The Weirdest Matter…

This simulation shows how a fracton-filled material would be expected to scatter a beam of neutrons.
H. Yan et al., Physical Review Letters

Topics: Condensed Matter Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Theoretical Physics

Your desk is made up of individual, distinct atoms, but from far away its surface appears smooth. This simple idea is at the core of all our models of the physical world. We can describe what’s happening overall without getting bogged down in the complicated interactions between every atom and electron.

So when a new theoretical state of matter was discovered whose microscopic features stubbornly persist at all scales, many physicists refused to believe in its existence.

“When I first heard about fractons, I said there’s no way this could be true, because it completely defies my prejudice of how systems behave,” said Nathan Seiberg, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. “But I was wrong. I realized I had been living in denial.”

The theoretical possibility of fractons surprised physicists in 2011. Recently, these strange states of matter have been leading physicists toward new theoretical frameworks that could help them tackle some of the grittiest problems in fundamental physics.

Fractons are quasiparticles — particle-like entities that emerge out of complicated interactions between many elementary particles inside a material. But fractons are bizarre even compared to other exotic quasiparticles, because they are totally immobile or able to move only in a limited way. There’s nothing in their environment that stops fractons from moving; rather it’s an inherent property of theirs. It means fractons’ microscopic structure influences their behavior over long distances.

“That’s totally shocking. For me it is the weirdest phase of matter,” said Xie Chen, a condensed matter theorist at the California Institute of Technology.

The ‘Weirdest’ Matter, Made of Partial Particles, Defies Description, Thomas Lewton, Quanta Magazine

ARPA-E, and Emission-Free Metal…

Australian metals mining wastes (top) and the metal hyperaccumulator plants Alyssum murale and Berkheya coddii (bottom). The former plant can take up 1–3% of its weight in nickel. It has demonstrated yields of up to 400 kg of nickel per hectare annually, worth around $7000 at current prices, excluding processing and production costs. (Images adapted from A. van der Ent, A. Parbhakar-Fox, P. D. Erskine, Sci. Total Environ. 758, 143673, 2021, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143673.)

Topics: Climate Change, Green Tech, Materials Science, Research

When it comes to making steel greener, “only the laws of physics limit our imagination,” says Christina Chang of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E). Chang, an ARPA–E fellow, is seeking public input on a potential new agency program titled Steel Made via Emissions-Less Technologies. During her two-year tenure, she will guide program creation, agency strategy, and outreach. Steelmaking currently accounts for about 7% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, and demand for steel is expected to double by 2050 as low-income countries’ economies grow, according to the International Energy Agency.

Founded in 2009, ARPA–E is a tiny, imaginative office within the Department of Energy. SMELT is one part of a three-pronged thrust by ARPA–E to green up processes involved in producing steel and nonferrous metals, from the mine through to the finished products. Another program seeks ways to make use of the vast volumes of wastes that accumulate from mining operations around the globe—and reduce the amounts generated in the future. The agency is also exploring the feasibility of deploying plants that suck up from soils elements such as cobalt, nickel, and rare earths. Despite being essential ingredients in electric vehicles, batteries, and wind turbines, the US has little or no domestic production of them. (See Physics TodayFebruary 2021, page 20.)

Steelmaking

The first step in steelmaking is separating iron ore into oxygen and iron metal, which produces CO2 through both the reduction process and the fossil-fuel burning necessary to create high heat. An ARPA–E solicitation for ideas to clean up that process closed on 14 June. The agency is looking to replace the centuries-old blast furnace with greener technology that can work at the scale of 2 gigatons of steel production annually. It may or may not follow up with a request for research proposals to fund.

ARPA–E explores paths to emissions-free metal making, Physics Today

Survival of Community…

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Climate Change, COVID-19, Environment, Existentialism

Like his more famous contemporary, Spencer was enamored with the idea of evolution. But where Darwin focused on biology, Spencer imagined that evolutionary thinking could be applied much more broadly. In his mind, it governed entire societies. Today, when Spencer is remembered at all, it is usually for inspiring the ideology known as “social Darwinism”: roughly, the idea that the successful deserve their success while those who fail deserve their failure.

