that won’t be burned up by its sun – or at least not as soon as ours will.

James Webb 1

James Webb Telescope

I don’t believe humans are anywhere near evolved enough to deserve saving themselves (oh dear Dog…now moronically devoted Trump supporters are again chanting the only intellectual words they know: “U.S.A., U.S.A”…how patriotically putrid!)  And yet, the James Webb Telescope (JWST) is reaching milestones and reaping lots of worldwide attention.  When it launches in October 2018, it will defy the idiocy, greed and myopia that the ruling class continues to display to the world.

18 mirrors installed

JWST mirrors

Truly a technological marvel, the Webb space scope has 18 big mirrors – so collectively massive they have to be folded and then unfurled like origami in orbit — and will have 100 times the power that the wondrous Hubble Space Telescope has used to peer into the unknown cosmos.  But there was a time not long ago when many naysayers doubted the James Webb would ever get this far.

Like any risky, seemingly unattainable scientific goal, the James Webb Telescope was once fraught with setbacks and political spit-wads.  The original cost was $5.6 billion, and of course, since nothing comparable to this has ever been attempted before, the final price tag is more like $8.7 billion.  While NASA’s Astrophysics department is responsible for some of the setbacks and delays of the project – lousy management is always a pitfall – Congress, predictably, went hog wild about its cost overruns and delays, and started dog-piling against it back in 2010 by withholding development funding.  And then, as always, the maroons blamed NASA for the further delays and costs that their penny-pinching caused!

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Full-scale model of JWST in 2005.

It seems we’ve cleared all the inevitable political booby-traps for now, but I shudder to think what a stingy Republican administration could mean to important leaps in knowledge that efforts like the JWST can bring us.  Politicians on both sides of the spectrum seem bereft of the significance of science (although I think we can agree that Republicans in particular are without a clue).

Astronomers are ecstatic that the JWST will go beyond the abilities of the Hubble by letting us see the first formed galaxies in this Universe with its infrared eyes, to see through massive dust clouds, and spot exoplanets – hopefully some that are habitable – that have been invisible to us except through behaviors in sun orbits and minuscule light dimming.

Some 700 processes have to take place once the JWST in its orbit for operations to start, and since it will be launched to the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point approximately 1 million miles from Earth, no rescue/repair missions will be capable of reaching it.  Unlike the low Earth-orbiting Hubble, the JWST needs to be as far away from light so its lenses won’t be blinded to the farthest reaches of time and space as we know it.

WFIRST

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope

Writer Daniel Cleary has been penning  a series of stories about the incredible leap into the past, and future, the JWST will make, and about its intricate parts and the history of its trials and tribulations.  Cleary’s most recent installment has been a glimpse into what the next generation of space telescopes will bring: specifically, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which Cleary says will have “a field of view more like a searchlight compared with Webb’s laser beam.”  The WFIRST, Cleary states, will “better understand the mysterious dark matter that holds galaxies together and dark energy that is speeding the expansion of the universe.”  This super-scope is slated for launch in the mid 2020s… and as we know, accounting for political punch-bagging and sheer miserly stupidity, that really means at least the end of the 2020s.

I’m just hoping we can reach October 2018 without any more petty hindrances, that we can get to launch, that we can watch all the parts move perfectly like clockwork, and that we have the opportunity to forget for a moment all the mountains of stupidity and witness the unspoiled beginning of this Universe.

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m c 2  =  E

(Our new feature, showcasing cosmic whimsy by cartoonist Navied Mahdavian)

pIC

K i c k i n g  i t  O l d  S c h o o l

If NASA gets its way for fiscal year 2016, we could be seeing in the near future a revival of revolutionary supersonic planes, and could witness an era of aviation innovation not experienced since the US created legendary craft such as the sound barrier-breaking X-1 in the 1940s . Tucked away in the space agency’s newest budget request, is the 10-year

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NASA’s hybrid wing body aircraft concept sports turbofan motors on the craft’s top rear, with two vertical tails designed to shield engine noise.

“New Aviation Horizons” program to design, build, and fly a variety of flight demonstration “X-Planes”  including  a bio-fueled supersonic transport that would generate super-silent sonic booms. “We need the X-planes to prove, in an undeniable way, how that tech can make aviation more Earth friendly, reduce delays and maintain safety for the flying public, and support an industry that’s critical to our nation’s economic vitality,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

 

B a ck  i n  t h e  S a d d l e

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Virgin Galactic rolls out new SpaceShipTwo Unity craft.

Virgin Galactic, which has been on injured reserve for the past 16 months following the fatal crash of ts first astro-shuttle, unveiled on Friday its newly-designed SpaceShipTwo suborbital taxi that has been officially dubbed VSS Unity by lionized physicist, Stephen Hawking. In a much ballyhooed fete held in the Mojave Desert, billionaire owner Richard Branson pulled all the PR stops as he rolled out Virgin’s shinny new orbital hopper, as well as four generations of Bransons including his mother, son, and one-year old granddaughter, who — to remind us that space tourism is also within reach for the silver spoon toddler set — “christened” the commercial space plane with a baby bottle full of milk. Resembling more like a Hollywood-inspired red carpet event, Friday’s bash also included an appearance by actor Harrison Ford at Unity’s helm, a video featuring Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai who extolled the virtues of space to science and technical education, and a recorded message  by Stephen Hawking  who said, “I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship.”

