Out of this world!

Forgive my indulgence!

I wish I understood where my fascination with the night sky came from. Not that I am anything other than an amateur gazer (of the night sky, I should hasten to add!). I have never taken the trouble to gain any real knowledge.

Yet, some of the most serene moments of my life have been when I have been alone at sea under a night sky.

OK, that’s enough wallowing for anyone!

The last week has been an important one for those that take an interest in the planets in our solar system, or to be specific, take an interest in Jupiter.

For as EarthSky reported on the 8th April:

Today – April 8, 2017 – the planet Jupiter is closest to Earth for this year.

Yet yesterday was Jupiter’s opposition, when Earth flew between Jupiter and the sun, placing Jupiter opposite the sun in our sky. You’d think Jupiter was closest to Earth for 2017 yesterday as well … and yet it wasn’t. It’s closest to Earth for 2017 today, April 8, coming to within 414 million miles (666 million km).

EarthSky also included this image:

Jupiter at its April 7, 2017 opposition with the Great Red Spot and moons Io, Europa, and Ganymede (L to R). Photo by Rob Pettengill in Austin, Texas.

Then, Mother Nature Network yesterday presented more information:

Jupiter strikes a pose for Hubble portrait

April 12, 2017

During the month of April, Jupiter will be in opposition, meaning the planet is at its closest point to Earth. Thanks to the sun, it’s during this window that astronomers can enjoy a particularly close-up photo session that can help reveal how the planet’s atmosphere has changed over time by comparing it with previous such photos of the gas giant.

This photo of Jupiter was taken on April 3 by the Hubble Space Telescope when the enormous planet was 670 million kilometers (or about 416 million miles) from Earth. The photo shows the Great Red Spot, but it also shows something new: a weather feature called the Great Cold Spot, which is almost as large as its more well-known cousin.

“The Great Cold Spot is much more volatile than the slowly changing Great Red Spot, changing dramatically in shape and size over only a few days and weeks, but it has reappeared for as long as we have data to search for it, for over 15 years,” Tom Stallard, a planetary astronomer at the University of Leicester in the U.K. and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The cold spot is nearly 15,000 miles by about 7,500 miles in size, and it’s dubbed the “cold” spot because it’s 200 degrees Kelvin (about 400 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than the surrounding atmosphere.

The article included this stunning image of Jupiter.

Photo: A. Simon (GSFC)/NASA, ESA

Jaymi went on to write:

Here’s what some of the other details in the image mean:
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals the intricate, detailed beauty of Jupiter’s clouds as arranged into bands of different latitudes. These bands are produced by air flowing in different directions at various latitudes. Lighter coloured areas, called zones, are high-pressure where the atmosphere rises. Darker low-pressure regions where air falls are called belts. Constantly stormy weather occurs where these opposing east-to-west and west-to-east flows interact. The planet’s trademark, the Great Red Spot, is a long-lived storm roughly the diameter of Earth. Much smaller storms appear as white or brown-coloured ovals. Such storms can last as little as a few hours or stretch on for centuries.

The Great Red Spot is an anticyclonic storm that is so large that Earth would fit inside it. That stormy spot — which is actually shrinking, though astronomers don’t know why — gives us a great perspective for understanding just how huge Jupiter is compared to our own blue dot in the solar system.

Finally, I’m taking the liberty of republishing in full an item that appeared on The Smithsonian site on April 7th.


Hubble Snags Splendid Snapshot of Jupiter

The perfect photographic conditions make for a grand view of the gas giant

This snapshot shows Jupiter’s swirling, banded atmosphere and signature vortices. (NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (GSFC))
April 7, 2017

It’s been 27 years since the Hubble Space Telescope went into orbit, and the geriatric observatory is still going strong. When the telescope recently trained its sights on the solar system’s largest planet, the results were spectacular—proof that for the stellar spectator, age is but a number.

The image above is the latest picture of Jupiter. The snapshot was taken by Hubble on April 3 with the help of the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, a high-res instrument that lets the telescope observe using different wavelengths. It combines light on the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared spectrum to create an image of a massive planet in constant atmospheric flux.

In a press release, the European Space Agency, which co-runs Hubble with NASA, said that Hubble was able to take advantage of the planet’s current opposition with Earth to take the close-up. At the moment, Jupiter is lined up perfectly with the sun, and Earth is lined up with both the sun and Jupiter. Think of it as a truly heavenly photographic opportunity—a chance to look at the planet head-on. Better yet, Jupiter’s position relative to the sun means that it’s brighter than at any other time of year, which lets telescopes trained on the gigantic planet see even more detail than usual.

As The Washington Post’s Amy B. Wang notes, there were no new discoveries in the picture per se, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look at. As ESA explains, scientists will compare the photo to previous views of the planet to hopefully learn more about the atmosphere. And for the rest of us, there’s a strangely soothing view of Jupiter’s layered cloud bands and impressive vortices.

The gas giant is thought to have sucked up most of the space debris left over after the sun formed, grabbing dust and gas with gravity. Scientists think it has two times as much debris as all of the other bodies in the solar system combined—and all of that material swirls through cloud layers in its quickly-rotating atmosphere.

