Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bubbles never forget

By Aussiegirl

Tiny bubbles, in the wine -- make me feel happy, da-da-dah! Yeah, sure -- these physicists are just trying to get us to believe that they are investigating the Big Bang when in reality, we know that they are just overgrown children who like to blow bubbles.

Bubbles never forget (October 2006) - News - PhysicsWeb

Bubbles never forget
Jon Cartwright

Physicists at the University of Chicago have discovered that air bubbles retain a "memory" of how they are formed (Phys Rev Lett 97 144503). Their study revealed that the initial conditions of bubble formation can affect the dynamics of the singularity that occurs when a bubble pinches off a nozzle. This could have profound implications for our understanding of other phenomena that involve singularities including the formation of black holes or supernovae.

A singularity occurs when one or more of the physical parameters in a system approaches infinity. In bubble formation, this occurs at the moment of pinch-off, when the stress and pressure become very large. Physicists had thought that this pinch-off would always occur in a highly symmetric manner, regardless of the initial conditions of bubble formation.

But now the Chicago research group led by Sidney Nagel has used high-speed photography to reveal that the physical appearance of the singularity is influenced by the shape, size and angle of tilt of the nozzle.

The group used a syringe to release air quasistatically (i.e. very slowly) through nozzles between 1.5 and 4.1 mm in diameter. A digital camera photographed the resulting bubbles up to 130,000 times a second. The nozzles could also be tilted, effectively altering the shape of the aperture, to see if an asymmetric formation had any affect on the dynamics near the singularity.

By measuring the radius of the neck of air joining the nozzle to the bubble as a function of time, they found that the neck collapsed so rapidly (following a power law) while approaching the singularity that surface tension could not erase any asymmetry present from the outset. Varying the tilt confirmed that the asymmetry was not erased: for small angles of less than a degree the neck branched out into "satellite" bubbles, and the pinch-off was shifted laterally away from the direction of tilt. At two degrees, the satellite bubbles moved upwards and away from the direction of tilt, indicating an asymmetry in fluid velocities.

Chicago researcher Nathan Keim told PhysicsWeb that this asymmetry is a "memory" of the initial conditions of formation. He believes that this phenomena may not be limited to air bubbles and that other singularities such as black-hole formation could involve the retention of some aspects of the initial conditions. "In that way, the question of what a singularity can remember goes far beyond our table-top experiment," explained Keim.

Radio Waves Detected Coming From Center of Galaxy

By Aussiegirl

Is ET calling? It's going to take a bit more time to figure out what these mysterious radio bursts were exactly. Fascinating stuff. Perhaps it's an alien version of "I Love Lucy".
(Here is the explanation of the illustration: A radio image of the central region of the Milky Way galaxy. The arrow points to the source of a mysterious blast of radio waves. Above it is a large expanding ring of debris from a supernova (massive star explosion) remnant.)
Radio Waves Detected Coming From Center of Galaxy

Astronomers have detected an unusual, powerful burst of intermittent radio waves emanating from the direction of the center of our galaxy.
Now the search is on to trace the source of the mystery radio bursts, or at least find more like it. Was it a dying star 'burping' its last radio emissions? Or is there something out there completely new to science?

The discovery 'will cause a stampede of further observations,' write astronomers Shri Kulkarni and Sterl Phinney in tomorrow's issue of the science journal Nature. They're in the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Astronomer Scott Hyman of Sweet Briar College in Virginia helped make the discovery while observing the center of the Milky Way through radio telescopes set at various wavelengths. The galaxy is full of objects that emit radio waves, including black holes and stars of various kinds. But the cause of this particular burst of radio waves has astronomers scratching their heads.

"The most spectacular aspect of this is that five bursts occurred at regular intervals of about an hour and a quarter [77 minutes],' Hyman said. "They were at a constant intensity … and each burst had basically the same time profile." Each burst lasted about ten minutes.
Hyman and colleagues reported their findings in this week's Nature.

Transient radio emissions are not particularly unusual. They generally occur, at many different wavelengths, in conjunction with large releases of energy such as occur during deaths of stars. Binary systems featuring black holes or neutron stars emit radio and x-ray bursts, while supernovas emit over the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

But short-lived radio bursts are rarely detected, because radio telescopes, until recently, have only been able to focus on a relatively small area of the sky in each observation.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

How to mend a Picasso painting.

By Aussiegirl

For those of my readers who may be worrying about their own Picassos, here is an interesting article on how to repair a painting. As far as I'm concerned, though, you could set fire to this ugly thing, after first jumping up and down on it with dirty shoes. Believe me, if this monstrosity had turned up in an auction house with "Capisso", rather than "Picasso", as the name of the artist, it would have been hurled out the door!
(Here is some information about this "thing" that I found elsewhere: The Spanish artist's famous "The Dream" turned into a nightmare for Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn when he accidentally put his elbow through the 1932 portrait of Picasso's mistress Marie-Therese Walter.)

How to mend a Picasso painting. - By Daniel Engber - Slate Magazine

I Punched a Hole in My Picasso!
Now what do I do?
By Daniel Engber

Casino mogul Steve Wynn ripped a hole through his $139 million Picasso painting while gesticulating at a cocktail party, reports the New York Post. Nora Ephron gave her own first-person account of the damage: It was "a black hole the size of a silver dollar … with two three-inch long rips coming off it in either direction." Wynn had just agreed to sell the painting; now, the deal is off. Is there any way to fix the ripped Picasso?

Yes, but it will be slow and tedious work. The torn ends of the canvas can probably be lined up, and conservators can identify matching fibers on either side of the rip by inspecting them under a microscope. In general, you can expect the wefts in the fabric—that is, the crosswise yarns of the weave—to split at the site of the impact. The lengthwise warps tend to get stretched out, but they may not break.

The rip itself can be mended in a few different ways. First, the conservator can line up the torn ends and affix them to a new piece of fabric that lines the back of the painting. She might also try to attach the torn ends to each other using a method called Rissverklebung, in which individual fibers are rewoven back into place.

To reweave the warps and wefts, you have to figure out the proper placement of each individual fiber. Bits of paint that are stuck to the fibers must be glued in place or removed until the reweaving is complete. (Conservators map out the location of each paint flake they remove so it can be replaced in precisely the right spot.) Because an accident will stretch out some fibers and fray others, you sometimes have to tie off and shorten some threads while attaching new material to lengthen others. Threads attached to the back of the canvas will reinforce the seam.

Closing the tear is only the first part of the process. An accident like Wynn's can damage the painting in other places by stretching the fabric and distorting the image. To correct for these planar distortions, the conservators try to change the lengths of individual fibers or small patches of the canvas. Applied humidity can make a fiber expand across its diameter and shrink across its length—and tighten up distended parts of the weave.

Bits of paint that have fallen off the painting must also be replaced. Wynn might have surveyed the scene of the accident and saved any stray bits of paint for the conservators in a petri dish. (Chance are he didn't strip much off the canvas—Ephron says he was wearing a golf shirt, which suggests a bare-elbow blow. An elbow covered with rough fabric would probably have done more damage.) Conservators have to touch up spots of missing paint with fresh material, color-matched to the surrounding area.

One more thing: Conservators always try to make their repairs reversible. That way, you won't cause any permanent damage to the work if you screw up, and someone can always try to improve on your work in the future.

On the case of the "missing" helium

By Aussiegirl

I'm glad that I didn't know that helium-3 was missing -- that would have been just one more worry on top of so many more. Now that they seem to have found it -- and in the process reaffirmed their understanding of the Big Bang -- I can turn my anxiety to other matters.
Alexander Pope (pictured here) would have known where to look for the missing helium -3: on the Moon. Let me quote the relevant passage from Canto 5 of his The Rape of the Lock:
Some thought it mounted to the lunar sphere,
Since all things lost on earth are treasur'd there.
There hero's wits are kept in pond'rous vases,
And beaux' in snuff boxes and tweezercases.
There broken vows and deathbed alms are found,
And lovers' hearts with ends of riband bound;
The courtier's promises, and sick man's prayers,
The smiles of harlots, and the tears of heirs,
Cages for gnats, and chains to yoke a flea,
Dried butterflies, and tomes of casuistry.

On the case of the "missing" helium (October 2006) - News - PhysicsWeb

On the case of the "missing" helium
Belle Dumé

Astrophysicists may have solved the embarrassing problem of why there is so much less helium-3 in the universe than predicted by standard cosmology and star-evolution theories. Peter Eggleton of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US and colleagues at Monash University in Australia have calculated that when aging low-mass stars swell to become "red giants", the large amount of helium-3 they have produced is pushed down into the stars’ hot interiors, where it is then burnt up. The result suggests that our understanding of the Big Bang is correct after all (Sciencexpress 1133065).

The helium-3 isotope -- together with hydrogen and lithium -- is one of the very few elements to have been synthesised in the Big Bang. Further quantities of helium-3 are also produced by low-mass stars (about one to two times as heavy as our Sun) when they burn up the hydrogen in their cores.

But once a low-mass star has spent all its hydrogen, it expands and cools to become a red giant, during which the outer layers of the star become turbulent. Scientists believe that any helium-3 inside the star becomes mixed up into these layers by convection. The helium is then carried away from these surface layers into space by winds.

