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Science

Why didn’t the Voyager mission visit Pluto?

Heart of Pluto

Given the stunning success of NASA’s New Horizon’s flyby of Pluto, I’ve been struggling to understand why neither Voyager 1 or 2 attempted a similar flyby of Pluto to that undertaken for Neptune.

Having looked into the Voyager mission from its conception in July 1965, Pluto was not initially considered by Gary Flandro’s Grand Tour Opportunity outline, but as more detailed mission planning got underway it was included in James Long’s 1966 trajectory design.

The primary problem of a Pluto flyby was not distance (as between February 1979 and February 1999 Pluto was within the orbit of Neptune), so much as the difficulty of getting the probe into a 25 degree tilt from the plane of the ecliptic to reach Pluto.

Voyager 1 was initially on track to undertake the Pluto flyby, but the decision to undertake a close flyby of Titan meant that this had to be abandoned. Given the lack of success of Voyager at Titan (due to the depth of cloud cover), this seems to me a terrible shame.

When questioned in regard to Voyager 1, Ed Stone (JPL Director & Voyager scientist), came out with the rather glib answer “Well, Titan was 3 hours away, and Pluto was 3 years away – and I had to make payroll.“. I never could stand Ed Stone, the guy might be a great scientist, but he’s also a complete twat.

Voyager 2 was scheduled to flyby Neptune and Triton in August 1989 and although this was a very closely timed visit, it seems to me that a different approach could have allowed the necessary gravitational sling shot to send the craft on to Pluto, even if it meant a more limited encounter with Neptune / Triton.

The justification from NASA I am struggling to understand:

Voyager 2, theoretically, could have been aimed for Pluto, but the aim point would have been inside the planet of Neptune – not very practical. So Pluto was the only outer planet the Voyagers didn’t visit.

NASA JPL Voyager FAQ’s

Is “not very practical” code for something? In light of the subsequent discoveries at Pluto by New Horizons, having the Voyager 2 probe visit in late 1991 would have provide a fantastic contrast, with tools that were unavailable this time around (primarily plasma analysis).

A Voyager 2 encounter would have allowed us a much better view of Pluto during it’s late summer when the atmosphere was thicker as well as being able to take more detailed photographs of the dark side of Pluto which we have only captured in low resolution with New Horizons.

In short, I cannot understand why after visiting Neptune, Voyager 2 wasn’t swung around and up to reach Pluto. The only conclusion that I can come to is that it was a lack of foresight and relative importance.

I mean it’s not like Voyager 2 had anywhere else to go after the Neptune / Triton encounter and it seems to me that any impact on the Voyager Interstellar Mission would have been slight, perhaps delaying that by a year or two.

The simplest answer seems to be that by leaving Pluto out, NASA thought they could get funding for another mission, which if true is a bit crap.

Voyager and Pioneer probe orbital paths

Gender Identity & The Scientific Method.

I once had an office-mate called S. She had a female gerbil called Padmé (that is what happens if you allow astrophysicists of my generation to have pets). Anyway one Friday night my flat mates were out and they had a male hamster called Hammy (they were not from the top drawer in the tool box).

Anyway, I had a nice bit of fish so S and I had dinner round my gaff (not a date – just mates) and she asked if she could bring Padmé (and some wine). OK, S. So well into the second (maybe third) bockle we decided to see how the rodents would play together.

Guess what happened? The gerbil mounted the hamster and tried to make sweet, sweet love to it despite the gerbil being female and the hamster being male. In short the gerbil attempted to roger the hamster. Whilst two astrophysics students who were drunk (and somewhat stoned) watched. It was like a deleted scene from a David Lynch movie.

There is a moral here but I’m fucked if I know what it is. I may never have taught a pug to salute Hitler but I was (it was S’s idea in case the rozzers call) am somewhat an accessory (I opened the cage) to an attempted rodent on rodent rape.

Yes, Your Honour I have done questionable things but…

… Who hasn’t done questionable things. It all started with bringing fire into the cave.

Now I’m not claiming that S and my experiment was the “Italian navigator entered the New World” but the spirit of curiosity is the reason you are reading this drivel (and I’m writing it).

