Sun Daze

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August 7, 2017

By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Eclipsopherenia

While preparations in the US reach a fevered pitch in advance of the “Great American” Solar Eclipse on August 21st, some astrologers (yes, you read that right) are pouring over their charts and concluding that the celestial event could have disastrous implications for Donald Trump’s presidency. “There’s been a lot of conversation about this eclipse in terms of what’s going on with Donald Trump,” says Wade Caves, an astrological consultant who in July  published a 29-page “analysis” of this month’s eclipse. “The astrological world has been completely buzzing with this for quite some time, even more so since Donald Trump was inaugurated.” Modern-day astrological practitioners point out that Trump was born during a lunar eclipse (when the Earth casts a shadow on the Moon), making him susceptible to the power of eclipses, which they believe have monumental impacts on mere mortals.“What we’re talking about is the ability of the sun to be able to give light and life-generating heat, and all these things being momentarily taken away,” says Caves, the astrological consultant. “So there’s this symbolism that’s built in with eclipses about…things coming to a close, and in often a very dramatic fashion.”

“At the moment that he was born, certain degrees were activated. This eclipse is activating those same degrees,” Caves says about Trump. When other features of the event are taken into account, he adds, “a lot of astrologers are expecting some kind of downfall, some kind of ruin, some kind of difficulty.”

(Hmm… if you ask us, it doesn’t take an astrologist, psychic, shaman, or clairvoyant to see that our Lunatic-in-Chief has long been eclipsed by a host of other factors in his ability to truly lead in any capacity.)

Meanwhile, authorities from areas falling under the eclipse’s path of totality are increasing their own disaster-level preparations with as many as 7.4 million astronomical devotees expected to cram into the 70-mile swath of land stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, creating emergency evacuation-like scenarios that include clogging interstates, state, and local roads for days before and after the 21st, says Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster operations and logistics for the American Red Cross. “Some of these places are never going to see traffic like this,” he told Newsweek, adding that in some areas, “the population will be double or triple.”

Local resources also will be stretched razor thin, with local planners stocking extra water bottles and ordering auxiliary port-a-potties (creating what some fear may be a national port-a-potty shortage). Not to be left out, the Red Cross is preparing hundreds of emergency shelters in case of non-eclipse related catastrophes, and hospitals are stocking up on medical supplies since such materials may be difficult to deliver due to visitor-choked roads. Also, don’t expect to broadcast the celestial spectacular live on your blog from the total eclipse zone because cellphone, GPS and smartphone internet services will likely be nonexistent there since cellular service towers will be overloaded due to the additional half-million to a million people per state.

In other words – to all eclipse adventurers: Don’t wing it. Come prepared for delays, shortages, and LOTS of people.

Editor’s note:  Stealing a cue from La-Z-Boy-in-Chief, we are taking the next two Mondays off, and will return on August 28th. Part of that time, we plan to forgo the golf links and will be covering the total eclipse from an undisclosed location looking for a port-a-potty and a sign – any sign – that the Trump presidency will be over soon.

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Stormy Weather

Recently, astronomers were astonished to observe a massively-bright storm located at Neptune’s equator that’s nearly the size of Earth.  The disturbance, about 6,000 miles in diameter, is rare for its luminosity and low-latitude location, said UC Berkeley grad student Ned Molter, who spotted it between June 26 and July 2 this year from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. “Seeing a storm this bright at such a low latitude is extremely surprising,” Molter said, adding that “Normally, this area is really quiet and we only see bright clouds in the mid-latitude bands, so to have such an enormous cloud sitting right at the equator is spectacular,” Since telescope viewing time is competitive, Molter will have to get back in line and wait until this fall to set his sights on Neptune again, hopefully gaining further insights on nature of the mysterious system and the gas planet’s atmosphere that could also advance the understanding of giant exoplanets too far away to be spied on by Earth-bound instruments.

Out with the New, In with the Old

In typical twelve-year-old Trumpian fashion, the US government via the State Department delivered a written notice to the UN last Friday of its official intention to the exit the Paris climate accord (two years too early) while at the same time reserving the right to reverse its position, and demanding a seat at the table at all international climate-change negotiations “to protect U.S. interests and ensure all future policy options remain open to the administration. Additionally, the State Department missive said the US “will continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions through innovation and technology breakthroughs, and work with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and deploy renewable and other clean energy sources” – a position we feel is laughingly on the wrong side of history. In fact, we couldn’t have articulated our disgust better than “bareshark1957” commenting on the New York Magazine site:

Occupant (and the Republican numbskulls who enable [Trump]) are throwing away America’s economic future with both hands. While he flirts with the nineteenth century (coal! oil! mercantilism! isolationism! xenophobia! Whee!) China will be eating our lunch in every facet of the new energy economy. They are already the biggest manufacturer of solar panels and wind turbines, they have stronger economic ties to Latin America and Africa than the US does now, soon they will make more batteries (for EVs and power storage) than the rest of the world combined.

