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[ 20040526 ]

Light Blogging Ahead

Even lighter blogging, that is. I'm about to hit the road on the midlifecricycle for, among other places, Capulin Volcano National Monument. See you next week.

Jay Manifold [4:20 PM]

A Violent Start?

"... we began, not as a mere glimmer buried in an obscure cloud, but instead amidst the glare and turmoil of restless giants." EurekAlert! has the scoop: "'... if you could go back 4.5 billion years and watch the Sun and Solar System forming, you would see the kind of environment that you see today in the Eagle or Trifid nebulas,' said [ASU astronomer Jeff] Hester."

That calls for some visual aids -- Eagle Nebula (293k *.jpg); Trifid Nebula (news release). Browse them, and ponder this:

One of the most intriguing speculations is that the amount of radioactive material injected into the young solar system by a supernova might have profoundly influenced the habitability of Earth itself. Heat released by the decay of this material may have been responsible for "baking out" the planetesimals from which the earth formed, and in the process determining how much water is on Earth today.

"It is kind of exciting to think that life on Earth may owe its existence to exactly what sort of massive star triggered the formation of the Sun in the first place, and exactly how close we happened to be to that star when it went supernova," mused Hester. "One thing that is clear is that the traditional boundaries between fields such as astrophysics, meteoritics, planetary science, and astrobiology just got less clear-cut. This new scenario has a lot of implications, and makes a lot of new predictions that we can test."

RTWT (1,400 words; 4-7 minutes).

Jay Manifold [4:19 PM]

[ 20040521 ]

Amateur Rocketry and Antisatellite Weapons (II)

Lots of discussion on this, since Rand Simberg linked the first installment, below, followed by this lengthy post by Andrew Case.

Previously unknown reader (the best kind) Allen Thomson wrote to point me to his Satellite Vulnerability: a post-Cold War issue? (6,000 words; 15-30 minutes), with particular attention to the following excerpts:

Although the USA has tended to think of ASAT threats in terms of the former Soviet co-orbital system, near- to mid-term Third World systems are much more likely to use a direct ascent scheme. This is due primarily to the much simpler and cheaper rockets required: for example, a sounding rocket capable of lifting two hundred kilograms to a thousand kilometers altitude weighs an order of magnitude less -- a few metric tons -- than a space launch vehicle capable of orbiting similar mass. Because manufacturing costs grow more rapidly than the weight of rocket systems, the cost of a direct ascent ASAT can be only a few percent of that of a co-orbital system. This means not only that direct ascent systems are more easily procured by smaller countries, but also that they can be produced and employed in quantity.

Sounding rockets with the required characteristics are in use in a number of nations, and have formed the basis for the first-generation Japanese, Indian and developmental Brazilian space launch systems. Besides purpose-built rockets, modification of medium-range ballistic missiles to loft payloads to altitudes of several hundred kilometers is a practice that goes back to the late 1940s. Direct ascent ASATs can be fired from mobile launchers, making them much more survivable than co-orbital interceptors, which generally must use fixed facilities.

If an enemy country can find and track satellites, and can fire significant payloads to their vicinity, the remaining part of the ASAT problem is to ensure that the payload, now regarded as a nonnuclear warhead, pass sufficiently close to the satellite to have a significant chance of damaging it, even though their relative velocity is several kilometers per second. (The relative velocity is not only a problem but also an advantage, as it ensures high lethality for any warhead fragments which collide with the target.) In the context of attacks on very high-value satellites using inexpensive direct-ascent weapons, multiple launches against the same target are reasonable. End-game guidance is classically by far the most difficult part of the ASAT problem, and it is inappropriate to discuss specific possible solutions here. However, the general technological trends noted earlier -- very rapidly advancing and diffusing sensor, computation, and communications capabilities -- make it imprudent to assume that problems which were difficult to solve even ten years ago will remain outside the capabilities of all but the most advanced countries indefinitely.

So, okay, I got scooped by nine years. What else is new? ;)

Jay Manifold [5:57 PM]

The Conspiracy Unmasked!

