Mirror, mirror

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May 15, 2017

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

Through a House Bill, Darkly

We didn’t think it could get more bizarre, yet in a week’s time, we are on the brink of a Constitutional crisis worse than Watergate.

The Psychopath-Narcissist-in-Chief fires the man leading the investigation into his criminal and treasonous arrangements with Russia; and then his hand-picked Himmler-midget Attorney General Jeff Sessions not only breaks his oath to recuse himself from that clusterfrack, but he also announced on Friday to re-instate the moronic War on Drugs by prosecuting pot-smokers with life sentences again, and refilling the prisons, once again – undoing the progress so boldly commenced by President Obama and former AG Eric Holder. Is it any wonder?  After all, there is a direct connection between Republican campaign coffers and the private prison conglomerate and the U.S. prison guard union.   Will these morons ever realize that prohibition only begets violence and criminality??

Ah well.  We here at the Galactic Sandbox won’t be bothered by this week’s national political pettifoggery.  But we will concern ourselves with the latest political stink bomb fobbed at this planet’s environment.  Specifically, our thumbs-down vote goes to the latest GOP attempt to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.  Yeah, that’s right. In fact, the world is just now learning that in February, Florida congressmen Matt Gaetz (R-Dante’s Inferno) introduced to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee the bill which he shamelessly admits is an out-and-out wipe-out of the EPA.

Think about it, though: Gaetz, plus four other GOP “freedom caucus” Tea-anderthals who co-sponsored this abomination, have been trying to shove this through the right-wing-heavy Congress for the past three months.  In the meantime, the hits keep coming as:

  • The Greedy Crybaby in the White House has signed a platoon of executive orders that attempt to undo all of Obama’s executive orders that placed tighter regulations on polluting corporations in order to save our rivers, our air and our land. 
  • Trump’s chosen EPA chief, oil lobbyist and law-skirting Scott Pruitt, has worked with anti-science republicans to re-write the 300-year old scientific method of peer review to make it impossible for Earth scientists to present their facts without fear of the political ax to their federal grant-sponsored work on behalf of all things living on this planet – including humans. 
  • And we have now learned that late last week, Pruitt somehow fired every scientist on the EPA Science Advisory Board, to be reportedly replaced by pro-corporate Big Oily lobbyists. 

It’s been said by far greater thinkers than myself that Pruitt et al are trying to dismantle the EPA and all environmental safeguards piece-meal.  They are trying to murder the 50-year-old Clean Air and Clean Water Acts via death by a thousand cuts, not by the simple quick shock of cut throats.  (The optics would not favor that.) That’s why I figure only now media outlets are finding out about the Kill EPA Bill, that it has been darkly slumming around DC since last winter.

If nothing else, remember this… it is something that GOP elected bastards, especially the newest ones, somehow miss, even when and after they swear an oath to “uphold and protect the United States Constitution”… and it is this:  Will there ever be a time when these Trumpenfuhrer loyalists realize that they are traitors to the notion of democracy, that their unwavering party-pulling line is detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of this nation and the Earth??  It is that last clause they so cavalierly deny and turn their backs to that we, as a civilization on the brink of totalitarianism and/or destruction, can never forget.

In the meantime, sign this petition to let yer lawgivers know you do not dig erasing the EPA.

 – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large


But First, a Year of Hell

NASA lunar base concept.

NASA now says they want to put astronauts in orbit around the Moon for a year before blasting them off to Mars in the 2030s.  At the Humans to Mars Summit held last week in Washington DC, a NASA spokesman said that the four-part plan to get to Mars will begin in 2027 with placing a crew to cislunar orbit first, for a year, on the Deep Space Transport system, before beginning the 1,000-day voyage to Mars and back.  But before any of that happens, NASA has to spend a few years getting stuff up to lunar orbit on its new super-duper Space Launch System – which just got pushed back, again.  Trump’s White House told NASA to put humans on the SLS maiden voyage – which is not only moronic but unnecessarily reckless – and NASA looked into it, but said publicly on Friday that, ah, no, it ain’t gonna happen that way. The first unmanned launch of the SLS is now moved up a year to 2019.  

Galactic Prix

Buzz Aldrin explains his Cycling Pathways to Mars concept.