Every day the bass-ackward class and their donors keep the fantasy of fossil fuels alive and obstruct renewables, is one more day the US will be playing catch-up when the dime finally drops …

(I know that many companies in the US are trying to move in the right direction, but they are dealing with two problems companies in other countries don’t have: active government opposition, and very little government investment.)

The Heat is On

And while the “Grim Tweeter” continues dithering with the delusion of “clean” fossil fuels, scientists and economists are redoubling their urgent pleas with the Trump administration to take immediate countermeasures in the light of two new reports confirming previous findings that the Earth’s temperature will likely climb two degrees Celsius by 2100. Specifically, alarmed parties are calling on the federal government to invoke carbon pricing and invest in carbon capture technologies to possibly retard the process of global warming, as well as establishing measures to thwart inevitable temperature rises. The just-released reports, published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, build on the existing climate change research, and demonstrate that “we have to move even faster,” said Michael Mehling, deputy director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at MIT.  “The trend overall has been us underestimating climate change,” he said, adding that “Each new study has been more and more sobering.”

Get a Job

NASA is reeling a bit from the attention given to its recent job posting for a Buck Rogers-sounding  “Planetary Protection Officer” position, which sparked the dreams of 9-year-old Jack Davis from New Jersey, who wrote the space agency a handwritten note, claiming despite his age, he was “fit for the job.”  “One of the reasons is my sister thinks I’m an alien,” Jack wrote, adding that his qualifications include seeing “almost all the space and alien movies I can see.” The third-grader concluded his case by reminding the agency of his “great” video game skills and and his youth, making it easy to “learn to think like an alien,” signing the letter, “Jack, Guardian of the Galaxy.”

And before you could say, “to infinity and beyond,” James Green of NASA’s Planetary Science Division responded to Jack’s inquiry telling the youngster that the “position is really cool and is very important work,” adding that “It’s about protecting Earth from tiny microbes when we bring back samples from the Moon, asteroids and Mars.”   According to Green’s response obtained by ABC News, the post – created in the 1960s – is “also about protecting other planets and moons from our germs as we responsibly explore the Solar System.” Green told Jack that he hopes he will “study hard and do well in school,” and that “We are always looking for bright scientists and engineers to help us….We hope to see you here at NASA one of these days!”

Well, if NASA isn’t going to nab this kid, we know of another executive government position in desperate need of a level head, a willingness to work hard, and the ability to kick the butts of Russian oligarchs and planet-killing fossil-fuel pushers.

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Land of Counterpane

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June 26, 2017

By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Mayors and CEOs and Governors, Oh My!

How has the Divider-in-Chief managed to unite 3 state governor’s, 30 mayor’s, over 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses? By putting ‘America First’ and not caring about the rest of the planet’s well being and reneging on our participation in the Paris Climate Accord! This is such an abysmal abandonment of America’s responsibility (after all, we are the second biggest contributor to CO2 levels in the world) that others in positions of relative power are ready to step in to fill the vacuum left by President Tyrannosaurus Rex.

So far this group has not created a moniker for itself, while former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is coordinating the effort, reports the New York Times. “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” he said, adding that cities, states and corporations could achieve, or even surpass the pledge of the Obama administration. The United States is required to continue reporting its emissions for now, as a formal withdrawal cannot take place for several years (during which we had better figure out how to get the oil-backed greedy politicians out and the real human beings back in to our elected offices). Hopefully this is just the first of many more local and state level leaders to join this important move towards true ‘homeland security’ – an Earth with air we can breath and water we can drink!

And so while der Trumpenfuhrer has mastered branding himself (even while walking away from multiple business bankruptcies) he is going to find that ‘branding’ America as a standalone island becoming ‘great again’ all by itself is not going to work. Bankrupting an entire country’s reputation in the world is not something you can bail on and recover in a lifetime. Just like the manufacturing jobs that left, never to return (despite Trump’s PT Barnum promises to the contrary), America’s leadership role will slip away, allowing other more Earth-aware, science believing nations to fill the void. This is not something that a state such as California whose GDP is sixth in the world or Mayors who see the effect of climate change on their cities (Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Atlanta to name a few) want to happen.

