Heinlein Centennial web site
send e-mail to A Voyage To Arcturus (note: Spam Arrest is on, so a one-time-only confirmation will be requested)

[ 20050830 ]

When the Levee Breaks

-- mama, you got to ... give.

(Use BugMeNot.com if needed.)

UPDATE: In the unlikely event that you need motivation to open your wallet ...

Lots of resources over at UT's Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, including images from NASA's Earth Observatory, this elevation map of New Orleans, and these pictures and maps compiled by Kathryn Cramer, who I'm blogrolling this minute (under "Science and/or Space Bloggers").

Via Blogdex, WWLTV.com's blog is a treasure trove of information -- and if you can't keep your parishes straight, graze on over to Encyclopedia Louisiana's map page.

Jay Manifold [7:00 PM]

The Planets Align (II)

(Ref this earlier post.) Thanks to Michael Lee for pointing to Sunset Planets, a handy graphic of the spectacular conjunction just now beginning to form in the western sky after sunset. Don't miss this one.

Jay Manifold [4:07 PM]

[ 20050826 ]

Just in Case

-- you're not up to speed on the Mars hoax.

Earlier mentions of the topic:

Jay Manifold [12:30 PM]

Save Yerkes Observatory

If I had the time right now, I could write a few thousand words about how much Yerkes has meant to me over the decades; suffice it to say that I find it to be one of the most special places on Earth. So graze on over to Save Yerkes Observatory and do what you can.

Jay Manifold [7:52 AM]

[ 20050825 ]

Climate Change and Structural Media Biases

Welcome to the blogroll Climate Science; I particularly recommend Open Comment to Andy Revkin ..., in which Prof Pielke (in comment #11) notes that "... the global earth system is complex enough to allow room for far more than just two perspectives on climate science." For how and why his resignation got mangled by the NYTimes, read Prof Cline's Media / Political Bias and see if you can tell which items on the list of biases apply.

Jay Manifold [3:10 PM]

Mars 2005 FAQ

Courtesy of the ASKC, Mars in 2005, a handy 2-page *.pdf (only 43 kB).

Jay Manifold [6:04 AM]

[ 20050824 ]

A Midsummer Night's Galactic Dream

For anyone who has ever fallen asleep under the Summer Milky Way ... via bird on the moon, we find Midsummer's Dream Galaxies: What does the galaxy in which we live look like?

Jay Manifold [5:12 PM]

JF, PR, or UBL?

Take the quiz!

Jay Manifold [5:11 AM]

[ 20050823 ]


A regular reader writes:

You've seen the Earth by Night satellite image of Earth ...

How would one go about getting updates, specifically for the region between Egypt and India, for the period 2000-2005? Presumably if electricity and auto lights are in fact more common now than pre-war, the Euphrates will start lighting up like the Nile, as images become more current. A visual worth a thousand words -- maybe. Can this be done from public sources?


Jay Manifold [8:31 AM]

[ 20050822 ]

An Alarming Number of People --

-- have e-mailed me to tell me that I should link to this, so, okay, I'm linking to it. The implication of the volume of correspondence I've gotten is that I'm some kind of go-to guy on the issue, which is vaguely alarming; I'll have to post a follow-up soon to Today's Dose of Irony, or the most recent post in an ongoing series.

UPDATE: Previously unknown reader (the best kind) Larry Yudelson writes:

Was that the Onion -- or the NYTimes?

Check out In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash.

You can't tell from the current web display, but as delivered on my lawn in dead tree format this morning, the article was front page followed by a full page on the inside. Somebody wants to seem like they're giving ID a "fair hearing."

Me, I'm just going to cancel my subscription and spend some of the savings on New Scientist and Scientific American ... unless you have any better suggested replacements for the Tuesday Science Times.

Science News works for me. A sub gets you access to all their online content.

Jay Manifold [7:25 PM]

[ 20050821 ]

Military Intelligence and the Scientific Method

Graze on over to Chicago Boyz for my first contribution in quite some time.

Jay Manifold [7:19 PM]

[ 20050820 ]

Career Advice: Become a Planetarium Repair Technician

As I noted below, planetarium attendance worldwide grew by 35% in the past decade. Meanwhile, there aren't enough people who know how to work on these things to go around.

