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Images of Pluto returned by New Horizons. Click image for background on mission
This week more images of Pluto were released by the New Horizons team showing what appear to be polar caps. We'll know more soon!
As you can see, surface features are getting easier to discern (note that a different part of Pluto was seen by the probe on each day, so you're seeing different features). It’s not just light and dark patches, but they have some shape to them as well. It actually reminds me a bit of seeing Mars through a small ‘scope. Note that on the May 10 image there appears to be a dark chunk taken out of Pluto’s side; that’s an illusion due to that spot being particularly dark; it blends in with the blackness of space and fools your eye into thinking Pluto’s missing a piece.
  • Climate change could strip the Himalayas of ice and snow.
  • If only robots could heal themselves ...
    Scientists claimed that they have invented a robot which is able to recover itself when damaged. This is an ideal creation in a world of machines that impersonate the incredible adaptive powers of both humans and animals. ... Jean-Baptiste Mouret of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris said “The idea is to have robots that can survive in hostile environments such as a Fukushima-type nuclear disaster.”
  • A new study finds, in my view anyway, that dinos might have made great deep space astronauts: they were warm-blooded enough to sprint like a cheetah, but they could also rest like a turtle, and possibly even hibernate or close to it.
  • Move over A. afarensis also known as Lucy. Paleo-anthropologists have found another possible human ancestor which lived at about the same time and place as the most famous human fossil ever uncovered:
    Anthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie and his team have named the new species Australopithecus deyiremeda. They found fossilized upper and lower jaw fossils at a paleontological dig site in the Afar region of central Ethiopia in 2011, and after four years of study, they’ve published their findings in the journal Nature.
Discuss

Drone video of flooding in Central Texas over Memorial Day weekend.

The drought in Texas ended with a wet, thundering bang last weekend, but the political hypocrisy may just be getting started. The Lone Star State is currently ruled by the worst sort of Tea Party Republicans. We brought you Senator hopes-to-be-President of the Confederate-States-of-America Ted Cruz and Louie the-dumbest-man-in-Congress Gohmert just to name a couple. We even elected this clown:

West, TX is represented in Congress by Bill Flores, who is also asking that the government declare the impacted area a federal disaster—and is requesting federal money. [...] Mr. Flores was one of the 67 members of the House of Representatives who voted against the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief.
Spending is only big and bad and out of control when it helps people Bill Flores and his ilk don't care about. Case in point, it's now flooding down in Texas:
This is when Texas nationalists and secessionists really look foolish. With 46 counties now declared disaster areas by Gov. Greg Abbott and no end in sight until summer, Texas welcomes federal officials and disaster relief.

Texas Task Force 1 and soldiers and pilots of the Texas Military Forces — the National Guard units and Texas State Guard — have worked round-the-clock to save motorists in Krum, lift away flood victims in Cleburne and search for the missing in Wimberley. But if anyone needs convincing, this reminds us Texas can’t go it alone.

And why would we want or expect to go it alone? Texans pay income tax and other federal fees just like any other state's residents. Some of our politicians may be bug-fuck crazy—or they may simply be off the chart cynical, it's not clear which is worse. But by and large we are full of kind, big-hearted people. When neighboring states or nearby foreign countries suffer the wrath of nature or the callous nature of man, Texans are often among the first volunteers on the front line rendering aid.

So, when Texas Tea Party Republicans seek to deprive taxpayers in any state of their own money, in some cases money and resources specifically earmarked for disaster relief, maybe it's time for voters of all stripes to re-examine that party's notion about what Americans expect and deserve from their elected representatives.

Discuss

Tue May 26, 2015 at 05:45 PM PDT

It's flooding down in Texas

by DarkSyde

Whole Foods Market on Lamar being cleared of debris, silt and ruined groceries.....Credit: Jim C. Parker,  May 1981.  for 0529floodstories
Whole Foods Market on Lamar being cleared of debris, silt and ruined groceries after the Memorial Day flood in May 1981.
It was almost like the Memorial Day flood of 1981 all over again. Torrential rain on already saturated ground over the long three-day weekend brought on floods across the southwest, from Central Texas to Oklahoma:
The rain comes at the end of a long period of drought in Texas. Just four years ago, nearly all of the state was in extreme drought. Then-Gov. Rick Perry told Texans to “pray for rain.” He renewed the state of emergency in 2013. But after record-breaking rainfall this spring, no portion of Texas or Oklahoma was in extreme drought as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Going from one extreme to another is a hallmark of climate change. Scientists predict more droughts in the coming decades, as well as more intense rainstorms. In the midwest, the number of storms that drop more than three inches of rain have increased by 50 percent, according to an analysis from the Rocky Mountain Institute. Texas and Oklahoma both face intensifying drought and flooding, although politicians in both states have denied climate change.

