Monday, April 19, 2010

Miscellaneous Monday - volcanos, space exploration and more

That volcano, of course:

Nature's little reminder that we're not really in charge.....we just happen to be around during a pretty quiet period, geologically and cosmologically speaking. And yes, I mean little: look up the Yellowstone volcano if you want to see big (warning - not for the fainthearted). Far from being stewards of the planet, we're just tenants, and short term ones at that: the dinosaurs were around for 160 million years - we, in our current form, have been here less than a paltry fifty thousandish. But -sometimes- we're smart. When we put our minds to it, we can overcome almost anything (except the really big things - there's not much we can do about Yellowstone and its ilk except try to get out of the way when they come along). The big problems are overcoming political and other ideologies to work together for the betterment of everyone, not just "our" people.

Incredibly, it seems that there may be a link between some volcanic activity and global warming: http://tinyurl.com/y5ahzby

More spectacular images from Iceland: http://tinyurl.com/y6596em

Here's what volcanic ash does to jet engines: http://tinyurl.com/y3sfp8f

 

On the subject of "our" people and clannishness, here's an interesting interview with Stephen Pinker discussing the evolution of morality, sociobiology and the future of humanity: http://tinyurl.com/y2fs53p

 

And the big story last week for every space geek:

President Obama's speech on the future of space exploration

In a nutshell:

With the end of the space shuttle era, LEO will be handed off to private enterprise while Nasa pushes out further; no manned flights to the Moon; an asteroid landing and manned Martian orbit by 2035; a new heavy lift capability will be developed, but for the next few years the US will be dependant on Russia to get astronauts to space; Orion will be revived as an ISS lifeboat is.

Gemini on steroids is a good description of this. We have to develop the technology, skills and procedures incrementally that we'll need to get to Mars. The Moon has been done, and while we still have incredible amounts to learn there, it's not an efficient staging post and not useful to pushing out further.

And as for all those asking why we're spending so much money going into space while we have all these problems here on Earth (yes, you John Cusack!) - check out how much Nasa really costs: http://tinyurl.com/yzdlojh  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget

Yes, you read that correctly. This year it's about 0.5 % of the federal budget. That includes EVERYTHING Nasa does. Compare that to the Defense Department and Social Security. It's peanuts. The DoD spends the equivalent of Nasa's annual budget in 6 weeks in Iraq alone. If every US government department could get as much bang for their buck as Nasa, it would be a very fine state of affairs indeed.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson says it best:

 

STS-131 Discovery landing: Two opportunities waved off due to bad weather today, next one tomorrow morning, 7:34am ET

 

The Big Picture: Journeys to the ISS, some mindblowing pictures: http://tinyurl.com/y7wsoe5

 

Simon Singh off the hook, but the battle for British Libel Reform continues

The British Chiropracter Association has withdrawn its libel suit against Simon Singh. Great news for him, and an important milestone in the battle for reforming Britain's draconian libel laws.Full coverage: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/

 

And finally David Attenborough narrates an incredible sequence: a persistence hunt in the Kalahari desert: http://tinyurl.com/y3y4hmf

 

More MM next week!

Posted via web from John's posterous

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