Actor and Pilot Harrison Ford listens to Virgin Galactic chief pilot Dave Mackay inside the new SS2.Virgin Spaceship Unity is unveiled in Mojave, California, Friday February 19th, 2016. VSS Unity is the first vehicle to be manufactured by The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic's wholly owned manufacturing arm, and is the second vehicle of its design ever constructed. VSS Unity was unveiled in FAITH (Final Assembly Integration Test Hangar), the Mojave-based home of manufacturing and testing for Virgin Galactic's human space flight program. VSS Unity featured a new silver and white livery and was guided into position by one of the company's support Range Rovers, provided by its exclusive automotive partner Land Rover...

Harrison Ford, along with Virgin Galactic chief pilot Dave Mackay, sit inside the new SS2.Virgin Spaceship Unity during its unveiling last week. The Unity suborbital taxi is the first craft to be manufactured by The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s wholly owned manufacturing arm.

Aside from promoting its six-passenger, two-pilot Unity space liner that will shoot wealthy cosmic day-trippers, researchers, and commercial customers on five-minute jaunts 62 miles high into suborbital space, Virgin Galactic is forging ahead with plans to build its own SpaceLauncherOne rocket, designed to loft small satellites into orbit starting as early as next year.. “To have three or four people who are fairly entrepreneurial competing with each other means we’ll be able to open up space at a fraction of the price that governments have been able to do so in the past,” Branson told Reuters as he toured Virgin Galactic’s 150,000-square-foot LauncherOne rocket design and manufacturing plant in Long Beach, California. Branson’s commercial space-race rivals include SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

F l i g h t s  o f  F a n c y

If the thought of  Virgin Galactic’s low orbit puddle jumping can’t quite get you off the Screen shot 2016-02-21 at 2.35.03 AMcouch, check out NASA JPL’s retro space travel posters that will have you pine for exotic locations from our solar system to exoplanets and beyond. According to Newsworks,  these stunning artworks were created by Don Clark of the Seattle­ based graphic design firm Invisible Creature. Clark explains that NASA provided themes, planets, and concepts, and while providing him with a great deal of creative control,  required that the “ads” be grounded in what scientifically could be done in the future. “We wanted that nostalgic travel poster charm, but almost in a way where we’re looking 500 years into the future,” Clark said. The posters are available for free on NASA’s website here. Collect them all!

T u r k e y  S h o o t

Screen shot 2016-02-18 at 9.07.52 AMRussian scientists want to tweak their country’s ICBMs, and turn them into near Earth asteroid-shooting bullets, according to head researchers at the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau. Incoming cosmic projectiles up to the size of half a football field will be the prime candidates, with scientists eyeing asteroid Apophis, which is expected to come uncomfortably close to the Earth in 2036, as the first target of the upgraded missiles.  Solid rocket-powered ICBMs, which unlike orbit-bound rockets that are energized by liquid fuel, are ideal for cosmic skeet shooting, especially for bombarding space rocks too small to detect until the last minute.

W o r k  o f  A r t

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NASA’s asteroid sample seeking OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

NASA is asking artists to dig deep into their imaginations and produce space-inspired  creations to be flown aboard the agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which will be the first U.S. mission to scoop a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth. According to NASA, its #WeTheExplorers campaign is intended spark public involvement in the asteroid excavating program by inviting us civilians to express “how the mission’s spirit of exploration” is reflected in our lives. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to launch in September and will travel with its trowel to the asteroid Bennu. Submitted artworks — that can include a sketch, photo, graphic, poem, song, short video, etc — will be saved on a chip aboard the craft. Artistic offerings will be accepted via Twitter and Instagram until March 20. For details on how to include your masterpiece on the Bennu mission, click here.

R o o m  f o r  a  V i e w

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At 500 meters, the gigantic FAST telescope (above) is nearly twice the size of the famous 305 meter Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico.

China will be relocating nearly 10,000 citizens from the area around its almost-completed Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in order to maintain a 5 kilometer radio-free quite zone. When operational in September this year, FAST will be the world’s largest radio scope with a diameter of almost 500 meters. In addition to studying galaxies, pulsars, quasars, and supernovae, the highly sensitive instrument will listen for potential signs of alien civilizations throughout the universe. FAST “will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy,” according to Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society.

F r e e  f o r  A l l

NASA is latching on to the mystique of Star Trek’s replicator – remember? “Tea.  Earl Grey.tea,earlgrey,hot  Hot” – to get school kids from kindergarten to sixth grade to enter the “Replicator Challenge” contest.  The goal is to design the best non-food dining-related items, like cutlery, plates, cups, etc. that will work best in space.  NASA sponsored a similar competition last year to find a super zero-G nail clipper, and boy, did they get one.

This time, NASA has teamed with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation and the Star Trek Corporation (yes, there is one, and it is entwined with the CBS network) to publicize a new contest that could solve their eating problems in orbit.

nurse chapel and replicatorSo even though this has nothing to do with futuristic replicators that can create anything deliciously edible within seconds in your private room, it has got future engineers and fertile imaginations working fervently away, oh, did we say for free?

