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Reposted from Dartagnan by palantir

                       galaxy photo: Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) hs-2005-12-a-web.jpg

Last week two Senior NASA Scientists confidently predicted that we will find evidence of extraterrestrial life within a decade or so. Ellen Stofan, NASA's chief scientist and John Grunsfeld, the agency's associate administrator for science programs, weren't talking about walking, talking or slithering aliens, but rather microbes composed of basic chemical compounds necessary for life as we understand it. The growing consensus that there are innumerable temperate planets capable of supporting this kind of life prompts generous funding by NASA in efforts to locate it, and it seems that one day soon we will.

Efforts to locate more developed extraterrestrial life, on the other hand, receive almost no funding and are the provenance of only a limited number of astronomers and scientists embarked on a quest known as SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence).  Defunded by the U.S. government in 1995, SETI relies almost entirely on private funding. Some of the more well-known SETI projects are run through Harvard University, University of California at Berkeley and the SETI institute.  Computer power is sometimes donated to support these efforts, which essentially seek out radio or laser-type signals that may pass through our own galaxy and possess a certain pattern indicative of intelligence.

However, for all of its efforts, SETI has yet to find any real trace of intelligent or advanced civilizations that might possibly exist out there.  The disconcerting results of the most recent and comprehensive efforts to locate definitive traces of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations are detailed in the latest issue of Scientific American:

Now, new results suggest this loneliness may extend out into the universe far beyond our galaxy or, instead, that some of our preconceptions about the behaviors of alien civilizations are deeply flawed. After examining some 100,000 nearby large galaxies a team of researchers lead by The Pennsylvania State University astronomer Jason Wright has concluded that none of them contain any obvious signs of highly advanced technological civilizations. Published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, it is by far the largest of study of its kind to date....
Rather than look for radio signals, Wright and his team looked for thermodynamic residual signatures of what they would expect from galactic-sized colonization, using NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer. They based their work in part on a theory advanced by physicist Freeman Dyson:
Dyson postulated that a growing technological culture would ultimately be limited by access to energy, and that advanced, energy-hungry civilizations would be driven to harvest all the available light from their stars. To do that, they might dismantle a planet or two as feedstock for building star-enveloping swarms of solar collectors. A star’s light would fade as it was encased in such a “Dyson sphere,” but Dyson noted the constructions could be detected by the mid-infrared glow of their radiated waste heat—essentially the same phenomenon that causes your computer to warm up when it’s running.
In 1963 a Russian astronomer (Nikolai Kardashev) elaborated on Dyson's hypothetical, creating a classification system for degrees of advanced civilizations which employed "Dyson Spheres." Depending on the amount of energy harnessed, a civilization could be called Class 1, 2 or 3, with Class 3 able to harness the energy not only of a single planet or solar system, but an entire galaxy. Of course this implies a degree of advancement that would render our human species barely a blip on the cosmological scale.

Wright's research, funded by the Templeton Foundation, relied on Dyson's assumptions and Kardashev's classification system but also allowed for the possibility that no "Dyson Sphere" existed at all. Wright's search for thermodynamic "waste" would also encompass any galactic-level  astro-engineering (in other words, what we as humans would expect in our conception of a truly "advanced" civilization). Their methodology was based on established principles of physics, particularly the generation of heat:

[B]ecause the second law of thermodynamics makes energy use hard to hide. They could construct Dyson spheres, they could get power from rotating black holes, they could build giant computer networks in the cold outskirts of galaxies, and all of that would produce waste heat.
Where previous research along these lines had been limited to about 100 galaxies, Wright's team examined approximately 100,000. Alas, the results were disappointing.
"On Kardashev’s scale, a type 3 civilization uses energy equal to all the starlight produced by one galaxy,” Wright says. That would equate to an infrared-bright galaxy seemingly bereft of stars. “We looked at the nearest, largest 100,000 galaxies we could find in the WISE catalogue and we never saw that. One hundred thousand galaxies and not one had that signature. We didn’t find any type 3s in our sample because there aren’t any.
The fact that a civilization may not have expanded to the point where such galactic-altering capacities are reached and are therefore undetectable is, of course, a reasonable explanation. However the age of the Universe itself, according to SETI researchers, ought to compensate for civilizations only in their nascent stages of development:
“Life, once it becomes spacefaring, looks like it could cross a galaxy in as little as 50 million years,” [ James Annis, an astrophysicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory who has used different methods to survey nearby galaxies for type 3s] says. “And 50 million years is a very short time compared to the billion-year timescales of planets and galaxies. You would expect life to crisscross a galaxy many times in the nearly 14 billion years the universe has been around. Maybe spacefaring civilizations are rare and isolated, but it only takes just one to want and be able to modify its galaxy for you to be able to see it. If you look at enough galaxies, you should eventually see something obviously artificial. That’s why it’s so uncomfortable that the more we look, the more natural everything appears.”

Over the years, researchers have created a vast assemblage of possible explanations for SETI’s failure to find any aliens. Perhaps we are alone or some restriction imposed by astrophysics and biology makes intelligent life vanishingly rare or technological civilizations always self-destruct or interstellar travel is simply too hard, too slow or too boring.

There is no shortage of speculation as to why no life on a galactic-altering scale has been discovered. We may very well be alone.  Or it may be that intelligence is simply a freak of nature that in the extremely rare instances when it does occur quickly mutates to extinguish itself before any real "advancement" of the species can proceed. It is also possible that what we consider as the characteristics of an "advanced" species--the consumption of every conceivable source of energy--is completely different from the evolutionary cycle of other species and that the reason we see no trace of energy being burned is because that species has learned to live more in accommodation with nature.

Or perhaps intelligence actually carries with it the innate seeds of its own destruction. Perhaps every budding intelligent civilization has its own version of David and Charles Koch or other like-minded malignant specimens whose sole purpose in life is to eradicate the species in avid and relentless pursuit of short term self-interest. Perhaps the endless silence that greets us as we listen intently to the Universe is simply the triumph of something as mundane as greed.

Reposted from wjhamilton29464 by LakeSuperior
From Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit

This statement was prepared for the April 23rd. protest at the Office of US Congressman Mark Sanford in Mount Pleasant, SC. At that protest the Congressman agreed to meet with the demonstrators via Skype from his DC office. An intense, but polite 20 minute exchange took place during which the congressman said he introduced his bill to completely defund federal support for public transit over a period of five years to stimulate debate. 3 other members of the SC Congressional delegation are among the 8 co sponsors. Sanford stated he didn’t want to see local transit service end. The current federal authorization to fund public transit across the entire United States expires on May 31, 2015. Activists with Hungryneck Straphangers continue to work on the issue in their Stand Up 4 Lowcountry Transit effort..

On Tuesday, Japan set a new rail speed record of 374 miles per hour on their experimental mag lev research line.  In 1850, it was possible to travel by railroad between Charleston and Summerville faster than you can now at rush hour on I26. In two years, it may be nearly impossible to make the trip for four or more hours every day. Our region, which pioneered passenger railroad transportation for this hemisphere with the Best Friend of Charleston in 1830 is slowing to auto induced gridlock.

Mark Sanford’s proposed bill to end federal public transit funding would deprive CARTA and hundreds of other transit systems across the US of over a third of their total funding. These systems have been underfunded and neglected for decades. The North Neck CARTA bus I and a candidate for Mayor of Charleston rode on Tuesday was six years past its design life, carrying 30 people on a small bus designed for 24 seated passengers.

Sanford complains transit systems are subsidized by gas taxes, but his proposal would continue to grant cars a six billion dollar a year subsidy from general government funds. The amount now granted to transit from the transportation trust fund comes from general tax revenues much of which is paid by the half of the population which does not drive. Sanford proposes to leave 30 million transit riding Americans with about half of the inadequate service they have now while continuing to use their tax money to subsidize the automobile.

