Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Space Exploration’ Category

ANOTHER INTERSTELLAR VISITOR, AND SO SOON!

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Back to science! (For now.) Space exploration more specifically, possibly my all time favorite branch of science. Well, second favorite. Molecular gastronomy is probably the ultimate science, though I’m really only interested in its results. Moving right along, Comet Borisov. It was discovered by Crimean amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov on August 29. He quickly realized it was a previously unknown object. His first calculations indicated it might come close to Earth, so he posted about it on the web. Other astronomers began observing Comet Borisov and determined it posed no danger to Earth. Phew, a 2 plus km comet hitting Earth would rival the worst impacts in Earth’s history. And within two more weeks astronomers had determined it was interstellar in origin, Borisov would sweep past the Sun never to return.

So far Borisov looks like a “normal” Oort Cloud comet. Its size is 2-16 km wide. The rest of this year it will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere, around December it will peak in brightness. After which it will head out of the Solar System, visible from the Southern Hemisphere as it departs our Solar System. It’s not going to come anywhere near any planets, and sadly will require at least an eight inch telescope to see. Poot, it would have been neat to lay eyes on an interstellar object, even if with binoculars.

Astronomers will no doubt point every available instrument at Borisov to learn whatever they can. Alas, a probe to it seems out of the question because of its velocity and direction of travel. If we had spotted it a few years earlier we might well have gotten a probe to it. Not surprisingly, since Oumuamua flew by in 2017, a lot of high IQ brainstorming has been done on how to intercept an interstellar flyby object.  In fact it still seems possible to send a probe to catch up with Oumuamua, and there’s been some talk of that. The big problem isn’t catching up with it, it’s being able to slow down enough to actually study it. Fodder for a future post.

Anyhow, I’m excited. Our second interstellar visitor in two years. I will post as more is discovered. Unlike Oumuamua, which was basically an unusual rock, Borisov seems pretty comet-like. So there likely won’t be much speculation about it being an alien probe or such. Except at the fringe of course, there’s never a fringe too far. So just for fun, here’s my theory on what the aliens are up too. Tongue seriously in cheek:

A few years back humans detected the very first known interstellar object flying through the Solar system. The odd asteroid-like Oumuamua. There was a certain amount of speculation that Oumuamua was artificial, but the science showed pretty clearly it was just a rock from the void. Oumuamua was discovered by the Pan-STARRS telescope, a telescope that just came on line in 2010. A telescope designed to watch the sky and spot small objects like Oumuamua. Before Pan-STARRS Oumuamua would have flown undetected through the Solar System. It was speculated that objects like Oumuamua are flying through the Solar System undetected all the time.

And now, a few years later, comet Borisov. Another Pan-STARRS find? Nope, big bright comet, of the type we have been spotting for centuries. Over 6,000 of them to date. And Borisov is the very first one of interstellar origin. It’s an interesting, but almost certainly meaningless coincidence. What are the odds? Well, at least 6,000 to one. However many rocks are flying through the Solar System, large interstellar comets are pretty rare. And speaking of odds, apparently the odds of Oumuamua passing so close to the Sun were like 100 million to one.

Then there wasTabby’s Star two years earlier in 2015. This was a nearby star that was dimming at irregular intervals, like nothing that had ever been seen before. At first there was speculation that the dimming might be caused by artificial orbital megastructures orbiting the star. It was pretty wild speculation, but fun while it lasted. Soon enough it was established that the dimming was caused by natural processes.

So in conclusion, in 2015, 2017, and 2019 humans have discovered unusual objects of interstellar origin, at least two of which hinted at the possibility of intelligent aliens. And the odds of these three-in-a-row almost simultaneous events are astronomical. (Sorry.) So … what if there are intelligent aliens watching us, and this is their way of breaking us in slowly to the idea? Presumably alien anthropologists are well versed on how catastrophic it can be for primitive societies to be contacted by technologically superior societies. At least if human history is any example. So if my hypothesis is correct, either something about Borisov will hint at alien origin, or something else interstellar will happen in 2021.

Maybe that’s when the mother ship arrives. Things always happen in threes though, so maybe Borisov is the mother ship. Queue music. Scientifically speaking, my guess is it will be comet like, but also unique in ways no one expected. Always a safe prediction when a brand new astronomical phenomena is investigated.

More on Saudi Arabia soon. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Pompeo is calling the attack an “act of war.” That can’t be good.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

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(Image: Borisov’s path through the Solar System. Note Borisov is travelling almost perpendicular to the plane the planets orbit on, so it will be well “below” Mars. Credit: NASA. This file is in the public domain in the United States because it was solely created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted”.)

