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Archive for the ‘Space Things’ Category

Life on Mars

First, the British version rocked, and I had zero desire to see an Americanized version.

Second, Muslims are being told to not live on Mars.

Bowing to Mecca would get wicked complicated, I imagine.

Then, too, Islamic Rage Boy would scream something like, “Ooooh, you have made me very very angry. I am going to cause an Earth Shattering Kaboom.”

That would be a huge ginormous suicide vest and IED’s would get ridiculous.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE) in the United Arab Emirates said that anyone making such a “hazardous trip” is likely to die for “no righteous reason”.

So accidental death or natural causes would also be unrighteousness, right?

They would therefore be liable to a “punishment similar to that of suicide in the Hereafter”, the Khaleej Times reported.

Oh, of course. I get it.

The Fatwa was apparently issued in response to the proposal from the Dutch company Mars One last year to send four people on a one-way journey to the red planet in 2022.

Can anyone just make a fatwas thing whenever one pleases? What are the rules about edicts like this? Does everyone have to follow them or can a person pick and choose? Is there a Fatwa Registry of some sort?

“Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam,” the committee said. “There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death.”

So… Risking one’s life is kind of a given if you blow other people up, have wars with each other, get up in the morning… Do you just lie down and wait for the end?
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Oh.  If you are into Steam/Valve (think Portal 2) then check out The Stanley Parable.

No, I cannot explain it.  I have no idea how to do so.  No, I cannot explain why I found it fascinating.  No, I have no idea if you will like it.

It was whimsical like elements of Portal, it was edge-pushing like Dear Esther, and… weird.  But I enjoyed it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try out Slender: The Arrival.

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I can’t claim I am a Snowden fan. He stole secrets. He broke laws. But at the same time he did us all a favor by waking people up to the dangers of government getting too large, having too much reach. And yet that lesson still has not sunk in, not really. It has died down rather than gaining steam just like all the other revelations under this Admin. (Yes, I know this is not all Obama’s fault)

But that isn’t what I am talking about in this space…

Why is snowden’s every utterance printed as if he were now the world’s most authoritative authority? He stole huge amounts of data. Does that make him worthy of pontificating on all things security?

Former US security contractor Edward Snowden on Wednesday spoke out about the use of state secrecy privileges as he presented an Oxford University award to fellow intelligence leaker Chelsea Manning.

Snowden, who is in hiding in Russia, presented the prestigious British university’s Sam Adams awards for integrity and intelligence to the jailed former US Army intelligence analyst via YouTube.

Snowden recorded a four-minute message, in which he warned of the dangers of “overclassification”.

He said the term described governments’ use of state secrecy privileges “to withhold information from the public that’s not related to national security”, adding it had become a “serious problem”.

This is like a reckless driver suddenly being considered NTSB top-level expert on car crashes after wiping out a farmer’s market with a semi.

Yeah the analogy broke down, but do you get my point?

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From Cruel Wife.

20140219-211114.jpg

This, I post to be cruel, just like when I posted that pic of Helen Thomas years ago.

President Clinton!

20140219-211138.jpg

Oogh. I am such a bastard.

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The spacecraft is feeding back all kinds of great data and the instruments are working nicely.

I didn’t see Cruel Wife very much that year of working at the UofM so it is a very pleasant payoff to see the instrument working so darned well… You. Have. No.  Idea. … how tickled I am that the UofM’s instrument is performing so fantastically well.  It was a tense and cranky year when I was there but this made it worthwhile…

This, from JHU-APL…  read the lava part, which is cool, but the really cool part is the exosphere part.

 

Orbital Observations of Mercury Reveal Flood Lavas, Hollows, and Unprecedented Surface Details

 After only six months in orbit around Mercury, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft is sending back information that has revolutionized the way scientists think about the innermost planet. Analyses of new data from the spacecraft show, among other things, new evidence that flood volcanism has been widespread on Mercury, the first close-up views of Mercury’s “hollows,” the first direct measurements of the chemical composition of Mercury’s surface, and the first global inventory of plasma ions within Mercury’s space environment.

The results are reported in a set of seven papers published in a special section of Science magazine on September 30, 2011.

“MESSENGER’s instruments are capturing data that can be obtained only from orbit,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “We have imaged many areas of the surface at unprecedented resolution, we have viewed the polar regions clearly for the first time, we have built up global coverage with our images and other data sets, we are mapping the elemental composition of Mercury’s surface, we are conducting a continuous inventory of the planet’s neutral and ionized exosphere, and we are sorting out the geometry of Mercury’s magnetic field and magnetosphere. And we’ve only just begun. Mercury has many more surprises in store for us as our mission progresses.”

