Nosedives

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October 26, 2016

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

R e b e l  W i t h o u t  A  C l u e

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Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

It’s now official.  Presidential nominee Donald Trump has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to science and space exploration, but those who do are finally calling him out on it.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-35-05-amIn an open letter published by Responsible Scientists , 375 prominent scientists from the National Academy of Science (including 30 Nobel Laureates) correctly said that Trump was in denial about global warming and that it is imperative the United States and every other nation on Earth start taking meaningful action to stop the hemorrhaging of green house gasses into the atmosphere.

And yet, Trump’s plan – as scantly written in his Space News questionnaire – is to “dump” Earth global warming monitoring/science (including the satellites) because “the jury is still out on the idea of global warming.”  It clearly is not.  As always, Trump sycophants – his babbling used car salesmen surrogates and his so-called advisers — are scrambling to translatescreen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-58-05-am what he really meant in their revisionist gas lighting.  On Trump’s ignorant stands regarding space goals, two of his senior policy advisers, Peter Navarro and Robert Walker, think Trump’s plan to destroy all Earth monitoring science is just dandy!  “Donald Trump would make sure NASA focuses ‘primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies,’” they say in a Space News commentary. (It is important to note that Space News has just endorsed Hillary Clinton for president because of her well thought out knowledge of space endeavors.)

We all know Trump is going to lose his bid for the Presidency, and I think he will be buried screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-57-06-amin a landslide.  The problem is afterwards:  if we manage to survive this election circus, obstructionist Republican congressmen may still retain a majority in the House, thanks to their gerrymandering of district  borders on the state level (the real election rigging).  Take a look at what is actually written into the Republican Party platform, as presented by Responsible Scientists:

Climate change is “not proven science.” It calls for pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, putting an end to incentives for renewable energy, and even eliminating the EPA, leaving environmental protection to the states. Fossil fuels would be prioritized. “We will do away with the Clean Power Plan altogether. The Democratic Party does not understand that coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.”

What Republicans don’t seem to realize is, first, there is no such thing as “clean coal.”  That is still a pipe-dream theory, with no recent or past breakthroughs.  Second, because of real advanced technologies, coal CEOs can replace thousands of men with one massive extractor.  The industry itself, not “Hillary Clinton,” (as bat-crap crazy Trump keeps shoving down his supporters’ throats) has removed tens of thousands of jobs from their own quarries.  The industry is not a job-maker, it’s a money-maker foscreen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-25-27-amr its filthy rich owners, and a poisonous gas maker for the rest of us.  But clean, sustainable green energy technologies are job-makers, as Clinton has detailed in her policy stands.

Also, did you know Trump owns stock in the controversial Dakota Pipeline that is up-heaving the sacred grounds of Native Americans?  Wonder how much he owns of the Keystone Pipeline?  Clearly it’s a conflict of interest.

And what really makes my pot boil is that few media outlets are calling him to task on this.

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Graphic: Max Fleisman, The Daily Dot.

In fact, one thing everyone should be madder than a zika mosquito in a mannequin factory about is that during the three presidential debates, not one question was brought up about climate change by the moderators.  Luckily, Clinton herself did talk about it numerous times, despite the constant interruptions by her moronic opponent.  Don’t worry, friends.  This, too, shall pass. – Kate Woods

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C a r b o n  C o c k y

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CO2 levels are dominated by the US, China, and Europe.

Break out the balloons and party hats folks, for according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) the Earth has reached a new milestone in CO2 amounts and may not dip below these levels for “many generations” to come, reports the BBC. In its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the WMO said that the 400 parts per million benchmark was reached globally for the first time in recorded history in 2015, and in the words of Jo Dee Messina, has the rearview mirror torn off and ain’t never lookin’ back. Ironically, while human-created emissions of CO2 had remained static between 2014 and 2105, the strong El Nino global weather pattern was responsible for the spike in the greenhouse gas amounts, specifically by creating drought conditions in the tropics that resulted in less CO2 absorbed by plants. and by spawning more fires in drier areas.

P r o p h e t s  o f  F u m e

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-9-18-19-amAnd in the Don’t-Say-We-Didn’t-Warn you department, an early example of scientists making the connection between fossil fuel use and climate change has been unearthed and has reached platinum viral status on the internet. According to Quartz, an article published in 1912  by a New Zealand  paper warns that burning 2 billion tons of coal a year (at that time) “tends to makes the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature,” adding that the “effect screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-9-18-32-ammay be considerable in a few centuries.” As prescient as this may seem, Quartz in fact found even earlier stories going as far back as 1883 reporting that our appetite for carbon fuels may eventually bite us in the butt. In addition, there is abundant documentation that scientists throughout the 19th century were finding potential links between the Industrial Revolution’s love of coal and the destruction of our atmosphere, including studies produced in 1824, 1882 , and 1896.

M a r t i a n  C h r o n i c l e s

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Schiaparelli crash site.