According to the online resource SustainLane Government, Oakland, California is at the head of the class in meeting California’s mandate of 20 percent of electricity purchases to come from renewable origns by 2020. In fact, Oakland leads the US in green energy by drawing 17% of its electrical power from sources such as solar, geothermal and wind turbines.

In fact, most of the actual decisions that create climate action are made locally so if these actors remain committed to the Paris accord the goals can be reached, according to Bloomberg. For instance, the state of Washington, California, and New York, have adopted a cap on carbon pollution, invested in growing clean energy jobs and subsidizes electric vehicle purchases. Significantly, much of California’s booming economy is in the clean energy field and it risks losing out on this growing business sector to China if we follow President “Job Creator’s” lead and step away from being competitive in the world’s market.

California governor Jerry Brown discusses green technologies, innovation, and trade with Chinese President Xi.

And it isn’t just generous planet-hugging empathy that is motivating the CEO’s and Governors. These ‘American’ corporations do business all over the world, and if they piss off their overseas customers too much they risk losing enough business to put them out of the game. So while some corporations still have CEO’s on the ‘I can’t hear you unless you are singing my praises’ Presidential Advisory panels hoping against all apparent logic to make a difference, some, like Elon Musk, have called it a day and left. I can’t help but feel that this time around cutting loose the usual channels of power and talking with China (as California governor Jerry Brown did last week) is actually the more safe and sane approach. (If you had told me this in the seventies when we were just normalizing relations with China I would have thought you had lost your mind…but then haven’t we all these days, if only by reading the daily news!) – Elizabeth McMahon

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Of Musk and Men

High tech tycoon Elon Musk unveiled his Red Planet survivalist manifesto last week, claiming that a million-person Martian urban center complete with ‘iron foundries and pizza joints’ could be achieved within 50 years, reports the Telegraph. According to the billionaire SpaceX impresario who published his Mars-civilization-for-dummies in the journal New Space, earthlings would need an escape rout from Earth to avoid a ‘Doomsday event’ and our ‘eventual extinction.’  “I think there are really two fundamental paths. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction. The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planetary species,” he said.

Musk estimates that the first wave of “colonists” could be sent to Mars in a decade, and explained that it would take between 40 and 100 years to transport enough people to populate a city on the Red Planet. Sounding more like an intergalactic Spring Break, rather than a perilous migration of humankind to another world, Musk describes the journey:

It has got to be really fun and exciting. It cannot feel cramped and boring. Therefore the crew compartment or the occupant compartment is set up so that you can do zero-gravity games. You can float around. There will be movies, lecture halls, cabins and a restaurant. It will be really fun to go. You are going to have a great time.

And once you get to Mars, the merriment doesn’t stop, says Musk. “It would be quite fun to be on Mars because you would have gravity that is about 37 per cent of that of Earth, so you would be able to lift heavy things and bound around.”

In addition to “iron foundries and pizza joints,” Musk envisions there will be methane plants on the Martian surface to provide fuel for rockets schlepping to and from Earth, a route he predicts will only take as few as 30 days (one way) in the future.

So, aside from the obvious questions like who/how will the million astro-squatters be selected, what they will breathe for air once they reach the Red Planet, and who will pull the short straw to build and work the foundries and methane plants, Musk’s dream of a Martian metropolis eerily reminds one of a cosmic groundhog day in which we tote our dirty laundry to the next unwrecked planet only to eventually slip on the same evolutionary banana peel that’s brought us to the edge of extinction here on Earth, thus truly becoming a multi-planetary species of wandering locusts dooming everything in its path.

It’s a Small World After All

In a less dumbed-down version of “stop the world, we want to get off,” famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking recently called for leading countries to unite in sending astronauts to the Moon by 2020 where they would complete a lunar base within 30 years, and also send humans to Mars by 2025, according to the BBC. Presenting his thoughts at the science and the arts Starmus Festival in Norway, the real-life Mr. Peabody communicated that he hoped such a shared endeavor would re-ignite a new sense of purpose for humanity as well as “unite competitive nations in a single goal, to face the common challenge for us all,” and “stimulate interest in other areas, such as astrophysics and cosmology.”

European Space Agency lunar base concept.