Written by unitedcats

September 20, 2019 at 3:21 am

RANDOM RAMBLINGS PLUS AN INTERSTELLAR VISITOR

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This was an interesting week. Got kinda bad news from a few old friends. The good thing about growing old is you’re still alive. The bad thing is that the older one gets, the fewer of your friends and loved ones will be alive. Pretty safe to say that if you make it from 60 to 80, the large majority of your contemporary and older friends and acquaintances will be dead. A mixed blessing at best. You’ll get to eat more of your own birthday cake, but get fewer presents. Still, at this point it’s too late to die young and be a horrible warning, so I’m going to press on.

I also realized this week that my upper arm shattering in my fall last Christmas saved my life. It takes a lot of energy to shatter an upper arm bone, I mean the neighbors heard it snap. And I slammed into that wall with my shoulder, head, and neck, the arm bone breaking acted as a crumple zone. If it hadn’t broken the energy would have gone into my head and neck, where broken bones are a much more serious concern. Limbs are useful for something besides walking and pouring coffee, who knew?

Speaking of coffee, I realized this week, that despite drinking three or four cups of coffee a day for decades … I don’t really like coffee. Bad coffee, good coffee, all equally unappealing. I was essentially drinking out of habit. How did I come to this realization? Six weeks ago I started counting calories, and one thing I did was cut back to one cup of coffee a day. (With sugar and cream a cup of coffee is north of fifty calories.) Tuesday, after receiving bad news, I decided to say “eff it” to the diet for one day. I went and got myself a turkey/bacon sub with fries, it was delicious. And then I thought, “I’ll make myself a pot of coffee!” Followed by “Wait, I don’t feel like having coffee, I’d rather have a diet soda or two.” Live and learn.

I also realized this week that while I like the little rural town I live in, there’s no doubt it’s a comfortable little bubble of white privilege. I have layers of laws, state agencies, and federal agencies protecting me in my essentially gated community. All pretty much invisible to me, all designed to keep “undesirables” in their place. Such has it been for all of America’s history. Granted privileged classes are a problem in many places around the world, but I think America’s history of slavery and Native American genocide reinforced the cultural tendency in some uniquely ugly ways.  I know the word ‘privilege’ really pushes some buttons with some people. Telling someone they are privileged is not a pejorative. Topic for future blog posts no doubt,

On the topic of pushing buttons, I noticed in my travels through conservative cyberspace that OAC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) really pushes some buttons. The mindless hostility expressed towards her is legion. Not even sure what’s she’s saying that’s causing all the ruckus, but I have to assume she is hitting below the waterline. When your rhetoric reduces your political opponents to sputtering mindless rage, you’re doing something right. Alas mindless outrage seems to be the style these days in American politics, and it’s certainly not limited to conservatives. I just wish people would get outraged about things that matter. And while I’m at it I wish I had a pony.

OK, I don’t really want a pony. If given one, I suppose I could sell or eat it. In late breaking news, our Solar System is getting another visitor! A few years ago an interstellar asteroid dubbed Oumuamua flew past the Sun. Sadly it was small and already heading for the exit when astronomers spotted it. So the science gleaned was just enough to leave a zillion questions. This time, it’s a comet, dubbed Borisov, and we spotted it on its inbound run! It’s gonna zip past the Sun just beyond Mars’ orbit, which is an incredibly close encounter astronomically speaking. And this puppy is big, 20 km wide or so. I will read up on everything I can find about it on the weekend, Monday’s blog topic!

Puppies, ponies, I think I need a cat. There’s a CLO (cat like object) that lives in my house, but it’s not the same. Have a safe weekend everyone.

PS: Oh yes, gonna start running some ads on wordpress. I need new shoes. They will be as small and unobtrusive as practical.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: A pony like animal I photographed in the desert. Badly.  Credit: Doug Stych Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.)

Written by unitedcats

September 13, 2019 at 4:31 am

‘ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD’ AND OTHER NONSENSE

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I went and saw the latest Tarantino movie, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Some general spoilers ahead, as opposed to specific spoilers. People’s preferences for spoilers vary, some don’t want to hear any, other friends want me to describe the movie or book in detail. I have a friend who when he gets a new book, he reads the last few pages first. I still have trouble grasping the appeal of that, but whatever floats his boat. OK, the Tarantino movie. If one is a Tarantino fan, fine movie; not as good as his best, better than his worst.

If one isn’t a Tarantino fan, the movie is two and a half hours of boredom followed by ten minutes of blood curdling violence. “Look, she’s watching a movie!” “Look, what a cute dog!” “Look, they’re driving a car! Again!” I got so bored I started watching the backgrounds to count how many times the same vintage cars were used in the various scenes. Then blood everywhere, the end. See, I saved the reader $7. Or $37 if they live on the east or west coast.

So yes, immediately after the movie, I hated it. Upon further reflection, I don’t hate it as much. It was a tribute to 1970’s Hollywood, and in retrospect that part worked. The main plot and subplots all tied together nicely. There was some quirky Tarantonio style humour. The thing I liked most about the movie, well, I can’t say anything about it without giving it away. I guess all in all using a four star system, I give it a provisional three stars. To recap, If one isn’t into Tarantino films, meh, I can’t recommend ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.’ Everyone else, enjoy!