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin has called on NASA to hand over the International Space Station (ISS) to private hands such as Space X, Boeing, and Blue Orbital so the space agency can focus its energies on human interplanetary missions to Mars and other extraterrestrial locales. “We must retire the ISS as soon as possible,” Aldrin said at the 2017 Humans to Mars conference in Washington, D.C. this week reports the Houston Press. “We simply cannot afford $3.5 billion a year of that cost.” The octogenarian, who believes NASA is wasting precious resources in low-Earth-orbit, peddled his his own plan to get humans on Mars, based on the concept of “cycling pathways,” a sort of space-age Silk Road in which spacefaring Earthlings and equipment hitch rides on rocketships constantly shuttling between Earth and Mars.. These celestial express routes would first be established between the Earth and the Moon to easily settle a lunar colony where trans-solar system living can be tested and developed. The next “evolutionary development” would be to expand the cycler space-based highway to a near Earth asteroid by 2020, then on to a landing on Venus by 2024, and finally to a permanent human presence at the Red Planet by the 2030s.

Workers of the Universe Unite

Wonder Boy Elon Musk’s Space X corporation just got bitch-slapped when they lost a class-action lawsuit this week.  Seems Musk forgot to pay his employees at the Hawthorne, CA plant for their government-mandated breaks.  (The Hawthorne headquarters is where the company manufactures its swimmingly successful Falcon 9 reusable rockets.)  According to Inverse publication, $4 million will be paid to some 4,100 employees who say the company refused to allow them to take legally mandated breaks during the workday.Each worker will get about $500 – with the highest payouts coming out to about $2,000 per person.”  But here’s the bigger rub: one third of that payout – about $1.3 million – will go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.  No justice, no peace.

Surf’s Up

Boasting the latest advances in land-based imaging technology and “adaptive optics,” astronomers announced Friday in the publication Nature that they have used the Large Binocular Telescope perched atop Arizona’s Pinaleno mountains to detect two massive lava waves undulating around a volcanic crater the size of Lake Ontario on Jupiter’s pockmarked moon, Io. While the scientific observation in itself is significant, what’s stunning is that professional star-gazers from the (relative) comfort of terra firma can now – at least for solar system observations – rival findings from space-based instruments like the Hubble Telescope, and identify cosmically tiny features 391 million miles away on a Jovian satellite approximately the size of our own.  This new-fangled wizardry enabled cosmologists in March 2015 to take snapshots of a rare orbital alignment in which Jupiter’s icy moon Europa gradually eclipsed the volcanically-active Io, blocking more and more light emanating from the magma-filled Loki Patra crater (see gif on right). From this data, researchers were able to create a “heat map” indicating how the temperature varied across the basin, revealing one lava wave moving clockwise and the other staring from a different direction swirling counterclockwise.


Off the Blacklist

Star scientists have recently concluded that supermassive black holes are not as indiscriminately voracious as once thought – or at the least, their perceived rapacious “consume all and anything” reputations could never hold a candle to Republican congressmen seeking re-election.  Astronomers started to change their tunes about black holes some years back, but it became a lot more convincing recently after they observed a slew of galactic head-ons merging into one another when they realized that it takes a ginormously disruptive event to make the humongous critters to get sufficiently provoked, and thereby hungry.  Using their NuSTAR space telescope, NASA brains studied 52 galaxy collisions and concluded that it was in the late stage of the smash-ups that galactic black holes got hot and bothered and then started gobbling what was orbiting them.

Great Balls of Fire

For illustration purposes only.

Adding to your list of existential fears including Donald Trump ordering a nuclear strike instead of a Coke or a giant asteroid walloping our planet, researchers now believe the “kill zone” in which a supernova could cause mass extinctions on Earth is probably 50 light years wide instead of the previously calculated 25, reports Space Daily. Or at least this is an estimate made by brainiacs at the University of Kansas in a follow-up to their 2016 report regarding the effects of supernovae on Earth’s biology and the “slam dunk” evidence that radioactive debris from an exploding star rained on our planet some 2.6 million years ago. According to KU scientist Adrian Melott, while the isotopic shrapnel from a spent sun that bombarded Earth originated a relatively safe 150 light years away, we wouldn’t be so fortunate if such a cataclysm occurred much closer:

People estimated the ‘kill zone’ for a supernova in a paper in 2003, and they came up with about 25 light years from Earth … Now we think maybe it’s a bit greater than that … We don’t know precisely, and of course it wouldn’t be a hard-cutoff distance. It would be a gradual change. But we think something more like 40 or 50 light years.

