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[VIDEO] NASA Releases Video with Never-Before Seen Images of Pluto 

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Detailed images taken by New Horizons spacecraft revealed in new NASA video, showing surface and potential landing on the dwarf planet Pluto.

 

 

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The Evolution of the Japanese Ego: Part I 

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Michael Hoffman writes: When Adam and Eve defied God, creator and master of the universe, and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, what did they learn? To say “I.”

They learned that they were “naked” — they were selves, egos. As such, there was no place for them in paradise. Their expulsion was “the fall of man,” narrated in the biblical Book of Genesis.

This seems a long way from Japan. It is. Japanese myth records no “fall,” no defiance of the undefiable, no primeval descent into selfhood. The Japanese ego evolved very differently from the Western one.

This is the introductory installment of a four-part series examining what the Japanese mean when they say “I.”

A peculiarity of the Japanese language gives it many first-person pronouns, varying with circumstances, rank, age and gender, but comparatively few occasions to use them. Japanese often leaves sentence subjects
unspoken. You can speak of yourself without emphasizing and reinforcing, as Western languages force you to do, your “I-ness.”

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Japanese tradition denigrates not only selfishness but selfhood. To Buddhism it was a delusion; to Confucianism, an object of “self-cultivation” whose ultimate object is self-denying, society-dedicated “benevolence.” Bushido, the “way of the warrior,” was especially hard on the self. “The way of the warrior is death,” declared the grim 18th-century military treatise known as the “Hagakure.” “This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death.” The self that instinctively protests51e9jgsshl-_sl250_ its death sentence must be rigorously suppressed: “Every day without fail one should consider oneself as dead.”

[Check out Michael Hoffman’s book, “In The Land of the Kami: A Journey Into The Hearts of Japan at Amazon.com]

The first “I” in Japanese literature is identifiable but not nameable — her name is unknown. A noblewoman and poetess, she lived in 10th-century Kyoto and left posterity a diary — the “Kagero Nikki” (“Gossamer Diary”). It’s a brilliant portrait of a soul in torment. Her “I” is her suffering; her suffering forces her into the black hole of selfhood. Hers is no plea for individualism; if anything she pleads for release from it. She would be anyone other than herself, if only she could. Other people were like other people; only she was different, condemned to the morbid isolation of selfhood by an insufficiently attentive husband and the perversity (which she admits) of her own feelings. Sharing a husband was gall to her. Polygamy among the aristocracy was the norm. Other noblewomen resigned themselves to it, more or less graciously. Why couldn’t she? Why did she alone torture herself over slights and neglect that others shrugged off? Because she was she. She wanted a husband “30 days and 30 nights a month,” and, knowing she demanded the impossible, refused to settle for less. “If only the Buddha would let me be reborn in Enlightenment,” she prays. In other words: If only the Buddha would release me from the agony of selfhood. It never happens.

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Between the long peace of her time and the long peace of the Edo Period (1603-1868) stand 500 years of war — civil war, mostly — in which bushido prevailed. Life was nothing, death everything, the self a mere sacrifice to be laid on the altar of loyalty. Read the rest of this entry »


Study Crashes Main Moon-Formation Theory

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Paris (AFP) – The Moon, our planet’s constant companion for some 4.5 billion years, may have been forged by a rash of smaller bodies smashing into an embryonic Earth, researchers said Monday.

Such a bombardment birth would explain a major inconsistency in the prevailing hypothesis that the Moon splintered off in a single, giant impact between Earth and a Mars-sized celestial body.

“The multiple impact scenario is a more ‘natural’ way of explaining the formation of the Moon.”

In such a scenario, scientists expect that about a fifth of the Moon’s material would have come from Earth and the rest from the impacting body.

Yet, the makeup of the Earth and the Moon are near identical — an improbability that has long perplexed backers of the single-impact hypothesis.

“In the early stages of the Solar System, impacts were very abundant, therefore it is more natural that several common impactors formed the Moon rather than one special one.”

“The multiple impact scenario is a more ‘natural’ way of explaining the formation of the Moon,” said Raluca Rufu of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, who co-authored the new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Such multiple hits would have excavated more Earth material than a single one, which means the moonlets would more closely resemble our planet’s composition, said the study authors. Read the rest of this entry »


Humans May Have One Thing that Advanced Aliens Don’t: Consciousness

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It May Not Feel Like Anything To Be an Alien

Susan Schneider writes: Humans are probably not the greatest intelligences in the universe. Earth is a relatively young planet and the oldest civilizations could be billions of years older than us. But even on Earth, Homo sapiens may not be the most intelligent species for that much longer.

“Why would nonconscious machines have the same value we place on biological intelligence?”

The world Go, chess, and Jeopardy champions are now all AIs. AI is projected to outmode many human professions within the next few decades. And given the rapid pace of its development, AI may soon advance to artificial general intelligence—intelligence that, like human intelligence, can combine insights from different topic areas and display flexibility and common sense. From there it is a short leap to superintelligent AI, which is smarter than humans in every respect, even those that now seem firmly in the human domain, such as scientific reasoning and social skills. Each of us alive today may be one of the last rungs on the evolutionary ladder that leads from the first living cell to synthetic intelligence.

What we are only beginning to realize is that these two forms of superhuman intelligence—alien and artificial—may not be so distinct. The technological developments we are witnessing today may have all happened before, elsewhere in the universe. The transition from biological to synthetic intelligence may be a general pattern, instantiated over and over, throughout the cosmos. The universe’s greatest intelligences may be postbiological, having grown out of civilizations that were once biological. (This is a view I share with Paul Davies, Steven Dick, Martin Rees, and Seth Shostak, among others.) To judge from the human experience—the only example we have—the transition from biological to postbiological may take only a few hundred years.

AI robot Ava in the film Ex Machina. Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

I prefer the term “postbiological” to “artificial” because the contrast between biological and synthetic is not very sharp. Consider a biological mind that achieves superintelligence through purely biological enhancements, such as nanotechnologically enhanced neural minicolumns. This creature would be postbiological, although perhaps many wouldn’t call it an “AI.” Or consider a computronium that is built out of purely biological materials, like the Cylon Raider in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series.

The key point is that there is no reason to expect humans to be the highest form of intelligence there is. Our brains evolved for specific environments and are greatly constrained by chemistry and historical contingencies. But technology has opened up a vast design space, offering new materials and modes of operation, as well as new ways to explore that space at a rate much faster than traditional biological evolution. And I think we already see reasons why synthetic intelligence will outperform us.

