A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for July 2015

[LINK] On nearby exoplanet HD 219134b

CBC reports on the confirmation of this close-orbiting rocky world’s existence in orbit of a star also known as BD+56 2966 or HR 8832.

“Most of the known planets are hundreds of light-years away. This one is practically a next-door neighbour,” said Lars A. Buchhave, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement today. Buchhave is the co-author of a paper about the planet accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. The study was led by Ati Motalebi at the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland.

HD 219134b is a super-Earth just 21 light years away. It orbits an orange star that is a little smaller and cooler than our sun, in the constellation Cassiopeia, visible in the night sky near the North Star. It is not in the star’s habitable zone – it’s too close and too hot for liquid water, or life as we know it, to exist on its surface. Scientists predict that its surface is rocky and partially molten, and might have volcanoes on its surface.

The planet was first discovered by the HARPS-North, the University of Geneva’s planet-hunting device on the 3.6-metre Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands. Data from HARPS-North showed it has a mass 4.5 times that of Earth and sped around its star once every three days.

HARPS-North and its sister instrument HARPS in Chile look for planets by precisely measuring the colour of a star. The gravity of a planet tugs on a star as it orbits, pulling it toward and away from a distant observer on Earth. That movement, in turn, slightly changes the colour of the star as seen from Earth due to the Doppler effect.

Follow-up studies using NASA’s Spitzer telescope showed that the new planet has a diameter 1.6 times that of Earth. Based on its mass and diameter, it has the density of a rocky planet.

More, including more on its system, at the site.

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Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2015 at 10:49 pm

[LINK] “Asteroid Miners Can Learn a Lot From Philae’s Bumpy Landing”

Wired‘s Sarah Zhang reports

When Rosetta’s probe, Philae, landed on a comet last November, it had the opposite problem of pretty much every other landing in human history: too little gravity. Rather than going kerplunk on impact, it bounced twice before finally coming to rest sideways—a harrowing landing a new Science paper describes in detail.

Landing on a jagged spinning comet with little gravity is absurdly hard, and it didn’t help that two out of three of Philae’s landing systems failed. But even this bumpy landing has importance for asteroid mining companies eager to excavate small bodies in space—potentially proving that their business is not as much like science fiction as it sounds.

The extremely low gravity of near earth asteroids is, after all, both a challenge and their primary advantage in space travel. Getting to space is expensive because of the massive amounts of fuel needed to escape Earth’s relatively mighty gravity. If asteroids can be mined for water, which can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for fuel, they could become depots for spaceships traveling into deep space—no return trip to Earth necessary to refuel, and a relatively inexpensive liftoff after the pit stop is over. “It’s not so much you are landing on the comet, as you are docking with it,” says Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources.

Planetary Resources and its competitors such as Deep Space Industries are still developing equipment to scout for valuable asteroids. Actually mining one is far off. But the Rosetta mission proves that landing on a small body and getting back physical and chemical data to assess its mining value is very much possible—even when things don’t go perfectly. Today’s issue of Science includes seven papers from the Rosetta team, detailing everything from the comet’s rock structures to organic molecules.

The hardness of the comet surface will be a key piece of knowledge for future small body landings. Prior to landing, scientists didn’t know whether to expect a snow-like surface in which Philae might sink or a hard, icy one on which it might bounce. (Comets and asteroids are both small bodies, with asteroids generally rockier and comets icier. However, the line between the two has blurred with the discovery of bodies like Wilson–Harrington, a comet that lost its tail, turned black, and was then “rediscovered” as asteroids.) “We proved that bouncing is the major problem, though we didn’t want to do that,” says Philae landing manager Stephan Ulamec, alluding to the botched landing.

Much more there.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2015 at 10:45 pm

[LINK] “Fort Folly First Nation attempts to bring back Mi’kmaq language”

CBC’s Lindsay Michael reports on an effort by a New Brunswick Mi’kMaq group to revive their ancestral language.

A month-long course designed to teach young Mi’kmaq their native language wraps up Thursday.

Brianna Hunter has been taking the course from Mi’kmaq elder Gilbert Sewell for eight years.

“When we come in we don’t have any knowledge at all because no one of my immediate family really speaks Mi’kmaq,” said Hunter, the 19-year-old daughter of Fort Folly Chief Rebecca Knockwood.

“But now you can catch what he’s saying and you understand it a lot more. And we try to teach [the younger] kids the language too.”

Sewell is an elder, storyteller and Mi’kmaq language instructor from Pabineau First Nation and has been teaching the course every July for 15 years.

Along with teaching the young Mi’kmaq the language, he tries to teach them about their culture as well.

“What I do is teach the children about native folklore and legends and medicinal plants and what to eat in the woods if you are lost … a lot of things I learned from my grandfather when I was young.”

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2015 at 10:43 pm

[LINK] “Porter passenger says she was asked to move for another passenger’s religious accommodation”

The extent of the misogyny described by the Toronto Star‘s Holly Honderich, developed to the point that the man in question refused to talk to the woman whose existence offended him, staggers me. If these people have such problems with being near women, should they perhaps not book their tickets accordingly?

A passenger aboard a Porter flight on Monday said that she was asked to change seats to accommodate another passenger who she says would not sit beside a woman for religious reasons.

