Turtles All the Way Down

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April 25, 2016

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

D o u b l e  T a k e

Early last week, news of yet another mysterious UFO  spotted above the Earth via the International Space Station’s outside camera made the internet rounds (see “UFO hunter says he saw ‘time-traveling aliens’ leaving Earth through wormhole on ISS live stream“), and as we mulled over this new ISS/UFO twist, a quick Google scan revealed a glut of “UFO Stalking Space Station” tales spanning over the past several years. In fact, broadcasting and disseminating such reports has become a staple for a cottage industry Screen shot 2016-04-24 at 10.44.20 PMwhose meat and potatoes includes recent off-the-wall claims such as proof that NASA’s Mars rovers have taken, among other “anomalies,” snapshots of a squirrel, pistol, and bust of Barack Obama on the Red Planet.

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves and break ground on a state-of-the-art Tin Foil Hat manufacturing plant to keep up with the increased demand for the crinkly metallic crowns, the current crop of purported UFO-hunting authorities (at least the most vocal/ubiquitous ones who somehow find their way to number one on search engines) are no different from the carnival barkers of the past, who if you want to be entertained, can put on quite a show. However, if your looking for the truth, you better try somewhere else.

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Latest UFO sighting “discovered” on NASA’s Space Station Ustream camera.

To be fair, we may have been hasty to place a tin foil diadem on NASA’s brow for failing to comment on the “Millennium Falcon” sighting a couple of weeks ago (see Tilt-a-World). In fact, the space agency recently opened up and explained to the Daily MailOnline that “Reflections from station windows, the spacecraft structure itself or lights from Earth commonly appear as artifacts in photos and videos from the orbiting laboratory.’

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There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture.

Also, accusations that NASA hits the chicken switch every time an alien craft hovers into view is most likely a tad overblown. NASA spokesperson Tabatha Thompson told ValueWalk.co.uk last week that dropped transmission feeds have happened before, and are an occupational hazard: “The station regularly passes out of range of the Tracking and Relay Data Satellites used to send and receive video, voice and telemetry from the station. For video, whenever we lose signal … [t]he cameras will show a blue screen indicating no signal or a preset video state, depending on where you are watching the feed.”

We’re not saying that unexplained sightings should not be studied – it’s that we lower our investigative intelligence quotient every time we rely on those, who for their own gain, flood our heads with so much flotsam and jetsam that it becomes nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction. There are plenty of serious folk who have investigated the question of possible alien / UFO visitations for years, if not decades, and they do not act or speak carelessly or outlandishly. So if someone wants to sell you the idea that a wormhole suddenly opened up above Earth after the “mothership” flew away, do yourself a favor and consider the source. — Agnett Bonwit

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S i g n s  o f  t h e  T i m e s

Last year’s historic Paris climate change pact reached a major milestone last Friday with a Screen shot 2016-04-23 at 4.38.01 AMrecord 175 countries signing the agreement in New York City. However, with reports of the relentless rise in global temperatures, world leaders are urging more actions than words. “The world is in a race against time,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during the signing ceremonies. “The era of consumption without consequences is over. Today you are signing a new covenant with the future. This covenant must amount to more than promises,” he added, reports the Washington Post. The Paris accord is expected to enter into force earlier than expected following an overwhelming response in the required number of nations coming on board so quickly.

T o u g h  P i l l  t o  S w a l l o w

Screen shot 2016-04-23 at 11.27.42 AMAstronomer and cosmological populist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently stepped outside the box, so to speak, suggesting that the long-giggled-at notion that the universe may be a computer simulation could be closer to reality than previously thought. Speaking at the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate  sponsored by New York’s Hayden Planetarium last week, deGrasse Tyson took the thumbs up side to this years’ topic on whether the cosmos is just pure entertainment for a race of super-advanced beings. Basically, this is deGrasse’s line of reasoning:

I just think when I look at what we measure to be our own intelligence, and we tend to think highly of it …  It comes with the assumption that we’ll find life that also thinks we are intelligent  … So, given our definitions, we’re the only Screen shot 2016-04-23 at 11.31.33 AMintelligent species there ever was because we have poetry and philosophy and music and art. And then I [think] to myself, well, [even though] the chimpanzee has 98 whatever percent identical DNA … They cannot do trigonometry. … So if they cannot trigonometry, and they have such close genetic identity to us, let’s take that same gap and …  find some life form that is that much beyond us that we are beyond … the chimp. What would we be look like to them? … So, maybe the smartest human being — bring Stephen Hawking in  front of this other species, and they’re chuckling because they’ll say, oh, this happens to be the smartest human because he’s slightly smarter than the rest because he can do astrophyisc[al] calculations in his head like little Timmy over here … And if that’s the case, it’s easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment.