In real news India lost their first Moon lander Friday. And the first human attempt to land something at the Moon’s South Pole. Bummer all around. Well, they didn’t lose the Vikram Lander, they just lost communication with it moments before it landed. The lander’s orbital component, the Chandrayaan-2 satellite, spotted the Vikram Lander intact on the surface. That doesn’t mean it had a soft landing unfortunately. Attempts to resume communication with the lander will go on for at least two weeks, but it’s not looking good. On the plus side, the orbiter has the best camera yet to orbit the Moon, it can resolve features down to .3 meters (about a foot) accross. Most space missions these days have multiple functions, so that baring a catastrophic failure, at least some science can come out of it. In this case, great science, the best pictures yet of the lunar surface.

No clue yet why Chandrayaan-2’s lander failed, but like airliner crashes, a lot of work has been done in identifying why space missions fail. Teams of experts are likely already meeting to discuss the possibilities. And there are a lot of possibilities, space is a brutal environment. Extreme heat and cold, radiation, and even at the Moon’s distance (1.3 light seconds away from Earth) real time control from Earth isn’t possible. And I’ve always thought there must be all sorts of ways to subtly sabotage space missions. India has at least one rival who won’t be sad to see India fail.

In other world news, Trump has walked away from talks with the Taliban. So much for the US pulling out of Afghanistan and ending America’s longest and possibly most pointless war. Of course when it comes to pointless or even counterproductive wars, 21st century America is a Viking. So once again after a promising start to negotiations, Trump’s efforts at diplomacy have yielded a big fat nothing. At least he’s consistent.

In other Trump news, Trump is still tweeting about his incorrect hurricane prediction. It’s kinda scary, he apparently is unable to admit he was wrong. That’s not a pretty character trait in anyone. The image above was sent to me by a Trump supporting reader. It made me laugh and facepalm. What can I say, if someone’s painting shit on overpasses, they’re likely not too bright to begin with. Speaking of Trump (God, he seeps into everything these days, as if America was just one big load of white laundry that a red hat got tossed into,) every time now I wish readers to have a great week or weekend, I wonder if readers think it’s some subtle allusion to Trump.

No. I was saying ‘Have a great week!’ long before Trump was even visible in Clinton’s rear view mirror. Now though, I guess Trump has kinda claimed the word ‘great’ for his own. So, um, have a wonderful week everyone. (See, not an allusion to Trump.)

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: An overpass in the USA, circa Sept 2019. Credit: Anonymous, permission was given to publish it here.)

Written by unitedcats

September 9, 2019 at 4:49 am

ISS SPOTTED OVER IOWA

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I watched the ISS fly over the other night. That’s the International Space Station. It was just a bright star crossing the sky, but to space exploration nerds like me, twas a noble sight. We’ve come a long way since the Space Race of my youth. If the gentle reader wants to check the ISS out for themselves, this site shows the viewing times from almost any city. And thus one more item crossed off my bucket list. Do people even say “bucket list” anymore? Next item: Seeing a tornado live. That’ll make for a fun blog post. Or amusing tombstone epitaph, it’s win win! In any event, I have been saving space exploration links for awhile now, here’s some cool stuff in recent space exploration news.
An exotic yellow glass found in the world’s deserts in and around Egypt has finally had the mystery of its origin solved. Well, partly solved, science is annoying that way. The glass has been used for decoration since at least ancient Egyptian times, and dates to about 30 million years ago. The question has always been, was it formed in an asteroid airburst, or an asteroid impact event? The jury is now in, examination of the glass has revealed a mineral that can only be formed in the high pressure created in an impact event. The crater where it came from, doesn’t look like that is known. At 30 million years of age, geologic forces might have obliterated it by now. And while this glass is cool stuff, we’d rather avoid another impact event that would create it. NASA has got it covered.
A solution to transient lunar phenomena may be at hand. Basically since at least the 1960s astronomers have observed odd flashes or discoloration on the surface of the Moon. They may be brief or persist for a few hours. And after they are gone the Moon’s surface appears unchanged. The best guess is that they are gases being released by geologic activity, but no one knows. So a new telescope is being trained on the problem, and hopefully it will get to the bottom of it. With manned lunar outposts on the drawing boards, kinda important to know.
Japan is planning an ambitious mission to explore the moons of Mars. Mars has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos. Were they created by an impact event on Mars, or are they captured asteroids? Or maybe one of each? Astronomers don’t really know, but this ambitious mission that includes sample returns and a rover might reveal the answer. The plan is to get there in 2024, so soon enough. This would be the first rover on a minor Solar System body. And aside from the plain scientific curiosity about how the moons were formed, the moons may one day be used as manned way stations for the exploration of Mars. So the more we know about them the better.
That’s because the current long term thinking for humans exploring the Moon and Mars is to have large manned space stations around each. With some sort of shuttle to get to and from orbit. Then build ships to travel between the Moon and Earth or the Earth and Mars. Such ships wouldn’t have to take off or land, massively simplifying their design and allowing them to carry vastly more cargo. They would be human’s first true spaceships. It’s going to rock, I hope I live long enough to see it. Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves first, and with global warming advancing by leaps and bounds, that might be an optimistic assumption.
Even sooner than the Japanese mission, the biggest best rover ever is going to land on Mars in 2021. And it includes a helicopter! Yes, the first helicopter to fly off Earth. Mars only has about 1% the atmosphere of Earth, so its rotors are going to be really spinning. It will carry a little camera and a solar navigation system. Basically it’s a proof of concept mission, it will fly around and do some neat scouting and picture taking, but that’s about all. If it works, bigger better helicopters will go on future missions to Mars and other targets with atmospheres. The Drone Age is beginning in space as well as on Earth.
The 2020 Mars rover is going to be bad ass too, it will also be searching for life, and stashing samples for a possible future sample return mission. It’s also got new instruments, like a core drill and a mini bar. I will likely write a dedicated post about it as the launch date gets closer.
And turns out I had more space exploration links than I thought. So this post I just covered exploration of the Solar System. Next time, the rest of the Universe! Aliens! Cosmology in crisis!
Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.
(Image: A Facebook Meme. Credit: Unknown, used without permission. If anyone knows who to attribute it to, glad to comply. Or remove it as needed.)