I know that quote from my Solar System Dynamics text by Carl Murray who taught me at QMC, London. I have scars from trying things out (usually with fire). But dear me! Unless you try the new what the buggery (arguably a bad term in the rodential context) and for every Enrico Fermi in his squash court there are a couple of pissed grad-students letting the rodents run just for the Hell of it. And that is why I did physics. For the sheer fucking Hell of it.

That is why for example I’d wannabe in the cockpit of the Bloodhound with Andy Green when he tries to drive a car at over 1000mph. The sheer Hell of it.

PS. neither rodent appeared harmed at all.

Encrypt with Coca-Cola

What won’t those blasted Israelis think of next!

(Dedicated to Nick, but of the gravest interest to all in Zanzibar.)

Code-a-cola: how to hide secret messages using fizzy drinks

Next time you see someone spilling a drink in a bar, you could actually be witnessing a spy secretly decoding an encrypted message. This might sound like something from a Bond movie. But a team from Israel has used some rather niffy [nifty? --J.] chemistry to come up with a way to use common chemicals such as cola as the encryption key to code and decode hidden messages.

[Snip]

Article explains. Every well-informed and properly-equipped Bond understudy will want to learn the theory behind the technique, and the technique itself … for some value of “learn.”

Well, this makes me feel a bit safer

My New Wall Mounted Gieger Counter

After all of last weeks postings and commentary about the pro’s and con’s of nuclear power, my paranoia peeked enough to buy myself a wall mounted Geiger counter.

I had to turn the clicking off, because after about 1/60th of a second it became bloody annoying, other than that quite happy. I’d prefer a lower reading (ideally it should be about 0.08μSv/h or so), but that’s one of the difficulties of living in a city centre flat facing directly on to a main road.

Cost was £98.98 courtesy of your friendly, neighbourhood, eBay. Certainly better than the cheap and tacky Android phone antennae ones.

[UPDATE - I did think this photo from the manufacturer amusing]

Of the Mind and Tomatoes

[Don't blame me for this. It was Nick's posting about the idea of replicating a human's mind in a computer that got me started Thinking Aloud on the Tomato, homage to Natalie Solent at Samizdata.]

Consider the tomato. Well, not “the” tomato, but a tomato. A nice, fresh, juicy tomato upon the countertop. Enticing, not at all like a patient etherized upon a table.

The tomato originated as part of a tomato plant. This hardly needs saying, so I said it. But forget the parent plant. Consider this particular tomato alone and in itself.

When you eat the tomato, it will be full of delicious juice which will run down your chin, so I hope you are wearing a bib. Or an old work-shirt, dark and with holes in it. Real ones, that were free (but you had to work to get them in there). Or even nekked above the waist. (Below the waist is your own business.)

So there will be this fresh, tasty juice in your mouth. Rich with the flavor of the tomato.

But — what is the “flavor” of the tomato?

Does the tomato have a flavor if no one* is eating it?

Well, no, strictly speaking. (When we talk about the “flavor” of tomatoes in general, we are generalizing the concept of the flavors of many particular tomatoes. It’s a somewhat different meaning of the word. There is a net similarity in the flavors of all tomatoes, and that similar similarity is what we call the “tomato flavor.”)

The flavor arises from the tomato — it originates in the tomato — but it becomes flavor only because our taste buds and olfactory system react to its juice and send certain signals to the brain. This signalling-receiving process, we call “sensing.”

Its flavor is our name for our experiencing of the sensations that the tomato induces in our sense organs. The flavor as such exists only because it induces a certain experience of which our consciousness is aware, and which our mind conceptualizes and to which it attaches the symbol “flavor of the tomato.”

So, the flavor comes from the tomato, but it is not the tomato. It is actually in the human* consciousness or awareness of the interactions between the tomato (actually, the juicy bite of the tomato in the mouth) and our physical bodies. Depending on one’s context, the flavor is conceptually distinct from the tomato whose effect it is; but in another aspect, the flavor is of the tomato; the chemicals that we sense and conceptualize as “flavor,” its potential flavor, are actually present in the tomato, which is where it all begins.

I suppose you could say the flavor is a potential in the tomato proper, but only is realized in the human* body and mind.

Similarly, our mind is a result of our body, but it is not our body. Rather, it is the way we experience our body. It is the way the brain manifests our physical self to us, at any given instant.

In that sense, there is no “problem of the mind-brain dichotomy.” The mind is a manifestation of the brain at any particular instant. That these are conceptually different is not a problem, and this is not rocket science.