The flaw with this model, however, is that it predicts that there should be a lot of helium-3 in the universe, whereas astronomers have only detected about a tenth of that value, which is just the amount that was produced in the Big Bang.

Eggleton and co-workers may now have solved this problem by modelling a red giant star in 3D. The simulations show that turbulence at the base of the star’s convection layer causes deep "hydrodynamic" mixing that destroys the helium-3 so none of it can be released into space. The helium-3 is converted into another helium isotope, helium-4, and hydrogen.

"The apparent problem with the Big Bang has been solved," says team member John Lattanzio of Monash University. "The helium-3 in the universe comes from the Big Bang, and low mass stars -- although they produce helium-3 -- do not release any into the universe because they destroy it."

Ancient Brothel Restored in Pompeii

By Aussiegirl

The world's oldest profession gets its own museum. Fascinating stuff. Here's a link to the official Pompei website, where you can take virtual tours, read about current restoration and excavation projects and more. Makes me nostalgic and desirous of seeing it all again.

Ancient Brothel Restored in Pompeii

It was the jewel of Pompeii's libertines: a brothel decorated with frescoes of erotic figures believed to be the most popular in the ancient Roman city.

The Lupanare — which derives its name from the Latin word "lupa," or "prostitute" — was presented to the public again Thursday following a yearlong, $253,000 restoration to clean up its frescoes and fix the structure.

Pompeii was destroyed in A.D. 79 by a cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius that killed thousands of people — and buried the city in 20 feet of volcanic ash, preserving Pompeii for 1,600 years and providing precious information on what life was like in the ancient world.

Among the buildings was the two-story brothel with 10 rooms — five on each floor — and a latrine. Each room on the ground floor bears a fresco of a different sex scene painted over its door — possibly suggesting the prostitute's specialty.

The upper floor was for higher-ranking clients. The stone beds were covered with mattresses and each room has names engraved in its walls — possibly those of the prostitutes and their clients.

The brothel — once centrally located near the city's forum and the market — is open to the public as part of the regular tour of the ruins of Pompeii, east of Naples.

"The legend that Pompeii was a lascivious city is true — and not true," said Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, the site's top archaeological official. "There was ample opportunity for sexual relations, but the prostitute in the technical sense was confined to one place."

The building was unearthed in 1862 and has undergone several restorations since, most recently in 1949, officials in Pompeii said. The latest restoration focused on fixing leaks in the building and restoring the frescoes, which had turned yellow and had faded in parts.

Libertine habits flourished in Pompeii, and considerable evidence testifies that the city's wealthy merchants and visiting sailors had a taste for eroticism.

The prostitutes were slaves and were usually of Greek or other foreign origin, and they commanded prices up to eight times the cost of a portion of wine, with revenues going to their owner or the manager of the brothel, officials said.

Kennedy-KGB collaboration 

By Aussiegirl

Iraq is by no means the first instance of Democrats taking the side of the enemy and actively talking to and collaborating with our adversaries against U.S. interests and against a sitting Republican president. We have tales of John Kerry having talked privately with North Vietnamese representatives in Paris at the same time that the administration was involved in peace negotiations, and there are tales of Bill Clinton traveling to Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union while a student, at a time when tourist travel to the Soviet Union was by no means easy, especially for a supposedly uknown and impoverished young student. How bizarre does leftist ideology have to be to consistently take the enemy's side? One more reason to get out to the polls. Unfortunately, the Democrats cannot be trusted with national security, even if the Republicans need to be taught a lesson. The stakes are too high.

Kennedy-KGB collaboration - Editorials/Op-Ed - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper

History has long since vindicated Ronald Reagan's Cold War policy. Even Sen. Ted Kennedy, whom no one would accuse of harboring pro-Reagan sympathies, had to admit that Mr. Reagan "will be honored as the president who won the Cold War." But opinions have not always been so united.

In his new book, "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism," Grove City College professor Paul Kengor sheds light on a letter written by KGB head Viktor Chebrikov to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. The letter is dated May 14, 1983, right as the debate was heating up over Mr. Reagan's proposed deployment of intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Western Europe to counter the Soviets' medium-range rockets in Eastern Europe.

Most Democrats and much of the left were universally opposed to Mr. Reagan's plan, which they argued would lead to nuclear war. Heading the list of critics was Mr. Kennedy, who had, according to the Soviet letter, sent former Sen. John V. Tunney to meet with Kremlin leaders. Chebrikov writes that Mr. Kennedy "charged Tunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts, to... Andropov."

According to the letter, Mr. Kennedy was concerned with "Reagan's belligerence," which he felt was in part the result of the president's popularity. "The only real threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations," wrote Chebrikov, relaying Mr. Tunney's message. "These issues, according to [Mr. Kennedy], will without a doubt become the most important of the [1984] election campaign."

The letter goes on to say how Mr. Kennedy felt that the Soviets' peaceful intentions were being "quoted out of context, silenced or groundlessly and whimsically discounted." Conversely, Mr. Reagan "has the capabilities to counter any propaganda." In other words, if the letter is to be believed, Mr. Kennedy felt his own president was the real aggressor.

Mr. Kennedy had two proposals for Andropov, according to Chebrikov. First, he asked for a meeting later that summer in order "to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA." Second, that "Kennedy believes that in order to influence Americans it would be important to organize ... televised interviews with [Andropov] in the USA."

If Chebrikov's account of events is accurate, it's clear Mr. Kennedy was actively engaging the Russians to influence the 1984 election. He also seems to have genuinely believed that Mr. Reagan's policies were endangering U.S.-Soviet relations and that the best solution was to get Mr. Reagan out of office. The letter closes with Chebrikov saying that "Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988," possibly suggesting Mr. Kennedy had other, more selfish motives.

As Mr. Kengor concludes, "if the memo is in fact an accurate account of what transpired, it constitutes a remarkable example of the lengths to which some on the political left, including a sitting U.S. senator, were willing to go to stop Ronald Reagan."

We agree. Even in a jaded world, it is breathtaking to discover a U.S. senator -- brother of a former president -- actively and secretly collaborating with Soviet leaders in an attempt to undermine the president of the United States' nuclear defense policy during the height of the cold war.

Math vs. vampires: vampires lose

By Aussiegirl

Just in time for Halloween and trick or treats, science makes us safe from vampires, ghosts and zombies. Still, what's that black-robed creature with fangs at my door begging for candy? Ah, science apparently cannot answer all the mysteries in the world. And as for ghosts, I'd say the jury is still out on this one. I have known people who have had personal experiences with ghostly apparitions, and the folklore is too strong with them to suggest that they are impossible. The world of spirit is still beyond the current ken of science. However, the mysteries of quantum physics teach us that there are many unbelievable things that exist in the universe. Now, I'm still a bit worried about the Wolf Man, so I'm waiting for a scientific verdict on those!

Math vs. vampires: vampires lose

If vam­pires—corpses that rise up to suck the blood of the liv­ing—sound bi­o­log­i­cal­ly im­plau­si­ble to you, you’re not alone. They ex­ist pure­ly in leg­end, as vir­tu­al­ly all sci­en­tists agree.

But for any vampire be­liev­ers un­dis­sua­d­ed by bi­o­log­i­cal facts, a pro­fes­sor has come up with a sec­ond proof of their un­re­al­i­ty, us­ing math.

If vam­pires ever ex­isted in the forms in which mo­v­ies and books por­tray them, they would have quick­ly wiped out hu­ma­n­ity long ago, ac­cord­ing to phys­ics pro­f­es­sor Cos­tas Ef­thi­mi­ou of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cen­tral Flor­i­da in Or­lan­do, Fla.

Pop­u­lar lo­re pas­sed down through cen­turies holds that vam­pire vic­tims be­come vam­pires them­selves, and launch their own blood-hunts on hap­less hu­mans.

To rule out vam­pires, Ef­thi­mi­ou re­lied on a bas­ic prin­ci­ple known as ge­o­met­ric pro­gres­sion.

“If vam­pires tru­ly feed with even a ti­ny frac­tion of the fre­quen­cy that they are de­picted to in the mo­v­ies and folk­lore, then the hu­man race would have been wiped out quite quick­ly af­ter the first vam­pire ap­peared,” Ef­thi­mi­ou and a grad­u­ate stu­dent col­league wrote in a pa­per posted on­line.

Efthimiou sup­posed that the first vam­pire arose Jan. 1, 1600, around the be­gin­ning of a cen­tu­ry dur­ing which some of the first im­por­tant mod­ern writ­ings on vam­pires ap­peared. The re­search­ers es­ti­mat­ed the glob­al pop­u­la­tion at that time, based on his­tor­i­cal re­c­ords, as 537 mil­lion.

As­sum­ing that the vam­pire fed once a month and the vic­tim turned in­to a vam­pire, there would be two vam­pires on Feb. 1, four the next month, and eight the month af­ter that. All hu­mans would be vam­pires with­in 2½ years. “Hu­mans can­not sur­vive un­der these con­di­tions, even if our pop­u­la­tion were dou­bling each mon­th,” which is well be­y­ond hu­man ca­pa­ci­ties, Ef­thi­mi­ou said.