Last Wednesday the European Space Agency’s “Schiaparelli” Mars lander (also known as ExoMars lander) smashed into the surface of our neighboring planet, effectively ending the rover’s odyssey before it began.  ESA scientists believe the lander’s parachute jettisoned during a 50-second communications loss when the ExoMars was making a fiery descent towards the surface.  In addition, they believe the bottom thrusters did not fire to slow the descent.  NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took photos of the tragedy after it landed hard and experts believe it exploded on impact.

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NAVEN “Mars Glow” pic.

The good news is that the ExoMars lander’s sister craft, the Trace Gas Orbiter, which traveled with the lander, is safely obtaining data in orbit around the planet.

Meanwhile, NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) orbiter is discovering some spooky and enticing stuff on the Red Planet: it has already captured a Martian “night glow,” as it’s termed by hopeful ESA brains back on Earth.  Also, since MAVEN has been up there for two years, it has found that water from Mars escapes into its atmosphere, quickly – when the planet is closest to the Sun – and then, of course, more slowly when the planet is furthest away.

P l a y i n g  I t  S a f e

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Composite image taken by Juno’s Microwave Radiometer shows various levels of Jupiter’s cloud formations

Just two months after entering Jupiter’s orbit, NASA’s Juno craft is now in a shut-down “safe mode” while controllers sort out why its primary engine is malfunctioning.  Juno was supposed to be placed into a tighter orbit around the gas giant last week, changing its orbital period from 53.4 days to 14.  No word yet on how the hunt for glitches goes, but Galactic Sandbox will update our readers as we get more news.

 

 

 

O n  T h e  R o a d  A g a i n

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Wispy cloud-like formations above Pluto taken by New Horizons craft. (click image for video).

There’s been no break-downs or trouble reported for the scrappy New Horizons spacecraft, now zooming towards a mysterious red object in the faraway Kuiper Belt.  After discovering what are believed to be actual clouds on the dwarf planet Pluto last week, New Horizons got underway toward a misshapen rock called MU69, and is scheduled to arrive there on January 1, 2017.  MU69 is part of the massive Kuiper Belt, the circumstellar disk beyond Neptune and Pluto which is filled with icy bodies (a trillion comets), asteroids and other dwarf planets.  MU69 is approximately 20 to 30 miles in diameter, and scientists believe its reddish hue has something to do with Tholin, a class of molecules that’s formed through the ultraviolet irradiation of simple organic compounds such as methane and ethane.

B a b y  S t e p s

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-7-25-16-amNASA has officially embraced the notion that good things come in small packages with the establishment this week of its Small Spacecraft Systems Virtual Institute (S3VI). Based at NASA’s Ames Research Center, the space agency’s newest “virtual” think tank will buddy-up with the expanding mini spacecraft community with the hopes of ushering in a golden age of innovation and high-tech opportunities. According to NASA, the new S3VI will give university students and industry professionals the chance to fly spacecraft ranging in size from a postage stamp to a refrigerator, depending on mission objectives. “The S3VI will provide the first one-stop shop for technical knowledge in the rapidly burgeoning small spacecraft technology fields,” said Jay Bookbinder, director of programs and projects at Ames. “This will result in more efficient development efforts, and enable smaller vendors to compete more effectively in this market,” he added.

T o o  C l o s e  T o  C a l l

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Photo: Agnett Bonwitt.

Researchers from the Laval University in Quebec have quickened the pulse of fellow scientists following the release of their study indicating that peculiar modulations in a small set of stars appear to be coming from extraterrestrial intelligence. “We find that the detected signals have exactly the shape of an [ET] signal predicted in [a] previous publication and are therefore in agreement with this hypothesis,” write E. F. Bora and E. Trottier in their new paper. “The fact that [the pulses] are only found in a very small fraction of stars within a narrow spectral range centered near the spectral type of the sun is also in agreement with the ETI hypothesis.” they add. While the two alien hunters find the discovery of 234 strangely-behaving stars out of 2.5 million observed to be compelling, they stress the need for further work using different equipment in order to deny or confirm their suspicions.

A l o n g  C a m e  A  S p i d e r

tarantula-nebula-in-lmcWishing our readers a happy and haunting Halloween (and Day of the Dead), we’d like to impart this gorgeous photo snapped by the illustrious Hubble Space Telescope of the Tarantula Nebula, located within the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, 170,000 light-years away from Earth.  But what makes this recent picture so grand is a new hot blue luminous star cluster called R136 found in the nebula’s center.  The cluster contains hundreds of stars found by Hubble’s Imaging Spectrograph, which can dissect the area in the ultraviolet spectrum.  Nine of these stars are considered “monsters” because they each have masses 100 times that of the Sun.  The awe-inspiring cosmic nimbus has some 800,000 stars racing through it but many, up until now, have been obscured by massive veils of gas and thick dust.  Boo!

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Peace of Mind

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October 17, 2016

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

E n t e r  A t  Y o u r  O w n  R i s k

While we continue to muck through a war of words with this insufferable election, many of the world’s bigger thinkers are looking outward.  It’s not just, “Get me the hell off this planet,” (although I am sure that might have inspired them).  These scientists are thinking more like, “Well, we killed this planet with our tribal warfare and greed, I’m going to make sure it doesn’t spread like a virus throughout the galaxy.”  Peaceful space plans have come under our radar this week, but first Galactic Sandbox would like to bring you up to speed on the latest space policies eked out of both political camps.