The problem is, as most physicists and philosophers point out, that it’s impossible with our limited resources to prove absolutely whether or not we inhabit a trans-galactic Grand Theft Auto. Tyson agrees, but adds that “The day we learn that it is true [that the universe is a simulation], I will be the only one in the room saying, I’m not surprised.”

R i n g  T h i n g

Saturn_Rings-1200x500While adored morons like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz babble idiocy on planet Earth, NASA’s Cassini craft is silently making history by giving us more info and close-ups of Saturn’s once mysterious rings than ever before.

The rings are made up of dusty, icy material, which coalesce briefly and then are torn apart by the tidal gravity forces of big Saturn below.  Cassini, which has also discovered that Saturn is the least dense of all the planets in our solar system, also has found that the main rings extend 7,000 to 80,000 kilometers above Saturn’s equator, and yet the ring system itself is only10 meters to one kilometer thick.  The rocky material once orbiting with the rings has formed into dozens of moons, but the dirty snowball stuff will remain spinning within the rings for as long as the solar system lasts.

Now that is something worth thinking about.

L o w  H a n g i n g  F r u i t

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With a 21-mile diameter, Ceres’ Haulani Crater contains evidence of landslides from its crater rim. An enhanced false-color view shows rays of bluish ejected material, which is associated with more recent features.

New low-orbital images taken of the dwarf planet Ceres by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft at a distance of 240 miles reveal some of the most detailed features yet, including the “hexagonal”-shaped Haulani Crater which scientists believe has been recently formed as evidenced by brightly-colored debris. “Haulani perfectly displays the properties we would expect from a fresh impact into the surface of Ceres.

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Ceres’  Oxo Crater.

“The crater floor is largely free of impacts, and it contrasts sharply in color from older parts of the surface,” said Martin Hoffmann of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany. The 21-mile crater’s polygonal shape has raised eyebrows, since on other planetary orbs, such rims are nearly circular. NASA researchers are speculating that the straight-edge formations on Ceres result from pre-existing stress patterns and faults beneath the planetoid’s surface.

Other close-up pix include Ceres’ 6-mile wide Oxo Crater, which is the second brightest area on the dwarf planet after the more famous Occator. Oxo is also unique because of the relatively large “slump” in its crater rim, where a mass of material has dropped below the surface. NASA scientists report that these minerals on the crater floor appear different than elsewhere on Ceres.

L e t  N A S A  K n o w  W h a t  Y o u  T h i n k  !

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Click on the image to help NASA guess the source of the mysterious lights photographed on the dwarf planet Ceres by the Dawn spacecraft,

B e w a r e  t h e  G r i m  R i p p e r

Hold on to your hats – the cosmos is expanding a lot faster than what scientists thought, according to a new measurement that disagrees with estimates based on the early Universe.  Basically, our cosmic playground is flying apart at about 8 percent faster than first determined.

dark energyThe surprising new data was discovered after cosmologists compared their new computation of the cosmic expansion rate, known as The Hubble Constant, with what that rate should be using the numbers based on what they thought they knew about the early Universe.  Still, cosmologists are uncertain about the cause for the discrepancy, so either one or both of the measurements are flawed, or dark energy (which is believed to be responsible for “The Big Rip” effect) – or some other weirder-than-imagined force of nature – is the culprit.

Or, say scientists in a recent  Scientific American article, a new species of neutrino, one that is virtually massless, could be the cause for the discrepancy.

Remember:  Space is not only a lot stranger than we can imagine, but much more strange than we can NOT imagine.

C o s m i c  C a t t l e  C a l l

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Artist conception of NASA’s super heavy lift Space Launch System sending Orion craft to points beyond low Earth orbit.

Despite an avalanche of naysayers both in Congress and the public, NASA seems determined to get humans to Mars by the 2030s.  Toward that end the agency is putting out a call for habitat designs that can survive a blast-off from its new mega-rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) and a long trip on the future Orion crew spacecraft

It’s not the usual call for proposals however, such as a dry ad in a dull reprint circulated throughout Boeing or Lockheed.  NASA is asking artists, non-profits, up and coming tech companies and anyone else with an innovative mind to get in on the effort.

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Mars habitat concept.

Dubbed the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2), NASA’s new project will solicit concept studies and prototypes for space habitats, advanced propulsions, and small satellites.  According to Tech Times, NextSTEP-2 vouches for how NASA is embracing public-private partnerships in its space missions. U.S. companies, universities, nonprofit groups and ingenious inventors seeking to apply should submit their proposals by June 15, 5 p.m. EDT, as well as a notice of intent by May 13.