Over on Small Dead Animals, Kate rips it wide open with Dear Laura:

It's Vietnam all over again. Tet. My Lai (did you know it's pronounced "me lie"?) Soldiers raping babies. Quagmire quagmire quagmire. Bush lied. Bush is stupid. Bush is a chimp. An evil mastermind Nazi puppet chimp who engineered the takeover of America by stealing the election. And he's ours. We hold the strings.

We murdered Vince Foster, just to watch him die. And so we could blame Hillary.

Udday was gunned down by the capitalist forces of globalization. His hands were in the air, his fingers pleading - "Peace". He knew the cure for cancer, so they couldn't let him live. There were panties on his head.

Nick Berg is on a secret tropical island, with his Helliburton pension, golfing with Jack Kennedy and sharing peanut butter and bacon sandwiches with Elvis. Yucking it up with Danny Pearl. There's a greenish glass jar in the entertainment center, beside the big screen TV. Inside, a Roswell alien floats gently, gently, upside down. A pallid little creature bobbing in a lava lamp. Some sick bastard has slapped a decal on it; "Don't Mess With Texas".

There's more. Read it all.

Jay Manifold [9:54 AM]

[ 20040518 ]

Amateur Rocketry and Antisatellite Weapons

First amateur rocket blasts into space, says NewScientist.com. No, it's not the X Prize, but an unmanned amateur sounding rocket of sorts reaching 100 km altitude over Nevada: "The rocket accelerated rapidly, reaching nearly 6500 kilometres per hour in just 9 seconds." That's 20 g acceleration!

Info at the CSXT website is scanty, but extrapolating from the rocket they launched in 2000, I infer a launch mass of 700 kg (and therefore engine thrust of over 130,000 N = 30,000 lb!). Interestingly, some playing around with the rocket equation suggests that only about half the mass of the rocket was propellant. Ignoring air resistance, a vertically-launched projectile with an initial velocity of 1,800 m sec-1 would reach about 160 km, so we may infer that air resistance sapped about 400 m sec-1 of the rocket's

I note that reaching, say, 500 km altitude should therefore require a
Dv of only about 3,600 m sec-1, suggesting that amateurs will be capable of constructing such rockets by the end of this decade. Add GPS guidance, input the orbital elements of a satellite, put a lump of explosive inside a ball of sand in the nose cone, and you're in the satellite-killing business. Ten million grains of sand (a few liters) could be evenly distributed by an explosive charge to a density of over one per square meter on the surface of a sphere over 3 km in diameter. One such grain of sand, massing perhaps 3 mg, striking a satellite at a relative velocity of 8 km sec-1, would have roughly the kinetic energy of a .22 short round (I invite readers to perform better calculations and send them in).

This is why I perceive, shall we say, a certain tension between amateur rocketry and private spaceflight on the one hand, and national security on the other. We've already seen the results of supposed anti-terror regulations, which have seriously hampered model rocketry:

... the BATFE has taken steps to attempt to regulate all model rocket and high-power rocket motors, steps which may effectively render the hobby extinct. The National Association of Rocketry and the Tripoli Rocketry Association are even now in the middle of a long legal battle in federal court to render pre-manufactured rocket motors exempt from this regulation.

Counsel for the NAR and TRA indicate that the chances for victory are very, very good. But even one amateur propellant chemist could give the BATFE the example it needs to turn the tide against model rocketry.

Eventually the bureaucrats are going to figure out that what American hobbyists and entrepreneurs can do in five years, lots and lots of people will be able to do in ten or fifteen. Some of those people will have terribly unpleasant ideas about what to do with the same technology. Unless the pro-space subculture gets a whole lot better at memetic engineering, the bureaucratic response will be Prohibition, up to and including a complete ban on any private launch. Count on it.

Jay Manifold [4:40 PM]

[ 20040514 ]

The Proactionary Principle

-- is brought to my attention by Reason (Founder, Longevity Meme), who points to this entry (555 words; 2 minutes), which is in turn based on Version 0.9 of an article by Max More (2,400 words; 5-10 minutes). RTWT.