Silicon microchips already seem to be a better medium for information processing than groups of neurons. Neurons reach a peak speed of about 200 hertz, compared to gigahertz for the transistors in current microprocessors. Although the human brain is still far more intelligent than a computer, machines have almost unlimited room for improvement. It may not be long before they can be engineered to match or even exceed the intelligence of the human brain through reverse-engineering the brain and improving upon its algorithms, or through some combination of reverse engineering and judicious algorithms that aren’t based on the workings of the human brain.

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In addition, an AI can be downloaded to multiple locations at once, is easily backed up and modified, and can survive under conditions that biological life has trouble with, including interstellar travel. Our measly brains are limited by cranial volume and metabolism; superintelligent AI, in stark contrast, could extend its reach across the Internet and even set up a Galaxy-wide computronium, utilizing all the matter within our galaxy to maximize computations. There is simply no contest. Superintelligent AI would be far more durable than us.

[Read the full story here, at Cosmos on Nautilus]

Suppose I am right. Suppose that intelligent life out there is postbiological. What should we make of this? Here, current debates over AI on Earth are telling. Two of the main points of contention—the so-called control problem and the nature of subjective experience—affect our understanding of what other alien civilizations may be like, and what they may do to us when we finally meet.

Illustration by Norwegian cartoonist and illustrator, Kristian Hammerstad, from “Rise of the Robots,” a New York Times Sunday Book Review article, May 11, 2015.

Illustration by Kristian Hammerstad

Ray Kurzweil takes an optimistic view of the postbiological phase of evolution, suggesting that humanity will merge with machines, reaching a magnificent technotopia. But Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others have expressed the concern that humans could lose control of superintelligent AI, as it can rewrite its own programming and outthink any control measures that we build in. This has been called the “control problem”—the problem of how we can control an AI that is both inscrutable and vastly intellectually superior to us. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Apollo 8’s Christmas Eve Message

On December 24th, 1968, Apollo 8 made its final pass around the moon and the crew, in turn, sent home this message:

Bill Anders
“We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.
‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.'”

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Jim Lovell
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

earth_lg Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] The Gift of Apollo

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Rocket Men: Why Tech’s Biggest Billionaires Want their Place in Space

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Forget gilded mansions and super yachts. Among the tech elite, space exploration is now the ultimate status symbol.

On board was a $200m, 12,000lb communications satellite – part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project to deliver broadband access to sub-Saharan Africa.

Zuckerberg wrote, with a note of bitterness, on his Facebook page that he was “deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite”. SpaceX founder Elon Musk told CNN it was the “most difficult and complex failure” the 14-year-old company had ever experienced.

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It was also the second dramatic explosion in nine months for SpaceX, following a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” of a booster rocket as it attempted to land after a successful mission to the International Space Station.

Later that day, Nasa’s official Twitter account responded: “Today’s @SpaceX incident – while not a Nasa launch – reminds us that spaceflight is challenging.”

Yet despite those challenges, a small band of billionaire technocrats have spent the past few years investing hundreds of millions of dollars into space ventures. Forget gilded mansions and super yachts; among the tech elite, space exploration is the ultimate status symbol.

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Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, is arguably the most visible billionaire in the new space race. The apparent inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character in Iron Man, Musk has become a god-like figure for engineers, making his fortune at PayPal and then as CEO of luxury electric car firm Tesla and clean energy company Solar City. Yet it is his galactic ambitions, insiders say, that really motivate him. “His passion is settling Mars,” says one.

[Read the full story here, at The Guardian]

SpaceX has completed 32 successful launches since 2006, delivered cargo to the International Space Station and secured more than $10bn in contracts with Nasa and other clients. Musk has much grander ambitions, though, saying he plans to create a “plan B” for humanity in case Earth ultimately fails. He once famously joked that he hoped to die on Mars – just not on impact. Read the rest of this entry »


One of Obama’s Successes was Bringing Capitalism into Outer Space. Trump Should Follow his Lead

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Space Age comeback?

Glenn Reynolds writes: Space entrepreneur Peter Bigelow, who’s working on hotels in space, wants the Trump Administration to sharply increase NASA spending. But although I’m all in favor of making America’s space program great again, I’m not so sure that pumping money into NASA is the way to do it. For that matter, I’m not even sure that the term “space program” makes much sense in the 21st century.

Image: vintagefuture.tumblr.com

Rather than a space program, what we really have is a package of space policies. Unlike the Apollo era, when the nation was fixed on a single major goal of landing men on the Moon before 1970, we now want a bunch of different things, all of them important, but no single one of them is our sole focus. And, honestly, much of what’s going on at NASA isn’t even close to overridingly important.

[Read the full story here, at USAToday]

The good news is that, as I’ve noted before, space — at least the burgeoning commercial space industry — has been one of the Obama Administration’s notable policy successes.  Where not long ago the United States was looking at an aging fleet of increasingly dangerous space shuttles, we now have a flourishing collection of private companies providing transportation into earth orbit, from SpaceX, to Blue Origin, to Virgin Galactic, to a number of smaller companies. (Full disclosure: I own a small amount of friends-and-family stock in one of those smaller companies, XCOR Aerospace). Moon Express even plans to land a robot on the Moon.

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As a recent piece in The Washington Post noted, whatever his policies on Earth, Obama has brought capitalism to outer space. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] NASA’s First Asteroid-Sampling Mission Lifts Off 

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NASA on Sept. 8 launched the first U.S. mission to collect and return an asteroid sample, in hopes of learning more about how the solar system coalesced and life came to be.