The starball (page through that document to get a feel for the procedural complexity of these things) at the Gottlieb Planetarium broke down on Sat 9 Jul, but technicians from Spitz were not able to visit and diagnose the problem for more than two weeks. It then required over three weeks to repair.

The good news, from the ASKC's Bentley Ousley:

Mike Smith from Science City called today to tell me that the Gottlieb Planetarium's starball is once again operational. I checked the functionality with the Stargaze KC programs tonight and all seemed well. Looks like the Stargaze shows will begin again this Saturday. I plan to run the shows at both the 1:30 & 2:30 time slots ...

The last Saturday we were functional, we had over 350 people attend the show.

Jay Manifold [5:24 AM]

Ridiculously Late Notice

Powell Observatory's 20th anniversary celebration is all of 12 hours away as I write this. The public is invited. There will be food, observing, and a special program. Come on down!

Jay Manifold [4:55 AM]

[ 20050818 ]

This Could Be Kinda Important

Go read Bird Flu: Can We Out-Collaborate A Pandemic?, and then act as you feel led.

Jay Manifold [1:36 PM]

[ 20050816 ]

Antidotes to Premature Mars Mania

ASKCers have taken a couple of constructive steps I feel I should pass along.

  1. Dave Dembinski wrote this, which he suggests as a model response:

    Like most workplaces, I suppose, the IT department at our clinic frowns on non-buisness related emails spammed to "all associates". I AM getting quite a few questions from co-workers about the famous bogus Mars email ("as big as the full moon") that has surfaced again, and I figured I could justify sending this one to save company time. I saw a chance to put in a plug for Powell too. Then it occurred to me that maybe other club members could do the same at THEIR jobs, and we could take advantage of the rumor to generate some free publicity. So, if you want to cut and paste, or fix the grammar or add or subtract first, and use this as your own in a company email, feel free.

    A lot of you know I am an avid amateur astronomer. When special events come up I get a lot of questions. I am starting to get asked about Mars. I am writing to you proactively to save you the trouble of asking.

    There is rumor being forwarded around the world that says, in effect, that Mars will get really large, the size of the full moon, on August 27. Many people have already gotten emails about it, forwarded by well meaning friends. It is not true. Like many urban legends, it has a grain of truth behind it. Here is the story:

    On August 27, 2003 we had a VERY favorable opposition with Mars.

    Opposition means that Mars and the Sun were on exactly opposite sides of the sky. If you think about it, this means the Sun, Earth, and Mars are positioned (in that order) exactly in a line. Thus, Mars is as close to Earth as it can get. Because of the fact that the planets' orbits are ellipses, some oppositions are closer than others. The one in 2003 was the most favorable in the last 60,000 years. Mars got to "only" 35 million miles from the earth. That was why all the excitement. Two years ago an astronomer wrote: "On August 27th, the diameter of Mars, AS SEEN THRU A 75X TELESCOPE, will be the same as the Moon as seen by the naked eye. Someone dropped the phrase in capitals, thus the rumor.

    Now, the Earth is the third rock from the Sun, and Mars is the fourth. We have the inside lane, and so we "lap" Mars every 26 months. On Nov. 7, 2005 we will have another opposition. The so called "closest approach" occurs on Oct. 30, when (this time) we will be 44 million miles from the red planet. Not quite as close as in 2003, but in some ways this may be better than 2003 - this opposition will see Mars higher up in the sky and therefore better to see.

    Mars is a pretty small world (half the size of Earth), and at 44 million miles will still be pretty small ... to the naked eye it will be the same diameter as a dime seen 500 feet away. It will still be impressive to see though. Around Halloween and for the next few weeks afterward, look for it rising in the east at around sunset. It will look like a very bright reddish colored star (the brightest one in the sky!) high up in the south by midnight. Thru a small telescope you may be able to make out the fact that it is actually a disk and not a point of light. Thru a very nice telescope you may actually be able to see the polar ice caps and some surface markings.

