November 7, 2016
By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor
M a n i n t h e M i r r o r
After 20 years of arduous development, the stupendous cutting-edge James Webb Space Telescope (JWT) is complete and on schedule for launch in 2018. And as the 2016 presidential election comes to an inglorious photo-finish pile-up tomorrow, we at Galactic Sandbox are crossing our fingers and toes, hoping that the next presidential administration will have the vision to allow this engineering marvel to widen the window of the cosmos for humankind.
Well, let’s be more specific …
While Donald Trump has not specifically mentioned the JWT in any of his pea-brained “space policy” statements during the past 18 months, if he were to become president, we would be certain no one would hear about the project ever again because it would be quietly cancelled and dismantled, with its 18 gold-plated mirrors installed in the Oval Office so the Pompadour-In-Chief can keep track of his tiny hands. (Trump did unveil a last-minute “space treatise” in what is most likely a cynical attempt to draw in swing state Florida voters)
In fact, we doubt that Trump even knows what a space telescope is or what it’s used for. But praise be to The Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, if all goes well, this should be the last week any of us have to listen to any more toxic hyperbole or insanity coming from the mouth of whom we will charitably call a human being.
Now back to the good stuff.
Considered the successor to the Hubble Telescope, the JWT is the largest space scope ever built, sporting 18 massive gold-coated mirrors – a collection area five times bigger than the Hubble’s (check out 10 fab things about James Webb scope). And unlike Hubble, it will collect infrared light, which will enable it to cut through obscuring cosmic dust to see the first stars and galaxies ever born in this universe. It also will be able to analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets, helping in the search for life outside of Earth.
The JWT is slated to launch on an Ariane 5 rocket in October of 2018, and has cost $8.7 billion, a price well worth the wonders it will bring to light after it is placed at what’s called the Second LaGrange Point (or L2) – a million miles away from Earth, but still orbiting the Sun.
On Tuesday, after Hillary Clinton beats the unholy crap out of anti-science Trump (we hope), I know all of us here at the Galactic Sandbox will be breathing a sigh of relief… not just for the sake of our ears but for the sake of Big Science. So if you haven’t voted by the time you read this, do so, and while we can’t tell you how to vote, ask yourself what kind of legacy you want to leave for future generations – a humanity with an ever-expanding universe at its gaze or a scorched, barren flat Earth? Happy Election Week!
– Kate Woods, Writer-at-Large and Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor
Starshade – Thanks to xkcd, Randall Munroe.
Y e a r o f t h e P i g
In a rare moment of candor, top Chinese officials last week criticized Donald Trump’s threat that if elected president, he would “cancel” the United States’ role in the Paris Climate Agreement. “If Trump were to insist on doing things his own way, then he would pay a heavy price both politically and diplomatically,” said Zou Ji, deputy directory of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy, reports Reuters. “The U.S. would suffer the greatest harm and of course, the rest of the world would also be implicated.” he added as part of his comments made on Friday. Earlier last week, Xie Zhenhua, head of the State Environmental Protection Administration and China’s lead negotiator for the U.N. climate change conferences, also lectured the Republican presidential nominee saying that leaders “need to be in line with global development trends,” and that a “country’s progress would be affected as a result,” As Galactic Sandbox readers know, Trump wants to topple the apple cart of the meager progress made toward reversing climate change while Hilary Clinton promises to uphold our end of the Paris Agreement, and plans to bypass global-warming tin foil hat deniers in Congress to create new anti-climate change legislation. Fortunately, in the colossally embarrassing event Trump is elected, it would be difficult for him to back out since accord signatories had taken into consideration the U.S. political system and its built-in change of leadership when negotiating the deal. Also, the difficulty for a Trump president to disentangle the U.S. from the agreement has been additionally compounded since the historic Paris accord officially became international law on Friday.