D o n ‘ t  W o r r y ,  B e  H a p p y

The commonly-experienced sense of awe and wonder by astronauts is a topic has been officially put under the microscope with the release of a Penn State study in the March issue of the journal Psychology of Consciousness.  With the expected advent of long-term missions to the Moon and Mars, Penn research fellows David Yaden and Johannes Eichstaedt wanted to better understand what is known as the “Overview Effect,” in which space travelers are transformed by their newly-found cosmic perspective.Screen shot 2016-04-23 at 4.49.22 AM“We watch sunsets whenever we travel to beautiful places to get a little taste of this kind of experience. These astronauts are having something more extreme,” said Yaden,  “By studying the more-extreme version of a general phenomenon, you can often learn more about it.”

in their study, the researchers poured through excepts from documented reminiscences and came up with life-changing moments for astronauts that could be classified as unity, vastness, connectedness, and perception.

P u r p l e  S o u l

nasa-purple-nebulaNASA paid homage to Prince last Thursday when they tweeted a gorgeous image of the Crab Nebula, formed with combined imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory, resulting in a vivid violet other-worldly photo.  The nebula resides some 6,500 light years from Earth and is a supernova remnant, the remains of the explosive death of a massive star.  With the way the world and the media are reacting to the musician’s passing, it seems appropriate.

 

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Earth Daze

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April 18, 2016

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

In honor of the 46th Earth Day this Friday, Galactic Sandbox is providing a brief “roundup” of recent news events as they relate to humankind’s not so gentle treatment of our home planet:

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Earth Day poster from 1970.

The Good (sort of)

Screen shot 2016-04-17 at 10.41.41 AMWith an overwhelming number of  nations ready to get on board, the 2015 Paris climate accord could come into force as early as 2018, or two years ahead  of schedule, says United Nations’ climate chief Christiana Figueres, who caustically adds that the agreement is 10 years too late. Dignitaries representing at least 120 states from around the globe are expected to be on hand to sign the deal this Friday in New York. Last December’s Paris pledge called for at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions for the agreement to become effective.

The Bad

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Ick! Recently disclosed documents show that oil companies started scrambling for cover as early as 1946 in response to public concerns about smog in cities like Los Angeles, leading to the formation of the “Smoke and Fumes Committee.”

Newly-released documents from the US oil industry show, among other things, how much American oil corporations knew about the dangers of fossil fuel-based carbon emissions, including a 1968 report to the American Petroleum Institute (API) urging more research into reducing carbon footprints. “There are numerous points along this path where the industry was on notice that this was a rising risk,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law that disclosed the documents. “Your have two paths in front of you. One is to respond to this rising risk, notwithstanding the continuing uncertainty, or the alternative is to try to discredit the science. An I think history has shown what path they chose.”

Other tidbits from the recent document dump include evidence that as far back as 1957, Humble Oil researchers labeled fossil fuels as a culprit in the rise of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, reports Vice.  Also in 1968, a chief meteorologist at the Stanford Research Institute (which had close ties to the oil industry) warned that rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere “may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental changes.”

Just as Bad

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Sarah “Not a Slave to Science” Palin

Sarah Palin turned up last week in Washington DC to pick up a check from, presumably, climate change-denying lobbyists, as she spoke out against the scientific community for its near-unanimous consensus on the alarming changes in the Earth’s ecosystems, according to Salon. Attending the premiere on Capital Hill for the green-bashing film “Climate Hustle”  – hosted by none other than Tin Foil Hat-adorned Congressman Lamar Smith! – the ultra-conservative gadfly picked on one of America’s most recognizable “scientists,” Bill Nye, who is interviewed in the documentary. “Bill Nye is as much as scientist as I am,” Palin quacked. “He’s a kids’ show actor; he’s not a scientist,” she “reasoned,” then accused the Cornell-educated Nye for using his “Science Guy” persona to harm children by warning them that climate change is real and man made.

Commenting on one of the many news stories covering Palin’s remarks, guy-from-the-blogosphere James Tshimanga said it best: “To be fair, like Bill Nye who is excellent at making his passion accessible and understandable by children to light the fires of imagination, Sara Palin excels at bringing her message to adults with child-like minds to light the fires of ignorance. From that [perspective] she does have a point.”

The Ugly

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Greenland map showing ice thaw on April 11 and 12 (left and right respectively).

