Better bloggers (eg Blair and Green) are playing the prediction game -- so I'm going to check on my predictions and see how they turned out.
All eight of the things I said wouldn't happen, didn't.
Of the seven things I said would happen, the final five were more accurate than the first two (though #5 is having no practical effect). Actual duration of ground combat in Iraq was 25 days (source), not "less than 7," though the tiny number of coalition deaths (averaging only about six per day) puts the entire war into the category of low-intensity conflict, making combat duration difficult to define.
I wildly overestimated Iraqi military casualties; this source projects "a toll of between 13,500 and 45,000 dead among the troops and paramilitaries," but admits: "The overall casualty rate may lie closer to the lower figure." My rough-order-of-magnitude predictions for Iraqi civilian and coalition military casualties were correct.
The idiotarian strategy turned out not to be one of overstating the death toll by an order of magnitude -- apparently that sort of treatment is meted out only to Israelis, not Americans. Instead, the per capita death rate of approximately 1 in 5,000 is being touted as an atrocity, notwithstanding that the purges, wars, and incompetence of the former regime killed 200,000 per year.
Finally, none of my three "contingent" predictions came true, but #1 is only a matter of time.
Excerpts from Iran Asks 'Why Are Our Earthquakes So Deadly?', by Erik Kirschbaum of Reuters:
In stark contrast to a tremor of similar strength last week in California that killed just two people, the toll in Friday's Iranian quake could reach about 50,000.
Bahram Akasheh, geophysics professor at Tehran University, noted the California quake on December 22 had almost the same magnitude and depth as the Iranian tremor, which measured 6.3 on the Richter scale and was centerd 16 km (10 miles) below ground.
"I don't think there are any shortcomings with our policies and construction codes," said Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran's powerful Expediency Council.
I will compare and contrast the California and Iran earthquakes in a future post.
By way of returning to my blogging roots and providing something of a public service, here is a list of what I believe to be the major amateur astronomical and space-science events of the next year.
Here's wishing all my readers clear skies in 2004!
Blogging will certainly be light and may be nonexistent through Sunday, as I am traveling to a not-especially-secure but undisclosed location in the general vicinity of 30°30' N, 81°30' W. I leave you with this, more evidence of the inadvisability of unilateralism.
Till then, Peace on Earth (if not on Mars, alas).
Graze over here for the technical details from the USGS. Magnitude 6.5, depth only 7.6 km, just northeast of Hearst Castle on the central California coast.
Via Covington, this very cool story that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere, possibly because it appeared on the day of Saddam's capture: Europe-Africa rail tunnel agreed.
Blogging will be light on Arcturus today, but you can get a fix over on Chicago Boyz, and I once again have an entry in the BestOfMe Symphony.
Byzantium's Shores anticipates RotK:
I hope I like the part where Frodo and Sam infiltrate Mordor and enlist the aid of the native population, which are three-foot-tall fuzzy creatures armed with stones and spears, in order to deactivate the force shield that surrounds Barad-dur and prevents Aragorn and his buddy Lando from flying in on a dragon to destroy the main reactor. I also hope they pull off the scene where Frodo succeeds in turning Saruman, who turns out to be his actual father, back to the side of goodness.
Lots of other good stuff in that post, too; RTWT.
Another unilateral Anglo-American policy initiative is about to dominate the news.
Fox has a good summary of the upcoming robotic invasion of Mars. I did some digging to find out when to be watching for live coverage (C-SPAN and NASA TV are likely to carry the Spirit and Opportunity landings):
A landing site map illustrates that all 3 spacecraft are landing at low latitudes. Notwithstanding that some of the most interesting places on Mars are > 60° N/S, only nuclear power can provide sufficient electricity there; the use of solar cells keeps surface exploration of Mars to within 30 degrees of the equator.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Beagle 2 weblog, though like most official forays into the new medium, it does not yet fully realize the potential thereof.
One of many news stories on this instrument is here. The first infrared space telescope, IRAS, roughly doubled the sum total of human astronomical knowledge in only 10 months of operation two decades ago -- such is the wealth of observational opportunities in that portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. We may confidently anticipate similar results over the lifetime of the Spitzer.
The man it was named for was among the greatest scientists of the past century, and not only in technical accomplishment; "dignity," "fairness," "grace," "style," and similar accolades turn up over and over again in the obituaries. And he thought big and early (1.1 MB *.pdf):
When the RAND Corporation asked him about the prospects for application of space technology to astronomy in 1946, a full decade before Sputnik, Spitzer wrote a report delineating the advantages of a 500 inch (13 m) telescope in Earth orbit to extend the observable spectrum into the ultraviolet and to take advantage of the lack of atmospheric seeing to produce sharp images with the resulting ability to observe fainter objects.