MESSENGER Reveals Flood Volcanism

For decades scientists had puzzled over whether Mercury had volcanic deposits on its surface. MESSENGER’s three flybys answered that question in the affirmative, but the global distribution of volcanic materials was not well constrained. New data from orbit show a huge expanse of volcanic plains surrounding the north polar region of Mercury. These continuous smooth plains cover more than 6% of the total surface of Mercury.

The volcanic deposits are thick. “Analysis of the size of buried ‘ghost’ craters in these deposits shows that the lavas are locally as thick as 2 kilometers” (or 1.2 miles), explains James Head of Brown University, the lead author of one of the Science reports. “If you imagine standing at the base of the Washington Monument, the top of the lavas would be something like 12 Washington Monuments above you.”

According to Head, the deposits appear typical of flood lavas, huge volumes of solidified molten rock similar to those found in the few-million-year-old Columbia River Basalt Group, which at one point covered 150,000 square kilometers (60,000 square miles) in the northwest United States. “Those on Mercury appear to have poured out from long, linear vents and covered the surrounding areas, flooding them to great depths and burying their source vents,” Head says.

Scientists have also discovered vents, measuring up to 25 kilometers (16 miles) in length, that appear to be the source of some of the tremendous volumes of very hot lava that have rushed out over the surface of Mercury and eroded the substrate, carving valleys and creating teardrop-shaped ridges in the underlying terrain. “These amazing landforms and deposits may be related to the types of unusual compositions, similar to terrestrial rocks called komatiites, being seen by other instruments and reported in this same issue of Science,” Head says. “What’s more, such lavas may have been typical of an early period in Earth’s history, one for which only spotty evidence remains today.”

As MESSENGER continues to orbit Mercury, the imaging team is building up a global catalog of these volcanic deposits and is working with other instrument teams to construct a comprehensive view of the history of volcanism on Mercury.

[snip]

Mercury’s Surface and Exospheric Composition, Up Close and Personal

[Other things were said here]

MESSENGER has also collected the first global observations of plasma ions in Mercury’s magnetosphere. Over 65 days covering more than 120 orbits, MESSENGER’s Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS) made the first long-term measurements of Mercury’s ionized exosphere.

The team found that sodium is the most important ion contributed by the planet. “We had previously observed neutral sodium from ground observations, but up close we’ve discovered that charged sodium particles are concentrated near Mercury’s polar regions where they are likely liberated by solar wind ion sputtering, effectively knocking sodium atoms off Mercury’s surface” notes the University of Michigan’s Thomas Zurbuchen, author of one of the Science reports. “We were able to observe the formation process of these ions, one that is comparable to the manner by which auroras are generated in the Earth atmosphere near polar regions.”

The FIPS sensor detected helium ions throughout the entire volume of Mercury’s magnetosphere. “Helium must be generated through surface interactions with the solar wind,” says Zurbuchen. “We surmise that the helium was delivered from the Sun by the solar wind, implanted on the surface of Mercury, and then fanned out in all directions.

“Our results tell us is that Mercury’s weak magnetosphere provides the planet very little protection from the solar wind,” he continued. “Extreme space weather must be a continuing activity at the surface of the planet closest to the Sun.”

“These revelations emphasize that Mercury is a fascinating world that is unmatched in the solar system,” says Blewett. “We have barely begun to understand what Mercury is really like and are eager to discover what Mercury can tell us about the processes that led to formation of the planets as we see them today.”

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Universe Today has some neat stuff on MESSENGER/Mercury as well.  (h/t to Black Lab on Meth)

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And then one of my bosses sent me this article, too… Mercury is hot as hell and appears to match it pretty closely in the description, but it’s not quite as bad as Hell because Mercury doesn’t play Barry Manilow music.

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UARS Update

Update:

Oh for God’s sake will you pansies grow up already?

Young adults are the recession’s lost generation.

In record numbers, they’re struggling to find work, shunning long-distance moves to live with mom and dad, delaying marriage and raising kids out of wedlock, if they’re becoming parents at all. The unemployment rate for them is the highest since World War II, and they risk living in poverty more than others – nearly 1 in 5.

