Physics

Singularly Bad

xkcd #1680, by Randall Munroe, 13 May 2016.Speaking of bad puns, there really isn’t enough filler on the planet to satisfy this one.

xkcd #1680, ladies and gentlemen, by Randall Munroe. You’ll have to click to find out what else it does.

Another Reason Why Science Is Cool

Detail of Cellarius, 'Harmonica Macrocosmica', 1661.

This seems important.

The nuclear strong force binds the smallest bits of matter together to form atoms, thereby making our material world possible. Now physicists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have made the first-ever measurement of a similar strong force for antimatter — the mirror image of regular matter that lies at the heart of one of our biggest cosmological mysteries.

(Ouelette)

No, really. That’s pretty damn cool. If you don’t believe me, ask a physicist.

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Image note: Detail of Harmonica Macrocosmica, by Cellarius, circa 1661.

Ouelette, Jennifer. “For the First Time, Physicists Have Measured the ‘Strong Force’ of Antimatter”. Gizmodo. 9 November 2015.

A Challenging Existence

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh talks with guests in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., 13 January 2009. (Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP)“OK so there’s flowing water on Mars. Yip yip yip yahoo. You know me, I’m science 101, big time guy, tech advance it, you know it, I’m all in. But, NASA has been corrupted by the current regime. I want to find out what they’re going to tell us. OK, flowing water on Mars. If we’re even to believe that, what are they going to tell us that means? That’s what I’m going to wait for. Because I guarantee, let’s just wait and see, this is September 28, let’s just wait and see. Don’t know how long it’s going to take, but this news that there is flowing water on Mars is somehow going to find its way into a technique to advance the leftist agenda. I don’t know what it is, I would assume it would be something to do with global warming and you can―maybe there was once an advanced civilization. If they say they found flowing water, next they’re going to find a graveyard.”

Rush Limbaugh

What stands out is this is not, really, so unexpected. Neither is the part where the man who mouths a golden mike described the “challenging existence” of always being right.

Every once in a while, these inflammatory media stars not so much let down their guard but find themselves actually hiding behind their falsehoods. One or another of the FOX News hosts once admitted he knew he wasn’t describing real facts; Rush Limbaugh once tried to duck controversy by posturing himself as a comedian, even comparing himself to Bill Maher, who rightly and roundly rejected the sleight. Still, though, the point persists, as does the concomitant question: Mr. Limbaugh and his fellows are entertainers. Why do their audiences receive them as purveyors of fact?

The thing is that we probably would not look at any one NASA event and predict Mr. Limbaugh would respond as he has, but now that he’s gone and said it, well, you know, is anybody really surprised?

Just keep this one in mind; you will hear it in the murmur and buzz around you. You know, the dude at the pub; that one guy at work; your proverbial crazy uncle.

And when you do encounter this bit of tinfoil, remember that even Mr. Limbaugh knows he’s full of shit. And ask yourself why these people you encounter might believe it. Or, hell, ask them; that ought to be interesting; you know, proverbially.

Because if Mr. Limbaugh is a comedian, how is the joke not on the Dittoheads?

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Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh talks with guests in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., 13 January 2009. (Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP)

Media Matters Staff. “After NASA Announces It Found Water On Mars, Rush Limbaugh Says It’s Part Of A Climate Change Conspiracy”. Media Matters for America. 28 September 2015.

Far Out

Suntory labels: Hibiki 12, and The Yamazaki 18 and 12. (Detail of undated AP Photo)

And then there is this:

Japan Real Time (WSJ)Not content with having the best whisky in the world, Suntory Holdings Ltd. plans to take its whisky out of this world and into space.

The Japanese brewing and distilling company said this week it would send a total of six samples of its whiskies and other alcoholic beverages to the International Space Station, where they will be kept for at least a year to study the effect zero gravity has on aging.

According to a spokesman at the company, the samples, which will be carried in glass flasks, will include both a 21-year-old single malt and a beverage that has just been distilled. Research has shown that whisky aged in an environment with little temperature change, convection of fluids and shaking tends to be become “mellower,” he said.

(Hongo)

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Hongo, Jun. “Suntory Plans Space-Aged Whisky”. Japan Real Time. 31 July 2015.

A Moment for MESSENGER

Detail of Mercury global mosaic compiled by MESSENGER probe, which crashed into the planet's surface 30 April 2015 SCET.  Image via Johns Hopkins University.

Thank you, MESSENGER.

Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., confirmed today [30 April 2015] that NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury, as predicted, at 3:26 p.m. EDT this afternoon (3:34 p.m. ground time).

MESSENGER Mission Complete: Final statistics for MESSENGER probe, which crashed into Mercury 30 April 2015 SCET.  Image from screenshot from mission page at Johns Hopkins University.Mission controllers were able to confirm the end of operations just a few minutes later at 3:40 p.m., when no signal was detected by the Deep Space Network (DSN) station in Goldstone, California, at the time the spacecraft would have emerged from behind the planet had MESSENGER not impacted the surface. This conclusion was independently confirmed by the DSN’s Radio Science team, who were simultaneously looking for the signal from MESSENGER from their posts in California.