Modern scholars, and the public at large, understandably view this idea with disdain. Philosopher Daniel Dennett has described social Darwinism as “an odious misapplication of Darwinian thinking in defense of political doctrines that range from callous to heinous,” while the journalist Robert Wright said that social Darwinism “now lies in the dustbin of intellectual history.” Today, few read Spencer’s dense and ponderous books, and his ideas are rarely taught. Gregory Claeys, a historian at the University of London, writes that of all the great Victorian thinkers, it is Spencer whose “reputation has now indisputably fallen the farthest.”

Spencer’s view, though mostly anathema now, appealed to influential conservatives and laissez-faire capitalists—among them, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie—just as it angered the socialists of the time. “Spencer hated socialism because he thought socialism was all about protecting the weak,” Lightman says. “To him, that was intervening in the natural unfolding of the evolutionary process.”

The Complicated Legacy of Herbert Spencer, the Man Who Coined ‘Survival of the Fittest’, Dan Falk, Smithsonian Magazine

According to Michael Price in Science Magazine, humans changed from hunter-gatherer (and presumably, wanderer) to communal living about 10,000 years ago. We seemed to vacillate between extremes, and each time, our back-and-forth switch could be traced through the common house mouse (like it or not, we appear stuck with them). Whether we wandered about or gathered harvests, we seemed to fair better with less Ayn Randian selfish worldviews, and more indigenous communal living philosophies.

An article published on the website Earthday.org is more explicit:

Humans and climate change are driving species to extinction at unprecedented rates. To slow or eventually reverse these declines, we need to better manage our land to preserve habitats and secure biodiversity – the variety of life on Earth. To that end, a study published this week confirms what many communities have known for years: To preserve biodiversity, we must turn to indigenous peoples for guidance and management.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Policy, compared levels of biodiversity in thousands of areas in Australia, Brazil, and Canada and was the first of its kind to compare biodiversity and land management on such a large scale. Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) compared 15,621 geotropical areas across three continents, with great variations across climate, species, and geography.

To Save The Planet, We Need Indigenous Perspectives, Earth Day, 2019

We have been ravaged by climate events since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and have ignored them all. Ebola was the first epidemic we paid attention to and mitigated at its point of origin so that only two Americans died from it. It is therefore unconscionable that the current death toll of the Coronavirus is 623,353, as of this writing. It’s likely to be higher when this post appears. 675,000 died during the 1918 flu pandemic. We’re not far behind.

Speaking of Ayn Rand: the main idea of “The Fountainhead” was individualism vs. collectivism, or selfishness, versus community. Also, in “Atlas Shrugged,” so beloved that former Congressman, and conspiracy theorist Ron Paul and presumably his wife named their son, Senator Rand Paul. “Shrugged” was about “a dystopian United States in which private businesses suffer under increasingly burdensome laws and regulations.” “Looters” want to exploit the productivity of innovative industrialists has the not-too-subtle echo of “makers,” and “takers.”

GOP “leader,” Kevin McCarthy saying “85% of Congress is fully vaccinated,” so he says, we have no need for a mask mandate in the House. That declaration is a Freudian slip: that means 15% of 435 members of the House, or 65 members are unvaccinated by choice. 435 members of the House go back home sometimes, and presumably, many to Delta variant hot spots. The variant could then be weaponized on Capitol Hill where many of our lawmakers are in their seventies and eighties. The Delta variant can cause “breakthrough infections,” and most of the hospitalizations and deaths are from the unvaccinated. There are also long-haul COVID survivors, the severe ones will put a strain on public resources for rehabilitation, and lifetime care. Again, those 65 can carry the Delta variant back to the House, and turn Capitol Hill into a COVID hot spot. With the 1/6 hearings just starting, it might be a cynical, pathological ploy to delay or demolish any hearings on the terrorist insurrection going forward. Only sociopaths could be so diabolical.

Ten thousand years ago, it might have been prudent to identify someone by their tribal markings, dress, and appearance. If you “did not fit in,” there were no diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, only suspicion. “Fight, or flight” was wonderful against saber-tooth tigers, but terrible trying to espouse the tenets of a philosophy centered on E Pluribus Unum.