You know, my grandparents, my dad, and yes, even I – made long distance moves to get work.  Yes, I had to live with my family – as did Cruel Wife with hers after we were married – while I worked a state away and she finished up her degree.  But when there was work, we damn well moved to get it.

Seriously?  Shunning long-distance moves to live with mom and dad?  My granddad moved from Arizona to Oregon for work.  My dad was set to move from Oregon to California before he got called up to go to Germany for a tour.  Jesus, you simpering wimps, grow some.

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From a higher-up on the UARS foodchain came a link to UARS recently shot with a 14-inch telescope.

I’m kind of enjoying this stuff – knowing people who actually know people who know.  One of the bosses’ babies is on UARS, the HRDI instrument.  (pronounced “Hardey”)

And the NASA guys are saying that we won’t get the fireworks here in the US.  Damn.

I was listening to NPR (know thine enemy) a day or so ago when I recognized a voice of someone I knew.  I said “Holy shit-sucking leeches!” and cranked the knob as high as it would go.  It was Wib Skinner up at Space Physics Research Laboratory (UofM) talking about UARS.  They asked him where it would come down and he said (rightfully so), “It can come down anywhere between plus or minus 57 degrees”.   Yeps, that’s right.  Moderate inclination orbit – meaning the angle relative to the equator and it is one of six orbital parameters that describe the motion of an object orbiting another body – means that as it moves relative to earth it goes up and down across the equator in a sine wave motion.  They do that for coverage of more or less parts of the earth or body they orbit.

Messenger about Mercury is a high inclination orbit – 80 degrees.  They want to cover as much as possible and yet focus on certain parts in certain ways.

So, bummer, eh?  No chance to personally see UARS end in a blaze of glory while munching on a Taco Bell burrito or a bag of Doritos.  Or Cheez-its™ and braunschweiger (my favorite snack that I only allow myself to have once a year, on Christmas Eve).

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(h/t to Cruel Wife…)  Not that GM wouldn’t sell the data any way it could get away with on it’s own, but just think how Government Motors can use this data to track your every move.  Stop buying GM, folks.  They should have let them die in a free-market economy.  Would have strengthened the others and avoided still more intrusion into our lives.

Here’s GM’s new press release based on the scary situation – spin it, guys… spin it for all you are worth.

New Terms & Conditions

The following statement can be attributed to Joanne Finnorn, Vice President, Subscriber Services

“OnStar has and always will give our customers the choice in how we use their data. We’ve also been very open with our customers about changes in services and privacy terms.

Under our new Terms and Conditions, when a customer cancels service, we have informed customers that OnStar will maintain a two-way connection to their vehicle unless they ask us not to do so. In the future, this connection may provide us with the capability to alert vehicle occupants about severe weather conditions such as tornado warnings or mandatory evacuations. Another benefit for keeping this connection “open” could be to provide vehicle owners with any updated warranty data or recall issues.

[Or, it could be used TO TRACK YOU.  – LK]

“Of course, if the customer requests us to turn off the two-way connection, we will do as we have always done, and that is honor customers’ requests.

[Unless we decide we want TO TRACK YOU.  -LK]

“Our guiding practices regarding sharing our subscribers’ personal information have not changed. We are always very specific about with whom we share customers’ personal information, and how they will use it. We have never sold any personally identifiable information to any third party.

[But giving it away is possible because someone will always want TO TRACK YOU.  -LK]

Keeping the two-way connection open will also allow OnStar to capture general vehicle information that could be used in future product development.

[Or, it could be used TO TRACK YOU.  – LK]

“We apologize for creating any confusion about our Terms and Conditions. We want to make sure we are as clear with our customers as possible, but it’s apparent that we have failed to do this. As always, we are listening to our subscribers’ feedback and we will continue to be open to their suggestions and concerns.”

[Like, perhaps suggestions that PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO BE TRACKED?  -LK]

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Good riddance to trash like this.  Dragging someone to death for skin color is unconscionable. The guy is a monster.

Dragging to death child abusers and predators?  Well, ok then… I’d like to see a judge hand down a sentence:  “Death by Dragging Until You Are Pronounced Dead, You Sick Bastard (or Bitch)”

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Odds are…

A guy I’ve worked with for more than a decade had a huge hand in one of the instruments on UARS – well, pretty much it is his baby.  What is amazing is that the instrument worked for something like 14 years.