Written by unitedcats

August 7, 2019 at 4:30 am

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!

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Every once and awhile the topic of interstellar travel comes up in my Facebook meanderings, and usually people say the distances are too great, humans will never spread to the stars. And I helpfully point out that flight times of 50-100 years to nearby stars are feasible, so there’s at least some chance humans will slowly spread out among the stars.* At this point there’s usually a chorus of people pointing out that the fastest probe humans have ever built will take tens of thousands of years to reach even the nearest star.

True enough. However, and it’s a big however, none of the probes we have launched were designed to travel to nearby stars. So it’s comparing apples to oranges. A number of design studies have been done, and without any exotic technologies, speeds of .12C (or higher!) are possible. 12% of the speed of light, IE up to 22,000 miles per second (35,000 kps) or 80 million mph (130 million kph.) These would be with some version of nuclear powered drives. That would get us to the nearest star in about 50 years. Of course that would be a flyby, basically a probe. Still, that means young people today could conceivably be alive to see the first images sent back from nearby stars. And assuming our hypothetical ship wants to stop when it gets there, flight times of 100 years so are possible.

Flight times like that are good for a probe, but even 50 years is stretching it for travellers. And I checked, even though .12C is a relativistic velocity, time dilation is minimal at that speed. Still, generation ships would be possible, that’s basically sending a colony into space, the colonists knowing that while they wouldn’t live to see Proxima Centauri, their children and grandchildren would. A more promising approach, and favored in so so much scifi, would be some sort of induced hibernation.

These sort of details seem solvable, but what if they hit something on the way? At .12C even a marble would likely do the trick. Still, interstellar space is very barren compared to the Solar System’s environs, and with hundreds of probes etc sailing around for decades, none has ever been hit by anything remotely large. And even then, a beryllium shield, and firing a dust cloud ahead of the ship to vaporise any large particles, should do the trick. Outer space really is incredibly empty. That’s why we can see stuff that’s billions of light years away, there’s very little between us. Would it be risk free? Of course not. Has that ever stopped human exploration before?

Which leads to another objection, are humans capable of projects that will take lifetimes to complete? To us westerners in our infantile instant gratification culture, yeah, seems unlikely. Historically speaking, there are examples of great projects being started that wouldn’t be finished for generations. The great cathedrals of Europe for example. And plenty of people travelled to the new world knowing full well their chances of ever coming back were minimal. So it’s easily within the range of human capabilities. And some people are trying at least.

So why aren’t we building and launching these bad boys? Easy, we need the money for the rich and our giant militaries. Yachts with their own yachts cost serious money people. Even a probe such as we are talking about would be hundreds of billions of dollars with no guarantee of success, and a century or more for results. I mean the money is there, but the human race at this point in time is ghastly with its spending priorities. And that’s a topic for historians and sociologists. My theory is that we’re not really an intelligent species.

Have a great weekend everyone, comments, suggestions, shares appreciated.

*This is what the Fermi Paradox is all about, even if only spreading at light speed, intelligent aliens should have colonized the entire galaxy long ago, where are they?

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Proposed Daedalus starship. Credit and copyright: Gerritse, used in accordance with Wikipedia guidelines.)