Since Jupiter doesn’t exactly have a surface, it has nothing to slow the spots and vortices that appear in its atmosphere. The most famous, the Great Red Spot, is thought to have been swirling around for more than 150 years, and even though it’s unclear which gases give it that red hue, it’s the planet’s most recognizable feature. As NASA writes, the cloudiness of Jupiter’s atmosphere makes it hard to understand what might be contributing to it. But that doesn’t decrease its allure.

Want to delve even further into the mesmerizing bands of a huge planet’s atmosphere? A high-res version of the snapshot is available online. And if you prefer seeing things live, it’s a great time to check out Jupiter through in the night sky. You can find Jupiter in the east right after the sun goes down—a massive mystery that’s brighter than any star.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hubble-snags-splendid-snapshot-jupiter-180962832/#2QLP7buDDb5PJaGK.99
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Let me finish up with another incredible fact.

Namely, that the universe came into existence some 13.82 billion years ago. The power of natural evolution that came with that event eventually brought along homo sapiens some 200,000 years ago. 200,000 is 0.0000145 of 13.82 billion.

Or to put it another way, we humans have only been a part of this universe for 1/10th of 1% of the life of said universe! (Oh, and dogs came along 100,000 years ago!)

Our changing climate – what is the truth?

A video on YouTube raises some fundamental questions about our changing climate.

Let me say straight away that my belief in Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is based on instinct, and not on me understanding the science, simply because I am not a scientist; far from it! As I share on this blog:

Paul Handover is a child of the post-war era in Great Britain having been born in London a few months before the end of WWII. After a rather shaky attempt at being educated, including 2 years studying for a Diploma in Electrical Engineering, Paul’s first job was as a commercial apprentice at the British Aircraft Corporation. He then joined the sales desk of British Visqueen, a polythene film and products manufacturer located in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and part of ICI Plastics Division. In 1968, he travelled out to Sydney, Australia and became part of the sales team at ICIANZ’s Inorganic Chemicals Division.

I am a fundamentally a retired salesman/entrepreneur with a very out-of-date knowledge of electrical engineering and radio communications (G3PUK), and now struggling to be an author. 😉

Plus, my generally sceptical view of how countries are governed, my awareness of a terrible lack of integrity in politicians, plays to those instincts of mine that humanity is, indeed, responsible primarily for our changing climate. And there is no shortage of supporting evidence!

A very quick web search found this NASA site that included the following graph and text (in part):

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)
This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)

The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

Scientific Consensus
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

Click here for a partial list of these public statements and related resources.

However, a dear and close friend of nearly 40 years, Dan Gomez, is sceptical and simply says to me: “Paul, follow the money!” Dan is a very widely-read person and a great thinker.

Plus, among our wonderful neighbours there is a couple, Dordie and Bill, that we get on with extremely well. Bill is a sceptic of AGW and recently sent me the link to the following video.

Please watch it. If you have evidence that all or many of the facts on this video are incorrect then I would love to hear from you.

For this is way too important for the truth not to be widely promoted.

What a show of fireworks this would be!

Asteroid 2015 TB145 will pass by Planet Earth – just!

Back in my old country, Halloween is not celebrated in the same style that it is here in America. The Brits tend to favour the evening of November 5th and Guy Fawkes Night. That evening, Bonfire Night, sees fireworks parties in many places.


However, if one starts to think of the dimensions and distances of outer space then our planet is just being spared the firework show to beat all other shows.

I’m referring to Asteroid TB145, a huge asteroid, that will pass Earth at 310,000 miles (498,896 km) or 1.3 times the Earth-moon distance.


UPDATE OCTOBER 30, 2015. A newly found asteroid of notable size – known as asteroid 2015 TB145 – will safely pass Earth on October 31, 2015, according to clocks in North America. It should be visible moving in front of the stars, with the help of a telescope, tonight (October 30). It is the biggest known asteroid that will come this close to Earth until 2027. The asteroid – found as recently as October 10 – will fly past Earth at a safe distance, or about 1.3 times the moon’s distance. Closest approach to Earth will be October 31 at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 UTC). Translate to your time zone here.

Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said:

The trajectory of 2015 TB145 is well understood. At the point of closest approach, it will be no closer than about 300,000 miles – 480,000 kilometers or 1.3 lunar distances. Even though that is relatively close by celestial standards, it is expected to be fairly faint, so night-sky Earth observers would need at least a small telescope to view it.

So how big is this asteroid?

Scientists are continuing to estimate the size at 1,300 feet (400 meters) wide.

If the size is correct, the new found asteroid is 28 times bigger in diameter than the Chelyabinsk meteor that penetrated the atmosphere over Russia in February, 2013. An incoming asteroid’s potential to do damage on Earth depends on various factors, including its size, its angle of entry, and the point on Earth over which it enters the atmosphere. The shock wave from the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor broke windows and did other damage to some 7,200 buildings in six Russian cities. Some 1,500 people were injured seriously enough to seek medical treatment, mainly from broken glass from windows.