So, 20 years after going up, it’s being borne out (once again) that what comes up pretty much must come down.  Assuming it doesn’t leave orbit, that is.  UARS never left orbit and now is going to leave orbit in the “down” sense of the word.  Towards Earth.

It’s a 6-1/2 ton ex-weather-satellite – the size of a bus – and it is coming down.

The scientist guys who are knowledgeable about this sort of thing got it wrong though.  They were off by A WHOLE DAY.  Everybody panic!  Damn you, rocket scientists, damn you to HECK!

Next Stop: Earth, roughly 10 feet deep. (Photo: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center)

They say it has a 1 in 3200 chance of hitting someone.  Before you freak, it is a 1 in 3200 chance of hitting one of the 7,000,000,000 people on the planet (1 in 16 trillion).  So your odds are slimmer than getting struck by lightning at the exact same moment you win the lottery while having sex on the back of a rabid elephant with three legs.

I confess, the odds on the satellite are better.  Lifetime odds are 1 in 10,000 with lightning.  Rabid elephant over roughly that interval is 1 in 400,000.  Odds of winning the lottery (Powerball) are 1 in 80,000,000.  If you are married and have kids the odds of having sex anywhere… why it makes the whole thing vanishingly small.  Put your money on being hit with burning chunks of satellite, people.

The spacecraft will break into pieces as it plummets through the atmosphere, but not all of it will burn up in the heat of re-entry. One analysis of the spacecraft suggests that of its total 6 1/2-ton bulk, only 1,170 pounds (532 kilograms) will survive when it reaches the ground.  – Space.com

Read about UARS here…

One little dig I want to make here:

NASA spokeswoman Beth Dickey confirmed with SPACE.com earlier today that the reason UARS is expected to fall early in its re-entry window is because of the sharp uptick in solar activity. Solar effects from the sun can create an extra drag on satellites in space because they can heat the Earth’s atmosphere, causing it to expand, agency officials have said.   – Space.com

You mean, the sun can affect the atmosphere?  Like, global warming and cooling?  No… seriously?

Oh, for a good laugh, here was a person complaining about the very real space junk problem…

Child of Light (2 days ago)

Now if I was a man that lived in outer space; I would confiscate this satellite;from the earths governments; Like taking a Know it all, arrogant, Child’s toy preventing Him from hurting others with it. Thus preventing grave amounts of potential deaths and injuries; telling these world Governments they are irresponsible; risking many lives.
I would also act like the arrogant USA GOVERNMENT STATING: We find Its not necessary for you the peoples of this Nation; to know what is going on; Who we are; where we are from; what we have; you are not professional; or Knowledgeable at these matters; As Obvious by this situation; you are Lieing to your self’s about your abilities at this time ; and you do not have the resources as we do to handle situations of such; nor are you spiritually mature concerning these matters; and all you Government people of this world combined are not strong enough; or advanced enough to address the situation properly; showing to have the ability to prevent peoples from dieing from these type of unforseen events that will continue to happen. I know this Might sound imposing but Believe me its for your own protection; we see things that ye need not see; and we be places ye need not be; so go on with your Fuzzy little soft life’s; We are the Galaxy defenders; We are the men in Black ! GALAXY defenders ! OH YA GIVE ME YOUR MONEY FOR DOING THIS STUFF FOR YOUR BEST INTEREST !

Someone is due to have their dosages adjusted, I see.

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Note:  I typed this fast, my head is about to shear off, it is not verbatim, and I’m sure it’s muddled.  It will undergo edits over the next few days.  Please do make comments, give insights, offer other questions, and discuss it to your heart’s content.  It might not be a new idea… oh well, it’s still a fun one to bat around.

I was meeting with Spaced Diode last Saturday and what comes out of his mouth?

He says “I have this idea and you can mock me if you like…”

SD knows my tendency to listen to ideas, mock them, and replace them with my own.  But in this case I was actually interested because he looked… eager.  Engaged, even.

“Now, I realize that someone may have already thought of this, but I haven’t seen it, and it just came to…”

“Spit it out, SD,” I said impatiently.

Note:  We could debate history (below) but I neither want to teach history nor debate it.

So here’s the idea:

What happened in Alexandria?  Well, you had various asses at different points (Caesar, Aurelian, Theophilus, and the Muslims) over a period of almost 700 years do their damnedest to be spectacular asses.  We had dark ages in there and beyond that period as well.  So what do dark ages consist of?  Utter lack of intellectual advancement which typically leads to people being brutal asses to everyone else because they’ve got nothing better to do.

