Sunday, 26 July 2015

Entertainment stuff from the fortnight 13-26/7/15 (Pluto Special)

Hello everyhen,

Sorry for the omission, last week. Stags are unruly animals that shall be tamed ;-)

This week's issue is going to be a Pluto special. So don't leave out the hyperlinks, below, or you'll be missing out on a lot!

If you watch this 2-hour video, you can see the data come in, and New Horizons' actions, in real time. You will also, of course, see the excitable scientists' reactions :o)

'Breakfast At Pluto'

Highlight: Neil deGrasse Tyson estimating the precision of sending New Horizons to Pluto, to be comparable to hitting a golf ball 2 miles, and landing it in the hole. NASA must have a very strong hitting arm!

Mission Details

85 years ago, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto

26 years ago, the Pluto Underground first met, in a Baltimore cafe, to get a project to Pluto underway

15 years ago, it actually got official support from NASA

9 years ago, the New Horizons mission finally left for the Outer Solar System

And this year, the New Horizons craft zipped past Pluto at 14 km/s. Which, by the way, is less than half the speed that Earth orbits the sun – 30 km/s. Does that give you any idea of the vast distances involved?

So here are the New Horizons mission targets:


Map global geology and morphology of Pluto and Charon

Map surface chemical composition of Pluto and Charon

Measure the neutral atmosphere of Pluto


Measure Pluto's interaction with the solar wind

Measure surface and atmosphere changes over time

Map the surface temperatures of Pluto and Charon

Plutonian Features

For decades, ever since Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, it seems like the presiding image of it, in human minds, has been as a pale blue dot.

'New Horizons - Clyde Tombaugh: Discover of Pluto [HD]'

But, unlike with Earth's image from Saturn, this idea is wrong for Pluto. The idea that Pluto is blue, is very popular - almost as popular as its true colour is with astronomers - brown.

The blue idea comes from artists' false-colour representations (often using other objects as stand-ins) that assumed that Pluto would be cold (reasonable) and therefore icy (the Film&TV assumption) and therefore blue.

New images of Pluto, sent back by New Horizons, clearly reveal Pluto to be brown, with lighter and darker patches. Exactly as portrayed, in 2001, by Astronomy Picture of The Day. So remember this: Pluto was never observed to be blue - that was a pop presentation!

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
 the highest resolution version available.

By numerological coincidence, this July is the 50th anniversary of close-up images of other 'worlds'. Mariner 4 first took a close-up of Mars 50 years ago.

'Pluto in a Minute: 50 Years of Imaging [HD]'

‘Views of Pluto Through the Years’

Geological/topological analysis has already identified water-ice mountains, cliffs on the north side of 'The Heart' (the Tombaugh Region, as it's officially known), a few impact craters (it's more interesting that there are only a few), and other geological surface features, including possibly-tholin-induced darkening, that simply couldn't have been seen without actually sending a physical thing out to look at it all.

To produce similar resolution images from Earth's distance, would require a telescope tens of thousands of kilometres across. That could be done, using an array like ALMA, in which lots of smaller scopes mysteriously, quantumly, produce the same result as one huge one. The trouble is, Earth isn't big enough for a single scope or an array, so it would have to be put in distant orbit, or even Lagrange Points, which means a lot of effort. An effort probably greater than putting a singular object close up, where it can do physical as well as optical analysis.

Aside: a failure to understand the concept of angular size is partly to blame for the perpetuation of moronic conspiracy ‘theories’ (is there any other kind?) such as the one that Pluto doesn’t really exist, because Jupiter can be seen better from Earth, and Hubble can see galaxies that are much further away. Ergo, the data’s faked. The simple fact of perspective (is it smaller, or is it further away?) means Pluto has a much smaller angular size than either Jupiter, or a galaxy that can be seen by Hubble. Hóper édei deîksai. Here’s what Pluto looks like to Rosetta, 5 billion kilometres away from Pluto.

Most of the surface of Pluto is made of solid nitrogen, solid methane, and possibly solid carbon monoxide too. It's thought that the reddish colour to much of the surface is produced by tholin - a class of chemicals formed through processes in the atmospheres of bodies of the Solar System - because the ingredients are there to produce tholin, and tholin is the right colour. It could, however, be some other process that's produced the reddish-brown colour, but tholin is the most likely culprit.