    If you are interested in seeing this for yourself, come on out to Powell Observatory, in Louisburg, KS. It is the home to a very large 30" diameter telescope, plus several smaller ones, and is open to the public for a nominal donation every Saturday night from May thru October. It is owned and operated by the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, a non-profit organization that promotes public interest in astronomy. You can get directions on their website:


  2. Stuart Riley added:

    From some of my friends in Southern California, I got an email from Eric Jamieson who did a fine job on outlining Mars and what to expect this year. I was thinking especially about the newer entrants into this hobby on our group, but some of this information is superbly presented, and useful for everyone.

    The Mars Opposition of 2005

    Take a look and see if it helps.

Jay Manifold [7:32 PM]

[ 20050815 ]

Diagnosing the Decline of Science Magazines

(Ref this earlier post.) Steve Wilson of speculative catholic plausibly suggests in e-mail that: "Maybe the decline in science magazines can be explained by the rise of the Internet? Perhaps scientifically-minded people are more likely to share, and to search for information online?"

Anybody with hard data on this is encouraged to share it, and I'll post a follow-up. First-time e-mailers will have to send a confirmation due to my mildly obnoxious use of Spam Arrest.

Jay Manifold [6:50 PM]

[ 20050814 ]

ALCon 2005 - Wrap-Up

Attendance: 185


Next year's ALCon: Dallas, TX, Thu-Sat 3-5 Aug 2006

Next year's MSRALCon: Washington University, St Louis, MO, Fri-Sun 16-18 Jun 2006

Jay Manifold [6:37 PM]

Keeping 'em Guessing

Graze on over to Horseperson of the Arcturcalypse Beth Elliott's The Beth Zone for Unintelligent Design Dept, which, rather like Beth herself, isn't going to turn out to be what you think.

Jay Manifold [6:16 PM]

[ 20050813 ]

Global Warming on Mars

During his talk, Don Parker quoted Michael Malin of the Mars Global Surveyor mission: "Mars is experiencing global warming, and we don't know why."

We know this because, as Parker explained, over 10,000 filar-micrometer and red light CCD measurements of Mars' north polar cap have been taken over the past 40 years, and they show that it has been shrinking. And as he said, "My SUV is not on Mars."

He could have said a great deal more.

No one's SUV is on Mars. No evil oil companies raping the environment, no heedless Americans blundering toward disaster, none of the bogeys incessantly invoked by the hectoring, superstitious, fashionable political types back on Earth.

Global warming is real. And it's happening on at least two planets. This gigantic and incontrovertible fact should loom over the climate-change debate like no other. But it does not, presumably because planetary scientists aren't interested in forcing a utopian vision of society on human civilization.

Those who are interested in such schemes have failed to follow the advice I quoted below: "When you're faced with a problem, and you come up with an answer, don't stop."

They stopped. But the answer is not on Earth. We have one great thing in common with Mars -- both planets orbit the same star. The only mechanism that could be warming them both is solar forcing. Will the PC crowd, which is scarcely less scientifically illiterate than the red-staters they despise, raise their eyes from the Earth to the real answer?

Jay Manifold [2:40 PM]

ALCon 2005 - The Apparition of Mars

Astrophotographer extraordinaire Don Parker spoke late this morning about this year's Martian opposition, which will occur on Monday 7 November (closest approach, 43.1 million miles/70.4 million kilometers, is actually Sunday 30 October).

Mars will be 20.2" (arc-seconds) in diameter -- one arc-second is the width of a pencil a mile away -- and will appear the size of the full Moon at 90x. Due to its much greater declination of 15.9° this time around, it will be much higher in the sky for northern hemisphere observers, which will improve its visibility by reducing the amount of Earth's atmosphere to look through.

A moment over at YourSky establishes that at midnight local time on 7 Nov, Mars will be nearly at the zenith and less than 30° west (right) of Aldebaran and the Hyades. The Moon will not be up, and the only other planets in the sky will be Uranus, descending in the west, and Saturn, which will have just risen in the east-northeast. Shining at magnitude -2.3, Mars will be the brightest celestial object above the horizon (the brightest star in Earth's nighttime sky, Sirius, is less than half as bright than Mars will be).

(Technical discussion and diagrams may be found at Jeffrey D. Beish's The 2005 Perihelic Apparition of Mars.)

Fun facts passed along during the talk: on Mars, the pole star is Deneb. At distant oppostions, we see mostly Mars' northern hemisphere, and at close oppositions, we see mostly its southern hemisphere. The southern summer solstice on Mars is next Tuesday. Good amateur projects are to look for clouds and dust storms; contact ALPO about these.