No one weather event can be directly attributed to climate change. It's more like rolling dice, and lately we've been rolling a lot of snake-eyes.
Discuss

Sun May 24, 2015 at 04:00 PM PDT

The promise of NewSpace

by DarkSyde

Ceres as revealed by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 4, 2015, from a distance of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers). The bright spots may be water ice.
We throw a lot of terms around here on Daily Kos, mostly in politics, sometimes in science. One of the latter is NewSpace, which can mean different things to different people:
NewSpace—formerly alt.space; also "new space", and entrepreneurial space—are umbrella terms for a movement and philosophy often affiliated with, but not synonymous with, an emergent private spaceflight industry. Specifically, the terms are used to refer to a community of relatively new aerospace companies working to develop low-cost access to space or spaceflight technologies and advocates of low-cost spaceflight technology and policy.
But NewSapce means more than just space exploration, it also means using resources in space back here on Earth, where we are likely to run low on key elements and other substances in the forseeable future.

It's interesting that one of the people who first glimpsed that looming shortfall half a century ago had nothing to do with space exploration or aerospace technology in general. His bailiwick was the oil business. Follow us below and we'll briefly review the frightening immediate future.

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Sat May 23, 2015 at 06:00 AM PDT

This week in science: two in the Bush

by DarkSyde

Well worth a few minutes of three-day weekend Zen

Former Florida Governor and presumed current front runner in the 2016 GOP primary, Jeb Bush, spoke on climate change this week. In just a couple of sentences, he managed to confuse everyone:

First, Jeb Bush said he was “not a scientist” when it comes to climate change. Now, he says the scientists are not to be believed. In comments reported by CNN on Wednesday, the potential 2016 presidential candidate called the science of human-caused climate change “convoluted,” and questioned the degree to which carbon emissions are responsible. “For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you,” he reportedly said. “It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it, even.”
Mr. Bush, good grief, conservatives have consistently rejected the science on this, they have systematically misinformed their base, almost to a man they hold climate scientists and anyone else who cites the science in utter contempt. In some cases they have used every underhanded political power play available to torment climate scientists at the professional and personal level, including dragging them into court and academic hearings threatening their research and their very freedom. There is one state run by a Republican clown who has decreed the term "climate change" cannot be said aloud.

This is all done so that a handful of ultra-rich oil clans, like the Bushes for example, can make a few more meaningless dollars on top of their zillions they already have and could not spend in a 100 lifetimes. So listening to Jeb evade and whine about being treated unfairly is an exercise in the surreal, and that's saying it nicely.

  • Dogs have been with us for a long time.
  • Satellites reveal Antarctica in flux:
    Satellites have seen a sudden dramatic change in the behaviour of glaciers on the Antarctica Peninsula, according to a Bristol University-led study.

    The ice streams were broadly stable up until 2009, since when they have been losing on the order of 56 billion tonnes of ice a year to the ocean.

  • Do you think your password and secret questions are solid? According to a recent article, not so much:
    A new report from Google found that secret questions are the least reliable way to regain entry into your account. Of the millions of account recovery attempts analyzed by the search giant, about 40 percent of people could not recall the answers to their secret questions when necessary.
Discuss

Last month we briefly reviewed the basics of drones and drone warfare. Today, we're pleased to present an interview with the director behind a new, timely movie on that very subject: Andrew Niccol.

Good Kill is the all-too-realistic story of a fictional fighter pilot, Major Tommy Egan, an F-16 combat veteran who had been flying missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is still flying missions in that part of the world, but now he is doing it from the inside of a very different cockpit. He is a drone pilot, fighting the war by remote control from an air-conditioned cubicle 7,000 miles away on a base near Las Vegas, a 15-minute drive from his middle-class suburban home. It’s about the haunting moral conflicts besieging Egan when using this new technology.

Is he creating more terrorists than he’s killing? Is he now engaged in a war without end? How many innocent people, including women and children, has he killed? After surviving over 200 missions flying over hostile territory and more close calls than he can remember, for the first time, Major Tommy Egan is about to become a casualty of war—ironically, in a war he’s fighting from half a world away while in absolutely no danger.