That said, it’s probably not something not worth losing sleep over. According to Atlasoftheuniverse.com, there are “only” 133 stars located within a 50 light-year radius of the Earth, so while the potential exists that life on Earth could be obliterated by a gas ball blowout, the probabilities within our lifetime is pretty low. So sweet dreams – sort of.

Through Many Lenses, Brightly

NASA has a new view of the Crab Nebula, and to see it in this new light is spectacular.  The agency combined photos from an array of their space telescopes set on the same angle of the massive cloud of dust and gas that resides 6,500 light-years away – and the group effort is decidedly out of this world.  NASA achieved the new view of our neighbor by layering pix from the Spitzer Space Telescope, and of course the Hubble Space Telescope, the XMM Newton to capture ultraviolet waves and the Chandra Space Telescope to grab the X-Rays.  The result, as one can see, is quite stunning.  The good ol’ Crab Nebula is part of the “Local Group” of galaxies orbiting our larger Milky Way Galaxy, and its sun  supernovaed in 1054 A.D.  We thank Dog that Chinese astronomers observed and documented it while the tribal Anglo-Saxons were still bickering about the Battle of Hastings.

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All Fired Up

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February 6, 2017

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

Animals In The House

The first, most important news… the March for Science date has been set:  April 22, and it is worldwide.  Get out your pink knit brain caps, or knit them or order them.  This IS something we can do to let the new fascist anti-science “order” know we don’t dig their alternative facts, gag orders, planetcide, and red herring hats emblazoned with the mendacious buzz-phrase, “Make America Great Again.”

I know how you are feeling at this point.  It’s like, “Why march? What’s the damn use?”  Personally, I just want to put on an old movie from the 1940s and see how art used to be done.  Just leave me alone.

The problem is that you won’t be merely left alone.  You, your family and friends, and everyone on this globe will be affected by the greedy, meat-tossing decisions made by the Cheeto-in-Chief and his Sith overlords.  I honestly wish I could be writing about something other than what the Trump Cabal is doing to the world’s air and water and diverse species, but since our very lives depend on this,  I am stuck with delivering this gut-wrenching news to you.

But first, a sliver of hope.

Here is the latest given to me by Agnett, Editor Extraordinaire.  As we suggested in last week’s Galactic commentary, if the science community would just stick to the law, the Constitution, we should be able to remain intact.  However our carrot-coiffed Wizard of Id continues to reconstruct American laws on a daily basis, and the way he is doing it – Executive Orders – will stick for four years until the nation gets its brains back and overthrow the Felt-Tip-Pen-In-Chief.   (Let’s not forget that on inauguration day a retooled White House web site fashioned in his own image, purged any mention of climate change and populated it with contemptible crap about how the National Parks and lands are such great candidates for fracking.)

So, here is how it stands.  We found a nice little law, actually made permanent by none other than former Prez George W. Bush, called the Information Quality Act of 2001.  Environmentalists are trying like hell to make this stick, and they have ample evidence and reason to take it to court:

“Posting blatantly false information on the EPA’s website would violate the Information Quality Act,” Romany Webb, a climate law fellow at Columbia University, told reporters Thursday. “The guidelines clearly state that information disseminated to the public, including via a website, must be substantively accurate.”

MIT Technology Review

It’s a start.  And it’s another way in which we can use existing rules to our own advantage. But it seems the orange creamsicle-in-a-suit has done an end-run around that. According to the publication called Daily Caller, “The law allows people who object to information presented by a federal agency to request a correction or to have it retracted. They can appeal in a process overseen by an independent inspector general (IG) if the agency denies their request. The appeal process would be filtered through a panel of political appointees – who will likely be named after the Senate confirms Trump’s EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.”

Yes.  Trump is filling in the slots of the judges who will decide such appeals.

And Pruitt, as we have mentioned here before, has sued the EPA 19 times.  How’s THAT for hope and nihilism?? 

