Nov 13 2014

The Breakfast Club (Comets)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgWhat we don’t know about them would fill a book and most of the books we’ve already filled are wrong.  

These periodic (short and long) or non periodic visitors to the inner Solar System have been observed since the dim mists of history at least, unsurprisingly so since some of them are bright enough to be easily visible even during daytime.  They were superstitiously thought to to be that harbingers of great, catastrophic, events.

Since the time of Tycho Brahe we’ve known that comets are exo-atmoshperic objects made more curious by the fact their commas, or tails, always point away from the sun regardless of their actual direction of travel.  This observation led to the discovery of Solar Wind.

You see the sun doesn’t just emit radiation (energy, which is matter), it likewise emits particles (which are also matter) and this stream hits the surface of the comet and erodes it, blowing away dust and gasses while ionizing them like a lightbulb and producing the characteristic ‘tail’.  Since the ‘wind’ is so much faster than the comet itself the tail points away from the sun even when the comet is moving outward in the Solar System.

The prominence of these tails led scientists to speculate that the composition of a comet was different from an asteroid, those rocky chunks of leftover planet making stuff most of which has been swept out of the Inner System and flung into the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud (if not into Interstellar space), or swallowed up by the Sun or Jupiter all because of their massive (heh, only like 99% of the entire mass of the Inner System) gravitational influence, or parked in a more or less safe orbit between Mars and Jupiter.

The scientific myth was that comets were made of more insubstantial things, like ice, and accreted of their own accord far from the warmer, more attractive (because more massive) climes closer to that sustained fusion bomb we call Sol.  Indeed some went so far as to assert that the bulk of Earth’s water comes from comet impacts.

Not so much.

As it turns out, comets are not that different from asteroids after all.  

Mystery of Earth’s Water Origin Solved

Andrew Fazekas, National Geographic

Published October 30, 2014

To pin down the exact time of the arrival of Earth’s water, the study team turned to analyzing meteorites thought to have formed at different times in the history of the solar system.

First, they looked at carbonaceous chondrite meteorites that have been dated as the oldest ones known. They formed around the same time as the sun, before the first planets.

Next they examined meteorites that are thought to have originated from the large asteroid Vesta, which formed in the same region as Earth, some 14 million years after the solar system’s birth.

“These primitive meteorites resemble the bulk solar system composition,” said Sune Nielsen of the WHOI, a study co-author. “They have quite a lot of water in them, and have been thought of before as candidates for the origin of Earth’s water.”

The team’s measurements show that meteorites from Vesta have the same chemistry as the carbonaceous chondrites and rocks found on Earth. This means that carbonaceous chondrites are the most likely common source of water.

“The study shows that Earth’s water most likely accreted at the same time as the rock,” said Marschall.

But comets have tails!

Comet-Like Asteroid Boasts Dusty Tail

By Jenna Iacurci, Nature World News

Nov 12, 2014 02:37 PM EST

In a case of mistaken identity, a newly active asteroid in our solar system’s famous Main Belt is boasting a dusty tail, thinking it’s more a comet than an asteroid, according to recent research.

Usually it’s easy to tell the difference between a comet and an asteroid. A comet is a body composed of rock and ice that, when it passes close to the Sun, heats up and begins to sublimate, displaying a visible tail or coma. Asteroids, on the other hand, are composed mostly of rock and typically have few comet-like qualities.

But in recent years several asteroids have broken the boundaries of their definition and begun to sport dusty tails. A dozen of such unusual asteroids in the main asteroid belt have been identified thus far, and now a long-known asteroid is joining the club.

Called 62412, it’s the first comet-like object seen in the Hygiea family of asteroids, and only the 13th known active asteroid in the main asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. Active asteroids, unlike others of their kind, sometimes sport a tail when dust and gas is ejected from their surface, giving them a comet-like appearance.

Not only that, but it should come as no surprise.  Quite a large percentage of Meteors are from comet trails rather than Asteroids and you know what?  They look exactly the same.  To the extent that Asteroids are slightly less volatile you should remember they’ve been sun blasted for about 4.5 Billion years.

Indeed it’s highly likely that most of the far Solar objects originated much closer to the sun than is commonly believed

(I)t is suggested that this planetary system evolved in the following manner. Planetesimals at the disk’s inner edge occasionally pass through gravitational encounters with the outermost giant planet, which change the planetesimals’ orbits. The planets scatter inwards the majority of the small icy bodies that they encounter, exchanging angular momentum with the scattered objects so that the planets move outwards in response, preserving the angular momentum of the system. These planetesimals then similarly scatter off the next planet they encounter, successively moving the orbits of Uranus, Neptune, and Saturn outwards. Despite the minute movement each exchange of momentum can produce, cumulatively these planetesimal encounters shift (migrate) the orbits of the planets by significant amounts. This process continues until the planetesimals interact with the innermost and most massive giant planet, Jupiter, whose immense gravity sends them into highly elliptical orbits or even ejects them outright from the Solar System. This, in contrast, causes Jupiter to move slightly inward.