Written by unitedcats

July 26, 2019 at 4:00 am

MOON ROVER DREAMS

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Slow news week. History kind of goes in spurts, every once and awhile something big happens that shifts gears, but for the most part it’s just more of the same. (Iran and North Korea are great cases in point, while there is the occasional blip, for the most part things have been the same since 1979 and 1953 respectively.) So no big news, but I have a few half written posts. None I am inspired to finish right now. There’s always more Trump follies, but how people aren’t bored of that already is a mystery to me. In this day in history, well, 700 odd years ago the largest trebuchet in history was used to knock down a castle, but getting a whole post out of the story proved … challenging. So here we go, random inspirations …

Japan is planning a lunar rover for use in 2029. Pretty cool, inspired by this no doubt. OK, lots of doubt, but it’s still a cool parallel. We’re talking the full deal here, manned and pressurized. Refrigerated sake storage, the works. The sci fi of my youth finally coming true. I still remember stories and books from when I was a kid, where humans would have moon bases, if not interstellar travel, by the 70s. A wee bit optimistic it turns out, but better late than never. I know, I’ll write a post about interstellar travel. That’s the ticket. My desperate search for today’s content has borne future fruit. Interstellar travel is possible with today’s technology, and whenever I say that there are howls of protest. It will be a fun post.

In the opposite direction, a well preserved 500 year old ship has been found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Too cool for words, even some of its rigging appears intact. It’s nearly 500 feet down, hopefully beyond the reach of looters. And hopefully we have the technology to investigate it properly. It would be nice (I almost said ‘awesome’ but caught myself) if they could bring it up intact, but alas I suspect the cost would be prohibitive. At least to a species with priorities like ours. The best part, guess why it is so perfectly preserved? Viking cowshit! I kid you not. Parts of the Baltic have been low oxygen dead zones for much of the past 500 years, and the culprit is thought to be human activity. Too much nutrient load washed into the sea causes algal blooms, which die, sink to the bottom, and their decomposition uses up oxygen faster than it can be replenished by the mixing of seawater. See, there is a silver lining to wide scale ecological destruction.

A truly nuts conspiracy theory is making the rounds. Birds aren’t real. That’s right, the government killed them all in the sixties and replaced them with bird mimicking drones. They were killed off with specially modified B-52s, hat tip to the chemtrails folks I guess. Of course it’s absurd. In fact the “theory” was made up by one guy, it’s little more than a thinly veiled marketing scheme. Still, won’t surprise me if some take it seriously. If the Flat Earthers have taught us anything, there’s no bar too low for a conspiracy theory to squirm under. That’s why no links here, the times are crazy enough as it is without encouraging more.

And speaking of truly nuts, another from my “Gee, I guess normal people don’t do that file.” I miss a lot of memos it seems. Or my ‘update normal human behavior file’ is corrupt. Who knows, teams of mental health specialists have no clue. That was a joke. Was it an ableist joke? I don’t know, I hope not. Moving right along, I am active on the social site Agnostic.com. I have a profile, it has a section for pictures. I have a few of me, but mostly it’s a dozen or so of my all time favorite memes, cartoons, pictures, etc. I like to amuse people, and I think they give insight into what kind of person I am. So the other day I thought I’d check out what kind of pictures other people had posted in their profiles. And to my dismay, every single profile I checked only had a few pics posted, and all were pictures of the person in question, maybe some with pets and family. Oh well, another reason I’m still single.

So Friday, interstellar travel, already I have lots of thoughts. As always, comments, suggestions, shares appreciated.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Apollo Moon rover. Credit: NASA, used in accordance with NASA guidelines.)

Written by unitedcats

July 24, 2019 at 4:02 am

HEAT WAVE

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We survived the heat wave, I hope all my gentle readers did the same. Oh heck, all my readers, who am I to judge? I do like weather, but extreme heat or extreme cold I can live without. Fortunately my garret has an AC unit, so my suffering was limited to the times I ventured forth to obtain beer. Sadly, extreme weather events are the new normal as we proceed with our planetary experiment: ‘What happens when the Earth’s atmosphere is pumped full of greenhouse gases?’ We’re finding out more all the time, and oddly enough very little of it has been good. Who would have guessed? That’s a rhetorical question.

Someone asked me if the current nonsense going on with Iran will lead to war. I am always honored by such questions. The answer is, damned if I know. I don’t think so, the US has been goading Iran since 1979 or so, and it hasn’t led to war yet. Without the Iranian bogeyman it would be a lot harder to justify American militarisation in the region, not to mention it’s a great distraction for Saudi Arabia and Israel’s aggressive foreign policy.  I can predict that a war with Iran would almost certainly be a bad thing with unintended consequences. Always a safe prediction when it comes to wars.