Borders are political constructs, just like race is a social construct. We are the byproduct of migration from the African continent to other areas, and adaption over hundreds of thousands of years. We look different because of the angle of incidence of ultraviolet light, the environment encountered, and the foods we consumed in those environs. We all for the most part have five fingers, five toes, and red blood in our veins. We all have the same needs on the Maslow hierarchy. It’s why the Overview effect has such a profound impact on the viewers, but 7.6 billion inhabitants don’t have a spare $250,000 for a ten-minute joy ride. The eviction moratorium expires Saturday, with no further extension. I don’t think soon-to-be homeless people will care for an Overview effect.

It has to be in our best interest to help developing countries and industrial countries with vaccination rates: every nation has to get to 70% herd immunity, or higher for the safety of the species. If there’s one hot spot in the world, there’s the possibility of many variants spreading across the globe. It has to be in our best interest to mitigate climate change, and if past the tipping point, or politically not expedient, design our civilization’s infrastructure to withstand the storms, power outages, freak winter freezes, floods, and raging fires.

Octavia Butler was an African American science fiction writer that didn’t envision starships, except the relativistic kind. Her “Parable of the Sower” did predict a dystopic America devastated by climate change, social unrest, water scarcity, but apparently, in all that dysfunction, in2024 we land on Mars, and discovered microbial life there. We are three years from the date of that fictional nightmare. In the midst of that eerily prescient novel, and series, there was a rediscovery of community, of people helping people, protecting one another.

Social media is a faux community; it has atomized humanity in echo silos. We were prepped for this when television and entertainment became “infotainment,” a bastardization, and a pariah to the body politic. BET, CMT, MTV is owned by Viacom, and caters to different audiences, cable news preceded it, and its digital extension is the oxymoron “social media” as humans stare blankly at their smartphones sucking time, and brain cells.

There is vaccine hesitancy among African Americans, decades stinging from the Tuskegee experiment. There is vaccine hesitancy from those who erroneously believe vaccines cause autism (that was refuted in a later paper). There are athletes who will eat what they are told, train as they are told, who now in the NFL have to decide whether to get a mandated COVID vaccine or forfeit games. Despite their nonprofit status, the NFL is a business, and businesses are not democratic.

The same people who deny climate change, are the same people who fought lockdowns. They are the same people who want Confederate monuments to insurrectionists, but history that would correct the record from obfuscations and mythology expunged, canceled. They are the same people who fought masks, and are the same people who don’t want to get vaccines because they believe in the “survival of the fittest” scenario, that they will miraculously be the fittest, the luckiest; the living. Like the Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick volunteering grandparents to die for the economy in the early days of the pandemic. (He’s probably not counting himself in that number on the altar of Moloch.)

To survive COVID, and climate change, E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one – has to be cosmopolitan, global. We are all Homo Sapiens, Earthlings, breathing the same air, using the same resources, and will expire on the same planet, as long as it’s here, and we are. The United Nations is supposed to be our governing body to do this, a concept that is with its political enemies, conspiracy theories that start with “new world order,” and authoritarian tyranny fears, that kind of falls hollow to the experiment in authoritarianism the United States made from 2017 to 2020. It was almost credibly sealed with a coup, on January 6, 2021, had it been competent. The next fascist might be more capable; the next coup might succeed.

For the survival of the species, “survival of the fittest” has to become a part of a selfish past and myth. It’s easier to mask, or vaccinate against a pandemic, and mitigate climate change than building superluminal starships defying laws of physics to “escape” our mistakes.

We have to get beyond our learned prejudices, responsible for so much selfishness, sickness, and bloodshed. We need to see each other’s survival in all of our best interests. Our empathy needs to evolve.

*****

“We have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

*****

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

For Whom the Bell Tolls,” John Donne, Your Daily Poem

The Anatomy of Delta…

A computer simulation of the structure of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.Credit: Janet Iwasa, University of Utah

Topics: Biology, Biotechnology, COVID-19, DNA, Existentialism, Research

The coronavirus sports a luxurious sugar coat. “It’s striking,” thought Rommie Amaro, staring at her computer simulation of one of the trademark spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2, which stick out from the virus’s surface. It was swathed in sugar molecules, known as glycans.