Efthimiou and the grad­u­ate stu­dent, So­hang Gan­dhi, al­so took on ghosts and zom­bie leg­ends.

Us­ing laws of mo­tion dis­cov­ered by Isaac New­ton in the late 1600s, they not­ed that ghosts would­n’t be able to walk and pass through walls, and not just be­cause walls are sol­id.

In movies such as “Ghost,” star­ring Pat­rick Swayze and Demi Moore, ghosts of­ten walk like hu­mans, pass through walls and pick up ob­jects. How­ever, Ef­thi­mi­ou ar­gues, for ghosts to walk like hu­mans, they would have to put pres­sure on the floor. The floor would ex­ert an equal and op­po­site force in re­turn. But ghosts’ abil­i­ty to pass through walls and have hu­mans walk right through them demon­strates that they can’t ap­ply force, the re­search­ers wrote.

They al­so pro­vid­ed an ex­pla­na­tion for “voodoo zom­bie­fi­ca­tion,” a prod­uct of Hai­tian folklo­re that sug­gests that zom­bies arise when a sor­cer­er places an evil spell on an en­e­my. The re­search­ers re­viewed the case of a Hai­tian ad­o­les­cent who was pro­nounced dead by a lo­cal doc­tor af­ter a week of great con­vul­sions.

Af­ter the boy was bur­ied, he re­turned in an in­co­her­ent state, and Hai­tians said a sor­cer­er had re­s­ur­rec­t­ed him as a zom­bie.

Efthimiou and Gan­dhi attribute the incident to a tox­ic sub­stance called tetrodotox­in, found in a puffer­fish breed na­tive to Hai­tian wa­ters. Con­tact with the sub­stance gen­er­al­ly re­sults in rap­id death. How­ev­er, in some cases, the right dose pro­duces a state that mim­ics death and slows vi­tal signs to un­mea­s­ur­a­ble lev­els. Even­tu­al­ly, the vic­tim snaps out of the death-like co­ma.

Anal­y­sis has shown that ox­y­gen dep­ri­va­tion could ex­p­lain the boy’s brain dam­age and in­co­her­ent state, Ef­thi­mi­ou said: thus, “it would seem that zom­bie­fi­ca­tion is noth­ing more than a skill­ful act of poi­son­ing.”

Airborne Laser Closer to Completion

By Aussiegirl

Ronald Reagan lives! And they laughed at the Wright Brothers. Here's the description of the craft from the official website:

The Airborne Laser (ABL) will locate and track missiles in the boost phase of their flight, then accurately point and fire the high-energy laser, destroying enemy missiles near their launch areas.


Operates autonomously, above the clouds, outside the range of threat weapons but sufficiently close to enemy territory

Engages early, destroying ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight over launch area

Cues and tracks targets, communicating with other joint theater assets for layered defense system

Unique Technology:

Nose-mounted turret with 1.5m telescope that focuses beams on missile and collects return image and signals

Beam Control System to acquire and track targets with precision accuracy
Look for further developments of the ABL as the global threat of ballistic missiles becomes ever more prevalent.

Airborne Laser Closer to Completion

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency rolled out an airborne laser aircraft on Friday, the latest development in a missile-defense system that was once ridiculed as a "Star Wars" fantasy.

In a ceremony at the Boeing Co.'s Integrated Defense Systems facility in Wichita, the agency announced it was ready to flight test some of the low-power systems on the ABL aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-400F designed to destroy enemy missiles.

Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said he embraced early critics' comparison of the laser-equipped plane to the Star Wars movies.

"I believe we are building the forces of good to beat the forces of evil. ... We are taking a major step in giving the American people their first light saber," Obering told dignitaries and employees gathered for the ceremony.

The laser weapon's system is designed to detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles in their boost flight phase.

It will likely be 2008 before the program is ready to fire at a missile in flight, and it wouldn't be operational until the middle or late part of the decade, he said.

"This is not the prettiest aircraft I have seen," Obering said. "It is not supposed to be pretty. It is supposed to be mean."

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Growing Intelligence Around Earth

By Aussiegirl

Shades of Skynet in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines!

NASA - A Growing Intelligence Around Earth

A Growing Intelligence Around Earth

The Indonesian volcano Talang on the island of Sumatra had been dormant for centuries when, in April 2005, it suddenly rumbled to life. A plume of smoke rose 1000 meters high and nearby villages were covered in ash. Fearing a major eruption, local authorities began evacuating 40,000 people. UN officials, meanwhile, issued a call for help: Volcanologists should begin monitoring Talang at once.

Little did they know, high above Earth, a small satellite was already watching the volcano. No one told it to. EO-1 (short for "Earth Observing 1") noticed the warning signs and started monitoring Talang on its own.

Indeed, by the time many volcanologists were reading their emails from the UN, "EO-1 already had data," says Steve Chien, leader of JPL's Artificial Intelligence Group.

EO-1 is a new breed of satellite that can think for itself. "We programmed it to notice things that change (like the plume of a volcano) and take appropriate action," Chien explains. EO-1 can re-organize its own priorities to study volcanic eruptions, flash-floods, forest fires, disintegrating sea-ice—in short, anything unexpected.

Is this real intelligence? "Absolutely," he says. EO-1 passes the basic test: "If you put the system in a box and look at it from the outside, without knowing how the decisions are made, would you say the system is intelligent?" Chien thinks so.

And now the intelligence is growing. "We're teaching EO-1 to use sensors on other satellites." Examples: Terra and Aqua, two NASA satellites which fly over every part of Earth twice a day. Each has a sensor onboard named MODIS. It's an infrared spectrometer able to sense heat from forest fires and volcanoes—just the sort of thing EO-1 likes to study. "We make MODIS data available to EO-1," says Chien, "so when Terra or Aqua see something interesting, EO-1 can respond."

EO-1 also taps into sensors on Earth's surface, such as "the USGS volcano observatories in Hawaii, Washington and Antarctica." Together, the ground stations and satellites form a web of sensors, or a "sensorweb," with EO-1 at the center, gathering data and taking action. It's a powerful new way to study Earth.

Chien predicts that sensorwebs are going to come in handy on other planets, too. Take Mars, for example: "We have four satellites orbiting Mars and two rovers on the ground. They could work together." Suppose one satellite notices a dust storm brewing. It could direct others to monitor the storm when they fly over the area and alert rovers or astronauts—"hunker down, a storm is coming!"

On the Moon, Chien envisions swarms of rovers prospecting the lunar surface—"another good application," he says. What if one rover finds a promising deposit of ore? Others could be called to assist, bringing drills and other specialized tools to the area. With the autonomy of artificial intelligence, these rovers would need little oversight from their human masters.

Yet another example: the Sun. There are more than a half-a-dozen spacecraft 'out there' capable of monitoring solar activity—SOHO, ACE, GOES-12 and 13, Solar-B, TRACE, STEREO and others. Future missions will inflate the numbers even more. "If these spacecraft could be organized as a sensorweb, they could coordinate their actions to study solar storms and provide better warnings to astronauts on the Moon and Mars," he points out.

For now, the intelligence is confined to Earth. The rest of the Solar System awaits.

The Monarch Butterfly Migration Mystery

By Aussiegirl

There's so much in nature that we don't yet understand -- here's another mystery: how do monarch butterflies navigate? The scientists in this article have various theories, but so far the jury is still out.

The Monarch Butterfly Migration Mystery - Donald G. McNeil Jr. - New York Times

Fly Away Home

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Pinching a bright orange butterfly in one hand and an adhesive tag the size of a baby’s thumbnail in the other, the entomologist bent down so his audience could watch the big moment.

“You want to lay it right on this cell here, the one shaped like a mitten,” the scientist, Orley R. Taylor, told the group, a dozen small-game hunters, average age about 7 and each armed with a net. “If you pinch it for about three seconds, the tag will stay on for the life of the butterfly, which could be as long as nine months.”

Dr. Taylor, who runs the Monarch Watch project at the University of Kansas, is using the tags to follow one of the great wonders of the natural world: the annual migration of monarch butterflies between Mexico and the United States and Canada. [....]

Nevertheless, the 4,000-mile round trip made by millions of monarchs holds a central mystery that Dr. Taylor and a network of entomologists are trying to solve.

The butterfly that goes from Canada to Mexico and partway back lives six to nine months, but when it mates and lays eggs, it may have gotten only as far as Texas, and breeding butterflies live only about six weeks. So a daughter born on a Texas prairie goes on to lay an egg on a South Dakota highway divider that becomes a granddaughter. That leads to a great-granddaughter born in a Winnipeg backyard. Come autumn, how does she find her way back to the same grove in Mexico that sheltered her great-grandmother?

Wildebeest, in their famous migration across the Serengeti, learn by following their mothers — or aunts, if crocodiles get Mom. But the golden horde moving south through North America each fall is a throng of leaderless orphans.

Birds orient themselves by stars, landmarks or the earth’s magnetism, and they, at least, have bird brains. What butterflies accomplish with the rudimentary ganglia filling their noggins is staggering.

