Saturday, April 26, 2014

Please don't take it out on the ISS crews

        This blog urges Presidents Obama and Putin to exercise restraint as the crisis in Ukraine escalates. As the US turns the sanction screws on Russia, it's going to get very tempting for the Russians to retaliate by restricting NASA access to the ISS.

        Worse than that, two NASA astronauts are currently in orbit as part of Expedition 39. Richard Mastracchio is due to re-enter next month, so he's probably ok. But Steven Swanson only launched in March, will transfer to Expedition 40 and is seriously in danger of getting no ride home if the US and Russia really decide to have a pissing match.

        I personally think Ukraine will probably split into two nations, but SFW? Cool it, you guys!

NOTE: Other members of Expedition 39 are Japanese Commander Koichi Wakata and Russian engineers Mikhail Tyurin, Aleksandr Skvortsov, and Oleg Artemyev.

        Other people are now noticing this potential problem. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, made a very wry joke in a Russian-language tweet yesterday:

"After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.” 

More detail on that

        On Coast-to-Coast AM last night, Bob Zimmerman also warned that Swanson could get stranded, but he said it's literally impossible for the Russians to operate ISS without NASA (I didn't know that). He even hinted at the dire outcome that ISS would have to be abandoned.

        My next question is "If Commander Wakata is ordered to prevent Swanson from boarding a Soyuz spacecraft for de-orbiting, would he obey?"

Update 14 May
According to this article in the Daily Telegraph, Russia will refuse to carry US astronauts to ISS after 2020.

Here's the full transcript  of yesterday's announcement. It supports the Telegraph's story to the extent that it's clear the Russians will consider ISS a dead duck at the end of 2020. It's not just that they'll refuse to carry Americans -- they won't be launching Russians, either.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I have a dream today

"A stunning validation..."






"This changes everything..."

        My dream today is that I did not hear all that ridiculous hyperbole on Coast to Coast AM last night, as Richard Hoagland returned after a six-month absence to present his latest cock-and-bull story, a manipulated lunar image from the Chinese soft-lander Chang'e 3 that Hoagland claims shows glass skyscrapers on the Moon.

image credit: CNSA, stretched by Hoagland

        My dream is that I imagined all that, and what really happened was this:

Noory: "Welcome back to Coast-to-Coast, Richard, it's been a while."

RCH: "Nice to be back. Look at this amazing, stunning, history-making image from Chang'e 3. Glass skyscrapers on the Moon, just as I've been saying for 20 years."

Noory: "That's just noise in the camera, Richard. Anything else?"

        That would have taken less than a minute -- about all the silly image was worth. I'm afraid, though, the reality is that Hoagland stretched this to a full hour. He did it first by saying the same thing six times, with increasing hyperbole, and then by developing a whole fantasy of geopolitical intrigue. He even managed to make a connection to the fact that President Obama gave a gift of carrot seedsnote 1 to the Pope.

S - T - R - E - T - C - H
        What the incompetent pseudoscientist did to arrive at this travesty was to grab the image from the Chinese National Space Agency site, load it into Photoshop, and apply the Equalize tool. "Equalize" might have been better described as "Stretch," because that's what it does to the image's dynamic range.

        If there are no black pixels in the image, it finds the darkest pixel and says "let that be black."  If there are no white pixels in the image, it finds the lightest pixel and says "let that be white."In this case, there was plenty of black around, but no peak white, so the pseudoscientist's manipulation had the effect of driving every part of the image toward white. He called it "just like turning up the gain," but that's not what it is. It's not revealing anything except random noise.

         Such is the extent of Hoagland's incompetence that he didn't even think to perform the most obvious cross-check that any honest investigator would have done immediately -- if there's anything there, it would show on the 0.5 m/px high-definition images from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. I don't care how "flimsy" he claims this structure to be, something would be visible if it's real. Even if the structure itself is transparent, we'd see the robots that he claims are standing around waiting to repair holes.

        Here's a permalink to the landing area. Have a look around. See anything? No, of course not.

Crimes and misdemeanors on the www
        Hoagland accompanied this performance with a web page -- the first contribution to his ghastly web site for a year or more. He says it took him four months to write it, but it's also a demonstration of his incompetence. The page is WAY too big, with far too many large inline images -- it should have been broken up into at least six pieces, and the images reduced in size.It only renders correctly in MSIE -- in more advanced browsers, such as Firefox, the background tiling runs out 60% of the way through and the last 40% is rendered in white text on a white background. The W3C markup validation service reports 136 markup errors and 23 warnings. The text includes crazy, crazy stuff like opals falling out of the glass domes and lying around on the ground. He asserts that Emily Lakdawalla is "a member of the NASA community", which is untrue-- she's a senior editor at the Planetary Society.

        Hoagland's fans will no doubt have loved all this. Personally, I hated it. Gross errors in bringing space science to the public is what I'm here to fight.