Apollo 14 Edgar Mitchell

If that weren’t “chilling” enough, here is one of Trump’s groveling goons’ most putrid quotes about global warming: “The fact is that in modern society we have the technology to deal with environmental challenges, and that’s why people live in Phoenix,” Myron Ebell, the head of the former transition team, said. “Because warm is good, as long as we have air conditioning.” This is the same Ebell, who in an interview with the Associated Press, said that Trump would likely significantly reduce the EPA’s workforce from its current 15,000 employees to half that. Sensing that might be a little too generous, Ebell added, “President Trump said during the campaign that he would like to abolish the EPA, or ‘leave a little bit,’”

Yee- Haw!

So this is what we have to push against, and the frat boys from Krappa Delta Trump are doing their best to send us back to the intellectual dark ages by gonad-grabbing the Constitution, flatuating on decades of scientific research, and turning the US into one big fossil-fuel keg party.

Yeah, I know, it’s like urinating in a hurricane.  Utterly useless.  Please, please join us, where ever you are, where ever you live, in the March for Science on April 22. – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large

The Force is With Us

Don your pink-colored, knitted brain hats and ferret out your Granddad’s pocket protector – April 22nd has been chosen as the first-ever March for Science in which thousands of brainiacs will exchange their lab coats for placards and take to the streets in Washington DC as well as other cities around the globe to rally on behalf of “publicly-funded, openly-communicated, evidence-based research,” according to the Washington Post. The DC event (which is being held on this year’s Earth Day) will cap off with a rally on the Mall featuring speakers and scientific “teach-in” tents. Organizers say that more than 40,000 people have signed up online to volunteer for the event, which since its inception just two weeks ago has garnered over 800,000 followers on Facebook.

“We scientists are, in general, a reticent lot who would much rather spend our time in the lab, out in the field, teaching and doing research,” said one of the world’s leading climatologists, Professor Michael Mann of Penn State, in a recent interview with the UK’s Independent. Mann, who recently called out the Trump’s “assault on science” as putting the US “firmly back in the madhouse” of climate science denial, added that “It is only the most unusual of circumstances that gets us marching in the streets. Trump’s assault on science is just such a circumstance. And we are seeing a rebellion continue to mount.”

As of last weekend, other cities planning satellite marches include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Portland, Louisville, Oklahoma City and Miami.

Make America Think Again

According to leading astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the greatest threat to the US is from within as the rise in science illiteracy continues to grow.  DeGrasse Tyson told a sold-out crowd in Greensboro NC last week that Americans overall are “bad at science, scared of math, poor at physics and engineering, and resistant to evolution,” reports the Greensboro News and Record. “The consequence of that is that you breed a generation of people who do not know what science is nor how and why it works,” he warned. “You have mortgaged the future financial security of your nation. Innovations in science and technology are the (basis) of tomorrow’s economy.”

And America’s brain-drain decline isn’t unprecedented, Tyson added:

Just look back 1,000 years ago at the Middle East, where math and science flourished in Baghdad. Algebra and algorithms were invented in the Middle East. So were Arabic numerals — the numbers we still use today.

But when a new cleric emerged during the 12th century, he declared math and science to be earthly pursuits, Tyson said, and good Muslims should be concerned about spiritual affairs. The scientists drifted away, and scientific literacy faded from that part of the world.

Close Shave

This planet just dodged another bullet:  an asteroid the “size of a bus” grazed our upper atmosphere last Wednesday afternoon at about 3:25 PM Eastern Standard Time.  And it was close enough to slide between our Moon and the exosphere.  Gee, it’s a good thing we have so many scientific brains working on the detection and deflection of these cosmic wrecking balls.

Dream on!  The number of asteroid/astronomer scientists working on this planetary danger is, as the science community reminds the world continually, akin to the amount of “middle-class” multi-employed humans working in one McDonald’s fast-crap restaurant.  We wish we were being hyperbolic in this fact, but it is the unvarnished truth.

The near-Earth asteroid that kissed the planet last week was detected by the Slooh Community Observatory in the Canary islands on January 30 – far too late for any action to be taken had it been an Earth-smashing killer.  The space chunk was between 36 and 82 feet long (11 to 25 meters), and was traveling at a speed of 25,800 mph (42,000 km/h), or about 16 times faster than a bullet shot out of an AK-47 rifle, according to Slooh astronomer Erik Edelman.  Thank Dog we got rid of Obama before he could take our guns!  Again, we say, Thank You, Republicans!

Slipping Between the Cracks?