They are one of the few creatures on earth that can orient themselves both in latitude and longitude — a feat that, Dr. Taylor notes, seafaring humans did not manage until the 1700’s, when the clock set to Greenwich time was added to the sextant and compass.

All monarchs start migrating when the sun at their latitude drops to about 57 degrees above the southern horizon.

But those lifting off anywhere from Montana to Maine must aim themselves carefully to avoid drowning in the Gulf of Mexico or hitting a dead end in Florida. The majority manage to thread a geographical needle, hitting a 50-mile-wide gap of cool river valleys between Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Tex.

To test their ability to reorient themselves, Dr. Taylor has moved butterflies from Kansas to Washington, D.C. If he releases them right away, he said, they take off due south, as they would have where they were. But if he keeps them for a few days in mesh cages so they can see the sun rise and set, “they reset their compass heading,” he said. “The question is: How?” [....]

Confessions of a committed conservative -- going to the election ball reluctantly one more time

By Aussiegirl

Peggy Noonan has been accused by some of being too gloomy of late. But then, the great Mark Steyn is gloomy too -- but he's realistic. Noonan is on to something here -- the underlying theme of her piece is that the American public as a whole is far ahead of the political classes in understanding what's important: borders and the threat of Islam. There is no question that politicians of both parties have narrowed their worldview to simply staying in power and voting themselves more largesse at the public's expense. I think she's saying the age we live in calls for more -- for greatness and bold leadership, not narrow political considerations. The people are begging to be led, and instead are only receiving hollow promises of "vote for us one more time or the boogie men will get in power".

Of course it's better if the Republicans win -- but it's a choice between corrupt local pork-barrel politics combined with directionless mushy LBJ-style liberalism beholden to corporate and global interests on the Republican side, and complete leftist madness and lack of a plan or direction on the part of the Democratic party. Not the happiest choice for a committed conservative. Call it a Hobson's choice.

But the committed conservative's heart is no longer in this love affair. We are no longer passionate about this relationship. Oh, yes, we can work up some modicum of outrage or disgust at the over-the-top and very obvious effort at the media cum Democrat follies that are relentlessly trumpeted, from the Foley follies, to macacas to other hysterical forms of chaff thrown up by the chattering and nattering classes to keep us, the hoi polloi, from contemplating the real chasm that yawns before Western Civilization and our own American culture. We wearily recognize, like an oft-abandoned lover does, that the old beau will return at election time, and once again woo us with promises of wine and roses if we but attend one more dance. But like the lover who is finally beginning to recognize that the affair is really over and ardor has more than cooled, we feel ill-used, even when we see that there is little other choice.

I had a curious dream, a few nights ago. I dreamed that I was at a party with George Bush and he was flirting with me and trying to get me to sit on his lap. I was outraged by this behavior and completely baffled in the dream. I couldn't imagine what it meant, and when I woke up I understood. George Bush and the Republican party are wooing us once again. Having left us at the dance over and over, having danced with all the other pretty girls at the dance, having even danced with those he proclaimed to hate, and having attended to none of the important issues concerning borders and out of control spending, they are asking for our support once again by bringing out the boogie man.

Perhaps Halloween is a good time to precede national elections after all -- perhaps all the Republicans need to turn out the vote one more time, like getting an old mule out for one last weary workout with a relentless use of the whip, is a Halloween mask of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. I guess it's as good a reason as any to vote. But hardly intellectually gripping. We know they are going to ignore and even insult us again as soon as the election is won. But what choice to do we have? I suppose this counts as my lukewarm endorsement of all things Republican for this election. Let's just say -- the song is over, but a hint of the melody lingers on. Perhaps my political heart is as mixed as the purple metaphors in today's meditation.

I will disagree with Peggy Noonan on this -- I don't think the Republicans will lose the House -- the Democrats and media have gone overboard with the manufactured scandals meant to damage the support of the base. All they have succeeded in doing is finally energizing that part of the base that was disgusted and might have stayed home rather than vote. What the Republicans and George Bush were not able to do with their wooing and empty promises and fear-mongering, the media accomplished with its excess. It's only a passion of disgust and fear of the opposition, but it's better than nothing and George Bush will take it. It's not a good idea to dance in the end zone before your chickens are hatched, to mix one more metaphor.

I hope and pray that Ms. Noonan is correct when she states the following near her close: "Events will cause a reckoning, and then we'll save ourselves. And in this we will refind our greatness."

Meanwhile, civilization hangs in the balance, and it hardly seems to be on anyone's radar screen.

OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan

A year ago I wrote a column called "A Separate Peace," in which I said America's leaders in all areas--government, business, journalism--were in some deep way checking out. They saw bad things coming in the world and for our country, didn't think they could do anything about it, and were instead building a new pool or buying good memories for their kids. Soon after I was invited to address a group of Capitol Hill staffers to talk about the piece. When the meeting was over a woman walked up to me. She spoke of what was going wrong in Washington--the preoccupation with money, a lack of focus on the essentials, and the relentless dynamic of politics: first thing you do when you get power is move to keep power. And after a while you don't have any move but that move.

I said I thought the Republicans would take it on the chin in 2006, and that would force the beginning of wisdom. She surprised me. She was after all a significant staffer giving all her energy to helping advance conservative ideas within the Congress. "Yes," she said, in a quiet, deadly way. As in: I can't wait. As in: We'll get progress only through loss.

That's a year ago, from the Hill.

This is two weeks ago, from a Bush appointee: "I hope they lose the House." And one week ago, from a veteran of two GOP White Houses: "I hope they lose Congress." Republicans this year don't say "we" so much.

What is behind this? A lot of things, but here's a central one: They want to fire Congress because they can't fire President Bush.

[...]There remains a broad, reflexive, and very Republican kind of loyalty to George Bush. He is a war president with troops in the field. You can see his heart. He led us in a very human way through 9/11, from the early missteps to the later surefootedness. He was literally surefooted on the rubble that day he threw his arm around the retired fireman and said the people who did this will hear from all of us soon.

Images like that fix themselves in the heart. They're why Mr. Bush's popularity is at 38%. Without them it wouldn't be so high.

But there's unease in the base too, again for many reasons. One is that it's clear now to everyone in the Republican Party that Mr. Bush has changed the modern governing definition of "conservative."

He did this without asking. He did it even without explaining. He didn't go to the people whose loyalty and support raised him high and say, "This is what I'm doing, this is why I'm changing things, here's my thinking, here are the implications." The cynics around him likely thought this a good thing. To explain is to make things clearer, or at least to try, and they probably didn't want it clear. They had the best of both worlds, a conservative reputation and a liberal reality.

And Republicans, most of whom are conservative in at least general ways, and who endure the disadvantages of being conservative because they actually believe in ideas, in philosophy, in an understanding of the relation of man and the state, are still somewhat concussed. The conservative tradition on foreign affairs is prudent realism; the conservative position on borders is that they must be governed; the conservative position on high spending is that it is obnoxious and generationally irresponsible. Etc.

This is not how Mr. Bush has governed. And so in the base today personal loyalty, and affection, bumps up against intellectual unease.

[...]The Republican establishment, the Republican elite, is quietly supporting those candidates and ideas they think should be encouraged. They are thinking about whom they will back in '08. But they're not thinking of this, most of them, with the old excitement. Because they sense, in their tough little guts, that the heroic age of the American presidency is, for now, over. No president is going to come along and save us, and Congress isn't going to save us. Events will cause a reckoning, and then we'll save ourselves. And in this we will refind our greatness.
The base probably thinks pretty much the same. They go through the motions, as patriots are sometimes called to do. As for the election, it reminds me not of 1994 but 1992. That year, at a bipartisan gathering, I was pressed for a prediction. I said it was a contest between depression (if Republicans win) and anxiety (if Democrats win). I said Americans will take anxiety over depression any day, because it's the more awake state.

Wow! Striking Green Comet Suddenly Visible in Evening Sky

By Aussiegirl

Wow is right! I remember vividly being able to see comet Hale-Bopp with the naked eye a number of years ago. That was quite exciting since not much else is really visible in the brightly lit suburban area right outside Washington. It was stunning, and appeared to have two tails, rather than one. There's always something mysterious about the color green -- perhaps this is where the little green men come from, or maybe it's a piece of the moon, which has been said to be made of green cheese. And it has such a romantic name -- Comet Swan -- so much nicer than Hale-Bopp.

SPACE.com -- Wow! Striking Green Comet Suddenly Visible in Evening Sky

What had been a modest comet seen only with binoculars or telescopes flared up this week to become visible to the naked eye [images].

Comet SWAN, as it is called, is in the western sky after sunset from the Northern Hemisphere. It remains faint, likely not easy to find under bright city lights but pretty simple to spot from the countryside.

It is a "fairly easy naked-eye comet," said Pete Lawrence, who photographed the comet from the UK. "The tail is now showing some interesting features too."

UPDATE: Late Thursday, however, Lawrence reported that the comet already may be getting dimmer. It is not clear what skywatchers should expect of this comet.

Find it

The comet, also catalogued as C/2006 M4, is about halfway up in the sky in the direction of the constellation Corona Borealis [Sky Map].

