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Postmodernism and its effect on politics and prose

Why Evolution is True Feed - 5 hours 1 min ago

Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, has managed to both be an LGBT activist and queer studies professor and at the same time demonize Israel at the expense of Palestine. She does this, of course, by claiming that gay rights in Israel (there are none in Palestine) is an example of Israeli “pinkwashing” or “golden handcuffs“. This is a classic example of how the anti-Israel faction of the Left is adept at turning virtues into vices, for Puar ignores the abrogation of gay rights by Palestine–so violent is her hatred of Israel.

She’s also claimed, falsely, that Israelis systematically poison the Palestinian populace with chemicals and radiation, do medical experiments on Palestinian children, and harvest the organs of dead Palestinians. This woman has a dicey relationship with the truth.

I spent an unpleasant hour after a nap reading, or rather straining to read, Puar’s prose, and suddenly realized that her writing, and in all likelihood her politics, are heavily influenced by postmodernism. The first, politics, by a blatant disregard of truth in favor of “privileging” one’s hatred and ideology, and the second, her writing, by its tedious and almost unbearable opacity.  Working my way through an interview, which I strongly suspect was a written and not live one, I came across this three-sentence paragraph, which rivals Judith Butler’s famous sentence that won the Bad Writing Contest in 1998. (It has not escaped my notice that Butler also does gender studies and queer theory, and that Puar got her Ph.D. in those same fields where Butler teaches: at Berkeley.)

Here, my friends, is a single paragraph showing the wages of postmodernism in both thought and expression. I did not enact the emotional labor to untangle its meaning, but if you read what she’s written, it’s pretty much all like this. If you wish, you can tell me what it means.

 In Terrorist Assemblages I propose a rapproachment of Foucauldian biopolitics and Achille Mbembe’s critique of it through what I call a ‘bio-necro collaboration’, one that conceptually acknowledges biopower’s direct activity to death, while remaining bound to the optimalization of life, and necropolitics’ nonchalance towards death even as it seeks out killing as a primary aim. I allege that it is precisely within the interstices of life and death that we find the differences between queer subjects who are being folded (back) into life and the racialized queernesses that emerge through the naming of populations, thus fueling the oscillation between the disciplining of subjects and control of populations. The result of the successes of queer incorporation into the domains of consumer markets and social recognition in the post-civil rights, late twentieth-century era, these various entries by queers into the biopolitics optimalization of life mark a shift, as homosexual bodies have been historically understood as endlessly cathected to death, from being figures of death (i.e., the AIDS pandemic) to becoming tied to ideas of life and productivity (i.e., gay marriage and reproductive kinship).

I don’t care what you say: there is NO EXCUSE for writing this badly, and yet this is considered good writing by postmodernists, for whom clarity is a vice.

Categories: Science

Looking for Signs of Life on Distant Planets Just Got Easier

Universe Today Feed - 6 hours 43 min ago

When it comes to searching for worlds that could support extra-terrestrial life, scientists currently rely on the “low-hanging fruit” approach. Since we only know of one set of conditions under which life can thrive – i.e. what we have here on Earth – it makes sense to look for worlds that have these same conditions. These include being located within a star’s habitable zone, having a stable atmosphere, and being able to maintain liquid water on the surface.

Until now, scientists have relied on methods that make it very difficult to detect water vapor in the atmosphere’s of terrestrial planets. But thanks to a new study led by Yuka Fujii of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), that may be about to change. Using a new three-dimensional model that takes into account global circulation patterns, this study also indicates that habitable exoplanets may be more common than we thought.

The study, titled “NIR-driven Moist Upper Atmospheres of Synchronously Rotating Temperate Terrestrial Exoplanets“, recently appeared in The Astrophysical Journal. In addition to Dr. Fujii, who is also a member of the Earth-Life Science Institute at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, the research team included Anthony D. Del Genio (GISS) and David S. Amundsen (GISS and Columbia University).

Artist’s concept of the hot Jupiter WASP-121b, which presents the best evidence yet of a stratosphere on an exoplanet – generated using Engine House VFX. Credit: Bristol Science Centre/University of Exeter

To put it simply, liquid water is essential to life as we know it. If a planet does not have a sufficiently warm atmosphere in order to maintain liquid water for a sufficient amount of time (on the order of billions of years), then it is unlikely that life will not be able to emerge and evolve. If a planet is too distant from its star, its surface water will freeze; if it is too close, its surface water will evaporate and be lost to space.