[VIDEO] NASA Just Launched a Spacecraft to Steal Some Asteroid Particles 

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NASA just successfully launched its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on an Atlas V rocket. Now, the vehicle is on its way to scoop up pieces of an asteroid and bring them back to Earth, a journey that will take seven years to complete. But if successful, those asteroid pieces could tell researchers a lot about the early Solar System and how life got started on our own planet. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Jupiter’s Red Spot Is Red Hot

What Jupiter’s spot is not, is tranquil. New infrared images taken by Boston University scientists on a NASA telescope in Hawaii show that whereas Jupiter’s north and south poles are heated by strong magnetic fields, its large, stormy red spot generates its own heat by a different mechanism. Shock waves from turbulent winds in the spot and other storms help explain how the planet’s upper atmosphere stays warm so far from the sun. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] A Quick History of Space Exploration 

Orbital Sciences will once again attempt to rendezvous with the International Space Station when it launches the Cynus spacecraft aboard its Antares rocket, shown here in a file photo of an earlier launch. Photo courtesy Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences will once again attempt to rendezvous with the International Space Station when it launches the Cynus spacecraft aboard its Antares rocket, shown here in a file photo of an earlier launch. Photo courtesy Orbital Sciences

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Artist's concept of the new SpaceX Dragon, which may one day fly from Brownsville, Texas (Image: SpaceX)

Artist’s concept of the new SpaceX Dragon, which may one day fly from Brownsville, Texas (Image: SpaceX)

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From the first rocket launch in 1926 to Gagarin, Armstrong, Hubble, Curiosity and beyond, take a fast ride through the 90 years of human space exploration. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] One Year on Earth: Seen From 1 Million Miles

On July 20, 2015, NASA released to the world the first image of the sunlit side of Earth captured by the space agency’s EPIC camera on NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite. The camera has now recorded a full year of life on Earth from its orbit at Lagrange point 1, approximately 1 million miles from Earth, where it is balanced between the gravity of our home planet and the sun.

EPIC takes a new picture every two hours, revealing how the planet would look to human eyes, capturing the ever-changing motion of clouds and weather systems and the fixed features of Earth such as deserts, forests and the distinct blues of different seas. EPIC will allow scientists to monitor ozone and aerosol levels in Earth’s atmosphere, cloud height, vegetation properties and the ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth.

The primary objective of DSCOVR, a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Air Force, is to maintain the nation’s real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of space weather alerts and forecasts from NOAA. Read the rest of this entry »


NASA’s Juno Mission Is About to Perform Its Most Dangerous Maneuvers 

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Jennifer Ouellette reports: NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been spinning through space on its way to Jupiter for five years and 445 million miles, and now it’s less than 10 hours away from entering the gas giant’s orbit—the equivalent of a single rotation of Jupiter. If all goes well, scientists will finally be able to learn what lies beneath Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, examine its impressive magnetosphere, and possibly determine the composition of its core.

“If Juno gets hit even by a small piece of dust, it can do a great bit of damage,” he said. “We believe probability is incredibly low that Juno will hit dust or debris, but it’s not zero. Even a 10 micron particle could do some damage moving at the speed we’re moving.”

— Juno project manager Scott Bolton

But first, it’s going to have to execute a tricky 35-minute engine burn under the harshest conditions any NASA spacecraft has yet faced. And that has Juno mission scientists on edge today. They’ve modeled every scenario they can think of, and planned for every contingency. But as Juno project manager Scott Bolton said in this morning’s briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, “This is the highest risk phase.”

“We’ve done everything humanly possible to make this mission a success, but it’s still a cliffhanger,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.

Artist’s concept of Juno sweeping through Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s concept of Juno sweeping through Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thus far, the mission has gone off without a hitch, but plenty could still go wrong. For instance, what if the main engine doesn’t fire on cue to start the burn, so far from the sun? “We’ve fired the main engine twice successfully and the third time should be a charm,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager. “But this is the first time we’ve ever fired the main engine at Jupiter. It’s make or break for us.”

Then there’s the intense radiation from Jupiter’s enormous magnetosphere. According to Heidi Becker, lead investigator for Juno’s radiation monitoring, this translates into millions of high energy electrons moving near the speed of light. “They will go right though the spacecraft,” she said. “It’s the equivalent of 100 million x-rays in less than a year for a human being if we had no protection.”

Juno’s polar orbit will avoid the worst of the radiation belts at the planet’s equator, but other high-intensity regions are unavoidable. Read the rest of this entry »


U.S. Set to Approve Moon Mission by Commercial Space Venture 

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Startup Proposes to Land Payload of Scientific Gear on Lunar Surface Some Time Next Year.

Andy Pastor reports: U.S. officials appear poised to make space history by giving the green light to the first private mission aiming to go beyond Earth orbit, according to people familiar with the details.

The government’s endorsement would eliminate the largest regulatory obstacle to plans by Moon Express, a relatively obscure space startup, to land a roughly 20-pound package of scientific hardware on the Moon sometime next year. It also would provide the biggest federal boost yet for unmanned commercial space exploration and, potentially, the first in an array of for-profit ventures throughout the solar system.

The expected decision, said the people familiar with the details, is expected to set important legal and diplomatic precedents for how Washington will ensure such nongovernmental projects comply with longstanding international space treaties. The principles are likely to apply to future spacecraft whose potential purposes range from mining asteroids to tracking space debris.

Approval of a formal launch license for the second half of 2017 is still months away, and the proposed mission poses huge technical hurdles for California-based Moon Express, including the fact that the rocket it wants to use hasn’t yet flown.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

But the project’s proponents have considered federal clearance of the suitcase-size MX-1 lander and its payload as well as approval of a planned two-week operation on the Moon itself to pose the most significant legal challenges to the mission.

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After months of lobbying by Moon Express officials and high-level deliberations among various federal agencies led by the White House science office, the people familiar with the matter said, the company appears close to obtaining what it has called “mission approval.” Until recently, Moon Express faced a regulatory Catch-22 because there was no template for getting Washington’s blessing for what it proposed.

Official action coordinated through the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates U.S. rocket launches and is responsible for traditional payload reviews, could come as soon as the next few weeks, these people said. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] On a Rocket Launch to Space

On November 6th, 2015 UP Aerospace Inc. launched the 20-foot (6 meter) tall SL-10 rocket into near-space. The mission: deploy the Maraia Capsule testing the aerodynamics and stability of the payload on re-entry to the atmosphere. The rocket reached an altitude of 396,000ft (120,700 meters) and speeds up to Mach 5.5 (3800mph or 6115km/h) at engine burnout.


