Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Monday, November 28, 2016
We've been watching the "Mars" series on the National Geographic channel. It's pretty good, except for the gratuitous high-tension scenes, which almost made us turn it off.
Talk about synergy. Now the ExoMars Orbiter has reached Mars and is returning some great high-resolution pictures of the Martian surface.
FIRST VIEWS OF MARS SHOW POTENTIAL FOR ESA'S NEW ORBITER
|ESA's new ExoMars orbiter has tested its suite of instruments in orbit for the first time, hinting at a great potential for future observations.|
The Trace Gas Orbiter, or TGO, a joint endeavour between ESA and Roscosmos, arrived at Mars on 19 October. Its elliptical orbit takes it from 230–310 km above the surface to around 98 000 km every 4.2 days.
It spent the last two orbits during 20–28 November testing its four science instruments for the first time since arrival, and making important calibration measurements.
Data from the first orbit has been made available for this release to illustrate the range of observations to be expected once the craft arrives into its near-circular 400 km-altitude orbit late next year.
TGO's main goal is to make a detailed inventory of rare gases that make up less than 1% of the atmosphere's volume, including methane, water vapour, nitrogen dioxide and acetylene.
Of high interest is methane, which on Earth is produced primarily by biological activity, and to a smaller extent by geological processes such as some hydrothermal reactions.
The two instruments tasked with this role have now demonstrated they can take highly sensitive spectra of the atmosphere. During the test observations last week, the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite focused on carbon dioxide, which makes up a large volume of the planet's atmosphere, while the Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery instrument homed in on water.
They also coordinated observations with ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, as they will in the future.
Complementary measurements by the orbiter's neutron detector, FREND, will measure the flow of neutrons from the planet's surface. Created by the impact of cosmic rays, the way in which they are emitted and their speed on arriving at TGO points to the composition of the surface layer, in particular to water or ice just below the surface.
The instrument has been active at various times during the cruise to Mars and on recent occasions while flying close to the surface could identify the relative difference between regions of known higher and lower neutron flux, although it will take several months to produce statistically significant results.
Similarly, the instrument showed a clear increase in neutron detections when close to Mars compared to when it was further away.
The different capabilities of the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System were also demonstrated, with 11 images captured during the first close flyby on 22 November.
At closest approach the spacecraft was 235 km from the surface, and flying over the Hebes Chasma region, just north of the Valles Marineris canyon system. These are some of the closest images that will ever be taken of the planet by TGO, given that the spacecraft's final orbit will be at around 400 km altitude.
The camera team also completed a quick first test of producing a 3D reconstruction of a region in Noctis Labyrinthus, from a stereo pair of images.
|First ExoMars stereo reconstruction. Credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE|
Although the images are impressively sharp, data collected during this test period will help to improve the camera's onboard software as well as the quality of the images after processing.
"We are extremely happy and proud to see that all the instruments are working so well in the Mars environment, and this first impression gives a fantastic preview of what's to come when we start collecting data for real at the end of next year," says Håkan Svedhem, ESA's TGO Project Scientist.
"Not only is the spacecraft itself clearly performing well, but I am delighted to see the various teams working together so effectively in order to give us this impressive insight.
"We have identified areas that can be fine-tuned well in advance of the main science mission, and we look forward to seeing what this amazing science orbiter will do in the future."
Sunday, November 27, 2016
The Earth never ceases to amaze. Lightning that shoots UP from the clouds into the sky: blue jets, sprites, gigantic jets. WTF?
A similar but less powerful lightning phenomenon are the blue jets. These electrical discharges occur from the top of cumulonimbus clouds above a thunderstorm to the lowest levels of the ionosphere, just like gigantic jets. However, they are short and penetrate only up to about 40-50 km above the earth. Blue jets are typically shaped in a narrow cone, and as implied by their name, are blue in color.