I strongly recommend grazing through the obits on the Bruce Medal page linked above. My favorite Lyman Spitzer story is one I heard at a TAS meeting lecture back around '91 or so. The lecturer (whose name I unfortunately cannot recall) told us that when Spitzer proposed the space telescope, an older-but-wiser colleague responded to the effect that it was unfortunate that Spitzer was such a young man (he was 32), "because you'll live long enough to see your idea fail" -- thereby illustrating Clarke's First Law; the next slide the lecturer showed was a picture of an elderly Lyman Spitzer, grinning from ear to ear, standing on Cape Canaveral, with the Space Shuttle on its launch pad in the background, a few minutes away from putting the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. The TAS audience burst into applause.
He lived to see the repair mission, too. And he was working on a paper based on the latest Hubble findings the day he died.
I'm retiring Friday Quagwatch. I thought it up several months too late, anyway, and now it's hopelessly behind the curve. The quaggers are so far around the bend that they're starting to defend Saddam's constitutional rights.
The irrationality of the war protesters, ironically, is setting us up for a real quagmire, in which this event is the first stumble. Actually, as PJ O'Rourke wrote, this is one of those things that's "ironic, if you're stupid enough to think so. Life is full of irony for the stupid." Al-Qa'eda, not being especially stupid, may be expected to learn from this experience, and carry out the following operational improvements:
This isn't the first time that the Left's incompetence has enabled a huge screwup, of course, but the Right will jump into this one with both feet. Count on it. The terrorists are about to get very, very rich.
Via InstaPundit and Andrew Sullivan (page down to "Gimli Gets It"), this phenomenal interview with John Rhys-Davies, which you've probably already seen, given that Sullivan's audience is several hundred times the size of mine and Reynolds has, on some days, 1,000 times the readership of Arcturus. I'm bothering to blog it because Rhys-Davies correctly cites the First World War as Tolkien's major influence, where too many critics have tried to make LotR into an allegory of WW2.
The closest I come to disagreeing with anything in the interview is the phrase "how precarious Western civilization is" -- I don't think it's precarious at all (another tangentially related post is here). Which does not make it one bit less worth defending.
(The go-to blog on Tolkien is Michael Drout's Wormtalk and Slugspeak.)
A piece of spam touting free digital cable TV defeated the pattern-matching software at the company firewall with possibly the most amazing word list I've ever seen. Somebody should turn this into an avant-garde art installation:
award inept diameter germanium hypothyroid predict janet comet discus vehicle
drunkard sturgeon pincushion persia sally clan cuisine counterflow pernicious candle aspen express cavemen
millipede double coliseum eigenstate millions wherever tarry turkish osgood intelligible lim radioastronomy ecole defiant consolation prescript reverie dorcas palo osmium chorale islamic hatchet freewheel ludicrous vivian paste foundling adair suzerainty chlorate corinthian seaweed halve
stimulatory phobic blaine idea sanatorium mississippian faint apocryphal formant kodachrome certitude emirate groove eternity forgot elizabeth cult meetinghouse hom deuteron transshipping numeral armoire propaganda consular introit conquistador lipschitz culinary
update electron sidestep coworker slab repelling gegenschein vogel doubt dorothy southeast converse begin bicentennial maze politicking emerge bethlehem curd munition necromancy freak cologne messrs cheery
absorptive arrangeable dynast child mentor foxtail necromancer squamous corn ella adverb
betrayal comrade keg arrowroot grievance plenty bateman you'll annul rep middletown quick dan hook tagging countersink example sushi titian surfeit bordello coupe concave breakthrough
boyish simile astarte resurgent effete hackneyed crump bergland restroom geodesy appall antipasto alabaster doubt compress absent falter syncopate vehement species jungle brakeman connally hindmost colander schroedinger dyne
inset numerous balky chemic ahoy dubitable magnanimity candide isotropy muscular nordhoff butt climactic midst neurasthenic transcript proposition debra club illegitimacy saline ashy canvas chef phosphorus pepsi selena windshield foray emperor princess paraffin angelic harpsichord cartoon mi manchester briton
wan turnaround milk scintillate textual exception trim attainder next depreciable incondensable street dennis tipsy catalyst bramble carthage adapt bark collins incense logging prance anxious echoes
thorough woodard seeing image cyclops coaxial cunningham ajar cortege backward these baseman frostbite alden ashmolean cuttlebone oceanside heterocyclic
It's poetry, I tell you!
Chances are that anybody grazing in here has already read it, but I nonetheless unreservedly recommend Airplane "Scientists", Rand Simberg's tribute to the Wright Brothers over on Tech Central Station. I can add only this:
On this anniversary, half a million people will be in the air in this country alone at any given moment.
For comparison, on the fortieth anniversary (12 April 2001) of the first manned space flight -- a period of breakneck technological and economic advances -- there were exactly three human beings in space, the Expedition Two crew of Usachyov, Voss and Helms aboard the International Space Station.
