Monday, May 30, 2011

Armies of Light

Happy Memorial Day in the US! This month we have visited both Pearl Harbor on Oahu and the site of Camp Tarawa on the Big Island, where 50,000 Marines were stationed in WW2. Though Moon samples are precious, we should salute another previous resource, our World War 2 veterans. Australia and other Pacific nations also contributed citizens to the struggle. The city of Townsville in Queensland was also a base for US Marines. As we continually grapple with totalitarianism and other "dark energies," the triumphs of WW2 veterans show that light will always win.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wet Moon

Hilo is on the wet side of the Big Island, a place of frequent rain. Trade winds from the Northeast are interrupted by mountainous Mauna Kea and Kilauea, dumping their precipitation here. We are surrounded by gardens and waterfalls. Thanks to abundant water, this side of the Big Island is a garden of life.

A new study of Apollo 17 samples indicates that the Moon contains 100 times more water than previously thought. This finding builds upon previous studies that have found ever more water. The researchers had to complete months of paperwork to use priceless Apollo samples, a process which this scientist has also experienced. The authors of this new study see the need for more samples to expand upon their findings. Up until a short time ago we had a plan to return by the early 2020's. Scientists and engineers still hope that humans will return again walk on the Moon.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Superstar Burns Bright

Aloha! From Oahu we have moved on to a favourite place, the Big Island. This is a place to observe erupting volcanoes and dive with giant Manta Rays. Photos coming soon!

The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) has discovered that star VFTS 682 is a "superstar" 3 million times as bright as our Sun. With a mass 150 times that of the Sun, VFTS 682 is not part of any known star cluster. The very existence of this star challenges old theories of star formation.

Since the time of Pierre Laplace, stars and stellar systems have been thought to condense from clouds of gas. In Space gas clouds tend to dissipate rather than contract. The heat generated from gravitational contraction would paradoxically make gas dissipate even faster. Somehow gas has contracted until a star ignites, many trillions of times in the Universe.

The Big Bang is theorized to have created thousands of Black Holes. If a Black Hole encountered a gas cloud, the event would draw gas inward until temperature and pressure ignited a star. Presence of the Black Hole would stabilize the new star and prevent it from dissipating. The rotating core around the Black Hole would generate a Sun's magnetic field. Like a Hawaiian pearl around a tiny grain of sand, stars like our Sun could have formed around Black Holes.

A Black Hole inside our bright Sun may be too simple for humans to understand. Primitive peoples associate Black Holes with darkness and destruction. The mathematics of our Sun's core are extremely simple, yet even educated humans have difficulty overcoming prejudice. Though humans may owe their Sun's existence to the Black Hole, it's presence may not be suspected for centuries.

VFTS 682 is a solitary star, existing away from any star clusters or groupings. This star burns brighter than any in the galaxy. Humans, even scientists, tend to think like herds. Group minds, by their very nature, are slow to pick up new ideas. The group thinks an old idea is right, even when observations say the group is wrong. Humans will follow a group even if it leads to war and destruction. However, the light from a solitary star can prove old ideas wrong. Perhaps VFTS 682 contains a lesson for scientists.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spirit Loss of Signal

After no contact with the Spirit rover for a year, mission controllers will this week cease attempts to contact her. Spirit and Opportunity have both survived on Mars long past their design endurance.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Dark Emperor's New Clothes?

Aloha from Waikiki!

Another study has been released, of galaxy clustering, that claims to be consistent with an LCDM cosmology. In the press it is trumpeted as "confirming" the existence of a repulsive "dark energy." Like the Emperor's New Clothes, DE needs repeated confirmations by it's believers that it exists. What are they insecure about? More about this coming soon.

UPDATE from COSMOS magazine May 24:

"This is a remarkable survey, and a convincing fit to the standard hypothesis of a homogeneous cosmology that includes Einstein's cosmological constant," said Thomas Buchert, a professor of cosmology at Claude Bernard University, France.

"However, it does not rule out alternatives to the standard model, and it does not prove that dark energy 'exists'."

This view is also taken by David Wiltshire, a theoretical cosmologist from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. "If one makes the assumption that the universe expands as a uniform fluid, then these measurements are independent evidence for dark energy," he said.