The ice mountains can only exist because temperatures are so low out there, at Pluto's distance from the Sun, that ice forms in literally-rock-hard structures. What's surprising about them, is that they came to exist as mountains. Usually, it's tectonic/volcanic activity that produces undulations in geological surfaces, so where's the energy to make Pluto's ice mountains come from? That's a mystery. Data received in the next 16 months might explain.

Closer details of Pluto’s surface have already identified two mountain ranges, south-west of ‘The Heart’, in a feature informally known as the Sputnik Planum. The morphology there is thought to be only 100 million years old, compared to the billion years old blackness ('The Whale') to the west. Its identified mountain ranges measure to 1.6 kilometres tall, for the Hillary Mountains - about the same as the Appalachian Mountains, on Earth, and 4 kilometres tall, for the Norgay Mountains – about the same as the Rocky Mountains are, on Earth.

Comparably baffling in origin, are the polygonal surface structures of the plains. Such structures are formed by heating from above, or from below. Heat from above causes the surface material to condense and crack, and heat from below produces convection currents that cause material to bunch up and spread out in vaguely-hexagonal patterns. Both of these effects can be seen on Earth. But where does the energy come from? Maybe the decay of unstable nuclides, within the material itself, provides the energy. But again, this is unknown.

'Charon, the largest moon of Pluto'

Charon, too, has shown staggering morphology. Like Pluto, something is cleaning its surface of craters, but it also has a huge gash in its surface - a structure deeper than the Grand Canyon, and easily visible against Charon's disc. On top of that, there’s a strange-looking depressed mountain. It might be that the tidal forces Charon and Pluto exert on each other, come to contribute to the formations seen on their surfaces.

Relative to Pluto, Charon is ten times bigger than the Moon is to Earth. This means the barycentre between Charon and Pluto is much closer to the mid-way position between them, than the barycentre between Earth and the Moon is.

Because Earth is much more massive, it makes sense to say that the Moon orbits Earth, the way Earth orbits the Sun, but it isn't technically true. So, like reclassifying Pluto as a dwarf-planet is really just a matter of terminology, Pluto and Charon might get reclassified as a binary dwarf-planet system, which means an upgrade in classification for Charon!

Aside: If you’ve been reading ‘Charon’ with a hard ‘ch’ as in ‘Karen’ then you’re wrong! The name was suggested by astronomer Robert Christy, as a reference to the mythological boatman, who escorted the dead across the River Styx. All Plutonian names have to reference this theme, you see. But his suggestion of ‘Charon’ was also a reference to his wife – Charlene – and so should be pronounced as in ‘Sharon’ to keep with his joke ;-) }

Ralph (the Visible Imager and Imaging Spectrometer) has sent back colour images of Pluto too, but it's been LORRI (the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) that's really caught people’s minds, with the pictures it's sent back.

'Pluto in a Minute: How LORRI Takes Such Phenomenal Pictures [HD]'

Pluto’s Minors

'Nix and Hydra, smaller moons of Pluto'

New Horizons could also reveal many more (smaller) moons of Pluto, and identify yet more Kuiper Belt objects, purely due to being much closer to them. After surveying Pluto and Charon, and the other moons of Pluto, New Horizons will carry on, out into the Kuiper Belt, and maybe see some of these KB objects just as close up as Pluto. But that's a chance opportunity, and a long way off.

Pluto’s moon Hydra

Incidentally, Hydra and Nix were discovered in the same year that New Horizons was launched toward Pluto. Hydra has been observed to be more like Charon, in having a blanched appearance (as opposed to Pluto’s reddish appearance) and it is not massive enough to pull its shape into a spheroid. New Horizons’ data might yet reveal more about Hydra, Nix, Kerberos and Styx, as it’s sent back.

The reason the New Horizons mission is a fly-by and not an orbiting/probing mission, like with Rosetta and Philae, studying 67P/Churumov-Gerasimenko, is because it takes fuel to slow a spacecraft down, as well as speed it up (basic physics) because Pluto is a lot further away, and because space exploration is a risky business. The standard progression of explorations is: fly-by, orbiter, lander, return of samples. So maybe, one day, physical terrain samples will be returned from Pluto!