Christine Flynn, executive chef for iQ Food Co. in Toronto’s financial district, said that she was buckled in her seat, awaiting takeoff on a flight from Newark back home to Toronto, when a man wearing traditional Orthodox Jewish garb walked down the aisle to his assigned seat beside her.

Looking “bewildered,” Flynn said that the man “swivelled around to the gentleman across the aisle . . . and just said ‘change,’ ” without acknowledging her.

Porter spokesperson Brad Cicero confirmed that Flynn was asked by an airline attendant if she would be willing to move but would not say the reason the request was made. Cicero also maintained “she was not ever put in the position of being told to move.”

[. . .]

“If this man had made eye contact with me, if he said ‘I’m very sorry but because of my religion I’m forbidden’ . . . I would have absolutely moved, I would have had no problem with that, but to not be included in the conversation, to take away my words and my right to choose . . . this is the 21st century,” she said.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2015 at 10:39 pm

[LINK] “The EKOS poll: Vote-splitting in Ontario boosting Conservative hopes”

ipolitics.ca’s Frank Graves reports.

The vote intention numbers show the NDP with a clear but modest lead of 34 points, the Conservatives at 30 points, and the Liberals still in contact but significantly back at 23 points. The Bloc Québécois’s honeymoon period following the return of Gilles Duceppe seems to be drawing to a close; the party is falling back to its pre-Duceppe levels. The Green Party has also been receding in recent weeks.

In Ontario, all three parties seem to be converging into a tie. The NDP are doing quite well in Saskatchewan and although this finding should be interpreted with caution due to the extremely small sample size in the province, the longer-term trends suggest that the party has indeed gained ground here in recent months. The Liberals have clearly lost their lead with the university-educated, but our data on second choices suggests the party is still very much in contention with this group.

[. . .]

If you’re Thomas Mulcair and the NDP, what’s not to like? The New Democrats are the clear leaders in most recent polling. Mulcair has an approval advantage over the other party leaders, his team is being seen more and more as the agent of change and it has a pretty balanced regional and demographic constituency.

The key challenges for the NDP are threefold. First, it must hang on to those promiscuous progressive voters who have been swinging back and forth between the Liberal and NDP camps since 2011. Second, it must withstand the added critical attention that comes with being the frontrunner. Finally, it must convince voters that they should consider the NDP the better bet to replace the Harper government.

This last point is vitally important as it plays into Conservative strategy. The Conservatives’ consistent focus on Justin Trudeau and the Liberals as their primary rivals — their repeated attempts to paint Trudeau as callow, marginally competent and unready for power — isn’t based on lousy polling and probably doesn’t emerge from mere spite. The true motive may have been to hobble Trudeau so badly that the ballot question shifts from a choice between a coalition and Harper to a choice between the untested New Democrats and the Conservatives.

More, including charts, at the site.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2015 at 10:38 pm

[LINK] “Half of Canadian voters back NDP-Liberal coalition, poll shows”

The Toronto Star‘s Donovan Vincent reports on the popularity of the idea of a NDP-Liberal coalition. I quite like it myself. If the Liberal Party opts to reject it, let the consequences fall on it.

More than two-thirds of Liberal and NDP supporters favour the idea of the parties forming a coalition in the event of a Conservative minority in the Oct. 19 election, according to a new poll by Forum Research.

Of Liberal supporters surveyed, 68 per cent support a coalition, while 75 per cent of NDPers favour the idea –– about half of all Canadian voters.

“The two opposition parties have spent the last week dancing around the coalition question, but it appears their supporters, especially the New Democrats, have no such qualms. They’re ready to get hitched as soon as a minority Conservative government is elected –– if that happens,” said Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff.

Support for a coalition was strongest among young people surveyed — 57 per cent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 favour the idea.

[. . .]

The New Democrats have said publicly they are open to the idea of a coalition, but Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has poured cold water on the notion.

Another poll by Forum Research this week tracking voter intentions at this point in time has the Conservatives and NDP tied at 33 per cent support, and the Liberals at 25 per cent.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2015 at 10:24 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO notes that you can now LARP at Casa Loma.
  • Centauri Dreams notes the odd reddish marks on the surface of Saturn’s moon Tethys.
  • Crooked Timber takes issue with David Frum’s misrepresentation of an article on Mediterranean migration.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes the discovery of the aurora of a nearby brown dwarf.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes evidence of carbonation on the Martian surface and suggests the presence of anomalous amounts of mercury on Earth associated with mass extinctions.
  • Geocurrents maps the terrifying strength of California’s drought.
  • Language Hat notes that Cockney is disappearing from London.
  • Language Log notes coded word usage on the Chinese Internet.
  • Marginal Revolution links to a paper examining the effects of hunting male lions.
  • The Map Room links to new maps of Ceres and Pluto.
  • The Planetary Society Blog examines the Dawn probe’s mapping orbits of Ceres.
  • Progressive Download traces the migration of the aloe plants over time from Arabia.
  • Savage Minds notes how hacktivists are being treated as terrorists.
  • Window on Eurasia notes how the Ukrainian war is leading to the spread of heavy weapons in Russia, looks at Russian opposition to a Crimean Tatar conference in Turkey, suggests that the West is letting Ukraine fight a limited war in Donbas, and looks at the falling Russian birthrate.