According to the official press release on StarTrek.com, winning prizes include “a trip to New York for a tour with an astronaut of the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Museum, a 3-D printer for the winners’ schools or a Star Trek prize pack.”  Wooo!  That beats a 2 million dollar patent any old day….if you’re 10-years-old.

Click here to enter the Star Trek™ Replicator Challenge here.

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Come to Jesus Moment

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‘ C a u s e  t h e   B i b l e  T o l  d  M e  S o

EXTRA, EXTRA:  NASA officials have banned the word “Jesus” throughout the agency.  And I bet you they are responsible for killing Christmas, too.  Mother Mary, Good God, Holy Ghost (?), the world is collapsing!!

finger of God_robotI was loathe to waste my commentary on this subject, but the noise from the deafening right-wing media machine became so shrill, I just have to do something to muffle it – if not for a reality check, at least for my own eardrums and sanity.

It all started when some born-again NASA employees, specifically, the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Praise and Worship Club went ape after getting a phone call from NASA’s legal department.  The PWC was asked to refrain from using the word “Jesus,” just from the newsletters they spread around the facility, since it would be illegal for a federal government agency to seemingly support one particular religion – in this case, Christianity. It would be breaking the First Amendment.

Touched by a noodle: The Flying Spaghetti Monster (He, She, It?) has been the inspiration of the Masters for centuries.

For example, say, if NASA Johnson’s “Adore and Chew Club” for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster spread around newsletters at the agency mentioning their deity of choice – the Flying Spaghetti Monster of course – NASA officials would tell the worshipers of tangled pasta to cease using their god’s name as well, because NASA can’t be perceived as advocating The Flying Spaghetti Monster, no matter how much we love and venerate that big al dente Creator.

But the Praise and Worship Club decided to run to the end zone with this pigskin, claiming NASA had “forbidden Christians from saying Jesus!  Jesus!”  The club’s organizers started churning their PR machine and got their lawyers on the horn to national media outlets.

The Club’s attorneys, who are from the renowned Liberty Institute, have demanded a public apology from NASA and that the agency stop censoring the name “Jesus.”  Should NASA not comply, they have threatened a federal lawsuit.

But the noted Liberty attorneys, famous for passionately defending religious clients, might have a hard time witScreen shot 2016-02-13 at 8.02.54 PMh that one.  The Daily Beast online news asked the Liberty Institute whether or not they had evidence that NASA had specifically targeted the term “Jesus” apart from the Praise and Worship Club’s recounting of a phone call. They do not.

How bout that?

Predictably, other right-leaning Christian groups have chimed in. Here’s what one warm and fuzzy hard right online publication, called The Right Scoop [Get it? Clever!], announced in their story about all the halo-balloo:  “It is unbelievable the extent to which liberals go to deny history and ignore the Christian roots of this country. Don’t believe that it won’t have any consequences when our government agencies do stupid crap like this – God is watching.” And the American Family Association has gone bonkers with what they call “NASA’s censorship.”  They have blasted out an action alert to all their followers encouraging the harassment of poor NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, In their “clarion call,” the pious outfit went so far as to list the NASA chief’s phone numbers, emails, contact info, etc..

While this is all pacompassr for the course, what really got my wires fried was a statement made by a NASA Johnson scientist:

Obviously quite bothered, NASA engineer Sophia Smith told Fox News in a recent interview that, “It was shocking to all of us and very frustrating. NASA has a long history of respecting religious speech. Why wouldn’t they allow us to put the name Jesus in the announcement about our club?”

What I want to know is, why in the Universe are PhD Jesus freaks working in an institution that is based solely on science, discovery and exploration?  At first I was thinking that this club is probably comprised mostly of support workers, like file clerks and parking attendants…whatever, just not scientists, surely.  I do not mean to condescend to non-scientists, but can you see this paradox?  Then I see the Fox story quote from engineer Sophia Smith – this is a person who works with math, science, calculations – and my faith in humanity starts dwindling again.

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NASA’s “Hand of God” X-ray telescope image from 2014.

I simply don’t understand how educated scientists can be so certain that a single Creator, with a single special name and nobody else’s name will do, made the multiverse.  How can a so-called thinker be so sure of this when there is no acceptable proof?  And I’d like to know how this con artist got elected, fer Dog’s sake.  Who decided?  And you know damn well these self-righteous true believers don’t believe that the tiny pre-“Big Bang” singularity was God as a baby zygote.

I apologize to any of our readers if I have offended you.  But these are contradicting notions that must be considered when the sanctimonious start fobbing around lawsuit threats.  I find it remarkable how religious leaders grab the brass ring of the First Amendment, but only when it suits their current argument.  The hypocrisy of organized religion is breath taking.

And frankly, religious zealotry scares the bejeezus out of me.  – Kate Woods

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M a k i n g  W a v e s

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Cosmic tango: Scientists confirm they have picked up the gravitational waves created by two black holes merging 1.3 billion years ago.