'Earth, Pluto and Charon to scale'

Because Pluto is a dwarf planet, out beyond Neptune, it's suspected that studying Pluto and Charon will also reveal more about the origin of the Solar System itself. The proto-planetary disc formed into something, which we know involves the Sun, the planets, the Asteroid Belt, and whatever it is that the Kuiper Belt is made of. But it was thought that the eight/nine planets represented the limits of condensation. Beyond them, lies a mystery – have large objects condensed out of the matter, out there, or not?

That is the reason why Pluto was demoted from being a planet, nine years ago. {Did everything happen nine years ago?!} It was assumed to be a planet, as part of an assumption that dwarf-planets would not be commonplace, out in the Kuiper Belt range. Discovering Eris (not to be confused with Ceres) ruined all that. So seeing the sights beyond Pluto will tell us more about the cosmology that produced the Solar System we are in. There might be a whole new range of dwarf planets, out there, requiring physical explanations for their existence.

If Pluto is Kuiper-like, then it will tell us about the distribution of isotopes in the outer Solar System, and the origin of the ingredients, in their abundances. For example, isotopic analysis of comet 67p/Churyomov-Gerasimenko has already revealed that its water, and therefore comets' in general, is not a major contributor to Earth's surface water, because it has a different composition. By comparing water and minerals in Pluto, to inner-Solar System objects, origins can be worked out, by exclusion. The same can be done with the proportions of chemicals that are present - the nitrogen, methane, etc.

Earth's surface water, by the way, mostly comes from carbonaceous chondrites - a kind of meteorite.

'How Plutonium got us to Pluto'


The asteroids that become those meteorites, by the way, often fly through the Solar System, and toward the Sun, pulled in by its gravitational field. Many of them fall onto planets, before they get there, and one of those planets can be Earth.

Most of them are small, but some of them are not. Big asteroids in the Asteroid Belt (between Mars and Jupiter's radiuses) are much closer, and so are much more likely to be seen. If a dark asteroid were racing in from the Kuiper Belt, maybe accelerated by Neptune's gravitational field, it would leave less time for spotting.

If you were going to insist that every scientific exploration had to have a utility beyond scientility - the wonder of realising a true thing - then asteroid-spotting would probably be the big argument. Conversations about the worthwhileness of asteroid-spotting are often overpowered by pessimism (“We’re all going to die!”) and optimism (“We’re all going to die, knowingly”). This is because ability to estimate the abundance of larger asteroids is severely limited by abundance of data. Small asteroid fragments arrive commonly, and so it’s easy to formulate a judgement of their likelihood, in the future. But larger asteroids are much less common, and so judgements of likelihood are more variable. IMHO, better asteroid-spotting is definitely worth it. It would be a shame for the universe’s most fascinating phenomenon (egocentric hubris?) to be snuffed out by something avoidable, due to probability.

Understanding Pluto might help us understand asteroids better. And keep us safe.

'Pluto the Boring Non-Planet - Sixty Symbols'

Regardless, New Horizons is wonderful for its own sake, and is relatively very cheap.

Olympic events cost billions in US Dollars or equivalents, and achieve less than nothing. Run, jump, swim... seen it! Turf thousands of people out of their homes and overturn laws that protect citizens, for the sake of corporate sponsors... that's a cost - a negative achievement. Pluto, however, has not been properly seen before, and doing so does not cost society anything in civility. In fact, as demonstrated by the recent 40th anniversary handshake on the ISS, space science seems better than any sporting event, for bringing the bitterly-divided together.

Aside: in my opinion, if anything, the Olympics are used to drive people further apart. Instead of parading as, and being reported as, individuals demonstrating personal excellence, the athletes are paraded and presented as representatives of nations, in a kind of sporting quasi-war! That can hardly ease relations. If i ruled the world, nationalism would be banished from such events. Sportspeople are not tools for diplomacy.