Kennedy Space Center Displays Suit Worn By Buzz Aldrin While Lobbying For NASA Funding

CHANTILLY, VA - DECEMBER 5: A member of the media walks by space paraphernalia in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Smithsonian's new addition to the National Air and Space Museum December 5, 2003 in Chantilly, Virgina. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center sits nearly 30 miles west of Washington DC in Virginia and is home to such flying objects as the Space Shuttle Enterprise, Enola Gay B-29 Bomber, the Concord, SR-71 Spy Plane, and others. The center is scheduled to open December 15, 2003. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL—Expressing their excitement to share the historic item with visitors, Kennedy Space Center officials confirmed Thursday that the suit worn by Buzz Aldrin on February 24, 2015 when he lobbied the Senate to increase NASA funding was now on display for public viewing. “We are honored to add to our collection the actual jacket and trousers Dr. Aldrin wore that fateful day when he stepped out into room 253 of the Russell Senate Office Building and uttered the immortal words ‘I wish to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak with you about the future of American human spaceflight,’” the facility’s associate director, Kelvin Manning, said of the charcoal single-breasted suit, which was displayed together with the crisp button-down shirt, mission patch–patterned tie, and various lapel pins the former astronaut donned as he made the case for expanding the U.S. space program through strategic investments…(more)

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Raw: NASA Ultra HD Video of Aurora Borealis

NASA used 4k ultra-high definition technology to release vibrant video of the Aurora Borealis, created with time-lapses shot from the International Space Station.


Monetizing Junk from Outer Space: Art Collectors Bid on Rare Meteorites

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Bruce Dormancy writes: Holiday shopping for items from the Moon, Mars and the wilds of outer space is still possible for those open to meteoritic stocking stuffers. Such truly ancient pieces of space rock — think older than Earth itself — are increasingly sought after by hundreds of high-end collectors looking for natural pieces of sculpture.

Although a plethora of commercial startups are pining for metal riches from asteroids in the Main Asteroid Belt and beyond, meteorite collectors here on terra firma now routinely buy and sell these off-world treasures at auction.

Christie’s South Kensington Auction House in London is planning their first catalog sale of meteorites next April. Prices typically range from around $500 to over $100,000, depending on the size, type of meteorites, condition and provenance, James Hyslop, the Head of Science & Books at Christie’s South Kensington, told me.

However, some meteorites can sell for much higher.

This meteorite was part of the Chelyabinsk meteorite shower of February 15, 2013. Unlike 95% of all other meteorites, this meteorite did not tumble or invert during its descent to Earth. To be sold at Christie's in April 2016. (It measures 4.5 inches across and weighs 2 pounds). Credit: © Mark Mauthner / Christie's

This meteorite was part of the Chelyabinsk meteorite shower of February 15, 2013. Unlike 95% of all other meteorites, this meteorite did not tumble or invert during its descent to Earth. To be sold at Christie’s in April 2016. (It measures 4.5 inches across and weighs 2 pounds). Credit: © Mark Mauthner / Christie’s

The Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing paid a cool $1 million for two small Mars meteorites. Indeed, Hyslop says lunar and Martian meteorites are the most sought after, since they are also the most rare; representing less than one percent of the estimated 62,000 catalogued meteorites. The rest all originate from asteroidal or cometary bodies in deep space.

[Read the full story here, at Forbes]

Darryl Pitt, Curator of the Macovich Collection of Meteorites in New York — one of the world’s largest private collections, told me that any given meteorite’s sales value is also influenced by other factors. They include whether the piece is whole or fractured; its locality at the time of discovery; its esthetics; color; crystalline structure and translucency.

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And often, the more bizarre their shapes, the better collectors like it. Hyslop notes that meteorites with naturally-occurring holes are much rarer and more highly-prized.

Alan Rubin, a UCLA research geochemist, told me that such bizarre shapes result from both fragmentation while traveling through Earth’s atmosphere and often years of terrestrial weathering after hitting the ground.

But the hot quick trip through our atmosphere is nothing to compared to their circuitous orbital routes to Earth itself.

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For meteorites that originated on the Moon or Mars, their journeys here can take up to millions of years. Most lunar meteorites either reach the Earth in a few days or achieve quasi-geocentric orbits that bring them to Earth in less than a million years,” said Rubin.

Mars meteorites typically take much longer.

Rubin says we know this as a result of cosmic ray dating on the meteorites themselves.

He says that when objects in interplanetary space are less than a few meters in size, they are penetrated by cosmic rays which transmute some elements into measurable radioactive isotopes. Read the rest of this entry »


Space: The Visionaries Take Over

Charles Krauthammerkrauthammer-sm writes: Fractured and divided as we are, on one thing we can agree: 2015 was a miserable year. The only cheer was provided by Lincoln Chafee and the Pluto flyby (two separate phenomena), as well as one seminal aeronautical breakthrough.

On Dec. 21, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, after launching 11 satellites into orbit, returned its 15-story booster rocketupright and intact, to a landing pad at Cape Canaveral. That’s a $60 million mountain of machinery — recovered. (The traditional booster rocket either burns up or disappears into some ocean.)

The reusable rocket has arrived. Arguably, it arrived a month earlier when Blue Origin, a privately owned outfit created by Jeffrey P. Bezos (Amazon chief executive and owner of this newspaper) launched and landed its own booster rocket, albeit for a suborbital flight. But whether you attribute priority to Musk or Bezos, the two events together mark the inauguration of a new era in spaceflight.

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Musk predicts that the reusable rocket will reduce the cost of accessing space a hundredfold. This depends, of course, on whether the wear and tear and stresses of the launch make the refurbishing prohibitively expensive. Assuming it’s not, and assuming Musk is even 10 percent right, reusability revolutionizes the economics of spaceflight.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

Which both democratizes and commercializes it. Which means space travel has now slipped the surly bonds of government — presidents, Congress, NASA bureaucracies. Its future will now be driven far more by a competitive marketplace with its multiplicity of independent actors, including deeply motivated, financially savvy and visionary entrepreneurs. Read the rest of this entry »


J. Christian Adams: Apollo 8, Christmas 1968

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“Something was going right. Something made us proud.’

J. Christian Adams writes: During Christmastime in 1968, one of the most significant events in human history occurred. The flight of Apollo 8 marked the first time humans departed Earth orbit and traveled to the dark side of the moon. The Christmas Eve lunar orbit of Apollo 8 also marked one of most profoundly unifying moments for our nation. The journey to space was on everyone’s mind Christmas morning. And the fulfillment of man’s most ancient dream was illuminated by man’s most ancient text, while the entire world watched in wonder.

“Never before had man so vividly understood how good and perfectly designed for human life Earth was. Never before had creation been described by men so competent to describe it.”