The low rate of orbital encounters governs the rate at which planetesimals are lost from the disk, and the corresponding rate of migration. After several hundreds of millions of years of slow, gradual migration, Jupiter and Saturn, the two inmost giant planets, cross their mutual 1:2 mean-motion resonance. This resonance increases their orbital eccentricities, destabilizing the entire planetary system. The arrangement of the giant planets alters quickly and dramatically. Jupiter shifts Saturn out towards its present position, and this relocation causes mutual gravitational encounters between Saturn and the two ice giants, which propel Neptune and Uranus onto much more eccentric orbits. These ice giants then plough into the planetesimal disk, scattering tens of thousands of planetesimals from their formerly stable orbits in the outer Solar System. This disruption almost entirely scatters the primordial disk, removing 99% of its mass, a scenario which explains the modern-day absence of a dense trans-Neptunian population. Some of the planetesimals are thrown into the inner Solar System, producing a sudden influx of impacts on the terrestrial planets: the Late Heavy Bombardment.

Eventually, the giant planets reach their current orbital semi-major axes, and dynamical friction with the remaining planetesimal disc damps their eccentricities and makes the orbits of Uranus and Neptune circular again.

Why is this relevant today?

Well, we just landed a probe on a comet, first time ever.

Philae lander makes historic touchdown on comet

Ian Sample and Stuart Clark, The Guardian

Wednesday 12 November 2014 19.30 EST

The feat marks a profound success for the European Space Agency (ESA), which launched the Rosetta spacecraft more than 10 years ago from its Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. Since blasting off in March 2004, Rosetta and its lander Philae have travelled more than 6bn kilometres to catch up with the comet, which orbits the sun at speeds up to 135,000km/h.

Landing Philae on the comet’s surface was never going to be easy. When ESA managers got their first closeup of the comet in July, its unusual rubber duck shape left some fearing that a safe touchdown was impossible. The shape was not the only problem. The comet’s surface was hostile: hills and spectacular jutting cliffs gave way to cratered plains strewn with boulders. If Philae landed on anything other than even ground it could topple over, leaving it stranded and defunct.

On Tuesday night, hours before Philae had left its mothership, the chances of a safe landing took another dip. Overnight, a thruster on the lander failed to respond to commands sent from Earth. Engineers tried for hours to correct the fault but to no avail. The malfunction threatened to abort the mission, but at 0235 GMT on Wednesday mission controllers decided to go ahead with the landing regardless.

The nitrogen thruster, facing upwards from the top of the lander, was designed to fire for 60 seconds as Philae touched down to prevent it from bouncing off the comet’s surface where the gravitational pull is several hundred thousand times weaker than on Earth.

Can Philae hold on? Fears for comet mission as controllers reveal harpoons that should have tethered lander failed to work – causing it to BOUNCE as it landed

By Jonathan O’Callaghan and Ellie Zolfagharifard and Mark Prigg, Daily Mail

Published: 02:45 EST, 13 November 2014

Philae’s cold thruster is nitrogen-powered and is designed to fire on landing in order to prevent the probe from flying off into space due to the comet’s weak gravity.

In order to prepare cold-gas jets, scientists use one of two pins to puncture a wax seal on the thruster’s gas tank. Experts detect success by the change in pressure in the piping system.

However, this morning mission controllers did not see pressure increases after two attempts with each of the two pins. But according to the industry provider, there may still be a chance that retrying the puncture of the wax seal would succeed, even after four failed attempts.

Now this is an amazing feat of celestial navigation made more so by the irregular shape of the target, its speed and distance, activity of the landing area, and low gravity, but it was not perfect.  Since the engineers expected the surface to be icy they employed harpoons as anchors.  Well, it’s more rock than ice.  Moreover a top thruster was supposed to fire to ensure positive contact during a sub-surface drilling operation has so far been unresponsive and it’s unknown if that part of the mission can be completed.

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

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Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

I would never make fun of LaEscapee or blame PhilJD.  And I am highly organized.

This Day in History


Fishermen in Brazil Save a River Goliath, and Their Livelihoods

By SIMON ROMERO, The New York Times

NOV. 12, 2014

In piranha-infested waters, fishermen go in search of the pirarucu, which can grow as long as seven feet and weigh more than 400 pounds, placing them in the ranks of freshwater megafish like the Giant Pangasius (often called the dog-eating catfish) and the Mekong giant catfish, both found in the distant Mekong River basin.