As with most comets, this one looks like a fuzzy star. It has an interesting green tint, however, indicating it has a lot of the poisonous gas cyanogen and diatomic carbon, astronomers say.

Sam Storch, a long-time sky watcher from Long Island, NY, said the comet appears "quite a bit deeper than any other green I have seen in any sky object, even planetary nebulae."

"Comet SWAN is very easy to find," said Joe Rao, SPACE.com's Skywatching Columnist. "In good binoculars it appears as a bright, symmetrical and surprisingly green blob."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Huge 'launch ring' to fling satellites into orbit

By Aussiegirl

I'll bet some scientist was whirling a stone around his head, let go of it, watched it zip off into space, and suddenly thought, "Hey, maybe we could launch satellites into orbit this way!"

Huge 'launch ring' to fling satellites into orbit - space - 03 October 2006 - New Scientist Space

Huge 'launch ring' to fling satellites into orbit
David Shiga

An enormous ring of superconducting magnets similar to a particle accelerator could fling satellites into space, or perhaps weapons around the world, suggest the findings of a new study funded by the US air force.

Proponents of the idea say it would be much cheaper than conventional rocket launches. But critics warn that the technology would be difficult to develop and that the intense g forces experienced during launch might damage the very satellites being lofted into space.

Previous studies have investigated the use of magnets to accelerate satellites to the high speeds required for launch. But most have focused on straight tracks, which have to gather speed in one quick burst. Supplying the huge spike of energy needed for this method has proven difficult.

The advantage of a circular track is that the satellite can be gradually accelerated over a period of several hours. And the setup is technologically feasible and cost effective, suggests a recent, preliminary study of the idea funded by the air force's Office of Scientific Research.

The air force has now given the go-ahead for more in-depth research of the idea. The two-year study will begin within a few weeks and be led by James Fiske of LaunchPoint Technologies in Goleta, California, US.

The launch ring would be very similar to the particle accelerators used for physics experiments, with superconducting magnets placed around a 2-kilometre-wide ring.

The satellite, encased in an aerodynamic, cone-shaped shell that would protect it from the intense heat of launch, would be attached to a sled designed to respond to the forces from the superconducting magnets.

When the sled had been accelerated to its top speed of 10 kilometres per second, laser and pyrotechnic devices would be used to separate the cone from the sled. Then, the cone would skid into a side tunnel, losing some speed due to friction with the tunnel's walls.

The tunnel would direct the cone to a ramp angled at 30° to the horizon, where the cone would launch towards space at about 8 kilometres per second, or more than 23 times the speed of sound. A rocket at the back end of the cone would be used to adjust its trajectory and place it in a proper orbit.

Anything launched in this way would have to be able to survive enormous accelerations – more than 2000 times the acceleration due to gravity (2000g). This would seem to be an obstacle for launching things like communications satellites, but Fiske points out that the US military uses electronics in laser-guided artillery, which survive being fired out of guns at up to 20,000g. [....]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hitch hike to Mars inside an asteroid

By Aussiegirl

What won't they think of next! However, I don't like the sound of this sentence from the article: Orbital changes could potentially divert it from its close approach to Mars or even put it on a future collision course with the Earth.

Hitch hike to Mars inside an asteroid - space - 23 October 2006 - New Scientist Space

Hitch hike to Mars inside an asteroid
David Shiga

Burrowing inside an asteroid whose orbit carries it past both the Earth and Mars could protect astronauts from radiation on their way to the Red Planet. The idea is being investigated with funding from NASA.

Outside the protective bubble of the Earth's magnetic field, charged particles from the Sun and from beyond our solar system in the form of cosmic rays pose a hazard to astronauts.

Long-term exposure to this space radiation could increase the risk of astronauts developing cancer and could interfere with their memory and attention skills.

Building shielding on Earth to launch with the spacecraft would add a lot of extra weight to the vehicle and would increase the cost of the mission as a result. Other ideas, like a lightweight plasma bubble that could be generated in space are being explored, but have disadvantages of their own.

Now, the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) in Atlanta, Georgia, US, is funding a study to see whether asteroids could be used for radiation shielding. The study is being carried out by Daniella Della-Giustina, a student at the University of Arizona in Tucson, US.

A small population of asteroids pass by both the Earth and Mars in their orbits. So the idea is that a spacecraft containing Mars-bound astronauts could rendezvous with one of these objects as it goes by the Earth and travel with it until it nears the Red Planet.

In one version of the idea, the astronauts would actually dig a hole in the asteroid, put the spacecraft inside and cover it over with material from the asteroid. Within this protective burrow, the spacecraft would be shielded from cosmic rays during the six- to 10- month journey to Mars.

In a second version, the spacecraft would not contact the space rock. Instead, it would hover nearby, and astronauts or robots would visit it on spacewalks. "You'd have the astronaut actually go to the asteroid and begin to extract material," Della-Giustina told New Scientist.

The material collected could then be brought back and put into a hollow shell surrounding the spacecraft. The shell of rocky debris would make a radiation shield, she says.

The plan has some potential hurdles, but nothing that seems to rule it out, says Daniel Durda of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, US.

He says it is unlikely that such a rendezvous would significantly alter the asteroid's orbit but that the possibility should be investigated further. Orbital changes could potentially divert it from its close approach to Mars or even put it on a future collision course with the Earth. [....]

Monday, October 23, 2006

Half-life heresy: Accelerating radioactive decay

By Aussiegirl

What an exciting idea, that what we thought was immutable is actually mutable! Unfortunately, to read the rest of this article requires a subscription to New Scientist, which I don't have. So I did the next best thing -- I found two other articles about the physicist referred to, Claus Rolfs, the first describing Rolfs' ideas, the second by a fellow physicist who considers Rolfs' ideas fallacious. Time will tell who's correct.

Half-life heresy: Accelerating radioactive decay - fundamentals - 21 October 2006 - New Scientist

There's nothing you can do to hurry radioactive decay, the textbooks will tell you, but New Scientist meets a physicist who begs to differ.

For all its eureka moments, science has taught us many unpalatable lessons about what we are powerless to do. We can't dim the sun to remedy droughts or global warming. We can't stave off the ravages of time to live for thousands of years. And there's little we can do about radioactive waste from nuclear reactors that will be a health hazard for generations to come. Radioactivity cannot be tamed; all we can do is bundle the waste somewhere safe and wait for it to decay away. So it takes some nerve to say otherwise, and suggest that there are, after all, ways to speed up radioactive decay.

Yet that is exactly what Claus Rolfs, a physicist at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, is doing. His dramatic - and controversial - claim is that by encasing certain radioisotopes in metal and chilling them close to absolute zero, it ought ...
Here's the description of Rolfs' ideas:

Cool solution to waste disposal

[....] Professor Claus Rolfs, leader of the group at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, said “The method we are proposing means that nuclear waste could probably be dealt with entirely within the lifetimes of the people that produce it. We would not have to put it underground and let our great-great-grandchildren pay the price for our high standard of living.”

The technique involves embedding the nuclear waste in a metal and cooling it to ultra-low temperatures. This speeds up the rate of decay of the radioactive materials potentially cutting their half lives by a factor of 100 or more.

Professor Rolfs added “We are currently investigating radium-226, a hazardous component of spent nuclear fuel with a half-life of 1600 years. I calculate that using this technique could reduce the half-life to 100 years. At best, I have calculated that it could be reduced to as little as two years. This would avoid the need to bury nuclear waste in deep repositories - a hugely expensive and difficult process.”

Rolfs developed the technique after trying to recreate experimentally the way in which atomic nuclei react in the centre of stars. Whilst using a particle collider to carry out his studies, he noticed that more nuclear fusion reactions happened in the collider if the atomic nuclei were encased in metal and cooled. Fusion involves light nuclei coalescing to form heavier nuclei, releasing energy in the process. Radioactive decay is the opposite: a particle is released from a nucleus. Rolfs believes that if cooling nuclei in metal enhances fusion, it could enhance the opposite reaction, namely speeding up the rate at which radioactive particles decay.

According to Rolfs, the lower temperature of the metal means that free electrons can get closer to the radioactive nuclei. These electrons accelerate positively charged particles towards the nuclei, thereby increasing the probability of fusion reactions, or in the opposite case, accelerate particles that are being ejected from the nucleus. [....]

And here's the refutation of his ideas:

Can Germans speed up the radioactive decay?

As physicsweb.org reports, Claus Rolfs et al. from University of Bochum used their local accelerator to speed up or slow down the fusion rate of individual protons, deuterons, and other light nuclei. The authors argue that if the particles are encased in metals, the process is faster than with insulators.

Besides fusion, they have proposed a similar method to speed up the rate of both alpha and beta+- radioactive decay. Rolfs' explanation is based on electrons near the nuclei that accelerate positively charged particles towards the nuclei. Blah blah blah.

I have very serious difficulties in believing this sort of stuff because the electrons can only give the particles electronVolts of energy while you need differences of order megaelectronVolts: electrons can simply be neglected in nuclear physics. In other words, the proposed mechanism and its problems seem equivalent to those of cold fusion. I am far from being the only one who believes that cold fusion is BS. In fact, even sonofusion is probably BS.

