Jul 282016

According to:

A radio pulsing white dwarf binary star

The star AR Scorpii (~116 parsecs distance), previously thought to be a single variable star, turns out to be two stars: a small (roughly 0.3 solar mass) regular M5-class star and a rapidly spinning white dwarf (roughly 0.8 solar mass). The white dwarf, unlike pretty much all the other known white dwarfs, is emitting beams of radiation; the alignment of such is that they strike the other star. And thus every 1.97 minutes the star convulses and brightens. Brights by as much as a factor of *four* inside of thirty seconds. The orbital period of the binary system is a brisk 3.56 hours. The two are close enough that the main sequence star would be distorted into an egg-shape.

 Posted by at 3:15 pm
Jul 282016

It’s fun to watch the Bernie Sanders fans tear into Hillary… but it’s *terrifying* to realize that a sizable fraction of the US electorate actually wants the guy and his policies. Policies that are, at their core, every bit as delusional as those that have brought Venezuela low.

Animals go hungry in Venezuela zoos due to shortages

Not just “going hungry,” but around 50 animals have simply starved to death. Zookeepers have taken to trying to feed mangos and pumpkins to the lions and tigers… obligate carnivores.

 Posted by at 12:08 pm
Jul 282016

Is China militarising space? Experts say new junk collector could be used as anti-satellite weapon


The Aolong-1, or Roaming Dragon, is equipped with a robotic arm to remove large debris such as old satellites.

Any system capable of cleaning up “space junk” is capable of being an anti-satellite system. Since this one has an arm it uses to grab its target, it is clearly designed to rendezvous with the target, putting into very close proximity and very low relative velocities. A dandy satellite inspector.

Using a satellite like this to deorbit junk is going about it the kinda hard way. A perhaps easier approach might be to put the ASAT into a polar or even retrograde orbit, and give it a great big water tank and a substantial maneuvering system. It would maneuver so that it would pass close in front of a target, then spray out a short jet of water vapor behind it. The cloud of vapor would be directly in the path of the target, which would be slowed via drag. This might also rip solar panels and antenna off the target if the cloud is dense enough. Afterwards, the clod will simply disperse; the meager atmosphere will cause the vapor itself to quickly deorbit, leaving nothing to menace other satellites.

Do it right and the ASAT would be really quite interesting. Instead of just dumping water overboard, pass the water through a heat exchanger and then a nozzle. The analogy would be a nuclear rocket, though that’s of course unrealistic for this application, but a solar-heated chunk of, say, iridium or tungsten might work just fine. In this case the ASAT might best be put into a conventional orbit to more easily rendezvous with targets; it would get in “front” of the target and blast the target with its steam rocket. This would slow the target while boosting the ASAT. The steam itself would be substantially slowed from circular orbit velocity and should quickly deorbit.

Being solar powered, it would only need to be occasionally refueled and refilled with water. Designed *really* well, it would be designed to use high pressure, high temperature steam jets for maneuvering , so that water was the *only* consumable. It could therefore presumably rendezvous with a tanker satellite or an orbiting water deport for refilling. Here’d be a market for space ice-mining. A fleet of perhaps a dozen of these steam-based ASATs wandering through the spacelanes blasting bits of junk from orbit and meeting up with a captured iceberg from time to time to get topped off. And one the opposite side of the ASAT from the steam rocket, a few basic arms to grab satellites and give them a little shove. The ASAT could thus also serve as tugs to provide boosts for paying customers whose satellites are in decaying orbits.

 Posted by at 11:54 am
Jul 272016

Just in from standing in my front yard. This is a pastime that might not make sense to city dwellers… but if you live out in the dark-sky sticks like me, you probably understand the appeal of observing the Milky Way and satellites and such. A particularly good night comes equipped with meteors, and tonight had a good ‘un. Starting at about the zenith heading east, bright orange and moving *relatively* slow. Thus maybe de-orbiting space junk. It crossed a *lot* of the sky, enough to give hope of seeing it smack into the mountains, but it did burn out well before then. But just before it burned out it broke up into several major bits.


And *last* night I saw, on roughly the same west-to-east course, several simultaneous meteors, coming in side by side, spread apart somewhat wider than  the full moon.

UPDATE: seems it was the Chinese putting on a fireworks display:

‘Space junk’ lights up Utah sky

 Posted by at 10:39 pm
Jul 272016

This one is more of a general ponderable than anything specific. The thing I’m wondering… if someone was to write a serious tale set in the present day (or the future) that involves, say, Cthulhu rising from the depths or Yog Sothoth wandering around downtown… is that a world in which Lovecraft exists?

Lemme explain.

In Howard Phillip Lovecrafts’ story “The Call of Cthulhu,” one day in the early 1920s a whole bunch of artsy types all around the world start going buggo. Some have bad dreams, some go downright “I do believe Bernie Sanders has wise economic notions” level insane. This is because there has been an earthquake in the south Pacific, with the result being that an island has *briefly* been brought to the surface, allowing for a short day-trip for a vast interstellar monstrosity that has been slumbering for eons, trapped beneath the waves. Cthulhu, as it turns out, is telepathic and can touch the noodles of some men, specifically the artsy “sensitive” types. The island slips back beneath the waves, Cthulhu goes back to napping and everything returns to normal, except for all the proto-Warhols who have been driven nuts.