(And for the religious, what of the Soul? I’m hardly an expert on any theory of the Soul, but it seems to me that the Mind would then be a manifestation of the Body-and-Soul, and with that substitution there would still be no Problem of the Mind-Body/Soul Dichotomy.)

Well what are you?

I’m third tier. Oddly enough I don’t fit any of the criteria, really. “Culturally apathetic”. Well, when the Manchester Camarata got the loan of a Strad I had my wife on the phone quicker than Jackie Robinson. What did I get from my mother for my birthday? A very nice set of the Lord of the Rings. I had a single volume paperback since I was 10 (I am now 42) and read it to death. That ook died from love, not hate. How very dare Prof. Mike Savage call me a barbarian. Oddly enough he ranks the Elite, the top tier as having been to Oxbridge or the LSE. He is a professor at the LSE. Odd that isn’t it. Well, I’m a Nottingham and Queen Mary College graduate. I was taught QMech by a guy who won the Nobel (Physiology and Medicine – he essentially invented the MRI scanner) so Prof Savage can profoundly fuck off. My personal tutor at Queen Mary had been a PhD student of Hawking and you will probs have seen Carl Murray on the TV who taught solar system dynamics there. Now, he had a strong interest in Gaelic poetry (he was Irish).

I hate this. The idea that a facility at maths and science makes you uncultured is outrageous. The fact I can code-up some HTML5 don’t mean I don’t do it listening to Bach or Sibelius. I once shared a house with a Bellendius maximus. He was a history student. He was also a twat. He was of the opinion that whilst science and engineering might be difficult (right, Mr Wix, you’ve studied ergodic theory?) it wasn’t creative. He wrote a thesis on “Domestic Service in C19th Nottingham) like anyone gives a toss. I am not criticising arts grads but I am criticising the arts and social science graduates who routinely mock the grads of the physical sciences. Why? Because they assume (a lot of them do) we is all dull. I go to the theatre and art galleries and stuff. I am well-read and I take these nasturiums badly. Frankly, I don’t care. But Chris Wix really was a twat and almost certainly still is a twat. If you can’t see science as creative (and it is) then you are a twat. Stick this in your pipe and smoke it…

Let G be a compact abelian group, μ the normalized Haar measure, and T a group automorphism of G. Let G* be the Pontryagin dual group, consisting of the continuous characters of G, and T* be the corresponding adjoint automorphism of G*. The automorphism T is ergodic if and only if the equality (T*)n(χ)=χ is possible only when n = 0 or χ is the trivial character of G. In particular, if G is the n-dimensional torus and the automorphism T is represented by a unimodular matrix A then T is ergodic if and only if no eigenvalue of A is a root of unity.

… from Wikipedia.

If I can follow that (and I can) I think Shakespeare is easy. God help me! The greatest playwright ever wrote for people who were drinking and whoring and indulging in “country pleasures”. I am not saying the Arts are easy. They are not but the likes of Wix slagging science for just being learning a load of facts is risible. By my third year at Nottingham I entered the exam hall bearing only a pencil. A Rotring. That was it. Me against the universe with only a mechanical pencil. There are few better feelings.

So, allegedly, I’m not into high culture because I can do sums. Ye\h, right Mr Wix. I might not know as much as you about domestic servants in C19th Nottingham but baby I don’t care…

Computers in this house…

I did a little audit this morning. My wife and I have approximately 6 desktop machines in various states of repair (got to get onto those), three laptops, two Kindles, two smartphones (which are computers essentially), a ZX Spectrum in Gateshead, a camera with GPS (very handy – where did I take that picture? – well it tells me to arc-seconds – Jebus wept). Just the laptops would make Alan Turing weep tears of blood. I suspect I am not unusual here. I have a plan. I can get Lenovo to supply me (and I have sold my soul to ‘em – I’m typing on a Thinkpad by them) which is to get a trio of Lenovo Intel Core 2 Duos for GBP89.99 a throw and do some Folding at Home. Or maybe something else. There was (is?) an outfit sponsored by Oxford Uni (the other place) and IBM for something similar but I is buggered if I can recall the name. Having said that if I can cure cancer in my shed (for that is where they shall reside) then I shall be proud. If you can recall the name please let me know for the screensaver is much cooler. And I used to have it installed before Thalia went TU (that’s a tech term BTW). I did work my way through the Muses (and me with a comprehensive edumaction!). Some I sold or gave away. Some did go twat-wise (another techie term). I love the things. They make me, me.