Jay Manifold [10:37 AM]

Very Late Contest Update

(That would be this contest.) One more reason to make the most popular entry off limits: they just found it.

Jay Manifold [10:37 AM]

This Says It All (II)

(Ref this earlier post.) Previously unknown reader (the best kind) NK Reyes of Pawhuska, OK, reminds me that the rank-and-file members of set A can be much better about performing their duties than some of their more notorious "leaders":

Actually, Evangelicals consider helping the poor personal, not political.

When I was a missionary in Africa (placed by a non-sectarian group working at a Catholic mission hospital), 70 percent of rural health care was done by missionaries.

You also might want to check out Nicolas Kristoff's stories in the NYTimes on how Christian ideas of equality are raising the dignity of women.

Teaching literacy, teaching morality, and giving health care is "beneath the fold" in newspapers, but there is a large percentage of these projects sponsored by private donations through local churches.

And in our poor town, the local ministerium runs the food kitchen, and the Salvation Army runs the second hand store. And if you need help, or are sick, the local church ladies will come in and cook and clean and help you out or drive you to the doctor.

As Camus said: Some people think (hope) lies in a nation, others in a people, but I find it in the deeds of thousands of people whose lives and actions negate the rougher forms of human history ... he was probably talking about Le Chambon, whose evangelicals rescued hundreds of Jews...

And I'm not an evangelical.

Jay Manifold [10:35 AM]

[ 20040513 ]

"Great Dying" Update

(Ref this earlier post.) EurekAlert has the story:

As luck would have it, an oil-drilling exploration team in 1970 found a "dome" in the area of Bedout, just off the northwestern coast of Australia. Now covered by 2 miles of sediment, this area was most likely dry land 251 million years ago. Frequently, such domes herald large oil deposits, but in this case the drilling team found only what it labeled as "volcanic rock." The core samples were shelved and forgotten for 25 years, until in 1995 a report in a journal aimed at the oil industry mentioned that the rock might have been formed from a meteor impact.

Nice instance of interdisciplinary discovery. But if you're anything like me, you want to know how big the impact, and the impactor, was. Well, we can do that:

Coincidentally, the Bedout crater, at 120 miles across, is almost exactly the same size as the Chicxulub crater in the Caribbean that has been identified as the impact site of the meteorite that dealt the dinosaurs their death blow. It's likely that the bodies that struck at each site were of the same size and traveling at similar speeds.

OK, so how big and fast was the dinosaur-killer? The Lunar & Planetary Laboratory's "Chicxulub Impact Event" Discovering the Impact Site page says:

The asteroid or comet that produced the Chicxulub crater was roughly 10 km in diameter. When an object that size hits Earth's surface, it causes a tremendous shock wave while transferring energy and momentum to the ground. The impact was similar to a large explosion, although the energy of the Chicxulub impact dwarfs anything modern civilization has experienced. The energy of the impact was comparable to 100 million megatons of TNT, 6 million times more energetic than the 1980 Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption. The impact ejected rock from several kilometers beneath the surface of the Earth and carved out a bowl-shaped crater nearly 100 km in diameter. In addition, the shock of the impact produced magnitude-10 earthquakes, which were greater than the magnitude of any we have ever measured in modern times.

At 4.2 MJ kg-1 TNT equivalent, that's 4.2 × 1023 J. Now turning to the simulator linked in this post, we read that "[t]ypical impact velocities are 17 km sec-1 for asteroids and 51 km sec-1 for comets." Applying KE = ½mv², we get a mass of 2.9 × 1015 kg for an asteroid or 3.2 × 1014 kg for a comet. And applying V = 4pr³/3, we get a density r = 5.5 g cm-3 for an asteroid or 0.6 g cm-3 for a comet.

I conclude from this that if the P-T impactor was of average velocity and 10 km diameter, if it was an asteroid it was a solid chunk of nickel-iron, and if it was a comet it was loosely packed, not so much like a snowball as a flying avalanche.