Scientists have observed that Greenland’s massive ice sheet has started thawing “freakishly” early, with about 12 percent of the frozen surface area (656,000 square miles) showing signs of melting ice — a condition that’s normal for late May not mid-April. “it’s disturbing, said Peter Langen, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute that reported the numbers. “Something like this wipes out all kinds of records … this could be a sign of things we’re going to see more often in the future,” he added. a weather system bringing above-freezing temperatures to Greenland and funneling warmer-than-usual rain from the south is cited as the case for the early ice thaw.  While Langen and other scientists say this is part of a natural weather system, other researchers are warning that man-made climate change is making the cycles more acute. “Things are getting more extreme and they’re getting more common,” said NASA ice expert Walt Meier. “This kind of freakish warm spell is another piece in the puzzle. One freakish thing every once in a while you might expect. But we’re getting these things more often and that’s an indication of climate change.” Meier added.

The Very Ugly

We couldn’t have wrapped this up better than New Yorker reporter Andy Borowitz in his 2014 article, “Scientists Consider New Names for Climate Change.” Hopefully, the venerable publication forgives us for reprinting Mr. Borowitz’s piece in its entirety:

NEW HAVEN (The Borowitz Report)—After a report from the Yale Center on Climate Change Communication showed that the term “climate change” elicits relatively little concern from the American public, leading scientists are recommending replacing it with a new term: “You will be burnt to a crisp and die.”

Other terms under consideration by the scientists include “your cities will be ravaged by tsunamis and floods” and “earth will be a fiery hellhole incapable of supporting human life.”

Scientists were generally supportive of the suggestions, with many favoring the term “your future will involve rowing a boat down a river of rotting corpses.”

“Any of these terms would do a better job conveying the urgency of the problem,” Tracy Klugian, a spokesperson for the newly renamed Yale Center for Oh My God Wake Up You Assholes, said.

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S h o t  i n  t h e  A r m

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Our Sun’s nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is one of the first destinations of laser-powered nanocraft that will perform flybys of such interstellar targets.

Want to get away – really get away? The newest chapter in the ongoing “Tycoons to the Stars” saga has begun, as Russian gazillionaire and tech entrepreneur Yuri Miilner announced last week his $100 million research program sending robotic probes to nearby solar systems at breakneck speeds of 20 years. Unlike fellow first-generation fat cats Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson who are leveraging the final frontier as a means to expand their own empires, Milner appears to be more interested broadening the horizon of humankind’s understanding of  and place in the cosmos with earlier privately-funded multidisciplinary efforts to search more than a million stars and a hundred galaxies for alien civilizations as well as sending interstellar broadcasts to extraterrestrials tuned into the same wavelengths.

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Artist’s concept of laser-propelled nanocraft.

Flanked by A-lister eggheads including Stephen Hawking and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (both of whom will serve as board members), Milner unveiled his newest “Breakthrough Starshot” endeavor that will attempt to send tiny nanocraft packed with ridiculously small cameras, sensors, thrusters, and communications equipment into interstellar space at relativistic speeds (20 percent the speed of light) with the initial help of land-based laser arrays capable of beaming 100-gigawatt laser pulses through the atmosphere to the star-bound crafts’ atomically-thin “light sails.” “The human story is one of great leaps,” Milner said in a statement released shortly before the announcement. “55 years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Today, we are preparing for the next great leap—to the stars.” At the announcement, Hawking added that “Without new methods of propulsion we simply cannot get very far. Light is the most pragmatic technology available.”

A  S h o t  i n  t h e  D a r k

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Suspected dark dwarf galaxy (represented by a white dot inside left red arc) is lurking behind the larger blue lensing galaxy. The red arcs represents the distorted light of a third galaxy located 12 billion light years away.

Researchers studying test images taken by the Atacama Large Milimeter/submilimeter Array (ALMA) in 2014 have found the telltale signs that a dwarf dark galaxy is hidden in the gravitational lens of a much larger galaxy 4 billion light-years away. According to a new study by  astronomer Yashar Hezaveh of Stanford University, this new discovery could lead the way for the detection of many more such mini-me galaxies, as well as assist in the understanding of dark matter that makes up 80 percent of the Universe’s mass and is only “observable” by its gravitational influence, as evidenced in the lensing phenomena captured by ALMA. Hezaveh’s study suggests that the majority of dwarf galaxies (many of which have been predicted to exist near our own Milky Way) are impossible to find by conventional means because they are primarily composed of dark matter and emit little if any light.

F l o a t i n g  o n  A i r

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Inflatable BEAM habitat being secured to the International Space Station.

The recently-launched inflatable space station crew compartment has been secured in place to the space lab’s “Tranquility” module in preparation of two years of testing. The Bigelow Expandable activity Module (BEAM) will be inflated on May 27, resulting in a bedroom-sized studio measuring 10.5 feet wide by 13-feet long. Over the next twenty four months, sensors aboard BEAM will monitor temperature, pressure, and radiation levels to determine the inflatable cabin’s space worthiness for future crew habitats for short and long missions.