We can speculate whether there is a direct correlation or causation (one to the other or vice-versa) but the point is we had some dark ages and they were pretty awful.  Everyone agrees on that point.  They also agree that there’s precious little records and the loss of the Library of Alexandria was a pretty huge waste.   Lots of brainpower got burned up.

That’s pretty good incentive to try to find some other solution.

Think about what would happen if someone really tried to wipe out the Library of Congress, or if we had our own dark ages after a world war to end all world wars.  It’s not beyond the bounds of the imagination to picture us doing something stupid in the future – a few years from now, hundreds of years, thousands…  But what happens then?   What if future dark ages lead to using precious documents as toilet paper?  What if an EMP blast in multiple locations toasts everything around and not only can you not get to the information but you don’t even know where it is anymore?

Thus, the Lunar Alexandria Project.

The very first question posed to me by Spaced Diode started out simple.  “How do you build a ten-thousand year clock?”

We discussed that at some length.  I supposed that it really came down to a materials selection.

Then he asked, “How do you make anything last ten thousand years?”

I told him my idea on how to design for “forever” was that there’s damn few viable solutions and we agreed that even hundreds of years in book format was pushing limits.  Age, water damage, FIRE… DARK AGES…  But really, any format – gold discs, memristors, crystals, hard drives – all of it at the mercy of the stupidity of mankind when we really put a lot of ignorance into our efforts.  All are fragile and all may be destroyed just like the Library of Alexandria.

His next question was simply “Why not put that information on the moon where no one could get at it?  Why not put it there in a repository?”

I said “Oh yes, that will be of big help – any sufficiently advanced society that crawls out of the muck of a new dark age can have that data if they make it to the moon, well after when they actually needed it.  Wow.  Great idea, man.”

He looked at me exasperatedly.  “No (you lunatic), you put out two signals.  One is AM radio, which is the simplest kind of communications.  I can make an AM radio out of trash in my garage – it’s trivial.”

I said “Oh sure, trivial, tell that to Marconi…”

He looked at me over his glasses with his classic pitying look again.   “No, I am talking about receiving, not broadcasting.   What you do is broadcast simple instructions for how to get to the point where you can really use the library and…”

I nodded.  “Yes!  And then you can handshake communicate!”

He looked at me as if I had finally grown a real live brain.  “Exactly,” he said, “then they can surf the internet and download all sorts of data – they could rebuild civilization using all the information we’ve already amassed.”

We discussed this for hours.  Questions popped up.

  • How do you make something last for ten thousand years?  A whole new set of technologies have to be invented.
    • It has to be self-repairing
      • It should be like a factory in some ways, capable of making it’s own parts, too
      • Think “alive”
    • It has to have redundancy
    • It has to have redundancy
    • It has to be distributed
  • Location, location, location  (the poles)
  • How do you rad harden it?
  • How do you viably store that data?
    • RAID systems, cloud type arrangements
    • It has to have redundancy

He said, and I agree with him – THAT is where you should put research dollars.  THAT is something almost anyone could get behind.  THAT has technological payoffs that are incredible.

A question that just occurred to me, and it is one I have wondered about in our present day.  Do societies that have all sorts of new breakthrough technologies come all at once break down because they didn’t have the transition from lesser to greater technology over a period of time, where they could assimilate it?   Look at any third-world cockroach country.  They have this amazing mix of people still living in poverty and ignorance, some have all the benefits of Western Society, and the two are absolutely awful when mixed.  Look at any dictatorship, middle eastern country, or North Korea (redundancy there, I know).

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By the by, check out the article that Mitchell posted at Center of the Anomaly.  It’s about your rapidly-disappearing-in-the-distance gun rights.

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I’m thinking Anthony Weiner should look to his new career options at this point.

And this morning it hit me – he could be a rap “artist”.   His name?

I.C. Weiner

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Hey, there is good news.  Yesterday was the day the first image of Mercury was taken by a man-made satellite in orbit and was sent back to Earth.

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Remember a while back?  The frozen under-ice Antarctic lake thing, where we pondered what might lurk for millions of years beneath the ice, evil incarnate, waiting only to be melted down, waiting only to take those giant foo… oops, shit, that was Godzilla.  (Thank you, BOC for an awesome concert…)

Well, we wondered what might live in that already melted patch of nougaty goodness… uh… water.  With me so far?  No?  Didn’t we wonder about this together?