It’s big news!  Or perhaps I should say “big anti-news.”  The fabulous publication Space News somehow managed to get the Clinton and Trump campaigns to send in completed space policy questionnaires they sent to both candidates God knows how long ago.

However, to say that each presidential hopeful “completed” the questions is like comparing the work of  a ten-year-old filling in the blanks to a US presidential election edition of Mad Libs,  and the mature feedback of an actual candidate for the Oval Office.  Looking at the two policies side-by-side, Trump’s glib responses are quite striking compared to Clinton’s more lengthy and informed statements.  Following are a few lines taken from the article.  (My comments are in italics).

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-9-41-11-amOn NASA’s puny budget (less than 0.5 percent of the federal budget):
Trump:  “There is no way to answer this question based on the current state of the space program and the problems facing us.”  What The Flying Spaghetti Monster??
Clinton:  “An investment in NASA is an investment in our future….  It is critical that we ensure NASA has the resources and the predictable funding it needs….”  Oh my stars.  A politician with a brain!

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-9-46-20-amOn priorities for the U.S. Military space program:
Trump:  “We should concentrate on making sure that we enhance combat lethality and increase situational awareness, and expand our intelligence capabilities.”  Combat lethality?  No, wait.  You don’t understand the question.  Let me explain.  Oh screw it.
Clinton:  “Space is a critical component of our efforts to keep America safe, encompassing communications, missile-warning, navigation, and reconnaissance.”   Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  (I have to get my Valium — be right back.  Breathe, breathe, … breathe!)

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-2-27-20-amOn priorities for the U.S. Civil space program:
Trump:  “Congress will be a full partner in shaping those priorities as the people’s representatives.”  Aagh! No.  No no no no no no no no.  Not Congress.  They are morons.  Don’t do it! (Anyone out there got some elephant tranquilizer?  Send it to the Galactic Sandbox c/o Kate Woods.  Much appreciated.)
Clinton:  “We must increase investments in science, technology and infrastructure, in STEM education, and in public outreach to ensure that NASA continues to capture our imaginations, contribute to our economy, and drive human understanding forward.”  OK.  I’m good.  All good. I can put my paper bag down now.

On continuing investing in our Earth observation program, which has enabled ourscreen-shot-2016-10-16-at-10-30-12-am understanding of climate change:
Trump:  “Again, we will work with Congress to set priorities for the full complement of America’s space operations and endeavors.”  What? With Tin Foil Hat Grand Poobah Lamar Smith in charge of science?? Where’s that elephant tranquilizer?  We’re screwed.  SCREWED.  I’m booking passage on the next Soyuz.  I don’t care where the destination is.  Up and off the planet is fine.
Clinton:  “I believe climate change is one of the most serious challenges we face, and I am committed to making sure America leads global efforts to combat climate change and to deepen our scientific understanding.”  Thank you, Great Spaghetti Monster.  You DO exist.  There is hope …

Folks, that’s just a sampling.  Read the whole thing for yourself, but may I suggest you meditate beforehand and then drink some Smart Water with a fifth of whiskey.  Have fun! –  Kate Woods

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R e d  H o t T o p i c

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-8-27-03-pmWhile the current presidential hopefuls articulate their vision of a space faring USA, (sort of), President Obama last week boldly recommitted to sending American astronauts to the Red Planet within the next two decades. In a personal column published on CNN, Obama explained that “We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.” The exiting president added that the US continues to cooperate with “private innovators” to make humankind’s journey to Mars a reality, and reconfirmed that within the next two years commercial firms will send astronauts to the International Space Station, and announced that the government is partnering with the private sector “to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space.”

 E T  L e a k s

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-6-39-12-pmScrappy journalists combing through the Wikileaks data dump over a week ago came across something more out-of-this-world than tales of deleted emails and potential Clinton Foundation pay for play shenanigans —  in fact, a few of the released emails revealed that Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell contacted Hilary Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta to tell him the Vatican knows extraterrestrials exist and want to share exotic “zero point energy” with Earthlings. According to The Sun, the former Moonwalker told Podesta that “friendly” aliens want to divulge technology that would extract energy from “enpty space,” however they are afraid of our violent tendencies, one email claims.

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Edgar Mitchell

In fact, Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the Moon, also warned Podesta that a space war is imminent and said: “Because the War in Space race is heating up, I felt you should be aware of several factors as you and I schedule our Skype talk,” referring to a purported online meeting the two had arranged. Mitchell also mentions a lady named Terri Mansfield who he describes as being “the director of the special peace force for extraterrestrial intelligence,” and wanted the two to “catch up on knowledge the Vatican has about extraterrestrial intelligence.” Would like to hear Trump confront Hillary on that during the last debate.