For those of you that want to catch a glimpse of TB145, then:


Asteroid position at 3:50 a.m. ET (0750 UTC) Point a Go To computerized telescope to HIP 24197 or SAO 94377) a naked-eye star with a magnitude of 5 in Orion. At 3:50 a.m. ET on October 31 (Saturday morning), the space rock passes close to this star. The asteroid will appear as a slowly moving ‘star’ passing very close to this star. By this time the asteroid should appear to move faster because it will be closer to Earth than earlier on the night of October 30. This illustration shows a half degree field of view (about the size of a full moon). A pair of double stars visible in this area should confirm you are pointing at the correct direction. Alternatively, you can point your telescope to these coordinates: RA 05h 11m 41.6s / DEC +16º 02′ 44.5″. Illustration by Eddie Irizarry using Stellarium.

Full details and answers to most of your questions may be found here.

All I can say is I hope the number crunchers have got their sums right!

If not, then it’s goodnight from her and goodnight from me.


It was nice knowing you all!

P.S. If you think this is all a bit far-fetched, then this video sent to me by Dan Gomez will bring you down to earth.

Giving in to Nature.

The power of Nature might surprise you!

The last two posts have offered two aspects of our bountiful Nature. First we had Earth Day and the celebration of our trees. Then yesterday we had the celebration of the birth of five Canada Geese goslings.

So it seemed appropriate to continue the theme for another day.

Earlier this month there was an article over on MNN that I saved for later use simply because the message it offered was counter-intuitive. Here’s how that article opened:

Deforestation vs. nature: The winner might surprise you

Large-scale tree-planting projects, abandoned farmland help balance out rain forest destruction.

By: Michael Graham Richard
Wed, Apr 08, 2015 at 10:11 AM

Forest canopy heights are highest near the equator and generally decrease the closer forests are to the poles. (Photo: NASA)
Forest canopy heights are highest near the equator and generally decrease the closer forests are to the poles. (Photo: NASA)

For decades, we’ve been hearing about how the world’s forests are under attack, how the equivalent of “36 football fields of the world’s forests are being cut every minute.” With all this pressure on nature, could the Earth possibly be getting greener? Not a chance, right? Surprisingly, that’s what a team of scientists discovered when they looked at two decades’ worth of data from satellites that use a technique called “passive microwave remote sensing,” which allows researchers to measure how much biomass, or living matter, is present on the surface of the planet.

The researchers found that despite ongoing deforestation in the rain forests of South America and Southeast Asia — a huge problem, regardless of what happens elsewhere — other regions outside the tropics, such as Africa and Australia, have been improving enough to offset the losses. Some of the more unexpected sources of this extra biomass are farmland abandoned after the fall of communism where forests have spontaneously regrown in the former Soviet republics, as well as in areas of China where large-scale tree planting projects took place.

What really caught my eye was another photo from NASA that showed the biomass stored in trees in the USA.

The concentration of biomass stored in trees in the U.S. The darkest greens reveal the areas with the densest, tallest, and most robust forest growth. (Photo: NASA)
The concentration of biomass stored in trees in the U.S. The darkest greens reveal the areas with the densest, tallest, and most robust forest growth. (Photo: NASA)

But as the article reminded readers:

We’re only talking about biomass quantities being offset, though; the loss of rain forests also mean the loss of many species of animals and plants, as well as unique habitats that can’t be replaced by other regions elsewhere, such as the savannah of Africa or the Australian Outback. So while this is good news, we can’t declare victory over deforestation just yet!

Nonetheless, I am sure that I am not the only one to welcome this reminder of the power of Nature. Or in the closing words of that MNN article:

In the period between 2003-2012, the total amount of vegetation above the ground has increased by about 4 billion tonnes of carbon. Any way you slice in, 4 billion tonnes is significant!

This is particularly important because around 25 percent of the CO2 that we release into the atmosphere by burning formerly buried hydrocarbons is absorbed by plants, so having more of them can help slow down (but not stop) climate change, and there’s a limit to plants’ rate of absorption. Still, it’s nice to get good news for a change …

While it may be a long way yet from them being tonnes of carbon, let me close with three pictures of ‘increasing tree biomass‘ right here on Hugo Road in Merlin, Oregon.

The oak.
The oak.


The madrone.
The madrone.


The cedar.
The cedar.

Nature really does have all the answers to man’s long-term survival.

Truly out of this world.

Just puts everything back into perspective.

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revisited one of its most iconic and popular images: the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation. This image shows the pillars as seen in visible light, capturing the multi-coloured glow of gas clouds, wispy tendrils of dark cosmic dust, and the rust-coloured elephants’ trunks of the nebula’s famous pillars. The dust and gas in the pillars is seared by the intense radiation from young stars and eroded by strong winds from massive nearby stars. With these new images comes better contrast and a clearer view for astronomers to study how the structure of the pillars is changing over time.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revisited one of its most iconic and popular images: the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation. This image shows the pillars as seen in visible light, capturing the multi-coloured glow of gas clouds, wispy tendrils of dark cosmic dust, and the rust-coloured elephants’ trunks of the nebula’s famous pillars. The dust and gas in the pillars is seared by the intense radiation from young stars and eroded by strong winds from massive nearby stars. With these new images comes better contrast and a clearer view for astronomers to study how the structure of the pillars is changing over time.