No! They made me glorious. I got a Speccy thirty-ish years back. That was wonderful. Computers had been things that Bond Girls tended and I was playing Manic Miner. Wow! I learned BASIC and Pascal and Fortran on the little beast hooked-up to a 14″ Ferguson B&W TV and a tape-recorder from Dixons. It was well cool. When I went to University in 1992 I had to learn to program to drive a robot around. I excelled. I knew what I was doing. I had written the thankfully forgotten game “Orc fighter” so I knew my stuff. My classmates were astonished but I had that key advantage. I had a Lego robot whizzing around. That was cool and people say physics is dull? Not for me. That was much more fun than Swift’s juvenalia or Thackeray’s senilia. It was like stuff, cool stuff. OK, some of the labs were dull. I could live another thousand years without attempting the Guoy method for measuring magnetic susceptibility again. That was bloody dreadful. It really was but there are always bones in the sweetest fish. And building a pico-Tesla magnetometer and knowing exactly who of the lecturers was turning up tardy to the car park was more than a compensation. That cost roughly 5 quid (not of my money). But if Dr Kent was late, I knew. Bloody Hellskis that was sensitive. My lab partner once approached it with a screwdriver and it went FSD. Cheers Rachel. Not only did she dump me for a twat from Macclesfield (of all places!) but she all but knackered my magnetometer.

Nice machines at the Uni of Nottingham – 386DX40s (this was ’92 to ’95) with more interfaces than you could shake a stick at. We also had BBC-Bs for data logging.

I grew up with computers. They are me. People ask me “Why?” and I can’t answer because I just know the answer. They are me. I am nearly 42 (the answer) but I have been surrounded by computers since I was a kid. Since I first played with a Commodore PET and fell in love. I drew a picture of a Chieftain tank in ASCII. I was that sad and have only become sadder.

Weird isn’t it? I am looking down at my Kindle Fire HDX which is a computer only not in name. It cost less (no adjustment for inflation) than my ZX Spectrum did in the ’80s. Wow. I mean Wowsers! That was thirty years ago. I had just spent an hour (just an hour – this isn’t chemistry which is glorified faffing if you ask me) fixing it up despite the ‘structions in very obscure English. Oh, China! “Please to be appointing the USB port”. AKA “plug it in”. I know computers and I am wired on them. From Augsta Ada and Babbage’s cogs to Win 10 count me in. That is why I give ‘em names. My first PC was Urania. I am typing on Athina. (and yes the translit is more accurate than Athena – I know my Greek – physics.). The Kindle is Loki BTW. I’m gonna rebuild Urania as Urania III. I have a weakness for classical female names. Who doesn’t? These things are to us what steam engines were to George Stephenson (who lived walking distance from where I grew-up. They are to me what jet engines were to Clarence L “Kelly” Johnson. Except he was a genius. Bugger.

Hell, but I can program a RS-232 interface in machine code (I could anyway, once). And I could make that little Lego thing do St Vitus’s dance. I just love these things.

I adore them. They are not means of communication. That is a horrid myth. I didn’t do an A-Level in maths but I had an Amiga and I programmed fractals on it out of Sci Am. I taught myself maths. One BSc in Physics and a (fully funded) MSc in Astrophysics later and I think I proved myself. Now I mooch in Ruby and stuff. But seriously mooch. I get to be a proper programmer then bread and cheese will end-up on the table.

10 PRINT “Nick is Great”
20 GOTO 10

I have moved on a bit since then. And I am not blowing my own horn (it would put my back out) but celebrating the sheer fact that I was fortunate to be born in an age and a place where these things I quite simply cannot imagine my life without existed. I couldn’t have invented them but can I use them – yes! Aeroplanes and computers. How the devil did humanity manage for fifty thousand years without them.

I also want to build a Tesla coil. Just for the hell of it. And if it kills squirrels then like whatever. The cat is way too smart to get in the way.