It is a popular tale, and many people have written their own sequels to it (and to many other of Lovecraft’s stories). Now, I have no plans on writing my own Cthulhu tales. While some yarns I’ve done and some I plan may attempt to tap into his notions of cosmic horror, I’m not planning on incorporating any of his specific characters or concepts. But the thing I’ve wondered about is, if I did, should Lovecraft get a mention?

Let’s say the stars are right, there’s another earthquake and Cthulhu rises again, this time for good. He starts stomping around Australia, hipsters around the world start barking like dogs, Cthulhu worshiping cults pop up all over the place, civilization totters. Would the characters in the story go “hey, this is just like in that story ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ by Lovecraft,” or would it be better if this was an alternate reality where Lovecraft never was? Because if a giant winged squidfaced anthropoid space-thingie rose from the waves and started a ruckus, *my* first thought would be “Hey! I know that story!” Just like if a giant bipedal reptile rose from the Pacific and started stomping around Tokyo breathing radioactive death-beams from its mouth, I’m pretty sure a whole lot of folks are gonna say “Oh no, there goes Tokyo go go Godzilla.”

The idea applies across the board. If Dracula or Frankensteins monster show up, they’d be recognized as such. And people would thus wonder how Stoker and Shelley got their information without getting torn limb from limb.

 Posted by at 6:35 pm
Jul 272016

World’s Saddest Polar Bear Dies After 22 Years In Argentina’s Zoo

This poor critter lived a pretty hellish existence, and was driven insane by it. The video below shows that fairly clearly. And… you might not want to watch it. It’s not uplifting. This, by the way, is not some reverse psychology to *make* you watch it; it’s like, some years ago, when I told people “don’t Google image search ‘goatse’,” and they did anyway and got all pissy about it. When I say you might not want to watch the sad video of the majestic polar bear that has been driven mad by loneliness and a bad environment… you really might not wanna watch.

When I was a kid, I loved zoos. Since sometime in the mid 1990’s… I freakin’ hate ’em. You’d have to pay me to go. This came about after I visited the National Zoo in D.C. and saw some lonely male rhino that had lost it’s mind… all it did, all day every day, was pace out a path around it’s little dirt yard. It had ground a groove into the ground several inches deep and a couple feet wide. Just… nope. Done.

There are two exceptions to this. One is exemplified by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, which is several shades of awesome. But then, it’s full of fish, and fish ain’t mammals. Second, the type of zoo I’d build.

Instead of the animals being in small enclosures surrounded by walls and gawking goobers, the animals would be in *large* enclosures. The visitors would be *in* the enclosures, not *around* the enclosures. This would be done by having the visitors walking through tunnels criss-crossing the enclosure; the tunnels would be armored and camouflaged concrete and steel structures that would randomly dip underground, and when above ground would be equipped with big, thick, armored windows. The outside of the tunnels would be equipped with good microphones, the inside with good speakers, so visitors could hear the critters… but the critters wouldn’t hear the hairless apes and their screeching offspring. Bang on the window all you want, you’re not going to annoy the tiger or the bear or the T-Rex because it can’t hear you.

Really good zoo designers could have an entirely underground human infrastructure, with above-ground observation posts built into the trunks of fake trees. The trees could even have narrow elevators taking people a few stories up to overhead observation posts.

This would be kinda pricey, I’d imagine

 Posted by at 2:09 am
Jul 252016

The first trailer for the next season is out. Looks like they are continuing to add characters from later books. The role of Bobbie Draper (not introduced until “Calibans War,” the second book in the series) is being played by Frankie Adams, a New Zealander of Samoan heritage… which fits the book description. Adams is tall-ish at about 1.8 meters, but Draper was supposed to be more than 2 meters. Remains to be seen if they just gloss over that or scale her up via visual effects magic.

Of course it doesn’t return until 2017, so don’t get too excited just yet…

 Posted by at 9:02 pm
Jul 252016

So a few days ago a German-Iranian goes buggo and shoots a bunch of people in Munich. An Afghan refugee stabs people on a train in Wurzburg. Yesterday, a Syrian refugee in Reutlingen, Germany, chopped a pregnant Polish woman to death at a bus stop with a machete. Today, a Syrian asylum seeker tried to suicide bomb a music festival in Ansbach, Germany; he didn’t have a ticket so he set off his bomb, filled with nails and screws, outside, killing himself and injuring a dozen.

The suicide bomber had actually been denied asylum in Germany more than a year ago but Germany failed to deport him because reasons. Good job.

I have this feeling that carrying out acts of terrorism left and right against Germans might not result in universal happitimes. The Germans, as memory serves, have kind of a mean streak.

 Posted by at 1:06 am