In crime news I was pleased to see that the Jenner beach murders have been solved. A couple sleeping on the beach were shot to death in 2004. A horrible crime, big news at the time. I lived in Northern California then, heck, I’ve slept on beaches there. Basically the killer recently murdered his brother, and while being questioned about that, he essentially confessed to the beach murders. The murders were senseless, the killer had apparently damaged his brain with an LSD overdose. He was sentenced to life without parole. God rest the souls of his victims, I hope his capture and sentencing gives the friends and families of the victims what peace it can.

In today’s ‘What is wrong with people?’ file, some people are keeping leeches as pets. Let me repeat that, some people are keeping leeches as pets. Frankly I find it a bit disgusting, I couldn’t even finish the article. I grew up swimming in lakes with leeches, and I honestly have a hard time seeing the appeal. Some of them have striking colour patterns, but still, it’s a freaking leech. On the plus side, no need to worry about stocking leech food I guess. And another item for my upcoming post on “Things third worlders have a hard time grasping about Americans.”

And on the topic of disgusting creatures, Congress has called for an investigation into the theory that Lyme disease was created as a biological weapon spread by ticks. I note lots of people are taking it at face value, I’m skeptical. Pretty sure Lyme disease has been around a long time, and it’s easily treatable and not debilitating/fatal. And ticks as a vector? They are slow moving and easily defended against. Seems like an odd choice for a biological weapon all around.   And digging just a little on the Interwebs, expert opinion agrees with me. So I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for this investigation to find anything. Anything is possible though, money was spent on some pretty crazy stuff during the Cold War.

Did I hear a voice in the back? What about Chronic Lyme Disease (CLD,) that’s certainly debilitating! Well yes, it would be, if it actually existed. Like MSG sensitivity, CLD doesn’t appear to be an actual condition. Or more accurately, whatever it is, there isn’t any scientific reason to link it to Lyme Disease. People convince themselves of all sorts of things, which doesn’t mean their suffering isn’t real, just that science doesn’t know how to treat it yet. And yes, not kidding, double blind studies have yet to find a single human who has a bad reaction to MSG if they don’t know it’s in their food. Food for thought for some I hope.

Looks like India is poised to become the fourth spacefaring nation. They are doing it for the same reasons as Apollo in my last post. Good for them, India’s ambitions are no threat to the world. I actually wish the best for the people of all countries, we’re all in this together. People are people, most of them are decent human beings when push comes to shove. That’s why I am horrified by the current situation in America. So many on the right think liberals are monsters who should be put in zoos, and so many on the left think Trump voters are all knuckle dragging racists. Neither attitude is helping.

OK, that sure wandered. As always comments appreciated, shares as well, envelopes full of portraits of dead presidents on linen paper especially appreciated. Have a safe week everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Heat Wave. Credit: Snappygoat image, public domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

July 22, 2019 at 4:10 am

THE FIRST MANNED MOON LANDING, A GREAT DAY FOR AMERICA?

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July 20, 1969. The first time human beings walked on the Moon. I was 11 years old, we lived in a split level home in a small subdivision surrounded by farmland, near Crystal Lake, Illinois. It was actually the favorite place I lived as a kid, endless woods and farms and nearby lakes to explore and fish and catch snakes. And I was at the age where I was able to ride out on my bike on my own, it was heaven. Visited a few years back, now it’s strip malls and tract homes forever, such is progress.

And I was old enough to appreciate the first Moon walk, sort of. We watched on a TV in the rec room. Do people have rec rooms any more? The whole family watched, the image was grainy black and white, but it was sent from the Moon! I was filled with pride and excitement! Snort. I did mention I was 11? I was filled with the hope Armstrong would step out and be greeted by something really cool. Aliens, ruins, monsters. Anything! (I was an avid Star Trek and Lost in Space fan.) What did we get? A couple of guys traipsing around in a lifeless, airless, dusty, desert. Boring!

So, while we’re on the topic, a few points. Yes, the astronauts really did walk on the Moon! So so many lines of evidence support this fact. The Moon landings were one of the most well documented events in history, if they had been faked the Russians (among others) would have figured it out in no time. Just for starters, the motion pictures taken on the Moon couldn’t have been faked in the 1960s. The Moon rocks couldn’t be faked now, let alone in the 1960s. I could go on, but it’s all covered here. Basically, not believing in the manned Moon landings is like not believing the Holocaust happened. <insert rolled eyes>

A case that sometimes gets posited is that the space program is a waste of money. Well, yes and no, like a lot of claims, I wonder if the claimant thought it through. Even modest interwebs research shows that spinoffs from NASA research have been hugely beneficial, and impact our lives in positive ways every day. From weather satellites, to cordless vacuums, to Tang, we owe it all to NASA. So, money spent on NASA is a good thing, no brainer, right?

