Lighter than Air

'Oumuamua (1I2017 U1), artist's conceptionIn October 2017, astronomers using the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii discovered a small object passing relatively near the Earth (33 million km, 0.22 astronomical units (AU), or about 85 times farther away than the Moon).  Initial attempts to fit an orbit to its path, tracked by a series of observations failed.  It was realised that the object is on a strongly hyperbolic orbit and is not gravitationally bound to the Sun: dynamically, it is not a part of the solar system—it is an interstellar object, the first to be observed, just passing through.  It was first considered to be a comet, but extended observations by large telescopes failed to detect any of the emissions of dust and gas which one would expect from a comet, especially one making its first close approach to a star in many millennia, and perhaps ever.  It was then re-classified as an asteroid.  Finally, it was given the designation 1I/2017 U1 and the informal name `Oumuamua, which means “scout” or “messenger” in the Hawaiian language.

Further observations deepened the mystery: `Oumuamua was discovered after it had made its closest approach to the Sun on September 9th, 2017 at a distance of 0.25 AU (inside the orbit of Mercury), and as it receded from the Sun, careful tracking of its position indicated it was not following a trajectory as would be expected from Newton’s laws, but rather losing velocity slower than gravitation would account for (or, in other words, it had an outward acceleration added to the deceleration of gravity).  This is often the case for comets, whose emission of gas and dust released due to heating by the Sun acts like a rocket to propel the body away from the Sun.  But that conflicts with the failure to detect any such emissions from `Oumuamua by telescopes and instruments with more than adequate sensitivity to observe emissions which could account for the acceleration.... [Read More]

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Good B-iPhone

iPhone 6S bulging battery

Today, among other alarums and diversions, I updated the operating system software in my iPhone 6s, which I bought on 2015-11-17, to version 12.4.  The update went smoothly, as did the installation of three app updates which appeared only after the system update was applied.  I then listened to a 40 minute podcast whilst attending to other matters and then, when I went to plug the phone into the charger, I noticed something distinctly odd.... [Read More]

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Russia Radioactive Again?

According to our news media, Russia has been radioactive since at least the Trump inauguration, if not Chernobyl. Today, a scintillating story has broken, telling of released radiation following explosion of an experimental engine using “radioisotopes and liquid propellant.” The engine is speculated to be related to Russia’s development of a hypersonic missile.

The “radioisotopes” got my attention. Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG‘s) have been around for quite some time and used to power  niche items like isolated lighthouses and spacecraft. They use heat resulting from the known and predictable decay of various radioactive heavy elements to produce electricity.... [Read More]

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SpaceX Super Heavy / Starship Environmental Assessment Report

We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.
— Wernher von Braun

SpaceX is in the process of developing a completely reusable two-stage super-heavy class orbital launch vehicle called Super Heavy / Starship.  This is the latest iteration in an evolving design which has previously been called the Mars Colonial Transporter, Interplanetary Transport System, and Big Falcon Rocket (BFR).  The present design (which continues to evolve) specifies a payload to low Earth orbit (LEO) between 100 and 150 tonnes.  This compares to the 140 tonnes to LEO of the Saturn V which was, of course, completely expendable.  The Super Heavy/Starship will be, if built to the current design, the largest and most powerful rocket ever, with a lift-off thrust of 62 meganewtons (MN), compared to 35.1 MN for the Saturn V.... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Skin in the Game

“Skin in the Game” by Nassim Nicholas TalebThis book is volume four in the author’s Incerto series, following Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and Antifragile. In it, he continues to explore the topics of uncertainty, risk, decision making under such circumstances, and how both individuals and societies winnow out what works from what doesn’t in order to choose wisely among the myriad alternatives available.

The title, “Skin in the Game”, is an aphorism which refers to an individual’s sharing the risks and rewards of an undertaking in which they are involved. This is often applied to business and finance, but it is, as the author demonstrates, a very general and powerful concept. An airline pilot has skin in the game along with the passengers. If the plane crashes and kills everybody on board, the pilot will die along with them. This insures that the pilot shares the passengers’ desire for a safe, uneventful trip and inspires confidence among them. A government “expert” putting together a “food pyramid” to be vigorously promoted among the citizenry and enforced upon captive populations such as school children or members of the armed forces, has no skin in the game. If his or her recommendations create an epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, that probably won’t happen until after the “expert” has retired and, in any case, civil servants are not fired or demoted based upon the consequences of their recommendations.... [Read More]

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The Left Discovers Human Biodiversity

Blank-slatism is a cornerstone of leftist orthodoxy: all humans are the same and race is a social construct. Even though Diversity is Our Strength™ anyone can be anything, do anything. Imagine my shock at coming across an article in a leftist publication endorsing human biodiversity:

The scientific research hits on some of the most sensitive racial anxieties of Western-African relations, but it’s also an amazing story of human biodiversity.... [Read More]

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This Week’s Book Review – Destination Moon

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Destination Moon’ a fresh take on telling the story

By MARK LARDAS... [Read More]

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The “Trump Heat Wave” of 2019 Falls Ten Degrees Short of the “FDR Heat Wave” of 1936

Think Progress beats the drums of climate change by warning of a “Trump Heat Wave:”

Most of the country is entering into the first few hours of a blistering heat wave that will extend well into the weekend.

