As you're probably aware, there will be a solar eclipse 2017 August 21. Below is an animation created by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio showing the path of the Moon's shadow across the United States. The total eclipse will be visible only from areas of the small dark shadow. Farther away you'll experience a partial eclipse in which the lunar disk blocks only part of the sun.
Important: Before viewing an eclipse, always check out safety tips from reliable websites such as Space.com (as in this link). Don't go by rumor.
I haven't been posting for a while because not quite two weeks ago someone hit my car from behind, totaling it and injuring (of all things) my lower right leg, causing pain and swelling. I was seen in an emergency room where they found no evidence of a blood clot and recommended ice and elevation for the swelling. Over the next few days (including a visit to my doctor) the pain got progressively worse and I ended up spending most days mainly in bed because standing or even sitting was painful. Pain relievers haven't made a detectable difference, so I've pretty much just had to live with it. I still haven't finished dealing with insurance companies, let alone been able to shop for a new car, but I am gradually feeling better.
Brian Keith Dalton, a former Republican (and former Mormon who coined the term Formon), here offers up a complaint about people's willingness to vote for real jerks. He's reasonably restrained in his manner except for what some might consider colorful language:
I should mention that I have mixed feelings about Maher. He often says things I agree with, but he also holds some really dumb views on some topics (vaccines, for example, and to a lesser extent on space exploration). He makes a big deal about being politically incorrect (even hosting a show by that name on HBO) and recently he used the N-word as a joke and got called out on it.
What he says above is still mostly worth hearing, I think. Democrats should hit back harder. They don't have to sink the the level of criminal assaults as some Republicans have done, and they shouldn't sink to the level of Trump-style blatant lying, but they need to make their case more emphatically. My youngest brother Tom, who died last year, often complained that Democrats would make a point one time and expect people to remember, when they ought to keep hammering it.
As regular readers (if any exist...) are aware, I'm a fan of Rahat's pranks, most of which are harmless and often involve someone or something unexpected pulling up to a drive-thru window -- an invisible driver, a skeleton, a robot, etc. The latest one is a familiar monster, and for once pretty the pretty much universal reaction is delight.
The A Capella Science YouTube channel offers a remarkably good adaptation of the song "A Whole New World" from Disney's Aladdin. In this version, it's about the hunt for exoplanets orbiting other stars, concluding with a brief reference to the possibility of reaching them. Seriously, it's way better than you might expect.
(My thanks to Derek Roff for pointing this out. The words to the song can be found at the link above. Someone really needs to annotate them, ideally with links to relevant web pages.)
The song makes reference to naïve past opposition in Congress to providing the modest funding needed and the early failures. Since exoplanets started being discovered Congress shifted to supporting the project, which still costs only a microscopic fraction of the budget.
There are two main methods used to detect planets. The more general is to look for Doppler shift in starlight showing a planet's gravity pulling on the star and causing it to shift slightly toward and away from us. The other method works only for those very rare planets whose orbits are aligned so as to cross between the star and us, letting us detect a slight brief drop in the brightness. We can get far more information from these transits, and though they are rare, there are so many stars out there that we've found well over 3000 planets this way, with thousands more possible discoveries awaiting verification.
Some exoplanets have been directly imaged, though few have been found that way. Most notably, however, some likely "rogue planets" -- planets ejected from solar systems to wander through interstellar space or else formed on their own, away from a star -- have been observed by infrared telescopes. Such free-agent planets are very, very hard to find, but there's a good chance there are lots and lots of them, perhaps even more than those that orbits stars.
Could we ever send spacecraft to any planets outside our solar system? A surprisingly popular misconception is that the vast distances involved make interstellar probes infeasible, but that's demonstrably false. Humans, specifically Americans, have been launching interstellar spacecraft since the 1960s None of them will reach any other star systems for thousands of years, long after they have ceased to function. But they will eventually reach them. Moreover, there are credible proposals to send tiny probes using sails that capture light from powerful lasers in the solar system. Even then it will take decades for them to reach another solar system, but there's a good chance they'll still be able send back data.
Astronauts are another matter. Interstellar missions will take at least a large fraction of a human lifespan, maybe several lifespans, but there are at least conceivable ways to deal with that, such as multi-generation spaceships. The Earth itself travels through space carrying many generations of humans, so we have at least one prototype. Or we might be able to put people into suspended animation during the journey, so astronauts may indeed reach and even colonize other worlds. I'm not suggesting it's certainty, only that it's not an impossibility.
Even more realistically we might find some rogue planets at distances that make a round-trip visit feasible. Most likely they'd be cold and lifeless, but not necessarily. Some of may be pretty hot internally, as the Earth is. Their surfaces might be frigid, but underneath they might have bodies of liquid water and even life.
A repeated premise in horror movies and kid's nightmares is the ventriloquist dummy or doll that comes to life. It seems to me that the Glove & Boots puppets might be even scarier, especially given what they do to the humans in this condensed 5-minute version of playing a game called Scream Ride.
For extra amusement, click the little CC button at the bottom of the video once it starts playing to turn on automatically generated closed captions, which are often hilariously inaccurate.
OK, once again I freely admit to being easily amused, but for some reason this cracks me up. If you're even more twisted than I am and have the patience to sit through the full hour-plus version, it's here.
This is a curious result that apparently (unlike some other things in psychology) is repeatable: People given a task requiring creativity (such as coming up with as many ways as possible to use paper cups) tend to do better if they've previously been doing something boring. I wonder if this is why meditation seems to help.
Update: I screwed up and used a link to the wrong video above, unintentionally insulting an innocent party. I've corrected it above. Below is the video I originally linked to, even though it's not really on-topic.
Two years ago today Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, died of brain cancer. A little over a year later I lost my youngest brother, also to brain cancer.
Last year President Obama named Joe Biden to head a cancer moonshot, an effort to accelerate research into preventing and curing all forms of cancer. Below is a clip from Biden's appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last December during which he described the initiative and the bipartisan support it received. It's informative and moving.
During the campaign Donald Trump repeatedly promised to attack Washington's corruption, specifically the cycling of people between government and lobbying. It was a crowd-pleasing line and a welcome notion across the political spectrum, at least for people not taking advantage of the revolving door.
So how has it worked out? The early signs weren't good, as Samantha Bee observed back in mid-January. (As usual: Samantha Bee, mild naughty language alert.) Pay particular attention to what she says about Goldman Sachs alumnus and current Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and how he made nearly $400 million taking advantage of widows in the style of the villain in a 19th-century melodrama. For real.
I'm not sure how I missed this, but if I did, someone else might have done so as well.
On 2015 October 21 I was on a flight and saw another passenger with a copy of USA Today with the same front page depicted in Back to the Future 2. It took me a bit to figure out that this was the date Doc Brown and Marty McFly had traveled to in that film, hence the commemorative issue. (I picked up my own copy but I've no idea what I did with it.)
Anyway, today quite by accident I ran across the following clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live that aired that same night. Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox reprised their roles along with some surprises.