With the eventual landing of Apollo 11 on the surface of the moon, the achievement of Apollo 8 was nudged into the background. School textbooks teach about Apollo 11, but not Apollo 8. Yet the lunar landing of Apollo 11 merely capped off the journey of Apollo 8. As the world watched on live television, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders departed Earth orbit for space and orbited the moon for the first time.

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Perhaps only the circumnavigation of Magellan in 1522 can compare to Apollo 8, and Magellan himself died halfway around the globe. It had a fraction of the significance and risk of Apollo 8. Centuries of experience animated any 16th century sea voyage. When Frank Borman and his crew ignited a single engine burn to leave Earth orbit, they were in a fragile capsule only 12 feet in diameter crossing the cold dangerous expanse of space. Simply, Apollo 8 may be the most significant event in the history of human exploration.

[Also see – Apollo 8 crew wish the world a Merry Christmas from the moon’s orbit in 1968 – New York Daily News]

Not only were Borman and his crew the first to depart Earth orbit, they still hold the record for the highest altitude flight.  Because of the type of lunar orbit Apollo 8 deployed, they ventured further from Earth than any subsequent manned craft. They were also the first humans to gaze on the totality of the entire Earth. Just imagine their awe.

Apollo-8

The awe of the beautiful and distant Earth was captured in Apollo 8’s famous photo of Earthrise over the lunar horizon. In contrast, the surface of the moon below appeared terrifying, bleak, and lifeless to the astronauts – an Earth before creation.

[Read the full story here, at PJ Media]

The largest television audience in American history watched the live lunar images from Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968. This was one of those shared experiences so common in our nation’s past, but so rare in our modern world of fractured information and culture. Few unifying events as joyous as Apollo 8 would follow and we are worse off from the loss.

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Something else extraordinary happened that Christmas Eve. As our nation gathered around Christmas trees and bulky televisions beaming close-up video of the moon, the three astronauts took turns speaking to the world.

William Anders started.

“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you:  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Jim Lovell continued, reading the first book of Genesis:

“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Then Frank Borman:

“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

Borman concluded,

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”

Never before had man so vividly understood how good and perfectly designed for human life Earth was. Never before had creation been described by men so competent to describe it. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] YEAH SCIENCE! How to Find a Meteorite in Your Own Backyard

The Earth is peppered by meteorites all the time. This is how you can find one on your own.

science-bitch


The Only Six Things You Need to Know About the Paris Climate Catastrophe

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Biggest Waste of Time and Money in History.

James Delingpole reports: Sometime round about now the negotiators at the Paris COP21 climate conference will be thrashing out the final details agreement which will make no measurable difference to “climate change” but will definitely cost all of us a great deal of money.

Here is what you need to know.

1. All that stuff you’ve read and heard about “time running out”, “deadlock” , “last minute deals” — it’s all a charade; everything was pre-ordained.

Every COP conference there has ever been has run on exactly the same lines. Whatever comes out of this one, it will be a fudge and a compromise whose only certain achievement will be to ensure that there are more such conferences next year (in sunny Marrakech, Morocco) and the one after and the one after that…

[Read the full story here, at Breitbart]

In truth, COP is not really about saving the planet. Rather, it’s a massive jobs fair for activists, shyster politicians, bureaucrats, corporate scamsters, and people with otherwise worthless degrees in “sustainability”, “conservation biology”, “ecology”, etc.

2. No serious person in the world believes in man-made climate change any more. They just don’t.

When did the edifice finally collapse? Well there are lots of competing candidates. But if you haven’t seen the testimony presented by John Christy, Judith Curry, or William Happer at the hearings in Congress earlier this week, that’s a good place to start. Then, in a league of his own, is Mark Steyn — who doesn’t mince his words…

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3. If you live by fairies you will die by fairies.

So if no serious person in the world believes in man-made climate change any more, who does? Only people like US Secretary of State John Kerry — who, as we know, has staked the reputation of the Obama presidency on how well it deals with this non-existent problem.

In order to do this, of course, he must somehow engineer a global agreement on carbon dioxide emissions reductions. But for that to happen everyone — not just the Western delegations — must pretend to believe in climate fairies. And unfortunately, the non-Western delegations, led by China and India, just aren’t playing ball. Hence Kerry’s reported frustration and threatened walk-out.

The night saw an ugly brawl as US Secretary Of State John Kerry threatened that developed countries would walk out of the agreement if they were asked to commit to differentiation or financial obligations. “You can take the US out of this. Take the developed world out of this. Remember, the Earth has a problem. What will you do with the problem on your own?” he told ministers from other countries during a closed-door negotiation on the second revised draft of the Paris agreement.

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“We can’t afford in the hours we are left with to nit-pick every single word and to believe there is an effort here that separates developed countries from developing countries. That’s not where we are in 2015. Don’t think this agreement reflects that kind of differentiation,” he added. Making a veiled threat that the agreement could fail if the US was pushed for financial obligations, Kerry said, “At this late hour, hope we don’t load this with differentiation… I would love to have a legally binding agreement. But the situation in the US is such that legally binding with respect to finance is a killer for the agreement.”

The problem here is very simple. Kerry has become a victim of his own fantasy game. Read the rest of this entry »


NOAA Weather Satellite Breaks Up in Orbit

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LONDON — Jeff Foust reports: A U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite retired in 2014 has suffered an apparent breakup, the second time in less than a year that a polar-orbiting weather satellite has generated orbital debris.

“The breakup, if confirmed, would be the second time in less than a year for a satellite in polar orbit. In February, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 satellite exploded in orbit, creating several dozen pieces of debris.”

The Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) announced Nov. 25 that it had identified a possible breakup of the NOAA 16 satellite. The center, which tracks objects in orbit and warns of potential collisions, said it first detected the breakup at 3:41 a.m. Eastern time and was tracking an unspecified number of “associated objects” in the orbit of NOAA 16.

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JSpOC said later Nov. 25 that the debris from NOAA 16 posed no current threat to other satellites in orbit. It added that it did not believe the debris resulted from a collision with another object, suggesting that NOAA 16 broke up on its own.

[The Biggest Spacecraft to Fall from Space]

NOAA 16 launched in September 2000 with a planned lifetime of three to five years. The spacecraft continued to operate in a backup role until June 2014, when NOAA retired the spacecraft after an unspecified “critical anomaly.”

