M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Another day, another rocket failure…

March 10, 2023
MThomas

With just over a minute to go before liftoff, a California aerospace startup opted to stand down from launching the world’s first 3D-printed rocket on its inaugural test flight.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/worlds-first-3d-printed-rocket-set-make-inaugural-flight-rcna73868

At least unlike the spectacular self-destruction of JAXA’s H3 this past Tuesday (Monday, Japan time), the team testing the California rocket wisely decided that it’s not a bright idea to stick a billion dollar satellite on an untested rocket. Repeatedly.

I’m beginning to feel that using 3D printed parts may not be the way to go with rocket engines…

The real danger of unregulated AI

February 27, 2023
MThomas

“I’m less frightened by a Sydney that’s playing into my desire to cosplay a sci-fi story than a Bing that has access to reams of my personal data and is coolly trying to manipulate me on behalf of whichever advertiser has paid the parent company the most money.

“Nor is it just advertising worth worrying about. What about when these systems are deployed on behalf of the scams that have always populated the internet? How about on behalf of political campaigns? Foreign governments? “I think we wind up very fast in a world where we just don’t know what to trust anymore,” Gary Marcus, the A.I. researcher and critic, told me. “I think that’s already been a problem for society over the last, let’s say, decade. And I think it’s just going to get worse and worse.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/26/opinion/microsoft-bing-sydney-artificial-intelligence.html

Shooting star over the English Channel

February 15, 2023
MThomas

Courtesy of @dlxinorbit – via @Marco_Langbroek

The agency earlier said the object was expected to “safely strike” the earth’s atmosphere near to the French city of Rouen.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-64621721

“Near to”? OK.

Anyway, “SAR2667” provided some cross-cultural entertainment for people living in England, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Lots of photos and videos online.

Interesting note from ESA: they were able to detect it and notify everyone exactly where and when it would disintegrate.

Since there are more than 30,000 of these things that orbit the Sun relatively close to Earth’s orbit, it’s a good thing we’re getting better at detecting them. Maybe we’d better up the ante on deflecting them

“Synthetic fuel”? We’ve heard this before…

February 6, 2023
MThomas

Not too terribly helpful if you can’t read Japanese, but you can probably figure out which is water and which is “radical water.”

From 11 to 17 January, the Demonstration Business Promotion Team Osaka along with Sustainable Energy Inc. ran trials on a synthetic fuel produced from water and carbon dioxide present in the air. If successful, this could become the first carbon-based and truly carbon-neutral fuel of its kind.

https://soranews24.com/2023/02/02/synthetic-fossil-fuels-made-from-light-water-and-co2-in-the-air-tested-in-osaka/

So basically this company in Osaka did some water 💧 experiments with “radical water” (water whose molecules were subjected to a kind of electrolysis⚡️ to ionize them), then a “seed fuel” (a fossil fuel like kerosene) was added to create synthetic fuel ⛽️ which in turn will create more CO2 that can be used to create more synthetic fuel.

And no, I didn’t have to insert goofy 😜 icons, but I’m on the train right now 🚊 so why not. 😝

Anyway, this all just sounds too good to be true. Surely it’s prohibitively expensive 💴 to constantly electrify water to the point where its unbound electrons can be available to bind with synthetic fuel electrons. Tidal 🌊 generators, wind 💨 turbines, solar sun ☀️ panels, and thermal heat from volcanos 🌋 all seem more likely a source of electricity to power EVs. 🚗

At any rate, there’s been nothing in the news 📰 about this, so I doubt the experiments worked. Or if they did, someone has a vested interest in continuing Japan’s reliance on Middle Eastern, Indonesian, and Russian fossil fuels.

OK I arrived, so I can stop it with the icons 🛑 ✋ for now.

🖖

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s an airplane! It’s…

February 4, 2023
MThomas

A Japanese telescope positioned on top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, captured video of an eerie flying spiral in the night sky on Jan. 18.

In the video, a small bright spot appears and slowly gets brighter and starts to dissipate into a spiral before getting small again and disappearing.

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/japanese-telescope-captures-image-mysterious-180332172.html

In fact, it was the remains of a discarded Falcon 9 booster from the launch of a SpaceX satellite. And it isn’t the first time this has happened. Japanese TV talked about this, too (since it was a Japanese astronomy, at the Subaru Telescope, that first recorded it).

So, an Identified Flying Object!

Yay, more metallic junk.

(Thanks to Glen Hill for bringing this article to my attention.)

Confirmed: We’re all here thanks to asteroids

January 26, 2023
MThomas

Since the Hayabusa2 returned with the sample from the Ryugu asteroid in December 2020, several important discoveries have been made – most notably analyzes confirming the presence of substances thought to be the building blocks of life on the asteroid, such as liquid water and organics fabrics.

https://newsbeezer.com/germanyeng/ryugu-asteroid-helps-unravel-the-origin-of-life-on-earth/

Hayabusa-2 took several years to land on Ryugu (literally “Dragon Palace”), pound out just over 5 grams of asteroid material, and bring it back to Earth (landing in Australia in late 2020).

NASA scientists have confirmed not just frozen water but liquid — inside crystals called pyrrhotites. JAXA scientists (pictured above with Prof Tsuchiyama of Ritsumeikan University, my main employer!) continue to check the density of the samples.