After nearly a half century of searching, cosmologists have for the first time detected gravitational waves, and as a result, have confirmed a key prediction in Einstein’s theory of relativity.  According to physicists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) operated by Caltech and MIT, the signals generated by two colliding black holes 1.3 billion years ago were detected September 14, 2015. “This detection is the beginning of a new era: The field of gravitational wave astronomy is now a reality,” says Gabriela González, LSC spokesperson and professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University.

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Gravitational wave “chirp pattern” recorded by LIGO September 14, 2015.

These ripples in the fabric of spacetime confirm what Einstein foresaw over 100 years ago when he devised his famous E=mc2 equation. During the final nanosecond before the two black holes smashed into each other at nearly one-half the speed of light, a portion of the combined black holes’ mass was converted to energy, resulting in a final strong burst of gravitational waves that the LIGO observed. “About 3 times the mass of the sun was converted into gravitational waves in a fraction of a second—with a peak power output about 50 times that of the whole visible universe,” the LIGO scientists reported.

X – R a y  E y e s  f o r  Y o u

Screen shot 2016-02-12 at 10.48.03 PMAs of Sunday evening, the next generation X-ray Astronomy Telescope was waiting for the green light to be launched into orbit, which is expected to occur as soon as the weather clears above the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The new breed Astro-H  is a joint Japan/NASA venture designed to view cosmic cataclysms in the hopes of discovering how galaxy clusters were formed, and to investigate the laws governing extreme environments in neutron stars and black holes. The new-fangled instrument on board the cutting edge craft – the “X-ray micro-calorimeter” – will observe X-rays from space with the greatest spectral capability yet. Three other detectors will enable high sensitivity observations in a wide bandwidth covering soft X-rays to the softest Gamma-ray.

S h a v e  a n d  a  H a i r c u t

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NASA”s Orion spacecraft is expected to ferry astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

NASA will be receiving a slight funding buzz cut, based on President Obama’s proposed fiscal year budget beginning on October 1st. The bad news, is that the space agency would receive $300 million less than the $19.3 billion this year including $840 million cuts fro deep-space exploration programs and $100 million for planetary science missions; however the good news is that there will be increased funding for Earth science research by more than $110 million. Naturally, the President’s proposal drew displeasure from top Republican climate change skeptic and tin foil hat crash test dummy, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). “This imbalanced proposal continues to tie our astronauts’ feet to the ground and makes a Mars mission all but impossible,” said Smith, who is chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “This is not the proposal of an administration that is serious about maintaining America’s leadership in space,” Smith groused.

P e e k  A  B o o

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Over 800 galaxies exist beyond our Milky Way in an area called the “Avoidance Zone” that’s hidden from us in the visible light spectrum due to cosmic dust and star-generated light pollution.

An international team of astronomers have peered beyond the cosmic “smog” of our own Milky Way, and have discovered hundreds of neighboring galaxies existing in a previously unexplored region of the universe. Employing the Parkes radio telescope operated by the Australian-based International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, scientists have also shed some light on the enigmatic “Great Attractor,” a gravitational anomaly that seems to be sucking the Milky Way and hundreds of thousands of other galaxies towards it with a gravitational strength equal to a million billion Suns. “We know that in this region there are a few very large collections of galaxies we call clusters or superclusters, and our whole Milky Way is moving towards them at more than two million kilometers per hour,” said a cosmologist on the team. Of the 883 galaxies found in the area about 250 million light years from us, researchers have singled out several newly-found stellar clusters as potential culprits behind the extraordinary galactic dash toward this region, known as the “Avoidance Zone.”

F i r e  I n  t h e  H o l e

The panicked populace of India can take off their hard hats, now that NASA  and other scientists have stamped out wildfire rumors claiming that a man was killed and three others injured by a meteorite crashing into a college campus building in the Vellore district of southeast India last Saturday.

According to Indian news reports, a bus driver named Kamaraj was unfortunately killed, and two gardeners and a student suffered injuries when an explosion caused debris and shattered window panes in an engineering building, as well as glass from nearby bus windows, to rain down on the victims.  The blast left a small crater (five feet deep and two feet wide) nearby – along with a suspicious black, pockmarked stone – launching news reports worldwide about the “killer meteorite.”

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Acquitted “killer space rock”

However, after analyzing photos of the site a few days later, NASA scientists sucked the air out of the deadly-meteorite assumption: the agency said the incident was more consistent with a “land-based explosion.”  Scientists from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics who had tried to analyze the nefarious rock also chimed in, saying there had been no meteor showers predicted or observed at the time, and that the stone appeared to be a piece of common Earth rock.

If actually true, this would have been the first and only confirmed report of a meteorite killing a human. (There has been one documented case of a meteorite attack: Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama was napping on her couch one afternoon in late November 1954 when a softball-size chunk of cosmic debris ripped through her ceiling, ricocheted off a radio, and hit her in the thigh, leaving a pineapple-sized bruise.)

Ah well, we’re sure the Asteroid Belt will keep trying.