I subscribe to EarthSky and the link to this image and background information was in yesterday’s daily summary. The mind-blowing facts are that the Eagle Nebula is found in the constellation Serpens and is 6,500 light-years away from our dear planet.  To put that into context, that is 38,210 trillion miles from us. The star cluster associated with the nebula is about 5.5 million years old.

EarthSky has the very interesting text of the NASA Press Release regarding this new, high-resolution image.

For me, I just want to let that image wash over me. Not least because it reminds me that I am a very lucky person to be living at a time when one can lose oneself in such sights.

Here’s the image again, this time without the explanation.

New view of the Pillars of Creation — visible

Clouds above, and even farther away.

The second, and last, episode of the BBC Clouds Lab programme offers an intriguing message.

On Monday, I published a post under the title of The clouds above us.  The second episode demonstrated that even in atmospheric conditions of near vacuum, intense cold and very low humidity, conditions that would kill a human in seconds, there was microscopic bacteriological material to be found.

 Exploring the troposphere

The troposphere is a turbulent layer of air that begins at the Earth’s surface and ranges from 23,000-65,000 feet above sea level, depending on the latitude, season and the time of day. Its name originates from the Greek word tropos, meaning change. It’s now known that bacteria actually exists in clouds and scientists believe that it plays a significant part in the creation of rain but little is known about life higher up. Microbiologist Dr Chris Van Tulleken has discovered that living bacteria can exist well above 10,000ft in a hostile environment with low pressure, increased UV radiation, freezing temperatures, high winds and no oxygen or water.

There is an interesting set of clips to be watched on that BBC Cloud Lab website.

What I took away from watching the programme was that the minimum conditions necessary for living bacteria were far more harsh than one might expect.  In other words, finding living bacteria in other solar systems might not be such a science-fiction idea.

With that in mind, I’m republishing an essay that Patrice Ayme wrote in 2013.  I’m grateful for his permission to so do.


40 Billion Earths? Yes & No.

Up to twenty years ago, a reasonable opinion among scientists was that there might be just one solar system. Ours. Scientists like to project gravitas; having little green men all over didn’t look serious.

However, studying delicately the lights of stars, how they vary, how they doppler-shift, more than 1,000 planets have been found. Solar systems seem ubiquitous. Astronomers reported in 2013 that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy. However, consider this:

Centaurus A: Lobes Of Tremendous Black Hole Explosion Fully Visible.
Centaurus A: Lobes Of Tremendous Black Hole Explosion Fully Visible.

Yes, that’s the center of a galaxy, and it has experienced a galactic size explosion from its central black hole.

One out of every five sun-like stars in our galaxy has a planet the size of Earth circling it in the Goldilocks zone, it seems — not too hot, not too cold — with surface temperatures compatible with liquid water. Yet, we have a monster black hole at the center of our giant galaxy, just like the one exploding above.

The Milky Way’s black hole is called Sagittarius A*. It exploded last two million years ago. Early Homo Erectus, down south, saw it. The furious lobes of the explosion are still spreading out, hundreds of thousands of light years away.

We are talking here about explosions potentially stronger than the strongest supernova by many orders of magnitude (depending upon the size of what’s falling into Sagittarius. By the way, a cloud is just heading that way).

Such galactic drama has a potential impact on the presence of advanced life. The richer the galaxy gets in various feature the situation looks, the harder it looks to compute the probability of advanced life.

The profusion of habitable planets is all the more remarkable, as the primitive methods used so far require the planet to pass between us and its star.

(The research, started on the ground in Europe, expanded with dedicated satellites, the French Corot and NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.). Sun-like stars are “yellow dwarves”. They live ten billion years.

From that, confusing “habitable” and “inhabitated”, the New York Times deduced: “The known odds of something — or someone — living far, far away from Earth improved beyond astronomers’ boldest dreams on Monday.

However, it’s not that simple.

Primitive bacterial life is probably frequent. However advanced life (animals) is probably very rare, as many are the potential catastrophes. And one needs billions of years to go from primitive life to animals.

After life forms making oxygen on Earth appeared, the atmosphere went from reducing (full of strong greenhouse methane) to oxidizing (full of oxygen). As methane mostly disappeared, so did the greenhouse. Earth froze, all the way down to the equator:

When Snowball Earth Nearly Killed Life.
When Snowball Earth Nearly Killed Life.

Yet volcanoes kept on belching CO2 through the ice. That CO2 built up above the ice, caused a strong greenhouse, and the ice melted. Life had survived. Mighty volcanism has saved the Earth, just in time.

That “snowball Earth” catastrophe repeated a few times before the Earth oxygen based system became stable. Catastrophe had been engaged, several times, but the disappearance of oxygen creating life forms had been avoided, just barely.

Many are the other catastrophes we have become aware of, that could wipe out advanced life: proximal supernovas or gamma ray explosions.

Cataclysmic eruption of the central galactic black hole happen frequently. The lobes from the last one are still visible, perpendicularly high off the galactic plane. The radiation is still making the Magellanic Stream simmer, 200,000 light years away. Such explosions have got to have sterilized a good part of the galaxy.