Oh, and Mars is experiencing global warming. But more about that, and its implications, in my next.

Jay Manifold [12:49 PM]

ALCon 2005 - Amateur Astronomy in Iran/"Chasing the Shadow"

(A topic I have had occasion to mention elsewhere.) This morning's first speaker was Hamid Khodashenas of the Sayeh Research Group, sayeh being Farsi for "shadow." This group was founded in 1999 with, among other objectives, the hope of sharing projects with American amateur astronomers.

There are eight amateur observatories in Iran, four of which are in Tehran. Iranians lead the world in early sightings of the crescent Moon, which is used to define the beginning of Ramadan. Unfortunately there is little if any instruction of, or involvement in, astronomy beyond the high-school level in Iran. He mentioned again the need for collaboration with Americans in this area.

There is an Iranian amateur astronomical magazine named Nojum (page is in Farsi). Here's a picture of Nojum's staff, and a whole bunch more Iranian astronomy links. Hamid also mentioned kamaneasemani.com, which appears to be dedicated to early crescent Moon sightings, and the Iran Amateur Astronomical Society (in English!).

Hamid then premiered his movie, "Chasing the Shadow," for us. It depicts four solar eclipses:

Coming at an awkward time, Hamid's appearance at the ALCon 2005 Expo was a welcome reminder of what we can still share. His next eclipse trip will be for the 29 March 2006 event in Niger.

Jay Manifold [9:24 AM]

ALCon 2005 - Sir Patrick Moore Retires

Astronomical League President Bob Gent, whose name I extravagantly dropped in A Modest Proposal for an Asteroid Warning System, announced this morning that an AL staffer currently visiting Europe asked him to pass along the news of AL member Sir Patrick Moore's retirement from The Sky at Night after 48 years (possibly the longest-running TV progam ever).

Jay Manifold [9:22 AM]

[ 20050812 ]

ALCon 2005 - "Wading in the Tidal Streams of the Milky Way"

Next up was Bruce Twarog of KU, with an evocatively titled talk that turned out to be about galactic collisions. He began with a great and possibly original quote: "When you're faced with a problem, and you come up with an answer, don't stop."

Then a quick review of the concept of conservation of angular momentum, and an explanation (with audience members representing the Moon, Earth, and oceans on either side of Earth) of tidal forces [my favorite discussion of tides remains Niven's Neutron Star].

The Moon was once ten times closer to Earth than it is now, completing one orbit every 24 hours [you can figure it with P2 ~ D3] -- and at that distance, there would have been an eclipse every 24 hours. Earth's rotation was only 6 hours.

Ultimately, the Moon and Earth will be tidally locked, facing one another, with the solar day equal to the lunar month, both being 47 of our current days, and the Moon permanently fixed above one spot on Earth. Interestingly, the slowing of Earth's rotation and concomitant recession of the Moon is due mainly to friction of the oceans against the crust.

Tidal forces between stars are insignificant due to their microscopic size relative to their separation: if the Sun is represented by a ping-pong ball in KC,
a Centauri A would be another ping-pong ball just east of Denver. But galaxies are another matter; they are typically separated by only 10 times their diameters. So although when they collide, no two stars (out of hundreds of billions!) hit each other, they can be enormously disrupted as a whole.

The obvious example is close to home; but the Magellanic Stream was discovered only recently through the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. But these tidal streams don't last that long, relative to the age of the Galaxy, so unless we've gotten awfully lucky, there should be more.

And there are: Palomar 5, a globular cluster being "tidally shredded" by the Milky Way; the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy; and the Canis Major Dwarf, actually the closest galaxy to our own. The lessons of these, and perhaps others remaining to be discovered, are: the Milky Way is a dynamic system, still forming, its disk still accreting; and some of the stars in the Solar neighborhood may have formed in another galaxy.

More and better data are coming -- from SDSS II, the Space Interferometry Mission [and see Optical Interferometers as Spy Satellites? for an altogether different application of this technology], Gaia, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, an 8-meter instrument with an astounding 3° field of view that will be able to punch down to 24th magnitude in ten seconds.