The Elusive Gigantic Jets of Lightning
The most common kind of lightning observed from earth discharges from cloud to cloud or from clouds toward the ground. The more elusive forms, called sprites, take place high above thunderstorm clouds and are visible as streaks of red. Even rarer are those that take place between clouds and the ionosphere where the electric potential is hundreds of kilovolts higher than earth's surface. They are called gigantic jets and they are extremely powerful. While a typical lightning strike may travel less than ten kilometers, gigantic jets have been observed to shoot vertically up for more than 70 km.
Along with sprites and blue jets, gigantic jets belong to a class of exotic forms of upper-atmosphere lightning phenomenon known as “transient luminous event” (TLE), so called because they lack several characteristics of the more familiar tropospheric lightning.
|Photograph of a gigantic jet, captured in China on August 13, 2016. This image might be the best image ever captured of this unusual phenomenon. Photo credit: Phebe Pan|
It wasn’t until the end of the last century that electrical activity above thunderclouds was scientifically proven, although rumors based on undocumented observations persisted for a long time. Sprites were discovered only in 1989, and since then have been photographed by the thousands. But gigantic jets were not observed until 2001. Only a few dozen observation has been made since then. The most recent sighting was in August, 2016.
Although their physics is not fully understood, researchers believe that gigantic jets could be a “missing link” in the Earth’s “global electric circuit” that helps maintain the potential difference of about 300,000 volts between the Earth’s surface and the ionosphere. The other components of Earth's global electric circuit include thunderstorms, the conducting ionosphere, the downward fair-weather currents and the conducting Earth.
|Possibly the sharpest image of a blue jet available so far.|
Also see: Sprite Lightning
Saturday, November 26, 2016
I don't think I'm through the mourning period yet. Or, perhaps, I'm still in denial. Either way, everything is going to be alright. Or not. Life is funny like that.
Five things you can do right now to combat foul Trumpism
Five things you can do right now to combat foul Trumpism
Friday, November 25, 2016
Found a good writing on the fact that fundamentalists supported Donald Trump in large numbers.
When I was growing up in East Texas, I remember this idea quite clearly expounded, either in Sunday School or at church proper each Sunday morning, namely, that white people were superior to darker-skinned people, and darker-skinned people were darker-skinned because they had all been cursed by God as a race. At the time, I didn't question it. I was basically "brainwashed" like all the other innocent children.
I cannot tell when when I quit believing that, if I ever did even believe it. Believing something is quite different from being aware of it.
The article is quite long so I will paste only a few snips. Long but worthwhile reading.
The dark rigidity of fundamentalist America: a view from the inside
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Monday, November 21, 2016
It is of course possible to feel thanks and gratitude, despite Trump's slash-and-burn campaign, and the imminent demise of much of what we might hold dear.
A Thanksgiving Message From Wake Up Laughing
"And on the 8th day God saw the world was funny,
and She created laughter." -- Swami Beyondananda
Dear Friends, Fans and Co-Hearts:
After a recent show, an audience member came up to me and said, "Thanks for the laughs."
I replied, "Actually, I laughed very little during my show. Thank YOU for the laughs."
So ... to my audience, whether you've seen the show live or are chuckling at the Daily Laughsitives or You Tube pieces or written work or CDs ... thanks for the laughs.
To be perfectly honest, I create comedy to amuse myself and promote sanity in my field. Sometimes Trudy and I laugh uproariously at a little joke just between us, and other times I am in front of an audience that is "tickled" to laugh. When I'm out in public, I engage with strangers and commit "random acts of comedy" that leave people laughing or certainly smiling. Just about anyone can learn to give "cosmic comic darshan" -- I've just had years of practice.
And while it doesn't take much to make me laugh even if I am by myself, laughter and comedy are social phenomena. They are ways of sparking, weaving and sustaining community and connection. Even in our darkest moments -- perhaps especially at these times -- we recognize how much better it is to laugh together than to cry separately. A room filled with laughing people brightens everyone in the space.
The recent election that blew the lid off of our toxic political system has left many feeling bereft, devastated, discouraged, and in danger. We are in uncharted territory, in a more "real" reality than the illusory "all is well" that held together during the neoliberal rule of Obama.