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Same Old Dog Tricks

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February 8, 2016

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
And Agnett Bonwit, Galactic Sandbox Managing Editor

C o n g r e s s  D o g p i l e s  o n  N A S A ,  A g a i n

I’m shocked.  Shocked!  Members of Congressman Lamar Smith’s (R-Dogpatch, TEXAS) House Science and Space Subcommittee have made it clear at their recent meetings they hate the World’s Climate Agreement — agreed upon unanimously by all nations on Earth in Paris last November – and publically booed NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). But the Congressional subcommittee’s biggest grievance about NASA is that its Mission to Mars plan has not enough detail and is unrealistic in its timeline and budget.Of course, no NASA representatives were invited to these meetings – only NASA critics.  See?  Everybody disapproves of NASA (and their global warming warnings)!

Sigh.  How do such clowns get appointed to office?

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T i p  o f  t h e  H a t  2 0 1 5 !

But I must pause in this latest reaming of Smith to announce that we have a WINNER in Galactic Sandbox’s 2015 Tin Foil Hatter of the Year Contest, as decided by our brilliant Sandbox readers in our poll.

(Ta Da!! Drum roll … sound of dust-filled champagne bottles opening!)

Yes, yes and yes!  The House Committee on Space, Science and Technology won in a landslide (57 percent of the votes), beating out the morons of Southern California Gas (13 percent) for their unrelenting pollution of the world’s atmosphere, and the future greedy commercial asteroid miners of the Universe (9 percent).  The category of “Other” got a whopping 5 percent.  We thank all our readers who voted!

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Now back to the latest bagging on Congress.  The tribunal, er I mean, hearing on Feb. 3 House repub Brian Balbowas chaired by House Republican Brian Babin (yes, again, R-TEXAS) and included the testimony of space scientist John Sommerer, who spent a year on a panel of the National Research Council reviewing NASA’s human spaceflight activities.  Sommerer told the drooling conservative subcommittee that his panel found it would take NASA 20 to 40 years to send humans to the surface of Mars – at the earliest — at a cost of half a trillion dollars.  NASA’s current estimate that such a mission should happen in some 15 to 20 years, at possibly 180 billion, was agreed by all to be way off base, and that such a quest would be impossible unless NASA dumps the Space Station and all other planetary missions.

And yet, this criticism from RepNASA's Journey to Mars infographic, dec. 2014ublican lawgivers comes out of the same mouths that insist NASA do only missions that have nothing to do with Earth orbiting spacecraft – particularly any, including the ISS, that look back at Earth and monitor humans’ excessive contributions to global warming.  Because that’s just a liberal hoax, don’t you know….  In other words, they insist NASA only work on the exploration of our solar system.

In addition, all the critics participating in the hearing droned on about how superfluous the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is, and all other cislunar missions that NASA feels must be prerequisites to a humans-on-Mars mission.

And of course, the subcommittee hearing wouldn’t be a House Science and Space Screen shot 2016-02-06 at 10.57.02 PMSubcommittee hearing if Congressman Lamar Smith didn’t crack open his big mouth.  Have no fear, he did, and he gave his unsolicited opinion on the ARM goal:

“The administration continues to force this mission on NASA without any connection to a larger exploration roadmap and absent support from the scientific community or NASA’s own advisory committees,” said Smith, who chairs the full House Committee on Space and Science.  The “Administration” he is referring to is the reviled Obama Administration, which for some nebulous reason Smith believes is “ordering” NASA to do its bidding with programs like ARM and Earth monitoring.  Smith is so bat crap crazy he probably believes Obama has personally blackmailed NASA officials or threatened to eat their young.

asteroid redirect mission-conceptKeep in mind, ARM would culminate in dragging a stray asteroid to the Moon’s orbit so that lunar dwelling astronaut-scientists can study it and figure out how to protect the Earth from the inevitable Big One that no doubt will eventually try to hit us.  More Moon landings are also critical to any future Mars mission, not only to acclimate explorers to the rigors of harsh conditions but also, possibly, to create habitats and fuel from “other-worldly” materials.

I guess if these space critics were to ever fully contemplate these details, the last few brain cells rattling inside their roomy skulls would probably fry. – K. Woods

E d g a r  M i t c h e l l :  6 t h  H u m a n  o n  t h e  M o o n

Screen shot 2016-02-05 at 4.48.03 PMThe number of living moonwalkers dwindled to 7 last week with the passing of Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell at the age of 85. Mitchell, who’s post Apollo life was dedicated to exploring unexplained phenomena including UFOs, spent 33 1/2 hours on the lunar surface with fellow explorer Alan Shepard during his heralded trip to the Moon almost exactly 45 years ago.

 

 

P i e  i n  t h e  S k y
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North Korea’s Sohae Satellite launch site.

As an encore to its reported communications satellite launch a few years ago, North Korea lofted what it is calling an “Earth observation” craft into orbit last weekend. According to Reuters, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea notified the U.N.’s International Maritime Organization last week of its intentions to loft the eye-in-the-sky bird, saying it has a sovereign right to do so. Military experts believe the rocket launch is part of North Korea’s bid to develop intercontinental ballistic missile system, which it is banned from doing under current U.N. sanctions. Not so, says the politically-isolated nation, which boasted that the Kwangmyongsong-4 craft, named after the late leader Kim Jong Il, is now circling the Earth every 94 minutes.