“When you see it with all the glycans, it’s almost unrecognizable,” says Amaro, a computational biophysical chemist at the University of California, San Diego.

Many viruses have glycans covering their outer proteins, camouflaging them from the human immune system like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But last year, Amaro’s laboratory group and collaborators created the most detailed visualization yet of this coat, based on structural and genetic data and rendered atom-by-atom by a supercomputer. On 22 March 2020, she posted the simulation to Twitter. Within an hour, one researcher asked in a comment: what was the naked, uncoated loop sticking out of the top of the protein?

Amaro had no idea. But ten minutes later, structural biologist Jason McLellan at the University of Texas at Austin chimed in: the uncoated loop was a receptor-binding domain (RBD), one of three sections of the spike that bind to receptors on human cells (see ‘A hidden spike’).

Source: Structural image from Lorenzo Casalino, Univ. California, San Diego (Ref. 1); Graphic: Nik Spencer/Nature

How the coronavirus infects cells — and why Delta is so dangerous, Megan Scudellari, Nature

Conscientious Stupidity…

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, COVID-19, Existentialism, Human Rights

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is 203 days after January 6, 2021’s attempted coup. “Insurrection” isn’t quite as accurate with the passage of time.

Yesterday, the first hearings began, and they were emotional, riveting: angering. Officer Dunn didn’t sanitize the word nigger by using “the n-word” because the persons that said it to him didn’t stifle their tongues. Sometimes, shock is the best disinfectant.

We are now well in the Delta variant, and the CDC is re-recommending masks. Red states are already fighting mask mandates like this is a recommendation by gunpoint. The CDC cannot mandate anything nationally, they can only recommend an action. They can specify it for federal workers: they can either get the vaccine, or get tested daily, and the PCR test just isn’t as painful, or intrusive as the Q-tip swab. The threat of unemployment can inform decisions as well. This whipsaw pain is unnecessary self-immolation. It’s dumb. It could have been avoided.

Despite the fact that I am fully vaccinated, I kept all of my masks and hand sanitizer. I had a feeling with the disinformation from Facebook/Fox Propaganda/Russia, and the mini-fascists clone imitators – News Min, QAN, and Dumb Bart, we would go back in time to last year, because if they can’t have power, they will induce chaos.

The clown show I expected happened. A crowd of white grievance minstrels assembled in front of the Justice Department during the 1/6 hearings to petition for the release of the (correctly termed by the Capitol Police yesterday, terrorists) said the same after the original Civil War. The boneheads literally having wet dreams on another one should think on this: the British Sterling used to be the global currency before the dollar. An unstable, insanely racist nation would have its currency dropped, replaced by the Yuan without a second thought. White supremacy would rule a no-man’s-land equivalent to a shit pile.

Someone ran off Matt Gaetz, and his fellow fascists by simply asking him “are you a pedophile?” Nazis seem only interested in the unborn zygote: when they become living, breathing beings requiring food, clothes, resources, education, and employment, they’re either freeloaders of the system depending on their shade of Melanin or if in their pinker culture, jail bait. IF he manages to keep himself out of prison with the white privilege-AMEX card, holiday dinners with his future sister-in-law are going to be dicey.

Gaslighting by narcissists, and willful, conscientious stupidity is apparently the only thing “exceptional” about this oxymoronically named nation. Ragnarok is falling.

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

Carl Sagan, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,” Good Reads

Space-Based Quantum Technology…

(Credit: Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock)

Topics: Computer Science, Quantum Computer, Quantum Mechanics

Quantum technologies are already revolutionizing life on Earth. But they also have the potential to change the way we operate in space. With the U.S., China, and Europe all investing heavily in this area, these changes are likely to be with us sooner rather than later.

So how will space-based quantum technologies make a difference?

Now, we get an overview thanks to the work of Rainer Kaltenbaek at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, in Austria, and colleagues throughout Europe, who have mapped out the future in this area and set out the advances that space-based quantum technologies will make possible.

While quantum computing and quantum communication grab most of the headlines, Kaltenbaek and colleagues point out that other quantum technologies are set to have equally impressive impacts. Take, for example, atom interferometry with quantum sensors.