C h i n a  S y n d r o m e

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Chinese taikonauts Jin Haipeng, left, and Chen Dong wave during a ‘meet the media’ session at the Jiuquan satellite launch center in Jiuquan, Gansu province, China, on Sunday.” Photograph: How Hwee Young/EPA

Believe it or not (you won’t if you’re voting for Trump) but the nation of China has its own space station in orbit.  And they are launching two “taikonauts” (China’s version of astronaut) today, Monday, October 17.  As of Sunday night, Chinese spokespeople said the two taikonauts are ready to go, in good health.  They will dock with the Tiangong 2 Space Laboratory and then spend one month on the platform performing experiments and processes for long space stays and refueling.  According to the well-regarded Guardian publication, “China says its space programme is for peaceful purposes, but the US Defense Department has highlighted its increasing capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed to prevent adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis.”

P r o m i s e d  L a n d

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Dr. Phillip Davies

We’ve heard of the various smarmy get-rich-quick schemes that entail selling plots of land on the Moon.  Now there is a guy in the U.K. who says he claims the title to all of Mars and is selling off plots of the red planet… in order to save it.  Dr. Phillip Davies pf Hampshire, England, says that since he has “marked” Mars with high-powered light lasers over the past few years, he gets to “claim” the entire land mass of our planetary neighbor.  What seems to be different about this space enthusiast/opportunist/pacifist/nerd is that he says he’s making his case so that Mars will not become “militarized,” as he believes Earth and low-Earth orbit already are.  He has taken his cause to the United Nations, and is expecting a ruling mars-lifeeventually on that organization’s Outer Space Treaty – specifically, what Davies says are loopholes in the declaration that is supposed to govern our planet’s “use” of space.  Davies himself calls his claim “OLE-objectpreposterous but technically legitimate.”  To bankroll his effort, Davies is currently selling “gag” land tracks of the Red Planet to anyone interested…..

F i r s t  C o m e ,  F i r s t  S e r v e d

asgardiaSpeaking of U.N. recognition, it’s not too late to apply for citizenship in the out-of-this-world nation of Asgardia.  That’s the name (Asgardia traditionally is known as the home turf of a Norse god) of a future massive space station colony that will hopefully fly in low-Earth orbit someday, an idea hatched by space specialists from Canada, Romania, Russia and the U.S.  The group publicized their plan in a Paris press conference last Wednesday, and are seeking formal existence status as a nation from the United Nations.  The goal of this Herculean project is “peace in space” and to “serve humanity.”

The latter gives Galactic Sandbox pause as we reminisce over the classic Twilight Zoneto-serve-man-on-tv episode, “To Serve Man,” in which Rod Serling offered a grim scenario that featured seemingly peaceful aliens from outer space who convinced the U.N. into a kind of “visitor exchange” program in which the Earthlings were fattened as the main course in an alien food feast.  That weirdness aside, the founders of Asgardia say that citizenship preference will be given to those who invest in or have expertise in space technologies.  More than 86,000 people have already applied for Asgardia citizenship.

B r o a d e n i n g   O u r  H o r i z o n s

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the galaxy cluster MACSJ0717.5+3745. This is one of six being studied by the Hubble Frontier Fields programme, which together have produced the deepest images of gravitational lensing ever made. Due to the huge mass of the cluster it is bending the light of background objects, acting as a magnifying lens. It is one of the most massive galaxy clusters known, and it is also the largest known gravitational lens. Of all of the galaxy clusters known and measured, MACS J0717 lenses the largest area of the sky.The Hubble Space Telescope continues to astonish us, even though it’s never to be refurbished again and is left on its own until it dies by our hobbled space program.  The engineering marvel’s latest deduction is that there are two trillion galaxies – not stars – other than our own Milky Way that it has calculated to exist in this observable universe.

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Highly-populated galactic area of the universe called the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS).

But 90 percent of the rest of the light from the galaxies in this universe has yet to arrive at our eyeballs!  Hubble can only detect, so far, the light from the latest galaxies coming at us from 13.8 billion years ago.  In other words, two trillion galaxies is 10 times more than what cosmologists had figured on.  Dang!  These latest findings were published in the Astronomical Journal.

 

G r e a t  B a r r i e r  G r i e f

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Great Barrier Reef.

We’ve been wanting to do this story for a while, but then Outside Magazine forced the issue.  Clever journalist Rowan Jacobsen wrote a most poignant obituary for the entity called The Great Barrier Reef, off the Australian coastline. He wrote it with Associated Press rules, in known obit style, with a pithy lede: “The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old.”  It seems Jacobsen has lit a fire under the lazy idiots of mainstream reporters because shortly after his “obit” was published, the topic went viral in headlines around the world.  Well, you can’t say shame doesn’t have its place.

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Bleached coral.

The Great Barrier Reef is not quite dead yet, but it is dying, and fast, and the culprit is human-caused warmer waters which compel the corals to spit out their life-giving symbiotic algae.  This subsequently kills them and leaves behind dead bleached rocky carcasses along the 1,400 mile-long once-living structure of coral sea animals.  And it’s not just the coral at risk – the Reef is home to 1,625 species of fish, 3,000 species of mollusk, 450 species of coral, 220 species of birds, and 30 species of whales and dolphins.  Oh, and it’s the largest breeding ground for green turtles, a species that, of course, is endangered.