While water has been detected in the atmospheres of exoplanets before, in all cases, the planets were massive gas giants that orbited very closely to their stars. (aka. “Hot Jupiters”). As Fujii and his colleagues state in their study:

“Although H2O signatures have been detected in the atmospheres of hot Jupiters, detecting molecular signatures, including H2O, on temperate terrestrial planets is exceedingly challenging, because of the small planetary radius and the small scale height (due to the lower temperature and presumably larger mean molecular weight).”

When it comes to terrestrial (i.e. rocky) exoplanets, previous studies were forced to rely on one-dimensional models to calculate the presence of water. This consisted of measuring hydrogen loss, where water vapor in the stratosphere is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. By measuring the rate at which hydrogen is lost to space, scientists would estimate the amount of liquid water still present on the surface.

Artist’s impression of the “Venus-like” exoplanet GJ 1132b. Credit:

However, as Dr. Fujii and his colleagues explain, such models rely on several assumptions that cannot be addressed, which include the global transport of heat and water vapor vapor, as well as the effects of clouds. Basically, previous models predicted that for water vapor to reach the stratosphere, long-term surface temperatures on these exoplanets would have to be more than 66 °C (150 °F) higher than what we experience here on Earth.

These temperatures could create powerful convective storms on the surface. However, these storms could not be the reason water reaches the stratosphere when it comes to slowly rotating planets entering a moist greenhouse state – where water vapor intensifies heat. Planets that orbit closely to their parent stars are known to either have a slow rotation or to be tidally-locked with their planets, thus making convective storms unlikely.

This occurs quite often for terrestrial planets that are located around low-mass, ultra cool, M-type (red dwarf) stars. For these planets, their proximity to their host star means that it’s gravitational influence will be strong enough to slow down or completely arrest their rotation. When this occurs, thick clouds form on the dayside of the planet, protecting it from much of the star’s light.

The team found that, while this could keep the dayside cool and prevent water vapor from rising, the amount of near-Infrared radiation (NIR) could provide enough heat to cause a planet to enter a moist greenhouse state. This is especially true of M-type and other cool dwarf stars, which are known to produce more in the way of NIR. As this radiation warms the clouds, water vapor will rise into the stratosphere.

Artist’s impression of Proxima b, the closest exoplanet to the Solar System. In the background, the binary system of Alpha Centauri can be seen. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

To address this, Fujii and his team relied on three-dimensional general circulation models (GCMs) which incorporate atmospheric circulation and climate heterogeneity. For the sake of their model, the team started with a planet that had an Earth-like atmosphere and was entirely covered by oceans. This allowed the team to clearly see how variations in distance from different types of stars would effect conditions on the planets surfaces.

These assumptions allowed the team to clearly see how changing the orbital distance and type of stellar radiation affected the amount of water vapor in the stratosphere. As Dr. Fujii explained in a NASA press release:

“Using a model that more realistically simulates atmospheric conditions, we discovered a new process that controls the habitability of exoplanets and will guide us in identifying candidates for further study… We found an important role for the type of radiation a star emits and the effect it has on the atmospheric circulation of an exoplanet in making the moist greenhouse state.”

In the end, the team’s new model demonstrated that since low-mass star emit the bulk of their light at NIR wavelengths, a moist greenhouse state will result for planets orbiting closely to them. This would result in conditions on their surfaces that comparable to what Earth experiences in the tropics, where conditions are hot and moist, instead of hot and dry.

Artist’s impression of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. The double star Alpha Centauri AB is visible to the upper right of Proxima itself. Credit: ESO

What’s more, their model indicated that NIR-driven processes increased moisture in the stratosphere gradually, to the point that exoplanets orbiting closer to their stars could remain habitable. This new approach to assessing potential habitability will allow astronomers to simulate circulation of planetary atmospheres and the special features of that circulation, which is something one-dimensional models cannot do.

In the future, the team plans to assess how variations in planetary characteristics -such as gravity, size, atmospheric composition, and surface pressure – could affect water vapor circulation and habitability. This will, along with their 3-dimensional model that takes planetary circulation patterns into account, allow astronomers to determine the potential habitability of distant planets with greater accuracy. As Anthony Del Genio indicated:

“As long as we know the temperature of the star, we can estimate whether planets close to their stars have the potential to be in the moist greenhouse state. Current technology will be pushed to the limit to detect small amounts of water vapor in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. If there is enough water to be detected, it probably means that planet is in the moist greenhouse state.”