These devices can measure with unprecedented accuracy any change in motion of a satellite in orbit as it is buffeted by tiny variations in the Earth’s gravitational field. These changes are caused by factors such as the movement of cooler, higher-density water flows in the deep ocean, flooding, the movement of the continents, and ice flows.

The Future of Space-Based Quantum Technology, Discover/Physics arXiv

The Last Three Minutes…

My autographed copy from Dr. Weinberg.

Topics: History, Nobel Laureate, Nobel Prize, Steven Weinberg

AUSTIN, Texas — Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, a professor of physics and astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin, has died. He was 88.

One of the most celebrated scientists of his generation, Weinberg was best known for helping to develop a critical part of the Standard Model of particle physics, which significantly advanced humanity’s understanding of how everything in the universe — its various particles and the forces that govern them — relate. A faculty member for nearly four decades at UT Austin, he was a beloved teacher and researcher, revered not only by the scientists who marveled at his concise and elegant theories but also by science enthusiasts everywhere who read his books and sought him out at public appearances and lectures.

“The passing of Steven Weinberg is a loss for The University of Texas and for society. Professor Weinberg unlocked the mysteries of the universe for millions of people, enriching humanity’s concept of nature and our relationship to the world,” said Jay Hartzell, president of The University of Texas at Austin. “From his students to science enthusiasts, from astrophysicists to public decision-makers, he made an enormous difference in our understanding. In short, he changed the world.”

UT Austin Mourns Death of World-Renowned Physicist Steven Weinberg, UT News

I’m sure the University of Texas, the New York Times, US News & World Report among many others will do more justice than a blog post from a doctoral student in Nanoengineering.

Photo at a banquet for the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), and National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP) joint meeting, September 22, 2011, University of Texas, Austin.

His passing made me take stock of the popular books by physicists and scientists in my library (a short list): “The Collapsing Universe” (Asimov); “Ideas, and Opinions,” “Relativity: The Special, and the General Theory” (Einstein); “Surely, You’re Joking Mr. Feynman,” “Six Easy Pieces,” “QED: The Strange Theory of Light, and Matter,” (Feynman); “Gravity” (Hartle); “Stephen Hawking’s Universe,” “A Brief History of Time,” “The Universe in a Nutshell,” (Hawking), “The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?” (Lederman); “Warped Passages: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions” (Randall); “The Black Hole Wars: My Battle With Stephen Hawking To Make The World Safe for Quantum Mechanics” (Susskind); “Black Holes, & Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy” (Thorne), following in alphabetical order by author, lastly Professor Steven Weinberg. Some of my humble ruminations of him:

The above is from a Joint Conference between the National Society of Black Physicists and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists in Austin, Texas on September 22, 2011. The photo above as I recall is from the now-defunct Blackberry mobile phone, so please forgive the image quality and pixel density. In my mind, a parallel remembered photo: Einstein lecturing African American physics students at Lincoln University. I cannot say he was going for a double entendre. I remember in the parking lot before I left, holding tightly the steering wheel of the rental, feeling goosebumps, and catching my breath.

I met Dr. Weinberg and thanked him for signing my only copy of “The First Three Minutes” when I was a graduate student in Astrophysics at the University of Texas (I have a hardcover copy; the most recent prints are paperback or Kindle). I was quite astonished that he remembered me. I filed my request sheepishly through his Administrative Assistant, but he did remember my request, and me specifically.

These were my first thoughts when a friend posted the UT News article on Facebook. Her husband had been a student of Dr. Weinberg, and a physics colleague for almost four decades. I called him to give my personal condolences. We both agreed it was the passing of an age that may never be repeated again. With each passing day, each quote by Dr. Carl Sagan in “A Demon-Haunted World” is becoming prophesy.

Though my friend is an accomplished scientist himself, he always felt intimidated in his mentor’s presence. He and Professor Weinberg tentatively made a date to resume their lunch meetings, subsumed by the pandemic, until life or the cessation of life inevitably happens. The body wears out, and Entropy eventually has the last say. In the end, our positive impact is our epitaph, it is how we will be remembered.