E y e s  B i g g e r  T h a n  S t o m a c h

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Deep Space Industries asteroid mining concept.

The tiny country of Luxembourg is looking for a big fat payday with the announcement last Wednesday that it will be investing in the much-touted nascent commercial asteroid mining industry. According to ?, the diminutive European nation plans to funnel cash into research, legal, and regulatory activities, and ultimately may bankroll firms active in the field. In a released statement, the nation’s economic ministry gushed that these funding initiatives are intended “to position Luxembourg as a European hub in the exploration and use of space resources.” As Luxembourg continues to dust off the bucolic image of a population skipping around in lederhosen, the country has kept up with the times, and is home to the global satellite service provider, SES.

E x t r a t e r r e s t r i a l  F l y b y

Screen shot 2016-02-06 at 12.22.29 AMWhile Luxembourg dreams of striking Asteroid-generated pay dirt, NASA continues to be on the lookout for rogue space rocks that will just strike. Fortunately, the space agency waved an all safe signal last week when it announced that on March 5, a 100-foot long 2013 TX68 will pass somewhere between 11,000 and 9 million miles from Earth, but will definitely not be an incoming threat.The interplanetary boulder is expected to loiter past Earth again on September 28, 2017, but currently has an extremely slim 1 in 250 million chance of being on a collision course with us. Discovered in 2013, the cosmic piece of crust would have twice the destructive power as the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013. That uninvited fireball shattered glass, destroyed buildings, and left over 1,000 injured.

G o o d  T h i n g s  i n  S m a l l  P a c k a g e s

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Shining the light: NASA’s Lunar Flashlight CubeSat will check the Moon’s surface for ice deposits.

NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) will lift 13 CubeSats as secondary payloads during the rocket’s first flight in 2018. The dice-like probes, which will accompany an uncrewed  Orion capsule, are referred to collectively as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), and will provide a rare opportunity for these experiments to reach deep space destinations, since most CubeSat missions are restricted to low-Earth orbit.

Some of these exotic studies will include measurements of our Moon’s surface, searches for lunar ice and hydrogen, an asteroid reconnaissance mission, a test of deep space radiation on living organisms, and a “space weather station” study.

C l e a r  A s  M u d

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B side: Saturn’s B ring is the dark band in the middle of the gas giant’s ring system.

The old saying “appearances can be deceiving” has never rung more true than now, based on what NASA scientists are discovering about Saturn’s rings. Space agency researchers, who by using Cassini data have for the first time been able to “weigh” different parts of Saturn’s ring system, are scratching their heads over why the more opaque “B ring” has very little mass difference than the brighter bands. NASA geeks are naturally baffled since intuitively, opaque material should have more “stuff” (hence more weight) than translucent substances. “At present it’s far from clear how regions with the same amount of material can have such different opacities. It could be something associated with the size or density of individual particles, or it could have something to do with the structure of the rings,” said Matthew Hedman, the study’s lead author and a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho, Moscow.

A t l a s  D e l i v e r s  G o o d s

Screen shot 2016-02-05 at 5.21.45 PMThe last in a series of second-generation Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) was successfully launched Friday atop an Atlas 5 booster made by the joint United Launch Alliance team of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The upgraded GPS constellation will continue to be used worldwide by both civil and military purposes.

 

 

A  S t e l l a r  C o n c e p t

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Germany’s Wendelstein 7-X stellarator fusion reactor prototype.

German scientists heralded the successful test of a contained nuclear fusion reaction last week, as researchers took one step forward in harnessing the power that fuels the Sun and stars. While the “clean” nuclear reaction using the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator lasted only a few seconds, the device zapped hydrogen atoms with the power of 6,000 microwaves.  The goal of physicists is to operate the 7-X reactor for up to 30 minutes to exhibit the continuous operation feature of a future fusion power plant.  If it can be bottled, fusion energy could power the world many times over with little waste.

I n  t h e  L o o p

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Hyperloop pod design.

A team of 25 MIT graduate students is the winner of a SpaceX-sponsored competition for best overall design of a “Hyperloop” concept that may one day shuttle people at near-hypersonice speeds via levitated capsules zipping through a network of low-pressure tubes. The winning MIT brainiacs are now on the hotseat to build a track-ready Hyperloop capsule (or pod) by June. Originally the brainchild of SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the Hyperloop idea and its potential for commercial applications has gained some traction with start-ups such as Hyperloop Technologies, led by former Cisco chief Rob Lloyd and SpaceX engineer Roger Ramjet and fan club president Brogan BamBrogan. The entrepreneurs hope to produce at least three functioning Hyperloops by 2020.

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All Hands on Deck

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2 0 1 5  T I N  F O I L  H A T T E R  O F  T H E  Y E A R  V O T I N G  E N D S  F R I D A Y

If you haven’t voted yet, polls close this Friday, February 5th at 11:59 EST for Galactic Sandbox’s 2015 Tin Foil Hatter of the Year Award! It’s still not too late to let your voice be heard! Hold your nose and CLICK HERE! (Poll closed)

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J u n k i n g  t h e  P l a n e t

future-space-junkWhen people think of space junk, they generally say “Huh?”  It’s an easily dismissed concept for the average American: out of sight, out of mind.  We trashed the planet’s surface so why shouldn’t we start tossing crap into orbit?