In the Q & A, someone asked why any globulars are left. The answer is that only the high-mass globular clusters capable of holding themselves together have survived. Another question was whether there is a corresponding distortion in the Milky Way itself, and sure enough, in the outer portion, there's something called the thick disk, caused by the coalescing and merger of smaller galaxies with ours.

Jay Manifold [9:18 PM]

ALCon 2005 - SOFIA

Earlier this afternoon, Mike Bennett of the ASP spoke about the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy. At 40,000 feet, you're above 85% of the atmosphere, but 99% of the water vapor, which absorbs infrared light (Bennett mentioned something I'd forgotten -- infrared light was discovered by William Herschel).

"Airborne astronomy has been described as trying to use an astronomical telescope during an earthquake in a hurricane" -- but has nonetheless been successfully pursued; the Kuiper Airborne Observatory operated for at least twenty years and, among other things, discovered the rings of Uranus (pronunciation meme). SOFIA is KAO's replacement.

And it's quite an upgrade. Main mirror is 2.7 meters (100"), and it will be flown 120 times a year, each flight being 8 hours in duration. It will spend 1-2 months each year in the Southern Hemisphere. Its estimated lifetime is 20 years, for a total of (my estimate) 16,000 hours of observing time. I believe this is comparable to or slightly better than ground-based telescopes, which I have heard are good for maybe 700 hours a year of actual observation.

Test flights are to begin early next year, with science being done by the end of the year. SOFIA will be based at Ames, and takes the form of a Boeing 747 SP, originally a Pan American passenger jet christened the "Clipper Lindbergh" on the 50th anniversary of Lindbergh's solo Atlantic crossing. It was later sold to United Airlines, and wound up on a used airplane lot in Ardmore, OK.

A rather extensively modified 747 SP, that is: a new pressure bulkhead just behind the wing separates the telescope from everything else aboard, especially the people, and serves as the telescope mount, with bearings that float on oil. There is a special area on board the plane for educators, including amateur astronomers.

The scope can shift 60° in azimuth; gross pointing is done by the airplane itself. It's a Cassegrain-Coudé focus, like the 200" Hale reflector on Palomar, but the third mirror splits IR and visible light into two separate beams and sends them to different instruments. Big inflatable air bladders, like shock absorbers on trucks, take out long-period vibrations; short-period vibrations, down to 300 Hz, are detected by gyroscopes which send signals to the telescope to perform compensating vibrations. KAO used similar technology, but SOFIA is much heavier.

Acoustic turbulence is also a problem. Engineers were unable to completely model it, even with hundreds of hours of wind-tunnel testing. Actually, most of the testing was done simply to ensure that the plane could fly safely, since after all a big chunk of fuselage is effectively removed during observation runs. In the event, the ride is so smooth that the pilots have to have an indicator light to show if the 'scope cover is open, because the feel of the controls isn't any different!

The plane was modified at a "chop shop" in central Texas. One of the slides Bennett showed depicted the main mirror being loaded onto the plane. Supposedly, during this operation someone remarked that "if we break that mirror, it's seven thousand years of bad luck." The mirror is made of Zerodur and was built by the Germans in exchange for 20% of the observing time of SOFIA.

Now, about getting to fly on SOFIA: there's a program called Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors; about 200 educators will be flown each year, with all major expenses paid. Supposedly anybody who's passed a college-level course in astronomy can potentially qualify.

The only question I thought sufficiently interesting during the Q & A to pass along the answer to was about dust. It seems that the stratosphere (SOFIA will cruise at 41,000'/12,400 m) is much cleaner than the troposphere in this regard, and the door will only be open at altitude. The mirrors will occasionally be realuminized in a tank at Moffett Field, where SOFIA is to be based.

Jay Manifold [4:44 PM]

ALCon 2005 - "The Death of Amateur Astronomy"

-- was the title of Michael Bakich's opening talk, and he had some sobering statistics to back it up. It seems that by some measures, the last really good year was 1999, and things have been going downhill ever since.

The median age of Astronomy magazine readers is rising by more than one year per year, and is now at least 52.6. While the number of magazine titles available at newsstands rose nearly 40% over the past 15 years, the number of science magazines dropped nearly 30% in just the past 5 years. In 2003, 440 new magazines were launched; only 2 covered science.