Beyond offering astronomers a more comprehensive method for determining exoplanet habitability, this study is also good news for exoplanet-hunters hoping to find habitable planets around M-type stars. Low-mass, ultra-cool, M-type stars are the most common star in the Universe, accounting for roughly 75% of all stars in the Milky Way. Knowing that they could support habitable exoplanets greatly increases the odds of find one.

Illustration showing the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In addition, this study is VERY good news given the recent spate of research that has cast serious doubt on the ability of M-type stars to host habitable planets. This research was conducted in response to the many terrestrial planets that have been discovered around nearby red dwarfs in recent years. What they revealed was that, in general, red dwarf stars experience too much flare and could strip their respective planets of their atmospheres.

These include the 7-planet TRAPPIST-1 system (three of which are located in the star’s habitable zone) and the closest exoplanet to the Solar System, Proxima b. The sheer number of Earth-like planets discovered around M-type stars, coupled with this class of star’s natural longevity, has led many in the astrophysical community to venture that red dwarf stars might be the most likely place to find habitable exoplanets.

With this latest study, which indicates that these planets could be habitable after all, it would seem that the ball is effectively back in their court!

Further Reading: NASA, The Astrophysical Journal


The post Looking for Signs of Life on Distant Planets Just Got Easier appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Where am I?

Why Evolution is True Feed - 9 hours 31 min ago

I’m in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as you know, and when here I inevitably gravitate to my Ph.D. alma mater, Harvard, which is especially beautiful at this time of year, and holds many great memories for me.

If you know Harvard, you better be able to recognize the place where I took the selfie just below. In fact, I’ll put up five photos from Harvard and two others; identifications are below the “read more” fold:

Check out the fancy brick sculpture. Cats, too!

1.) Jerry (right) and bronze rhino outside the Biological Laboratories (“Biolabs”). In this building a lot of famous work in molecular genetics was done, including some of the first sequencing of DNA, identifying the nature of  the lac repressor molecule, and so on.

2). The lovely brickwork above the Biolabs showing various animals.

3). The custom door to the Biolabs showing plants and animals. There are three of these, flanked by the two famous rhinos (below). The one shown is the “plant” door, though not everything on this door is a plant.


4). A new and fancy fountain, with water spritzing over rocks, in front of the Science Center, where I used to be a teaching assistant in. Ed Wilson’s Bio 1 class.

5). Harvard Yard in all its afternoon glory. In just two weeks or so it will be at its loveliest when the leaves turn. The Yard is ringed by freshman dorms, though not all first-years get to live there.

6). Reflections from a potted plant at the house where I’m staying.

7). A typical scene from the People’s Republic of Cambridge.


Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution is True Feed - 10 hours 31 min ago

Reader Don Bredes has a neighborhood moose, and he kindly sent photos and some notes (indented):

Our neighborly moose (Alces alces), whose tracks we’ve been taking note of this fall, wandered through the freshly tilled garden this morning, helping herself to the remaining chard and the Brussels Sprouts leaves by the evidence. My wife and I did not notice her until she’d reached the edge of our field. I went out to wish her a good day–and a good day it is–and managed to approach within 15 yards. That was as close as I dared. She’s bigger than she may appear here and healthy-looking. I spoke to her. More curious than perturbed, she didn’t budge but returned her attentions to her breakfast. A moose has nothing to be afraid of.


Categories: Science

Innovative smart watch and smart ring

Researchers have developed a smart watch that takes the user to another dimension and a smart ring that provides powerful feedback.
Categories: Science

Gamma rays will reach beyond the limits of light

Researchers have discovered a new way to produce high energy photon beams. The new method makes it possible to produce these gamma rays in a highly efficient way, compared with today's technique. The obtained energy is a billion times higher than the energy of photons in visible light. These high intensity gamma rays significantly exceed all known limits, and pave the way towards new fundamental studies.
Categories: Science

Novel 'converter' heralds breakthrough in ultra-fast data processing at nanoscale

Scientists have recently invented a novel 'converter' that can harness the speed and small size of plasmons for high frequency data processing and transmission in nanoelectronics.
Categories: Science

Novel 'converter' heralds breakthrough in ultra-fast data processing at nanoscale

Scientists have recently invented a novel 'converter' that can harness the speed and small size of plasmons for high frequency data processing and transmission in nanoelectronics.
Categories: Science

Insight into a hidden order seen with high field magnet

A specific uranium compound has puzzled researchers for thirty years. Although the crystal structure is simple, no one understands exactly what is happening once it is cooled below a certain temperature. Apparently, a 'hidden order' emerges, whose nature is completely unknown. Now physicists have characterized this hidden order state more precisely and studied it on a microscopic scale. To accomplish this, they utilized a high-field magnet that permits neutron experiments to be conducted under conditions of extremely high magnetic fields.
Categories: Science

