I've had this picture (on the left) as my desktop for the last week or so. At first glance it doesn't look like much, black and white, moon rising. Nice, but not too attention grabbing.
It gains a little more significance however when you're told that this is an actual photo of Europa, rising over Jupiter, taken two months ago.
This photo was taken on February 28th by the New Horizons spacecraft, which just passed through Jupiter's system on it's way out to Pluto.
It blows me away that NASA doesn't get any decent headlines these days, that the media would rather play "Paris Hilton Goes to Jail" than follow the astounding things that we're doing in space. Let me recap this particular mission:
- NASA Engineers basically built a robotic, solar-powered telescopic camera, designed to operate in deep space. - They stuck it on an Atlas V rocket and blasted it into space in 2006. - They put it on a trajectory to slingshot around Jupiter on it's way out to Pluto, a journey of about three billion miles. - A year or so after launch, it just passed Jupiter (approximately 500 million miles away), travelling at 47,000 miles per hour. This slingshot maneuver sped up the craft, saving about three years travel time. - Said spacecraft took this picture of Europa rising over Jupiter, then broadcast it back towards the earth. - NASA picked the picture up from a satellite dish somewhere, and stuck it on their web server. - I downloaded it, and here I am talking about it. - We should expect more photos, of Pluto, in about eight years.
If you want to see more astounding photos from this mission, go here.
My other favorite is an animated photo of Jupiter's moon IO and the 180-mile-high volcanic plume from its volcano Tvashtar.
New Horizons is by no means the first. By way of a little history, NASA's first spacecraft to do this, Pioneer 10 was launched in 1972. It passed Jupiter in 1973, and then headed out of the solar system. The last signals were received from it in 2003, when it had travelled about 7.5 billion miles.
It's now about 8 billion miles away, travelling at 27,000 miles per hour. It should reach the Aldebaran solar system in about two million years.
Each one of these missions enables us to learn incredible things about our solar system, and raises more questions for future missions to investigate.
Was driving home listening to NPR and heard two stories back-to-back that grabbed my attention.
First, some guy jumped off the Aurora bridge in Seattle. If that wasn't bad enough, he hit some power lines on the way down, caused a nearby transformer to explode and knocked out power to a small chunk of Fremont.
Second, the residence hall at my former college was evacuated today when the custodian found a duct-tape-wrapped pipe bomb. Damn engineering students, always wanting to blow stuff up.
"..and we'll dodge debrit as we trim the tree underneath a mushroom cloud." - "Weird Al" Yankovic - It's Christmas at ground zero
"The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." - Condoleeza Rice - Sept. 8, 2002 CNN's Late Edition w' Wolf Blitzer
I remember watching Ms. Rice deliver the above quote. I don't believe I actually watched the show, but saw the video online sometime later. CNN still has the transcript available.
Four 1/2 years later, I don't know anyone still holding their breath that we're going to find Saddam's "WMDs" hidden somewhere in Iraq. However, we've never had any sort of accounting as to how the Bush Administration so badly (and maybe intentionally) mis-represented the intelligence claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger, which cumulated with Bush himself making this claim in his State of the Union address in January 2003. It appears now that the chickens are finally coming home to roost.
At the time of this speech in 2003, Rep. Henry Waxman, (Democrat-CA), was the Ranking Minority member on the House Government Reform Committee. Two days before we launched the war in the Iraq, he wrote a letter to President Bush asking why this claim was included in his speech, but never received any reply. Over the last four years he's written 16 letters to Condoleeza Rice asking about various white house policy decisions, and has only received answers to five.
But as of January Henry Waxman is now the Chairman (Ranking majority member) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform - with the power to subpoena people to testify before him. He appears to have lost patience, and wants answers now.
Today, Mr. Waxman sent a new letter , which I highly recommend reading, giving Ms. Rice until March 23rd to give a satisfactory answer to the questions he's been asking about the Niger evidence for the last four years.
He's also requesting answers to some other previous letters on various subjects, and giving Ms. Rice until April 20th for these.
It might not seem like a big deal, but it's great to see someone with some actual authority working to get information out of this administration and hold them accountable for botched intelligence and other goings-on of the last four years which the Republican congress completely gave them a pass on.
Other recent news of note: Halliburon announced it is moving it's headquarters to Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates). That's right - the company that basically runs the U.S. war with Iraq is moving to the middle east. Senator Frank Lautenberg wants to investigate whether this is because Halliburton doesn't want their subsidiaries to have to stop doing business with Iran.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Waxman again) is having a hearing on Friday (March 16th) during which Valerie Plame herself will testify about the disclosure of her identity and how it was handled by the White House.