Astronomy club membership nationwide was over 30,000 in 1990; it is now less than 25,000 -- possibly much less. On the other hand, planetarium attendance is up worldwide, from 75 million in 1995 to 101 million in 2004, and both Astronomy and Sky & Telescope are enjoying record earnings. Amateur astronomy has always been cyclical; particularly since the early 19th century, there have been peaks (especially when comet P1/Halley appears) and valleys. Today, prospective amateur astronomers face three main challenges:

  1. Unreachable expectations. These are fueled by the kinds of astrophotos the magazines print, which of course are the best of the best, and also by the pictures on the sides of telescope boxes, which are from major observatories rather than through the type of telescope in the box, which of course has perhaps a thousandth the light-gathering power.

  2. Go-to hype. Telescopes which promise to find celestial objects must still be initialized and aligned, nontrivial procedures for the beginner. Bakich predicted, however, that within 10 years there will be a telescope that does these things right out of the box, and suggests objects and magnifications as well.

  3. Light pollution, for which see the International Dark-Sky Association.

All is not lost, however; in the US, annual spending on astronomy per household is an amazing $707, and over 1 million telescopes are sold each year; Astronomy Day, in particular, continues to be successful. To turn things around, Bakich recommended that we capitalize on special events -- those that occur to me are Deep Impact; the bogus Mars e-mail is arousing public interest; there's a spectacular conjunction of Venus and Jupiter next month; and Mars will be impressive in October and November.

He also suggested working with your local planetarium ("this is where the harvest is") -- easier in some places than in others, but we're trying. Finally, there are lots of online resources, starting with Astronomy.com itself (Bakich is an associate editor of Astronomy).

Some tips and comments from the Q & A:

Jay Manifold [10:26 AM]

Live from ALCon 2005

I am a staff volunteer for ALCon Expo 2005 and will attempt to provide regular reports on the events as they unfold.

Among the more unusual items on the program is Saturday morning's breakfast speaker, Iranian solar-eclipse chaser Hamid Djodeiri Khodashenas; his biography is on page 8 of this document.

Jay Manifold [6:41 AM]

MRO is Off!

Mars orbiter launches on second try, reports the AP via the Houston Chronicle. See also NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter page.

Jay Manifold [6:39 AM]

[ 20050808 ]

"Duty" Weekend

My duty night at Powell was Saturday night -- got there around 8 PM and found myself running the 30" while other team members presented the program and generally engaged in crowd control. We looked at Jupiter, M13, M51, and M4 (after I inexplicably failed to find M22), at magnifications ranging from 84x to 169x.

We struck out on Iridium flares or appearances of the ISS or the Shuttle, but the several dozen guests didn't mind. The evening was clear, if a bit hazy near the horizon, and not uncomfortably warm or humid. After sunset, a two-day-old Moon was visible in the west, followed by Venus and Jupiter, and the Summer Milky Way was prominent by the end of astronomical twilight, around 10 PM.

Some takeaways:

  1. The main ladder for the 30" (which looks a lot like this) is about a foot too short for reaching the eyepiece when the object being observed is near the zenith, necessitating the use of a plastic crate on the top platform for greater height. Not the most comfortable perch, either for visitors or regular observers.

  2. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Having said that, the popular level of astronomical knowledge, at least around these parts, is zero. Questions (from adults) included things like: "Can we look at a constellation next?" (ie through the largest telescope in 5 states)

  3. Remarkably few of the guests at Powell had seen the bogus Mars e-mail, but several of them had the vague idea that something of great astronomical significance is to happen in August. There's a lesson in there about meme transmission.

  4. Everybody loved it, period. Some were more vocal about it than others, but everyone was astonished, especially by Jupiter and the Galilean moons, which were nicely symmetrically arranged, two on either side of the planet.

  5. As for me, I think I enjoy telling people about what they're looking at through a telescope just about as much as I enjoy anything.

Arrived home around midnight to find remarkable number of vehicles parked on my dead-end stub of street and large, unquiet party in progress next door. Well, there's only one thing to do in a situation like that, which is to march over there and ... set up a C8 in the guy's front yard. We looked at Albireo, which was impressive, and at M13, which from the city didn't look so great, but at least the guests could tell it was there.