I’ll keep the computers away. This will be purely analogue. Of course many will object to me “wasting ‘tricity” but fuck ‘em. My follow-up will be an Alcubierre Drive. Now that is a bit of a tough call. I mean I’d have to create negative mass for a kick-off. But Barnard’s Star in hours… Kicks HS2 into a most cocked hat. It is a fucking railway. 200 years after Brunel and the politcos haven’t got over it (one was run-over at Rainhill). And don’t talk to me about Skylon A1 or C2. Just don’t. They want to spent ten times the amount on a Stephenson gauge railroad but can’t fund a variable cycle aerospace plane. That fucker could get from Bristol Internal Spaceport (how cool is that?) to Sydney in four hours. And that is on an arctic great circle so as to not piss the Russians off but at that height and speed it ain’t MH17 is it? So fuck ‘em.

I’m a techno-fetishist. I make no apologies. Fuck railways (other than to tie Corbyn to the tracks and ride a shitty commuter train over his beardy commie corpse, back and forth) and build Skylon. But do any of our PPE elites have the imagination? No. Oh, fuck no! Wall, stand against and I’ll get the rifle.

False Data and the Moral Panic that Follows: A Threat to Liberty

From which today’s QOTD was taken. Debunks the trumped-up statistical survey on which one of the current campus-rape scandal-stories is based. (I assume that Miss LeFauve’s story eviscerating the reported “study,” which Mr. Morrissey cites and which is NOT TO BE MISSED, as it covers quite a bit more ground than Mr. Morrissey’s précis, is accurate. –Nowadays I feel obliged to include that as a standard caveat, since so much on all sides of various aisles turns out to be full of mouldy Swiss cheese or worse.)

False data and the moral panic that follows: a threat to liberty

posted at 2:41 pm on July 30, 2015 by Ed Morrissey

Let’s start this topic with the latest in a long series of debunked claims resulting from studies that are later discovered to be either incompetently conducted or flat-out fraud. Reason’s Linda LeFauve dismantles one of the key bases for the supposed epidemic of “rape culture” on college campuses, a study published in 2002 by University of Massachusetts-Boston professor David Lisak. This study, LeFauve notes, has informed current White House policies on Title IX enforcement [pdf] as well as documentaries and books on the subject of college rape. It had at least an indirect impact on Rolling Stone’s debunked UVA campus rape hoax from last December.

It’s also based on shoddy research and deception [pdf, Lisak, "Statement to U.S. Civil Rights Commission...] , as LeFauve discovered when researching the study. Despite claiming to have conducted the research himself, Lisak actually derived it from student theses on another topic entirely — adult survivors of child abuse, using non-random samples mainly consisting of UMB employees and non-resident students:….

“Read the Whole Thing.” Oh, and here are the first two paragraphs of Miss LeFauve’s article “Campus Rape Expert Can’t Answer Basic Questions About His Sources”:

David Lisak’s serial predator theory of campus rape has made him a celebrity. Once a virtually unknown associate professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, his work is now cited by White House officials and reporters for major newspapers.

His influence is evident in the recent documentary The Hunting Ground, and the producers continue to promote his work along with their film. In Jon Krakauer’s new book, Missoula, about sexual assault at the University of Montana, Lisak’s name appears more than 100 times.

…. [SNIP]

Time Travel – a Practical Application

Get your ass to Mars

Phobos Base

“Mars is possible, and in a time horizon of interest,” Hoppy Price, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said May 20 during a presentation with the space agency’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group. “It could happen in our lifetime, and it wouldn’t take a trillion dollars to do it.”

This effort would require four launches of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket, which is currently in development and is scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2018.

The first Phobos-oriented SLS launch, in 2029, would loft a space tug and two chemical-propulsion payloads — a Phobos Transfer Stage and a Trans-Earth Injection Stage. The tug would use solar-electric propulsion (SEP) to haul the two payloads to Mars orbit in just less than four years. (The team’s concept requires no big breakthroughs in propulsion technology or other areas, Price said.)

A second SLS liftoff would carry another SEP tug and the Phobos base, which could support a crew of four. The tug would take the base to Phobos and deposit it on the moon’s surface, then stay with the habitat to provide power and move it to different locations on Phobos if desired.

The third SLS launch, around 2032, would carry a deep-space habitat (with the same basic design as the Phobos base) and a Mars Orbit Insertion Stage to Earth orbit. Another SLS liftoff would then send NASA’s Orion capsule and a crew of four up to meet this preplaced gear, which would help take the astronauts to Mars orbit in a journey lasting 200 to 250 days.