Jay Manifold [5:37 PM]

ISS to Occult Jupiter!

Residents of a narrow strip running from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to Prince Edward Island will (weather permitting) see the International Space Station pass in front of Jupiter tonight. Details here; earlier post about occultations here.

Jay Manifold [2:29 PM]

Awww ...

J-1 & Aurora 4Ever:

Aquarists at the Alaska SeaLife Center introduced the 5-year-old J-1 to Aurora on Tuesday morning. The two really hit it off. Spermatophores were seen hanging from J-1's siphon.

If Aurora did get cozy with J-1 and accept his spermatophores, or sperm packet, which is delivered from the only arm without suckers, she will produce anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 eggs, which when hatched will look like little squid.

RTWT, and reminisce about your first love.

Jay Manifold [2:29 PM]

This Says It All

TNR's Michelle Cottle writes:

Rescuing widows and orphans may be big news in the Third World, but the subject doesn't exactly grip the American imagination, which is preoccupied with culture-war standards like abortion, gay rights, and school prayer.

... work with the poor doesn't lend itself to the sort of left-right political spats that many religious leaders use to gain ink and airtime.

... the bulk of American evangelicals do not consider poverty--even in their own country--a top priority. In a recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, evangelicals were asked, "What's the most important thing that concerns you?" The number-one response was moral values (with abortion overwhelmingly the defining political concern).

I suppose I should be grateful that we're rich enough to spend energy on political arguments instead of working frantically to keep people from starving to death. Too bad about the 850 million people with protein-energy malnutrition elsewhere. Oops.

Jay Manifold [2:27 PM]

[ 20040507 ]

Rumsfeld Calls for Mass Resignations at TV News Departments


Jay Manifold [10:10 AM]

Public Service Announcement

Rand Simberg just sent me this. Any Arcturus readers in the Philadelphia area are urged to do whatever they can to help.

From: (James Oberg)
To: (Bad Astronomy)
Subject: Astronomy Disaster at University of Pennsylvania
Date: Fri, 7 May 2004 10:49:42 -0500

Pass on to anyone who might be able to help.

----- Original Message -----
From: Thomas R. Williams
Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2004 10:51 PM
Subject: [HASTRO-L] FW: [oldscope] University of Pennsylvania's tripallium

The note forwarded below describes an incredible series of developments in the Physics Department at the University of Pennsylvania.

If there is anyone on this list from UofPennsylvania with an interest in the history of astronomy, Please! intercede for the sake of the historical value of the files that are left, if any. Is there a way to slow down the process to allow a more reasoned approach to be taken? There may still be files there with historically valuable material that should be preserved in some way. The papers of Charles Pollard Olivier come to mind immediately as I am certain they were still in the observatory in filing cabinets in the past year or so. However the papers of many other noteworthy astronomers associated with that institution and the Flower and Cook Observatory may also still be around somewhere in the path of the Physics Department bulldozer.

Thomas R. Williams, Editor
Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers
1750 Albans Road
Houston, TX 77005-1704 USA
trw@rice.edu http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~trw

-----Original Message-----
From: Bart Fried
Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2004 7:48 PM
To: oldscope@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [oldscope] University of Pennsylvania's tripallium

Dear Oldscope list members,

This past Tuesday, I had a lengthy conversation with Debbie Goldader, a former Astronomy instructor at the University of Pennsylvania. Debbie, while at Penn, took a great interest in the historical aspects of the University's venerable astronomy program. For some time, she has been involved in managing the Flower & Cook Observatory and was involved in its maintenance and use for teaching purposes.

Our conversation revolved around two topics. One is the impending sale of the property and buildings including the observatory, and its instruments. More on this topic later.

The other topic was so astounding that, since Tuesday's talk, I have been unable to think of anything to say that could adequately convey my emotions regarding the subject. So in this situation, all I can do is present the facts as she related them to me.

