Monday, July 28, 2014

Urban Butterflies

I have mentioned before that Changi Airport in Singapore is a step above your average travel hub, to the point of seeming almost magical to the sleep-deprived, Jetlagged traveller.. But this is the first time I have been here in the daytime.  So I made sure to stop in to see the butterfly garden. A step above EWR. So here are some phone pictures:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Science isn’t always linear

 These days mostly I build scientific instrumentation- I don’t do a lot of science.  But last year I did get a small grant to look at some novel stuff.  I don’t want to go into it right now; but the process was interesting enough to share.  Figure one shows how we thought the project would progress; that is what we proposed to the funding body.
 Figure 1: We’ll do this- what could possibly go wrong?

Figure two is how it all actually went down. Obviously, there were a few complications, dead-ends, and in the end we discovered some cool stuff, which was actually not too far from where we were aiming to go.  The point is that science, especially natural science, does not always flow in a linear, predictable, orderly manner.  But if you’re lucky, it does eventually go somewhere.

Figure 2: This is how it actually went down.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Geological Society of America announces a new early career award

The Geological Society of America’s (GSA) Mineralogy, Geochemistry, Petrology, and Volcanology (MGPV) division has announced a new Early Career award.  Details are available here. Any GSA member can nominate a contender, using the process described in the announcement.  Any geoblogger who has bemoaned the unrepresentativeness of nominees for previous awards in various Earth Science organizations can use this opportunity to create a more representative pool of candidates.  As, indeed, can any other GSA members.

Nominations Deadline: midnight (EDT) 15 July 2014

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Don’t weaponize space

On the Planetary Society  website, the normally responsible and pro-science Planetary Society has posted an opinion piece by Louis Freedman and Tom Jones asking NASA to reconsider its refusal to fund the Asteroid Redirect Mission.  In short, this is a mission to kidnap a small asteroid from elsewhere in the inner solar system, and redirect it towards the earth, hopefully parking it in the most stable lunar orbit they can find (the Moon’s uneven gravity, and the tidal interactions between the Earth and Sun, tend to make most lunar orbits unstable).  Once there, the asteroid can do three things:
1. Fall into the Moon.
2. Fall into the Earth.
3. Be ejected into an Earth-crossing orbit around the sun.

One of the goals of this project is to give manned space missions a target that is easier to get to and from than either a wild inner solar system asteroid, or the Moon.  Because this will give them a stepping stone to Mars. 

The prospect of asteroid redirection technology being used to crash asteroids into the Earth doesn’t seem to faze Drs. Freedman and Jones; they don’t lay our any risk assessment or amelioration plans.    But an asteroid strike on Earth, especially a targeted asteroid strike, could be extremely damaging, as only nuclear weapons are capable of putting as much energy into the atmosphere in a comparable amount of time. And any asteroid-fetching spacecraft could be communicated with by a dish pretty much anywhere on Earth at some points during its flight. 

Amateurs often build radio receivers, point them at the sky, and listed to NASA spacecraft.  To date, nobody has managed to hack one, but there has been very little incentive to do so.  Putting a asteroid redirecting spacecraft into the inner solar system that is a computer hack away from becoming a weapon of mass destruction seems like a pretty rash thing to do, so I am surprised that the Planetary Society is advocating this.