While not diminishing the need to also address Earth-bound crises such as a greenhouse gas apocalypse (unlike, he said, Donald Trump, “who may just have taken the most serious and wrong decision on climate change this world has seen.”), the renown physicist implored, “We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.”

Star-Crossed Warriors

Believing the Pentagon is dragging its feet regarding America’s military readiness in space, key members of the US House Armed Services Committee have formally submitted proposed language to the National Defense Authorization Act calling for the creation of a dedicated “Space Corps,” by January 1, 2019 – a role traditionally held by the Air Force. “We are convinced that the Department of Defense is unable to take the measures necessary to address these challenges effectively and decisively, or even recognize the nature and scale of its problems,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee for Strategic Forces, and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the subcommittee’s ranking member, in a joint statement. “Thus, Congress has to step in.”

The new Space Corps would be led by its own chief of staff, and would answer to the civilian secretary of the Air Force, who, interestingly, is pushing back on the proposed new military entity. Secretary Heather Wilson said on Wednesday that she opposes the Space Corps, complaining that “The Pentagon is complicated enough. We’re trying to simplify. This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart and cost more money.’ Congressional champions of the idea, who are pig-biting mad at Wilson’s cold shoulder, argue that the creation of a space fighting branch is essential in protecting America’s network of communications and navigation satellites from weapons developed by nations such as China or Russia.

Little Engines That Could

Prometheus engine concept.

Under a similar theme of cheap and recyclable rocket motors, the European Space Agency and Airbus Safran Launchers (to be renamed ArianeGroup on July1) inked a deal last week to cook up a low-cost, reusable liquid oxygen/methane rocket engine dubbed “Prometheus” to go online after 2030 that will be made with the use of 3D printers to keep costs dow to around $1.1 million, reports the New York Times. “The commercial market – at least the European one – is asking for reliability, on-time delivery and cost, and we have to find the best way to answer these market expectations,” Safran’s CEO, Alain Charmeau, told Reuters. Charmeau noted that in particular, the expected boom in driverless cars and their need to have data transmitted to them globally, will increase the demand for communications satellites – and therefore rockets to launch them.

 Goin’ Postal

The US Postal Service last week released a special stamp commemorating this August 21st’s total solar eclipse that will cut a 70-mile shadow through 14 states from South Carolina to Oregon. The collector’s dream features a pic taken by retired NASA astrophysicist and solar eclipse guru Fred Espenak, and boasts the first-ever use of thermochromic ink on a postage sticker, allowing the image to morph when the heat of a thumb or fingers presses the surface.  (The underlying thermal-triggered Moon image, transforms to the classic lunar occultation shot once the surface cools.) For fanciers who want to preserve the longevity of their philatelic gem, the USPS is selling a special envelope for a nominal fee. And for those who want to do more than just ogle at literally a postage-stamp sized version of this year’s astronomical event, click here for the best spots to view the celestial show.

F Goop

NASA last week tossed a penalty flag on claims that a miracle healing patch being hawked on Gwyneth Paltrow’s putridly pretentious “Goop” website is made with the same high tech wizardry employed to monitor astronauts’ health in space. Sold alongside such scientifically-sound products as vitamin supplements for women named “Balls in the Air,” and “The Mother Lode,”  the “Body Vibes” wearable stickers claimed to “promote healing” and to “rebalance” the body’s  “energy frequency” with the “same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut’s vitals” via “bio-frequency” resonating with one’s “natural energy field.” So, before you can say, “Houston, we have a problem,” Gizmodo’s Rae Paoletta contacted space agency reps who reported that spacesuits “do not have any conductive carbon material lining.” In addition, a former chief NASA scientist, not surprisingly, added, “What a load of BS this is.” Goop on its part distanced itself from the fray, issuing the standard “we don’t formally endorse the advice and recommendations of overpriced crap that’s sold our our site” statement, while the Body Vibes dudes threw a company engineer and distributor under the bus, saying that it was all just a miscommunication between the two. According to Vox, the company, however, still stands by its wonder patch, saying that “the origins of the material do not [in] anyway impact the efficacy of our product.” Goop on the other hand has removed the controversial claims, awaiting further verification, and Gwyneth is, well you know the saying, “in space no one can hear you scream.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One-Of-A-Kind

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Kate Woods

Photo: Tom Chargin

For regular readers of Galactic Sandbox’s Weekly Revolution, most likely you are aware of Kate Wood’s passing last week of injuries suffered in a single car crash near her home in New Idria, CA. No doubt, a good chunk of our audience is comprised of friends, associates, or fans of Kate who are heartbroken that this vibrant and irreverent life force is no longer with us. Having known Kate for almost 30 years, I can join with many who feel that her death is all too sudden and way too soon. That said, I am grateful for her rich legacy, part of which was her conviction that politics is entwined in all the minutiae of our lives and the planet, and if we don’t become masters of political forces, they will be our masters.  And she didn’t mean that we just holler, “throw the bums out!” (although she did that too),  but encouraged an intelligent resistance of and alternative to the consumptive virus infecting modern civilization (of which the morally-bankrupt Donald Trumps of this world are but a symptom) that will destroy the Earth for life as we know it.  