In recent generations, comedy has been an effective weapon of "mass-deconstruction" as social satirists from George Carlin to John Oliver have been "pumping ironies" to bring toxic contradictions to the fore. Never before have we been so aware of what is not working. And while laughing in the face of darkness can boost our spirits, it may be time for comedy to take on an even more generative task: Encourage us as we build a new world, despite the obstacles.
This weekend, many of us will be sitting down to feast with relatives who might share a different political or spiritual perspective. (That's probably why we are put in families.) Humor and laughter can provide the bridge from heart to heart, even if in our minds we feel separated by a huge chasm. Here some ideas for using humor to build rather than blow up bridges:
1. Remember, recall and recount good times shared, particularly family traditions and childhood memories. Families that play together, stay together.
2. Play games that involve creativity and emotional expression, like charades.
3. Watch funny movies. A doctor I know actually writes out prescriptions for movies like "Waking Ned Devine", a poignant and hilarious human comedy anyone can enjoy.
4. Bring toys. A friend of mine used to celebrate his birthday by inviting friends over to bring toys -- including squirt guns -- and play like children.
5. Share jokes that are "appropriate for any audience." That's what Trudy and I did when we lived in a predominantly-Baptist town in Texas. Jokes became the currency of communication and connection.
6. Design and initiate new traditions that involve laughter and play. It's so easy to look outside ourselves and our family for entertainment "out there". Grow your own fun, and you will "overgrow" the things that seemingly divide you.
7. Remember and affirm the love that is at the core of who you are to one another. Even if the divide causes emotions to get hot -- or cold -- hold the space in the center, and allow the peace to take hold. You might also prepare for some grief or sorrow as well, as people grieve the separation that has divided kin.
In these times of uncertainty, the only reassurance comes from the love in our hearts, and the reflection of that love we see in our loved ones. May we all attune in to the "Supreme Beam" this holiday season!
Steve, Swami, Trudy, Annette at Wake Up Laughing
Sunday, November 20, 2016
"Blood on the Mountain" was just released. It should remind us all that while Donald Trump promised the coal miners that he would "bring back all of your jobs" there is no way we are going to be able to do that. Just another lie to garner votes. And Hillary Clinton had no answer to the charge that she turned her back on coal workers.
The plot of "Blood on the Mountain" is that it's a heartbreaking history lesson about a land of opportunity where Americans take up livelihoods that kill them. The main character is West Virginia's coal mining community, as they are in a state of constant struggle, whether at the beginning of the industry when towns were built to service the newfound natural resource, or later when they formed unions, or battling non-union workers who wanted to take their jobs in the middle of protests. Throughout these chapters, of course, is coal's toxic nature, destroying the lungs of workers, or creating mountains of waste controlled by dams that have been known to break (as with the Buffalo Creek flood in 1972, which killed 125 people). Evans and Freeman's film richly depicts this messy, perpetual state of inhumanity, but does so with a very clear mind and a big heart, reaching out to the viewer with captivating journalism.
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Recently finished reading Bill Nye's latest book, "Unstoppable". It's a very accessible read, and it really does sound like Bill Nye talking. I really enjoy reading a book when I have heard the author's voice and can imagine them talking the text.
This book is all about the challenges the world faces, and the great opportunities that exist in renewable energy, climate change, and other technology wonders. It's an easy and good read.
I was filled with a sense of optimism after reading it, but then Donald Trump was "elected" and cast a lot of this into doubt. It still feels like a great wrong has been committed, but I hold out no hope that the Democrats will put up much of a fight against him. I hope I'm wrong.
Here's a little video that Bill did for Funny or Die about climate change about a year ago.
Friday, November 18, 2016
Here's another something that we will be doing more of in the near future: stargazing! Darker skies. Fewer people. No passenger jets or news choppers constantly whizzing around above us.
Like any hobby, stargazing can get pricey. There is a great intro to astronomy gear of all kinds at Space.com.
A few snips:
Get out and look up
Binoculars can work in a pinch:
And there are apps and accessories you should consider: A cloaking device? A Dew Zapper? A chair? Portable power? A chair!
Just get out there and look out! Space.com.