Cool roofs have water saving benefits too

The energy and climate benefits of cool roofs have been well established: By reflecting rather than absorbing the sun's energy, light-colored roofs keep buildings, cities, and even the entire planet cooler. Now a new study has found that cool roofs can also save water by reducing how much is needed for urban irrigation.
Categories: Science

Friday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - 12 hours 55 min ago

Good morning: it’s Friday, October 20, 2017.  I’m quite grumpy today, a sad state to be in when in Cambridge with beautiful weather. The Cubs lost to the Dodgers last night by the embarrassing score of 11-1, so they’re not going to the World Series. I didn’t sleep, Trump is President, the Left is tearing itself apart in embarrassing ways, the problem of sexual harassment is far more pervasive than I imagined, Kim Jong-un and Trump are taking us to the brink of war, my Facebook page is full of people complaining about all manner of things (there’s no joy to be seen), and my website comment box is full of invective and hatred (you won’t see the nastiest ones). The only good news on tap was that yesterday both George W. Bush and Barack Obama spoke out (implicitly) against Trump, violating a long-standing dictum that ex-Presidents don’t criticize sitting Presidents. Also depressing are the number of people I’ve seen, on Facebook and elsewhere, approving of Nazis being punched (apparently a Nazi got punched in Florida yesterday when Richard Spencer was speaking). I cannot and will not condone physical violence, even against those, like genuine Nazis and white supremacists, whom we most despise. Approbation of such violence makes me ill. As does calling everyone we don’t like “Nazis”.

It’s National Eggo Day, celebrating a particularly noxious form of commercially sold frozen waffle. It’s also both World Osteoporosis Day and World Statistics Day. One statistic is that 80% of all sufferers from osteoporosis are women. On this day in 1720, the Caribbean pirate Calico Jack was captured by the Royal Navy; he was, of course, hanged. On October 20, 1803, the U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase: the biggest land bargain the U.S. ever got. And exactly 15 years later, the U.S. and Britain settled the border between Canada and the U.S.: largely along the 49th parallel. On this day in 1935, the Communists’ famous one-year Long March finally ended. On October 20, 1944, General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines as he’d promised several years before when the Japanese took over. On this day in 1968, Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis.

I well remember this day in 1973, for it was the day of the “Saturday Night Massacre“, when Richard Nixon fired U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and then Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus when they refused to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Robert Bork finally did the dirty work for Nixon. But that didn’t stop Nixon from resigning in disgrace.

Notables born on this day include Patrick Matthew (1790), who, in an appendix of his book on “Naval Timber and Arboriculture”, produced a remarkably accurate account of natural selection—very similar to that of Darwin and Wallace’s later ideas. Also born on October 20 was Arthur Rimbaud (1854), John Dewey (1859), Art Buchwald (1925), Joyce Brothers (1927), Mickey Mantle (1931), Bobby Seale (1936), Tom Petty (1950, died October 2) and Snoop Dogg (1971).

Those who died on this day include Eugene V. Debs (1926), Herbert Hoover (1964), Merle Travis (1983), Paul Dirac (1984). Burt Lancaster (1994), Muammar Gaddafi (2011), and Paul Kurtz (2012).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili misses the delicious cat treats Hiroko sent her:

A: Are you asleep? Hili: No, I’m dreaming about Japanese treats. In Polish: Ja: Śpisz?
Hili: Nie, marzę o japońskich przysmakach.  Here’s a tweet from the ever reliable Ziya Tong:

Blue beetle is beautiful. (Stolas imperialis)

[photo: Monteiro]

— IM

Categories: Science

The American Academy of Pediatrics has an Integrative Medicine Problem

Science-based Medicine Feed - 13 hours 31 min ago
The American Academy of Pediatrics is usually a trustworthy source of high quality information for patients, caregivers, and pediatric medical providers. But when it comes to so-called integrative medicine, they have a massive biased blind spot. In this post, I discuss a recently updated clinical report from their Section on Integrative Medicine.
Categories: Science

Sky Pointing Curiosity Captures Breathtaking Vista of Mount Sharp and Crater Rim, Climbs Vera Rubin Seeking Hydrated Martian Minerals

Universe Today Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 8:48pm

NASA’s Curiosity rover raised robotic arm with drill pointed skyward while exploring Vera Rubin Ridge at the base of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater – backdropped by distant crater rim. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images taken on Sol 1833, Oct. 2, 2017 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/ Di Lorenzo

5 years after a heart throbbing Martian touchdown, Curiosity is climbing Vera Rubin Ridge in search of “aqueous minerals” and “clays” for clues to possible past life while capturing “truly breathtaking” vistas of humongous Mount Sharp – her primary destination – and the stark eroded rim of the Gale Crater landing zone from ever higher elevations, NASA scientists tell Universe Today in a new mission update.

