There’s a good reason why social conservatives celebrate ignorance

When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled

Michelle Bachmann made an ass out of herself again today, this time bragging that if she were President, and Iranians over ran the US embassy the way they did the British embassy this week, she’d wouldn’t pussy-foot around. No siree, she’d shut that facility down. Because nothing says courage quite like running away. What made it hilarious is Bachmann and company were apparently not up to speed on one widely reported fact: [Read more…]

Netroots Nation blog up and running

So there I was, summer 2006, Las Vegas baby, sitting on stage next to PZ Myers with General Wesley Clark praising evolution and climate science in front of a standing room only crowd. I distinctly remember the cameras pointing at us, lit up, reminding me of rows of LAW rocket launchers zeroed in on an enemy position about to be shredded. It was weird, just a few months earlier I had been another obscure commenter on an early incarnation of Pharyngula and Ed Brayton’s Dispatches, and suddenly I’m there, complete with hammering pulse and a mouth drier than grandma’s premo Thanksgiving stuffing. [Read more…]

Amateur astronomer wows professionals with photo of exosolar disk

An amateur astronomer using a homemade 25 cm (10 inch) telescope has recorded an exquisite image of a nearby star and surrounding planetary disk. Beta Pictoris is 63 light-years away and resembles a slightly more massive, hotter version of our sun and primeval solar system in the early stages of planetary formation. The New Zealand star-gazer, named Rolf Olsen, posted the image along with a brief explanation of his technique which has rocketed around the science cyber-sphere:

(Link) — For the last couple of years I have been wondering if it was possible for amateurs to capture this special target but have never come across any such images. The main difficulty is the overwhelming glare from Beta Pictoris itself which completely drowns out the dust disc that is circling very close to the star. Images of the disc taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and from big observatories, are usually made by physically blocking out the glare of Beta Pictoris itself within the optical path.

Beta Pictoris looks like a relatively normal, hot young star through most telescopes.

An optical image courtesy of the ESO of Beta Pictoris reveals a relativey normal, young, blue-white star.

Closer examination in the 1980s indicated the star was in the middle of a wide ring of debris. In 2003 Hubble snapped the fascinating images below clearly showing the disk[s] edge on.

Beta Pictoris and debris disk as seen by Hubble. Image credit NASA/JPL, click to embiggen

Other images show what appears to be at least one large planet or brown dwarf forming closer in and possibly clearing debris out of that wide ring in the process.

Beta Pictoris A and the much smaller Beta Pic B. B is thought to be an early stage large planet or a brown dwarf. Image credit ESO

What might the busy system look like to Star Trekkers sailing into it for the first time from the vantage point of say, where Neptune or Pluto might be in our own solar system? Above the vast plain of debris, lit by BetaP’s brilliant light, it would be gorgeous.

A collision between asteroids as they orbit Beta Pictoris. Observations have pinpointed three dusty belts orbiting this star, along with a possible planet. Image credit: ISAS/JAXA

In 2006 NASA found prodigeous amounts of carbon gas in the ring. CO2 gas and ices could perhaps lend the system a golden sheen that would put Saturn to shame.

NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, or FUSE, detected vast quantities of carbon gas. Image credit NASA/FUSE

Lots of carbon means at least one of the building blocks of life — or perhaps scaffold of life would be more accurate — is present in large quantities in the BetaP system. Some planetary astronomers speculate that diamond planets could form in such a place. A hypothetical diamond world is illustrated below, where the looser carbon dust and soot have been eroded away by small impacts, exposing a layer of diamond bedrock polished by micrometeors swept up from the debris ring, all shining softly under dancing aurora energized by BetaP.

Bed "rock" exposed on a hypothetical diamond world circling a distant, ringed gas giant. Image credit Karen Wehrtsein

Climatefluff 3 1/2


Great article, in Forbes of all places, about the latest hatchet job underway to portray climate scientists as evil cackling conspirators and the fossil fuel industry as feeble victims pilloried by infinitely powerful conspirators. I especially liked this part regarding FOI requests:

(Forbes) — First, FOI laws generally apply to official communication between government officials – not to private mails, and not to early drafts of research papers. That’s especially important to researchers, whose deepest fears involve publishing something that has a fundamental error in it – a fear that Wingnuts and, unfortunately, most journalists, seem immune to. They avoid this by first incubating ideas in private or in brainstorming sessions, then showing them to a few peers, testing them, refining them, and only then exposing them to the formal process of peer review. This is a grueling enough process without them having to justify their every utterance to some crackpot in the backwoods of Alabama who wants to talk about sunspots and the Apocalypse.

Breaking: Herman Cain may be sunk, devolves into Twitter punchline

Up-update: Twitter is side splitting funny. Tag #UseHermanCainAsAVerb as in I almost got caught screwing my mistress but I #HermanCained my way out of it.

Update: Thank Odin, Hardball explained just now that voting for an alleged adulterer, Herman Cain, is bad. Voting for an admitted one, Newt Gingrich, is OK.

Reports are swirling a women will or has come forth and claimed she and GOP presidential former contender Herman Cain carried on a  13 year affair: [Read more…]

Good news on gas prices

And I’ll make it short and sweet. With Europe softening toward mild recession and the US stuck in permanent high unemployment, the demand side of the equation is unlikely to ratchet up anytime soon. As long as supply is stable this leads to lower gas prices between now and the end of Spring. This is a seesaw: the worse the Euro recession is and/or the economy here, the lower gas prices tend to go, so it’s not exactly good news for everyone.

A tale of two climate articles

There are two climate change articles on Google news that caught my eye this morning, not just because of the titles, but because they’re juxtaposed in such a way that they inadvertantly illustrate the nature of the manufactured controversy better than a single article could. The first is called Climate change denial still runs strong in US and reviews the gulf between climate scientists and data, as illsutrated in the chart above, and public sentiment swayed by decades of misinformation spread in large part by the fossil fuel and energy indsutries. The second is a piece in the Daily Mail, naturally, trying to create a controversy over BBC executuves consulting with climate scientists about how to present the science and what the consequences of increasing global temperatures might be to culture in general. [Read more…]