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the human race has one really effective weapon


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Today’s Reads 003

More collected articles, posted here for sharing and easy reference.

  • The ALEC Problem Is Even Worse Than John Oliver Thinks (Media Matters)
    In August, ALEC launched an initiative to take its model legislation beyond statehouses and into city councils and county commissions. This new spinoff, the American City County Exchange, “will push policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group’s state strategies.” The corporate influence of the initiative is poignantly illustrated by the group’s membership fee disparity: Local council members and county commissioners are required to pay a nominal $100 for a two-year membership. Meanwhile, prospective private industry members must choose between a $10,000 and $25,000 membership fee.
  • The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare (Rolling Stone)
    But the idea that Holder had cracked down on Chase was a carefully contrived fiction, one that has survived to this day. For starters, $4 billion of the settlement was largely an accounting falsehood, a chunk of bogus “consumer relief” added to make the payoff look bigger. What the public never grasped about these consumer–relief deals is that the “relief” is often not paid by the bank, which mostly just services the loans, but by the bank’s other victims, i.e., the investors in their bad mortgage securities.
  • Triumph of the Wrong (New York Times, Paul Krugman)
    In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.
  • Obstruction And How The Press Helped Punch The GOP’s Midterm Ticket (Media Matters)
    Why would the president, who’s had virtually his entire agenda categorically obstructed, be blamed and not the politicians who purposefully plot the gridlock? Because the press has given Republicans a pass. For more than five years, too many Beltway pundits and reporters have treated the spectacular stalemate as if it were everyday politics; just more “partisan combat.” It’s not. It’s extraordinary. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
  • Are you reflected in the new Congress? (The Guardian)
    Despite the record number of women and the first black senator elected in the south since Reconstruction, the new US Congress will still be largely male and largely white. A person’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or age doesn’t necessarily mean they represent the views of a whole demographic, but lack of diversity could result in certain concerns not being heard – or not heard loudly enough. Click the categories below to find yourself in the new Congress. This graphic will be updated as more seats are called.
  • Michael Pisaro blurs edges of performance, perception (Boston Globe)
    “The idea of affect and of emotion, I really think that’s why we write music, or one of the main reasons why we write music, and I’m always conscious of that,” Pisaro said. He paraphrased a former teacher, Ben Johnston: “You have to be clear about what you want to hear, but that doesn’t automatically mean that everybody else will want to hear it.
  • The Best Baby Picture Ever of a Planetary System (WIRED)
    Astronomers have taken the best picture yet of a planetary system being born. The image, taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the high-altitude desert in Chile, reveals a planet-forming disk of gas around a young, sun-like star, in great detail.
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Voyager 1 Is an Interstellar Craft

the_sun_flareHard to over-emphasize just how historic this is: it has been confirmed that Voyager 1 has pierced the heliosphere and entered into interstellar space. Back in June I posted about a “mysterious region” at the edge of our solar system, which had scientists a little confused about Voyager’s location. Evidently, that confusion has been cleared away.

From the University of Iowa’s IowaNow website:

“On April 9, the Voyager 1 Plasma Wave instrument, built at the UI in the mid-1970s, began detecting locally generated waves, called electron plasma oscillations, at a frequency that corresponds to an electron density about 40 times greater than the density inside the heliosphere—the region of the sun’s influence,” says Gurnett. “The increased electron density is very close to the value scientists expected to find in the interstellar medium.

“This is the first solid evidence that Voyager 1 has crossed the heliopause, the boundary between the heliosphere, and interstellar space,” says Gurnett, principal investigator for the plasma wave instrument.

At age 36, Voyager 1 is the most distant human-made object at more than 11.6 billion miles from the sun, or about 125 astronomical units.

“At that distance it takes more than 17 hours for a radio signal to travel from the spacecraft to one of NASA’s Deep Space Network antennas. The signal strength is so incredibly weak that it takes both a 230-foot and a 110-foot-diameter antenna to receive our highest resolution data,” Gurnett says.

That makes Voyager 1 the first human-made spacecraft to enter interstellar space. Though we can’t see or feel what that’s like, an instrument on the probe captured the sound of vibrating plasma there, and sent it back to Earth. You can listen to that here (or at the bottom of this post).

National Geographic explains how scientists know Voyager 1 crossed over in a little more detail:

Knowing exactly where the solar wind ends and where interstellar space begins has been an open question among space scientists for more than four decades, says Stone.

Since an instrument for directly detecting that transition died in 1980, the researchers have had to rely on indirect measures of magnetic and electrical activity from other instruments aboard Voyager 1 to find an answer.

One key to identifying this boundary is the difference in the density of charged particles between the solar wind and interstellar space, as it is about 50 times greater in the latter region.

Looking at a pair of solar storms that caught up to the spacecraft last October and then again last April, Gurnett’s team reported that measured changes in electrical activity around Voyager correspond to interstellar space.

As the storms passed the spacecraft, they triggered spikes in electrical and radio waves that uniquely corresponded in frequency to the spacecraft having entered the more densely charged interstellar space.

Based on that increase, the team extrapolated the entry date for Voyager 1 into interstellar space as August 25, 2012.

Voyager still has some life left in it too. The probe is not expected to completely lose power until 2025, though instruments on board will likely fail before that time. Remember, Voyager 1 was designed in the early ’70s and was launched on September 5th, 1977. As Suzanne Dodd—the Voyager project manager—points out, your average smartphone has approximately 250,000 times more memory than Voyager 1 does, which makes its continuing operation seem all that more miraculous. Also makes me wonder what we’re doing with all that extra memory in our pockets.

from 2001


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The Hubble Extreme Deep Field

By Ethan Siegel, over at Scienceblogs: The Deepest View of the Universe. EVER. – Starts With A Bang. Thinking about it for just a few seconds will make you dizzy:

If you assume that the XDF is a typical region of outer space, you can calculate how many XDFs it would take to fill the entire night sky; it’s about 32 million. Multiply by the number of galaxies you find in the XDF, and that’s how you arrive at about 200 billion galaxies in the Universe.

We’re taking a region of space that has very few nearby galaxies, or galaxies whose light takes less than a few billion years to reach us. We’ve selected a deliberately low-density portion of the nearby Universe. The XDF has found many more galaxies whose light has traveled between 5 and 9 billion years to reach us, which are relatively dim galaxies that the HUDF simply couldn’t pick up. But where it really shines is in the early Universe, at finding galaxies whose light has been on its was for more than 9 billion years, finding the majority of new galaxies there.

But even the XDF is not optimized for finding these galaxies; we’d need an infrared space telescope for that, which is what James Webb is going to be. When that comes around, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are maybe even close to a trillion galaxies in the Universe; we just don’t have the tools to find them all yet.

You can find multiple resolutions for the XDF image, along with more technical information and a brief explanation of what you can see in the image, by visiting Hubblesite.

Hubble XDF image

Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team