Name that dwarf planet moonlet!



The debate about Pluto’s planetary status has simmered down, although I was always partial to the way Alan Stern, the Director of New Horizons mission to Pluto, explained it to me: it’s just a dwarf planet. We don’t call a small dog a different species just because they’re small, we just call it a miniature, something like that makes sense for Pluto and its cohorts like Sedna or Ceres. But we now know Pluto has two new moons, or dwarf moons or moonlets if we want to extend the debate, and SETI wants your help naming them! [Read more…]

For my missing friend

I mentioned a good friend of mine died last week from sudden cardiac arrest. His funeral is today and I probably won’t feel much like blogging. His best friend and I were given the honor of writing the service program obit, what mourners will read at the funeral. We were tasked by the director to hit certain points and there was a narrow word count, but we wanted to give an organic feel to it so that friends and family would know this wasn’t done by a paid writer who didn’t know the deceased, it was done by two people who love him and miss him. That rough draft is below with some details removed or altered out of respect for his privacy. [Read more…]

Updated: Comet ISON orbit and viewing possibilities


Comet ISON will pass within 40 million mile of earth on Christmas of this year and be in decent position for viewing by eye or small scope throughout the fall of 2013. Predicting the brightness of a comet is real dicey, it depends on what the comet is made of and how many times it has been close enough to the sun to vaporize some of those volatile substances. But the scant evidence we have is that ISON could be relatively new to the inner solar system and may be made off the traditional ices found in many comets.

Astronomers believe comets are lumps of exotic and water ices, some with rocky or metal compound inclusions left over from the formation of the solar system. They are, typically between several meters and several hundred kilometers in diameter. The average really big comet we see during a normal lifetime is in the five to 20 mile diameter range.. Periodic comets like Halleys observed up close also show a thin layer of black, tarry coating, possibly produced by repeated solar encounters acting on organic ices over time.

ISON was imaged by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft a few weeks ago producing the video above, and already indicated a faint tail 40,000 miles long. It’s still as far away as the planet Jupiter, beyond what solar astronomers call the frost line, where water and carbon dioxide are solid rocks, even methane is at least a slushy liquid. But other frozen gases, nitrogen and oxygen for example, are now well within their respective melting and boiling ranges and if those low boiling point substances exist in enough quantity on the surface to produce a faint tail at that distance in those frigid reaches of deep space, it bodes well for viewing later this year. It suggests this particular object may have never visited the inner system since its creation almost 5 billion years ago, or that it has visited only a few times over millennia.

That would mean the tiny nucleus could be chock full of pristine CO2, water, methane, and ammonia. If so, ISON could develop an enormous tail over a million miles long or longer as it passes Mars on the way to earth’s orbit, making it a once in a lifetime celestial sight!

While it won’t come real close to earth by some standards, it should be in a fair position relative to earth and sun for several months, meaning we’ll have a good long look at the full length of any tail that develops. It will be moving toward the sun when the earth is about 60 to 70 millions away and will appear high in the night sky during the course of a clear November evening later this year. ISON is a sun grazing comet, it will be heated to many hundreds of degrees Celsius for several days as it whips around Sol, enough that it might calve into smaller bodies or disintegrate. But if it survives, ISON will then swing back, tail leading the way, making its closest approach to earth on December 26, 2013, when it will be about 39 million miles away as shown by the blue portion of the cometary orbit above.

There is zero chance ISON or any sizable fragments of it will strike earth. But in the event an object similar in size and composition does hit us one day the results will be catastrophic. I made modest assumptions, assuming you were 1000 miles way from the impact site, that the object is mostly low density ice, that long period comets like ISON hit at a leisurely 20 miles per second. The fireball as it streaked over head and struck the earth would be so bright it would instantly blind anyone unfortunate enough to see it. The final crater would be almost a 100 miles wide and 20 miles deep.

The seismic wave would arrive within a few minutes, magnitude 10.2, greater than any recorded earthquake in recorded history. Even 1000 miles away ejecta would rain down like artillery for hours at near super sonic speeds. An hour and a half after impact the atmospheric shockwave would arrive to the tune of 400 mph windblasts. In short, it would be as devastating as the K-T impact, the world would catch on fire, followed by a nuclear winter and massive climatic shifts that would permanently alter weather patterns.