MESSENGER was launched on August 3, 2004, and it began orbiting Mercury on March 18, 2011. The spacecraft completed its primary science objectives by March 2012. Because MESSENGER’s initial discoveries raised important new questions and the payload remained healthy, the mission was extended twice, allowing the spacecraft to make observations from extraordinarily low altitudes and capture images and information about the planet in unprecedented detail.

Last month — during a final short extension of the mission referred to as XM2′– the team embarked on a hover campaign that allowed the spacecraft at its closest approach to operate within a narrow band of altitudes, 5 to 35 kilometers above the planet’s surface. On April 28, the team successfully executed the last of seven orbit-correction maneuvers (the last four of which were conducted entirely with helium pressurant after the remaining liquid hydrazine had been depleted), which kept MESSENGER aloft for the additional month, sufficiently long for the spacecraft’s instruments to collect critical information that could shed light on Mercury’s crustal magnetic anomalies and ice-filled polar craters, among other features.

With no way to increase its altitude, MESSENGER was finally unable to resist the perturbations to its orbit by the Sun’s gravitational pull, and it slammed into Mercury’s surface at around 8,750 miles per hour, creating a new crater up to 52 feet wide.

“Today we bid a fond farewell to one of the most resilient and accomplished spacecraft ever to have explored our neighboring planets,” said Sean Solomon, MESSENGER’s Principal Investigator and Director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Our craft set a record for planetary flybys, spent more than four years in orbit about the planet closest to the Sun, and survived both punishing heat and extreme doses of radiation. Among its other achievements, MESSENGER determined Mercury’s surface composition, revealed its geological history, discovered that its internal magnetic field is offset from the planet’s center, taught us about Mercury’s unusual internal structure, followed the chemical inventory of its exosphere with season and time of day, discovered novel aspects of its extraordinarily active magnetosphere, and verified that its polar deposits are dominantly water ice. A resourceful and committed team of engineers, mission operators, scientists, and managers can be extremely proud that the MESSENGER mission has surpassed all expectations and delivered a stunningly long list of discoveries that have changed our views not only of one of Earth’s sibling planets but of the entire inner solar system.”

(Johns Hopkins University)

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Stupidity and Incompetence, or, What Republican Voters Want, or, Ted Cruz

TedCruz-bw-banner

Just remember that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wants to be president. And remember that for some reason, Senate Republican leaders saw fit to give him the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveneness. David Levitan picks it up from there. The summary, from FactCheck.org:

During his critique of NASA’s spending on earth and atmospheric sciences at a recent committee hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz made some misleading claims regarding the agency’s budgets and the science that it conducts.

• Cruz said there has been a “disproportionate increase” since 2009 in funding of earth sciences. There has been an increase — and it is larger than some other NASA areas — but spending on earth sciences is lower now as a percentage of NASA’s budget than it was in fiscal 2000. And the increase reflects an effort to restore funding that had been cut.SciCheck: Factchecking science based claims (FactCheck.org)

• Cruz also suggested that the “core mission” of NASA does not include earth sciences. In fact, studying the Earth and atmosphere has been central to NASA’s mission since its creation in 1958.

• In criticizing NASA’s spending on earth sciences, Cruz also said the agency needs to “get back to the hard sciences” — meaning space exploration and not earth and atmospheric research. The term “hard sciences” refers to fields including physics and chemistry, which are central to the research being done as part of NASA’s earth science programs.

Now, perhaps it might occur to wonder why Senate Republican leadership would put so dishonest and incompetent a person in any committee chair. And the answer is about as obvious as it can be. Remember how conservatives like to complain that government does not and cannot work?

Yeah. This is called laboring to prove the thesis.

And if it occurs to wonder why anyone would go out of their way to sabotage an entire society just to prove a petulant political thesis, we need only remind that this is what your conservative neighbors want. This is what they vote for. Stupidity and incompetence are of great value in the Republican Party, right now, since they have nothing left but to try to wreck the place just so they can thump their chests and boast about being right all along, that government cannot and does not work.

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Levitan, David. “Cruz Distorts NASA’s Mission, Budget”. FactCheck.org. 18 March 2015.

The Grudge Match: Republicans vs. Science

In this handout photo, taken in 2011, provided by Jonathan Gero, scientists witness and measured carbon dioxide trapping heat in the sky above, confirming human-caused global warming, using the Atmospheric Emitted Radience Interferometer seen here, located in Barrow, Alaska.  Scientists witnessed carbon dioxide trapping heat in the atmosphere above the United States, chronicling human-made climate change in action live in the wild.  A new study in the journal Nature demonstrates in real-time field measurements what scientists already knew from basic physics, lab tests, numerous simulations, temperature records and dozens of other climactic indicators.  It confirms the science of climate change and the amount of heat-trapping previously blamed on carbon dioxide.  (AP Photo/Jonathan Gero, University of Wisconsin)

There are so many ways to go about this. We might, for instance, pause to consider the pathetic canard about how the competing political parties in these United States are the same. Or perhaps we could take a moment to think about why American progress lurches forward in quick bursts after seeming to stall for extended periods. And it is not exactly impossible that we might also eventually encounter an opportunity to simply look away and give our attention to something else.