With overfishing and habitat degradation threatening such Goliaths in different parts of the world, riverbank dwellers and biologists in the Amazon are working together to save the pirarucu (pronounced pee-rah-roo-KOO) by prohibiting outsiders from catching the fish and overhauling their own methods of pursuing it.

“Just a short while ago, we feared that wild pirarucu could disappear from the Amazon,” said Ruiter Braga, a fishing technician for Mamirauá, a rain forest reserve that helped develop the management regime, during which the stocks of pirarucu in the area have climbed more than 400 percent. “But we figured out that the only way to save the pirarucu was to involve the people living in the forest who depend on the fish for their own survival.”

Political and Public Pressure Mounts on F.C.C. Head Over Open Internet Rules

By EDWARD WYATT, The New York Times

NOV. 12, 2014

Mr. Wheeler was leaning toward a lighter-touch approach for the relationship between consumers and their broadband companies when Mr. Obama made his statement, calling for the whole system to be reclassified under Title II.

Shortly after Mr. Obama’s call for stronger regulation, Mr. Wheeler held a previously scheduled meeting with Internet companies, including Google and Yahoo, and lawyers and trade groups representing them.

At the meeting, Mr. Wheeler said that he had not yet made a decision on how to proceed, according to people at the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their relationship with the chairman. And he hinted, the people said, that the F.C.C. would need more time – months, at least – to gather adequate comment and write the rules in a manner that they could not be overturned in court.

Some in attendance seemed to believe that Mr. Wheeler disagreed with Mr. Obama’s approach. The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that Mr. Wheeler told the group “that he was moving in a different direction.”

F.C.C. officials flatly denied that on Wednesday. “There was absolutely nothing he said that indicated that he was going to diverge from the president,” said Gigi Sohn, who serves as special counsel for external affairs to Mr. Wheeler and who was at the meeting. “What he said was all options are on the table.”

Foreign Exchange Settlement Shows the Lessons Banks Have Learned

By Peter J. Henning, The New York Times

November 12, 2014 3:44 pm

The settlements on Wednesday leave the criminal investigations to be resolved. But even here, I think we can see the approach the banks are taking to minimize the damage. About 30 traders involved in the manipulation have been fired or suspended over the past year by the banks, which have kept quiet about the reasons beyond vague acknowledgements that they would not comment during a pending investigation. We can expect to see some of those traders prosecuted for manipulation, and the banks are certain to show that they are cooperating with the Justice Department by providing incriminating information and removing the traders from their positions.

Thus, I expect the next wave of cases to be criminal charges against individuals and deferred prosecution agreements with the banks. Their cooperation will be extolled as the reason the Justice Department is not demanding a guilty plea, as seen in other recent cases involving BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse. Additional fines will be assessed to the banks, but those amounts are unlikely to exceed the total of $4.25 billion paid out in the current settlement. The individual traders are more likely to be the focus of attention when the criminal cases come out because the banks will be an old story by then.

This will lead to a third lesson for banks in this settlement: Sacrifice former employees to ensure that the government views the company as cooperative.

US nurses strike over Ebola protection


Thursday 13 November 2014 00.21 EST

Tens of thousands of nurses across the United States staged protest rallies and strikes on Wednesday over what they say is insufficient protection for health workers dealing with patients who might have the Ebola virus.

The nurses are pressing hospitals to buy hazardous materials suits that leave no skin exposed, as well as powered air-purifying respirators, to properly protect them from exposure, and are seeking more training to handle patients suspected of having Ebola.

“The best way to protect our community is to protect our nurses,” said Evan Brost, a nurse who joined more than 30 people in a protest outside the White House over Ebola measures.

South Carolina’s gay marriage ban struck down in federal court

by Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian

Wednesday 12 November 2014 23.44 EST

In his decision to allow same-sex marriages in South Carolina, US district judge Richard Mark Gergel cited a binding decision by the fourth circuit court of appeals that struck down Virginia’s ban in the case of Bostic v Schaefer.

“While this debate over precedent and constitutional principle is interesting, this court find most persuasive the clearly stated authority of the fourth circuit’s seminal decision in Bostic,” Gergel said in the ruling (pdf).

South Carolina was the only state under the jurisdiction of the fourth circuit court of appeals to have upheld its ban after the supreme court declined to take up the circuit’s case. The fourth circuit ruled in July that such bans are unconstitutional, but its decision was not made final until October, when the US supreme court declined to take it up for review – essentially, letting the lower court ruling stand. That decision led to same-sex marriage becoming legal in North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia.

Race to revive NSA surveillance curbs before Congress handover

by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Wednesday 12 November 2014 20.22 EST

While privacy advocates and technology groups had championed the bill when it was introduced last fall, many revoked their support after compromises with the Obama administration and intelligence agencies expanded the definition of what data the government can collect.