The President's speech, as I suspected, includes no new initiatives in space. But he did say: "Orville Wright lived to see the days of barnstorming and military aviation, the jet engine, commercial airlines, and the DC-3." Yuri Gagarin, like Wilbur Wright, died prematurely; but Alan Shepard lived until 1998.
But he did not live to see mass-produced rocket engines, routine passenger spaceflight, or an inexpensive, reusable rocket become a metaphor for reliable transport.
And neither have we.
Mr President, your space initiative suggests itself. Take low Earth orbit away from NASA, and give it to the American people. We'll do the rest.
The Grauniad tells the one about depleted uranium again:
Readings taken from destroyed Iraqi tanks in Basra reveal radiation levels 2,500 times higher than normal. In the surrounding area researchers recorded radioactivity levels 20 times higher than normal.
Tedd Weymann, deputy director of UMRC [Canadian-based Uranium Medical Research Centre], said: 'At one point the readings were so high that an alarm on one of my instruments went off telling me to get back. Yet despite these alarmingly high levels of radiation children play on the tanks or close by.'
The amount of DU used during the Iraq war has not been revealed, although some estimate it was more than a thousand tons.
Witnesses told the UMRC that a British Army survey team inspected Abu Khasib. 'The UK team arrived dressed in white full-body radiation suits with protective facemasks and gloves. They were accompanied by translators who were ordered to warn residents and local salvage crews that the tanks in the battlefield are radioactive and must be avoided,' the report states, adding: 'The British forces have taken no steps to post warnings, seal tanks and personnel carriers or remove the highly radioactive assets.'
Sounds pretty bad. Unfortunately for the ongoing DU hoax, you'd have to carry a completely unshielded rod of the stuff around barehanded for at least 10 days (thanks to Lee at Right Thinking from the Left Coast for finding this) to get sick:
The most frequently cited example of radiation exposure is holding a bare penetrator rod, which is impossible as long as the rounds are intact. The penetrator rods in the 120mm, 105mm and 30mm rounds are shielded which prevents direct contact with the actual penetrator rod. But even when holding a bare penetrator rod, an individual could hold the rod for 250 hours before reaching the extremity or skin limit of 50 rem. Contrary to some claims, the appropriate criteria is 50 rem rather than 5 rem because the exposure is to the extremity (hand) or to the skin and not to the whole body.
But those tanks are hot, all right, because "some Eastern Bloc equipment also contains other more highly radioactive sources such as radium dials." 226Ra and 238U are both a-emitters, but the radium isotope has a half-life of 1,600 years, while the uranium has a half-life of 4,468,000,000 years (source). A given mass of 226Ra, therefore, is as radioactive as 2,792,500 times as much 238U; the "thousand tons" of DU used in Iraq would equate to 358 grams of radium. And of course only a tiny fraction of the DU exists as airborne dust.
To get an idea of how much of a problem radium-dial watches are by present-day Western standards, read this. Another problem, discussed here, is that the first daughter product of 226Ra is radon gas. The entire decay cascade for both 238U and 226Ra is laid out on page 2 of this document (132 kB *.pdf) -- all the daughter products of radium, until the sequence ends at the stable isotope 206Pb, are virulently radioactive, far more so than even radium itself. Two are significant emitters of g-rays, which unlike alpha and beta particles, can penetrate many meters of air, as well as thick clothing (this source says 200 m in air, 10 cm in tissue, 2" of lead, 3" of concrete).
Since each tank probably has several radium dials, each significantly larger than an ordinary wristwatch, the source of the (again, by present-day Western standards) health hazard is obvious. For some insight into how the Guardian gets away with reporting like this, read The Two Cultures.
Opus 2, as it were, is now available for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
(I just happen to have a post in it.)
Mildly annoying registration may or may not be required to read A nation at risk, a 1,600-word piece in today's KCStar in which Bill Tammeus recounts his experiences at this seminar. It's worth it; some tidbits:
Plus, the article is positively loaded with links, which were boldfaced in the dead-tree edition, giving it an almost bloglike feel. Who could resist that? ;)
Well, it's being somewhat overshadowed by events, but I started this exercise in self-indulgence two years ago today. On the first anniversary, I imparted some tips about blogging.
This year I'm going to blog about what's important:
Direct your congratulations, denunciations, and exhortations on my 2nd anniversary of blogging here (first-timers will have to deal with Spam Arrest).
The tellingly named Agenda Bender proposes a device -- an answering machine with enough memory to save every phone call you ever get:
More focused sentimentalists could choose to save only the messages of loved ones, while the omnivorous mnemophages would archive everything--wrong numbers, vacation package sales pitches, robo charity appeals, election day phone bank calumnies, and dueling eliminate-bad-credit helpline numbers. This decades spanning, total-recall sound-collage will make your eventual rest home internment either more bearable or more dreadful. More something, in any event. And then you could pass it on to your grandkids, one of whom might even treasure it. Probably the gay one.