M i c k e y  M o u s e  C l u b

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Bigelow Aerospace’s B330 expandable space habitat will have 12,000 cu/ft of leg room, and will be designed as a zero-gravity research facility, a space tourism destination, and housing for future Moon and Mars exploration.

Bigelow Aerospace, maker of the newly-docked BEAM inflatable space station alcove, is also thinking about partnering with other firms who would sponsor the cosmic hot air balloons for any number of commercial enterprises from space tourism (for the rich an famous to spend a week in low Earth orbit) to private research faciliites.  In fact, according to Ars Technica, Robert Bigalow, the hotel impressario who founded Bigelow Aerospace, calls the expandable habitats “time shares.”  “We would love to see Disney have a Disney space station,” he was quoted as saying.

 

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Tilt-a-World

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April 11, 2016

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

F l y  B y  N i g h t e r s

Screen shot 2016-04-09 at 9.22.44 AMThe good news is that eight new potential Earth-smashing asteroids have been found thanks to NASA’s near-Earth object detection space telescope, NEOWISE. The bad news, however, is there are eight more potential Earth-smashing asteroids we now have to worry about.

The WISE craft, as it is called, actually spotted 439 objects in orbit around our planet in 2015, with 72 of them being labeled as “newly discovered.”

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Based on the number of potentially planet-killing asteroids found by NEOWISE, researchers have projected that there could be up to 47,000 such objects capable of colliding with Earth.

Considering that NASA was given the green light to awaken the space-based infrared observatory from deep sleep in 2013 to study the population of near-Earth asteroids and comets (including optically dark masses difficult to spy from the ground), it would seem that this has been cash more than well spent.

Although, I can hear a raucous din in the background… why, it’s the far right echo machine saying, “We can’t spend money on outer space when so many gazillionaires are STARVING!”

That – or some facsimile of that whining ill-wind — is the battle cry used against NASA spending since the inception of the agency more than 60 years ago.  And it’s getting old – not to mention more nonsensical.

I can’t even begin to tick off all the new science revelations and technologies humanity has because NASA built them or discovered them, and believe me, it goes far beyond Velcro and Tang.  The bio-physiological discoveries alone have saved countless lives.

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Part of a Nasa animation showing all of the asteroids near Earth being tracked by the agency. Created by data from the Neowise mission, the graphic represents Near Earth Objects in green. The orbits of Mercury, Venus and Mars are in blue and Earth’s orbit is in teal

But imagine the white noise coming from the GOP chucklehead machine when the WISE spacecraft went into a mystifying hibernation in 2011 less than two years after it launched.  Well, it made a comeback thanks to NASA brains who woke it up, and now it has made a “milestone,” says the space agency.  In the past year alone the scrappy craft has snapped some 1.5 million photos and processed data on 19,000 asteroids and comets.  From there it figured out which ones could pose a threat to our planet.

Every Earth scientist and geologist and near Earth object expert says that a planet killing rock like the one that finally did the dinosaurs in after it hit the Yucatan 65 million years ago is going to happen again at some point.  You’ve heard it before: it’s not a matter of if but when.

Screen shot 2016-04-10 at 11.49.16 PMJust admitting that sobering fact is a big step toward defending ourselves, as humans, against the pinball machine known as the Cosmos.  Thanks to some enlightened politicians and the absolute necessity of it all – despite Republican stinginess – NASA finally created the Planetary Defense Coordination Office – only a few months ago!

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Flat Earth luminaries.

However, thanks to decades of Republican temper tantrums and fiscal tut-tutting, we’re still stuck with only half the solution. Even though scientists will be able to tell us when and where we will die after an Alabama-sized space chunk, say, hits Chicago, we don’t have any way to stop the sucker in the first place from turning our home planet into a barren clod covered in 500 feet of pulverized dust. Tragically, while we have the capability of blowing up the Earth several times over, we still do NOT have the ability to launch an asteroid-destroying rocket or provide any other means of cosmic defense.

So next time you hear a Trump supporter saying “We need to fix the pot holes before we stop the planet killing objects,” I suggest you gift that moron with a hard hat and an honorary membership to the Flat Earth Society. – Kate Woods

S t i c k i n g  w i t h  t h e  S c r i p t

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Near perfect landing for Space X’s first safe return of its Dragon first stage rocket at sea on the robotic drone barge, “Of Course I Still Love You.”.

With the precision of an Olympic gymnast, Space X’s Falcon first stage triumphantly stuck its landing on an ocean-based barge Friday while the craft’s cargo capsule soared in orbit to eventually catch up to the International Space Station with 6,913 pounds of much-needed goodies.  “I think it’s another step towards the stars,” Space-X chief Elon Musk said after Friday’s launch and landing. “In order for us to really open up access to space, we’ve got to achieve full and rapid reusability, and being able to do that for the primary rocket booster is going to be a huge impact on cost,” the Silicon Valley mogul-turned-space entrepreneur added.