A Manned Mission to Mars: How NASA Could Do It

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of a landing on Mars and indeed human colonisation thereof (if it’s worth colonising), but I suspect that NASA’s bureaucrat heavy costing model and desire for ‘big new kit’ is essentially the problem here.

If we put the entrepreneurs in charge instead of the bureaucrats I suspect we could get a mission to Phobos by 2025 and landing on Mars soon thereafter.

We already have a marshalling yard and habitation module in orbit in the form of the ISS. Simply build the interplanetary components of the cargo and habitation units on earth in a modular form and powered by electric motors and boost them into space using the SpaceX Falcon Heavy alongside the ISS with a limited final assembly in orbit alongside the ISS.

At next opposition (when Mars and Earth are closest) fire them to Phobos so that food, water and habitation are ready and waiting for astronauts upon their arrival and we can test and monitor equipment remotely. Do the same with the Phobos-Mars descent/ascent vehicle.

The speed of the journey here is not critical so it doesn’t matter if it takes 18-months to get there as long as they are operational before the astronauts depart the ISS.

Then do the same for the ISS/Phobos shuttle with the crew module and powered by a multi-megawatt Vasimr engine capable of reaching Mars at opposition in 40/50 days.

The ISS/Phobos shuttle would be completely reusable as none of the components would be subject to damage by atmospheric re-entry albeit a chemical powered Phobos descent/ascent module would probably be necessary.

All of the technology to do this is available today (albeit both the  Vasimr engine and Phobos-Mars descent/ascent vehicle require more work, this could be undertaken during the preparation phase for the Phobos habitation module.

All of the above could be achieved for a fraction of the current NASA proposals for MARS and in less than half the time. The ISS/Phobos shuttle could be reused to support a genuine space base on Phobos (transiting at every opposition) and the ISS would have a genuine purpose.

P.S. – Currently reading Andy Weir’s The Martian. :-)

Everybody duck!

This just in from Eric Worrall at WUWT:

Gigantic asteroid near miss coming this Thursday

You can go read the story (short, for WUWT) and peruse the comments, of course, but I did think that it would be unconscionably remiss of me not to show you all this important magazine cover presented by commenter Bubba Cow:

The Onion.Asteroid Near-Miss Expected 3:14:15.WUWT, 3:11:14

Battles…

This is a long term pet hate of mine. I hate it when people use military language such as “fight” or “battle” outside of context.

I have long hated it in sport. Since at least Euro ’96 and The Mirror mocking-up Stuart Pearce in a Tommy hat before England played Germany in the semi. It is crass at best.

Now The Mail reports on a study that such language is often unhelpful to many cancer sufferers. The implication due to a study by linguists at the University of Lancaster is that people who succumb to the disease haven’t “fought” hard enough. I get that.

So a thumbs up to The Mail for reporting this point.

And two thumbs down for following it up days later with this.

I hate this metaphor of battle. Ms Gibbs died because she was unlucky or the diagnosis was made late or the treatment wasn’t good enough or some combination of the three. I lend clock-cycles to the likes of Folding@Home. I lend my Intel Core i5s. I am part of 164,000 giving a little bit of tame lightening to help provide 38,000 Teraflops of computing to help cure or treat (note I don’t say “defeat”). Flops are floating point operations per second. And that is 38 Petaflops or 38 quadrillion sums per second. Or 3.8 x 1016 calculations per second. Not even Michael Gove demanded that many using times tables and slide-rules. It is quite possible the sum total of human endeavour in the field of arithmetic is greater since 1950 than since those folk in Sumeria all those millenia back invented place system arithmetic.

Forgive my emotion here but I watched Rosetta/Philea touchdown on Churyumov–Gerasimenko. I had to go to the dentist this morning to see about a crown being replaced which was not the start to a day I wanted but by about 4pm when we got the news from Darmstadt that Philea had landed I was marked this day with a white stone. Sometimes we slip in the bathroom and crack a tooth and sometimes we have petaflops and land on a comet half a billion km from home. That is about 30 light minutes away. My degrees are in physics and astrophysics. That was my Apollo moment. Neil and Buzz of course did their thing before I was born. For me this was better and even more awesome than Voyager 1 hitting the heliopause. And that was awesome. Some of the US Christian Wrong objected to the images of naked people on it. Well that is 15 billion km away and doing 17 km a second so they can pick-up our interstellar porn. Because that has like so gone.