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Richard Vevers of the non-profit Ocean Agency.

A thoughtful Trump supporter might say, “Hey, we have had lots of warming ages on Earth, it’s an inevitable natural process!”  In 25 million years?  We have had plenty of drastic mini ice ages and droughts in the last 3,000 years, but never something on the scale that could kill a 25 million-old living entity.  We can take solace in that NASA and NOAA are studying the problem, along with the not-for-profit Ocean Agency.  NASA is doing aerial assessment and NOAA is scrutinizing satellite data, but both agencies have said it may be too late to take man-made action to save the Reef.

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All Fired Up

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October 10, 2016

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

B o t t o m  o f  t h e  H e a p

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Click image to see global temperature spiral.

While Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump keeps making the world cringe with his brags about assaulting women with impunity, Earth’s heat index continues to rise – and it is heating up faster than natural weather cycles thanks to the greenhouse gasses belched into our atmosphere by human activity.

The Guardian, a publication respected worldwide that has no penchant for liberal politics, just published an article about what Galactic Sandbox readers have known for years:  that screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-2-04-42-pmRepublicans are still steadfast in denial about man’s role in poisoning the air of this globe, thereby causing polar meltdowns and killing off species on a daily basis – perhaps someday they will kill off the human species, including themselves (well, there’s no ill wind that doesn’t blow something good).  The story, called “Pew survey: Republicans are rejecting reality on climate change,” is presented as news, not an opinion piece, because it qualifies the premise with a ton of FACTS.  Oh yes, facts – those pesky nuggets of reality that constantly get in the way of right-wing dogma.

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Hurricane Matthew engulfs Florida.

Conservative denial is especially discerning since just yesterday the world gathered enough nations to ratify the Paris Climate Accord and set it in motion, nearly a year after the agreement of these 195 nations to collectively cut greenhouse gasses.  The world finally agrees to do something to save Earth, and yet Republicans like Florida Governor Rick Scott does not even allow the term “global warming” or even the understated words of “climate change” into any state government document.  This, after his state just got pounded by mega-hurricane Matthew, killing 10 there and nearly 1,000 in Haiti and the Caribbeans.  Tragically moronic!

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Climatologist James Hansen.

Renowned climatologist and former NASA scientist James Hansen, who first bravely raised his hand in the 1980s to warn that the polar ice caps were melting and that humans were enabling the global warming disaster, now says it’s too late – even with the Paris Accord ratified – to turn back the knob on the planet’s oven.  Humanity “is running out of time on the climate issue,” said Hansen in a press conference last week.  And even if the 195 nations that agreed to the Climate Accord begin reducing carbon emissions tomorrow, he said, it won’t be enough.  He said the entire world needs to take bolder action immediately, such as placing a carbon emissions tax on fracking companies and suing other nations that don’t take basic steps to curb air and water pollution.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-2-46-38-pmAnd yet (back to my point), America is talking about Trump’s predilection for crude misogynistic “locker room banter.”  It doesn’t much matter since he doesn’t understand Earth systems at all – indeed, he ludicrously calls global warming a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.  We need to hold the conservative right’s feet to this planetary fire, and stop allowing them to protect their oil buddies and to get away with ducking the real issues that affect every living thing on Earth.  And with that, Galactic Sandbox again chimes, “ ♪ Thank You, Republicans! ♫”  (Sung to the tune of “Heatwave.”)  – Kate Woods

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J X K

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-2-03-17-pmThe investigation into the spectacular SpaceX Falcon-9 launch-pad explosion on September 1 has taken a “bizarre twist,” as Elon Musk’s camp thinks sabotage may be a possible cause of the rocket’s destruction. According to a Washington Post article late last month, SpaceX sleuths have come across on video images a “suspicious” shadow followed by a white spot on the roof of a nearby building leased by arch-rival United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Apparently, a SpaceX rep recently showed up at ULA’s doorstep at Cape Canaveral, and asked for access to the top of one of its facilities that has a clear site to the doomed rocket’s launchpad. The SpaceX official claimed his company was trying to run down all possible leads in what was a “cordial, not accusatory, encounter,” according to the Post report. Needless to say, a recent SpaceX statement clarified that the “Accident Investigation Team has an obligation to consider all possible causes of the anomaly, and we aren’t commenting on any specific potential cause until the investigation is complete.”

S t a r  P o l l

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Astronaut Kate Rubins in jump suit hand-painted by young cancer patients.

With all the new lows this election cycle, this one’s a definite high: If sole American astronaut Kate Rubins does not return to Earth from the International Space Station this month, she will become the first to vote for a U.S. president from orbit. According to the Dallas Morning News, Rubins and her two crewmates – a Russian and Japanese – were scheduled to be ferried home in late September, however Russia is experiencing technical issues with their space taxi. Before leaving for orbit in July, Houston resident Rubins picked up here absentee ballot, but instead of listing a Texas location, she reported “low-Earth orbit” as her home address. “It’s very incredible that we’re able to vote from up here,” she said, and I think it’s incredibly important for us to vote in all of the elections.”