Sign our online petition against Sanford's Bill

Sanford would force the working people of his own district, who make our tourism and medical industries possible, to attempt to operate cars with their limited income. He has voted not to increase their minimum wage six times.  They would face an annual six thousand dollar a year ownership cost  and two thousand dollar downtown parking cost they can’t possibly afford. Many would join the 10% of drivers on our roads now who aren’t licensed or insured. For those who find automobile operation impossible, including many of our disabled and senior citizens, dangerous bicycle trips and walks home in an area plagued by one of the nation’s highest rates of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities would be their only option.

The huge dishonesty within Sanford’s justification for such callous treatment of his own constituents is his refusal to admit the huge subsidies government already provides operators of private automobiles, estimated to be over five thousand dollars per year, per car.  Much road construction locally has been funded by sales taxes on goods other than gas through the half penny sales tax.   Police and fire department car wreck emergency costs add to that total. In Mount Pleasant, a public works employee, whose pay, benefits and vehicle cost the town over 50 thousand dollars a year spends most of his time sweeping up broken glass and debris at the locations of car wrecks.

Were we to add on top of that the two trillion dollar cost of our military presence in the Middle East to help secure the world oil supply (which Sanford has voted to increase ), a gas tax of over 12 dollars a gallon would be required to cover the car’s full cost to society.

In a city where climate change will put Murray Boulevard on the Battery under water at high tide for several hours a day by the end of this century, we should add the infrastructure costs of walling off the historic city from the rising sea, well over half a billion dollars for one part of one city to the cost of the car.

However. the worst impact of Sanford’s shortsighted attempt to defund public transit is our Lowcountry being forced to compete in a global market for young innovative talent without transit. Charleston needs to be a place which produces software, attracts visitors with high quality cultural events and generates local employment without resorting to expensive corporate subsidies, 280 million dollars was recently appropriated to build new access roads and highway ramps for Boeing. The cost of that road project alone would be enough to build a true regional rapid transit system for entire Lowcountry like the Swift Bus Rapid Transit system Boeing workers enjoy in Washington State.

The generation now bringing innovation to the challenging economy of this century does not love the car as their grandparents did. “According to Federal Highway Administration, from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14 to 34-year-olds without a driver’s license increased from 21 percent to 26 percent.” Higher income young people are more likely to walk, bike or use transit. “From 2001 to 2009, young people (16 to 34-years-old) who lived in households with annual incomes of over $70,000 increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent, and walking by 37 percent.”

If we allow Mark Sanford and the three other members of our State’s Congressional Delegation to destroy public transit here and in the rest of the US, the Lowcountry grants a permanent competitive advantage to communities like Atlanta, New York and Portland where robust transit systems are built and operating now.  These young innovators, who could be the job creators of a high tech, Charleston future, will chose to live where their time and money can be spent on something better than a car standing still on a gridlocked I26.

William Hamilton, Hungryneck Straphangers
(843) 870-5299 or

You can download a PDF of this document with footnotes to the sources referenced. If you want to cut and paste your content, remember to think about how you're going to handle your footnotes.


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Reposted from History for Kossacks by Lenny Flank

Everyone is familiar with the story of Roswell, New Mexico, where an extraterrestrial
spaceship supposedly crashed and alien bodies were recovered and hidden by the US
Government. But if the flying saucer fans are to be believed, Roswell was not the first
time that alien space travelers died in a crash in the US. The first fatal extraterrestrial traffic accident happened in the tiny little village of Aurora, Texas, in 1897. And according to conspiracy fans, the dead alien pilot may still be there.