First up, science:

Scientists training their instruments on the skies have caught the world’s major greenhouse gas right in the act of warming the planet, researchers reported Wednesday, providing the first direct evidence that human activity is dangerously altering the environment.

The instruments captured more than a decade of rising surface temperatures, changes that were directly triggered by the atmosphere’s increasing burden of carbon dioxide, a team of scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley, reported.

That gas, whose main source is emissions from burning fossil fuels, has long been the principal culprit in global-warming investigations by the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists. Its rising levels in the atmosphere have been the basis for increasingly strong warnings about global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known as the IPCC.

“We have known for decades that there must be an effect, but getting a direct measurement and isolating the carbon dioxide component are a technological coup,” Christopher Field, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University who has led two major IPCC reports, said in an email.

The UC Berkeley scientists’ study, he said, provides concrete evidence for the first time of carbon dioxide’s effect on global warming.

(Perlman)

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Hope, Obscure, Refusing to Die

Detail of 'Animal Nuz #228' by Eric Lewis, 6 December 2014, via Daily Kos Comics.Sometimes amid the noise and bluster we might feel an angry impulse toward something that seems almost absurd by comparison. Yet it also seems inevitable that there is a lesson waiting to be learned. Eric Lewis reminds us of something very, very important that happened this week; the United States is moving back toward its very own manned space program.

But no. We can’t possibly pause to celebrate that, can we? Because we’re all too busy giving attention-hungry cops exactly the sort of sycophantic celebrity they’re after.

It is worth noting that controversial professor Leonard Jeffries used to denounce the space program as an effort by white people to spread their filth across the Universe. It’s only about a quarter-century later, and perhaps the most disgraceful thing about that rhetorical temper tantrum is the effort American society has devoted to proving it true.

Space exploration is something to be celebrated; getting the hell off its rock is one of the fundamental purposes of the living endeavor. This arrangement of matter and energy can last as long as the Universe itself allows, unless Life destroys itself first. Yet Lewis makes an important point: When the time comes, can we please leave the racism behind?

Everybody wins that way; the human endeavor can properly advance, and the hatemongers can finally start feeling like they’ve got a place to call home. And when they look around at the wreck of whatever is left, they can celebrate that they finally got what they wanted, the whole trash heap of human existence on planet Earth all to themselves.

Evolution is supposed to coincide with progress. Oh, you romantic American rebels, you.

The Real Dangers and Rewards of Geek Humor

Detail of 'Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal' by Zach Weiner, 25 November 2014.One of the dangers of geek humor is that the setup often requires more labor than, say, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” or “A U.S. Senator walks into an airport bathroom ....”

Naturally, Zach Weiner’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is anxious to demonstrate the point.

But therein also lies one of the hidden treasures of geek humor. Complicated setups offer myriad thematic variations, digressions, and mutations. To wit, it might occur to someone considering the proposition of ten-thousand iterations of a metaphorical argument about reality, somewhere in there reality itself invented the Republican Party.

Do away with science, and there are no more arguments about reality, metaphorical or otherwise.

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Weiner, Zach. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. 25 November 2014.

Abrams, Lindsay. “House Republicans just passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA on their own research”. 19 November 2014.

Marcos, Cristina. “House passes bill to limit EPA ‘secret science'”. The Hill. 19 November 2014.

An Extraneous Blame Game

Detail of Keith Knight, 'The K Chronicles', 11 November 2014 (via Daily Kos Comics)

Briefly: Sure, if your mother is still accessible to you in this world, give her a hug.

The rest of this is just … I don’t know, silly.

Quite literally on the day Keith Knight’s cartoon, detailed above, posted at Daily Kos Comics, a note popped up from a friend that her mother had fallen and broken her arm. You know, a request for prayers and best wishes.

Naturally, I sent my friend a link to the cartoon.

It was … what, two days later? Another friend informed us that her mother had fallen and broken her wrist. Prayers and best wishes dutifully filed in, and I won’t nitpick the point that it seems a dubious proposition to pray that God will undo His will and magically heal the damage. We can set prayer aside, and just send cartoons on such occasions.

A bit before midnight last night that same friend checked in: “So, guess what…Mom fell again today. This time she broke her right wrist.”

Sigh. I don’t have a cartoon link for this one.

Best wishes, of course. But come on, either God or Keith Knight—who do I get to blame for this absurdity?

How about Isaac Newton?

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Knight, Keith. “Visiting Germany”. Daily Kos. 11 November 2014.