W e a t h e r i n g  t h e  S t o r m

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NASA officials examine hurricane damage to Kennedy Space Center facility.

NASA announced Sunday that Kennedy Space Center, which was brushed by uber destructive hurricane Matthew last week, was left relatively unscathed, having experience only minor damage to a handful of buildings, according to an initial survey of the site. Last Friday, space agency officials were sweating bullets as a potential nightmare scenario looked possible when the eye of the Category 4 super storm loomed only 20 miles from the famed launch facility. According to Gizmodo, he areas of greatest concern, including the humongous Vehicle Assembly Building, the Complex 39 launch pads,  and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch sites appear to be in good shape. However, the report of “some beach erosion” is concerning, especially if it occurred in a particular problem area between Launch Pads 39A and 39B, thus heightening fears that the space center will eventually succumb to the effects of climate change including rising sea levels and continued bouts with more powerful storms.

G r e a t  B a l l s   o ‘  F i r e

cannonballs-of-plasmaThe remarkable Hubble Space Telescope keeps on discovering incredible phenomena:  last week, it spotted a gargantuan ball of plasma ejected from the vicinity of a gas giant star called V Hydrae, which is 1,200 light-years away.  The mind-blowing details of the discovery show that these massive plasma balls – each twice the size of Mars – come shooting out once every 8.5 years, and have been doing so for the past 400 years!  The blobs are 17,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is almost as hot as the surface of our Sun, and travel at a speed that could get them from the Earth to the moon in only eight minutes (half a million miles per hour).  Scientists say, however, the plasma blobs can not be coming from V Hydrae as that star is dying, now a bloated red giant which has dropped half its mass.  Instead, they think the plasma balls are coming from a companion star, and believe they may explain the formation of planetary nebulae.

C o m e  F l y  W i t h  M e

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Iran’s Rasad Earth-observation satellite (launched in 2011) atop of Safir SLV rocket.

Iran wants to cooperate with NASA to build up its near-nonexistent space program, said Mohsen Bahrami, the “head” of Iran’s wanna-be version of the U.S. Agency.  While Congressional Republicans will undoubtedly scream bloody murder that Iran wants to “steal” our military satellite technology, Bahrami emphasized his nation has a “peaceful and powerful civilian space program,” and longs to put its own satellites in space to monitor natural disaster and improve telecommunications.  Bahrami conceded that Iran wants expand military surveillance, but added that it has already begun negotiations to cooperate with the space agencies of China, Japan, and Russia.  And China has, indeed, already stolen Mars rover designs from the U.S.

So far, Iran has at least placed several “dummy” satellites into space, just to see if they could do it, and are now working on their own mini-sats with several Iranian universities, targeting a low-Earth orbit launch by early 2018.

P y r o m a n i a

fire-in-space-21The Space Station crew has been setting blazes aboard their enclosed home floating above us, but of course, these are controlled studies to see how fire behaves in space.  Using a series of different materials, the “Sapphire” experiments will allow materials engineers to make the ISS safer for all astronauts.  So far, the experiments show that the mini-fires burn “very slowly” in zero gravity.  This Thursday, Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft will dock and unload with the ISS, and once it leaves, NASA plans on conducting a more extensive 20-minute “burn” inside that craft before it journeys back through the atmosphere and burns up.

C o s m i c  R e l i e f

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Full page ad in the Los Angeles Mirror-News in August 1960 implores those who want to “learn the answers to mankind’s problems before it’s too late” (who says we haven’t been warned?), to “hear Gabriel blow his horn” at the the Amalgamated Flying Saucers Clubs of America’s national convention held, appropriately, in the City of Angels that year.

Included in Oddee’s recent list of “10 Weirdest U.S. Presidential Candidates” is UFOlogist and Tin Foil Hat Hall of Famer Gabriel Green, who twice made a bid for commander-in-chief in 1960 and 1972 touting a full platform of economic and social policies based on data he “received” from extraterrestrials. (Green claimed  to have witnessed  hundreds of flying saucers, and insisted he had direct physical contact with aliens, including beings from Mars, Venus, Alpha Centauri, and the Pleiades). Competing against Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy in 1960 (although not officially listed on any ballot), Green campaigned throughout Southern California for a brief enthusiastic time, but ultimately tipped his hat to  Kennedy.  As the “Universal Party” presidential nominee in 1972 with running mate and fellow saucerian Daniel Fry, Green managed to tally 199 votes before conceding defeat.

In all seriousness, a brief scan of some of Green’s commitments to voters astonishingly don’t seem very different from things Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been saying for the past 18 months: i.e. vote for Green “if you want solutions instead of stalemates; survival instead of annihilation; government by moral and universal law rather than by military expediency special interests; economic security and true freedom rather than economic slavery, etc.” Seems like Green, along with the aliens he claims to have conversed with, were way ahead of their time.

