Irene could rival the great New England storm of 1938

If you watch hurricanes a lot, you might notice they often turn more than initially forecast. Systems moving west curve more north than expected, north moving storms curve more east. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens alot. When the tropical depression that gave birth to Irene first formed, many storm trackers assumed or hoped this system would follow suit and spare the US east coast. For now, that does not appear to be the case. Via Jeff Masters at the WeatherUnderground:

Hurricane Irene 2 PM EDT 25 Aug 2011 via the National Hurricane Center. Click image for latest storm forecast

Irene will likely hit Eastern North Carolina, but the storm is going northwards after that, and may deliver an extremely destructive blow to the mid-Atlantic and New England states. I am most concerned about the storm surge danger to North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and the rest of the New England coast. Irene is capable of inundating portions of the coast under 10 – 15 feet of water, to the highest storm surge depths ever recorded. I strongly recommend that all residents of the mid-Atlantic and New England coast familiarize themselves with their storm surge risk. … [See] the NHC’s Interactive Storm Surge Risk Map.

Of particular interest will be the effect of high winds should Irene roll over Manhattan or other large cities. The juxtaposition of tall buildings, narrow streets, and whipping wind could result in regions of difficult to predict dampening and amplification working chaotically on acres of siding, glass windows and concrete statues and other structures hundreds of feet off the ground. The streets of the Big Apple could become zones of jagged flying debris, an urban artillery range with glass and metal shrapnel ripping in all directions, punctuated by boulder-sized chunks of concrete raining down. Even a relatively modest Category 1 storm would be a potential killer for anyone who pokes their head outside. In addition the subways could flood, some taking days or weeks to repair, inconvenient for commuters, fatal for uncounted thousands of homeless underground dwellers.

Russian rocket fails high above earth

A Russian Soyuz U failed earlier today losing three tons of supplies for the International Space Station. But no lives were lost or even at risk:

A Soyuz-U rocket launching the Soyuz 19 mission, part of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project circa 1974

The unmanned spacecraft, called the Progress, lifted off from the Baikanur Russian Space Center in Kazakhstan on top of a Soyuz rocket. A little more than five minutes later, the rocket’s third-stage engine shut down sooner than it should have, before the Progress had enough velocity to reach orbit.

Had the Progress capsule been manned, odds are very good the crew could have been recovered unharmed after an exciting suborbital abort and parachute assisted landing. One of the huge advantages of traditional booster rockets over the shuttle lays in successful abort. In the rocket configuration, the capsule is at the tippy-top, designed to withstand enormous stress in the direction of motion, and it features a handy heat shield between crew and fuel. Even in the event the rocket explodes on the pad, the escape tower can blow the capsule clear and give the occupants a fighting chance of walking away. But the accident raises questions about the reliability of the aging ex-Soviet design and augers well for newspace companies like SpaceX.

Falcon 9 and variants courtesy of SpaceX

The Falcon 9 is already in developmental testing for cargo and the Dragon capsule was successfully returned from low earth orbit last December (Video here). This rocket and its growing list of competitors could be operational sooner if the schedule was accelerated. It might take a dozen or two cargo launches to tweak and certify the manned capability. If those launches happen over two years instead of five, we have a manned rocket way cheaper than the Russian R-7 family made right here in the US. And to repeat, the biggest change in the works isn’t how much NASA pays private contractors, it’s how those contractors are paid. Newspace flat-fee vs. traditional aerospace cost-plus.

There’s a lot of smart people inside and outside NASA who would like to support our domestic commercial space industry. Unfortunately, there’s an equally powerful group hell-bent on preserving the status quo benefitting traditional aerospace companies and key political districts. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA 46) sits on the House Science Committee and released a statement (No link available yet)which includes:

“I hope this is a minor problem with a quick and simple fix,” said Rohrabacher. “But this episode underscores America’s need for reliable launch systems of its own to carry cargo and crew into space. The only way to achieve this goal is to place more emphasis on commercial cargo and crew systems currently being developed by American companies. … “We need to get on with the task of building affordable launch systems to meet our nation’s needs for access to low Earth orbit, instead of promoting grandiose concepts which keep us vulnerable in the short and medium terms. The most responsible course of action for the United States is to dramatically accelerate the commercial crew systems already under development.