“A sudden temperature spike in that spacecraft led spacecraft engineers to conclude a battery in the spacecraft ruptured because of a design flaw. Seven other DMSP spacecraft have a similar design flaw.”

The breakup, if confirmed, would be the second time in less than a year for a satellite in polar orbit. In February, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 satellite exploded in orbit, creating several dozen pieces of debris. A sudden temperature spike in that spacecraft led spacecraft engineers to conclude a battery in the spacecraft ruptured because of a design flaw. Seven other DMSP spacecraft have a similar design flaw. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Happy Thanksgiving, From Space! 

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA send Thanksgiving wishes to all on Earth. The pair also shared their plans for the holiday – including an early sampling of their Thanksgiving Day meal. Kelly is heading into the ninth month of his year-long mission aboard the complex, while Lindgren is wrapping up his flight and preparing for a landing in Kazakhstan in a Soyuz spacecraft Dec. 11.

Astronauts gave thanks and preview their “traditional” space meal in a video greeting from the International Space Station just in time for Thanksgiving.

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly, who is nearing the end of his one-year mission, and Kjell Lindgren took a moment to celebrate the season in a video preview of their Thanksgiving dinner, where they discussed what they’re thankful for and grabbed a few quick bites of their zero-gravity feast.

The two NASA astronauts, along with Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, have the day off from their 250-mile-high (400 kilometers) research on Thursday, and will share their Thanksgiving meal with the others aboard the space station: Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Volkov.  Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] NASA Spacecraft Set for Historic Flyby of Saturn Moon

On Wednesday, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will do its deepest-ever dive through an active plume on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Scientists believe that an ocean beneath Enceladus’s crust might have the ingredients needed to support life.


Sacré Bleu! France’s Top Weatherman Sparks Storm Over Book Questioning Climate Change

‘We are hostage to a planetary scandal over climate change – a war machine whose aim is to keep us in fear.’

Every night, France’s chief weatherman has told the nation how much wind, sun or rain they can expect the following day.

“Every night I address five million French people to talk to you about the wind, the clouds and the sun. And yet there is something important, very important that I haven’t been able to tell you, because it’s neither the time nor the place to do so.”

Now Philippe Verdier, a household name for his nightly forecasts on France 2, has been taken off air after a more controversial announcement – criticising the world’s top climate change experts.

Mr Verdier claims in the book Climat Investigation (Climate Investigation) that leading climatologists and political leaders have “taken the world hostage” with misleading data.

climate-freakout

“I received a letter telling me not to come. I’m in shock. This is a direct extension of what I say in my book, namely that any contrary views must be eliminated.”

In a promotional video, Mr Verdier said: “Every night I address five million French people to talk to you about the wind, the clouds and the sun. And yet there is something important, very important that I haven’t been able to tell you, because it’s neither the time nor the place to do so.”

[Also see – Environmentalism Has Become a Religion’ Says James Lovelock, Father of The Modern Green Movement]

He added: “We are hostage to a planetary scandal over climate change – a war machine whose aim is to keep us in fear.”

His outspoken views led France 2 to take him off the air starting this Monday. “I received a letter telling me not to come. I’m in shock,” he told RTL radio. “This is a direct extension of what I say in my book, namely that any contrary views must be eliminated.”

The book has been released at a particularly sensitive moment as Paris is due to host a crucial UN climate change conference in December. 

TEASER OFFICIEL – CLIMAT INVESTIGATION… par Editions_Ring

According to Mr Verdier, top climate scientists, who often rely on state funding, have been “manipulated and politicised”.

[Read the full story here, at Telegraph]

He specifically challenges the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, saying they “blatantly erased” data that went against their overall conclusions, and casts doubt on the accuracy of their climate models. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Is Capitalism Moral? 

Is capitalism moral or greedy? If it’s based on greed and selfishness, what’s the best alternative economic system? Perhaps socialism? And if capitalism is moral, what makes it so? Walter Williams, a renowned economist at George Mason University, answers these questions and more.


Almost All US Temperature Data Used In Global Warming Models Is Estimated or Altered

John Hinderaker writes: We have written many times about the fact that the temperature data used in the alarmists’ global warming models are not original data as measured by thermometers. Rather, they are “adjusted” numbers, consistently changed to make the past look cooler and the present warmer, so that more billions of dollars will flow from the world’s governments to the climate alarmists who serve government’s cause. This is, in my opinion, the greatest scandal in the history of science.

This article at Watts Up With That? adds incrementally to that picture. John Goetz analyzes the U.S. temperature data that finds its way into “official” tabulations. This is particularly important because, while the U.S. represents only 6.6% of the total land area of Earth, we account for close to half of the data relied on by the Global Historical Climatology Network. This is a big topic, and you should study the Goetz article in its entirety if you have time. I am still digesting it. Read the rest of this entry »


Blood Moon/Supermoon Lunar Eclipse 2015 Live Stream: NASA, Slooh Coverage Online

Tonight’s the night — a rare blood moon total lunar eclipse.

And you can watch it all live, as the supermoon turns blood red tonight during a total lunar eclipse September 2015.

[Find out more about tonight’s supermoon eclipse times here.]

NASA will offer the blood moon (supermoon) lunar eclipse live stream from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and you can watch it unfold here.

Others will be live streaming it as well (see the end of this post for links to your favorite blood moon (supermoon) lunar eclipse live streams and feeds.

The supermoon will rise at about 6:30 p.m. CDT across Alabama. (Get moonrise times for other locations throughout the United States here.) The lunar eclipse will begin at 8:07 p.m. CDT (or 9:07 p.m. EDT and 6:07 p.m. PDT).

The total eclipse will last over a hour and begin at 9:11 p.m. CDT (or 10:11 p.m. EDT or 7:11 p.m. PDT)

Not only will there be an eclipse, but the moon will also be about 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than usual — a supermoon.

Supermoons are not not rare. In fact this is the fifth one in 2015 alone. But Sunday’s moon will be the closest to Earth in all of 2015, coming within 221,753 miles of our planet.

Tonight’s supermoon is rare because of its timing with the total lunar eclipse. The last time it happened was in 1982, and the next time it will happen will be in 2033.

This eclipse will also bring about the fourth and final blood moon of a lunar tetrad that began in 2014. (A lunar tetrad is used to describe four total lunar eclipses in a row, separated by six lunar months or six full moons).