So I got to sleep around 2 AM. And the next day, I felt great. Every weekend should be like this.

Jay Manifold [5:56 AM]

[ 20050806 ]


Sixty years ago today, the man who would become my father thirteen years later was a nineteen-year-old rifleman in an infantry platoon, on a troopship in the Pacific Ocean, bound for the invasion of Japan. But this is not merely a the-bomb-was-worth-it post, although I have previously said just that (my critical stance in that post is somewhat offset by Gwynne Dyer Gets It). There is an opportunity here for better understanding between Americans and others, especially fellow Westerners, who distrust the US.

I suggest that we must never forget the fearsome price the world has paid for American supremacy. As Donald Sensing, the chaplain of the blogosphere, has written, the consequences of the First World War, as determined by the Battle of the Marne, have included:

All this, so that we could lead the world. I do not wonder that many people do not find American geopolitical dominance to be what they would have chosen. Which is not to say that I agree with such people.

Counterfactuals involving such "decisively indecisive" (my clunky phrase) battles as the First Battle of the Marne, or Antietam, are fascinating; but Rev Sensing and I part ways when he suggests that German victory six weeks into World War I should be considered a preferable outcome.

To see why, we need only look a quarter-century ahead. The spontaneous fission of uranium has been discovered. Now Fermi, Szilard, Teller, and von Neumann, among others, are working for the other side. Anybody want to bet that we'd have won the race to build the Bomb? Or that the Central Powers, Germany in particular, would have hesitated to use it against the rest of civilization?

(In this connection, some time before starting his blog, Alan Henderson suggested that had the US not fought Japan, the first use of nuclear weapons would have been even worse.)

And yet we ought, I think, occasionally to acknowledge the cost, while also acknowledging what we and the world have gained. Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb mentions the more than 8,000 Japanese schoolgirls in their early teens, ironically working to clear firebreaks, who were incinerated by the Hiroshima bomb. They, and many others, died that I might live. But had they not died then, they and far more others would have died shortly thereafter. The likelihood of a partitioned Japan (after hundreds of thousands of American casualties and millions of Japanese deaths), with the Soviets occupying it north of, oh, how about the 38th parallel? -- a subsequent war far more destructive than that in Korea, a Soviet invasion of western Europe ... all these were prevented by the work of Chicago and Los Alamos.

And the world was a much safer place, having gotten an American nuclear arsenal first, than in any other outcome I can imagine. That margin of safety, of course, will diminish; see, for example, this post -- and indeed someday, with nanotechnology guaranteeing the easy duplication of any weapon, will vanish entirely, perhaps requiring us (or our descendants) to move on. But at least we, or they, will be around to do the moving.

UPDATE: Fred Iklé -- "A global dispersion of the most cataclysmic means for destruction would have no parallel in history. Even the fall of the Roman Empire did not empower ruthless rebels or pseudoreligious cults to extirpate law and order in every corner of the realm. Mercifully the nuclear dispersion has not yet started. But there is nothing now discernible that would prevent it from happening."

Jay Manifold [3:05 PM]


As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, this seems like good news, especially the part about setting up a hot line.

Jay Manifold [3:04 PM]

Boniface in Science Education?

Over on Ockham Mach3, Czech blogger "OutEast" has A Modest Proposal. The first part of it is unpleasantly reminiscent of what I warned against in my Boniface in Blogdom post. But there is a second part, for as OutEast says: "However, this is only the first of the two projects I propose, as this negative campaign is—well, negative." So RTWT.

Jay Manifold [10:01 AM]

[ 20050804 ]

More Additions to the Blogroll

Via this post by Juan de Mairena, whose meaning I had to mostly guess at because my Spanish isn't that good, I found Reply to a 14 year old creationist over on Respectful Insolence and was hooked.

Then there's Arbitrary Aardvark, whose assessment of me is one I hope to live up to. Welcome to the blogroll.

Jay Manifold [6:59 PM]

[ 20050802 ]

Sun Clock

Another sidebar update: I've added Tim Osborn's Sun clock under "Info Sites." It shows the bands of sunrise/set and civil, nautical, and astronomical twilight on a Mercator projection. Many thanks to David Appell's Quark Soup for blogging it.