“Curiosity is doing well, over five years into the mission,” Michael Meyer, NASA Lead Scientist, Mars Exploration Program, NASA Headquarters told Universe Today in an interview.

The car-sized rover soft landed on Mars inside Gale Crater on August 6, 2012 using the ingenious and never before tried “sky crane” system.

A rare glimpse of Curiosity’s arm and turret mounted skyward pointing drill is illustrated with our lead mosaic from Sol 1833 of the robot’s life on Mars – showing a panoramic view around the alien terrain from her current location in October 2017 while actively at work analyzing soil samples.

“Your mosaic is absolutely gorgeous!’ Jim Green, NASA Director Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington D.C., told Universe Today

“We are at such a height on Mt Sharp to see the rim of Gale Crater and the top of the mountain. Truly breathtaking.”

The rover has ascended more than 300 meters in elevation over the past 5 years of exploration and discovery from the crater floor to the mountain ridge.

Additionally, the Sol 1833 Vera Rubin Ridge mosaic, stitched by the imaging team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, shows portions of the trek ahead to the priceless scientific bounty of aqueous mineral signatures detected by spectrometers years earlier from orbit by NASA’s fleet of Red Planet orbiters.

NASA’s Curiosity rover as seen simultaneously on Mars surface and from orbit on Sol 1717, June 5, 2017. The robot snapped this self portrait mosaic view while approaching Vera Rubin Ridge at the base of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater – backdropped by distant crater rim. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images and colorized. Inset shows overhead orbital view of Curiosity (blue feature) amid rocky mountainside terrain taken the same day by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/ Di Lorenzo

“Curiosity is on Vera Rubin Ridge (aka Hematite Ridge) – it is the first aqueous mineral signature that we have seen from space, a driver for selecting Gale Crater,” NASA HQ Mars Lead Scientist Meyer elaborated.

“And now we have access to it.”

The Sol 1833 photomosaic illustrates Curiosity maneuvering her 7 foot long (2 meter) robotic arm during a period when she was processing and delivering a sample of the “Ogunquit Beach” for drop off to the inlet of the CheMin instrument earlier in October. The “Ogunquit Beach” sample is dune material that was collected at Bagnold Dune II this past spring.

The sample drop is significant because the drill has not been operational for some time.

What’s the status of the rover health at 5 years, the wheels and the drill?

“All the instruments are doing great and the wheels are holding up,” Meyer explained.

“When 3 grousers break, 60% life has been used – this has not happened yet and they are being periodically monitored. The one exception is the drill feed (see detailed update below).”

NASA’s Curiosity rover explores sand dunes inside Gale Crater with Mount Sharp in view on Mars on Sol 1611, Feb. 16, 2017, in this navcam camera mosaic, stitched from raw images and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/ Di Lorenzo

NASA’s 1 ton Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover is now closer than ever to the mineral signatures that were the key reason why Mount Sharp was chosen as the robots landing site years ago by the scientists leading the unprecedented mission.

Along the way from the ‘Bradbury Landing’ zone to Mount Sharp, six wheeled Curiosity has often been climbing. To date she has gained over 313 meters (1027 feet) in elevation – from minus 4490 meters to minus 4177 meters today, Oct. 19, 2017, said Meyer.

The low point was inside Yellowknife Bay at approx. minus 4521 meters.

VRR alone stands about 20 stories tall and gains Curiosity approx. 65 meters (213 feet) of elevation to the top of the ridge. Overall the VRR traverse is estimated by NASA to take drives totaling more than a third of a mile (570 m).

Curiosity images Vera Rubin Ridge during approach backdropped by Mount Sharp. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images taken on Sol 1726, June 14, 2017 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/

“Vera Rubin Ridge” or VRR is also called “Hematite Ridge.” It’s a narrow and winding ridge located on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. It was informally named earlier this year in honor of pioneering astrophysicist Vera Rubin.

VRR resists erosion better than the less-steep portions of the mountain below and above it, say mission scientists.

What’s ahead for Curiosity in the coming weeks and months exploring VRR before moving onward and upwards to higher elevation?