In 2014 when part of the huge gas cloud known as G2 falls into Sagittarius A*, we will learn better how inhospitable the central galaxy is for advanced life.

Many of the star systems revealed out there have surprising feature: heavy planets (“super Jupiters“) grazing their own stars. It’s unlikely those giants were formed where they are. They probably swept their entire systems, destroying all the rocky planets in their giant way. We don’t understand these cataclysmic dynamics, but they seem frequent.

Solar energy received on Earth fluctuated and changed a lot, maybe from one (long ago) to four (now). But, as it turned out just so that Earthly life could survive. Also the inner nuclear reactor with its convective magma and tectonic plates was able to keep the carbon dioxide up in the air, just so.

The Goldilocks zones astronomers presently consider seem to be all too large to allow life to evolve over billions of years. They have to be much narrower and not just with red dwarves (the most frequent and long living stars).

One of our Goldilocks, Mars, started well, but lost its CO2 and became too cold. The other Goldilocks, Venus, suffered the opposite major technical malfunction: a runaway CO2 greenhouse.

Mars’ axis of rotation tilts on the solar system’s plane enormously: by 60 degrees, over millions of years. So Mars experiences considerable climatic variations over the eons, as it goes through slow super winters and super summers (it’s imaginable that, as the poles melt, Mars is much more habitable during super summers; thus life underground, hibernating is also imaginable there).

Earth’s Moon prevents this sort of crazy hyper seasons. While, differently from Venus, Earth rotates at reasonable clip, homogenizing the temperatures. Venus takes 243 days to rotate.

It is startling that, of the four inner and only rocky planets, just one, Earth has a rotation compatible with the long term evolution of advanced life.

Earth has also two striking characteristics: it has a very large moon that store much of the angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system. Without Moon, the Earth would rotate on itself once every 8 hours (after 5 billion years of braking by Solar tides).

The Moon used to hover at least ten times closer than now, when earth’s days were at most 6 hours long.

The tidal force is the difference between gravitational attraction in two closely separated places, so it’s the differential of said attraction (which is proportional to 1/dd; d being the distance). Hence the tidal force is inversely proportional to the cube of the distance.

Thus on early Earth tides a kilometer high were common, washing back and forth every three hours. a hyper super tsunami every three hours, going deep inside the continents. Not exactly conditions you expect all over the universe.

Hence biological material fabricated on the continental margins in shallow pools would get mixed with the oceans readily. That would guarantee accelerated launch of life (and indeed we know life started on Earth very fast).

The theory of formation of the Moon is wobbly (recent detailed computations of the simplest impact theory do not work). All we know for sure, thanks to the Moon rocks from Apollo, is that the Moon is made of Earth mantle materials.

Somehow the two planets split in two. (Fission. Get it? It maybe a hint.)

Another thing we know for sure is that Earth has, at its core, a giant nuclear fission reactor, keeping Earth’s core hotter than the surface of the sun. An unimaginable liquid ocean of liquid iron deep down inside below our feet undergoes iron weather. Hell itself, the old fashion way, pales in comparison.

Could the Moon and the giant nuclear reactor have the same origin? This is my provocative question of the day. The Moon, our life giver, could well have formed from giant nuclear explosions, of another of our life givers, what became the nuke at the core. I can already hear herds of ecologists yelp in the distance. I present the facts, you pseudo-ecologists don’t decide upon them. It’s clear that nuclear fission is not in Drake equation: if nothing else, it’s too politically incorrect.

All the preceding makes this clear:

Many are the inhabitable planets, yet few will be inhabitated by serious denizens.

This means that the cosmos is all for our taking. The only question is how to get there. The closest stars in the Proxima, Beta and Alpha Centauri system are not attainable, for a human crew, with existing technology.

However, if we mastered clean colossal energy production, of the order of the entire present energy production of humanity, we could get a colony there (only presently imaginable technology would be fusion).

Giordano Bruno, professor, astronomer, and priest suggested that there were many other inhabitated systems around the stars. That insult against Islam meant Christianity was punished the hard way: the Vatican, the famous terrorist organization of god crazies, put a device in Giordano’s mouth that pierced his palate, and having made sure that way that he could not tell the truth, the terrorists then burned him alive. After seven years of torture.

The horror of truth was unbearable to theo-plutocrats.

Now we face something even worse: everywhere out there is very primitive life. It is likely gracing 40 billion worlds. But, if one has to duplicate the succession of miracles and improbabilities that made Earth, to earn advanced life, it may be just here that civilization ever rose to contemplate them.

Congratulations to India for launching yesterday a mission to Mars ostensibly to find out if there is life there (by finding CH4; while life is presently unlikely, Mars has much to teach, including whether it started there). That’s the spirit!

The spirit is to have minds go where even imagination itself did not go before.

If we sit back, and look at the universe we have now, from Dark Matter, to Dark Energy, to Sagittarius, to the nuclear reactor below, to billions of Earths, to a strange Higgs, to Non Aristotelian logic, we see a wealth, an opulence of possibilities inconceivable twenty years ago.