On a personal note, I will mourn the loss of Kate’s “voice,” and will simply miss my good friend. And like all true companions, Kate provided a mirror (however irascible) for my own life, giving it meaning, context, and purpose.  Hopefully, we can continue Galactic Sandbox so long as it serves a good end, and one that Kate would be proud of!

  • Brian McMahon (Agnett Bonwitt) May 29, 2017

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And Then There Was One

Despite pressure from G7 leaders last weekend to endorse the historic 2015 Paris climate change accord, America’s greenhouse gas emissions friend-in-chief played coy with the fate of the Earth, tweeting that he would wait until this week to decide if the U.S. will back the 195-nation agreement (Spoiler Alert – Fat chance!). G7 heads of state who intensely pushed Trump during meetings in Italy last week to reaffirm U.S. commitment to the climate agreement, expressed frustration over President Cheese Puff’s “America First, Earth Last” platform. According to the Atlantic, German chancellor Angela Merkel said the discussions with Trump “had been very difficult, and not to say very unsatisfactory,” adding that “here we have a situation of six against one, meaning there is still no sign of whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris accord or not.” Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron said it was “essential for international equilibrium and the reputation of America that it remains engaged with the Paris treaty. The G7 had shown [that] issues such as climate change are not side issues that can be left to others.” Update: On Sunday afternoon, the Axios news outlet citing three knowledgable sources reported that Trump has told “confidants,” including EPA head hatchet man Scott Pruitt, he indeed plans to have the U.S. exit the Paris accord. (Hmm … sounds like Trump’s “evolving” view of the Paris deal grew a tail and scampered back to the Cretaceous Period.)

Not Yer Grandfather’s Jupiter

Taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft 32,000 miles above Jupiter’s south pole, this composite pic shows oval-shaped  cyclones up to 600 miles in diameter.

The first scientific results from NASA’s Juno probe are in, and space agency brainiacs are breathlessly marveling at what they’re calling a “whole new Jupiter,” filled with Earth-sized polar cyclones, a gargantuan “lumpy” magnetic field, and swooping storm systems piercing deep into the belly of the gas giant. According to NASA, these initial findings based on Juno’s 2,600-mile Jovian flyby last August 27 were published last week in the journal Science, as well as in Geophysical Research Letters. “We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “But now that we are here we are finding that Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders. There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.” Juno’s next close pass of the gas giant will be on July 11, when the probe will focus its scientific instruments on the planet’s iconic Great Red Spot.

Lunar Bombed

Last Thursday,  NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, witnessed the Moon throwing some shade in a space-based partial solar eclipse that lasted an hour. According to the space agency, our closest celestial neighbor blocked 89 percent of the Sun’s face during the peak of the transit.  A much ballyhooed Earth-based total solar eclipse will be visible in parts of the US this August 21st in a 70-mile-wide ribbon of land stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. A partial eclipse will also occur that day throughout the rest of North America as well as parts of of South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.

Joining the Fray

US-New Zealand commercial space firm Rocket Lab is celebrating the first test launch of its state-of-the-art “Electron” rocket partly made of carbon fiber and equipped with engines fashioned from a 3D printer. While the spacecraft’s third stage failed to reach its planned 500-km orbit above Earth, the company’s founder Peter Beck hailed the mission a success anyway:

We didn’t quite reach orbit — we’ll work out exactly why.But we got a long, long way there. It was really a fantastic first flight.

Rocket Lab is gunning for a niche sector of the booming private satellite launch business, targeting the nano satellite market in which swarms or constellations of devices are used for weather reporting or natural disaster prediction. In fact, Rocket Lab has customers already signed up, including NASA.  “We have a very busy 2018, and a business 2019 — and we’ve got a lot of customers booked and backlogged so it’s time to open the throttles,” said Mr Beck. A second Electron test is slated for this week.

 

 

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