For long-lived nuclei that decay via alpha-decay, the huge timescales come from the exponentials that we know from quantum tunnelling. Most of the barrier that the alpha particle needs to penetrate is unaffected by the electrons.

So I am convinced that electrons, chemistry, and atomic physics can't cause any significant changes in the lifetimes of the elements and that their work is nonsense, despite their precious German nationality. But if I am missing something, I am sure that a reader will correct me. Such a discovery would have profound implications. The main problem with radioactive waste is its long lifetime. If you could significantly speed their decay up, that would make a huge political difference for nuclear power plants.

2006 Transit of Mercury

By Aussiegirl

Although I have posted the entire article, be sure to click on the link anyway for an animation of the transit. You'll find a picture of the Sun, and a little black dot representing Mercury will immediately start slowly moving across the picture.
My illustration is a photograph taken of Mercury by Mariner 10 during one of its three flybys in 1974 and 1975.

NASA - 2006 Transit of Mercury

2006 Transit of Mercury
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips

Mark your calendar: On Wednesday, Nov 8th, the planet Mercury will pass directly in front of the Sun. The transit begins at 2:12 pm EST (11:12 am PST) and lasts for almost five hours. Good views can be had from the Americas, Hawaii, Australia and all along the Pacific Rim.

During the transit, Mercury's tiny disk—jet black and perfectly round—will glide slowly across the face of the Sun. Only a speck of the Sun's surface is actually covered, so the Sun remains as dangerous as ever to look at. But with a proper filter and a little imagination, the Transit of Mercury can be a marvelous experience.

There are many ways to safely observe the Sun, e.g., through eclipse glasses or by means of a pinhole projector. In this case, nothing beats a telescope equipped with a sun-safe H-alpha filter. H-alpha filters are narrowly tuned to the red glow of solar hydrogen. They reveal the Sun as a boiling inferno, cross-crossed by dark magnetic filaments and peppered with sunspots. Warning: The sight of Mercury navigating this starscape could be mind blowing.

Teachers, call your local astronomy club and ask if they have such a solar telescope. Amateur astronomers love to show off the heavens, and someone will probably volunteer to bring their 'scope to your classroom for the transit. (You can also view the transit online at the SOHO web site--no telescope required.)

Here's something to think about while watching the transit: Mercury is fantastically mysterious. More than half of the planet is unknown to us. When Mariner 10 flew by in the mid-70s, it managed to photograph only 45% of Mercury's cratered surface. What lies on the other side? More craters? Or something totally unexpected? You're free to speculate, because the next spacecraft to visit Mercury, NASA's MESSENGER probe, won't enter orbit until 2011.

One of Mercury's greatest secrets is the mystery-material at its poles. Radars on Earth have pinged Mercury and received a strong echo from polar craters. A favorite explanation is ice. While Mercury's daylit surface heats up to 400o C, the temperature in deep, dark polar craters dips below -200o C. If an icy comet landed in one of those craters (or made one of those craters), the comet's ices, vaporized by impact, might re-freeze and stick around. As skeptics like to say, however, "it's just a theory," one of many that MESSENGER will check.

Another puzzle is Mercury's wrinkles. Geologists call them "lobate scarps." Like wrinkles on a raisin, the scarps are thought to be a sign of shrinkage. Mercury may actually be collapsing in on itself as its massive iron core cools and contracts. To check this idea, MESSENGER will map Mercury's magnetic field, which springs from the core. If the core is collapsing, the collapse may leave telltale signs in the planet's magnetism. MESSENGER will also look for lobate scarps on the uncharted side of Mercury to see if this is truly a global phenomenon.

The answers are years away. Meanwhile, we watch and wonder, and Nov. 8th is a good day for that.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Convert or Die -- Jamie Glazov Symposium

By Aussiegirl

The silence surrounding the forced conversions of Steve Centanni and Olaf Wigg is deafening. Not a peep of protest from all the usual bearded and turbaned suspects normally eager to declare fatwas, edicts and denunciations at the drop of a cartoon or the rumor of a Koran toilet-dunking. Mustafa Akyol, a Muslim journalist from Istanbul, Turkey gamely attempts to deny that forced conversion is an Islamic doctrine. Robert Spencer, David Aikman and Andrew Bostom take on the debate. Fascinating, lengthy, in-depth and highly informative and scholarly. So, are Steve and Olaf still Muslims? Will they be killed for apostasy if they dare to attend Christmas Eve services this year? Is there compulsion in Islam? And what's with Ahmadinejad and Bin Laden and Zawahiri constantly calling for the West to convert or face the consequences? I demand they convert to Christianity - how's that?

FrontPage magazine.com :: Symposium: Convert or Die by Jamie Glazov

Mustafa Akyol, let me begin with you. What do you make of the forced conversions of the two Fox journalists and with the Gadahn calls for the conversions of the people he named?
As a Muslim, how do you regard these events?

Akyol: First, greetings to all participants and readers of this symposium. And thanks for having me.

This is an important topic and, as a Muslim, my position is clear: I am absolutely against the concept of forced conversion, which I believe is in opposition to the basic principles of the Qur'an. The verse you mentioned -- “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) -- is very clear and there are also other ones, such as, "It is the truth from your Lord; so let whoever wishes have faith and whoever wishes be unbeliever." (18:29) There is nothing in the Qur'an which would justify a forced conversion to Islam. Indeed a purely Qur'anic Muslim view should cherish full religious freedom.

However, the post-Qur'anic Islamic literature is not so friendly to religious freedom. The hadiths and the jurists' opinions based on them added a lot of extra rules and regulations due to the political needs of the early Islamic empire. The ban on apostasy was such a post-Qur'anic rule that I think we Muslims should abandon right away. People should have the right to leave Islam and choose other religions if they decide to do so.

[...]Robert Spencer:

While I applaud Mustafa Akyol’s endeavor to construct an Islam free from “hadiths and the jurists' opinions,” unfortunately those traditions and rulings are normative for the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide. Since many of these ahadith are attributed to Muhammad himself and are found in hadith collections generally considered reliable by Muslims (such as Bukhari’s), it is extremely difficult to convince orthodox Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims to dismiss them. For them, the ban on apostasy from Islam is not just a “post-Qur'anic rule,” but a supreme evil, as it was regarded, according to many ahadith, by Muhammad himself[...]

[...] David Aikman continues:

I applaud Mustafa Akyol's denunciation of the forced conversion of Fox newsmen Centanni and Wiig, but I fear that Mr. Akyol's humane disgust with conversion at the end of a gun-barrel is largely because he has benefited from having grown up in modernTurkey, which, since its founding in the 20 th. century by Attaturk, has been blessed by a secular state and not an Islamic one. If Mr. Akyol were resident in many other Muslim countries around the world, he would at best be repudiated for the un-shariah approach to the issue he expressed in this forum, at worst threatened with physical harm or death. What I do wish to address is what this new, threatening component in the discourse of Islamic militants means for the whole of the human race. It amounts to a war for a totalitarian control not just of its adversaries all over the world, but of the world as a whole. It aspires to coerce the entire world into conversion to Islam or into the humiliating acceptance of "dhimmi" status. In effect, Al Qaeda and all who support it are waging a war not just on the West, not just on the remains of a Christendom almost fatally weakened by political correctness and notions of moral equivalence, but on global civilization itself. Terrorist strikes and plots by advocates of global jihad have been committed or plotted in a variety of countries that makes little sense from the perspective of their various
political positions.

Oriana Fallaci bequeaths her papers and books to pontifical school

By Aussiegirl

Unfortunately, I neglected recently to post an obituary of one of my heroines, Italy's fearless Oriana Fallaci. Described curiously in this article as merely "an atheist", the world-famous journalist has bequeathed her books and papers to a pontifical school because of her great admiration for Pope Benedict. Oriana also admired the Dahlai Lama, so there was something that drew her to men of integrity, honesty and above all, moral and spiritual strength. At great cost to herself, she dared to expose the dangers of Islam in such powerful books as "The Force of Reason" and "The Rage and the Pride", even in the face of overwhelming condemnation and even criminal indictments from her native land, which prevented her at the end of her life from traveling back to the country she and her father defended during the war. For shame, Italy -- to abandon your most faithful daughter for some faithless Muslims who are preparing to cut your throats and burn your religious cathedrals.

Atheist gifts pontifical school in will - Yahoo! News

An Italian journalist and self-described atheist who died last month has left most of her books and notes to a pontifical university in Rome because of her admiration for Pope Benedict XVI, a school official said Saturday.


Oriana Fallaci had described the pontiff as an ally in her campaign to rally Christians in Europe against what she saw as a Muslim crusade against the West. As she battled breast cancer last year, she had a private audience with Benedict, who was elected only a few months earlier, at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

In one of her final interviews, Fallaci told The Wall Street Journal: "I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true."

Benedict was surprised by the gift of the books, which dated back as far as the 17th century and included volumes about the formation of modern-day Italy, American history, philosophy and theology, said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateranense University in Rome.

