Thursday, August 31, 2006

SMART-1 Poised for Smashing Finale

Lunar Probe SMART-1

Lunar Probe SMART-1

After nearly two years circling the moon, a European robotic probe is wrapping up its mission while flight controllers prepare for a scientific grand finale: a crash onto the moon's surface this weekend.

SMART-1 was launched in September 2003 and reached the moon 14 months later for what was expected to be a six-month mission to test technologies for future robotic probes. The spacecraft, however, proved to be extremely robust, winning funding for two mission extensions.

In the end, the probe simply ran out of gas for its innovative solar-electric engine, one of several technologies tested on Europe's first Small Mission for Advanced Research in Technology (SMART) spacecraft.

It will be tugged out of orbit by lunar gravity late Saturday or early Sunday, crashing into a volcanic plain known as the Lake of Excellence, a fitting resting spot for a spacecraft that far surpassed scientists' expectations.

Flight controllers made a final series of maneuvers to position the probe so its crash onto the moon's surface would be detectable from Earth. Scientists using ground-based telescopes planned to scan the dust kicked up in the crash to detect chemicals in the lunar soil.

Check out the article at Discovery News.

Break out your telescopes and be sure to be watching the southern portion of the moon on Sunday, September 3, 2006 at approximately 11:40pm Central Time. It won't be anything spectacular, but a plume of dust should be visible. It's definitely worth a look!

Be sure to check out the SMART-1 website for more information.

Check out my previous space posts: Space 7, Space 6, Space 5, Space 4, Space 3, Space 2 and Space 1

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Remembering Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

A year after Hurricane Katrina hammered the U.S. Gulf Coast and spurred massive flooding in New Orleans, the ecological impacts are still being felt throughout the region.

In particular, human-driven coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion—issues that have long been damaging the region's natural storm buffers—were made worse by the powerful hurricane.

The flooding in New Orleans that began on August 30, 2005, "was really an unnatural disaster," said John Day, a distinguished professor emeritus at the Louisiana State University (LSU) School of the Coast and Environment in Baton Rouge.

"We spent the last century doing almost everything we could to destroy our coast in all sorts of ways—putting levees on the Mississippi River, slicing thousands of kilometers of canals, massive oil and gas production."

For example, Day says, the canals that connect the city to the coast allow storm surges to travel inland, bringing salt water that damages the land.

One such canal, known as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, was built in the mid-1960s to be a 76-mile (122-kilometer) shortcut between the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans.

Hailed as an engineering marvel at the time, the canal is rarely used today.

Before the record hurricane season of 2005, salt water brought inland by the canal was fingered as the culprit in the death of thousands of acres of cypress swamp, a natural buffer against storms.

And when Katrina hit, levee failures on the canal allowed water to pour into St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans East.

"Had those cypress swamps been in place, the levees probably wouldn't have failed," Day said.

Check out the article at National Geographic News.

Also check out this article at Fox News.

Now is a good time to reflect on all of the people who have lost their lives or whose lives were forever altered by this terrible force of nature.

Maybe one day we'll have the ability to develop hurricane-proof technology. In the meantime, we'll just have to rebuild smarter. We will also have to re-engineer the environment that we have spent the last 100 years destroying... see this article at Discovery News for more information.

Check out my previous Katrina posts: Katrina3, Katrina2 and Katrina1.

Here are a couple of good Hurricane Katrina links: CNN Katrina Special Report and

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto Gets the Boot!

New Solar System
Our New Solar System (click for detail view)

Our 8 Planets
The Eight Planets

Dwarf Planets
Dwarf Planets

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930.

The new definition of what is — and isn't — a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one.

For now, membership will be restricted to the eight "classical" planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Much-maligned Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.

Instead, it will be reclassified in a new category of "dwarf planets," similar to what long have been termed "minor planets."

The definition also lays out a third class of lesser objects that orbit the sun — "small solar system bodies," a term that will apply to numerous asteroids, comets and other natural satellites.

Check out the article at Fox News.

I guess it's time to re-print a few million new school textbooks.

Check out my previous space posts: Space 6, Space 5, Space 4, Space 3, Space 2 and Space 1

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Atlantic Ocean Primed for Hurricane Season

Atlantic Ocean Temperatures - August 2006

In early August, forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revised downward slightly their early-season predictions of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. Citing atmospheric and oceanic conditions less conducive to hurricane formation than they initially expected, the National Hurricane Center decreased its predictions of named storms (12-15 instead of 13-16), hurricanes (7-9 instead of 8-10), and major hurricanes (3-4 instead of 4-6). The revised prediction is still above-normal compared to the long-term average.