O v e r  t h e  R a i n b o w

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-3-19-22-pmWith the help of a high-altitude balloon, a Go-Pro camera and a Gay Pride flag, the Universe has been declared LGBT friendly.  Late last month, the pro-gay rights organization Planting Peace sent the flag up from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, into low-Earth orbit – 21.1 miles above the planet – where it proudly reigned for three hours before eventually falling back to Earth (see video).  Planting Peace operates programs to deworm children in impoverished nations, provides safe houses to the LGBTQ community and plants thousands of trees worldwide to combat poverty and global warming, among other international good works.

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Show Stoppers

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October 3, 2016

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

W e ‘ r e  W i t h  S t u p i d s

asteroid-hitting-earthGood news for Deep Impact fans! The U.S. Senate approved a NASA appropriations bill last week that basically welcomes with open arms a planet-killing, extinction-event-sized asteroid (or comet) plastering the Earth with an upper left cut. And yes,not surprisingly the bill was sponsored by replicant look-alike and perennial Tin Foil Hat favorite, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Hell).

A perfect fit.

The paltry $19.5 billion eked out by Cruz and his cronies for NASA’s 2017 fiscal budget had strong language advising the agency to dump its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), and urged going back to the Moon. While our crusty old satellite certainly is key to solar system exploration and beyond, it seems as if many of the old white fossils in Congress just can’t imagine anything beyond the glory days when Apollo astronauts golfed and rock hunted in the good ol’ Sea of Tranquility — and, of course, they also furrow their brows at NASA’s plans for getting humans to Mars.

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ARM nabbing asteroid.

 

What these behind-the-times legislators can’t seem to grasp is that ARM (not to be confused with the recent OSIRIS-Rex asteroid landing mission) would lasso a boulder from an asteroid and bring it back to the Moon’s orbit, thereby enabling scientists to study the overhead rock from the lunar surface and possibly set up a refueling station for a manned mission to Mars. The ARM mission would arm (pun intended) scientists with knowledge of how asteroids behave and the easiest method to block one that’s on a trajectory with Earth, thus ultimately saving those old white fossilized asses (and our own).

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Nothing to see here. (Photo Reuters)

Of course, the bill that passed also slashed funding for Earth sciences, particularly if any program has the term “global warming” in it, since the Republican majority are climate deniers – despite that 99 percent of all professional scientists say man-made pollution is speeding up the heat index. Congress says it much prefers the money go to planetary science, as long as the planet being studied is not named “Earth.”

The lawgivers carp that the Asteroid Redirect Mission has ballooned in budget and extended its target date launch. Yeah, it went from $1.25 billion to $1.45 billion, and yes, it got pushed back a year to a 2018 launch. Why? Because moronic old white men in Congress keep scrapping it! Inflation alone has caused the cost to rise. Why doesn’t Congress wear its true colors and just put a big red bulls-eye on the back of their pants and tell the universe to “Kick Me!”?

nasa_budget_history-580x386You may be thinking, well maybe if the old white paleo-lawmakers were better informed, perhaps they would see the light. It’s been tried. The White House Office of Science and Technology (not to be confused with the Senate Committee of Science and Technology headed by Lamar “Kick Me Hard” Smith, [R-seceded Texas]) along with NASA heads held an event for Congress in mid-September explaining in really easy baby terms all the urgent reasons the ARM program should be funded, and what it will accomplish for all other missions – including going back to the good ol’ Moon and getting to Mars. Predictably, it fell on deaf, ossified ears.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-2-19-18-am-1But there is hope! The White House and NASA have been acutely aware of what they are up against, and long before the inevitable funding slash had already turned to the private sector to back up the ARM project, offering fetching subsidies and technological rewards for the independent space companies with the vision to join forces with our space agency to get the job done. In the meantime, Galactic Sandbox will continue chanting our favorite motto for Washington DC: Thank You, Republicans! ♫” (Sung to the tune of “Town Without Pity.”)  – Kate Woods

R o s e t t a  M i l e s t o n e

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Rosetta’s final snapshot of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko before it merged with the infinite on September 30.

Europe’s Rosetta Comet Mission performed its finale on Friday in a spectacular “slow motion” swan dive collision with Comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Twenty years in the making, the Rosetta spacecraft was launched in March of 2004 and took ten years to get to the oddly-shaped comet, which actually was the result of two bodies colliding and sticking together eons ago. After the decade long journey and 3.7 billion miles of outer space, Rosetta took high resolution photos of the dirty ice-ball and launched its Philae lander to the surface. That’s when a few troubles cropped up.

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Rosetta in its prime.

Philae did not have a soft landing, and in fact, bounced three times on the comet’s steep, craggy surface before it came to a hard halt on its side, stuck in a deep crevice – in the absolute dark. (Apparently, the lander’s harpoon hooks, which were to grab the surface and keep the lander firmly planted on the low gravity body, failed to deploy.) Since it dropped anchor in a place without sunlight, Philae’s solar-powered batteries had only three days to power its scientific instruments, but what was discovered in that mad scramble for data was invaluable. For one thing, scientists now know that comets most likely are not the source of Earth’s water. (However, they did find an abundance of organic material.) The ESA brains also were able to determine with radio waves that the inside of Churyumov–Gerasimenko is very porous, like fresh powdery snow, except it is more like fluffy fine sand. When Rosetta and its cosmic dancing partner got closer to the Sun, the comet vented more gas and dust, and then less as it moved away. After two years of studying the comet, scientists had to bid their brainchild Rosetta farewell and crash it, but they say the information it sent back will keep them busy for another decade.