For some background, the Astronomy department was put under the direction of the Physics department some years ago. Prior to that, in the 1960's, the University sent their magnificent 18" Warner & Swasey/Brashear refractor off to New Zealand - essentially giving it away in a joint project that never materialized. As some know, the telescope is still in its crates after all these decades and the folks in New Zealand are not interested in returning it. The Flower & Cook observatory has, for the most part, languished in relative obscurity with minimal funding, and as mentioned, the Physics department and the University are 'deaccessioning' it.

Recently, in a move to provide more office space, the University's excellent Astronomy Department library was deemed to be a suitable location for the new space, and in a fit of what can only be described as incomparable stupidity and atrociousness, virtually the entire library was thrown out in the trash! This was truly a dark day for one of the world's premier research universities and "the thing speaks for itself."

Debbie and some others, upon hearing what was happening, were able to rescue from the dumpster a full set of Popular Astronomy and perhaps a few other things, but all else was already gone. What more can be said? My apologies, but this act is beyond my comprehension.

Bart Fried

Jay Manifold [10:03 AM]

[ 20040506 ]

Comet NEAT/Q4 Pictures

Observing reports are pouring in from ASKC members; new member John Beadles has pictures here. Longtime member Scott Kranz (quoted but not named below) points out that "... it's moving along at 5.5 degrees a day ... that's 13.75 arc-minutes an hour," which would allow it to cross the face of the Moon in about 2¼ hours.

I tried to see it last night but couldn't find my good binoculars, and it wasn't a naked-eye object through city lights at my location.

Jay Manifold [12:23 PM]

[ 20040505 ]

Comet NEAT is Coming!

A bright naked-eye comet will be easily visible in the evening sky within the next few days. Here are a couple of message excerpts from the ASKC Yahoo! Group; first, a description of the apparition:

Tomorrow night (Tuesday) just after dark should be our first glimpse of comet NEAT. I uploaded a finderchart for the next week. It will be heading up from the horizon between Canis Major and Puppis in the SW.

It is currently at magnitude 1.0. It is traveling at 5.5 degrees a day!

On the evening of May 14 the coma will be just west of M44, the Beehive. The tail should spray across the cluster. It will be magnitude 1.4 at that time and not set till almost 1:30 in the morning!

-- and the first solid observing report:

I found NEAT in 16x80's as a little round smudge. It was still too low and not dark enough to pull a tail out of the haze, though. I did get a couple pics of it. None are decent enough to show. I didn't have the camera on a drive so it trailed pretty good on a 30 second exposure at 280mm zoom.

Tonight should be a bit better. It will be straight east of Sirius (about half-way between Sirius and M93). Maybe it will be good and dark before it gets so low.

I haven't seen it yet myself but may try to find it with binocs this evening if the weather cooperates. A handy star chart has been placed online by Sky & Telescope.

UPDATE - The same observer reports: "At 9:30 it was still 5 - 8 degrees high. I have a slight incline along my whole SW-W-NW horizon. Last night NEAT would have set on my horizon at 9:20. All I saw was a little elongated smudge, no tail.

"A 30-second digiatal exposure at 400 speed equivalent showed a hazy coma with a bright core.

"The tail should extend quite a ways to the SE direction. At its location in the sky, that would mean that the tail should be extending to the 9:00 - 9:30 direction.

"Tonight it should be directly left (SE) of Sirius."

Jay Manifold [7:18 AM]

"Ethicists" "Troubled" by New Lifesaving Technology

In the luridly headlined Lab Creates Babies As Stem-Cell Donors, we find "ethicists" being "troubled" by ... wait for it ... children's lives being saved:

In a growing practice that troubles some ethicists, a Chicago laboratory helped create five healthy babies so that they could serve as stem-cell donors for their ailing brothers and sisters.

The made-to-order infants, from different families, were screened and selected when they were still embryos to make sure they would be compatible donors. Their siblings suffered from leukemia or a rare and potentially lethal anemia.

This is the first time embryo tissue-typing has been done for common disorders like leukemia that are not inherited, and the results suggest that many more children than previously thought could benefit from the technology, said Dr. Anver Kuliev, a Chicago doctor who participated in the research.