Progress is not just about doing better what was done yesterday. It’s also about previously inconceivable blossoms of entirely new mental universes.


Patrice Ayme


Maybe, we are not alone!

Running on empty!

Is it just me?

It is my usual pattern to awake around 5am, sit upright in bed and browse the latest news on my tablet computer. Jean sleeps on most times next to me.

Thus it was last Friday morning that I am sitting in bed reading the latest goings on around the world.

But, unusually, that morning’s wanderings left a bleak mark on me. See if you feel the same way when I share the stories that I read.

From Naked Capitalism.

The Tragedy of the Soma Mine-Workers: A Crime of Peripheral Capitalism Unleashed

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. This post explains how the horrific mine explosion in Western Turkey, which has officially claimed nearly 300 lives as the death count continues to rise, was not an accident but the direct result of privatization and circumvention of safety standards. And unlike the West, where industrial and mining accidents are met with short-term sympathy but little if any real change in working conditions, protests have broken out, not just in the mine town of Soma but also in major cities. As Mark Ames has pointed out, American has airbrushed out much of the history of labor’s struggles for safe workplaces and better pay. Violence against efforts to organize workers was common. Henry Ford had a private army of thugs for just this purpose. The tragedy in Turkey should serve as a reminder of what has been won, and how fragile those gains are.

By Erinç Yeldan, Dean of the faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Yasar University and an executive directors of the International Development Economics Associates. Cross posted from Triple Crisis

One of the greatest work-crimes in mining industry occurred in Soma, a little mining village in Western Turkey. At noon-time on Tuesday, May 13, according to witnesses, an electrical fault triggered a transformer to explode causing a large fire in the mine, releasing carbon monoxide and gaseous fumes. (The official cause of the “accident” was still unknown, at this writing, after nearly 30 hours.) Around 800 miners were trapped 2 km underground and 4 km from the exit. At this point, the death toll has already reached 245, with reports of another 100 workers remaining in the mine, yet unreached.

Turkey has possibly the worst safety record in terms of mining accidents and explosions in Europe and the third worst in the world. Since the right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) assumed power in 2002, and up to 2011, a 40% increase in work-related accidents has been reported. The death toll from these accidents reached more than 11,000.

(Read the rest here.)

From the BBC News website:

In just over five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, researchers have warned.

A report by the Global Sustainability Institute said shortages would increase dependency on Norway, Qatar and Russia.

There should be a “Europe-wide drive” towards wind, tidal, solar and other sources of renewable power, the institute’s Prof Victor Anderson said.

The government says complete energy independence is unnecessary, says BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.

The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.

‘Decisive action’

By contrast, Britain has just 5.2 years of oil, 4.5 years of coal and three years of its own gas remaining.

France fares even worse, according to the report, with less than year to go before it runs out of all three fossil fuels.

(Read the rest here)

Again from Naked Capitalism:

UK Survey Finds High Levels of Depression and Desperation Among the Young

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Yves Smith

If you’ve been keeping half an eye on economic news, the UK has of late been looking pretty spiffy relative to its advanced economy peers, with 2014 growth forecast at 3%. Even though unemployment in the UK is at its lowest level in five years, the young and the long-term unemployed haven’t benefitted to the same degree.

One issue that doesn’t get the attention that it merits is the destructive psychological impact of being out of work. Work doesn’t just provide money, as critical as that is. It provides a way of organizing your time, social interaction, and a place in society, even if that place is not really where you’d like to be. Being unanchored is extremely taxing. Recall that the Japanese get people to quit by giving them a desk and nothing to do. The lack of legitimacy, the implicit shaming of being isolated is sufficiently punitive as to induce workers to give up their pay and being able to tell their families they have a job.

The BBC reports on the results of a survey by the Prince’s Trust called the Macquarie Youth Index, which is based on a survey of roughly 2200 16 to 25 year olds. 13% were what the survey called Neet: not in employment, education, or training.

I will return to the terrible implications of this report after I declare a past interest.  Before I left England in 2008, I was an active volunteer with the Prince’s Trust. My years of being associated with the Trust taught me that helping young persons discover their strengths, enable them to maintain and defend a positive self-image, and offer them real hope for their future lives, was and is the most important role of society; without doubt!

Now back to that report:

The survey found high levels of suicidal thoughts and self harm among this group, and high levels of stress among the young generally. Key excerpts from the article:

The report found 9% of all respondents agreed with the statement: “I have nothing to live for”…

Among those respondents classified as Neet, the percentage of those agreeing with the statement rose to 21%.

The research found that long-term unemployed young people were more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants.

One in three (32%) had contemplated suicide, while one in four (24%) had self-harmed.

The report found 40% of jobless young people had faced symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks, as a direct result of unemployment.

Three quarters of long-term unemployed young people (72%) did not have someone to confide in, the study found.

Martina Milburn, chief executive of the Prince’s Trust, said: “Unemployment is proven to cause devastating, long-lasting mental health problems among young people.

(Read the full report here and the BBC report here.)

Then there was the report from the NASA study team that key glaciers in West Antarctica are in an irreversible retreat. First seen by me on the BBC News website, from where the following photograph was taken.

Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay.
Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay.

To really understand the message that Planet Earth is sending out to us humans, I would recommend reading Antarctica’s Glaciers Disintegrating over on Patrice Ayme’s blog.  Here’s how Patrice finishes that essay:

We imparted acceleration to the biosphere. We are pushing the biosphere around. And we know that the force we are applying is only augmenting. That means the acceleration, and even more the speed of the change, is going to get worse quick. That’s basic dynamics, first quarter of undergraduate physics.

Of course, neither the leaders of France, Great Britain, or the USA has taken such a course: they are basically ignoramuses at the helm (and Angela Merkel, who knows plenty of physics, made a risky bet she seems to be losing).

Clearly, we should instead apply the brakes to the maximum (instead of flooring the accelerator). What would be the price of this cautious? None, for common people: hard work to de-carbonize the world economy would require dozens of millions to be employed that way, in the West alone.

That, of course, is a scary thought for plutocrats, who much prefer us unemployed, impotent, and despondent.

Patrice Aymé

All of this is sending out a message. The message that if we are not very, very careful this could be the end-game for human civilisation on this Planet.

But do you know what really puzzles me?

It’s that this message is increasingly one that meets with nods of approval and words of agreement from more and more people that one sees going about one’s normal life.  Perhaps, because there’s more and more reporting from a wider and wider range of sources. Like The Permaculture Research Institute website recently publishing This Collapse is a ‘Crisis of Bigness’.  Like Grist publishing Walmart is the last place Obama should be making a clean energy speech.

Like Ian Welsh publishing Equal Rights to Profit from Impoverishing People and Causing a Great Extinction Event. Like Patrice in an essay last Friday about the way in which Main Stream Media is Manipulated. Viz:

Main Stream Media (MSM) has been the instrument of control of the People ever since there were oligarchies. It used to be about temples and priests, now it’s more about controlling papers, radio, TV, and the Internet.

and later on:

This crudeness, and vigilance of censorship by the owners [of the New York Times], is why the Obamas, Clintons, Krugmans, and Stiglitzs have to be careful. After all, they are just employees enjoying the perks of the system. Yes, they don’t own it. Ownership is everything. If the servants want to keep on thriving, those “leaders” will have to please the owners. So they “lead” where the real owners are willing us all, the herd, to be led.

Patrice rounds his essay off, thus:

The plutocracy focuses on direct control of the world imperial system, and that means controlling the giants (especially the three military leaders of the West). This is where the propaganda is the thickest.

The New York Times is considered to be the “newspaper of record” in the USA. However, the bottom line is that this is the third century during which it is owned and controlled by a particular family. How can these two elements be compatible? Why is that particular family “of record”?

Even in the Middle Ages, the most absolute kings there were, those of France, actually owned relatively little property. Francois I himself may have worn expensive clothes, but Italian bankers paid for his trips around France. Francois I did not own the media of the time.

What we have now is different. We have an ascending plutocracy that tries to grab the minds ever more. What Putin is doing in Russia is just a particular case, part of a whole.

Hopefully, people will see through this, and get their news from somewhere else than plutocratically owned media, thus bankrupting the MSM (the Internet can support journalists directly: see the successful Mediapart in France).

But I haven’t answered my earlier rhetorical question.  “But do you know what really puzzles me?” Implying that a growing number of people sense there is a problem with today’s world.

That question will be answered tomorrow. Do please return.

Our incredible star – the sun.

Amazing NASA footage.

Taking a bit of an emotional rest after the last two days!

Wanted to share with you something that Dan Gomez sent me.  It was an email with a link to an item in the British newspaper, The Independent. It was an article headlined: Incredible Nasa footage shows a ‘hole in the Sun’ that’s bigger than Jupiter. The article opened:

Nasa has released new footage showing a square ‘hole’ in the Sun captured by the space agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft.

The phenomenon – known as a coronal hole – is perfectly normal and shows an area of the Sun’s corona that contains plasma with lower than average density. Nasa says that the coronal hole appears dark in the ultraviolet filter “as there is less material to emit in these wavelengths.”

It was then a simple matter to go to that NASA report and enjoy this stunning image.

Coronal Hole Squared A coronal hole, almost square in its shape, is one of the most noticeable features on the Sun of late (May 5-7, 2014). A coronal hole is an area where high-speed solar wind streams into space. It appears dark in extreme ultraviolet light as there is less material to emit in these wavelengths. Inside the coronal hole you can see bright loops where the hot plasma outlines little pieces of the solar magnetic field sticking above the surface. Because it is positioned so far south on the Sun, there is less chance that the solar wind stream will impact us here on Earth. Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA
Coronal Hole Squared

Coronal Hole Squared
A coronal hole, almost square in its shape, is one of the most noticeable features on the Sun of late (May 5-7, 2014). A coronal hole is an area where high-speed solar wind streams into space. It appears dark in extreme ultraviolet light as there is less material to emit in these wavelengths. Inside the coronal hole you can see bright loops where the hot plasma outlines little pieces of the solar magnetic field sticking above the surface. Because it is positioned so far south on the Sun, there is less chance that the solar wind stream will impact us here on Earth. Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

NASA also released the following video.