XKCD – Rosetta

R e d  T i d e

dragon-landing-on-marsSpace X boss Elon Musk made a much-anticipated presentation last week at the International Astronautical Congress held in Guadalajara, outlining how his company is working on a super version of its Falcon 9 reusable rocket to get people to Mars by 2025.  The “Interplanetary Transport System” will sport 42 Raptor engines (which use methane and liquid nitrogen propellant), a large reusable booster to get the ship into low-Earth orbit, and then more boosters and tanks for the voyage to the Red Planet.  The lift-off thrust would be three and half times greater than that of NASA’s Apollo-era Saturn rocket, and the Dragon-type ship could carry 450 tons, accommodating 100 or more humans.

interplanetary-transport-systemMusk said he envisions the spaceship “planet-hopping” or “moon-hopping” to refuel on its way to various destinations.  He told reporters later that his company is spending about five percent of Space X’s budget on their Mars program.  “We’re spending a few tens of millions of dollars right now on it,” said the Silicon Valley katrillionaire.

J e t  S e t t e r

europa_plumes1The Hubble Space Telescope – and not the Juno spacecraft – has spotted what scientists believe are giant plumes of water vapor ejecting from the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Observations made by two  independent teams suggest the plumes erupt sporadically reaching heights up to 125 miles, and rain material back onto the moon’s hard ice surface.  Scientists do not know yet how thick Europa’s ice sheet is, but they are excited about this new find since it could allow a mission that may not need to land or drill on the surface to get sample material.  It could also indicate that microbial life exists beneath the surface in the liquid oceans. The Cassini spacecraft also has spotted similar plumes erupting from the surface of Saturn’s satellite, Enceledus.

A n  I n t e r n a t i o n a l  A f f a i r

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Dream Chaser.

Representatives of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) also made a showing at the AIC meeting to make the happy announcement that they bought a dedicated mission on Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser shuttle for a 2021 launch.  The space ride is open to any member nation that wants to submit their proposals to fly experiments into zero gravity, however UNOOSA emphasizes that this opportunity is mostly for those developing nations without a space program.  Participating nations will be expected to pay a portion of the launch.  Sierra Nevada plans to have its Dream Chaser flying trips to and from the International Space Station by the end of the decade, but this first ever UN trip will be a free-flier voyage that will simply orbit around the Earth for two weeks.

P u t t i n g  U s  o n  t he  M a p

gaia-atlas-of-milky-wayThe GAIA Space Telescope is on track to catalogue and plot more than a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy by 2017, said the scope’s handlers in a news conference last week. The European Space Agency launched the marvel in 2013, and though it has been in full operation for only a year, GAIA has already made the most complete 3-D map of the Milky Way and enabled astronomers to plot the positions and motions of two million stars in and around our spiral galaxy. GAIA’s predecessor was the Hipparcos satellite launched by ESA in 1989, but the new cosmic cartographer is 200 times more accurate and sports two telescopes that support a billion-pixel camera. GAIA operates from an orbit around the Sun that keeps it a million miles away from Earth’s orbital path.

gaiaRecently, during a demonstration of GAIA wherein a group of school kids were instructing a cabal of journalists how to navigate the telescope’s star database, the students stumbled upon a supernova coming through the screens. Astronomers were running over themselves to get to the database after the “presser.”

T h a t  S i n k i n g  F e e l i n g

kennedy-space-center-rising-seasNASA may have to abandon several key launchpads within the next decade, like the famous Apollo-era 39b, due to rising sea waters at the $10.9 billion infrastructure called The Kennedy Space Center, otherwise known as Cape Canaveral.

And we all know the reason for this: it’s because Congressional Republican lawgivers still refuse to believe the globe is heating up and that polar ice caps are melting. New reports say the water surrounding the Cape will rise between 15 inches and four feet between now and 2080. All we can say here at Galactic Sandbox is Thank You, Republicans! ♫” (sung to the tune of “Under the Sea”).

G a m m a z i l l a !

gamma-ray-binaryFor the first time ever, NASA has found what is called a gamma-ray binary system,” called LMD P3, in a galaxy outside of our own. Scientists working the Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope spotted the massive outpouring of energy coming from the system in 2012, but astronomers mis-categorized it as an X-Ray binary, which would be the prelude to a supernova. A Gamma-Ray binary is a very rare system that contains either neutron stars or black holes orbiting around a massive star where nearly all of their energy is expelled in gamma-rays. Only five gamma-ray binaries have been found – all within the Milky Way — yet LMD P3 is the brightest one of all.

The extra-galactic system is located in a remnant of a supernova called DEM L241, which lurks within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a relatively small galaxy about 163,000 light-years away.

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