The Senate version is considered by civil libertarians to be more protective of privacy than its House counterpart, though it will still permit the government to obtain thousands of “call detail records” off a single court warrant.

Congressional advocates of the bill, concerned about Senate inaction, recently warned that failure to pass the USA Freedom Act would prompt an expiration of a central surveillance authority in the Patriot Act, which the NSA has claimed justifies its bulk domestic phone records dragnet.

Godfather mansion on New York’s Staten Island goes up for sale

by Ben Quinn, The Guardian

Wednesday 12 November 2014 18.29 EST

Its role in The Godfather came about after it was recommended to location scouts by actor and Staten Island-native Gianni Russo, who played Corleone son-in-law Carlo Rizzi.

There is also plenty of room for running a family business from home – namely four garages and two offices. A granite saltwater pool also provides a backdrop for hosting parties, while a security system should help keep unwanted guests out.

“The kitchen is to die for,” estate agent Joseph R Profaci told the Staten Island Advance.

Just one word of advice for potential buyers: make him an offer he can’t refuse.

New York to share $35m with other cities to reduce untested rape kit backlog

by Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian

Wednesday 12 November 2014 18.03 EST

New York City will share $35m with towns across the US to help reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance announced on Wednesday

Vance said up to 70,000 kits could be tested with the new funds. These kits contain swabs and specimens collected during victim examinations and contain information that could be used to identify and rule out suspects.

“Rape victims nationwide deserve to know that the invasive examination they underwent had a purpose, and the resulting kit was not left to gather dust on a forgotten shelf,” Vance said.

A decade ago, New York City tackled a 17,000-case backlog, resulting in more than 200 prosecutions citywide, Vance said.

The money comes from the Manhattan district attorney’s share of a $8.8bn settlement with BNP Paribas will be used to pay for the testing. The French bank agreed this summer to plead guilty to having violated US economic sanctions by hiding billions in transfers with clients in Cuba, Sudan and Iran. The deal left New York’s financial services department with about a quarter of the settlement, $2.2bn.

Vance said that the state is interested in distributing the money nationwide as a crime prevention measure.

Thomas Eric Duncan’s family settles with Dallas hospital over Ebola treatment

by Lauren Gambino, The Guardian

Wednesday 12 November 2014 15.17 EST

The settlement, reached with Texas Health Resources (THR), Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and the emergency physicians group involved in Duncan’s care, will be divided among his four children, aged 12 to 22, as well as his mother and father, the family’s lawyer announced on Wednesday. Two children live in the US, one in Liberia and the youngest in Ghana. His mother lives in North Carolina, and his father in Liberia.

As part of the deal, the hospital will also create a fund in Duncan’s name dedicated to providing financial assistance to victims of Ebola in Africa. Some of the money will be used for building an Ebola treatment center in Liberia, which has suffered the greatest death toll in the current epidemic. The family also received a personal apology letter from the chief executive of Texas Health Resources. Details of the settlement and the letter were not disclosed.

“We know that this has been a terribly sad, difficult and trying time for Mr Duncan’s family and friends, and they will continue to be in the hearts and prayers of the entire Texas Health Presbyterian family,” the hospital said in a statement on Wednesday. “As part of the healing process, we have again extended our sincere apologies to the family and shared our regret that the diagnosis of Ebola Virus Disease was not made at the time of Mr Duncan’s initial Emergency Department visit.”

Duncan was initially turned away from hospital despite having a 103-degree F fever and disclosing his travel history from a country where Ebola was present. He returned to the hospital two days later and was admitted, and tested positive for Ebola on 30 September. He died nearly two weeks after he first sought treatment. Two nurses were exposed during his care; both survived.

The family’s lawyer, Les Weisbrod, said he would have argued in court that Duncan might have lived if the hospital had diagnosed him during his first emergency room visit.

“The initial treatment in the emergency room, in my opinion, was such that it would meet the standard of gross negligence,” he said.

Afghan opium crop set for record high

May Jeong, The Guardian

Wednesday 12 November 2014 13.02 EST

The opium crop in Afghanistan will hit a new high this year, the United Nations has said, presenting a challenge to the country in tackling the trade that fuels the Taliban-led insurgency.

Opium cultivation has risen 7% year on year to 224,000 hectares, and production in 2014 may reach 6,400 tonnes – a 17% increase – according to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (.PDF).

The report confirms how the international community’s efforts to reduce opium production in Afghanistan have been met by dismal failure. After the Taliban seized power in 1996, production rapidly grew. It fell back in 2001 – when the Taliban leader Mullah Omar declared opium to be un-Islamic. Since the US-led invasion of 2001 and the Taliban’s exit from Kabul, it has inexorably risen.

The money from opium sales finances Taliban operations, and also serves as a source of systemic corruption inside the Afghan government.


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