The good news is that won;t happen. The somewhat bad news is we have lousy experience with comets living up to their potential over the last 50 years. But after the letdown of Comet Kohoutek in 1974, and Halley’s Comet being in just about the least favorable position for viewing on record in 1986, it seems like we’re about due for a beauty. Regardless, with all the scopes on earth, in space, and space craft like Deep Impact trainined on ISON, this will be the most studied and well photographed comet in history.

I’ll be on the air shortly

Technology notwithstanding, I’ll be on the air at Daily Kos radio with Kagro in the Morning and guest Dr Greg Dworkin. This show streams live and it can be downloaded for podcast. If you want to listen live, my scheduled time is 9:15 –  10 AM Eastern, and I have a lot to cover. The link below usually works, but I’ll have another page linked if you have issues with other options.

Can’t see the Flash player? Click here to download the stream directly.

[Read more…]

I have reached and surpassed my goal, many, many thanks!

Thank you all from the bottom of my healing heart. I have reached what I need and even have a little cushion. All told FtB readers generously pitched in several hundred dollars, easily covering the shortfall caused by the inevitable delay of a badly needed short term disability check and then some. That check didn’t come again today, so sure enough, your donations made the difference. I was able to get my critical meds refilled and go to cardiac rehab because of you. Thank you all so much! I am really touched, last night when those emails started showing up I had to wipe away some tears.

I will never, ever, let anyone ever tell me again that atheists can’t possibly have a sense of right and wrong, or that we lack morals or empathy because we don’t believe in super natural beings, after this. Even if I have to be a little bit rude about it. I just won’t tolerate it ever again.

I’ll be on Kagro in the Morning tomorrow, Thursday, discussing science and anti-science, heart healthy month and if time permits the ACA, better known as Obama care. Times will be announced and linked tomorrow at 8 AM Central time here on this site!

Yesterday I was near desperate, today I’m saved


UPDATE: Guys and Gals, I’m fighting off tears in my eyes as I write this, Just over a hundred bucks more now, and even if we don’t get it, the donations so far are enough that I’m basically saved the humiliation and risk that had me so freaked out. I’m going to leave this up through mid-morning, while I go to cardio rehab, and I’m sure that will do it. I can’t thank you enough, my stress level is dropping noticeably. I’ll announce as soon as we hit the target. Thank you all so much!

I’m just going to keep this short and sweet: I need several hundred dollars to cover some medical expenses from a massive unplanned heart attack I suffered last month. If that’s all you need to know you can donate here, StevenAndrew-at-Paypal. Any amount no matter how small is greatly appreciated. Email address of the account is DarkSydOThemoon -at- domain A.O.L plus the dot and the com if you’re set up that way.

I have great health insurance, I loaded up on extra insurance including extra short-term disability insurance out of my own pocket. That disability is enough for me to live on and it has been approved. I’ve literally been told the first check is now in the mail. But I haven’t had a pay check in over a month now, I’m tapped out from constant  deductibles which started anew this year, big copays for heart surgery and MD support staff, plus hospital stay, follow-up appointments with a cardiologist and a rheumatologist — the autoimmune inflammatory condition provides significant risk of serious complications and had to be treated with Humira and other very expensive drugs — and endless Rx copays for all that. I had a bit of an anxiety meltdown today when I realized I don’t even have enough in checking to cover the copays for my appointments, rehab, and meds this week (The two most important meds are called Carvediol and Brilinta respectively if anyone’s interested). That first disability check probably isn’t going to show up this week, and it’s drawn on an out of state bank anyway.

I am so sorry, I feel like a heel, I never thought I would be in this situation, even planned for years and sacrificed to sock money away during better times for years and years.  But I don’t know what else to do. I sure don’t want to depend on my 84-year-old retired father, his health is declining and he’s done enough for me over the last two  years. But those meds and those appointments are absolutely critical. If I’m wrong and the checks hit tomorrow or Thurs, I may be able to offer to reverse some of the donations. But for now I’m beyond worried, I’m scared and desperate.