We can be magnificent. And Rosetta has been. ESA landed something the size of a washing machine 500,000 km from home and it worked. I wish (in a frivolous sense) they’d landed that bloody dreadful Hotpoint from my kitchen in outer space. That thing once went completely tonto and lifted the kitchen work-top about 3cm. The sound was awesome. I thought Al Queda had bombed my kitchen – possibly because I had bacon in the fridge. The kitchen work-top is solid granite. It was like having R2-D2 break dancing.

I’m just (for once) in a good mood with my species. ESA got it there within 2 minutes over a ten year mission covering billions of km (it did gravity assists on the way). The dentist was twenty minutes late. The train from where I live is never on time. That mission is awesome. Yeah it cost GBP1.1bn but somethings are worth it. The dentist cost GBP18.50 (well cost me that directly). I am a happy camper today. And I hate seeing the dentist – does anyone like it? ESA – I salute you.

We are a mixed species. We can make TVs (amazing) and then make shows like Geordie Shore to show on them. Have you seen that? Don’t. I’m a Geordie and my heroes are folks like George Stephenson and not some slag (not a word I use lightly) crawling across a bathroom-floor whilst venting urine in a desperate bit to get to the toilet to vomit. She was out in time and distance by more than Rosetta and she hadn’t gone billions of km.

You want something done spot on get a physicist. Richard Feynman once compared his theory (Quantum Electrodynamics) in accuracy to measuring the distance from LA to NYC and getting it to within the width a human hair. Just ponder that.

Update: Philae is not out of the woods yet. But even getting it down is magnificent. I so hope it works. This is as important as Viking or Voyager.

This is Fermilab with a jetpack. This is the reason I still trog on. I recall the discovery of a quark and this guy run into Lecture Theatre B1 – University of Nottingham told us that at CERN they had confirmed it. And we all (and there was a lot of us) spontaneously cheered. That was the Standard Model down.

I just love science and techie stuff. I had a flatmate doing English Literature and he wound-up (through no fault of his own) doing “Old Icelandic Edda and Saga in Translation”. He hated it. I was in the second year lab with interesting kit and the preserved blackboards of some fellow called Albert staring down at me. Can’t imagine who he was. It was all Greek (and German) to me. But I wound-up knowing both the Special and General theories of relativity. How cool is that!

I am going into rhapsodies for it is late.

I am going to contradict myself (but as a physics grad I have earned the right – Nick has a cat – Timmy – and so did Erwin Schrödinger).

I don’t do weird things with Timmy in a box but he has to go in one to go to the vet sometimes. That is fun.

Carbon Legacies

There is an industry which concerns itself with helping to create these when Mother Nature isn’t quite doing her job. But it needs to be regulated, you know. It really does. Even Mr. Wesley J. Smith, of whom more below, says so, though he otherwise disagrees with Ms. Cristina Richie, whose views are our topic today. (The gentleman’s remark rather sounds as though he approves of “regulation,” and disapproves of its lack, on principle.)

Anyway, it turns out that Carbon Legacies, even when naturally occurring, are not an unmitigated good. Indeed, one might question whether they are a Good Thing at all, even as others are delighted with theirs, or with the prospects of acquiring such.

Here is the abstract of an article from the Journal of Medical Ethics by Cristina Richie, Theology Department, Boston College, which argues that since every human “emits carbon” into the environment,

Evaluating the ethics of offering reproductive services against its overall harm to the environment makes unregulated ARTs unjustified….

“ART” stands for “Assisted Reproductive Technology.” It includes such things as fertilization in vitro and artificial insemination, as well as methods of having babies where the child might be born with AIDS, surrogate pregnancy, and more.

(WikiFootia has a good overview.)

From Ms. Richie’s article:

A carbon footprint is the aggregate of resource use and carbon emissions over a person’s life. A carbon legacy occurs when a person chooses to procreate. All people have carbon footprints; only people with biological children have carbon legacies.

(I have had some non-biological “children,” but only in a figurative sense, such as patterns of words set down on paper or sent into cyberspace. But it seems to me that actual non-biological children are probably rather rare.)