This pair of images from Japan’s Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite shows areas where sea surface temperatures were hurricane-ready on August 14, 2006 (top), and August 1 (bottom). Sea surface temperatures warmer than a threshold of about 28 degrees Celsius (about 82 degrees Fahrenheit) are one of the required ingredients for hurricanes to form. Areas where waters have reached the hurricane-ready threshold are yellow or red in these images, while areas where waters are generally too cool to support hurricanes are blue. Coastal areas where temperatures were not measured are light gray.

The expanse of hurricane-ready water between Africa and the Gulf of Mexico grew over the two-week period. The color of the Gulf of Mexico became a deeper red, as well; any storms steered into the region would find ample warm water to keep them going. According to NOAA, although sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic did not warm as much as originally forecasted, they are nevertheless still above long-term average conditions, which will likely contribute to above-average hurricane activity from August-October.

Check out the article at NASA.

We can only hope that the 2006 hurricane season doesn't hit us as hard as 2005. In case you need a reminder, check out this previous blog entry.

Friday, August 18, 2006

LSU Tiger Football 2006

LSU Tiger Stadium

LSU Tigers

LSU Tiger Stadium

LSU Tiger Stadium

Eye of the Tiger

LSU Tiger Stadium

LSU Tiger Stadium

2006 S.I. Cover featuring LSU

BATON ROUGE -- LSU football is once again featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the Tigers' are one of six regional covers that the magazine showcases for its annual 2006 College Football Preview, which hits the newsstands this week.

The Tigers, who are coming off an 11-2 mark a year ago, are ranked No. 4 in the Sports Illustrated preseason poll. LSU is the highest ranked team in the Southeastern Conference.

Ohio State tops Sports Illustrated’s preseason Top 20, followed by No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 LSU and No. 5 Southern Cal. Other SEC teams in the SI Top 20 include Auburn at No. 7, Florida at No. 9, and Georgia at No. 11.

The LSU SI cover features Tiger defensive backs LaRon Landry and Chevis Jackson along with linebacker Ali Highsmith. Landry, a consensus preseason All-America pick heading into the 2006 season, returns for his fourth season as a starter in the Tiger secondary. Jackson joins Landry, Jessie Daniels and Jonathan Zenon for what is being touted as the No. 1 defensive backfield in college football.

Highsmith returns as LSU’s leading tackler having totaled 75 tackles and 9.5 tackles for losses for a Tiger defense that ranked among the top six in the nation a year ago in four categories.

LSU opens its season on Sept. 2 when the Tigers host Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m. in Tiger Stadium.

Check out the article at LSU Sports.

Check out past LSU S.I. covers

Here we are again... football season already! After a resounding 40-3 victory over Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl to cap off an exciting 11-2 season, the Tigers are thirsty for more! They're ranked #8 in the AP Poll, #9 in the Coaches Poll, and even higher in some other minor polls around the country.

Coach Miles does have a few gaps to fill, but that won't be a problem. LSU is stacked deep with talent, as much as any team in the country could hope for. And they're going to need every bit of it... for the first time ever, LSU has to travel to Auburn, Florida and Tennessee in the same season.

Check out the LSU Football 2006 video at

Follow the Tigers all season at LSU Football Gameday!

Check out Tiger Stadium in this online poll


Monday, August 14, 2006

Terrorism vs. Technology

Raghead Mujahideen Sketch
Airport Luggage X-Ray
Toxin sniffers, missile jammers, dirty-bomb detectors:
Will a new security arsenal make us safer?

Five years after terrorists chillingly exposed our home-front vulnerabilities to unconventional warfare, are we safer? Ask Maureen McCarthy, director of science and technology transition at the Department of Homeland Security, and she answers in a word: “Absolutely.”

Pause. Clarification: “They can still game us, but figuring out how to get past our defenses now is harder to do.”

In the race to prevent future 9/11-style attacks—or worse—Washington has marshaled the U.S. science establishment on a scale not seen since Sputnik. Federal investment in homeland-defense research has swallowed nearly $4 billion since 2003, and that’s a mere drop of total security spending. (DHS’s budget this year alone is $40 billion.) More important, McCarthy suggests, is that the accelerated spending has brought together formerly disparate disciplines: Software engineers, epidemiologists and biologists have teamed up to produce technologies that protect air and food against bioterrorism. Nuclear physicists and bioforensics specialists now cooperate with the best brains in behavioral science to devise ways to reduce the threat of nuclear smuggling and suicide bombers.

Yet some experts argue that much of the big spending provides only an illusory sense of security. “A lot of it is security theater—technology designed to make you feel better,” says Bruce Schneier, author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World. He points to high-tech protection poured into landmarks, from the White House to local city halls, that he claims diverts terrorist attention to “softer” targets like subways and stadiums. But the government seems to have taken the point. Its ever-expanding homeland-security measures cover not just big targets but the nation’s broader vulnerabilities as well.