*****

It is the loss of a giant in an age ruled by madness. I got to shake hands with Professor Steven Weinberg at the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP) when they held a joint meeting in Austin, Texas, September 22, 2011.

I have both “The First Three Minutes” (he graciously autographed), and “To Explain the World.”

His passing should make us all more determined to do just that in a world now ruled by gaslighting, and in the words of Carl Sagan, “thirty-second sound bites” (if they’re even that long). We should shine his passion for scientific inquiry as lights in “this present darkness.”

I think he’d want us to remember him that way.

At least that’s how I’m consoling myself through the tears.

Gordon Gekko, Hal 9000, and Overview…

Image Source: Space Billionaires, Please Read the Room, Shannon Stirone, The Atlantic

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Existentialism, Human Rights, Spaceflight

Note: The post title is sourced from The Atlantic article, as is the lurid artwork.

It is the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void”, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative.

The thing that really surprised me was that it [Earth] projected an air of fragility. And why, I don’t know. I don’t know to this day. I had a feeling it’s tiny, it’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s home, and it’s fragile. Michael Collins, Apollo 11. Source: Wikipedia/Overview effect

The best case for taxing the rich is made by a “space race” with billionaires leaving the Earth ravaged by a once-in-a-century pandemic in form now of the Delta variant, climate change disasters that can’t be gaslighted, and modern-day Hooverville tent cities IN the richest nation in the world, exacerbated since last year by the Coronavirus. Almost all new cases in what amounts to a fourth wave are among the unvaccinated, in a bizarre, nihilistic viral analog of the Cold War doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, and Dr. Strangelove. But: “space, the final frontier” for billionaires, apparently is more important. Is it my observation only that each “spaceship” looks like a phallic symbol or pleasure instrument?

Bezos, of course, ruins the whole point of the Overview effect: “We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is,” he said in an interview with NBC News. “That’s going to take decades to achieve, but you have to start. And big things start with small steps.” (Justine Calma, The Verge). That’s a direct quote from the richest man in the world, a toss-up clone between either Dr. Evil or Lex Luthor.

The world’s richest man has obviously not heard about space junk sipping lattes on his half-billion-dollar yacht, with a spare for the helicopter (hey, that’s important). Just like Musk’s “genius” idea of terraforming the planet Mars for humans by dropping nuclear bombs to warm it up. First point: Mars has no atmosphere to warm up. Second point: Plutonium-239 used in current thermonuclear devices has a half-life of 24,110 years, meaning the radiation level will be half as lethal in 964 human generations. Branson’s price tag to do weightlessness is $250,000. You can afford it by entering a contest: the cost is $10, $25, $50, $100, which begs the question WHY does anyone have to donate to a raffle for a ride with a billionaire? Batman didn’t charge the Justice League for the Watchtower (I don’t think). Bruce Wayne is a plucky superhero (or, antihero), he’s fictional.

Bezos, Branson, Musk et al. are real, and they don’t appear interested in anything other than their own enjoyment.

*****

Tuesday, July 30, 2024

  • Lauren writes about an astronaut who died on the latest Mars mission. People in the neighborhood say traveling to Mars is a waste of money when people on earth can’t afford basic necessities.
  • Lauren also writes about the cost of water increasing. It’s fashionable to be dirty since no one can afford to clean their clothes.

Shmoop.com: Study Guide, Parable of the Sower, Octavia E. Butler, Chapter 3

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it

Oh, make me want to holler
The way they do my life (yeah)
Make me want to holler
The way they do my life

This ain’t livin’, this ain’t livin’
No, no baby, this ain’t livin’
No, no, no, no

Inner City Blues: Make Me Wanna Holler,” Marvin Gaye, Genius Lyrics

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)

I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)

The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)

Whitey on the Moon,” Gil Scott-Heron, Genius Lyrics

COVID, and Fieldwork…

Image Source: Link Below

Topics: Climate Change, COVID-19, Research, STEM

Just before dawn in the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, a patch of Ecuador’s lush coastal forest, Abhimanyu Lele unfurls a tall net between two poles, then retreats out of sight. A half-hour later, he and a local assistant reappear and smile: Their catch—10 birds that collided with the net and tumbled into a pocket along its length—was a good one. The pair records species, measures and photographs the captives, and pricks wings for blood that can yield DNA before releasing the birds back into the forest. The data, Lele hopes, will shed light on how Ecuadorean songbirds adapt to different altitudes and other conditions.

