Dazzled and Confused

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April 10, 2017

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

Science or Bust

After our two-week hiatus, we’re back!  And boy, are we pig-biting mad over the war against science the Trump regime continues to lob upon this nation.  This is glaringly evident by the absence of people, any people, save ONE, wandering the halls of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in DC, also known as the OSTP. 

Shaken and Stirred: The lone peanut rattling around the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy office is Peter Thiel’s former chief of staff and James Bond wannabe Michael Kratsios.

Normally, there are 24 scientists staffing this important office, tasked with advising the president on all matters regarding science issues, and providing expertise on federal research budgets, emerging trends and technical crises.  President Obama had this building staffed weeks before his first inauguration, and relied on it appropriately during the world Ebola outbreak, the BP oil spill catastrophe, and the Fukishima nuclear ocean (and everything else) pollution calamity.  But so far, Trump has hired only one guy to staff the building, a lobbyist who sports a bachelor’s degree in political science: Michael Kratsios, the former chief of staff for Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor and one of Trump’s wealthiest supporters, as the deputy chief technology officer.  How’s that for  “pay to play?” The building is a ghost town – or ghost swamp, if you will.  

And now there is talk of gutting this office altogether in Washington.  Naturally, Republicans are saying that the OSTP is a “bloated bureaucracy,” that it is redundant to other agencies.  Really?  Which agencies?  Certainly they can not mean the now useless and neutered Environmental Protection Agency, which President Bannon wants to cut by 31 percent.  Or did they mean the National Institutes of Health, which our president-child wants lacerated by 18 percent?  Then they must have been talking about the Energy Department’s Office of Science (which does the basic research at many national labs), which the Trump Administration wants scalped by 20 percent.

No wait!  Further good news, Republicans:  Bannon/Trump just revised its/their request to cut another $90 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a further $50 million from NASA. Could there be redundancies be in these two stunted scientific organizations? Utterly retarded!

We have heard news reports on how the Trump/Bannon Beast seems disturbingly yet cavalierly disinterested in filling some 900 national positions from federal judge-ships to button-pushers in nuclear guardhouses, and you have to wonder why Bannon, er, Trump is so intent on crippling the functionality of the country.  Among those empty posts are 40 top government science positions, including that of presidential science adviser. The ramifications of stifling knowledge, indeed, of ignoring science reality will cobble the U.S. competitively. Worse, it will cost lives.

Trump’s sum total idea of paying homage to science is to re-establish the failed National Space Council, and just about all space cadets from aficionados to astronauts have wildly varying opinions on that one.  Of course, no word yet on who would be filling the “council” positions.  But here’s the kicker: It seems he has given the job of rebuilding and presiding over the old toothless bureaucracy to….Ta Da!…that moron from Indiana, that out-of-the-looper chief funeral-attender picked to make Trump more fetching to old guard crusty conservatives, our Vice President Mike “He Lied to Me!” Pence.  Now that’s beyond retardation.  

I could say a lot more about the onslaught of hideous anti-science news I have had to choke down these past few weeks, but if I continued, my head would blow off.  So again, I must leave you on this note of hope:  Send a message to the imbeciles running the White House on April 22.  March for Science and march for Earth Day. – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large


Exit, Stage Right!

Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking told an interviewer on the  “Good Morning Britain” show that there seems to be no place for him in Trump’s America.  He also revealed that he accepted Virgin Galactic boss Richard Branson’s 2015 invitation to fly free into space as a tourist.  “I thought no one would take me, but Richard Branson has offered me a seat on Virgin Galactic, and I said yes immediately,” said the famous black hole brainiac.  No date yet on when the SpaceShipTwo might make that flight, but the 75-year-old Hawking, who has long suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), reiterated he has already completed his first weightless test in a parabolic jet flight – known as the “Vomit Comet.”  

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo

When asked to explain how Trump could have ever risen to take the American presidency, Hawking said, “I can’t.  He’s a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.”

Hawking also had some choice words about EPA “bomber” and climate-denier Scott Pruitt, chosen by der Trumpenfuhrer to head the agency a month ago.  Hawking said he wanted to tell Trump that Pruitt (who illegally lobbied for the dirty energy industry while he was Attorney General of Oklahoma) should be replaced as the EPA chief, adding that “climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent.”  All hail Hawking!  

Juno Jubilee

You may have already taken a gander at the Juno spacecraft’s latest gobsmacking photos of Jupiter, but in case you missed them, be prepared to have your socks blown off.  The Juno craft entered Jupiter’s orbit in July of 2016 after a five-year journey, and all we can say is that these ain’t yer daddy’s Jupiter pix! 

[NASA has posted the raw images from its JunoCam on the internet, and invited the public to add their own color enhancements, or crop them to highlight a particular feature of the atmosphere.

Four-Minute Hayride

Wielding a microphone, flanked by his New Shepard rocket and a new prototype of his Blue Origins space capsule, space entrepreneur and Amazon king Jeff Bezos gave his audience quite the show last Wednesday at the Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs, CO.  The big deal this time was a peek into the interior of that capsule, which Bezos says will be flying space tourists 62 miles up into sub-orbit – possibly within a year…or more.  Inside the capsule, the six seats look comfortable, the walls are padded and handles sprout everywhere to enable Bezos’ tourists to fly around with glee while soaking in the greatest view so far known to humans.  That’s exactly four minutes of glee, which is how long the passengers will be in zero-gravity before descending back to Earth. 

