February 27, 2017
At Sixes and Sevens
Ahh, if only we could get off this planet, get away from this authoritarian Trumpian Old World that divides those who are purple from those who are orange.
Many of you were bucked up this week by the NASA announcement of seven new Earth-like exoplanets, a mere forty light-years away in our own cosmic back yard. (See next story.) Personally, I was buoyed by the news of a slew of newly-discovered, possibly inhabitable “nearby” planets orbiting the tiny Trappist-1 star a cosmically stone’s throw away. Not only that, the revelation shows the potential for such systems to exist close enough to get to, someday, sooner than later! It’s always a shot in the arm to hear about these kinds of new discoveries, to dream we might escape the exosphere and inhabit a new world in time to save ourselves from the steamroller of fascism and corporate planet killing.
In the meantime, however, to blithely believe it’s not as bad as all that is infantile. This new regime will stop at nothing to fill Donald J Trump and his associated fiends’ pockets. And to accomplish this includes hatred of all things scientific and truthful (i.e. keeping you and I stupid and not focusing on the real puppetmasters), even when it comes from Trump’s own hand-picked staff at the Department of Homeland Security, for example, who, standing up to his boss, just reported there have been ZERO terror attacks on American soil committed by the seven eastern countries he wants to bar from entering the U.S.
This kind of nutballery is why former Attorney General of Oklahoma Scott Pruitt is such a perfect fit. as far as the Trump regime figures, to head the Environmental Protection Agency – which Pruitt sued 14 times – and who served as a highly paid lobbyist for the oil and gas industry while he was getting gets paid to protect Oklahoma. That’s not just an impropriety. It’s illegal.
In addition, during his tenure as Oklahoma’s AG, Pruitt’s favorite hobby was “cutting and pasting” the industry’s lengthy environmental regulation complaints and objections onto his own Attorney General letterhead, and submitting them as legal arguments written by him to higher courts so that the energy corporations would get their way. And it worked. By the way, that’s also illegal!
And when investigative reporters asked him for the years of correspondence between his office and the oil/gas industries, and even filed Freedom of Information Acts to get those “public records,” Pruitt refused to fulfill those FOIAs for two years. Oh yeah, that’s illegal too!!
Finally, a judge ordered Pruitt recently to release all those letters with a deadline of last Tuesday which GOP Senators were fully aware of as they rushed to confirm him as EPA head before the letters could be published. And we pay these blatant idiots to watch out for us?? Seems confounding that they’re willing to roll the dice knowing this guy would most likely become a public pariah once the emails are released. Do they know something we don’t, or is the confirmation bottom line really all that matters?
Sure enough, so far 7,000 pages of the released emails reveal that Pruitt was getting paid to lie to the state and the courts about the effects that the fossil fuel industry has on all lives and the environment. For example, in 2010 alone Pruitt, while Attorney General for Oklahoma, took in $40,000 in contributions from the poultry industry for filing briefs for them when they were found poisoning the water in a nearby state, with, yes, chicken poop, and sued for it. It is known as, literally, “the Chickenshit Case” and it’s ongoing. And what Pruitt did then was – surprise! – illegal, too!
And we’re supposed to be okay with this serial rule-breaker who’s now in charge of the playbook? During a cringeworthy talk on Saturday as part of the equally cringeworthy Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland, Pruitt bragged of an “aggressive” agenda of regulatory rollbacks that could start as early as next week, and blamed the Obama administration for being “so focused on climate change.” “We as Republicans don’t have anything to be apologetic about with respect to the environment – nothing,” he added. “We have always believed that you can grow jobs, grow an economy, while also doing what? Being a good steward of the environment.” (Aaaaaah! Breathe in – where’s my paper bag? Trappist-1 hear I come!)
As of this writing, you can hear a pin drop from the silence as the press shrugs all this off and mutters “no big deal.” Of course we all know there will be no consequences for these egregious breaches in public trust. No one is going to jail. No one is even going to get fined. Trump, or perhaps we should say President Steve Bannon, has made sure that the Justice Department is now headed by infamous Trump campaign cheerleader, environment-hating voter suppressor and racist extraordinaire Jeff Sessions.
Meanwhile, as venal “public servants” like Pruitt, and anti-science shills like Texas Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Hades) of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology do their best to roll back any attempt to understand and fix the wrongs we have committed against our planet, and get paid for it while picking up the paycheck we give them, we are comforted that a few scientists are getting pissed off enough to actually jump into the public pool of political service. JPL scientist Tracie Van Houten is one of them, and she is willing to give up her career in inventing innovative space missions for representing the 34th Congressional District of California in the U.S. House. The election is in April.
I am also reminded of the words of Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who told the Sydney Morning Herald that slashing NASA’s Earth Science and Climate Research programs “would be a shockingly stupid move that would deal a very severe blow to global research on environmental change across the world.”