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Photo shows how the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) attaches to the Space Station.

In addition to the supplies, the Dragon capsule also delivered an inflatable “add-on” habitat that the astronauts will secure to the station.  According to Fox News, “Bigelow Aerospace is providing the expandable compartment, which swells to the size of a small bedroom. It’s a testbed for orbiting rental property that the Nevada company hopes to launch in four years, and also for moon and Mars habitats.”

P o l e  V a u l t

Melting polar ice may be contributing to more than just surging sea levels — it may also be Screen shot 2016-04-09 at 1.26.26 AMaltering where the Earth rotates on its axis. According to a hot-off-the-press study in last week’s Science Advances, the Earth’s axis of rotation at the North Pole has made a sharp u-turn since 2000, and instead of moving  7 to 8 cm per year toward Canada, it is now marching 16 to 18 cm toward the U.K. and Europe. While the new study does not place direct blame on climate change for the sudden about face in the spin axis, but has observed that this is due to the loss of polar ice in Antarctica and Greenland. “If we lose mass from the Greenland ice sheet, we are essentially putting mass elsewhere. And as we redistribute the mass, the spin axis tends to find a new direction. And that’s what we mean by polar motion,” Surendra Adhikari, a researcher with Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the Washington Post.

L o s t  i n  S p a c e ?

Screen shot 2016-04-09 at 1.36.22 AMNASA is apparently working feverishly on trying to communicate with its gimpy Kepler “exoplanet-hunting” spacecraft as it appears to have switched into emergency mode 75 million miles from Earth, according to Nature. Kepler, which has discovered over 5,000 new planets outside our solar system, was given a new lease on life in 2013 when NASA figured out how to use the Sun’s pressure to orient the spacecraft after its gyroscopes malfunctioned.

B i g  T h i n g  in  S m a l l  P a c k a g e

The discovery of a gigantic black hole 17 times our Sun’s mass may be rewriting the book Screen shot 2016-04-09 at 1.50.53 AMon where such gargantuan gravity wells lurk.  Surprisingly, this super-massive black hole has been found housed in a relatively modest “NG-1600” galaxy located 200 million light years away. This is contrary to the widely held belief by astronomers that behemoth black holes tend to reside in plus-sized galaxies, and could lead to the conclusion that such giant black holes are more common in the universe than previously thought.

C o s m i c  D u s t i n g

supernovaScientists have found evidence that the Earth was seasoned with radioactive debris from a series of supernova explosions near our solar system just a scant 3.2 to 1.7 million years ago. According to the international team of researchers who found isotopic iron-60 in sediment and crust samples taken from the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the supernovae were probably less than 300 light years away and would have been close enough to be visible during the day and as bright as the Moon. While the Earth would have been bombarded with increased cosmic ray exposure, the fallout would have been so minuscule not to have caused direct biological damage or to have sparked mass extinctions.

H o t  U n d e r  t h e  C o l l a r

A DC think tank known for its pooh-poohing climate change has cried foul as an Screen shot 2016-04-09 at 1.16.39 AMinvestigation led by a coalition of law enforcement officials heats up on whether Exxon-Mobil misled investors and the public by downplaying the impact of global warming. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has cited First Amendment abuse by the Virgin Island’s attorney general Claude Walker, who has subpoenaed the group, giving it less than a month to hand over public and private communications with Exxon-Mobile regarding climate change. CEI vowed to quash the subpoena, calling it “an affront” to its First Amendment rights. “If Walker and his allies succeed, the real victims will be all Americans, whose access to affordable energy will be hit by one costly regulation after another, while scientific and policy debates are wiped out one subpoena at a time,” a CEI spokesman said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

D o u b l e  F o i l e r

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Mystery “craft” shown following the ISS.

UFO hunters say on April 5th they spotted an oblong purplish metallic alien spacecraft keeping pace with the International Space Station, and one managed to grab a photo of it from the live NASA broadcast just before the space agency’s orbital show went “dark.”

A UFO enthusiast known as “UFOvni2012” said it looked like “The Millenium Falcon” of Star Wars fame, and said he tried to get more proof of what he saw when suddenly all the live transmissions from the ISS cut to black for more than an hour.

According to The Inquisitr (sic), extraterrestrial conspiracy buffs claim that this latest “sighting” was proof of ongoing “exopolitical” security activity in space between Earth governments and alien races. (Logically, this could be thought of being proof of anything – including the start of intergalactic drag races – but of course that just sounds silly.)

