An Earthly haze

Wired Science has a short piece on the Solar Dynamics Observatory‘s eclipse season and features an image of a partially occluded sun, much like the one below.

As the article describes, the shadow of the Earth does not form a clean, smooth arc across the image of the sun as does the Moon because the Earth has an atmosphere, which has variable thickness and does not block the extreme ultraviolet light that SDO detects as efficiently as lunar rock. Continue reading

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Mercury Rising

Yesterday, the MESSENGER spacecraft released the above image as the first of the main stage of its mission, orbiting around the innermost planet and surveying the surface.  When that’s complete, we will have the first complete detailed map of the surface of Mercury.

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The New York Times explores the 2010 Census

Last year, I pointed to an interactive racial/ethnic dot map modeled on the maps of Eric Fischer that The New York Times had created using the Census projections available at the time.  With the release of the 2010 Census data, they’ve really outdone themselves, with a suite of interactive maps including but certainly not limited to the dot map.

There are a set of choropleth maps showing racial pluralities as above as well is distributions for specific groups, more general population maps, and vacant housing maps.  If you enjoy digging through such maps, I highly recommend that you check it out.

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U.S. set to enter another war

Today, the United Nations Security Council voted 10-0 (with Russia, China, Germany, India, and Brazil abstaining) to authorize the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya, a country locked into a civil war after troops began firing on protesters who came out as part of the mass awakening that spread across the Arab world starting in Tunisia.

The resulting rebel movement found its stronghold in Cyrenaica, the eastern half of the country.  They have set up a National Transitional Council in the chief Cyrenaican city of Benghazi.  This council has been recognized by France, Portugal, the UK, and the Arab Council, which was the body which forwarded the proposal to authorize a no-fly zone to the Security Council.

While a no-fly zone sounds innocuous enough, it is an active military intervention that will involve bombing raids on Gaddafi’s anti-aircraft positions and there is always a threat that the conflict could escalate beyond what the Security Council authorized.

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Two spacecraft milestones

Today, two different spacecraft at different ends of the solar system are closing in on major milestones.  The first is the New Horizons spacecraft, destined for a flyby of Pluto in 2015.  Tomorrow, it will pass the orbit of Uranus, the penultimate orbit to cross before it begins its observations of the distant dwarf planet.  The New Horizons website has a position diagram of the spacecraft:

Generally, it’s position doesn’t change very quickly relative to the diagram (it took the spacecraft over 5 years to get to it’s present location and it’ll take more than 4 years before it makes its closest approach of Pluto).

The second spacecraft, which has arguably reached a more important milestone today, is the MESSENGER spacecraft which will be performing maneuvers for its final orbital insertion around Mercury within a few hours of this posting.  On March 29, the spacecraft will begin taking the pictures that will make up it’s main mission, which is to survey the innermost planet from orbit in a similar manner to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which are in orbit around Mars and the Moon, respectively, ultimately giving us the first complete map (and a detailed one at that) of the surface of Mercury.

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Beware genetic paternalism

Razib Khan has a post raising the alarm over a potential batch of new regulations running through the FDA that will restrict consumer’s access to their own genetic data.  He includes this video:

It is depressing to see this sort of regulatory capture happening so publicly and blatantly in Congress, though I suppose it isn’t surprising.  After all, the fraction of the population that’s sequenced their genomes to date is tiny and doing so is beyond most people’s desires and budgets for now (including my own) and there is a rather powerful doctors’ lobby that serves to benefit if consumers are forced to pay an extra, unnecessary party in order to access their own genetic information.

So, I think that this is something worth passing on, since the AMA doesn’t need any further restrictions on patients’ rights.

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Where are the terrorists?

Last night, I found out via Facebook that there was an interesting glitch in Google Translate.  The original message went as thus:

Jews are terrorists
Americans are terrorists
Arabs are terrorists” if you put this in google translate, it says in Arabic:
“jews are NOT terrorists
Americans are NOT terrorists
…Arabs ARE terrorists”..!!

Indeed if you entered  that line into Google Translate and translate it into Arabic, it would output statements exactly opposite to the original for Jews and Americans, but not for Arabs.  But I explored it further and found that the negation through translation worked for quite a few nationalities.  All colored countries were inputted as “[demonym] are terrrorists”.  Those that came back “[demonym] are not terrorists” are green and those that came back “[demonym] are terrorists” are red.  The gray countries  are ones I didn’t get to before I went to sleep last night.

Now, to Google’s credit, this problem appeared to be fixed today, as every nationality I inputted (including some of the green ones in the map above) came back as terrorists.  As such, I was not able to finish the map, but I found the exercise rather amusing and thought I’d share what I found.

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