How much memory are we talking about, here? Well, suppose we're talking CD-quality sound, which phones at present certainly aren't, but we're looking at something that's got to be good for a few decades, so it's reasonable to expect improvements. Audio CDs have a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz, which is ~43 kB sec-1. Say we need 10 years of that (even though 1 year would probably suffice -- that would be 14 minutes a day for the rest of the century!). This works out to less than 13 TB (terabytes).
Memory prices, across all types, currently average 24¢/MB, or 4.9 MB/$. Our hypothetical answering machine would therefore have $2.7 million worth of memory (which would be rather bulky; supposing that 512 MB fits into 10 cm3, this would occupy over a cubic foot). But if memory prices are cut in half every two years, the machine becomes very affordable by 2040 or thereabouts. In the real world, we'll have nanotech long before then; if 1 bit of information can be stored in 1 nm3, the memory for a ten-years-of-messages answering machine would fit in a cube one-thousandth of an inch on a side.
Currently tied for #19 on Blodgex, An Atlas of The Universe. Notice that this map, in particular, nicely illustrates that most of the stars in Ursa Major comprise a nearly-dispersed open cluster -- a "constellation" in the truest sense.
Irony of the month: of the people lining up for flu shots, many must be among the slight majority of Americans who think that the earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs, or the plurality in this poll who rejected both theistic and non-theistic formulations of the statement "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life." Given the central role of evolution in vaccine development (not to mention antibiotics), it is fortunate for the people involved that they have chosen not to act on their stated beliefs.
As a fellow member of Set A, I vacillate between sympathy and acute embarrassment at times like this. The side-by-side comparison of the human and chimpanzee genomes now available will make antievolutionism, with its insistence that all lifeforms on Earth are arbitrarily formed and unrelated to one another, look that much more like postmodernist nihilism. Few groups of Americans loathe one another more than Set A and the po-mo crowd. But then I read something like this, and I think I know how Peter felt.
Currently tied at #5 on Blogdex, we find this piece by Carl Zimmer over on The Loom, which references another paper in Nature, written in the usual dessicated technical style that conceals, to the uninitiated, a lurking horror:
Effective human-to-human transmission requires that the pathogen's basic reproductive number, R0, should exceed one, where R0 is the average number of secondary infections arising from one infected individual in a completely susceptible population. However, an increase in R0, even when insufficient to generate an epidemic, nonetheless increases the number of subsequently infected individuals. Here we show that, as a consequence of this, the probability of pathogen evolution to R0 > 1 and subsequent disease emergence can increase markedly.
Returning to Zimmer:
The researchers propose a way to test low-level diseases to see whether they are at or near this dangerous level. And they also point out that their results mean that some diseases that haven't caused all that much concern may be poised to strike. A couple generations ago, many more people were protected from smallpox by vaccines than they are today. That vaccine also protected them from other viruses that are still pretty much limited to other animals, particularly monkey pox. Today monkeypox is not spreading fast, but the slow decline of immunization to smallpox may nudge monkeypox up into the breakout zone.
I did some searching and found the CDC helpfully informing us that "[i]n Africa, monkeypox is fatal in as many as 10% of people who get the disease ..." -- and you might recall that there was a brief monkeypox outbreak in the Midwest in late spring, the first ever in the Western Hemisphere. We need plague insurance:
People often act as though plagues were gone for good, as if sanitation and antibiotics had vanquished them. But as doctors are forever telling their patients, antibiotics kill bacteria, but are useless for viruses.
So far as is known, every species of organism, from bacterium to whale, is afflicted with viruses. Animal viruses sometimes "jump the species gap" to infect other animals, or people. Most scientists believe that the ancestors of the AIDS virus could, until recently, infect only certain African monkeys. Then these viruses made the interspecies jump. A similar jump occurred in the 1960s when scientists in West Germany, working with cells from monkeys in Uganda, suddenly fell ill. Dozens were infected, and several died of a disease that caused both blood clots and bleeding, caused by what is now named the Marburg virus. What if the Marburg virus had spread with a sneeze, like influenza or the common cold?
We think of human plagues as a health problem, but when they hit our fellow species, we tend to see them from an environmental perspective. In the late 1980s, over half the harbor-seal population in large parts of the North Sea suddenly died, leading many at first to blame pollution. The cause, though, appears to be a distemper virus that made the jump from dogs.
Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg, president of Rockefeller University in New York City .... points out that "there is no reason a great plague could not happen again .... We live in evolutionary competition with microbes -— bacteria and viruses. There is no guarantee that we will be the survivors."
Develop nanotech -- the real stuff, as promoted by Drexler, not the strangely weakened Smalley version -- and once again make the world safe for antievolutionists. ;)
This has become a regular weekly feature on Arcturus, though I'm leaning toward retiring it, since quagging is getting to be pretty far behind the curve. In any case, at the moment, the quaggers are:
That's all for this week. Be sure to check back next Friday to see who's been quagging!