The New Horizons mission has cost half as much as Rosetta did, and both together are dwarfed by the amount of public money spent on each Olympic Games. And according to, the tobacco markets are worth more than $600 billion per year; and that’s just what’s measurable. Tobacco provides no value to humanity whatsoever – it’s not comparable to amphetamines, or chewing gum, which have values of their own. It’s all cost. But apparently, according to some, wasting $600 billion per year is OK, because it’s free enterprise, whereas $1.5 billion over a decade is a heinous squandering of public money, because it’s actually got something to commend it – being fantastic! [facepalms]

Heck, air pollution costs France alone €100 billion per year, in sick leave, and medical costs, relating to conditions from asthma, to cancers. That's €1.5 trillion per year, continent-wide. But that's OK, because it's business as normal. Right? Is it? Really?

Science is fantastic, and it's also relatively affordable. Even when just considering its entertainment value.

Let's not let people's inability to see the bigger picture hold back humanity's greatest achievements. I mean, would you rather have "went to Mars" on your CV, by next year, or "spent all my money on tobacco, sickies, and reissues of 'How To: Racewalking' DVDs"?

Next stop: Pluto orbiter, please :-D


'Pluto in a Minute: Dr. Brian May Shows Us How To Really See Pluto [HD]'

'Flying over Pluto’s icy plains and Hillary Mountains'


For more information, available as i write, and as the data is processed and released, here's a link to the NASA site. That data will seep through to us, over the next 16 months, so don't stay awake, waiting for it :-P

'New Horizons @ NASA'

ISIHAC is back! :-D

'Series 63 - Episode 1'

And The Brittas Empire to follow?

'The Brittas Empire looks set to return to TV'

I'm not sure i believe it, LOL

You can see some low-res uploads of whole episodes, here, or here.

This has been officially confirmed though. Filming of Series 11 of Red Dwarf commences in October, this year, to be broadcast in 2016. Yay :-D


Rimmer or Brittas? Rimmer or Brittas?? Hmmm.... :-D

In other news:

CNN 'came out' this week fortnight, and revealed to its parents that it's [sighs]... pro-censorship. While at a Queer Obnoxiousness Parade, CNN correspondent Lucy Pawle thought she saw an ISIS flag. So, like a good journalist, she made sure to check that what she'd seen was correct, before reporting the observation to Twitter and her superiors, because fact-checking is really important <s>. No, she didn't. But CNN did scrub all evidence it could, of the shamefully low standard of reporting she and it had perpetrated. The 'writing' on the flag was not in fact ISIS' megalomaniacal 'god is good' bullshit, but actually... a bunch of anti-silhouettes of dildos, arranged to look a bit like Arabic writing! So Lucy Pawle (remember the name) is ignorant of arabic script, ignorant of journalistic principle, and ignorant of sexual aids. I'm not sure which she should be most embarrassed about, as an adult woman journalist. Care for a poll? :-P
A representative said they'd never seen one as big, before. No, it's not that - get your minds out of the gutter! It's... a foot-long shrimp? Well, it's not a lobster.

Researchers have developed a beam that bends faster under lighter pressure. They've produced this 'impossible' characteristic by filling it with holes, at just the right size and spacing. To bend, each mini-beam has to compress on one side, and stretch on the other. Because the material compresses more easily than it stretches, the bending pressure is brought down by the scale of the beam/hole pattern. This means the specific properties of the beam can be changed by using different patterns of holes. To see pictures, follow the link. And also, to see a video explanation.

Did you know that it's always the dominant rooster that crows at the break of dawn? That's because the dominant rooster always crows first. Chickens, it turns out, have a strict hierarchical social structure, to avoid fights, although the initiation of the hierarchy does start with a fight. Circadian rhythm tells all of the chickens when dawn's about to come, but subordinate roosters wait for their superiors, before crowing themselves.