The water is similar to the carbon dioxide-laden water of hot springs. The research teams have already discovered over 20 amino acids, the basic protein building blocks of carbon-based life.

Another theory called “panspermia” proposes that a key mineral (boron) missing on early Earth came in an asteroid from Mars. ☄️ Hmm. Did Mars produce asteroids? Or more like asteroids hit Mars and broke off lots of tiny fragments? That somehow survived the journey to Earth?

Seems a little unlikely. But there is now evidence that at least some proteins came from space rocks.

So, sorry, Ridley. This isn’t how it happened. Cool movie, though.

Turn off the lights, and you’ll be seeing stars!

January 25, 2023
MThomas

A new study that analyzes data from more than 50,000 amateur stargazers finds that artificial lighting is making the night sky about 10% brighter each year.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/twinkle-twinkle-fading-stars-hiding-brighter-skies-rcna66692

Each spring in my Current Events and Global Issues class, I have students read about environmental issues.

Pollution is obviously related. But they almost never guess the “seven types of pollution” (yes, I know some people country eight, or ten, or even twelve…it all depends on how you categorize them).

They never consider Light Pollution.

Maybe it’s because most of my students (to the order of 90%) come from medium and large cities. To me, having grown up in a mostly rural area (in elementary school, my town had about 400 residents and in junior and senior high I lived in a “queen village” that had — gasp — an incredible 4,000 residents) — well, being surrounded by darkness was no big deal.

We could see stars from our backyard. Lots of stars. We learned all the major constellations (of the Northern Hemisphere, anyway, since that’s what we could see).

And more importantly we could see lightning bugs (or “fireflies” or “glowworms” or “candle bugs” etc). Decreasing water quality is thought to contribute to their declining numbers, but it’s far more likely that our insistence on lighting up the skies all the time are preventing them from finding a mate (hence the reason they “flicker” at night).

Turn off the lights!

What are you afraid of?

What is this “Cislunar” space?

January 24, 2023
MThomas

Though definitions sometimes differ, cislunar space generally refers to the space between Earth and the moon, including the moon’s surface and orbit. Any nation or entity that aims to establish a presence on the moon, or has ambitions to explore deeper into the solar system, has a vested interest in operating in cislunar space, either with communication and navigation satellites or outposts that serve as way stations between Earth and the moon.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-earth-moon-get-little-crowded-rcna64333

There is actually a limited amount of orbital space available between the Earth and the Moon (note: capitalize it, NBC! grrr..).

So, expect more and more competition for satellites — communication, navigation, and way stations.

And of course military and spy stations.

And by the way, only eight nations signed the so-called “Artemis Accords” in 2020. Guess who didn’t?

Buckle up!

ChatGPT: Is this really the “death of the essay”?

December 17, 2022
MThomas

I’ve been testing ChatGPT over the last couple of days. (If you don’t know what this chatbot is, here’s a good NYT article about ChatGPT and others currently in development.)

The avowed purpose of ChatGPT is to create an AI that can create believable dialogues. It does this by scouring the web for data it uses to respond to simple prompts.

By “simple,” I mean sometimes “horribly complicated,” of course. And sometimes a little ridiculous.

Somehow, I doubt that people in the US said “livin’ the dream” in the ’50s…

As has been pointed out, chatbots only generate texts based on what they have been fed, i.e., “garbage in / garbage out.” So if you push the programs hard enough, they will generate racist, sexist, homophobic etc awful stuff — because unfortunately that kind of sick and twisted garbage is still out there, somewhere online in a troll’s paradise.

So far, I have asked the program to:

  1. Write a haiku about winter without using the word “winter”
  2. Write a limerick about an Irish baseball player
  3. Write a dialogue between God and Nietzsche (I just had to…)
  4. Imagine what Jean-Paul Sartre and Immanuel Kant would say to each other (see above) but using US ’50 slang
  5. Have Thomas Aquinas and John Locke argue about the existence of God (that one was fun)
  6. Write a 300 word cause-effect essay about climate change
  7. Write a 300 word compare and contrast essay about the US and Japan
  8. Write a 1000 word short science fiction story based on Mars
  9. Write a 1500 word short science fiction about robots in the style of Philip K Dick

OK, and the verdict is:

Continue Reading

ispace is not “Japan” but “Japanese”

December 16, 2022
MThomas

Mission success would also be a milestone in space cooperation between Japan and the United States…

https://www.yahoo.com/news/japans-ispace-readies-delayed-launch-220204283.html

OK, wait…

A Japanese start-up (I.e., a small private company)…

using a SpaceX rocket (I.e., a private company owned by the world’s wealthiest pri…er, person)…

sends up a small craft made in Germany… 🇩🇪

along with the Rashid rover (made by the UAE)…

and “a two-wheeled, baseball-sized device from Japan’s JAXA space agency”…

and somehow this is cooperation between the US and Japan versus China and Russia?

I’m not seeing it. The project may have used a NASA launchpad, but the people are charge (and the ones paying for it) are not part of any national government.

And I have a feeling this is the wave of the future. More and more private companies will get involved in space projects as they realize that they can thus ignore politics and aim at profits.

I, for one, welcome our future corporate overlords…

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