Well, actually, it -- Geobacter sulfurreducens, that is -- "clearly has potential for bioremediation of radioactive metals and electricity generation." It converts uranium dissolved in water to uraninite (UO2), which is much less soluble; this "reduction" process creates small charges of electricity.
The story was just in the crawler on CNN Headline News, which is how I found out about it, since I don't keep up with EurekAlert as well as I should. From the news release:
"The genome of this tiny microorganism may help us to address some of our most difficult cleanup problems and to generate power through biologically-based energy sources," says Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. "Geobacter is an important part of Nature's toolbox for meeting environmental and energy challenges. This genome sequence and the additional research that it makes possible may lead to new strategies and biotechnologies for cleaning up groundwater at DOE and at industry sites."
Read this much earlier post, however, to find out why this isn't unalloyed good news.
Here's what happens when a Libertarian gets mapped onto a left-right spectrum: just for fun, I took this survey, in which I supposedly prefer Bush to Dean, Dean to any other Democrat, and an unnamed Green to Lieberman. And there's almost as much difference between my "ideal candidate" and a Libertarian as there is between the Libertarian and Bush, or Bush and Dean.
Your ideal theoretical candidate
Bush, President George W. - Republican
Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat
Green Party Candidate
Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat
Phillips, Howard - Constitution
Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol, IL - Democrat
LaRouche, Lyndon H. Jr. - Democrat
Hagelin, Dr. John - Natural Law
At least it put the sideshow freaks at the bottom. Well, except for Howie Phillips. And Al Sharpton. Geez.
I don't find the concept of treason especially useful. Currently tied at #16 on Blogdex, Christopher Hitchens explains why it's not necessary to be actively treasonous to be utterly useless:
Here is American society, attacked under open skies in broad daylight by the most reactionary and vicious force in the contemporary world, a force which treats Afghans and Algerians and Egyptians far worse than it has yet been able to treat us. The vaunted CIA and FBI are asleep, at best. The working-class heroes move, without orders and at risk to their lives, to fill the moral and political vacuum. The moral idiots, meanwhile, like Falwell and Robertson and Rabbi Lapin, announce that this clerical aggression is a punishment for our secularism. And the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, hitherto considered allies on our “national security” calculus, prove to be the most friendly to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Here was a time for the Left to demand a top-to-bottom house-cleaning of the state and of our covert alliances, a full inquiry into the origins of the defeat, and a resolute declaration in favor of a fight to the end for secular and humanist values: a fight which would make friends of the democratic and secular forces in the Muslim world. And instead, the near-majority of “Left” intellectuals started sounding like Falwell, and bleating that the main problem was Bush’s legitimacy. So I don’t even muster a hollow laugh when this pathetic faction says that I, and not they, are in bed with the forces of reaction.
They're not called idiotarians for nothing. Someday they may rise to the level of traitors and collaborators. But right now, they're just a bunch of C2s. Contrast that attitude with this: "The only real radicalism in our time will come as it always has - from people who insist on thinking for themselves and who reject party-mindedness .... I much prefer an America that removes Saddam Hussein to the America that helped install and nurture him ..."
Prehistoric man began global warming, says the AP -- an intriguing hypothesis, to say the least, since it explains the anomalous temperature stability recorded on the right-hand edge of this graph (that is, the most recent 8,000 years). Money quote:
From 8000 years ago, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide began to rise as humans started clearing forests, planting crops and raising livestock, a scientist said on Tuesday. Methane levels started increasing 3000 years later.
The combined increases of the two greenhouse gases implicated in global warming were slow but steady and staved off what should have been a period of significant natural cooling, said Bill Ruddiman, emeritus professor at the University of Virginia.
As I noted earlier, the challenge we face is how to keep things this way.
Krakatoa, according to Sky & Telescope:
"It was very satisfying to stand in the exact spot where an artist had his experience," [Donald Olson, a physics and astronomy professor at Texas State University] said. "The real importance of finding the location, though, was to determine the direction of view in the painting. We could see that Munch was looking to the southwest -- exactly where the Krakatoa twilights appeared in the winter of 1883-84."
Also in New Scientist, UN dodges debate over internet control; RTWT. For the source document that started the fight, see this earlier post; and be sure to read this terrific interview with Arthur C. Clarke.
Today's lesson in how the media, and scientists themselves, explain science and technology to the public: speaking of using nuclear propulsion to probe the Jovian satellite system, via Technorati, the SFChron has In search of life on Jupiter's moons: Nuclear-powered spacecraft to scope oceans for organic molecules. The mission is to investigate the Galilean satellites, though, not the retrograde irregulars:
Scientists envision sending a huge, 300-foot-long, nuclear-powered craft -- called JIMO, for Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter -- on a voyage to the Jovian neighborhood to spend up to five years circling the ice-encrusted moon called Europa, plus two others, Callisto and Ganymede, which also are covered with ice but are less likely to have inhabitable oceans.