Well, certainly the NASA money spent developing the things we use is money well spent. Still, it’s not all been money spent on things we use. And couldn’t money have been spent on this research without all the terribly expensive manned flight programs? Cordless vacuums would be great for airplanes and submarines, it’s not like it took spacecraft to come up with the idea. It’s like the claim that war is great because it has resulted in all sorts of new technology. While neglecting to mention that this new technology is because during wars governments pour money into research! So maybe they could do that without the war part? Just saying. I’ve also heard that NASA rocket spending was cover for developing ICBMs. That I couldn’t substantiate, and since ICBMs were built before the Moon program even began, seems unlikely. Hell, the plan to nuke the Moon existed before the Apollo Program.

So kudos to all in the Apollo Program, putting men on the Moon in the 1960s was an incredible achievement with the technology of the day. One crew died in the attempt, another barely escaped with their lives. Still, I have to ask, what was the point? To beat the Russians to the Moon of course! Yes, but why was that so important that we spent billions of dollars and risked lives to do so? It wasn’t for science, science was basically tacked onto the Apollo program as an afterthought, it certainly wasn’t the impetus for the program. Everything we did on the Moon, including sample returns, could have been done far cheaper and at no risk to humans by using robotic landers. The fact that the last manned mission to the Moon was 47 years ago pretty much proves that point.

This is where I annoy people, lose readers, and just generally make an ass of myself. Still, the whole purpose of my writing is to make myself think, and hopefully make some people realize that there are different ways of looking at things. I would argue that the manned Moon program was part and parcel of American militarism and imperialism. Like the Star Spangled Banner before sporting events, it was fetishizing American militarism and the Cold War. Flag waving illustrated. Apollo helped normalize ideas of American exceptionalism, imperialism, and infinite government spending to make America “look great.” And like all great propaganda, the people people propagandized not only don’t realize it, they’re proud of it.

Have a great weekend everyone. Like this post? Please share.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Buzz Aldrin salutes the first American flag on the Moon. No comment. Credit: NASA. NASA’s photos may be used freely so long as they do not imply endorsement by NASA in any way. I can attest that not only does NASA not endorse Doug’s Darkworld in any way, they are likely not even aware of its existence.)

Written by unitedcats

July 19, 2019 at 4:12 am

Still Alone in the Universe

with 5 comments

mars

Alas, yet another well intentioned and optimistic attempt has been made to search for alien civilizations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for SETI (The search for alien technological civilizations) and am glad it gets done.  I just don’t think they are going to find anything, and am not surprised this latest search is a failure. Why? Some background first:

NASA has a satellite, the WISE satellite. Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. It basically made a survey of the sky in infrared. It was a big deal. Many new discoveries, thousands of asteroids, numerous star clusters, and a whole wealth of data about the skies. Including information on millions of galaxies. Then scientists with private funding (our precious tax dollars saved for ever more drone strikes) computer sifted through this data to find 100,000 promising galactic candidates for further investigation. They then hand searched these galaxies, looking for galaxies with signs of widespread industrial civilization. How is that? Well, the idea being that aliens that colonized a galaxy would use starlight to power industry, and thus the galaxy in question would be shy on starlight, but long on infrared, the waste product of industrial processes. The results? Nada. None of the galaxies showed anything that was obviously unnatural. A few warrant further looking, but there was certainly no smoking gun.

What can we glean from this? On the first pass, a Star Trek or Star Wars galaxy is ruled out. Bad news on one level, we won’t be joining any Galactic Federation anytime soon, because it doesn’t exist. That’s not surprising, the aliens in these sorts of imagined galaxies are pretty much just people with funny costumes. While it would be fun and comforting to find out that’s what aliens are like, there’s simply no reason to think aliens would be anything like us. In fact essentially all SETI has been doing is steadily eroding the idea of a universe populated by anthropomorphic aliens. At this point, it’s looking pretty grim for the Star Trek galaxy.

So what’s left? Well, maybe our idea of how advanced alien civilizations would look needs some tweaking. Most, if not all,  of our ideas about SETI involve searching for aliens who are acting like us. Granted, how to imagine aliens who aren’t like us is a bit tricky. I suspect the goal shouldn’t be to decide what to look for and look for it, but try to look for anything that doesn’t have a good natural explanation. Granted that’s a pretty nebulous concept in and of itself, but it has the advantage of eliminating our own prejudices about what aliens will be doing. And yes, it’s also limited by the fact that our understanding of what is and isn’t natural in the Universe is also pretty nebulous at this stage. Still, it would be a start, and I hope at least some in the SETI community are looking into searching for the unexpected.

Lastly, and the point that seems to distress so many people, it’s possible that we are alone. We simply don’t know how likely it is for species like ours to come along and start building technological stuff. Maybe it’s so incredibly unlikely that it’s only happened once. People love to claim that the size of the Universe means there “has” to be others, but that’s simply an argument from big numbers. What are the chances that one grain of sand on Earth contains an exact miniature replica of a McDonalds® outlet down to the smallest detail? Saying, there’s trillions of grains of sand so one must contain a miniature McDonalds® because there are so many grains of sand, is an absurd argument.