The Sandbox has reported plenty on the dangers posed by the ever-growing cloud of space collisionspace trash enshrouding the planet, and now another renowned scientist is warning that a piece of orbiting junk could easily light the fuse that causes World War III — that is, unless Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz (R-Canada) were to win the Presidency and get to the “nuclear football” first.

But if they don’t, Dog willing, a piece of orbiting trash could just as easily let the monster of war out of the bag.  Vitaly Adushkin from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geosphere Dynamics makes a good case that an unintentional accident in low-Earth orbit is waiting to happen, should just one of the estimated 500,000 pieces of space debris swirling Earth were to slam into one of the hundreds of international satellites in orbit.

It already happened in 2007 when China cavalierly decided to shoot down one of its old weather satellites.

Brilliant!  That move created 3,000 more pieces of space debris spinning around Earth at unimaginable velocities reaching 17,000 mph, and yes, one of the chunks smashed into a working Russian satellite, permanently disabling it.  The Chinese are lucky the Russians were good eggs about it, but really, that missile shot could easily have been interpreted as deliberate because who in the hell would be so excruciatingly and blithely stupid to blast an orbiting spacecraft without the vaguest idea of what the results such a moronic decision could trigger??orbiting junk

I always thought Chinese scientists were of high caliber…not like the sycophants of the Korean brain trust, who have to figure out how to just stay alive in the bat crap crazy Kim Jong-un regime.

Professor Adushkin said that in today’s exponentially growing tensions in the quickly changing global politics of 2016, such a blunder might not be so easily forgiven.

“This is a politically dangerous dilemma,” said Adushkin, as reported in the U.K.’s Express daily newspaper.

And with their rancid proclivity for “carpet-bombing” – the saber-rattling rhetoric flying out of the reckless mouths of various Republican presidential contenders — Galactic Sandbox must sadly agree with Adushkin’s warning.

CleanSpace One

In this illustration the CleanSpace One “cow catcher” is chasing its target, one of the CubeSats launched by Switzerland in 2009, in a project to develop and build the first installment of a family of satellites specially designed to clean up space debris.

It’s well known in NASA circles that a tiny paint fleck that sloughed off a Dog-knows-whose orbiting but discarded rocket fuselage managed to wreck a space shuttle window years ago, and that was when we had to dodge only half the trash that’s out there now.  More recently, the crew aboard the International Space Station has had to literally alter the station’s course on several occasions in order to avoid oncoming debris fields.

It is estimated that of the current half a million pieces of space trash in orbit, 20,000 pieces are categorized by NASA as “significant.”  That means they are the size of baseballs or larger.

It’s high time Washington DC allocated sufficient, separate funding to NASA to solve this menace once and for all – and I don’t care if the agency has to design and launch a cow catcher to clean up low-Earth orbit, it should be given highest priority.  If not, humans will not only be grounded and space science halted, but we will also have to ponder an even worse fate should The Donald get elected with his egomaniacal finger on the button.

Ack.  That surely has to be the scariest, most putrid scenario I’ve come up with yet. — KW

trump nuke

Y o u  C a n  R u n  b u t  Y o u  C a n ‘ t  H i d e

Speaking of heads up, if recent reports around the globe are any indication, orbiting crap in space is getting dangerous – not just for astronauts and pricey spacecraft, but now for us surface-bound stiffs on Earth.

Vietnam spaceball in early Jan.On January 2, locals in the remote Tuyen Quang Province in Vietnam woke up to a “thunderous noise,” at 6 am, and then a large metal orb – 31.5 inches in diameter – was discovered close to a nearby stream.  About the same time, another metal ball – this one 10.6 inches across – hit a nice garden in Yen Bai Province next door.

Not so surprising, for the past 20 years similar metal space balls have rained down on Australia, Africa, South America and Europe.

australian spaceball 2011In 2011, a writer for the tech site Gawker opined that the balls were space junk, specifically, “hydrazine bladder tanks…used on unmanned rockets for satellite launches.”  That would suggest the balls are hollow, but tell that to the poor sap who might get beaned by one of them someday.  The victim’s skull would be cleaved in two, resulting in an Everest-sized Flintstone lump.  Ow, ow, ow!

And just last October a couple of the beach-sized balls hit Spain and Turkey.  Considering how trigger-happy Turkey became recently when a Russian bomber floated a mile inside its airspace, the portent of World War III seems like a forgone conclusion.

How smolderingly putrid is that?

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O n e  i n  a  m i l l i o n

Looks like Lamar Smith (Rep. R-Tx) has someone other than NASA and NOAA to kick Screen shot 2016-01-26 at 8.17.12 PMaround now. According to  a new study published in last week’s journal Nature Scientific Reports, the odds that naturally occurring climate shifts are the cause of the warmest few years in recorded history are between 10,000 to one and 170,000 to one (or 1 million to one if you take 2014 just by itself). To put that in perspective, with just 1 in 10,000 odds, you have as much chance as being injured by a toilet this year. ( Let’s see a show of hands from those who have ever been wounded by a commode … Yeah, we thought so.)