Meanwhile, New Scientist has a slightly different version in Nuclear probe to journey to Jupiter's moons, which makes the use of the reactor for propulsion explicit and trims the size of the spacecraft by two-thirds:
JIMO will be powered by a fission reactor that will split uranium atoms, releasing heat that can be converted into electricity. The fission reactor would deliver more than a hundred times more power than a non-nuclear source of similar size, according to NASA. Such power is crucial for propelling the spacecraft - which may be 30 metres long - a billion or more kilometres to Jupiter.
The use of "power" turns out to be a euphemism for specific impulse, not thrust. Turning to the mission website, we unsurprisingly find that most of the length of the spacecraft is a long boom which separates the instrumentation from the nuclear reactor by 20 meters, so it looks like New Scientist got this right. The fact sheet (120 kB *.pdf) says that JIMO "would power its ion thrusters with a nuclear fission reactor and a system for converting the reactor's heat to electricity. This could give the craft more than 100 times as much power as a non-fission system of comparable weight."
(I discussed this method of propulsion in Nuclear Rocket to Mars? and The Pre-Game Show; also, for true
geeks masochists Arcturus fans, a three-part series on nuclear-thermal vs nuclear electric is here, here, and here.)
There's also a safety document (249 kB *.pdf), but I don't think it will do much to contain the sort of hysteria promoted by, for example, this organization, which is sure to bring up this incident. The document is loaded with jargon, long paragraphs, and run-on sentences. The diagram which purports to show how much less sunlight the outer planets get than Earth does is, I'm sure, incomprehensible to any non-technical person. Needs work, guys.
Currently tied at #11 on Blogdex is Michael Suileabhain-Wilson's Five Geek Social Fallacies. I tried snipping a few sentences and scaling the behavior up to geopolitics; the results:
GSF1 prevents its carrier from participating in -- or tolerating -- the exclusion of anyone from anything, be it a party, a comic book store, or a web forum, and no matter how obnoxious, offensive, or aromatic the prospective excludee may be.
Thus we have the UN including Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, Iraq, North (Democratic People's Republic of) Korea, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia, the countries that received the lowest rating from Freedom House.
Carriers of GSF2 believe that since a friend accepts them as they are, anyone who criticizes them is not their friend. Thus, they can't take criticism from friends -- criticism is experienced as a treacherous betrayal of the friendship, no matter how inappropriate the criticized behavior may be.
Thus the response when, for example, the US criticizes the countries mentioned above.
GSF3 is a "friendship test" fallacy: in this case, the carrier believes that any failure by a friend to put the interests of the friendship above all else means that they aren't really a friend at all.
Thus the calls for the US to obtain UN permission and involvement before undertaking military action against a lowest-rated "not free" country.
GSF4 is the belief that any two of your friends ought to be friends with each other, and if they're not, something is Very Wrong.
Thus the general idea that any two UN members should cooperate, or the specific idea that the US should always cooperate with the UN.
GSF5, put simply, maintains that every friend in a circle should be included in every activity to the full extent possible. This is subtly different from GSF1; GSF1 requires that no one, friend or not, be excluded, while GSF5 requires that every friend be invited.
Thus the chairmanship of the UN Conference on Disarmament, rotating alphabetically through Indonesia, Iran, Iraq ..., the election of the Libyan ambassador to chair the UN Human Rights Commission, etc.
We may derive from the above how a truly effective international organization should behave: it must be willing to exclude nations based on readily observable criteria; must provide a forum for constructive criticism; must recognize that its members have their own individual interests; must not assume that all members are automatically allies; and must not attempt to include all members in every initiative.
Longtime readers will be familiar with my occasional obsession with outer-solar-system satellites -- see, for example, Dance of the Moons and Still More New Real Estate. A couple of weeks back, Science News had an article by Ron Cowen, Moonopolies: The solar system's outer planets host a multitude of irregular satellites (sorry, subscribers only), describing the present golden age of discovery in this field:
... in 1997, a windfall began.
At observatories around the world, exquisitely sensitive solid-state light detectors, known as charge-coupled devices (CCD), had superseded photographic film, enabling astronomers to record objects hundreds of times fainter than ever before. Moreover, using large-format cameras consisting of millions of CCD pixels, researchers could search for the faint objects over large patches of sky.
Those were just the right tools for finding irregular moons ...
Jupiter is the undisputed king, with 53 irregular satellites. This is followed by Saturn, which has 14; Uranus, with 9; and Neptune, with 7.
Unsurprisingly, this scales with the relative masses of the outer planets. To illustrate this, I whomped up the following table:
I note that the ratios for Uranus and Neptune are 3-4 times higher than those for Jupiter and Saturn, possibly due to their greater proximity to the Kuiper Belt, from which these moons presumably originated. Anyway, continuing ...
The most exciting thing about the irregulars, says Jewitt, is that they haven't been altered by the heat and countless collisions that merged other bodies into planets. The irregulars appear to be pristine relics of planet formation, refugees from the era 4.5 billion years ago when the solar system emerged.