Well, I know of at least one fellow who wondered as well, and he might have (did) tip me off to it so I’d wonder, too.  Yes, I’m babbling.

Here.  Go here and read up about the (now passé) fear of imminent doom from life right here on this planet!   Ok, ok, so these are different lakes.  Work with me people.  The fear-mongered lake was Lake Vostok (we all could have diiiiiiiiied!) and this cool little critter-thing lives/lived in Organic Lake.  Seriously, work with me here.

Well, they found another virophage!

Oooh that sounds so sexy…  virophages.  Nature’s little destroyers.  Do they have one that fights Barking Moonbats?  (Yuppii Dooficus)

Also, a more intelligent link here.

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h/t to The Dude for telling me to look at XKCD today.

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I pointed out to mrmacs two nights ago that this is how you know it is not your time to die…

When you survive the road sign post going through your truck and you together.

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Can you imagine this kind of twisted thinking?  That just giving people money doesn’t address the underlying problem?  Where the HELL did that kind of sick logic come from?

In a stinging rebuff to the United Nations and its anti-poverty efforts, Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in Africa, has told the world body that it wants out of its long-term development agreement because the U.N. makes the problem worse, not better.

The reason, given in a January 26 notification letter from the country’s powerful Finance Minister, obtained by Fox News, is that “aid only postpones the basic solutions to crucial development problems by tentatively ameliorating their manifestations without tackling their root causes. The structural, political, economic, etc. damage that it inflicts upon recipient countries is also enormous.” In other words, the government argues, U.N. aid does more harm than good.

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Clearly there is some confusion between “Dude, I’m really high” and “stone cold science” but the general idea is that the Free Electron Laser as a viable tool is inching closer.  No, it’s not news.  I’m pointing out one of the misunderstandings that go along with high-power things, namely energy density vs. size.

The problem with solid state lasers, though, is that the wavelength of light that they pump out is fixed, and depending on the weather, the beam can get significantly weaker over distance. So, the laser of choice by 2020 will be the far sexier free-electron laser, which can output energy in multiple wavelengths and doesn’t require any of the bulky and heavy solid-state infrastructure.

[They already pump out different wavelengths by tuning the wiggler magnets… – LK]

Free-electron lasers are basically just particle accelerators that can convert fast-moving electrons into photons. The more electrons you stuff into them, the more photons they spit out, at whatever wavelength (or wavelengths) you want.

[Basically just particle accelerators?  That’s like saying that basically a nuclear reactor is a steam driven generator.  It doesn’t begin to cover the reality. – LK ]

Yes, I’m irritable about physics whenever some doof (in their comments section) talks about shrinking an FEL down to the size of a handheld weapon.

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Update:  Dream up a caption…

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From the JHU APL website…  The last sentence is the amazing one.  That is so close to the mark as to be awe-inspiring, at least it is to me.

Ten Days from Orbit Insertion

Ten days from now – on March 17 EDT – the MESSENGER spacecraft will execute a 15-minute maneuver that will place it into orbit about Mercury, making it the first craft ever to do so, and initiating a one-year science campaign to understand the innermost planet.

Starting today, antennas from each of the three Deep Space Network (DSN) ground stations will begin a round-the-clock vigil, allowing flight control engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., to monitor MESSENGER on its final approach to Mercury.

At 10:40 a.m. this morning, the spacecraft began executing the last cruise command sequence of the mission.  This command load will execute until next Monday, when the command sequence containing the orbit-insertion burn will start.

“This is a milestone event for our small, but highly experienced, operations team, marking the end of six and one half years of successfully shepherding the spacecraft through six planetary flybys, five major propulsive maneuvers, and sixteen trajectory-correction maneuvers, all while simultaneously preparing for orbit injection and primary mission operations,” says MESSENGER Systems Engineer Eric Finnegan. “Whatever the future holds, this team of highly dedicated engineers (http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/moc/index.html) has done a phenomenal job methodically generating, testing, and verifying commands to the spacecraft, getting MESSENGER where it is today.”

The mission operations team now turns its attention to the final preparations for the insertion burn next week and establishing nominal operations for the primary mission. As with the last three approaches to Mercury, the navigation team and the guidance and control team have been successfully using the solar radiation of the Sun to carefully adjust the trajectory of the spacecraft toward the optimum point in space and time to start the orbit-insertion maneuver.

As of the most recent navigation report on February 22, the spacecraft was less than 5 kilometers and less than three seconds from the target arrival point

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