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Sat Apr 25, 2015 at 06:21 AM PDT

This week in science: she's a witch!

by DarkSyde

Reposted from Daily Kos by palantir

Will the real Mike Rogers (R-AL) please stand up? Because there's a fire and brimstone Mike Rogers who hates him some commie leader and likes to wax elegantly on a certain president who purportedly cowers most cowardly before Putin's manliness:

"[Putin] breaks treaties, he invades countries and then stations his nuclear forces on their soil, and he cozies up to terrorist regimes ... What's next? Who's next? Concessions on missile defense and arms control only emboldened the former KGB officer."
“The world is more dangerous than ever, and under the President’s lead-from-behind policy, [Putin's] ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology is spreading.  
Holy ICBMs, Mike! How can we stop our feebleminded president from appeasing Putin's mad quest for power, leverage and advanced missile technology?
There is a markup session tomorrow at 12:00 pm EDT with the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Markup. It certainly looks like Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) is trying to slip in language that would allow more Russian-built RD-180 engines to be purchased using tax dollars at the same time when Rogers is (otherwise) actively promoting policies that would punish the exact same sector of Russia's economy for actions in Ukraine and Iran, treaty violations, and other bad behavior.
I've seen better' "logic" exercised by a bunch of Monty Python characters and an actress wearing a carrot for a nose.
  • You can actually now take a course on dealing with climate change deniers.
  • GMO humans? Looks like China went there.
  • NASA to undertake comprehensive search of for life on other worlds.
  • Tomorrow on Sunday Kos, I'll be reviewing the basics of drones and drone warfare. This was in the works before the tragic news of friendly unmanned fire broke on Thursday. Come prepared. And here's a snippet from a related project we're working on for next month:
    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.
  • The pocket shark is adorable!
  • Via the Bad Astronomer (where vaccines still don't cause autism): the cloud isn't expanding! What you are seeing by Hubble time lapse from 2002 to 2006 is a pulse of light move through and light up the invisible outer sections as it goes. This is about as close to literally seeing the speed of light over interstellar distances as it gets:

Reposted from xaxnar by palantir

    There has been a lot of attention on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) this week, including posts here at Daily Kos. I'm going to try to make this one worth your time. I've been putting together a round up of news stories that have keyed in on the HST's 25 years in space, from its troubled beginnings to its current and final configuration. The images coming down from the HST have become iconic. The information obtained by the HST has changed our understanding of the universe, and challenged our theories about the fundamental nature of the Cosmos.

      But if there's only one article you have time for, it's one that was written back in 2007. It's one of the most evocative pieces I've seen about a machine that exhausts our supply of superlatives. Follow me past the Orange Omnilepticon, and I'll lead you to that and much more.

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Fri Apr 24, 2015 at 07:24 PM PDT

What's that spot on Ceres?

by atana

Reposted from atana by palantir

NASA is holding a vote on what you think the bright spots on Ceres may be.

Images of Ceres from as far away as the Hubble telescope show a white splotch that everyone assumed would be a crater. Dawn spacecraft images reveal it to be two small, very bright spots inside a crater on an otherwise rather dark dwarf planet.

Dawn entered its first science orbit today, April 24, 2015. Over the next few months Dawn will spiral down to close orbits and we will learn the nature of these bright spots -- but right now all we know is what you can see in the images.

Ceres is expected to contain a lot of ice, though its surface is dark and presumably very dirty. Perhaps a recent impact gouged out a bit of clean ice, underneath the dirt? Or perhaps Ceres has an internal heat source (such as radioactive materials) and can form geysers like those on Enceladus? Or perhaps the white stuff is not ice but salt? Or....


Fri Apr 24, 2015 at 08:44 AM PDT

Backyard Scientist: Chimp Edition

by Mark Sumner

Reposted from Devil's Tower by belinda ridgewood
I may have been the first person to see these chimps
I'm a lover of science you can do close to home, but thanks to sites like Zooniverse, you can now do science very far away from home without taking your eyes away from your screen. For example, they have a program where you can pick through thousands of photos of the night sky and try to find asteroids.

The latest program is one in which you can try to identify chimpanzees in Africa... and it's the best video game of the year.