This cries out for sample-return missions, or at least in situ analysis. In either case, nuclear power would be required, at least to operate the instrumentation, if not for the propulsion itself. Their gravity is insignificant, on the order of one-thousandth of Earth's, and looking at this table and working the numbers, we find that the orbital velocities of Jupiter's outermost moons are only about 2.3 km sec-1, implying that only ~3.2 km sec-1 of Dv would be sufficient for escape from Jupiter at their distance. But a Hohmann transfer orbit -- the most feasible kind for chemical rockets, as it requires the least energy -- takes 2 years and 9 months to get from Earth to Jupiter, or Jupiter to Earth.
Via Juan de Mairena, an academic family tree worthy of James Burke.
I have had the privilege of attending presentations given by at least two of the individuals for whom the tree was compiled (Jim Head and Carlé Pieters) at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.
No Arcturus posts today, so graze on over to Chicago Boyz for my latest guest entry.
Once again, fewer but deeper ... and the quaggers are:
That's all for this week. Be sure to check in every Friday to see who's been quagging!
From his relativistic spaceship on the way to a Centauri, Jonah Goldberg issues this dispatch:
Whether you agree with President Bush or not, it's hard to dispute that in terms of foreign policy he is the most radically pro-democracy president of the 20th century.
Actually, that's quite easy to dispute, though I suppose it would quickly lead to an argument about frames of reference.
Seriously, the LD isn't a bad idea -- "... you can't have a global organization dedicated to the spread of human rights and democracy with nearly half the members representing barbaric, corrupt regimes" is spot on. But saying that "membership would be restricted to countries with democratic values and the rule of law" is far too vague. We need criteria based on attribute sampling (warning: 277 kB *.pdf).
I propose this definition -- that the most recent contested change in executive power of a candidate nation must have taken place peacefully.
This is surprisingly restrictive. As I reported on 15 May 2002, Freedom House doesn't track it. But they do have a list of 121 electoral democracies (158 kB *.pdf). The LD would be some subset of this.
Since plowing through all 121 of them is going to take a while, I'm going to either 1) compile the putative LD membership list when I get time or 2) farm it out. Any volunteers? (First-time e-mailers will have to confirm via Spam Arrest.) Remember, you're looking for electoral turnover of power, not just elections.
Arcturus isn't much of a breaking-news blog -- I'd go nuts trying to keep up, partly because I'm on a godawfully slow dial-up from home (21,000 feet from the C.O., which is in the worst neighborhood in town, so the line quality is poor), and partly because I'm still on BlogSpot, pressing HTML into clay tablets with a stylus ... but mostly because I just don't think or write that fast.
But there are probably some folks grazing in here looking for commentary on the back-to-the-Moon rumors, which Space.com (via MSNBC) is pooh-poohing at the moment:
... for the clearest insight into what Bush intends for NASA, [Robert] Walker[, a prominent Washington lobbyist and former congressman picked by the White House to chair the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry in 2002] said he will be looking closely at the president’s budget request for 2005, due out in February.
Walker said he expects that the president’s budget will include a request for 3 to 5 percent budget increases for NASA for each of the next five years. Such an increase, if sustained and combined with resources from other government agencies interested in space, could be substantial enough for the United States to begin planning its way out of low Earth orbit, Walker said.
I must immediately say that I have no idea what's about to happen; Transterrestrial Musings pointed to this analysis, which described a policymaking process which appeared to be close to resulting in a dramatic announcement either on 12/17 or in the SOTU address.
A somewhat more interesting question, given the existence of, er, other national priorities at the moment, is what's behind those steady year-over-year budget increases for NASA -- especially its planetary missions -- which I noted almost two years ago in one of my reports from LPSC XXXIII. I think I know.
The following is from page 116 of Dear Visitor: Voices of McDonald Obsevatory (ISBN 0-9742535-0-2; I can't find it on Amazon.com, but the publisher is here), which I purchased while in Ft Davis on vacation in September. The book is a compilation of interviews conducted, for the most part, by its editor, Karen Stewart Winget, the wife of astronomer Don Winget, who I heard give an amazing talk at the 1997 Texas Star Party -- but that's a subject for an entirely different post. The interviewee is Tom Barnes, a former associate director of the observatory and presently a senior research scientist there. Emphases added:
Now, one more favorite story. It was in August of 1997 [that is, the month after the Mars Pathfinder/Sojourner landing -- JDM], when President Bush was Governor. President George W. Bush and the First Lady came out for a tour of McDonald and I got the job of giving the tour. They came out late one afternoon, spent the night in House A [VIP guest accomodations -- JDM], and left late the next morning. I have given lots of politicians tours of McDonald; it is one of those obligatory stops when they are out. I won't speak about the politicians that caused me to say this, but the difference in giving President Bush and the First Lady a tour was that it didn't feel like giving a politician a tour. He has tremendous one-on-one charisma. He just was one of the guys; he made jokes and just talked with me about stuff. It was obvious that Laura had an interest in science. After dinner, I was all set to give them a tour through the 36-inch telescope. When it got dark enough I had an observer set up to run the telescope and we had programmed what we'd look at. We were all set. After dinner we visited for a while, and it was getting dark. But President Bush said, "Oh, I think I'm going to bed." So okay, all right, everybody goes to bed.