"However, I see no reason for making the standard assumptions." Wiltshire himself prefers an alternative model of the universe that has no need for dark energy.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Whale Shark Afuera

The Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest of all fishes, a gentle giant that feeds on plankton and fish eggs. They spend most of their lives in deep waters far from land. A diver in a place like Hawaii is considered lucky to see just one passing by. Until recently the Whale Shark was thought to live a solitary existence. Since 2002 there have been stories from Mexican fisherman of huge congregations. 2006 saw the largest concentration ever seen, an event called the Afuera. Nearly every year since then hundreds of Whale Sharks have gathered here on the surface of the Caribbean.

This amazing event is little-known to the outside world. This year discovery of the Afuera has reached the level of a peer-reviewed paper:

An Unprecedented Aggregation of Whale Sharks, Rhincodon typus, in Mexican Coastal Waters of the Caribbean Sea

Sometime this Summer the Whale Sharks are likely to come again, for reasons human scientists are just starting to figure out. The natural world is far stranger than we even imagine.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 12, 2011


On May 7 Swiss Yves Rossy successfully flew over the Grand Canyon in his custom jet suit and wings. A former airline pilot, Rossy has spent years perfecting his system. He is the only one who can fly it, having previously flown over the English Channel and (unsuccessfully) the Strait of Gibraltar. There is no instrumentation save for an audio altimeter. Someone should design this man a helmet-mounted display. Perhaps the future of flight is like Icarus, a human with wings.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Vesta Sighted

The Dawn spacecraft has taken its first photograph of asteroid Vesta from a distance of 1.21 million km. Dawn was launched on September 27, 2007 from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 17-B atop a Delta 2 booster. An ion propulsion system gives Dawn the endurance to reach its targets in the asteroid belt. Dawn is scheduled to go into orbit around Vesta, the second largest asteroid, on July 15. The spacecraft will rendezvous with Ceres in 2015.

Bode's Law predicts that another planet should lie between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is the largest asteroid and first to be discovered. Ceres was thought to be the missing planet until other asteroids were found. Vesta is 530 km in diameter, though today it still looks like a tiny dot. We are fortunate to have samples from Vesta thanks to the Camel Donga meteorite, which can be seen in the Museum of Natural History. (See Night at the Museum!)

Ceres has recently been found to contain water; by some estimates more liquid water than Earth! Observations suggest that Ceres is differentiated into core and mantle, which would mean that it was melted early in its history. Ultraviolet observations have found water vapour near Ceres' North Pole. Liquid water is one indicator that Ceres could be suitable for life. How such a small body could be heated is a complete mystery, though Ceres' 10^{21} kg mass could easily hide a small Black Hole. More than just big rocks, the asteroids are new worlds that could contain Black Holes and even life.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Before and after satellite photos of the Missisippi River. The crest of the flood is still moving South toward the Gulf of Mexico, recently passing Memphis. This is the biggest flood on the Mississippi and lower Ohio rivers since 1937. Last week huge tornadoes blew across Alabama and six other States.

Multiple disasters of Earth's climate have been occurring in the central United States. Wildfires set off by drought have ravaged the State of Texas, burning over 8500 square kilometers or three times the area of Rhode Island. The fires have claimed at least 400 homes and the lives of two firefighters. For some reason the fire has not been declared a federal disaster area. Remember the story about Nero fiddling while Rome burned?


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Morpheus: If At First You Don't Succeed...

Whoops! As we see in this 20-second video, the Morpheus lander test on May 3 didn't go very well. In this tethered test, Morpheus appears to veer out of control. The test on May 4, Innovation Day, went better. Meanwhile launch of STS-134, once scheduled for April 19, has been delayed until at least May 16 due to problems with the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU).


Monday, May 02, 2011

Bin Laden Compound and Hideout?

Thank heaven for satellites. Details are still coming in, but Osama Bin Laden's hideout appears to have been this structure in Abbottabad, Pakistan. It's located at 34.187663 North, 73.242517 East in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden had lots of neighbours, including Pakistan's military academy, so it is suspicious how he could hide here without someone knowing. Thank heaven for US Navy SEALS too!

It should be noted that early Sunday morning enjoyed a nearly new Moon, so the Navy SEALS would have more cover of darkness in which to ambush their prey. The Moon's thin crescent was doubtless a factor in planning the raid. UPDATE: Better photo added.


Locations of visitors to this page