        I grabbed a different moonscape from the CNSA site and equalized it (Paint Shop Pro rather than Photoshop, but it's the same algorithm). This is my result:

image credit: CNSA, stretched by me

VoilĂ ! Exactly the same noise pattern.


[1] The Chinese lunar rover is nicknamed Jade Rabbit. "And what do rabbits eat?" asked Hoagland conspiratorially. Noory didn't even laugh. In the second hour, he came up with the notion that the latitude of the Chang'e landing site, 44°N, was a coded message "To the 44th President, give us what we want or else." It's a good thing Hoagland isn't a politician -- his insane ideas about geopolitics would get us all in  trouble very quickly.

Monday, April 14, 2014

IMDB commenter slams Mike Bara and his fellow alien uncoverers

        I really wasn't going to comment on Mike Bara's TV show Uncovering Aliens any more. Yes, OK, it's a piece of shit that hasn't yet uncovered one single alien, but as long as Mike is busy doing this rubbish he isn't publishing astronomy rubbish, so it's a win for science.

        But I came across this IMDB comment from "jake_in_sd" and just had to share.

"This is the worst thing I've ever seen on such a serious topic. Where did you get the lunatics who are on the show? These guys believe ANYTHING. Im definately NOT a skeptic. I BELIEVE UFO's are real, but these guys are an embarrassment. They and other social misfits like them are exactly the reason this topic has little to no mainstream credibility. The guy masquerading as X CIA may well have worked for the agency, but likely only as a janitor they had to let go for being too mentally unstable to push a broom! And the lunatic Brit who thinks that "..millions of people a year are being abducted..." seems to have sucked too long on the tailpipe of his Morris Mini. Talk about the worst possible spokespeople for this topic, these guys make 'Bobo' off Searching For Bigfoot look like a Rhodes Scholar. This phenomenon is REAL, but until you yank these guys off the air and either leave the topic alone, or install credible people who dont see little green men behind every tree, all you are doing is disserving a very real topic and making everyone who believes look just as stupid, inbred-backward stupid, as these four half-wits who dont have a double-digit I.Q. between them. I thought last years Mermaids special was your low point, but sweet Jesus youve outdone yourselves and found an all time embarrassing bottom feeder. PLEASE, for the sanctity of the topic and out of respect for those who have had real encounters CANCEL THIS HORRIBLE SHOW!"

Friday, April 11, 2014

That glinty thing on Mars

        For once I'm not going to get on Mike Bara's case about last night's Coast to Coast AM jollity. For one thing, what followed Mike was so much, much worse. John Brandenburg and his ridiculous fantasies about nuclear weapons on Mars. George Haas in complete loony-bin mode presenting his Queen Nefertiti profile. Michael Salla telling us campfire yarns about human colonies on Mars. There wasn't more than a teaspoonful of truth in three hours of talk radio.

        Compared to that lunacy, Mike was relatively sane, giving us the possible explanations for the glint in an image from Curiosity's right navcam. He may have gone a bit over the top with his "half buried railroad tracks", and his hatred of Phil Plaitnote 1 made me smile, but considering he has no expertise on the subject whatsoever it really wasn't too bad. He was quite correct in saying that the fact that two (actually three) different flashes have been seen is a problem for the cosmic ray hit theory.

        I claim no expertise either, but I'm interested enough to have scanned all the blogs today. There have been several comments to this blog, which by default went to the "Morningstar predicts" thread. So I thought it would be helpful if I gave a handy menu of web resources and encourage further comments on this thread. So here we go.

The sol 589 (3 April) glinty thing
The sol 588 (2 April) glinty thing
The sol 568 (12 March) glinty thing
Phil Plait's original blogpost
Phil Plait's self-correction
Emily Lakdawalla's thread in
Stuart Robbins' blogpost
Justin Maki's technical explanation
Above Top Secret thread (over 500 posts already, yikes) 
Earthfiles report 

[1] Bara is always frothing about his "haters," but in truth he's the only hater.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Robert Morningstar predicts

Morningstar posted this today:

"The 8.1 magnitude EQ in Chile yesterday is merely a harbinger of many more to come within the next 3 weeks, with the most severe quakes, volcanic activity and electrical storms to come between Mars' opposition to Earth on April 8th and the Lunar Eclipse of April 14-15 when Mars and Saturn will be in line with the Moon, Earth and Sun.

Stay alert locally, report your observations by email, FB and Twitter.

The worst is yet to come and will continue to unfold in the aftermath of the Martian opposition and the lunar eclipse. Terrible weather and electrical storms will ensue during the weeks following their passage."
        Let's see how accurate he is as April plays out. There's already been a major aftershock off Chile, but there's nothing unusual about that.