So guess who gets Galactic Sandbox’s periodic Tin Foil Hatter of the Week award?  Actually, it’s a double crown bestowed to not only the crack editorial team of The Inquisitr website, but also to NASA for feeding (or in this case cutting the feed) into the conspiracies UFOers accuse the agency of being complicit in.milennium falconWhile the sighting was serious enough for UFOvni2012 to make MUFON report (MUFON database Case 75648), skeptics believe it was either a piece of space junk or the Chinese Tiangong 1 space station.  Who knows for sure?  Probably NASA.  But they aren’t commenting.

 

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Cooking with Gas

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April 4, 2016

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

H i g h  C o s t  o f  C o u c h  P o t a t o – i s m 

trumptvWhile the world morbidly dwells on Donald Trump’s hourly gaffes – as if his psychotic verbal outbursts were global turning points in civilization’s history — the world as we know it is changing dramatically, and not for the better. And yet at the top of the news hour, the social network-infused media and twitterdom would have us rapt with slack-jawed fascination on The Donald’s latest unfiltered “telling it like it is” thought farts; and right on cue we consume these vacuously, as if we were mindlessly eating family-sized bags of potato chips while impassively watching a train wreck in slow motion.

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Since 2000, nearly 50% of the Arctic icecap has melted.

Through this thick orange haze, one alarming, infinitely more significant news item competing for brain cell time with the general public is that Earth scientists have cranked up the urgency in their message that the Arctic is melting at an exponential rate. In just the last year, we’ve lost 5,000 square miles of what was once “permanent” ice in the northern polar region – an area the size of Connecticut. Greenland is actually becoming green, and quite smaller, says NASA oceanographer Dr. Carlos Del Castillo, who warns that man-made greenhouse gasses have added 10 warm Fahrenheit degrees during what is supposed to be the region’s winter. (Note to self if I were Congressman Lamar Smith: that quack Del Castillo needs to answer some hard questions in a grilling at next Science Committee meeting!)

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Dr. Carlos Del Castillo.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” Del Castillo warned in an interview with NBC. He is particularly worried about people living in coastal areas around the world as sea levels are rising much faster than previously calculated. He cites the Florida Everglades, saying the ecosystem will be inundated into a sea instead of a marshland, sooner than later. Ultimately, this shutdown of the world’s ocean currents will cause temperatures to plummet – after mega storms and heat waves ravage the Earth. Extreme heat, and then a deep freeze turning our planet into a snowball is an impending fate that extreme right politicians cannot fathom. The idea of picturing the future more than five minutes ahead of their latest paycheck from fossil fuel lobbyists is very difficult for them.

Oh and by the way, the southern Antarctic is calving ice flows like mad as well, Antarcticcontributing to the sudden outpouring of billions of tons of fresh water that is slowing down the ocean’s jet stream. And as previously mentioned, if we lose the planet’s conveyor belt of warm air and water, we are quite screwed. Scientists constantly moving up the Doomsday timeline are now saying the sea levels will rise several feet in just a matter of decades, not centuries.

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Potential underwater scenario for Manhattan.

If we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate (not to mention continuing the frantic growth of big agriculture and animal husbandry), the melting of Greenland and Antarctica will raise the sea levels between 80 to 170 more feet. Note: In case you’re wondering, I didn’t yank that out of my ass like The Donald does with his (Trump’s take on climate change: “It’s a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese”), rather, that’s the conclusion of the latest NASA study on the subject. And despite the threats from GOP “leaders” who will say and do anything to get re-elected, NASA has announced it is sending Earth scientists to every corner of the planet to monitor the climate changing crisis.

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2014 Temperature extremes: The deep trough pours cold, Arctic air, while the “ridge” where the jet stream says high in the Arctic allows warmer air in the south to stagnate. (Graphic NOAA/Rebecca Lindsey)

I have always suspected that the numbers on the global warming catastrophe were low-balled, since scientists have to be so very gingerly in their predictions lest they face defunding by the gerrymandered Republican Congress.  At the same time these dedicated researchers have to bear the brunt of Congressman Lamar Smith’s (R-seceded Texas) inquisitional witch-hunting against Earth scientists since he is the gavel-gripper on the House Science and Space Committee who’s confident that this so-called global warning guff is a farce because he had to put on a wooly sweater last winter. (But Hey! Telling it like it is!)