Under the punnish title Chimp And See, they've taken thousands of short videos captured by dozens of trap cameras in the forest of Africa, and tossed them onto the web in a grand game of "what do you see?"  Each time something moves near the cameras they take a little short 15-30 second video.  On the site, you can review these videos and tell them what, if anything you can spot.  Most of them are nothing, or pigs, or little deer-like things called duiker. Very often you see the people who set up the cameras, or branches disturbed by rain, or bats making a close pass at the infrared lights.

But you also see forest elephants and aardvarks and beautiful little antelope.  And occasionally you also see chimps.

Come inside and see...

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Science Deniers come in all stripes. Some are right-wing, some are left-wing. Some are anti-government, some are anti-corporate. But if you look closely at all of the anti-science fringe, everyone from global warming deniers to anti-vaxxers to flying saucer fans to moon-landing-was-faked advocates to "alternative medicine" quacks to evolution-denying creationists to 9-11 Truthers to the anti-science element of the anti-GMO movement, we can see that they all use the same basic arguments and rhetorical trickery. These all have the same underlying purpose: to avoid any need for the Science Denier to actually present any evidence or data demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and the Science Denier is right, since the Science Deniers do not actually have any such evidence or data.

So I present to you: "Science Denier Bingo". A board game that you can play any time you run into one of the Science Deniers who infest the Internet. Every time you see one of these anti-science rhetorical arguments, check off a box. Get five boxes in a row on your bingo card, and you win!!!

And in any "science debate", if you see anyone using these arguments and excuses, then you are listening to a Science Denier.

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Reposted from Lib Dem FoP by Wee Mama

Earlier this year a tiny, frail, disabled, 67 year old pensioner was mugged as he put out the trash in the northern English city of Gateshead. His 25 year old assailant was desperate for money to pay for "legal high" drugs but went away with nothing. His victim, Alan Barnes, was left with a broken collar bone and was terrified to return to the sparse single storey home with no garden he lived in. He moved in with his sister to feel safe.

Last week Mr Barnes moved into a new house courtesy of a fund raising page set up by a local beautician who was horrified at the crime. The appeal eventually raised over £330,000 (@US$ 500,000) in donations from all over the world, in less than a week. The money was enough to buy the house with sufficient left over to refurbish it as needed and, hopefully, to allow Mr Barnes to have a break in the West Indies he has dreamed of.

His attacker, Richard Gatiss has been convicted and sentenced to four years in jail. Mr Barnes who is a church goer, while satisfied at the sentence, has expressed compassion for Gatiss.

Mr Barnes said hoped Gatiss, who suffers from drug problems, can turn his life around in prison.

"I hope if he goes to jail he will get some help in there. He's only 25, he's got plenty of time to change his life still."

"I just hope he gets his life turned around. That would be a happy ending."

The beautician, Katie Cutler has set up a charity foundation with the aim of raising £1million to help other vulnerable people.

The horrified reaction to the attack on Mr Barnes was not surprising given his circumstances. He is barely 4ft6 and weighs around 80lbs. He has been disabled from birth with severe visual impairment and other disabilities which have affected his physical appearance. Apparently he loves BBC Radio 4. His mother was told that he would be unlikely to survive to his first birthday. It is perhaps a tribute to the National Health Service, which was introduced around the time he was born, that he is alive today.  

Here is the kicker, his disabilities are a result of his mother contracting German Measles during her pregnancy with Alan. German Measles is medically known as Rubella - the R in the MMR vaccine. Its use meant that by 2005 the Washington Post headlined that the Rubella virus had been Eliminated in the United States and reminded its readers:

Mild and often entirely unnoticed in children, rubella infection can be devastating to developing fetuses. A woman infected with the virus in the first three months of pregnancy will probably suffer miscarriage, or deliver a stillborn or permanently disabled child. In the last great U.S. epidemic of rubella -- 40 years ago, before there was a vaccine against the disease -- about 12,000 babies were born deaf or deaf and blind.
In 1998 the disgraced ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield published his fraudulent paper claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and bowel diseases. This was the catalyst for the anti-vaccination movement although Wakefield had suggested that parents get separate vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella. As these were not available free on the NHS, they would have to pay privately. The then Dr Wakefield ran clinics to provide this service.