"The veneration that she had for you, Holy Father, persuaded her to make this donation, which will be known as the Oriana Fallaci Archives," Fisichella said during a ceremony at the university Saturday to announce the gift of the books.

Benedict greeted Fallaci's nephew and his family during the ceremony, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. He then spoke briefly about the search for truth in science and academia.

"God is the ultimate truth to which all reason naturally gravitates," the pontiff told an audience of students and faculty.

A few weeks before her death, Fallaci had some 20 boxes of books sent to the university, Fisichella later told The Associated Press. Books are still awaiting shipment from her homes in New York and Tuscany, he said, as well as her notes as a journalist.

Fisichella said "the pope has said we must live in the world as if God existed and she (Fallaci) took up the challenge."

After decades of conducting major interviews and covering wars as a correspondent for two of Italy's largest dailies, Fallaci concentrated her famous passion and energy in her last years on vehement attacks against a Muslim world she judged to be the enemy of Western civilization.

Absent from the publishing scene for nearly a decade, Fallaci burst back into the spotlight after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. with a series of blistering essays in which she argued that Muslims were carrying out a crusade against the Christian West.

At the time of her death, she was on trial in northern Italy, accused of defaming Islam in her 2004 book, "The Strength of Reason." In it she argued that Europe had sold its soul to what she called an Islamic invasion.

Fallaci had also taken the Catholic Church to task for being what she considered too weak before the Muslim world, despite her praise of Benedict.

She died three days after the pope delivered a speech at a German university in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The speech sparked anger in the Muslim world, prompting Benedict to express regrets and say the words did not reflect his personal opinion.

Benedict, who has been calling for more dialogue between Muslims and Christians, will make his first pilgrimage as pontiff to a predominantly Muslim country when he visits Turkey in November.

Ukrainian-Australian wins San Antonio Piano Competition

By Aussiegirl

Ukrainian-Australian pianist Alexey Koltakov has won a gold medal in the San Antonio International Piano Competition. You can visit Alexey's website here and listen to a bit of his music as well as read reviews and a bio.

MySA.com: Metro | State

Alexey Koltakov of Ukraine and Australia won the $15,000 top prize to become the gold medalist in the Ninth San Antonio International Piano Competition.
Robert Rios, vice president of the competition, announced the winners late Friday after the final round in Trinity University's Ruth Taylor Recital Hall.

The judges chose not to award a silver medal and the accompanying $10,000 prize. There was a tie for the bronze medal — Grace Fong and Michael Mizrahi, both of the United States — with each receiving $5,000.

From his website and bio: "Alexey Koltakov “…may have changed his citizenship from Ukrainian to Australian, but his musical outlook is still unmistakably eastern Slavic, as evidenced by the bold crescendos and resonant pedal-padded sonorities he produced in the first few seconds of his first work… hardly anyone could dispute his energy and clarity.” These comments in a review by Wayne Lee Gay of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas) encapsulate Mr. Koltakov’s approach to playing the music he loves and that is adored by his audiences around the world.

Born in Lugansk, Ukraine, Alexey Koltakov became a student of Victor Makarov at age of 13. Three tours of the United States during his teenage years were highlighted with appearances in Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. His piano virtuosity has also taken him to China and to his new home since the late 1990s, Australia, where performances have included a “Prom” concert as part of Sydney Festival ’99 and Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the East-West Philharmonic.

Alexey’s playing and accolades continue to elevate his prestige as an artist. Among his successes: he took first prize at the 1996 International Vladimir Krainev Competition in his native Ukraine, and, with wife Katerina Makarova, was awarded second prize at the December 2001 Eighth Murray Dranoff International Two Piano Competition in Miami, where the duo also received a special award for their performance of Lowell Liebermann’s contest piece, Three Lullabies. Significantly, Mr. Koltakov was named a finalist in the Eleventh Van Cliburn International Piano competition in June of 2001, for which he was awarded three years of concert engagements and career management services through the renowned Van Cliburn Foundation. He was featured in PBS’s Peabody award-winning documentary Playing on the Edge which chronicled the 2001 competition. His Final Round Cliburn Competition performances were showcased in the PBS series concerto, as well as his performance with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Maestro James Conlon. Scott Cantrell of The Dallas Morning News noted that “Mr. Koltakov came closer to the music’s heart than most concert pianists these days” in his review of one Rachmaninoff recital.

China's strategic rise

By Aussiegirl

The American Thinker's Dennis Sevakis has a boffo article that takes apart China's rise and the effect it is having on our strategic and economic and military outlook. Loads of information here, I've only excerpted a few pithy paragraphs, but I urge you to read the entire article as he goes into the problem of intellectual property theft and copyright violation, espionage, proliferation of high-tech weapons to unfriendly countries, and many other nefarious actitivities of a China on the march, and not at all friendly to the U.S. or our interests. I've been warning about China's intentions and the dangers we face, and no one has laid out the details better than Mr. Sevakis. Bravo!

The American Thinker

“Lenin once said: When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope. Even he didn’t expect that the capitalists would provide their enemies with the funds for the rope as well.”. – Clifford D. May (1), January 13, 2005, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ symposium (2) on “Propaganda and Terrorism”

Lenin, of course, was talking about “capitalists,” the bane of the collective, while Mr. May was referring to the Saudis and Iranians and the capital provided by their oil revenues that funds the radical Wahhabi madrassahs and Shiite Islamic terrorists. It seems not much of a stretch to see how this also applies to the economic and strategic relationship between China, the West in general, and the United States in particular.

[...]The ten years of the Cultural Revolution had devastated China economically as well as in many other way. Deng, the last great personage left alive from among the ranks of the long marchers, proclaimed that socialism did not mean that the proletariat and peasants should be forever condemned to a state of “shared poverty.” And so at the age of 76 Deng Xiaoping carefully, deliberately and strategically began the opening of China to outside capital, technology and markets in order to achieve the transformation – an evolutionary adaptation – of China’s ancient but now collectivist society into a modern industrial giant.

[...]And just what kind of policies might the Party planners implement? First, currency control. No one is permitted to speculate with the yuan as it will be pegged to the U.S. dollar so as to strictly control the exchange rate. If you wish to do business with and in China you just have to live with it. Period. What has been the result of this policy? China’s foreign exchange reserves (5), which includes all its reserve currencies, have grown almost exponentially and will probably exceed one trillion (6) U.S. dollars (excluding Hong Kong) before the end of this year. It’s currency remains undervalued (7) by as much as forty percent, thus keeping China’s exports very inexpensive indeed. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce assails (8) China over copyright fraud and currency manipulation, even the normally hard-to-ignore Senator Chuck Schumer (9) seems but easily ignored (10) by the cat-bird-seated Chinese.

Though no longer a strict requirement (11), for most of the period since the economic opening of China foreign ownership of joint ventures was generally limited (12) to forty-nine percent. This meant that managerial control and decision making remained in Chinese hands while any technology contributed by the foreign partners became Chinese property. If you wanted to do business in China, technology transfer was mandatory. Boeing is teaching (13) the Chinese how to manufacture aircraft components using the latest composite construction techniques and General Electric is handing over generator designs (14$) while footnoting that the transferred technology is not the “most advanced.” The same has been true for General Motors which has achieved success with it’s Buick line of autos in China, but also at the price of telling its hosts everything they wanted to know about how and why everything is done. Such a deal.

[...]Well, enough of this spilt-milk, water-under-the-bridge nonsense. Over the dam of the last twenty years what did America get out of its trade and economic policies vis-à-vis the Chinese? We certainly didn’t receive any advanced technology from them as a result of our trade relationship. Has our military capability relative to China improved or deteriorated? Has their foreign policy proved congruent with that of the U.S. in our dealings with countries such as North Korea and Iran? Where in the world, the third world especially, aren’t the Chinese making inroads and weakening the influence (25) of the United States? Seems there are many, not a few even in this country, who consider that an improvement and a sign of progress for mankind. What, in fact, of lasting value have we accumulated with our credit-financed purchases of vast quantities of Chinese consumer goods?

Debt. And plenty of it.

Now, the American voting and consuming public has been hearing for years how “free trade” is a panacea for curing economic stagnation and just great for re-invigorating the health of America’s post-industrial, service-oriented economy. We’ve been fed the pabulum that the trade deficit is really something we need not worry about and, as far as the federal budget deficit is concerned, that’s not a real problem since that debt is owed to ourselves. If you’ve been among those who’ve swallowed all of this, or have just pushed it to the bottom of your things-I’ve-got-to-worry-about list, you are probably in for a very rude awakening.

[...]Well, maybe things aren’t as rosy as we often hear on the evening news in those quickie macroeconomic reports. Low unemployment levels, rising household income and record corporate profit reports don’t seem to tell the whole story. If America has maxed-out its collective national credit card, no one in Washington will be willing to take any responsibility for our short-sighted economic policies when the free-trade and fiscal-finger-pointing merde hits the fan.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Warning! Staring at this picture may make you dizzy!

By Aussiegirl

This short article mentions the fact that Polaris won't always be the North Star. The reason for this is the precession of the equinoxes, and for a discussion of this phenomenon (in which we learn that Polaris will again become the North Star in 27800 A.D), please see my earlier post here.