“The risk of heat extremes has been multiplied due to human greenhouse-gas emissions, as our data analysis shows,” study co-author Stefan Rahmstorf said in a statement. The scientists, who combined real-world climate data and then crunched the numbers with multiple data sources and statistical approaches, found that our planet’s record-high temperatures required more than a little help from humans. In fact, the study found that the odds are between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 170,000 that Earth’s environmental variations would by themselves cause such an increase, with a 1 in a million chance that the 2014 (former) record heat wave was part of our planet’s natural climate cycle.

Fourteen of the 15 warmest years in recorded history since record-keeping began in 1880 occurred between 2000 and 2015 (with 2015 breaking the record).

T a k i n g  t h e  H i g h  R o a d

Screen shot 2016-01-29 at 9.02.15 PMThe first building block of Europe’s “Space Data Highway” took to the heavens on Friday, and with it the hopes of starting the next chapter in newfangled commercial communications satellite technology. This newly-launched transfer node in the laser-based European Data Relay System will start beaming data to customers this summer, and once fully operational, the completed orbital freeway will broadcast up to 50 terabytes of information from space to Earth every day.

C h e a p e r  by  t h e  D o z e n

NASA’s Mars Opportunity Rover is doing anything but taking a long winter’s nap as it Screen shot 2016-01-28 at 12.37.34 PMpasses its 12-year mark on the Martian surface.  Originally commissioned to explore the Red Planet for three months, Opportunity is now finishing its seventh winter season (Martian years are almost 2 times longer than Earth’s) as it busily grinds rocks searching for clues of environmental conditions in Mars’ past. “Opportunity has stayed very active this winter, in part because the solar arrays have been much cleaner than in the past few winters,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Opportunity has been burrowing the western rim of a 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater named Endeavour since 2011

D i s n e y  o n  I c e

Screen shot 2016-01-29 at 8.54.22 PMTurns out that Pluto is the mother of all winter wonderlands, and is covered with more water ice than originally thought, according to a newly-released composite infrared pix created by NASA. The new map, generated with the help of data from the Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) instrument, is the result of filtering out the existence of other, more volatile ices including methane, nitrogen and carbon monoxide (see blue regions that represent water ice on the right-hand image in the above graphic).

P l a n e t a r y  T a n g o

Screen shot 2016-01-28 at 5.45.30 PMScientists have presented new evidence strengthening the case that the cosmic mash-up between an infant Earth and a “planetary embryo” called Theia 4.5 billion years ago occurred as a head-on collision, rather than a sideswipe as was previously believed. UCLA researchers who analyzed seven lunar rocks brought back by the Apollo 12, 15 and 17 crews, as well as six Earth-based volcanic rocks, reported finding identical oxygen isotopes in both sample categories that led them to conclude that the Moon was birthed from both Earth and Theia. “We don’t see any difference between the Earth’s and the moon’s oxygen isotopes; they’re indistinguishable,” said Edward Young, lead author of the new study and a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry.

Had Theia made a glancing blow instead of being Vita-Mixed into the Earth, the Moon would consist mainly of Theia, and the Earth and Moon would have different oxygen isotopes, noted Young. “Theia was thoroughly mixed into both the Earth and the moon, and evenly dispersed between them,” Young added. “This explains why we don’t see a different signature of Theia in the moon versus the Earth.” Some scientists believe the doomed proto-planet was Earth-sized, while others argue that it was closer to Mars’ diameter.

C l e a n  S w e e p

Screen shot 2016-01-28 at 1.31.53 PMAstronomers at the European Southern Observatory last week released a photo of the only known hypoallergenic galaxy that is surprisingly dust-free, allowing scientists to observe its stars with unsurpassed clarity. Tidy little  IC 1613, which is a member of our local group of 50 galaxies and located a mere 2.3 million lights years from our Milky Way, has helped astronomers in the past  better understand variable stars in charting the known universe.

F l a t h e a d

In an unlikely Twitter sparring match between noted astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson Screen shot 2016-01-26 at 8.24.41 PMand, er, rapper Bobby Ray Simmons (BoB), the brain cell-starved, Grammy-nominated vocalist stepped out of his element and twatted more than 50 messages and diagrams to his 2.3 million unsuspecting fans explaining why he believes the world is flat. it wasn’t long before Tyson intervened with several messages to BoB, including this one: “Flat Earth is a problem only when people in charge think that way. No law stops you from regressively basking in it.”

BoB then regressivley countered with a rap he called “Flatfline,” expounding his flat Earth theory, and calling out Tyson by name: “Aye, Neil Tyson need to lossen up his vest / They’ll probably write that man one hell of a check.” Tyson probably had no idea he would be engaged in a second surreal battle of wits not dissimilar to the one he had recently with late show host Stephen Colbert in which the two heatedly discussed the outcome of an imaginary fight between Tony the Tiger and Mr. Peanut. That, of course, was supposed to be funny.

UPDATE: Apparently one fan has stepped up to help BoB overcome his flat Earth myopia by creating a GoFundMe campaign to blast the confused rapper into orbit so he can inspect our spherical home with his own eyes. So far, only $20 has been coughed up out of the $250,000 needed to send BoB packing.

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