Good Kill was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, whose prior credits include Gattaca and Lord of War. Given recent events and standing policy, Niccol reached out to Daily Kos, eager to respond to a few questions and comments on this controversial topic. With that, let's jump right in under the fold.

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SpaceX Dragon capsule reentry animation: this is how a 21st century spacecraft should work

We all know how certain media sources love the smell of bipartisanship in the morning. Here John McCain, yes, that same senator who tried his best to saddle us with Vice President Sarah Palin, actually makes some bipartisan sense:

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain on Wednesday rejected a request by U.S. officials for changes in federal law to let the two largest U.S. arms makers use more Russian rocket engines to compete for military satellite launches against privately held SpaceX.

McCain's comments reflect frustration among some lawmakers about the Pentagon's failure to halt purchases of the RD-180 Russian engines after Russia's annexation of Crimea. As SpaceX becomes a potential competitor to current monopoly launch provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, billions of dollars of orders are at stake and both sides are lobbying lawmakers hard.

Discuss
"There before him, a glittering toy no Star-Child could resist, floated the planet Earth with all its peoples." —2001
During the early days of the Bush administration, in the final few, lazy summer weeks before 9-11, a strange policy on embryonic stem cell lines was announced. Research would continue on existing lines, but no new lines would be produced with taxpayer dollars. This was considered a naked pander to the religious right.

For the hardcore women's health hating wingnut, it somehow meant "children" would be "saved." By "children," they meant blastocysts about the size of a period at the end of this sentence. By "saved," they meant those blastocysts would be thrown out with medical waste instead of diverted to research. Like so many brain-twisting, soul-crushing ideas put forth by the usual suspects, it made absolutely no sense, saved no one, and needlessly delayed important scientific research for years. One of the first things the Obama administration did once in office in 2009 was to reverse course.

The real discussion to be had isn't whether or not unwanted blastocysts should be used for research or disposed of in an incinerator. It's far more profound than that:

As we move to change the meaning of human embodiment in fundamental ways, including the possibility of eroding species boundaries, we need to ask whether we are prepared to reduce the entire natural world to the status of artifact.

Despite the overwhelming questions of embryo status, ultimately the fundamental question raised by stem cell research is not about the embryo. Instead, it is about the future toward which biotechnology beckons us [...]

When science and technology defeat death, religion as we know it will end. Theologians will be out of jobs when there are superintelligences. Religion is always fighting the future, but the future will arrive nonetheless. And when biotechnology eliminates disease and improves the human condition, no one will care what the theologians have to say.

Discuss

Sat May 09, 2015 at 06:00 AM PDT

This week in science: abort, abort!

by DarkSyde

Up to now SpaceX has been contracted to launch satellites and unmanned resupply missions to the ISS. But the company has big plans for manned spaceflight. And toward that goal, they tested their emergency abort system for their planned, manned version of the Dragon this week:

SpaceX tweeted this afternoon that had a human been on board the Crew Dragon, they would have "been in great shape" after the successful test. The abort system is located inside Dragon, allowing future crew members to quickly escape in the event of a potential failure.

The remarkable feat played out around 9 a.m. ET today as eight SuperDraco engines lifted Dragon 5,000 feet above the launch pad. Dragon detached from its rocket, deployed its parachutes and continued a controlled descent into the Atlantic Ocean, landing a mile from shore, where it bobbed in the water and waited for a recovery vessel:

Incidentally, the manned version of the Dragon also lands on retros after reentry. It only uses parachutes as a back up. Why we're not piling a little more money into these guys so that we can leave more expensive, less capable—far more geo-politically perilous—reliance on Russian rockets and engines far behind is a question only the members of House and Senate subcommittees that oversee NASA could answer.
  • Oldest ancestor to birds found.
  • A nice article about the quiet, misunderstood, brown recluse spider, courtesy of science blogger Greg Laden.
  • I have a new job with an Austin tech start-up, it's a company that feels like its going places. My understanding is we are looking to bring a few more people on, some brief details here.
  • HuffPo posts some eerie space sounds.
  • Yes, the GOP still trying to starve Earth Science because ... climate change:
    Recently, a House panel advanced a bill (19-15, along party lines) that would cut funds to NASA’s earth science programs, while boosting the agency’s space-exploration funds. In justifying these changes, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said the panel was seeking to strike a difficult balance and “provide NASA with the resources necessary to remain a leader in space exploration in a time of tight budget realities.”
Discuss

The GOP clown car made headlines a few years when an assembled panel was asked during a debate if they accepted the organizing principle in evolutionary biology and several signaled "no." This cycle is not shaping up to be any prettier, even with a neurosurgeon and an ophthalmologist in the fray:

But despite assorted elite educations and illustrious careers, none can apparently make up their minds about basics of modern science – that the Earth is about 4.5bn years old, that humans evolved from earlier primates over millions of years, and that people are making the world dangerously warm.