The remarkable part of Bezos’ spiel was how he almost flippantly described the preparation for such flights, that is, for the riders.  The flights would require a scant minimal of training, ten minutes worth, then the passengers would board the capsule some 30 minutes before blast-off.  A minute or so later, the booster would separate from the capsule, the tourists would unbuckle, float around for four minutes, buckle back up, experience 5 Gs (five times the amount of normal gravity) for a few moments and touchdown at 2 miles per hour.

Bezos declined to say how much his space rides will cost, but Virgin Galactic (the company that will be taking Stephen Hawking up when they get off the ground) is charging $250,000 per passenger, so whether Blue Origins will try to undercut that is anyone’s guess.

Bursting Upon the Scene

Curious radio bursts of potential alien origin were first snagged by the Parker telescope in 2007.

Astronomers in Australia using their newly spiffed-up Molonglo telescope have confirmed that a series of puzzling radio bursts that have been detected as far back as 2007 are in fact not of this Earth. In order to eliminate the possibility that the mysterious signals weren’t caused by researchers microwaving their TV dinners, scientists spent two years overhauling the Molonglo radio telescope located near Canberra, adding features such as enabling the 194,000 spare foot instrument to collect multiple beams at once, allowing scientists to distinguish the difference between local interference and genuine pulses from outer space. “Because of the telescope’s characteristics, we’re a hundred per cent sure the bursts came from space,” said researcher Manish Caleb, who works at Swinburne University. The next challenge, he added, was to pinpoint where the signals are coming from. So far, about 20 similar bursts have been picked up by telescopes around the world.

Your Mother …

Neil Degrasse Tyson takes “you first” position on commercial trip to Mars.

Leading cosmologist and science populist Neil Degrasse Tyson rained on Elon Musk’s “hop on the Mars bandwagon” parade recently when asked if he would take the Space X challenge and venture to the Red Planet aboard the commercial firm’s home-brewed spacecraft. “I really like Earth,” Tyson wrote on Reddit. “So any space trip I take, I’m double checking that there’s sufficient funds for me to return. Also, I’m not taking that trip until Elon Musk sends his mother and brings her back alive. Then I’m good for it.”  Last year Musk unveiled plans for an “Interplanetary Transport System” that would blast 100 Martian “colonists” on a three-month voyage to the Red Planet atop a gianormous rocket made with as-of-yet unproven and untested technology. Your move, Mom.

Photo Bomb

Cosmologists are giddy over the scheduled trial run next month of a bold plan that eventually will use a battery of radio telescopes located around the globe to compile a first-ever photo of the black hole at the center of our Milky Way. According to Nature, the “virtual,” worldwide-based Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) will use the observing power 1,000 times greater than that of the Hubble Space Telescope to produce the rarest of all cosmic portraits that also will include a pic of a gianormous gravity well in the more distant galaxy, M87. While all the techno-wizadry is impressive, astronomers will still need cloud-free skies at eight locations around the Earth once a year for a two-week observation window. “Everything has to be just right,” says EHT director Sheperd Doeleman, an astrophysicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After that, scientists will have to pour over almost 30 petabytes (1 petabyte  = 1,000 terabytes) of data to render the exotic snapshot. Even with a few, blurry rudimentary pix, researchers could usher in a new era of physics, astrophysics, and cosmology.

A Better Mouse Trap

Move over SETI, and make room for a new way to hunt for E.T. – not by seeking their radio signals, but through their expended gasses.  Caltech’s Exoplanet Technology Laboratory are closing in on a new technique that looks at “biosignatures” on exoplanets to determine if any signs of life are home.

By combining “high-dispersion coronagraphy” with high-resolution spectrometry, scientists will be able to zoom in on places like the newly discovered Trappist-1 system 40 light-years away to see what the seven new worlds’ atmospheres and terrains are made of.   Planetary scientists will distinguish, with colors, bio fingerprints of life such as photosynthesis, oxygen and methane gasses that could belay signs of organic matter, but combining the two techniques improves the sensitivity of the method 100 to 1,000 times greater.  CalTech astronomy professor Dimitri Mawet and his team propose using the new combo technique in the gigantic Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), now under construction in Hawaii.  When finished in the late 2020s, the TMT will be the largest optical telescope on Earth.  And remember!  Three of the Trappist-1 planets are located in what is known as the habitable zone of their small “ultra cool dwarf” (and thereby much longer-lasting) star.  

Data Minor

Real life Johnny Quest, Miles Soloman.

Uh, how would you like your eggs, NASA?  Served half-baked or on the face?  A 17-year-old British high-schooler saved the agency’s ass recently when its outreach educational program called TimPix actually yielded results.  The program allows UK students to sift through International Space Station radiation data during Brit astronaut Tim Peakes six-month stay on the station, to look for anomalies and patterns.   Student Miles Soloman actually found just such an anomaly and pattern in the station’s radiation sensors, which regularly spat out negative radiation readings – an impossibility – which Miles recognized as bogus.  NASA thought the faulty info was occurring once or twice a year, but Miles caught it happening several times a day.

Thanks Miles!

Miles and his instructor emailed NASA immediately with the findings, to which physicist Lawrence Pinsky from the University of Houston – collaborating on the radiation monitoring project on the ISS – said, “It was appreciated more so than being embarrassing.” Hmmm.  One thing is for sure.  NASA sure knows how to get free analyzed data from its fans.  Nice work, if you can get it!


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