His staff was all staying at the TQ [transient quarters, for visiting astronomers -- JDM] with us, and so I'm sitting, BS-ing with one of the observers and people came walking up the stairways, talking on telephones. They say, "Tom, Laura wants to see something with the telescope." Okay. We went out to the telescope and gave her a tour of the sky. She was fascinated, asked questions and was very interested. President Bush didn't show up. The morning after, we are sitting at breakfast just chatting, and President Bush said something like, "Now what was that bright light that I viewed from the patio last night?" I looked at him curiously because he had not come to the dome last night. He said, "Oh, I got up in the middle of the night and was looking out. What was that light?" So, he did go out and look.
In this story -- published just hours before the events of 9/11/01 -- we find:
In interviews, [Laura] Bush tends to demur on policy questions, saying others are more qualified. But then she rattles off details about her husband's decision on federal financing for stem-cell research or a complex aspect of the 11,000-page education bill.
She did not keep the offices established by Hillary Clinton in the West Wing, the center of White House power, but being back in the traditional East Wing does not mean she is limited to ceremonial duties.
In an interview with ABC News in August, President Bush said of his wife, "She influences me on ... every matter of life, whether it be political issues, policy issues. She's got enormous influence on me."
Ten hours after that story was published, Flight 93 went down in a Pennsylvania field, probably saving Laura Bush's life. And possibly significantly affecting the pursuit of planetary science over the next generation.
This is not to unreservedly endorse the mainstream political approach to space. No baby boomer who remembers the utter lack of follow-through after Apollo can trust NASA. The promises being made to today's children about wondrous achievements in space are as empty as those made to us -- and far more expensive. But The Laughing Wolf gets it right:
Your speech will address the future. I urge you to use as the foundation for your effort not the declining edifice of government, but rather the solid base of commercial efforts undertaken by the same types of citizens as those who colonized this country and settled the West.
Mr. President, let us not send NASA back to the Moon, or on to Mars. Instead, let us send the best and brightest that are America to these places and beyond. The solar system is too vast for one single organization; but, it is just right for a country founded in individual liberty and the right to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As listeners will be aware, we spent most of the 2 hours discussing GENERATIONS, with a detour into the Deming Process Workbench as applied to news reporting on presidential campaigns. Helpful links:
Obsessed fans who now know what I look like may soon know what I sound like as well. Those of you with nothing better to do at 11 AM CST (1700 UT) tomorrow are urged to graze over here and hit the LISTEN LIVE button on the left sidebar. Andy Cline of Rhetorica and I will be discussing life, the universe, and everything.
-- if any, so go read this if you haven't already.
As noted in this earlier post, the popularized definition of "Earthlike" frequently extends to "big dead rock." Or farther; Dusty disc may mean other Earths would have been better titled "Dusty disc may mean other proto-Earths," or even just "protoplanets."
Vega is about one-thirteenth the age of the Sun. At that age, Earth (together with the rest of the inner planets) was being continually struck by asteroids and comets; during the late heavy bombardment, "thousands of impacts occurred in a very short period of time, potentially producing a globally-significant environmental change at an average rate of once per 100 years." Present-day life would not survive such an epoch, and it is generally assumed that life did not achieve a continuous presence on Earth until after the debris -- clearly still present around Vega -- had been swept up by the inner planets or ejected from the Solar System by Jupiter.
The clumps have a predicted orbital period of 300 years. Vega's mass is ~2.5 times that of the Sun. Referring back to this post, doing some algebra, and applying the appropriate formulae, we find that the semimajor axis a of the clumps' orbit is around 45 AU, about 1½ times the distance from the Sun to Neptune. Vega's luminosity is 53 times that of the Sun, so (remembering the inverse-square law) the clumps are receiving less heat and light than Jupiter does from the Sun. Not so Earthlike (this page notes that "the inner and outer bounds of the life zone for a star like Vega [an A0-type main sequence star with Vega luminosity/Sun luminosity = 53] are 6.6 to 10.9 A.U., respectively").
Crudely assuming that Vega is using up its fusable isotopes 53 times faster than the Sun and has 2.5 times as many of them, its total lifetime will be about 1/21 of the Sun's, which is usually projected as 10 billion years. If that's true, and Vega is already 350 million years old, three-quarters of its life has already elapsed. The timescales of debris bombardment mentioned above render it unlikely that Vega will acquire any reasonably undisturbed planets before moving off the main sequence, after which it will be entirely unable to host a planetary system.