“Over the next several months, Curiosity will explore Vera Rubin Ridge,” Meyer replied.

“This will be a big opportunity to ground-truth orbital observations. Of interest, so far, the hematite of VRR does not look that different from what we have been seeing all along the Murray formation. So, big question is why?”

“The view from VRR also provides better access to what’s ahead in exploring the next aqueous mineral feature – the clay, or phyllosilicates, which can be indicators of specific environments, putting constraints on variables such as pH and temperature,” Meyer explained.

The clay minerals or phyllosilicates form in more neutral water, and are thus extremely scientifically interesting since pH neutral water is more conducive to the origin and evolution of Martian microbial life forms, if they ever existed.

How far away are the clays ahead and when might Curiosity reach them?

“As the crow flies, the clays are about 0.5 km,” Meyer replied. “However, the actual odometer distance and whether the clays are where we think they are – area vs. a particular location – can add a fair degree of variability.”

Over the past few months Curiosity make rapid progress towards the hematite-bearing location of Vera Rubin Ridge after conducting in-depth exploration of the Bagnold Dunes earlier this year.

“Vera Rubin Ridge is a high-standing unit that runs parallel to and along the eastern side of the Bagnold Dunes,” said Mark Salvatore, an MSL Participating Scientist and a faculty member at Northern Arizona University, in a mission update.

“From orbit, Vera Rubin Ridge has been shown to exhibit signatures of hematite, an oxidized iron phase whose presence can help us to better understand the environmental conditions present when this mineral assemblage formed.”

Curiosity is using the science instruments on the robotic arm turret to gather detailed research measurements with the cameras and spectrometers.

A key instrument is the drill which has not been operational. I asked Meyer for a drill update.

“The drill feed developed problems retracting (two stabilizer prongs on either side of the drill retract, controlling the rate of drill penetration),” Meyer replied.

“Because the root cause has not been found (think FOD) and the concern about the situation getting worse, the drill feed has been retracted and the engineers are working on drilling without the stabilizing prongs. Note, a consequence is that you can still drill and collect sample but a) there is added concern about getting the drill stuck and b) a new method of delivering sample needs to be developed and tested (the drill feed normally needs to be moved to move the sample into the chimera). One option that looks viable is reversing the drill – it does works and they are working on the scripts and how to control sample size.”

Curiosity rover raises robotic arm high while scouting the Bagnold Dune Field and observing dust devils inside Gale Crater on Mars on Sol 1625, Mar. 2, 2017, in this navcam camera mosaic stitched from raw images and colorized. Note: Wheel tracks at right, distant crater rim in background. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/ Di Lorenzo

Ascending and diligently exploring the sedimentary lower layers of Mount Sharp, which towers 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Martian sky, is the primary destination and goal of the rover’s long term scientific expedition on the Red Planet.

“Lower Mount Sharp was chosen as a destination for the Curiosity mission because the layers of the mountain offer exposures of rocks that record environmental conditions from different times in the early history of the Red Planet. Curiosity has found evidence for ancient wet environments that offered conditions favorable for microbial life, if Mars has ever hosted life,” says NASA.

Stay tuned. In part 2 we’ll discuss the key findings from Curiosity’s first 5 years exploring the Red Planet.

As of today, Sol 1850, Oct. 19, 2017, Curiosity has driven over 10.84 miles (17.45 kilometers) since its August 2012 landing inside Gale Crater from the landing site to the ridge, and taken over 445,000 amazing images.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Map shows route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through Sol 1827 of the rover’s mission on Mars (September 27, 2017). Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 10.84 miles (17.45 kilometers). The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/UA

The post Sky Pointing Curiosity Captures Breathtaking Vista of Mount Sharp and Crater Rim, Climbs Vera Rubin Seeking Hydrated Martian Minerals appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Nope, our Temporary Moon Isn’t Space Junk, it’s an Asteroid

Universe Today Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 4:43pm

In April of 2016, astronomers became aware of a distant object that appeared to be orbiting the Sun, but was also passing close enough to Earth that it could be periodically viewed using the most powerful telescopes. Since then, there has been ample speculation as to what this “Temporary Moon” could be, with most astronomers claiming that it is likely nothing more than an asteroid.

However, some suggested that it was a burnt-out rocket booster trapped in a near-Earth orbit. But thanks to new study by a team from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, this object – known as (469219) 2016 HO3 – has been confirmed as an asteroid. While this small near-Earth-asteroid orbits the Sun, it also orbits Earth as a sort of “quasi-satellite”.