Now ask me what I think. C’mon, you know you want to! *g* Well, lest the multitude of Kounting Kitties hereabouts get to yowling from the suspense….

Views in which “the environment” is seen as of higher moral value than human beings as such — whether conceived in delight or after a fight, or both, or neither — are perverse in the strongest and most serious sense of the word. (Compact OED, Print Ed., 1971, = 1933 OED plus addenda, gives various definitions, several of which boil down to “turning away from right to wrong.”) To me, the word has a connotation of DELIGHT in turning from right to wrong, and a deliberate inversion of right and wrong, so that the evil is embraced as good and the good, as evil.

All I can say is, I place a very high value on my own personal Carbon Legacy, who in early middle age continues to provide joy, light, and warmth to my life. Besides, this person grows houseplants and, in summer, tomatoes and peppers, so I figure that offsets the inevitable “emission of carbon.” (Whatever does Ms. Richie think that means? There’s a huge variety of carbon-containing molecules that are “emitted” by a huge variety of sources, most of them “natural.”) Personally I think that once we’ve gotten fluorine out of the way by banning it (per a suggestion by some doofus over here), we should simply ban carbon. That would solve everything. At least from the human point of view, which would no longer exist.

. . .

I will let Mr. Wesley J. Smith, of LifeNews.com, have the last word. He has a piece on this entitled “Population Controllers Call Babies ‘Carbon Legacies,’ a Threat to the Environment.” Per Mr. Smith:

And Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little carbon legacies to come onto me’….

Revolutionary Rocket Could Shuttle Humans to Mars

VASIMR VX-200 Plasma Engine:

A novel plasma engine could slash travel time to Mars — now approximately three years — to just 39 days.

By Steve Nadis|Friday, April 18, 2014

Traveling to Mars is not easy, which may be why no one has ever tried. It would take a good six to nine months to get there with today’s chemical-fueled rockets. Along the way, according to a 2013 study, you’d get dosed with the radiation equivalent of a whole-body CT scan every five to six days, increasing your lifetime cancer risk above the limits set by NASA. Upon reaching the Red Planet, you’d wait up to two years for Earth and Mars to be at their closest before your return trip, which would last another six to nine months. If the cosmic rays didn’t get you, the long layover might.

But what if there were a better way — a new kind of rocket that could transport you to Mars in less than six weeks?

[Snip]

Growing up in Costa Rica, [Franklin Chang] Díaz became fascinated with all things space in 1957, when the Soviets successfully launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. He was 7 years old. Eleven years later, he secured a one-way plane ticket to the United States and arrived in Hartford, Conn., with just $50 in his pocket. He barely knew a word of English. He stayed there with distant relatives to attend high school. After earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut, Chang Díaz enrolled as a graduate student in applied plasma physics at MIT, where he began research in nuclear fusion.

[Snip]

To Texas, and Beyond

After receiving his doctorate degree in 1977, Díaz continued to investigate his rocket concept, while maintaining his interest in space itself.He was accepted as a NASA astronaut, on his second try, in 1980. When his training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston got serious, he found it difficult to keep up the monthly commute to MIT, so he moved his rocket laboratory to Johnson. He went on to fly seven shuttle missions, logging more than 1,600 hours in space over the next few decades, all while maintaining an active research schedule, devoting time almost every day to work on his rocket engine.

Díaz retired from NASA in 2005 to form Ad Astra, his rocket company.

[Snip]

Ad Astra’s 20-foot-high structure [in Webster, Tex., a suburb of Houston] is tucked behind a Japanese restaurant and flanked by a Brazilian steakhouse and a tattoo parlor. Its drab, gray facade blends in with the parking lot around it. The building’s interior looks like typical open-plan office space — until you pass through a set of double doors and enter the laboratory. That’s where you might notice something out of the ordinary: a metal cylinder, 15 feet in diameter and 35 feet long, big enough to drive a school bus into. The cylinder is a vacuum chamber that simulates conditions in space. Inside lies a smaller vacuum chamber — about the size of an MRI machine — that contains the rocket’s magnets.

[SNIP of lots more, including cool diagram and photos]

Quote of the day.

We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

- Tombstone epitaph of two amateur astronomers.

I recall it from “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan.

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