Spacecraft closes in on strange binary comet

Use DarkSydoTheMoon@aol.com

Use DarkSydOtheMoon@aol.com

Thanks for all who have chipped in to support me in my activist poverty. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t dire. Please hit my Paypal account if you can using Darksydothemoon-at-aol-com and thanks!

This week the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft closed in on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and resolved this unusual shape. Its spinning fairly quickly and stretching around 3 miles across at the widest. Astronomers call it a binary comet, presumably made of two smaller objects that didn’t quite finish merging an unknown time ago. [Read more...]

Hypothetical illustration of the surface of Kepler 186f: Lycoris

Lycoris

Kepler 186f, “Lycoris” by Karen Wehrstein. And she does this stuff at no charge, she depends solely on contribs. If anyone wants to drop a buck or two in her Paypal account at hearth@xplornet.com that would be great.

 

We won’t know details of the surface of 186f for years, probably decades, at best. It could be a cool Venus, a warm Mars, or a water world with a thick, steamy atmosphere and no clear surface transition between vapor and liquid phases. It could have a highly reflective atmosphere or surface, locking it into a snowball state, colder than the North Pole and drier than the Atacama desert. It could be like nothing we have yet imagined. But we can have some fun guessing[Read more...]

Kepler hits the exo-planetary jackpot

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Ustream NASA press conference here (highly recommended). An artist friend may try to squeeze in a hypo illustration. But if someone wants to submit an image of what they think surface might look like, have at it. I’ll consider anything received by tomorrow at 5 PM Central for the science round up at Daily Kos linked to the web site of your choosing.
Hiding in plain sight in data already received from the now defunct Kepler observatory was the best candidate yet for the Holy Grail in planetary astronomy. It’s almost exactly the same size as Earth, maybe a touch larger, and it orbits in the cooler part of the system’s habitable zone: [Read more...]

Obscure NASA requirement in play as Trojan Horse for rightwing power grab

Terminator

Some things are harder to kill than others. A simplistic myth abounds among the usual suspects, that the simple act of killing a government program ends it, cuts spending and thus the deficit. Like so many beliefs, this one is far from accurate. The government can terminate a contract for two reasons: the exceedingly rare case of breach of contract that can be proven in court, or convenience, when Congress or other officials pull the plug. Lately that’s usually for fiscal-hawk reasons. But when a big government contract is chugging along, there are costs associated with shutting it down rarely taken into account by those poor souls suffering from late stage Deficit Obsession Syndrome. Bills already owed, fixed costs that cannot always be easily unwound, sometimes layoffs and severance benefits ahead. So, in many cases, the government requires a pile of money to be set aside to cover what’s generally referred to as termination liability.

There are lots of ways to do this. The money can be folded into the cost or bid by a contractor, it can be set aside by the government or the company itself, or a combo of both in some cases, it might be waived in special situations. It should come as no surprise that that kind of ambiguity is fertile ground for lawmakers to meddle around in, as they muscle for advantage over one another in the endless, exhausting battle for taxpayer dollars flowing to their districts. It can affect any program theoretically. Right now it’s affecting one agency in my blogging bailiwick of science and science policy: Specifically, NASA.

Follow me below through a few of the dark twists and turns of government-contractor termination protocol and a hidden right-wing power grab that could affect every program in the US. [Read more...]

NASA waiting on Da House to act

Suppose every time a civilian or pure research plane lifted off there was an obscure law, originally passed with good intentions, that had to be regularly re-authed by Congress or no more flights. And let’s just say that Congress became hyper-polarized, a do nothing body, where even the simplest, once uncontroversial acts morphed into a potential hot potato in a mid-term election year. Air traffic would grind to a halt.

Well, that’s a fair analogy for a bureaucratic hurdle currently faced by NASA, along with contractors and customers, all waiting on a critical reauthorization before a score of rockets can be duly licensed and cleared for launch in 2014. Follow me below, deep into the cosmic weeds, and we’ll review just how easy this should be to fix. [Read more...]

Winged artiodactyls & Fireballs in the sky

Guys and gals I’m only $200 bucks short of salvation this month thanks to a number of generous readers. If you can kick in a few more shekels I will say a special prayer for you be able to continue working on issues near and dear to our hearts for at least another few weeks! My Paypal email address is DarkSydOtheMoon-at-aol and my snail mail address for those who dislike Paypal is in the first comment, thanks again! Context for the above image and more science-y stuff below the fold. [Read more...]

Tricksy politicians vs NASA

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DarkSydoTheMoon@aol.com

Thanks for the holiday contribs guys (I’m sorry, Christmas contribs, since holidays is a bad word now). I had a little PC malfunction yesterday but it seems to be barely working, now, after messing with it endlessly. Man I’m so sick of being poor, but at least I go to the doc today for what I expect will be some decent news. I wouldn’t even be able to afford that appointment if it wasn’t for you guys.

Here’s an example of how tricky ledge can be, this little bill will probably get passed by being attached to a much larger CR that both the GOP and WH want to see go through, lest there’s another crisis right in the middle of the holidays (Sorry, Christmas): [Read more...]

ISON: something may have survived!

ison_soho_nov28_2036UTC.jpg.CROP.original-original

The streak at about ten o’clock

 

By this time yesterday I was absolutely certain ISON was cooked, literally. It was tiny to start with, even by comet nucleus standards, and within a million miles of the sun for hours where insolation would heat any normal material to several thousand degrees by any scale, plenty hot enough to boil most metals. Let alone ices and bits of rock. But right now it appears that something might — and we have to stress might — have survived that will slingshot back into cooler solar climes and be visible in December with a small scope.

One can almost picture the spirit of Engineer Scotty working to pull off the miraculous. Oh, and the UFO-alien conspiracy theorists are being oddly quiet, which is fine. Let’s not disturb them.