The scare has had two effects. Firstly, with lower "herd immunity", the virus can spread more easily. The effect increases as the number of refusers increases and numbers of unvaccinated children balloons. More worryingly; the first cohorts of unvaccinated babies are reaching child bearing age. By 2012, the CDC were reporting on cases of congenital rubella syndrome - birth defects caused by the virus' damage. Rubella cases were reassuringly labeled as "imported" or, more worryingly from an "unknown source" but I will quote their report on one case of a baby affected by it in the womb.

Infant A. In February 2012, an infant born in Maryland at 36 weeks' gestation and weighing 4.2 lbs (1,910 g) was noted at birth to have congenital heart defects, hyperpigmented skin lesions, cataracts, cerebral edema, and pericardial effusion. Hearing impairment was suspected after the infant failed a hearing screening test before hospital discharge in February, and bilateral profound hearing impairment was diagnosed by an audiologist in June. Surgical procedures for correction of congenital heart defects and cataracts were performed in February and June, respectively. During eye surgery, the infant experienced breathing difficulties and went into cardiac arrest. Following stabilization, the infant was admitted to the pediatric intensive-care unit for observation and was later discharged.
The importance of herd immunity can be seen from the case of Japan where initially the rubella vaccine was only given to girls;
Japan first introduced the rubella vaccine into its national immunisation programme in 1976 but it was only given to junior secondary school girls. In 1989, Japan introduced the MMR vaccine for all children aged one to six, but that left a 13-year gap where no boys were immunised.


But men still catch the disease and in Japan, where rubella cases have shot up to over 10,000 cases, about 77% of them are in young men aged between 20 and 40.

Japan has taken steps to reduce the number of unvaccinated children. The anti-vax movement in the USA is increasing the number so herd immunity is lower. Now an increasing cohort of young unvaccinated women are starting their childbearing years. How many have immunity because of a case in infancy is unknown but given the levels of herd immunity in their childhood, the number must be low. A "perfect storm" is starting to brew.



For the last year, I and several others have covered the rise in seismicity in Oklahoma and Kansas. The earthquakes in these two states, coupled with earthquakes in Texas, Colorado, and Ohio, represent a significant increase in the background seismicity in the US east of the Rockies.

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Tue Apr 21, 2015 at 12:15 PM PDT

Pi-Ramesse: Egypt's Oddest Mystery

by Lenny Flank

Reposted from History for Kossacks by Lenny Flank

During his reign, the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II built an extraordinary number of monuments in his capitol city, Pi-Ramesse. In later centuries, Pi-Ramesse was abandoned and forgotten, lost in the sands of the desert for thousands of years. In modern times, the location of the lost capitol of Ramses II was eagerly sought by archaeologists. But when Pi-Ramesse was finally found, it was in the wrong place--a place that did not even exist at the time of Ramses.

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Reposted from MarineChemist by palantir

The purpose of this diary is to introduce a brief, informal movie made while using a Geiger Counter in the laboratory today.  This diary is part of an ongoing effort to communicate what the scientific community is learning about the impact of the Fukushima disaster on environmental and public health.  A Geiger Counter was used to examine ionizing radiation counts per minute in the laboratory owing to background radioactivity, the concentrated natural and man made isotopes in 20 liters of seawater collected by InFORM citizen scientist volunteers, the uranium oxide glaze on a Fiestaware dinner platter and Uraninite ore mined from New Hampshire.  This simple demonstration supports more sensitive measurements indicating our citizen scientists are exposed to no more ionizing radiation than is typical of background when collecting seawater samples.

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