Rohrabacher goes on to “challenge” NASA Director Charles Bolden to make it happen. A little political grandstanding there, as Bolden serves at the pleasure of the WH which has already been promoting newspace. Even as some of Rohrabacher’s GOP peers, many of whom enjoy NASA dollars in their home states and districts, accuse Obama and newspace of wanting to kill the US space program. It’s a weird issue that defies the usual left-right axis. The best way to understand it isn’t political, it’s the Joe Pesci method from the movie Casino; the dollars, always the fucking dollars.

No, there is no room for science in the GOP base

It was a rhetorical title/question when I wrote it last week, but now we have a temporary answer. The results of the latest Gallup poll of Republicans and Republican leaning voters showing Rick Perry opening up a commanding 12 point lead over Mittens will be sliced and diced all day by the usual suspects. The controversial Texas Governor earned 29% as opposed to Romney’s 17% score. Growing crosstabs and history show Perry with the big mo. Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann round out the top four with 13% and 10% respectively.

Most of that pseudo-analysis and spin doctoring will be between the front runners. Is Perry stealing from Bachmann (Probably), does Paul have a chance (Nope), will Sarah Palin jump in (Hilarious!)? Momentum is fickle, flavor of the day, yada-yada-yada. True, the idea Rick Perry could actually have a shot at being president is surreal. But I’m interested here on the bottom rungs of Gallup’s snapshot.

The only avowed science candidate, Jon Huntsman, finished at 1%. After admitting the same discipline that gave us electricity, penicillin, and moon rocks might have a point about evolution and climate change, Huntsman earned a paltry one point. No upward movement whatsoever for affirming the obvious value of science, in fact he went down a point from July. Huntsman finished three points behind serial political grifter Newt Freakin Gingrich.

Mittens suffered too, mostly from Perry’s divine entry splash, and we can infer from today’s results that Romney’s tacit acceptance of biology and physics didn’t help in any measurable way. On the other hand, implying a magic invisible sky wizard — who incidentally hates what anyone says about any other magic invisible sky wizards and holds an awfully expedient preference for hard-right ideology — personally chose a candidate to lead us into the End Days did help.

When the history of this era is written, people — or their AI-organic sci-fi descendents — may look back and conclude this is the point where a big chunk of America lost its collective mind.

Hurricane Irene update

Hurricane Irene as of 2 AM EDT via the WeatherUnderground

Hurricane Irene remains a Category 3 storm and is forecast to briefly achieve Cat 4 status over the next day or two. The latest 5 AM EDT update from the National Weather service agrees closely with the image above: Irene is on track to buzz essentially the entire mid and upper US east coast and could make two landfalls, one near North Carolina’s outerbanks and the second near Long Island, New York. Typically, the maximum winds and storm surge of a hurricane traveling north will fall to the east of the eye and max rainfall to the west. A shift of just 50 miles spells the difference between a multibillion dollar disaster and less than a billion.

Via the WeatherUnderground early this morning:

The different forecast models are still in fairly good agreement about Irene’s track through the Bahamas and along the east coast of the US. The 00Z GFS run is in close agreement with the 12Z ECMWF run, but the 00Z ECMWF run is continuing the ECMWF’s trend of shifting the track westward with each run. NHC forecasters have been placing emphasis on the ECMWF’s forecast track when making their forecasts for IRene, so it is possible that the NHC track will shift westwards at the 5AM update.

Residents in mobile homes, low laying areas, near waterways and the coast, along with those dependent on reliable power for medical or other reasons, should now make preparations to leave the immediate vicinity of the storm’s path. Any residents choosing to remain should know where local storm shelters are located and be prepared for at least several days without power, water, Internet, and phone.