Just amazing!

Not of immediate concern!

Milky Way galaxy heading for a collision – in about 4,000,000,000 years!

As with huge numbers of others who come to this blog, the night sky has always been of incredible fascination to me.  To reinforce that fact, one of the favourite posts on Learning from Dogs for the last three years has been The night sky above published back on the 27th March, 2011.  If you haven’t read it, do pop across and do so as the title is misleading in terms of the post.

Thus it was unavoidable not to pick up on an item recently referred to by Naked Capitalism that had been published by the EarthSky blog.  This particular item was called Night sky as Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies merge.  It began thus:

As seen on Cosmos … the collision and merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy 4 billion years from now.

The video below illustrates what NASA scientists announced in 2012 – and what the Cosmos TV series featured in 2014 – that the nearby Andromeda galaxy will collide and merge with our Milky Way galaxy 4 billion years from now. The video (from the Hubble Space Telescope news center) is from a series of photo illustrations, showing the predicted merger between our two titan spiral galaxies, as seen in Earth’s sky. Will Earth as a planet survive long enough to see this? A word about that at the end of this post.

The video lost a lot for me by not carrying a commentary.  But no problem as one was found that did have a ‘voice-over’.  However, the article photographs were stunning.  For example:

This series of photo illustrations shows the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Via NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas, and A. Mellinger

A description of what’s happening in the images above:

First Row, Left: Present day.
First Row, Right: In 2 billion years the disk of the approaching Andromeda galaxy is noticeably larger.
Second Row, Left: In 3.75 billion years Andromeda fills the field of view.
Second Row, Right: In 3.85 billion years the sky is ablaze with new star formation.
Third Row, Left: In 3.9 billion years, star formation continues.
Third Row, Right: In 4 billion years Andromeda is tidally stretched and the Milky Way becomes warped.
Fourth Row, Left: In 5.1 billion years the cores of the Milky Way and Andromeda appear as a pair of bright lobes.
Fourth Row, Right: In 7 billion years the merged galaxies form a huge elliptical galaxy, its bright core dominating the nighttime sky.

The sequence is inspired by dynamical computer modeling of the inevitable future collision between the two galaxies.

Further on in the article one reads:

This illustration shows the collision paths of our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy. The galaxies are moving toward each other under the inexorable pull of gravity between them. Also shown is a smaller galaxy, Triangulum, which may be part of the smashup. Via NASA; ESA; A. Feild and R. van der Marel, STScI.
This illustration shows the collision paths of our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy. The galaxies are moving toward each other under the inexorable pull of gravity between them. Also shown is a smaller galaxy, Triangulum, which may be part of the smashup. Via NASA; ESA; A. Feild and R. van der Marel, STScI.

Will Earth survive long enough to see this merger of galaxies, as depicted in the video above? Earth as a planet might, but life on Earth – probably not. Astronomers say that the luminosity, or intrinsic brightness, of our sun will steadily increase over the next 4 billion years. As the sun’s luminosity increases, the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth will also increase. It’s possible that – around 4 billion years from now – the increase in the Earth’s surface temperature will cause a runaway greenhouse effect, perhaps similar to that going on now on the planet next door, Venus, whose surface is hot enough to melt lead. No one expects to find life on Venus. Likewise, life on Earth will probably not exist 4 billion years from now. What’s more, our sun is expected to become a red giant star eventually. A probable fate of the Earth is absorption by the sun in about 7.5 billion years, after our sun has entered the red giant phase and expanded to cross Earth’s current orbit.

Anyhow, I mentioned that I found a better video on YouTube than the one included in the original article, and that is now presented.

Rather puts the grunt and grind of daily life into perspective! 😉

A very simple notion.

Our beautiful planet.

As is the way of things, two completely disconnected events rang out yesterday, as if in harmony.

The first was this stunning picture released by NASA.

A distant view of home!
A distant view of home!

The full description may be read here, but I have taken the liberty of republishing this extract:

Earth, which is 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away in this image, appears as a blue dot at center right; the moon can be seen as a fainter protrusion off its right side. An arrow indicates their location in the annotated version. The other bright dots nearby are stars.

Now it doesn’t take too much imagination to put that minute speck of light, our Planet Earth, into its scale of meaning and importance vis-a-vis the universe.  You get my message, I’m sure.

The second event was a comment left by long-term reader and supporter of Learning from Dogs, Patrice Ayme.  The comment was on yesterday’s post, The meaning of wildness, and I quote:

Excellent article. Clearly primary temperate rain forest, nearly gone everywhere except in the American North west, has to be reintroduced.

Sheep ought not to be removed by man, but be removed by wolf, bear, felids. Cows would feel whole, having to fight off lions. And man’s sense of what nature means, vital to insure our survival, would blossom in this hour of need, when we have arisen as the planet’s gods. gods of evil, or gods of wisdom? That is the most important question.

“gods of evil, or gods of wisdom?”

To everybody I say this.  (And I am most certainly not excluding me.) When you next look at yourself in the mirror will you make a decision?  Will you be a god of evil or a god of wisdom?