And yet, it’s no surprise that the public at large is as flaccid as the future illiterate survivors of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” blankly walking to our endgame of a cooking pot, like cattle to slaughter so that the troglodyte Morlocks can retain their family values at the dinner table.

crackedearth (1)Cooking pot indeed. While the Trump fans may say they love this year-round balmy weather, I wonder if they will still feel that way when it becomes as hot as a summer noon in Death Valley while it’s really a June midnight in North Dakota…oh yeah, and their state is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. And then they scratch their empty heads when the next day they are living in a frozen tundra of famine. – Kate Woods

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B l u e  B l a z e s

The New Shepard rocket booster lands in this handout photo provided by Blue Origin, in West Texas April 2, 2016. REUTERS/Blue Origin/Handout via Reuters

The New Shepard rocket booster successfully lands in West Texas. (REUTERS/Blue Origin/Handout via Reuters)

Amazon founder and gazillionaire Jeff Bezos’ praised his rocket services firm Blue Origin on Saturday for its third consecutive successful launch and landing of the New Shepard space tour bus designed to carry six zero gravity sightseers on a suborbital flights.According to Reuters, the New Shepard blasted from its West Texas launch site to an apogee of 339,138 feet (103,369 meters). Blue Origin plans to start crewed test flights of the New Shepard next year and begin flying paying amateur astronauts as early as 2018.

 

L o s t  f o r  W o r d s

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Hitomi X-ray Observatory.

Scientists at Japan’s space agency JAXA continue to collectively scratch their heads in disbelief over  the mysteriously malfunctioning X-ray satellite observatory, Hitomi, which as of this writing appears to be spinning out of control in Earth orbit. The much-heralded black hole-studying craft, which was launched mid-February, was spotted breaking up into pieces on March 25, and as JAXA engineers frantically attempted to communicate with the $273 million instrument, it beamed a couple of short cryptic messages, and has since remained silent.  Then came the video taken on March 28 by Arizona astronomer Paul Maley who spotted Hitomi tumbling once every 23.5 seconds (see video here), which seems to explain why scientists are incapable of making contact with the observatory, according to Gizmodo. The US Department of Defense’s Joint Space Operations Center, which originally discovered the satellite’s shedding debris, reported that there is no evidence orbiting space junk is the culprit.  One theory was posited by Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who told Gizmodo that the craft may have a stuck thruster.

G r e e n e r  P a s t u r e s

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Little “green” spacecraft build by Ball Aerospace.

It won’t run on french fry grease, however Ball Aerospace’s shiny new Green Propulsion Infusion Mission spacecraft represents a giant step toward a more efficient and safer rocket fuel than the toxic and corrosive hydrazine used since 1960. Last Thursday Ball showed off its new eco-friendlier satellite that will be launched in early 2017 on a 13-month flight that will test how well the new propellant works with maneuvering a craft in orbit. If successful, net year’s test will  pave the way for widespread use of greener fuel in future NASA and commercial missions.

P i n b a l l  W i z a r d

Amateur astronomers armed with high-tech gadgetry have provided a sober reminder that our solar system is notScreen shot 2016-03-30 at 8.12.53 PMhing more than a cosmic arcade game with evidence that an asteroid or comet struck Jupiter sometime on March 17. Civilian stargazers Gerrit Kernbauer of Austria and John McKeon of Ireland captured video images of the direct hit, which according to Sky and Telescope, is the fifth time in the past decade that space debris has smacked the gas giant. Click here to see McKeon’s camera work..

B a b y  B o o m

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TW Hydra’s inner protoplanetary ring has many of the right ingredients to produce an Earth-like world.

The most detailed snapshot of a protoplanetary system reveals a band of dust around a “nearby” star that is approximately the same distance our Earth is to the Sun. The remarkable pic, taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, shows a rare, undistorted view of  the 10-million-year-old TW Hydra and its pre-planetary dust rings. “The new ALMA images show the disc in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, including intriguing features that may indicate that a planet with an Earth-like orbit is forming there,” notes Sean Andrews with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The “infant” TW Hydrae is a favorite target of study for astronomers because of its proximity as well as its face-on orientation as seen from Earth.

N u m b e r s  G a m e

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SETI astronomers turn to red dwarf stars for indications of intelligent life.

A light bulb – albeit a dim one – was set off in the minds of researchers scanning the sky for radio signals beamed by intelligent civilizations. The Mountain View Ca-based SETI Institute has announced that over the next two years it will listen in on 20,000 red dwarf stars, which is a radical new direction by SETI astronomers who for decades have confined their attention to larger, Sun-like candidates. “Red dwarfs – the dim bulbs of the cosmos – have received scant attention by SETI scientists in the past,” notes Institute engineer Jon Richards.  “That’s because researchers made the seemingly reasonable assumption that other intelligent species would be on planets orbiting stars similar to the Sun.”  In addition to the fact that three out of every four stars in our galaxy is a red dwarf, alien-hunters are encouraged by new evidence that planets orbiting close to these miniature suns have a greater chance of housing habitable zones than previously thought.

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