H o m e o f t h e G r a v e
In case you still have doubts about about a Clinton or Trump presidency, the pioneering environmental group Sierra Club recently released a new report stating that if elected president, Donald Trump would be the lone world leader who rejects the science of climate change and that fossil fuel consumption is the primary cause. The finding puts an exclamation mark on most green organizations’ contention that Trump and the U.S. Republican Party stand as solitary luddites in the world on their shameful denial regarding global warming. “World leaders change, but Donald Trump’s total ignorance of science remains the same. Electing a climate science conspiracy theorist such as Trump would make America a global laughingstock and embarrassment, all while relinquishing our leadership role in the world, said Sierra Club’s national political director Khalid PItts, according to The Hill. “The ice caps don’t negotiate, and neither do rising seas,” he noted, adding that “Donald Trump’s moral failure to acknowledge the climate crisis might very well mean planetary disaster if he is elected.”
A d d i n g F u e l t o t h e F i r e
A NASA advisory committee has issued an additional stern warning to Elon Musk’s commercial Space X venture over its proposed unorthodox method of fueling future crewed rockets, reports the Wall Street Journal. Last December, the space agency’s blue ribbon nixed Space X’s plan to pump rocket fuel with astronauts already strapped atop of the company’s space taxi – a practice that goes against decades of international space launch policy. Obviously still concerned in light of last September’s spectacular unmanned Space X rocket explosion that occurred during a routine fueling exercise, the committee last week reiterated its disapproval of the enterprise’s novel approach of using a supercooled powerful propellant that requires to be burned within a half hour of being dispensed. So far, the only response by Space X is that the firm “has designed a reliable fueling and launch process that minimized the duration and number of personnel exposed to the hazards of launching a rocket,” according to a company spokesman.
In a related development, Space X CEO Musk in a CNBC interview Saturday said he believes his firm has solved the riddle of the September 1 Falcon 9 blast, explaining that it was the “toughest puzzle” they ever had to solve. “It basically involves liquid helium, advanced carbon fiber composites, and solid oxygen … so cold that it actually enters [a] solid phase.” Musk is confident that launch activities will be able to resume next month.
E g g s t r a t e r r e s t r i a l
NASA’s hyper-industrious Curiosity Mars rover has located and examined with laser precision a golf-ball-sized object on the Red Planet that it has identified as an iron-nickel meteorite. While such objects are a common class of space rocks found on Earth and Mars, this particular sample, dubbed “Egg Rock” for its odd ovate appearance, is the first time a rover has used a laser-firing spectrometer to test such metallic orbs. And predictably, this is not the first time UFO “experts” are claiming that the “egg” is proof of life outside our own planet. While we couldn’t find exact links, there are various news reports citing head spinning ET devotees waiting for the egg to “hatch” and New Agers proclaiming the discovery may signal an “imminent ascension.” (whatever that means) Tin foil hats all around!
B a c k i n t h e S a d d l e
Image of the sunlit part of Jupiter and its stormy atmosphere was recently compiled by “citizen scientist” Alex Mai using data from Juno’s JunoCam. Raw Juno images can be found here.
NASA’s state-of-the-art Jupiter probe is now out of safe mode, and has successfully completed a maneuver that will take it to its next close flyby of the Gas Giant. According to the space agency, mission controllers are still investigating the cause of a system “reboot” that put the craft in temporary hibernation on October 18th. Scientists are crossing their fingers for the next science swing-by slated for December 11, when a gaggle of instruments including the JunoCam imager, will be collecting data.
S e r v i n g U p H u m a n k i n d
Don’t be so eager to contact ET. That’s what celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking reiterates in his new half-hour documentary, called “Stephen Hawkings’ Favorite Places.”
The black hole guru warns humanity that aliens could be up to no good once they arrive at Earth, saying they could end up being “rapacious marauders” out to colonize and rape the resources of planets. In this new project (and with the help of special effects), Hawking whips around in an imaginary spacecraft to witness the Big Bang, the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy, Saturn and its moons, and a potentially habitable planet scientists discovered called Gliese 832c. Hawking says that someday we might receive a signal from Gliese 832c. “But we should be wary of answering back,” he says. “Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.” No. It sure didn’t.
O f N o t e T h i s C o m i n g W e e k
- Largest Supermoon in 70 years on the evening of November 13-14
- National Geographic Mars mini series premiers tonight, November 7.