Update 9 AM EDT: A reader at Daily Kos writes in comments:

A Cat 2 actually hitting NYC would be awful. The winds between the buildings would be even faster, and there would be tons of things flying through the air that could kill people. You’d really not want to have anybody at all on the streets, which is practically unimaginable for New York. Windows in NY are not storm-proof, so there would likely be great breakage (yet another danger for those on the ground). The bottom line is that New Yorkers are not hurricane-experienced and would be very surprised at just what a sustained 100+ mph wind can do.

These guys are just plain evil

I don’t know another word to describe it. Using fundamentalist religious hype centered on a divine being who commanded generosity and charity to mislead sincere believers and rip them and everyone else off of their last damn nickel, so the evildoers can feed more tax cuts and government subsidies to a tiny sliver of already filthy rich assholes. It’s just stomach churning sickening:

An emerging Christian movement that seeks to take dominion over politics, business and culture in preparation for the end times and the return of Jesus, is becoming more of a presence in American politics. The leaders are considered apostles and prophets, gifted by God for this role.

And you better believe our good fundie buddy Rick Perry is right in the thick of this ugly shit.

Cool brown dwarf spotted nearby

Artist's conception of brown dwarf seen by WISE. Click image for NASA homepage

Well, nearby is relative, this object is nine light-years away, that’s over 50 trillion miles for us earthlings! But cool is correct no matter what part of the universe you live in. This brown dwarf is a balmy 25 C, about 80 F.

“The brown dwarfs we were turning up before this discovery were more like the temperature of your oven,” said Davy Kirkpatrick, a WISE science team member at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. “With the discovery of Y dwarfs, we’ve moved out of the kitchen and into the cooler parts of the house.”

Brown dwarfs are objects that didn’t make it to starhood, they lack enough mass to sustain hydrogen fusion in their center (The closest thing to a brown dwarf in our solar system is Jupiter). Astronomers classify brown dwarfs by letter, starting with class L for the hottest and Y for the coolest. Dim and distant, they’re very hard to see. They could be more common than stars, meaning our corner of the Milky Way galaxy could be swimming in them for all we know and our nearest interstellar neighbor could be a brown dwarf instead of the Centauri system 4.3 light-years away..

This is a gas ball, at some point under those dense clouds the temperature exceeds 25 C by a comfortable margin (It’s probably hot enough to melt iron within just a few hundred miles below the cloud tops). It’s a good bet some of these objects have moons — or would they be classified as planets? Either way, those smaller objects could experience tidal flexing like the Galileon moons of Jupiter. Io, the inner most moon of Jupiter, is the most volcanic body known in the solar system, Europa and Ganymede are both covered with fresh ice suggesting a surface that is regularly sculpted anew by cyro-geology, possibly driven by geothermal vents far below in a vast underground ocean.

That could be a very alien environment, but its possible specialized bacteria or their ET equivalents could cluster around the hypothetical heat sources, it’s even possible more sophisticated communities could develop around those simple organisms similar to the enigmatic ecosystems around earth’s black smokers and cold seeps. But protected by thick ice, circling a cool brown dwarf light years away, it will be a long, long time before we ever find that out, if we ever do. Europa on the other hand …

Irene update

Track via NWS, ocean temperatures via NOAA, graphics DemFromCT. Click image for latest on Irene

Hurricane Irene intensified back to Category 2 status and may reach Category 3 today. The storm has broken away from island highlands farther to the south and now nothing but the Bahamas lays between Irene and warm water hurricane paradise. Irene could well reach Cat 4 strength over the next several days and make landfall as a powerful, deadly storm.

The track above superimposed over NOAA’s sea surface temperature data shows the forecast track as of early this morning. While the centerline has shifted ever so slightly east, there’s still a great deal of variability three or more days out, represented by the growing size of the circles. Irene is forecast to pose a major threat to North Carolina, especially the Outer Banks, eastern Virginia, and the Norfolk to DC region. If the storm follows the current forecast it skirts Delaware and wanders back out over water plenty warm enough to sustain or accelerate the convection cycle driving the cyclone. Irene could then go on to threaten the Long Island region right up through Maine as a hurricane or a tropical storm.