"This technology has wide implications in medical practice," Kuliev said Tuesday at a news conference.

The usual suspects then attempt to assure us that saving little kids from anemia or leukemia is a bad thing. Fortunately, there's at least one ethicist out there worthy of the name:

For years, families with sick children have conceived babies without costly test-tube procedures, taking a 1-in-4 chance that the child will be a match for the ailing sibling, said University of Wisconsin medical ethicist Norman Fost, who wrote a JAMA editorial.

Some have had abortions when standard prenatal testing showed the child would not be a suitable donor, he said.

The new procedure, he noted, does not involve abortion and poses no known risks to the embryos. Furthermore, parents seeking donor babies typically are well-intentioned and love the donor children, Fost said.

"Of all the reasons people have babies, this would seem to be a wonderful reason. Most reasons are either mindless sex or selfish reasons," he said.

Amen, brother.

Jay Manifold [7:09 AM]

[ 20040503 ]

Why We Don't See A Lot Of Traditional Icelandic Restaurants

From Viking Age Iceland:

... dairy activity centered on the products of cows' milk. Most important was skyr, a form of coagulated milk high in protein, which would keep over the winter. Skyr was curdled by introducing rennet, found in the membrane of calves' stomachs. Skyr, which is still eaten today, had in the Middle Ages the consistency of yoghurt. It was stored at the main farm in large, cool wooden vats of sour whey which were partly buried in the ground. People drank skyr when it was mixed with additional whey.

Yum! But that's only on page 47. We're just getting started.

The Saga of Gudmund the Worthy (Guðmundar saga dýra) .... mentions that after a long stand-off, a chieftain rewarded the men who had stood by him by opening his brother's whale storage pits (hvalgrafir). He gave each man three loads of whale meat, which they carried home with them. In such pits the meat and blubber fermented, a form of preservation. In a similar manner, Icelanders down to modern times preserve and eat rotten shark and skate fermented in their own juices, the process benefiting from the ammonia found in the urine.

(Page 50) But wait! There's more!

... by the mid to late tenth century, livestock farming, including the management of semi-wild horses used for meat, became the major form of subsistence. Animals, however, were valuable and fresh meat was usually only eaten in the autumn. If we are to judge from later times, little from the slaughtered animals was left unused as households prepared for winter. Sheep heads, rams' testicles, udders and jelly from the feet were all prepared for storage. Some meats were smoked, but most were boiled and then placed in large wooden vats of sour whey. Called súrr, related to English 'sour', this liquid acted as a preservative, bacterial fermentation turning the milk sugar to lactic acid. Food stored in súrr takes on a sour taste [no foolin'? -- JDM], and in modern times the food was not considered fit to eat until properly sour.

(Page 51) Nor should we neglect to consider the obvious fuel source on a largely deforested island, and the economic implications thereof: "As the forests diminished, dried dung became a major fuel for heating, and was the preferred fuel for smoking both meat and fish." The Jack Stack it ain't.

Foods conserved in súrr were ready for the table straight from the barrel, and the large percentage of pre-cooked or prepared foods resulted in a considerable saving in winter fuel.

Most early Icelandic farms had little if any salt for preserving, but meat and suet were made into different kinds of sausages and boiled, as were liver and blood-pudding preparations. These and other fatty foods were stuffed into skin bags made from animal stomachs. The butter made at the summer dairies was easily stored in wooden boxes and small barrels and during the winter was an important complement to most foods. Without salt, the stored butter fermented during storage, turning sour. In this state, it would keep for a very long time.

After all that, reading about the edible lichens (fjallagrös) actually comes as a relief.

Notwithstanding my newly-reinforced gratitude at living in 21st-century North America (Vinland the Good, indeed) rather than the 11th-century North Atlantic, "Viking Age Iceland" is a fascinating and thorough piece of scholarship. If you're anything like me, you'll get about thirty pages into it and have to actively suppress the urge to book airfare to Keflavik. Highly recommended.

Jay Manifold [5:23 PM]