        I might also point out that there's an electrical storm somewhere on this planet at any given moment, so I hereby declare in advance that only extremely severe and widespread storms count.

| Gravitational attractions, in Newtons
| Earth-Marsmin (Mars at conjunction, both at aphelion)  1.58 × 1015
| Earth-Marsmax (Mars at opposition and perihelion, 
| Earth at aphelion)  8.75 × 1016
| Earth-Saturnmax (at opposition) 1.45 × 1015
| Earth-Moon avg. 1.98 × 1020
| Earth-Sun avg. 3.55 × 1022

Update 1,  apr 3:
M* added:

"There was another one in Panama today, moving north along a predictable path. The next sequence of tremors and EQs should come in the next 3 day in Costa Rica , and more strongly in Nicaragua near Managua or the Honduras border. As April 8th - 15th approaches, Mexico and Southern California will begin to feel the effects of "The Martian Maelstrom". -> "
 Trekker confirms the 5.8 off Panama yesterday (see second comment).

Update 2,  apr 7:
Morningstar on FB today:

"As I pointed out 2 days ago, Mars approach was making things percolate in Oklahoma. A series of small earthquakes has just rippled through OK."

        He's correct about the 'quakes in Oklahoma (and the corn is as high as an elephant's  eye, too) but they're irrelevant to the sequence he predicted. And as Dee points out in comments, his prediction for April 3-6 is already a FAIL.

Update 3,  apr 9: (from James Concannon)
Morningstar cites these three quakes as fitting his prediction:

4.7, Guatemala 6 April
4.4, Honduras 7 April
4.5, Veracruz 8 April

        There was also a 3.0 near Maneadero, Baja California Norte, yesterday. Nothing in Costa Rica or Nicaragua, so that part of his prediction fails. At any rate, the Mars opposition came and went and we're still here.

Update 4,  apr 11:
Nicaragua finally got hit.

6.1, Nicaragua 10 April
4.3, Nicaragua 11 April

Update 5,  apr 12:
Another whopper (6.6) in Nicaragua.

That's  three mag 4.5+ in two days.

credit: USGS
Figure shows all mag 4.5 or greater in last 7 days.

Update 6,  apr 14: (from James Concannon)
Morningstar posted this last night:

"The Martian Maelstrom is unfolding as predicted. I said the "Ring of Fire" was ringing last week. It just went "GONG!" in the Solomon Islands, which was hit with a 7.6 Mag EarthQuake"

        Just as things were looking a bit promising for the prediction, he spoils it all by citing a biggie that was thousands of kilometers from his prediction area. Duhhhhh....

Update 7,  apr 16:
Here's a summary map of the whole region over the time since Morningstar's prediction:

credit: EMSC

You could say, if you wanted to be generous, that the swarm up the coast of California fits right in with Morningstar, but these are all small. The yellow color indicates mag < 3. The real activity is up in Alaska and the Aleutian chain. Morningstar said nothing about that.

Update 8,  apr 17:
Yesterday Morningstar posted that everything was following his prediction exactly, and added this warning:

"Stay alert on the West Coast through tonight and tomorrow. Might be a good night to camp out, weather permitting."
         So we'll see how that goes. So far, spread of the >4.5 quakes up the California coast is exactly what has not happened.

Update 9,  apr 19:
        Obviously we've got to give him the Acapulco biggie, it fits right in. Nothing much in California yet, however. Mag 4.3 near Bodfish at 05:00. Probably very few people even felt it--Bodfish is the boonies, with fewer than 1000 households. And since the bars would have closed only three hours earlier, one imagines the Bodfishians were mostly snoring loudly.

 Bodfish street scene, from Google Streetview

Update 10,  apr 24:
        Mag 6.6 Vancouver Island yesterday -- no reports of damage. Way outside Morningstar's prediction. On FB he seems to be claiming it, however. A brilliant example of the "Texas Sharpshooter" fallacy.

Final assessment, May 3:
        Here's the 'quake summary over the whole 30 days since Morningstar's original prediction:

image credit: USGS

        There were 28 events mag 4.5 or greater over the area of the prediction. The biggest was the mag 7.2 off the Mexican coast on April 18.  However, as far as I know there were no injuries, and certainly no loss of life.

        Morningstar's major FAIL was his sensationalist prediction for California. It never happened, Robert. He said the most severe 'quakes would occur between 8th and 15th April. In fact, over that period only 11 events are recorded by USGS, the largest being mag 6.6 in Nicaragua.

        I'll give him 3 points (out of 10) for the fact that the general progression of seismic events up the coast from  Panama to Mexico followed his predicted pattern.

        The interactive map put out by the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre shows that, over the whole of North and Central America from 3 April to 3 May, there were 58 quakes mag 4.5+. For the same period in previous years, there were:

2013 - 37
2012 - 53
2011 - 42
2010 - 59
        As for the "terrible weather and electrical storms", no doubt he'll be claiming a hit for the devastating series of tornadoes that ripped through the southern USA in the last days of April, causing 35 deaths. With all due sympathy for those who suffered loss, as the opposition and eclipse were planetary phenomena we would expect planet-wide weather repercussions if his idea was at all correct. So the tornado sequence falls a bit short, but maybe I'll give him one point.

        4 out of 10, Morningstar. Hope your next bit of alarmism fares better.