Running across some odd (and oddly though-provoking) news stories today, figured I'd share:
First, in case you didn't know, last summer the Washington state Supreme Court upheld the "one man one woman" marriage law. In the Andersen ruling, Justice Barbara Madsen stated that the law had been enacted to "promote procreation and to encourage stable families.", and "The legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers the State's legitimate interests in procreation and the well-being of children."
So, the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance has decided to have some fun with the ruling, and has filed Initiative I-957 which would limit marriage "to men and women who are able to have children. Couples would be required to prove they can have children to get a marriage license. If they did not have children within three years, their marriages would be subject to annulment."
On it's own web site, the group calls it's own initiative absurd, noting that it is really just trying to foster discussion. It also says it plans to file two more initiatives: "The second would prohibit divorce or legal separation when there are children. The third would make the act of having a child together the legal equivalent of a marriage ceremony."
I love politics. :)
For our second story, Lisa Marie Nowak - a female NASA astronaut - is facing attempted murder charges after harrassing, and allegedly trying to kidnap a woman who was also seeing the male astronaut that she was having a relationship with. Now, I know that being a highly intelligent astronaut and aeronautical engineer doesn't spare you from also being human and prone to crazy relationships and jealousies, but here's where it gets weird. From the article:
"When Nowak found out Shipman was flying to Orlando from Houston, Nowak decided to confront her early Monday, according to the arrest affidavit. Nowak raced from Houston to Orlando wearing diapers in the car so she wouldn't have to stop to go to the bathroom, authorities said. Astronauts wear diapers during launch and re-entry."
"If you were just going to talk to someone, I don't know that you would need a wig, a trench coat, an air cartridge BB gun and pepper spray," said Orlando police Sgt. Barbara Jones. "It's just really a very sad case."
And our final article of the day - the Washington Post has an article about a community of people who believe the government is monitoring them and beaming voices into their heads. It's an interesting article in that it examines much of the evidence given by the self-described TIs (Targeted Individuals) - the military's new "Active Denial System" (using microwaves to create intense burning sensations in the target), the MIT study that found that wearing a tinfoil hat actually amplifies certain radio waves, the LifeLog project, and post-911 renewed interest by the U.S. government in mind-control programs such as MK-ULTRA. Read that whole wikipedia entry on MK-ULTRA and suddenly the TI community starts to sound a lot more sane.
Ultimately it boils down to the following question, which I will hopefully never have to answer: If you start hearing voices in your head that appear as real to you as everything else, is it easier to accept that you're mentally ill, or is it easier to accept that some nefarious agency (or entity, I suppose) is transmitting them into your skull?
If any of you are ever faced with this decision, let me know.
I love it when people "hack" the government. My favorite "hack" previously was when San Franciso began deputizing the managers of their medical marijuana distribution centers to make them immune from arrest under federal law. The law had originally been passed to prevent local copy from being prosecuted for breaking federal laws while enforcing local drug laws - which is exactly what it was used for, although this didn't exactly match the original intent.
Anyhow, I might have a new favorite. For anyone who didn't follow the Senate campaign in Connecticut, it went down like this:
Lieberman (previously a Democrat), lost the Democratic party primary in Connecticut to Ned Lamont. Rather than gracefully bowing out, Lieberman vowed to run as an "independent" candidate, created his own party (Connecticut for Lieberman), and ran for the Senate seat as a member of that party. (Getting large amounts of funding from Republican sources, I might add). He said he’d been forced to take that route in order to allow all of Connecticut’s voters the opportunity to vote for him. Lieberman actually won (I'll never understand that one) with 50% of the vote.
However, having registered the party to run as it's candidate, nobody bothered to follow up with it after the election. So "government hacker" (and Fairfield University Political Science Professor) John Orman decided to do it himself. He popped on down to the state office and registered himself as the sole member of the party, and subsequently elected himself chairman.
He has restricted membership to "critics of the senator and anyone named Lieberman". Since this party won in the last election, they automatically get to field a candidate when Lieberman's term expires in 2012. Ormans party chairmanship has now been officially recognized by the Secretary of State, pending any lawsuit over the matter.
Another party rule reads: “If any CFL candidate loses our party’s nomination in a primary, that candidate must bolt our party, form a new party and work to defeat our party-endorsed candidate.”
I love this guy. This will be interesting to keep an eye on...