In any event I hope SETI continues. Heck, I wish it was better funded, but it’s too easy an idea to ridicule and there’s no SETI lobby to speak of, and certainly no SETI industry, so it’s going to continue to be a privately funded search. I wish SETI all the luck in the world, I just don’t recommend making any bets on it succeeding any time soon.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image was taken on Mars about a year ago by the Curiosity rover. As a NASA photograph, it is for most practical purposes, including inclusion in this blog, a public domain image. NASA does not in any way endorse Doug’s Darkworld. I used this image because, gee, Mars is sure looking like a barren lifeless rock. And because I still think its effing incredible that we have machines on Mars able to send pics like this. The blue sky means it’s sunset. On Mars the sky is normally scarlet or a bright orangeish-red colour. It turns rose at sunset and sunrise.)

Written by unitedcats

June 19, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Philae Calls Home

with 3 comments

x4

I know, it’s in the news. I have been insanely busy, and not able to post, but this came along and I just had to add my two cents. The Philae lander, a probe that made the first landing on a comet, has returned to life after seven months in unintended frozen hibernation on the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko. This is truly a historic moment in space exploration, I don’t think there’s ever been a case where communication was lost with a  probe, and then re-acquired months later. It’s a wonderful moment in an amazing mission in the ongoing Golden Age of space exploration. I will try to share my sense of awe and excitement. Humour me.

The twentieth century. It’s passed now, but it was packed with events. Most people now would talk of Hitler, communism, World Wars, assassinations, the rise of technology, etc. Future generations may remember it for one thing, on July 21 1969 humans first set foot on the Moon. The human exploration of the galaxy had begun. A true Golden Age of exploration had begun. When I was a kid all that was known of planets and bodies beyond Earth was a few fuzzy telescope pictures. All we knew about the Solar System (let alone the galaxy) could be summarized in a few pages in the beginning of atlases.

Well, a few decades later, and we have learned a few things. Dozens of probes have been sent out, some leaving the Solar System itself. And while many probes have been lost, most have succeeded. Humanity now has active probes all over the Solar System. Mars and the Moon are under continual satellite observation. It’s been the greatest Age of Exploration ever. Columbus re-discovered a few continents, we now discover new worlds almost daily.

And part of that exploration has been comets. As most people know, the Solar System is a bunch of planets orbiting the Sun. Also spinning around the Sun are small bodies of dirty ice, comets. Like Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko, helpfully illustrated above. It’s about 3 km (2 miles) long, not very big compared to Earth, but still, a flying mountain in space. And while it was still outside the orbit of Mars, the next planet out from Earth, the Rosetta space probe went into orbit around it. It was in fact the first probe to orbit a comet. Comets are believed to be leftover stuff from the birth of the Solar System,  so it is hoped this probe will help understand the early Solar System, the same way the actual Rosetta Stone helped understand human’s early history.

And after it went into orbit, the Rosetta Probe dropped the Philae lander, a probe about the size of a washing machine, which was to hit the comet and anchor itself to the surface. Alas, the surface of the comet was harder than anyone expected, and instead of anchoring itself safely, the lander bounced. And bounced. And bounced. And landed somewhere shady, worked for a few days, then went to sleep because its solar panels were in the shade. And that was that, the lander had done some good science in its few days, and there was some possibility it would wake up again as the comet got closer to the Sun, but most people wrote it off as one of many lost probes.

Nope. It’s back. Philae has called home. It survived months in the dark at about 35 degrees Kelvin (-400F, -240C) in a complete vacuum. So cold human flesh would almost instantly freeze solid. So cold virtually every device humans have made would instantly break as parts of it contracted in the cold. So inhospitable to human life that it’s hard to imagine. And even if one was in the sunlight on Churyumov–Gerasimenko, it would result in a fatal sunburn. And yet our engineers and scientists were able to build a robotic machine that survived intact and dormant in this frighteningly extreme environment, and has returned to life to send us more data.

This is human ingenuity at its best. This shows that humans can build machines to work in environments so extreme they don’t exist on Earth. This shows a desire to understand reality that is on par with other great human endeavours. This accomplishment was science fiction just a  few decades ago. Fantasy if not madness a few centuries ago. We may be destroying our own planet, but we are simultaneously reaching for the stars. That Philae has returned to life is a good sign. Let us be happy.

No worries, future posts will be more depressing.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Credit and copyright: Matt Wang, Flickr: anosmicovni. European Space Agency. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Relative to Downtown Los Angeles. And because people just have to know, if comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko was to hit Earth (it can’t) the results would be catastrophic. It would make a 40 km (25 mile) wide crater for starters. Continent wide devastation, global effects. It would be the worst disaster to ever befall the human race. It might even interfere with publication of this blog.)

Written by unitedcats

June 15, 2015 at 6:52 pm