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that government investigators may have found a potentially dangerous pattern of cracking in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 turbine blades that could further delay the first crewed SpaceX missions. The Government Accountability Office’s report on the findings, which is still in draft form, won’t be officially released until later this month. Meanwhile, a company spokesperson told The Verge that while the rocket maker has designed its engines to withstand turbine splitting, t’s also working on ways to eliminate the problem. “We have qualified our engines to be robust to turbine wheel cracks,” said SpaceX’s John Taylor. “However, we are modifying the design to avoid them altogether.”

Back at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, the first mission to fly a previously-used first stage rocket came a step closer to reality with the successful firing of a recycled Falcon-9 booster in late January. The 15-story candle, which was launched originally in April 2016 (and was the first to safely land at sea atop a floating barge) is slated to loft 10 communications satellites this March.

Many thanks to Randall Munroe, xkcd.


Cooking With Gas

This false color view of Jupiter’s polar haze was rendered by “citizen scientist” Gerald Eichstädt using data from the Juno spacecraft’s JunoCam.

Holy Punxsutawney Phil, Batman! While us Earthlings last week were divining the sunning habits of a North American rodent to predict the weather, NASA’s Juno spacecraft was skimming 2,670 miles above the tops of Jupiter’s clouds while gathering new data that hopefully will unlock the mysteries of the gas giant’s tempestuous atmosphere “It’s never Groundhog Day when you are flying past Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “With every close flyby we are finding something new.” Revelations from previous Juno close encounters include eyebrow-raising discoveries such as the Jovian magnetic fields and aurora are bigger and more powerful than originally thought and that Jupiter’s cloud belts extend deep into the planet’s interior. Juno’s current 53-day orbit will bring it back in spitting distance to the gas giant on March 27th.

Double Take

NASA has made public the results of its “Kelly astronaut twin study,” and it is all too clear just how detrimental space travel can be on the human body.  In fact, it seems to be way worse than physiologists predicted.  As many readers know, NASA sent astronaut Scott Kelly up to the International Space Station in March of 2015, where he spent 340 days on board the claustrophobic free-floater platform – with other cosmonauts and astronauts coming and going freely every two weeks.  Meanwhile, Scott’s brother, Mark – a retired NASA astronaut – stayed put on terra firma.  This gave NASA a well controlled built-in experiment, since identical twins are exact genetic copies of each other.  Scott came back to Earth, the prodding and examining started, and the results were recorded.  Most reports explain the upshot in clouded, smoothed out terms that are utterly confounding. Strained vocabularies, like the word-salad “altered gene expression,” are used in an overly ginger fashion.

Science Alert is one source we found that didn’t mince words:  “[T]he effects are the total opposite of what scientists were expecting.”  Naturally, one would predict that space radiation would be hideously bad, worse than what we thought we could bare, say, on a trip to Mars.  But Science Alert (as far as we can tell, the only rag to simply state the results in normal and clear terms) explains that Scott’s “telomeres” lengthened.  Telomeres are the protective “tails” on the ends of chromosomes that protect cells from the evils of radiation and other toxins.  It’s a good thing, and apparently, these telomeres do not normally grow by themselves under Earth-like conditions. It means that the human anatomy may be able to compensate Darwinian-style for the hell that the Universe  – or rabid lawgivers – chuck at us! 

Galactic Pushover

According to a new study published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Astronomy, our Milky Way and its Local Group of galaxies are in the middle of a cosmic tug of war between a couple of previously-known dense regions of the universe and a newly-discovered “void,” lacking any galaxies.  “By 3-d mapping the flow of galaxies through space, we found that our Milky Way galaxy is speeding away from a large, previously unidentified region of low density. Because it repels rather than attracts, we call this region the Dipole Repeller,” study lead author Yehuda Hoffman from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said in a statement. Astronomers have long believed that our galaxy’s sprint through the cosmos was caused by the gravitational pull wielded by two dense galactic regions of the universe — the Great Attractor that contains a half dozen clusters of galaxies about 150 million light-years from us, and the Shapley Concentration that is populated with over two dozen clusters and is lurking 600 million light-years beyond the Great Attractor. Researchers hope now that this Dipole Repeller has been pinpointed , they will be able to calculate both the direction and the speed of Milky Way’s motion (which is now assumed to be an astounding 1.2 million miles per hour).

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