According to the climate-change obstructionist sentiments of the journalism-illiterate press, 'scientists' have predicted a "mini ice age" in 15 years time. Such a phenomenon would involve a sharp reverse of the observed trend of increasing temperatures, as an ice age is not just slightly cooler - it means 'cold', which is very different. This is not expected to happen. In fact, with the coming solar maximum, and El Nino, temperatures are expected to continue to increase apace, for a few years to come. As i said here, seven weeks ago, temperatures set new global highs every decade, and obstructionists always pretend that the next decade is going to be different. It won't. Unless, that is, there's a huge volcanic disaster that throws huge amounts of dust up into the atmosphere, blocking out the Sun's light. But we really don't want that to happen because as i mentioned in passing, three weeks ago, that could accelerate extinctions, rather than mitigate them. Incidentally, it wasn't the journos completely making it up, this time. Here's a quote of the person who made the claim: "There is no strong evidence that global warming is caused by human activity..." Oh dear. Note that she's not a Climatologist. She actually studies Nuclear Physics - neither the Sun, nor the Earth - so she can't know, by her own research, how the Sun affects the Earth, which would require both fields of knowledge. Well, it would require at least one! Her opinion is as valueful as anyone else, who doesn't know anything about Climatology or Astrophysics, LOL.

I'm astonished by these wonderful pictures of Mars, sent back by Curiosity. They're not of panoramas, though - they're of close-ups of silica rock strata. Imma total nerrrd, LOL. But they're such good quality that (presumably with their Earth-light-filter on) they look almost as if they were taken at home, here on Earth. The Curiosity team decided to target it, due to its high silicon and hydrogen content, which can indicate good conditions for preserving ancient organic material. Little-green-androgyne fossils regardless, that's some lovely sandstone :-D

Would you like some methane with your rice? No? You might, if it were from Pluto, but it's not. Every year, rice paddies metabolise and excrete 25-100 million tonnes of methane, but these researchers have noted that the more grain a rice variety produces, the less methane it's responsible for. So it looks like increasing the biomass-developing efficiency of the rice plants is inversely proportional to their pollution rate. It's not the plants themselves that metabolise the methane however - it's the paddy around them - the microorganisms in the ground chew up their roots, and dead plants, to make methane. By cultivating rice plants that have longer, starchier rice grains, they keep the biomass away from the methano-metabolising ground, and so reduce emissions. Genetically engineering such a variety has already demonstrated a substantial effect, akin to Golden Rice's ability to nutrify people who eat it, without requiring extra effort on their part. The requirement of human effort is usually the downfall of schemes unlike these, because people simply don't have the energy to give, or the motive to give it. Subtlely changing the plants themselves, however, makes the whole engine of agriculture run more smoothly, productively, and environmentally sustainably. It's like swapping someone's bicycle for a motorbike, instead of pleading with them to peddle harder. Genetic engineering FTW.

How many pixels can your camera process? RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, now has a microscope camera that can do 17 billion pixels in an image, by using thousands of microlenses, each about the width of a human hair, and a dispersive prism, to capture thousands of images and spectra simultaneously, and then stitch them together into one large mosaic. To see a demo image, follow the link and click on "GigaPan".

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'PLUTO MARS - Outbound Probe (A Capella Science)'

'Scientific consensus and arguments from authority' - potholer54

'World of Batshit - #4: Fake Planets'

'Pentaquark - Sixty Symbols'

'Infinite Minute#12: What is Gravitational Lensing?'

'Regular consumption of sugary drinks associated with type 2 diabetes'
Very interesting. Diabetes exists where pancreatic insulin-response to blood sugar has worn away, so presumably it's only the simplest sugars that have a practical impact, in doing so.

'A New Way to Evaluate Chemical Safety - TOX21'

'How To Develop Your Own Pinhole Camera Photographs'


'Science and Technology of the Battle of Britain'

'Science Bulletins: Skull X-Rays Reconstruct Extinct Carnivores’ Bite'

'Think Differently: Apples - A Week in Science'

'Shimmery sea sapphires disappear in a flash'

'CSIRAC - Australia's First Computer'

'Should we mine the moon? - A Week in Science'

'Elliptical Pool Table - Numberphile'

'Snack Break : Pump Water | The Checkout'

'Source of Confusion : Germs | The Checkout'

'"DROUGHT" Tales Of Mere Existence'

'Tim's Three Card Box Illusion'

'Nerd³'s The Square Enix Job - Day 3'

'Goodwill to Few Men'

'Pump Action (censored)'

And that's my parting shot, to you, LOL. I decided not to add the other sections, this week, as there's already quite enough going on, in this issue. Plus, i've saved some stuff for next week. So seeya :o)

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