So it will be a skywatcher’s extravaganza. But what if the weather doesn’t cooperate?

[Supermoon eclipse weather forecast: Who will get to see it?]

There are many opportunities to view the eclipse online tonight.

The Marshall Space Flight Center plans to offer views of the eclipse from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the Fernbank Observatory in Atlanta and other locations across the United States.

Here are other places to view the eclipse as well: Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Has Nearly A Full Uber Funding In Contracts 

 writes: Sending things to space isn’t cheap, which is exactly why Elon Musk got into the business with SpaceX. In a press release today about some newly signed contracts for use of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, the company updated just how much money it has booked.

Seven Billion Dollars under contract for the 60 missions on manifest. To put all of this into perspective, Uber has raised $8.2 Billion to date.

Financially, the milestone is notable. SpaceX raised a fresh $1 billion in January of this year, after denying that it had reached a valuation of of $10 billion last Summer.

Musk-photo-patrick-fallon-wsj

Space exploration is a capital intensive business. To date, SpaceX has raised $1.2 billion. Given the massive discrepancy between the startup’s past raise total, and its recent raise quantity, it seems quite reasonable to presume that the firm isn’t cash poor looking ahead in the short, or moderate term. Read the rest of this entry »


[PHOTO] This is How Fast the Space Probe Is

space-probe-speed

This is how fast the space probe is.

More about New Horizons >>


[VIDEO] Carly Fiorina: ‘Climate Change Can’t Be Stopped by America Acting Alone’

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The Left doesn’t seriously dispute the notion that American regulations aren’t going to save the planet, but they justify the demand for American sacrifice by essentially ascribing a mystical power to our national policies.

David FrenchDavid-French-NRO writes:

“…whether climate-change regulations will have any meaningful impact on the climate? Climate-change activists constantly say that “we have to start somewhere.” But what if in fact we’re starting nowhere? What if we’re asking Americans to sacrifice to no purpose? What if America can’t stop climate change?

[Follow David French on Twitter]

That’s Carly Fiorina’s argument, and it may represent the best, and most easily defensible, path forward to consensus. Here she is, like Ted Cruz,  making her case to Katie Couric:

The short version of Fiorina’s argument is this: If the scientific consensus is that man-made climate change is real, there is also consensus that America, acting alone, cannot stop it. Indeed, the Chinese are only too happy to watch us constrict our economy as they capture the market in clean coal.

Climate science today is a veritable cornucopia of unanswered questions. Photo: Corbis

Climate science today is a veritable cornucopia of unanswered questions. Photo: Corbis

“Nations, as the saying goes, do not have friends, only interests. Our geopolitical competitors will not sacrifice their strategic interests for the sake of combating global warming. Nor will developing nations sacrifice their economies, or their people’s lives, by restraining their own economic growth.”

California enacts regulations that will make no difference in global climate. The Obama administration enacts regulations that will make no difference in global climate. Yet Americans are asked to pay the price for — to take one example — climate regulations that, by 2030, would only save the world the equivalent of slightly over 13 days of Chinese emissions. We’ve already been made to pay the price for the veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline when even the State Department declared that it would have “negligible impact” on the environment.

[Read the full text here, at National Review Online]

[Also see – ‘None of this will have Any Meaningful Effect on the Planet’s Climate’]

[More – Obama’s Last Shot – Climate Change – And Why It’s Doomed To Fail]

[More – Why The Left Needs Climate Change]

The Left doesn’t seriously dispute the notion that American regulations aren’t going to save the planet, but they justify the demand for American sacrifice by essentially ascribing a mystical power to our national policies — as if our decision to fall on our own sword will so move India and China and the rest of the developing world (which has a lot of fossil fuels left to burn to lift its people out of poverty) that they’ll essentially have their own “come to Jesus” movement in defiance of national interest and centuries of national political culture. “America leads,” they proclaim. “The world laughs,” is the proper response. Read the rest of this entry »


BREAKING: ‘Ghostbusters’ Message Finally Connects with Progressive Latecomers

Salon-EPA

– Salon.com.


John Steele Gordon: The Unsettling, Anti-Science Certitude on Global Warming

climate-freakout

Climate-change ‘deniers’ are accused of heresy by true believers. That doesn’t sound like science to me.

John Steele Gordon writes: Are there any phrases in today’s political lexicon more obnoxious than “the science is settled” and “climate-change deniers”?

“The essence of scientific inquiry is the assumption that there is always more to learn.”

The first is an oxymoron. By definition, science is never settled. It is always subject to change in the light of new evidence. The second phrase is nothing but an ad hominem attack, meant to evoke “Holocaust deniers,” those people who maintain that the Nazi Holocaust is a fiction, ignoring the overwhelming, incontestable evidence that it is a historical fact. Hillary Clinton’s speech about climate change on Monday in Des Moines, Iowa, included an attack on “deniers.”

Climate science today is a veritable cornucopia of unanswered questions. Photo: Corbis

Climate science today is a veritable cornucopia of unanswered questions. Photo: Corbis

The phrases are in no way applicable to the science of Earth’s climate. The climate is an enormously complex system, with a very large number of inputs and outputs, many of which we don’t fully understand—and some we may well not even know about yet. To note this, and to observe that there is much contradictory evidence for assertions of a coming global-warming catastrophe, isn’t to “deny” anything; it is to state a fact. In other 41YWepQbs+L._SL250_words, the science is unsettled—to say that we have it all wrapped up is itself a form of denial. The essence of scientific inquiry is the assumption that there is always more to learn.

[Order John Steele Gordon‘s book “Washington’s Monument: And the Fascinating History of the Obelisk” from Amazon.com]

Science takes time, and climatology is only about 170 years old. Consider something as simple as the question of whether the sun revolves around the Earth or vice versa.

The Greek philosopher Aristarchus suggested a heliocentric model of the solar system as early as the third century B.C. But it was Ptolemy’s geocentric model from the second century A.D. that predominated. It took until the mid-19th century to solve the puzzle definitively.