Dangerous combinations of high temperatures and humidity will push the “heat index” (what the temperature “feels like”) past 100 degrees Fahrenheit from the Dakotas down to Texas and across to Maine and Florida, an area encompassing well over half of the country’s population.

But as countless studies have made clear, the kind of extreme heat waves this country, Europe, and elsewhere have been experiencing this summer and last have been made more intense and more likely thanks to human caused global warming.

Even worse, if we fail to significantly curb emissions of carbon pollution — which is the current plan put forth by President Donald Trump’s climate policies — then these severe and deadly heatwaves will become the normal summer weather over the next few decades.

What Think Progress conveniently forgets is that the “FDR Heat Waves” of the 1930s were far worse.

Continue reading “The “Trump Heat Wave” of 2019 Falls Ten Degrees Short of the “FDR Heat Wave” of 1936″

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Vega Launch Failure, Not-So-Great Moments in Launch Commentary

Vega / Falcon Eye 1 liftoff, 2019-07-11At 01:53 UTC today (2019-07-11) a European Space Agency (ESA) Vega rocket was launched from Arainespace’s site at Kourou, French Guiana, on the east coast of South America.  Its payload was the Falcon Eye 1 reconnaissance satellite built by Airbus Defense and Space for the United Arab Emirates.  The Italian-built Vega is the smallest launcher operated by ESA, and was to place Falcon Eye 1, with a mass of 1197 kg, in a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 611 km.

The Vega is a four stage rocket, with the first three stages solid fuelled and the fourth stage using a hypergolic liquid fuelled engine manufactured in the Ukraine.  This was the fifteenth flight of Vega since its introduction in 2012; all of the first fourteen flights were successful.  Here’s what happened this time.... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Apollo 11 at 50 I: Apollo

Apollo 11 “everyone elsie” by Michael Collins, 1969-07-21, AS11-44-6643.On November 5, 1958, NASA, only four months old at the time, created the Space Task Group (STG) to manage its manned spaceflight programs. Although there had been earlier military studies of manned space concepts and many saw eventual manned orbital flights growing out of the rocket plane projects conducted by NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the U.S. Air Force, at the time of the STG’s formation the U.S. had no formal manned space program. The initial group numbered 45 in all, including eight secretaries and “computers”—operators of electromechanical desk calculators, staffed largely with people from the NACA’s Langley Research Center and initially headquartered there. There were no firm plans for manned spaceflight, no budget approved to pay for it, no spacecraft, no boosters, no launch facilities, no mission control centre, no astronauts, no plans to select and train them, and no experience either with human flight above the Earth’s atmosphere or with more than a few seconds of weightlessness. And yet this team, the core of an effort which would grow to include around 400,000 people at NASA and its 20,000 industry and academic contractors, would, just ten years and nine months later, on July 20th, 1969, land two people on the surface of the Moon and then return them safely to the Earth.

Ten years is not a long time when it comes to accomplishing a complicated technological project. Development of the Boeing 787, a mid-sized commercial airliner which flew no further, faster, or higher than its predecessors, and was designed and built using computer-aided design and manufacturing technologies, took eight years from project launch to entry into service, and the F-35 fighter plane only entered service and then only in small numbers of one model a full twenty-three years after the start of its development.... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Apollo 11 at 50 II: Moon Landing from the Moon

One of the most fundamental deductions Albert Einstein made from the finite speed of light in his theory of special relativity is the relativity of simultaneity—because light takes a finite time to traverse a distance in space, it is not possible to define simultaneity with respect to a universal clock shared by all observers. In fact, purely due to their locations in space, two observers may disagree about the order in which two spatially separated events occurred. It is only because the speed of light is so great compared to distances we are familiar with in everyday life that this effect seems unfamiliar to us. Note that the relativity of simultaneity can be purely due to the finite speed of light; while it is usually discussed in conjunction with special relativity and moving observers, it can be observed in situations where none of the other relativistic effects are present. The following animation demonstrates the effect.

Relativity of Simultaneity... [Read More]

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