Population density in 3-d, derived from Time Magazine and the US Census

The diagram above, produced by Time magazine using US Census data, I think, shows why this track is such a potential disaster. A Cat 3 or 4 would be deadly wherever it hits, but even a weaker storm rolling up the east coast could rank among the costliest hurricanes of all times due to the sheer population density. If Irene were to strike parts of Massachusetts, New York, or Connecticut for example, and only do minor roof or wall damage to one home in 20, that’s still hundreds of thousands of  homes that will need a new roof. The same applies for signs, traffic lights, telephone poles, mobile homes, metal sheds, etc. The costs mount up fast.


I’ll have updated information including an intensity forecast throughout the day.

Twin double standard

Comparison of zygote development in identical and fraternal twins. Via the Wiki

Annie Laurie writing at Balloon Juice brings up an interesting point I hadn’t thought about, at least in this context. She spends the first part of the post briefly reviewing the rise in twin births and all the technology that makes multiple births possible these days, and then concludes with this FreeThought money graf:

And yet, all the hard science work and technological funding that lets modern mothers discuss the exact gestational age, sex, and probable birth weight of the “pre-born” babies whose ultrasound pictures they’re posting on Facebook is just invisible. Women gush that God has “blessed” them—or, in the NYTimes demographic, fret that perhaps they should consider fetal reduction, to “ensure” the most stress-free, high-resource outcome for a single precious survivor.

It reminds of a buddy I used to know. A routine test caught early stage lymphoma. Surgery and chemo stopped it in its tracks. He hasn’t had a problem since. His version is “Jesus saved me,” which he devoutly believes. Of course, when medical treatment tragically fails, it’s technology’s fault or the medical staff, even though consistency would suggest Jesus killed that person. And thar she blows! The double standard.

Climate researcher Michael Mann cleared, again

Paleoclimate record for last 1000 years by Mann et al

I know Mike Mann, one of the progenitors of the Hockey Stick shown above. I consider him a friend and one hell of an expert to run things past. So I was happy to see this:

Finding no “evidence of research misconduct,” the Arlington, Virginia-based National Science Foundation closed its inquiry into Mann, according to an Aug. 15 report from the inspector general for the U.S. agency. Pennsylvania State University, where Mann is a professor of meteorology, exonerated him in February of suppressing or falsifying data, deleting e- mails and misusing privileged information.

This all stemmed from a theft of emails at a UK climate research facility in the Fall of 2009. Industry funded skeptics and their sadly misled followers combed through thousands of emails looking for the conspiracy they’d been assured existed. When none was found, the scumbags picked a few out of context phrases and leaned on the powers that be with all the might of Fox News and their merry band of dipshit viewers to crucify the scientists anyway. Mann was caught up in that witch hunt. It was an ugly sight: the ignorant and superstitious having a go at brains and careful analysis.

Since then he and every other scientists has been found to have committed no fraud or conspiracy or anything like that by half a dozen different investigations. This is about number seven to follow suit, although I’m starting to lose count.

Dwarf planets may hold water and methane ice

A possible reconstruction of what OR-10 might look like. Source Wiki

The California Institute of Technology is reporting that half of the Dwarf Planet nicknamed Snow White is covered in water ice that may have flowed from ancient cryo-volcanoes and clad in a thin layer of frozen methane.

Discovered in 2007 orbiting the Sun at the edge of the solar system, Snow White, about half the size of Pluto, is the fifth largest dwarf planet. When first discovered by then graduate student Meg Schwamb, professor Mike Brown name the planet Snow White after its incorrectly presumed white color, but the dwarf planet is actually one of the reddest objects in the solar system.

Object 225088 also known as OR-10 is among the larger dwarves past Neptune, near the mass of Pluto, and currently the largest object in the solar system without a formal name. Alas, the discovery of the reddish color discredits the Snow White moniker. Dwarf planet hunter Mike Brown – interviewed here on Daily Kos — has suggested “Jerry.” Shown below is what Brown, the Killer of Pluto, proudly calls his “children” to date.

Dwarf planets discovered to date & shown to scale courtesy of NASA