March with us for Science on April 22! – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large
Seven Card Studs
On Thursday NASA finally held a much-ballyhooed presser about the new Trappist-1 planetary system it discovered – a heptad of worlds orbiting a star located a mere forty light-years away from us. What makes this a big deal is that at least six of these planets are fairly Earth-sized, and their orbits reside in what is deemed the habitable zone for life around their star – not too hot and not too cold. Even more significant, since Trappist-1 is one of an astronomically abundant (and longest lasting) category of puny gas balls, the probability of planets like our own existing in the cosmos has exploded exponentially. And when the super-duper James Webb Telescope launches in 2018, NASA said, the agency will be able to combine its findings with the current data from the Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer scopes currently trained on the system since its discovery three weeks ago. “With much greater sensitivity, Webb will be able to detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet’s atmosphere,” said NASA wags. “Webb also will analyze planets’ temperatures and surface pressures – key factors in assessing their habitability.” According to NASA, since Trappist-1 is an M class red dwarf, its planets are huddled close together and could be tidally locked, which means only one side is perpetually facing the star, as our moon is unto the Earth. We’ll know more when and if the Webb gets kicking.
Just in! Find out more on how you can help NASA search for new worlds! Click this link:
Also just in! NASA has added a Trappist-1 planetary system “tourist” poster to its growing collection of artwork intended to garner excitement about space travel and exploration. Collect them all!
Want to Get Away?
Lost Their Way
The recent “Brexit” move that caught the world by surprise (in addition to many Uk’ers that voted for it) may also end up pulling England out of its current agreements with the European Space Agency. One of those deals provided Great Britain use of the Galileo navigational satellite system operated for government use only, which, you know, allows lubberwortish members of Parliament to get from the districts they represent to their highchairs n the House of Parliament. Weeks before the xenophobic Brexit vote came down, members of the European Union – as well as some of the more saner members of Parliament – warned their peers that having England fly solo economically could mean a damaging loss of a lot of EU goodies. Britain will likely have to go through a cumbersome renegotiation process with the EU to re-establish their access to Galileo. Say “Cheerio!” to your GPS nav systems, m’ lords!
If at First You Don’t Succeed …
SpaceX’s Dragon uncrewed cargo capsule carting 5,500 pounds of supplies successfully delivered its loot the International Space Station last Thursday after an abortive attempt the previous day. In a series of firsts a few days earlier, the Elon Musk-led commercial space enterprise ended its Falcon-9 launch hiatus since the fiery rocket explosion last September with a successful blast-off of the Dragon capsule from the famed Apollo-era pad 39A, and the subsequent safe landing of the first-stage booster at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
After purchasing all the sterling-plated Rolls Royces in the showroom, what’s an Arab sheikh going to do? Plan a city on Mars, of course! At least that’s what the United Arab Emirates (UAE) prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has announced in a series of Trump-like tweets recently as he unveiled that country’s plans to build a “mini-city” on the Red Planet by 2117. “‘Mars 2117’ is a seed we are sowing today to reap the fruit of new generations led by a passion for science and advancing human knowledge,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted, referring to the multi-generational nature of the project, given the tiny country’s current barebones space program, To help fuel the intellectual capital required for such an endeavor, the Mars 2117 project “includes a major space sciences focus in our universities [to build] a space pioneering passion among our young people,” Sheikh Mohammed noted. The UAE has already fixed its sights on the cosmos with the announcement in 2015 of its “Hope” robotic mission that will arrive at the Red Planet in 2021.
NASA announced last week that because of a technical glitch in an engine valve of its Juno spacecraft, the agency has decided to keep the Jupiter-orbiting craft on its 53-day path around the gas giant for the remainder of this mission instead of the original plan to plop the probe in a shorter (but not closer) 14-day orbit. “Juno is healthy, its science instruments are fully operational, and the data and images we’ve received are nothing short of amazing,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The decision to forego the burn is the right thing to do – preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery.” NASA insists that the longer orbital period will not compromise the mission’s science objectives; rather it expects the longer travel path will open up new opportunities to study Jovian space dominated by the planet’s super-strong magnetic field. Juno’s next close flyby of Jupiter will be March 27 where it will skim about 2,600 miles above the planet’s cloud tops.
Falling To Pieces
Yet another chunk of ice, this one a mile long, calved off the ever-changing Pine Island Glacier of Antarctica again, and NASA sats caught it. No, we haven’t heard a peep from the Bannon Administration – “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.” In these recent years of glacier meltdown and Earth warming, scientists have warned again and again that the Pine Island area has become increasingly unstable, losing bergs the size of cities into the ocean, and frequently. The last major event happened in July 2015, when a 225-square-mile iceberg calved from the glacier and disappeared into the sea. Hopefully, these bergs will do their part in raising sea levels especially around Trump’s Mar-a-Lago restricted club in Florida.
Leveling the Playing Field
Don’t quit your day job, is the advice astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has given to Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Kyrie Irving, who recently revealed his belief that the world is flat, securing his current place as frontrunner in our Tin Foil Hatter of the Year Award. Irving, who spent only one year at Duke University before becoming the 2011 number one NBA draft pick, told ESPN in vaguely Trumpian terms that “I’ve seen a lot o things that my educational system said was real and turned out to be completely fake.”
Not one to waste such a delicious moment , Tyson spoke with TMZ: “Let me be blunt. We live in a free country, so you ought to be able to think and say whatever you want. If [Irving] wants to think earth is flat, go right ahead – as long as he continues to play basketball and not become head of any space agencies. My point is if you have certain limitations of understanding of the natural world, stay away from jobs that require that.”
Tyson then proposed we launch Irving and fellow flat Earthers into space, and only let them come back home once they all admit they are wrong (Editor’s Note: and our planet really is the same shape as a basketball).