Assuming that “the science is settled” can only impede science. For example, there has never been so settled a branch of science as Newtonian physics. But in the 1840s, as telescopes improved, it was noticed that Mercury’s orbit stubbornly failed to behave as Newtonian equations said that it should.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

It seems not to have occurred to anyone to question Newton, so the only explanation was that Mercury must be being perturbed by a planet still closer to the sun. The French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier had triumphed in 1846 when he had predicted, within one degree, the location of a planet (later named Neptune) that was perturbing Uranus’s orbit. Read the rest of this entry »


うん!Suntory Plans Space-Aged Whisky

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The bad news: There are no plans to make the space-aged whisky available for purchase. The samples will be studied in labs once they return to Earth and whisky blenders will taste them to compare them with those aged on the ground.

Jun Hongo reports: Not content with having the best whisky in the world, Suntory Holdings Ltd. plans to take its whisky out of this world and into space.

whisky_distilling_bill_lumsden

The Japanese brewing and distilling company said this week it would send a total of six samples of its whiskies and other alcoholic beverages to the International Space Station, where they will be kept for at least a year to study the effect zero gravity has on aging.

space-whiskey

“The samples will be carried to the space station on Aug. 16 on Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s transfer vehicle Kounotori.”

According to a spokesman at the company, the samples, which will be carried in glass flasks, will include both a 21-year-old single malt and a beverage that has just been distilled. Research has shown that whisky aged in an environment with little temperature change, convection of fluids and shaking tends to be become “mellower,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »


Full Moon on Friday Is a Blue Moon

On Friday, much of the world will have the opportunity to observe a Blue Moon: A somewhat rare occurrence that doesn’t have anything to do with the moon’s color.

During most years, the Earth experiences 12 full moons, one in each month. But some years, such as 2015, have 13 full moons, and one of those “extra” lunar displays gets the label of Blue Moon.

blue-moon-august-2012-120726b-02

“The full moon appears to last for at least the length of one night, but technically speaking, it is an instantaneous event: It occurs when the sun, Earth and moon fall close to a straight line. It takes place at the same instant everywhere in the world, whether the moon is above or below the horizon.”

The lunar or synodic month (full moon to full moon) averages 29.530589 days, which is shorter than every calendar month in the year except for February. Those extra one-half or one-and-one-half days accumulate over the year, causing some years to have 13 full moons rather than 12.

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[Video: What’s a Blue Moon, Is It REALLY Blue?]

To see what I mean, here is a list of full-moon dates in 2015: Jan. 5, Feb. 3, March 5, April 4, May 4, June 2, July 2, July 31, Aug. 29, Sept. 28, Oct. 27, Nov. 25 and Dec. 25. In 2016, the first full moon falls on Jan. 23, and each calendar month has only one full moon.

The expression “once in a blue moon” has a long history of being used to describe rare events; but it was also used in the Maine Farmers’ Almanac to describe the third full moon in a season that has four (normally, a three-month season will only have three full moons).

Image: vintagefuture.tumblr.com

In 1946, Sky & Telescope magazine published an article that misinterpreted the older definition, defining a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a calendar month. This has become the most recent and perhaps most widely accepted definition of a Blue Moon. And hence, the full moon on July 31 is referred to as a Blue Moon, because it was preceded by the full moon on July 2. By this definition, a Blue Moon occurs roughly once every 2.7 years. Read the rest of this entry »


NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth: NASA Press Release

452b_system_comparison

While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun.”

— John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment.”

— Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center

“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.”

452b_artistconcept_comparisonwithearth

“We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly.”

Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

“This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”

— Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute

While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

“It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

— Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center

To help confirm the finding and better determine the properties of the Kepler-452 system, the team conducted ground-based observations at the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These measurements were key for the researchers to confirm the planetary nature of Kepler-452b, to refine the size and brightness of its host star and to better pin down the size of the planet and its orbit.

The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets. Read the rest of this entry »


Pundit Planet Bureau of Really Old Shoes

Oldest-shoe-leather

A woman’s size four, it was made from a single piece of cured cowhide a thousand years before the Great Pyramid of Giza was built – and four hundred years earlier than the erection of Stonehenge.

June 2010, : The oldest known footwear in the world are 8,000 year old makeshift sandals made of plant material that were found in a cave in Missouri about fifty years ago.

Not much is known about the people who wore the shoe but it is thought they would have been some of the earliest farmers or nomadic tribes that used the oldest-shoecave as a base.

“It was only when the material was dated by the two radiocarbon laboratories in Oxford and California that we realised that the shoe was older by a few hundred years than the shoes worn by Otzi, the Iceman.”

The caves is 4,500 ft above sea level, very rocky and temperatures vary form -10 C in winter to 40 C in summer.

A woman’s size four, it was made from a single piece of cured cowhide a thousand years before the Great Pyramid of Giza was built – and four hundred years earlier than the erection of Stonehenge.

Amazingly, it is still in perfect condition – even including the laces – thanks to the stable, cool and dry conditions of the Armenian cave in which it was found.

“It is an amazing find. We thought we were looking at something just a few hundred years old but it turns out to be oldest shoe ever found.”

— Archaeologist Dr Ron Pinhasi

It would have fitted the foot of a woman today – although it may have been worn by a man at the time, claim the researchers.

Dr Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at the University College Cork, said: “It is an amazing find. We thought we were looking at something just a few hundred years old but it turns out to be oldest shoe ever found.”

The shoe was packed with grass, but it is unclear whether this was to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe, much like the modern shoe-tree.

Other items discovered in the cave in the Vayotz Dzor province on the Iranian border included large containers, many of which held well-preserved wheat and barley, apricots and other edible plants. Read the rest of this entry »


Pundit Planet Bureau of Extremely Old News: Digital Imaging Reveals Oldest Biblical Text Since Dead Sea Scrolls

ancient-scroll-archaelology

Using micro-CT scanners, specialists at the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrollslaboratory in Jerusalem discerned the text written on the charred scroll: verses from the second chapter of the Book of Leviticus. 

Thanks to a high-tech solution, a charred parchment scroll discovered by the shores of the Dead Sea bearing verses from the Book of Leviticus was deciphered for the first time, archaeologists announced Monday.

scroll

The document, found during the excavation of the synagogue in Ein Gedi 45 years ago, was burned 1,500 years ago while stored inside the ark in the ancient house of worship. Since then, however, the text has been unreadable.

Sacrifice-of-old-covenant-Book of Leviticus

Using micro-CT scanners, specialists at the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls laboratory in Jerusalem discerned the text written on the charred scroll: verses from the second chapter of the Book of Leviticus. Read the rest of this entry »