The third-year graduate student at the University of Chicago (UC), who returns next week from a 10-week field season, was delighted to have made it to his destination. In a typical year, thousands of graduate students and faculty fan out across the world to tackle important research in climate change, fragile ecosystems, animal populations, and more. But the pandemic shut down travel, and fieldwork can’t be done via Zoom, depriving young scientists like Lele of the data and publications they need to climb the academic ladder and help advance science. Now, he and a few others are venturing out—into a very different world.

They are the exceptions. “Most folks have never been able to get back out there,” because COVID-19 continues to spread in much of the world, says Benjamin Halpern, an ecologist with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “They are just waiting.”

At the American Museum of Natural History, which mounts about 100 international expeditions a year, “Travel to countries still having trouble [is] just not going to happen,” says Frank Burbrink, a herpetologist there. “This is the longest I’ve ever gone without catching snakes since I was 12 years old.” The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History likewise “is not putting people overseas,” says Director Kirk Johnson.

How COVID-19 has transformed scientific fieldwork, Elisabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine

A Voyage In Her Lifetime…

Image Source: Link in the article text

Topics: International Space Station, Interstellar, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Star Trek

Light Sails were first mentioned in the year 1610 in a letter by astronomer Johannes Kepler to his friend, Galileo Galilei. “With ships or sails built for heavenly winds, some will venture into that great vastness.” Avery Brooks in his character of Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, used his Starfleet engineering prowess deciphering ancient text to recreate an ancient Bajoran solar sail in the episode “Explorers.” The possibilities have vacillated between science, and fiction ever since.

I’ve enjoyed reading the speculation by Avi Loeb, Chair of Harvard University’s Department of Astronomy on the Oumuamua object in Extraterrestrial. I’ve also enjoyed the healthy counter debate, as that’s how ideas in science are refined before they become laws, doctrine, or accepted universal theorems.

On the “billionaire space race”: Eli Musk started it with his SpaceX rocket system. It would be nice in current geopolitical tensions to not rely so much on Russian Soyuz capsules to get to the ISS. Brian Branson and Jeff Bezos have probably opened up space tourism, but in the foreseeable near-future and exorbitant price tag, it will probably be a dalliance of the wealthy. Desktop computers used to cost between $2,000 – 3,000, cell phones irradiating Gordon Gekko’s skull in the movie, “Wall Street” used to be the size of Canada. Even the fictional Zefram Cochrane needed a financier, Micah Brack, to get Warp One going. Whether that leads to a utopia of limitless energy, the end to poverty, money, life extension, and eliminating inequality is yet to be seen.

The article title, Breakthrough Starshot: A voyage to the stars within our lifetimes, Astronomy Magazine, takes in account the bane of our spacefaring existence: mass, quite literally a “drag,” and cannot be compensated for by technobabble “inertia dampeners” or artificial gravity. We are currently accelerating at 9.8 meters per square second to the Earth’s center, but after living here a while, we’re used to it. Twenty percent of the speed of light would get a nano solar sail craft propelled by a high-energy laser to Alpha Centauri in twenty years but would turn human passengers (if any were that small) into DNA goo against the bulkhead. Starshot launching in 2060 means my granddaughter will be forty-one, her parents might be grandparents, and I would have to be a spry ninety-eight to witness it. “Our lifetimes” must be humankind, that is if we haven’t overextended our resources to make the endeavor fruitless. From the end of the article:

But as award-winning Cosmos writer and producer Ann Druyan, a member of the Breakthrough Starshot advisory board, said during a 2016 press conference announcing the initiative: “Science thinks in timescales of billions of years. And yet, we live in a society that only thinks in terms of, generally, the balance sheet of the next quarter or the next election. … So, this kind of thinking that looks at a horizon that’s 35 years away — possibly 20, possibly 50 — is exactly what’s called for now, because it’s this kind of multigenerational enterprise that nets us such great results.”

Godspeed, “Little Bit.”