Check out the article at Popular Science.

For a look at the technologies that will soon safeguard your travel plans, launch the photo gallery.

There will always be "soft targets" for Islamic militant extremists, we just need to make sure they don't hit a vital area. One major vital area that we are extremely vulnerable in is our shipping ports. There's a hella lot of cargo coming in through our major port cities, such as New Orleans, every day.

Not many people are talking about shipping ports because of the fact that recent targets were passenger aircraft on 9-11 and very recently in England. I would think it important to correct such a vulnerability BEFORE it is exploited... wasn't 9-11 a big enough wake-up call? No, it was only a wake-up call for the airline industry.

It's like plugging a leaky dam one hole at a time... sooner or later we're going to run out of fingers.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Happy 100th Birthday .30-06!

Springfield '03
Springfield '03

M1 Garand
M1 Garand

Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)
Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)

Browning Machine Gun - m1917a1
Browning Machine Gun - m1917a1

Like many popular sporting cartridges, the .30-06 began life as a military round. Though it goes back 100 years now, it wasn't the U.S. Army's first--or even second--.30 caliber.

Just before the turn of the 20th century Germany came out with what is considered one of the finest bolt guns ever--the Model 1898 Mauser. The '98 had it all--a very strong action with controlled feed.

Uncle Sam could see the handwriting on the wall and five years later came out with his own version of the Mauser, the fabled Model 1903 Springfield. The rifle itself was a sleek rendition of the '98 that is considered by many experts to be the best bolt-action military arm ever.

The military continued to expand the .30-06's repertoire and chambered it in the Model 1917/19 Browning machine gun, Browning Automatic Rifle, M1 Garand, 1903A3 and the1903A4 sniper rifle. The round was found to be so perfect that it was simply upscaled to provide one of the finest heavy-machine-gun cartridges in history, the .50 BMG.

After the Second World War the .30-06 became even more popular. American and foreign companies continue to churn out rifles for the round in a dizzying variety of models and styles.

Check out the article at Guns and Ammo.

The .30-06 is a great caliber, chambered for some great rifles! I aim to own a Springfield '03 and M1 Garand eventually, but for now I'm happy with my Mauser (see Renegade's Toys for photo), the father of them all!

If you're interested in purchasing a classic US military rifle of your own, check out the Civilian Marksmanship Program

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Smart Gun?

Smart Gun

Armed with $2 million in federal grants, researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) are close to perfecting the first commercially viable "smart gun." The prototype pistol, unveiled last month, is designed to recognize specific people's grips. When seized by an unauthorized hand—say, that of a child or a criminal—the gun locks its shooting mechanism.

Gun-safety advocates hail the device as a way to significantly reduce the estimated 29,000 firearm deaths in the U.S. each year, although some gun-rights advocates worry that the technology could prove more error-prone than traditional guns. Sebastian says the NJIT prototype currently has a failure rate of 1 in 100 trigger pulls, but his team aims to improve that rate to 1 in 10,000—the Pentagon's standard for military weapons—by increasing the number of grip sensors from 32 to "hundreds" and further refining the pattern-recognition software. If all goes well, Sebastian expects a commercial version by 2008.

Check out the article at Popular Science.

I like the way this is going, but they're not there yet. Look for the gun rights opponents to call for legislation to make this mandatory in all weapons.

I really only have one concern... Let's say you are in a gunfight with an intruder in your home. You are shot in the shoulder, but are still alive and aware enough to switch hands and defend yourself before the intruder comes to finish you off. But, you are no longer gripping the weapon as it was programmed to be gripped. Too bad, you're SOL!

Friday, August 04, 2006



Rocketplane Plan
click photo for high detail

Who would be crazy enough to try to blast a rocketized Learjet (hardly a vehicle designed for the rigors of spaceflight) at three times the speed of sound out of the atmosphere—with demanding rich people on board? Top engineers recruited from NASA and mainline aerospace firms such as Lockheed Martin, Cessna and even Learjet itself, as it turns out. Sometime in 2008, Rocketplane says, its creation, called the Rocketplane XP, will take off from a runway powered by the Learjet 25’s stock General Electric CJ610 jet engines with three passengers and a pilot on board. It will climb to 25,000 feet, where it will ignite its rocket. A 70-second boost will send the ship coasting out of the atmosphere—66 miles above Earth—for four minutes of weightless flight and a view stretching west to the Rocky Mountains and south to the Gulf of Mexico. The spaceship will reenter the atmosphere in a controlled, if bumpy, glide like the space shuttle and restart the jets at 25,000 feet for a powered landing back home.

Check out the article at Popular Science.

Check out the Rocketplane website.

I'm not even going to ask how much a ticket costs.