SpaceWeather.com -- News and information about meteor showers, solar flares, auroras, and near-Earth asteroids

These are star trails--slow, graceful arcs traced by the stars as Earth spins on its axis. "It was a clear night last night, so I decided to let my camera do an 'all-nighter,'" explains photographer Larry Landolfi of Rochester, New Hampshire. "I made this 8-hour exposure of my house looking towards the North Star."

The North Star, a.k.a. Polaris, is the stubby arc near the pattern's vertex. Because Earth's north pole points almost directly at Polaris, the star barely moves throughout the night, making it useful for direction-finding. But Polaris won't always be the North Star. Earth's spin axis is slowly precessing, and in 10,000 years or so Vega (six times brighter than Polaris) will take over as North Star. Star trail photos will look even prettier then, with an intense bright dot in the center of the starry whirlpool.

Ion Mihai Pacepa -- Russia's long history of nuclear proliferation -- Is Putin following in Krushchev's footsteps ?

By Aussiegirl

Ion Mihai Pacepa, the most senior KGB spy ever to defect to the West, brings his expertise to bear on the current nuclear showdown with North Korea. The Soviet Union, and now Russia, have a long history of nuclear proliferation in their ongoing undeclared war on the U.S. Pacepa sees persuading Putin as the only viable route to averting nuclear confrontation. Good luck. Mr. Putin does not seem to be in a cooperative frame of mind recently -- if ever. Furthermore, I would think that Kim Jong-Il is more China's creature than Russia's. And in addition Iran has it's black hand in there as well.

If North Korea develops a viable nuclear bomb we may not have to wait years for Iran to have one -- all they will have to do is get one from North Korea. The idea that we can interdict nuclear technology by means of inspections is completely illusory, given China's enormous land border with North Korea. Suddenly that fallout shelter doesn't sound quite so looney.

Ion Mihai Pacepa on North Korea on National Review Online

The detonation of a nuclear device by North Korea’s tyrant is an apocalyptic event calling for America’s unity against one of her most indoctrinated foes. “Let’s exterminate our sworn enemy U.S. imperialism!” reads a slogan posted inside North Korean jet cockpits, sailor’s cabins, and army guard posts. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called for an investigation of the Bush administration’s “failed North Korea policies.” I once belonged to the sanctum sanctorum of the impregnable citadel of Communist nuclear intrigue, and I have hard reasons to believe that no atomic diplomacy on earth could have stopped Kim Jong Il from achieving nuclear weapons.

[...]The proliferation of nuclear weapons is something we should thank Nikita Khrushchev for. He gave Soviet technology to China, which further passed it on to North Korea and Pakistan. Iosif Stalin, the father of Russia’s nuclear weapons, had kept them close to his chest.

I never met Stalin in the flesh, but I heard plenty of stories about him from my one-time Soviet counterpart Igor Kurchatov, who headed the Soviet equivalent of the Manhattan Project. According to him, Stalin was as a kind of Geppetto, the Italian carpenter who carved a piece of wood that could laugh and cry like a child. Stalin’s Pinocchio was called “Iosif-1,” and it was an identical copy of the American “Fat Man” nuclear bomb.

[...]That day Stalin swore to keep nuclear power for himself,” I heard Frédéric Joliot-Curie say in August 1955, when I was a member of the Romanian delegation at the United Nations Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy. The French nuclear physicist and prominent Communist, appointed by Stalin as president of the Soviet-created World Peace Council, claimed he had been in Moscow during that test.

Everything changed after Stalin died. Khrushchev liked to portray himself as a peasant, but that was misleading, to say the least. Peasants have a sense of property. Khrushchev did not. He matured politically in a period when the Communists were bent on eradicating private property throughout the Soviet Union, and he developed an eminently destructive nature. Only a few short years after his enthronement in the Kremlin, he smashed Stalin’s statues and shattered the Soviet Union’s image as a workers’ paradise, all without constructing anything new to fill the vacuum he had created. Then Khrushchev decided to fulfill Communism’s historic destiny as the gravedigger of capitalism by arming its deadly enemies with nukes.

That opened a Pandora’s box and let loose an international nightmare.

[...]Khrushchev long ago became history. Not so the Kremlin’s habit of secretly proliferating nuclear weapons to dictators who dream of waging war on America. There is convincing evidence showing that Moscow has helped the terrorist government of Iran to construct a 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactor at Bushehr, with a uranium conversion facility able to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. There is also evidence that, at the same time, hundreds of Russian technicians have helped the government of Iran to develop the Shahab-4 missile, with a range of over 1,250 miles, which can carry a nuclear or germ warhead anywhere in the Middle East and Europe.

On May 23, 2002 President George W. Bush expressed his anxiety about Iran’s dangerous venture. “Russia needs to be concerned about proliferations into a country that might view them as an enemy at some point in time. And if Iran gets weapons of mass destruction, deliverable by missile, that’s going to be a problem,” he said. “That’s going to be a problem for all of us, including Russia.”

During his May 2006 state of the nation speech President Vladimir Putin raised the specter of a new Cold War. Russia’s president portrayed the United States as his country’s “main adversary” and pledged to increase the nuclear triad of land, sea and air-based strategic weapons. “It is premature to speak of the end of the arms race,” he said in his televised address to the Russian people. “Moreover, it is going faster today. It is rising to a new technological level.”

Pinning the blame for the current nuclear proliferation on the Bush administration’s unwillingness to bribe North Korea’s playboy despot is not going to solve the current nuclear crisis. Hoping that the just-approved U.N. resolution instituting sanctions on North Korea will take care of the problem is equally illusory. Persuading Putin to stop playing nuclear Armageddon might be the best way out.

Researcher Uncovering Mysteries Of Memory By Studying Clever Bird

By Aussiegirl

How does this little bird remember where he hid all those nuts? And for that matter, how do squirrels remember where they buried all their goodies too? Maybe they just hide so many in an area that they are bound to find them just by rooting around. On the other hand, maybe being called bird-brained or squirrel-brained isn't such a bad thing. Anyway, he's an awfully cute little bird.

ScienceDaily: Researcher Uncovering Mysteries Of Memory By Studying Clever Bird

Keeping track of one set of keys is difficult enough, but imagine having to remember the locations of thousands of sets of keys. Do you use landmarks to remember where you put them? Do you have a mental map of their locations?

Scientists at the University of New Hampshire hope to learn more about memory and its evolution by studying the Clark's nutcracker, a bird with a particularly challenging task: remembering where it buried its supply of food for winter in a 15-mile area. Like many animals preparing for the winter, every fall the Clark's nutcracker spends several weeks gathering food stores. What makes it unique is that it harvests more than 30,000 pine nuts, buries them in up to 5,000 caches, and then relies almost solely on its memory of where those caches are located to survive through winter.

[...]"Nutcrackers are almost exclusively dependent upon cache recovery for their survival so if they don't remember where they've made those caches, then they are in trouble," Gibson says. "During winter, their cache locations are covered with snow so many of the small local features in the landscape during fall are no longer available to them. What's clear is that they are using spatial memory to recover these caches. They are remembering these caches based on landmarks and other features of the terrain."

The study of memory is important for several reasons. It helps us understand how memory develops and evolves. It teaches us about how we and other species successfully navigate using memory. It provides insights across species about brain function and the hippocampus, a part of the brain important for memory and one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in Alzheimer's patients.

[...]His most recent research with the Clark's nutcracker looks at the nature of the spatial cues specified by memory -- how the bird uses these cues to find its food caches. "How do they use landmarks? What information do they remember about these landmarks? Are they using just one landmark as a beacon? Do they remember multiple landmarks and the geometrical relationship between those landmarks and the goal location?" Gibson says.

"These pine seeds are very small and these caches are very small so they have to be very accurate about how they use these landmarks to remember those cache locations," he says.

Leaping Fish Gave Early Warning Of Hawaii Quake

By Aussiegirl

It wasn't only people who were jolted awake by the recent Hawaii quake -- fish were seen to jump out of a lagoon. This phenomenon is in line with many reports that animals of all kinds seem to sense an impending earthquake. Here's an interesting website with a long article including links on scientific research concerning the ability of animals to predict earthquakes. James Berkland, a retired USGS geologist from Santa Clara County, California, uses an increase in lost dogs and cats in the classified section of the newspaper in order to predict quakes along with lunar tides. Fish have also been known to rise to the surface and even jump out of the water on other occasions as well. Berkland hypothesizes that the animals are reacting to changes in the magnetic field.

local6.com - Local News - 'Jolted' Fish Gave Early Warning Of Hawaii Quake

Fish in a lagoon at a Hawaiian resort began to jump out the water like they were being jolted with electricity minutes before a 6.6 magnitude earthquake rattled the islands, causing blackouts and landslides, according to Local 6's Erik von Ancken, who is vacationing in the area.

Von Ancken said he was on a beach during a visit to the islands over the weekend when he noticed the fish.

"The fish started to jump out of the water in a lagoon, like jump out of the water like a jolt," Local 6's Erik von Ancken said. "Obviously, they sensed it before we did and then everything started shaking."