The team that made this discovery was led by Vishnu Reddy, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Their research was also made possible thanks to NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program. This program is maintained by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) and provides grants to institutions dedicated to the research of NEOs.

2016 HO3 is an asteroid that appears to orbit around Earth due to the mechanics of its peculiar orbit around the sun. Credit: NASA-JPL

The details of this discovery were presented this week at the 49th Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences in Utah at a presentation titled “Ground-based Characterization of Earth Quasi Satellite (469219) 2016 HO3”. During the course of the presentation, Reddy and his colleagues described how they spotted the object using the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) at the LBT Observatory on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona.

According to their observations, 2016 HO3 measures just 100 meters (330 feet) across and is the most stable quasi-satellite discovered to date (of which there have been five). Over the course of a few centuries, this asteroid remains at a distance of 38 to 100 lunar distances – i.e. the distance between the Earth and the Moon. As Reddy explained in a UANews press statement, this makes the asteroid a challenging target:

“While HO3 is close to the Earth, its small size – possibly not larger than 100 feet – makes it challenging target to study. Our observations show that HO3 rotates once every 28 minutes and is made of materials similar to asteroids.”

Discovering the true nature of this object has also solved another big question – namely, where did 2016 HO3 come from? For those speculating that it might be space junk, it then became necessary to determine what the likely source of that junk was. Was it a remnant of an Apollo-era mission, or something else entirely? By determining that it is actually an NEO, Reddy and his team have indicted that it likely comes from the same place as other NEOs.

Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona’s Lunar Planetary Laboratory. Credit: Bob Demers/UANews

Reddy and his colleagues also indicated that 2016 HO3 reflected light off its surface in a way that is similar to meteorites that have been studied here on Earth. This was another indication that 2016 HO3 has similar origins to other NEOs (some of which have entered our atmosphere as meteors) which are generally asteroids that were kicked out of the Main Belt by Jupiter’s gravity.

“In an effort to constrain its rotation period and surface composition, we observed 2016 HO3 on April 14 and 18 with the Large Binocular Telescope and the Discovery Channel Telescope,” Reddy said. “The derived rotation period and the spectrum of emitted light are not uncommon among small NEOs, suggesting that 2016 HO3 is a natural object of similar provenance to other small NEOs.”

But unlike other NEOs which periodically cross Earth’s orbit, “quasi-satellites” are distinguished by their rather unique orbits. In the case of 2016 HO3, it has an orbit that follows a similar path to that the Earth’s; but because it is not dominated by the Earth’s gravity, their two orbits are out of sync. This causes 2016 HO3 to make annual loops around the Earth as it orbits the Sun.

Artist’s impression of a hypothetical astronaut mission to an asteroid. Credit: NASA Human Exploration Framework Team

Christian Veillet, one of co-authors of the presentation, is also the director of the LBT Observatory. As he explained, this characteristic could make “quasi-satellites” ideal targets for future NEO studies:

“Of the near-Earth objects we know of, these types of objects would be the easiest to reach, so they could potentially make suitable targets for exploration. With its binocular arrangement of two 8.4-meter mirrors, coupled with a very efficient pair of imagers and spectrographs like MODS, LBT is ideally suited to the characterization of these Earth’s companions.”

Similarly, their orbital characteristic could make “quasi-satellites” an ideal target for future space missions. One of NASA’s main goals in the coming decade is to send a crewed mission to a Near-Earth Object in order to test the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System. Such a mission would also help develop the necessary expertise for mounting missions deeper into space (i.e. to Mars and beyond).

The study of Near-Earth Objects is also of immense importance when it comes to determining how and where as asteroid might pose a threat to Earth. This knowledge allows for advanced warnings which can potentially save lives. It is also significant when it comes to the development of proposed counter-measures, several of which are currently being explored.

And be sure to enjoy this video of 2016 HO3’s orbit, courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

Further Reading: UANews

The post Nope, our Temporary Moon Isn’t Space Junk, it’s an Asteroid appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

NASA's MAVEN mission finds Mars has a twisted magnetic tail

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 3:18pm
Mars has an invisible magnetic 'tail' that is twisted by interaction with the solar wind, according to new research using data from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft.
Categories: Science

Bigelow and ULA are Sending a Habitat to Lunar Orbit by 2022

Universe Today Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 3:18pm

Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance announced on Tuesday that they’ll be sending their own inflatable habitat to lunar orbit by 2022. They’re calling it the Lunar Depot. Part laboratory, part hotel, the habitat will serve as a destination for anyone planning to visit the Moon.