Jay Manifold [7:45 PM]


Welcome Galaxy Girl to the blogroll; her blog specializes in active galactic nuclei but promises to branch out into astronomy and science in general, as time and resources permit. And it's loaded with equations -- none of which I can (ordinarily) see, due to my use of IE 6. :^(

Jay Manifold [7:21 PM]

Today's Dose of Irony

From Bush backs instruction in evolution, intelligent design:

“I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,” he said. “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas. The answer is yes.”

The six conservatives on the 10-member Kansas Board of Education are supporting a draft of the science standards that calls for more criticism of evolution. The draft does not go so far as to call for the teaching of intelligent design.

Board Chairman Steve Abrams, who supports the proposed draft, said Monday that he supported “good science” and that he backed intelligent design to the extent that it met the requirements of what constituted good science. But he said more research needed to determine whether intelligent design should be inserted into the curriculum.

“I hate to disagree with the president, but at this point in time I am not in favor of actually inserting intelligent design into the standards,” said Abrams, of Arkansas City. “I think it’s important for students to be able to critically analyze evolution, but to actually insert intelligent design into it — I’m not much in favor of inserting intelligent design.

“I still go back to what is science. … It needs to meet the criteria of good science.”

Ironic, isn't it?

Well, maybe. Let's keep in mind PJ O'Rourke's remark, "life is full of irony for the stupid." President Bush is shoring up a political base; Steve Abrams is trying to set policy. Perhaps not in a direction many of us would prefer, but trying nonetheless, and these are two very different things.

Behind the President's remarks is a reluctance on the part of much (in some places, most) of the American electorate to believe the historical sciences, a phenomenon I commented on in, whaddaya know, Why People Don't Believe the Historical Sciences (while you're there, read the post below it as well). More recently I suggested terms for classifying people in this regard.

Jay Manifold [12:10 PM]

[ 20050801 ]

Attention, All Planets of the Solar Federation (II)

(However many there may be, and see this post from last year.) Yes, the Mars e-mail is bogus; but events may yet provide it a grain of truth. Forget August; but October is going to be something else. The ASKC's David Hudgins reports:

For you observers out there...

Wow, I got up this morning at 3:30am and observed Mars until dawn. Holy cow, it already looks good -- just 11" diameter, but way up high in the sky! I had good views with my 5" Mak and could readily see the south polar cap and some faint dusky shadings especially ringing the cap at 200X.

If no summer dust storms pop up, we will have tremendous views in the coming months!! Being 30° higher in the sky at this opposition, Mars will be a much better sight from KC latitude. We may actually see more than last time!

The actual date of opposition is Sat 29 Oct (US Central Time), but Mars should be spectacular every weekend from mid-October to mid-November.

Jay Manifold [7:45 PM]

Crater Critter Community Council Confab Communiqué

Over on the ASKC E-Group, member David Neuenschwander reports:

The crater tour was especially informative -- the actual point of impact isn't at all where I expected. It's much smaller than I thought and at the extreme southwest boundary of the crater, not at the twisted creek junctures in the southeast. 340 million years of sedimentation and erosion have left not much to notice on the surface. We did see the round rocks as they formed, still in the breccia, and several places where the sediment rock layers have been wildly deformed. Some are vertical (!) and the quarry tour showed some which have actually been folded.

Dr. Evans was excited at the prospect of speaking to ASKC -- he lives to do this stuff. He is waiting for results from scanning electron microscope work being done in Austria before publishing widely. He thought this might be about 6 months to finish. Shocked quartz microspherules should help to make the impact argument airtight. Tectonic shifts really present a problem for the serial strike theory, though.

(This is all in reference to this earlier post and the Weaubleau-Osceola Structure. For another post about what Earth was like back in the day, the day being the Mississippian Period, see last year's Cool Dead Stuff Halloween Night Post.)

Jay Manifold [7:15 PM]

BWCA Follow-Up (a/k/a Blatant Narcissism-Blogging)

A good time was had by all (ref this earlier post). Readers/groupies/stalkers interested in monitoring my appearance, see below:

Me with my trusty Mak on the shore of Gabbro Lake, shortly before sunset, Tue 12 Jul 2005.

See also The 300 Year Evolution of the Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope.

Jay Manifold [11:44 AM]