“I think on issues like climate change and evolution it ends up being a proxy for identity politics,” said Michael Halpern, a program manager for the nonprofit and nonpartisan Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “You’re not actually talking about the science, you’re talking about values.”

So far the candidates have mostly hemmed and hawed – save Carson, who outright rejected the theory of evolution when speaking to Faith & Liberty radio last year. “Carbon dating, all these things,” he said “really doesn’t mean anything to a God who has the ability to create anything at any point in time.

Carson is alluding to the appearance of age dodge, the idea that a creator being painted detailed images of age into light from Quasars billions of light-years away, and other objects closer to home. Make of it what you will.
Discuss

Sun May 03, 2015 at 04:30 PM PDT

Do we all live in a giant hologram?

by DarkSyde

The large scale universe projected onto a two-dimensional boundary
There is an active field of research in cosmology and physics seeking to explain the cosmos in terms of a radical idea: we live in a universe with some of the properties of a hologram:
At first glance, there is not the slightest doubt: to us, the universe looks three dimensional. But one of the most fruitful theories of theoretical physics in the last two decades is challenging this assumption. The "holographic principle" asserts that a mathematical description of the universe actually requires one fewer dimension than it seems. What we perceive as three dimensional may just be the image of two dimensional processes on a huge cosmic horizon.
That's a mind-being principle and the math behind it is a fearsome thing, pulling together rigorous work on everything from event horizons to string theory to the quantum information paradox. It's not easy to describe some of the ramifications that emerge in general terms.

But if you drift below the fold, thanks to no small amount of help from Jennifer Ouellette, one of the best hard-science writers in the world today, we'll at least try. And we'll do that without bringing up hyper-advanced mathematics!

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Hard to believe there were times when either political party regularly distinguished itself and alternately embarrassed the entire nation when it came to science. Or that for a few brief shining years in the early days of the Cold War, the US actually stressed science and technology.

But it would be short-lived. America won the space race, Nixon swept into power, and conservatives turned to exploiting the cold civil war that had been simmering for a century on the heels of Reconstruction. With that came a fierce brand of willful ignorance worn proudly like a badge of honor by bigots and idiots alike. And not just way down south, in Dixie.

This week those forces of ignorance struck again, savagely slashing funding from NASA earmarked for Earth Science on behalf of their billionaire paymasters:

As I wrote this morning, Republicans on the House Committee for Science, Space, and Technology passed a nakedly partisan budget authorization bill for NASA that drastically and brutally slashes hundreds of millions of dollars from NASA's Earth Science Division, which studies how climate change is affecting our planet.
Don't let anyone waste your time trying to convince you both sides are "the same" when it comes to science, that it's only the issues that change. Poll after poll shows progressives and independents are better informed and more in tune with the consensus of science on virtually every major issue than conservatives. And by and large, the more conservative the person is, the more Fox News and right-wing talk radio he or she consumes, the worse the person compares, on everything.

That's not a coincidence. Conservatives have invested heavily in misinformation infrastructure for decades and science was one of their primary targets from the beginning. Since the cold war began to wind down more than 20 years ago, a handful of mostly former DoD scientists put themselves on the market, willing and eager to stamp their degrees on any zany nonsense that would pay. Over the years they've been joined by many more, and that nonsense is channeled through an impressive network of churches, radio, TV, and print media straight into the ears and eyes of conservatives who want to believe it.

We simply have nothing that compares to the carefully managed feedback loop of willful ignorance that has developed, we couldn't match it if we wanted to, and we don't want to. Knock pseudo-science when you see it, on the left or on the right, but there's no need to help out the usual suspects by exaggerating the influence of a few misinformed, stubborn people on our side of the aisle. Traditional media, wary of some vague idea of balance, already does that anyway.

Discuss
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