Suddenly the Moon has become all the rage for anyone planning trips to space. Of course, SpaceX noted that their BFR (Big Freaking Rocket) should be capable of sending the BFR spaceship to land on the Moon and return. NASA was instructed by the Trump Administration to set a course for the Moon, before heading off to Mars. The Europeans are considering a lunar village on the surface of the Moon, and the logo for the Chinese Chang’e lunar exploration program has feet on the Moon.

According to a joint press release from ULA and Bigelow, the launch would send the B330 Expandable Module atop a ULA Vulcan 562 rocket, followed by more Vulcan launches to boost the habitat from low Earth orbit to its final lunar destination.

Interior schematic view of Bigelow Aerospace B330 expandable module. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Bigelow Aerospace has been working on inflatable habitats for years now, sending up their own standalone Genesis 1 spacecraft in 2006. This proved that an inflatable habitat would function in space. It was supposed to last at least 5 years, but it’s still going. This was followed up by Genesis 2 in 2007, which is also still continuing to orbit the Earth. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was attached to the International Space Station in April 2016, carried to space aboard a SpaceX Dragon Capsule. Since then, NASA has been testing out its functionality as a module on the station, as well as its strength, radiation protection and how it responds to temperature changes. Earlier this month, NASA announced that the BEAM module was working well, and they’d keep it on the station at least through 2020, reviewing it each year.

The Bigelow B330 is a much larger inflatable habitat. It would be 14 meters long, and 6.7 metres in diameter when fully inflated. Its launch mass will be 20,000 kg, requiring a heavy lift vehicle to carry it out into a lunar orbit. It would have an internal volume of 330 cubic meters. For comparison, the International Space Station has an internal volume of 915 cubic meters, so, about a third of ISS. Pretty impressive for a single launch. Bigelow has yet to actually construct a B330, but they have some in construction, and previously committed to having two ready for 2020.

View of the Vulcan Rocket. Credit: ULA

The Vulcan rocket is the new heavy lift vehicle in development by United Launch Alliance, the collaboration between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Designed to compete with the newer launch companies, like SpaceX and Blue Origins, the Vulcan will have reusable rocket engines. After the Vulcan lifts off, the engines will detach and parachute back to Earth, caught by helicopters. According to ULA, the engines account for 70% of the cost of a rocket, so by catching them like this, they’ll be able to reuse the engines without the additional weight of fuel, steering and landing systems.

And just like Bigelow, ULA is planning to have their first Vulcan rocket ready for test launch by 2019.

If all goes as planned, a Vulcan 562 rocket would carry the B330 into a low Earth orbit, where it would be inflated, outfitted with equipment and fully tested over the course of a year. Every few months they would send additional supplies and change out the astronaut crew.

Once everything was in working order, another Vulcan rocket would launch carrying an Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) into low Earth orbit. A second Vulcan ACES would be launched to dock with the first and transfer propellant. The fully fueled ACES would dock with the outpost, and push it out to its final low lunar orbit.

In its final location at the Moon, the Lunar Depot would serve as a destination for NASA’s Orion capsule which is capable of supporting astronauts in deep space. Or it could be visited by SpaceX BFR spaceships, transferring tourists for a space holiday.

The announcement of the Lunar Depot comes right at the point when the Trump Administration is directing its space exploration efforts at the Moon, so the timing is good. Of course, NASA is still working on its Deep Space Gateway, recently announcing that Russia would be contributing modules to the station.

For nearly 50 years human beings haven’t left low Earth orbit, let alone go back to the Moon. Suddenly there are multiple plans to send humans back to various orbiting colonies and ground missions. We’ll have to see how this all shakes out.

Source: ULA/Bigelow Press Release

The post Bigelow and ULA are Sending a Habitat to Lunar Orbit by 2022 appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

New NASA study improves search for habitable worlds

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 3:18pm
New NASA research is helping to refine our understanding of candidate planets beyond our solar system that might support life.
Categories: Science

Doubling up on ‘junk DNA’ helps make us human

Science News Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 3:18pm
DNA duplicated only in humans may contribute to human traits and disease.
Categories: Science

Be concerned about how apps collect, share health data, expert says

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 2:16pm
Americans should be concerned about how health and wellness apps collect, save and share their personal health data, a medical media expert says.
Categories: Science

Two-dimensional materials gets a new theory for control of properties

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 2:16pm
Desirable properties including increased electrical conductivity, improved mechanical properties, or magnetism for memory storage or information processing may be possible because of a theoretical method to control grain boundaries in two-dimensional materials, according to materials scientists.
Categories: Science


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