Breathtaking Goodbye to an Amazing Mission #Cassini #Saturn

Cassini's Grand Finale - artist's conceptionCassini’s last transmission arrived on Earth at 1146 GMT on September 15 as it plunged to a fiery end in Saturn’s atmosphere. The spacecraft had run out of fuel, but only after orbiting the ringed planet for an incredible 13 years. NASA sent it to burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere rather than risk contaminating any of the moons – which may harbor life.

We know more about Saturn than ever before – its storms, hexagonal jet streams, rings, and a seemingly endless supply of moons. We also know that an American agency can cooperate with the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency, and astronomers around the world for two decades on a single mission (more if the design phase is included.)

Cassini’s mission lasted over twice as long as expected. The Huygen probe that piggybacked along made the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System and the first landing on a moon other than our own.

Along the way, Cassini confirmed Einstein’s general theory of relativity, measured the length of Saturn’s day, studied its fantastic rings, and discovered the amazing variety of its moons – including water geysers from warm water oceans and lakes of liquid methane. It showed scientist and citizen alike that the Saturn system is beautiful – a beautiful pinpoint in a beautiful universe.

If you think the money could have been better spent – tell me, do you believe humanity’s problems come from a lack of money? More likely, they arise from a lack of heart – or maybe from a lack of soul. Cassini gives us wonder, joy, and beauty. It feeds our souls. If you don’t feel that, if you don’t look up in wonder, I’m sorry for you.

One of the greatest legacies of the mission is not just the scientific discoveries it makes, and what you learn about, but the fact that you make discoveries so compelling, you have to go back.

Read more at wikipedia, watch for ongoing discoveries as scientists study Cassini’s data, and hold your metaphorical breath until we return.


Horrible Creatures Have a Place in the World – How Revolting #poem #poetry #biology #nature

Kate Raune rhymes parasites :O

Tick fossilized in amber – they’ve been around a long time

My dog is scratching at his fleas,
There’s mistletoe throughout my trees.
Can climate change be all bad
If it kills a few of these?

Egg to larva to adult,
From fish to foul they catapult
Their complex lives to realize,
Or from seeds and spores result.

Successful parasites don’t kill,
They want their hosts to thrive, yet still
Niches open when they go
To creatures worse that will.

Some are horrible, it’s true,
We won’t miss River Blindness soon.
Next time your tummy’s sick, just know
They’re part of Mother Nature’s glue.

by Kate Rauner

Thanks to a study published in the journal Science Advances, completed with the help of the U.S. National Parasite Collection, as well as specialized databases of ticks, fleas, bee mites, and feather mites; and to techtimes Many thanks to the

Carter Center, because some parasites simply have to go. But it’s interesting to think about the little nasties we’ve adapted to live with – and them with us.

My poetry collections are available on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, or your favorite retailer. Read a preview here or visit your favorite store

Fascinating Premise is an Excuse to Pit Ancient Armies in Battle #review #bookreview #scifi

Earth shattered through timeSegments of the Earth are suddenly transmorgified into their own past – “a patchwork of eras, from prehistory to 2037, each with its own indigenous inhabitants”. Two small groups of “moderns” from 2037 briefly make contact and agree to meet in the only place where a technological signal has been detected – Babylon. Along the way they meet Victorian era British soldiers and two famous ancient armies – led by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan.

What I thought of the story
The book claims Clarke’s Space Odyssey series as its inspiration – a time odyssey instead of a space odyssey. I guess that’s why it opens with furry pre-human hominids. While interesting, they only appear occasionally and don’t add much to the story.

Once the premise is established and the weird world explored a bit, the book slows down. Its main purpose seems to be to show us what it would be like to live in the ruling courts of Alexander and Genghis. Very smelly among other things.

When two rulers dedicated to world conquest meet, it may not be much of a spoiler to say mayhem ensues. Personally I’m not a big fan of battles and began skipping entire chapters. The book ends in a mystical alien sort of way which allows a narrator (not a character) to provide a glimpse of what’s going on.

I liked parts of the book and skipped other parts, so that averages out to an “okay” rating from me.

What others are saying
As you’d expect from a legandary author, Time’s Eye has a high sales rank on Amazon – roughly top 7% in its time travel category on Kindle. (Amazon is starting to hide the data that lets me calculate a rank, so I may not be able to do this in the future.) From 109 reviews it gets 3.7 stars, which isn’t bad.

Readers who disliked the book found the middle with its long trudge to Babylon boring. Others called it “entertaining” and “interesting if not compelling,” while some say they’re going straight off to buy the rest of the trilogy.

About the hardcover book
I’m always a little skeptical when a book’s description starts by telling me how famous the authors are. Here’s the pitch:

Sir Arthur C. Clarke is a living legend, a writer whose name has been synonymous with science fiction for more than fifty years… a genuine visionary. If Clarke has an heir among today’s science fiction writers, it is award-winning author Stephen Baxter… [who] demonstrated dazzling gifts of imagination and intellect, along with a rare ability to bring the most cerebral science dramatically to life. Now these two champions of humanism and scientific speculation have combined their talents in a novel sure to be one of the most talked-about of the year, a 2001 for the new millennium.

I guess that’s inevitable when a publisher has a living legend in its stable.

I read an old hardcover edition from 2004 which included a CD with two of Baxter’s novels (downloadable pdf files that I haven’t read yet, but I reviewed another of his books here) If you buy a used copy be sure to ask if the CD is included.

There was also a pdf on how the book was created (which includes author biographies and lists of works). From these notes and wikipedia I get the impression that Clarke and Baxter developed the outline for the book and Baxter wrote it. Maybe that applies to all three of the books in the trilogy, since the last was published in December 2007 and Clarke (who had been ill for years) died three months later. A sad day.

How Hard Can a Hurricane Blow? #poem #weather #hurricane

Hurricane seen from space

Hurricane Isabella from space – size rivals the curve of the Earth

Saffir and Simpson wanted to show
Just how hard a hurricane blows.

So they crafted their wind scale
And up it goes into the gale.

Less than one hundred miles per hour
Category One has plenty of power.

With a hundred fifty, Cat Five batters,
And no Cat Six, cause it don’t matter.

How much harder could it blow?
Depends on ocean heat below.

Warm water is a monster’s fuel
And temperatures creep as we review.

Above Cat Five, it’s all the same,
Smashed and flattened, broke and maimed.

by Kate Rauner
Try my poetry collection – inspired by science.

Thanks to Herbert Saffir and Robert Simpson, and livescience

Ocean warming chart

Ocean warming over time – check out the trend over many years

Science has Answers But What’s the Question? #energy #technology #science #psychology

Steam enginer, powered by coal, museum piece

Early steam engine – powered by wood or coal – now historical display

Coal powered the Industrial Revolution and gave us our modern lives.

The core concept of factories was embraced by the mid-1800s but throughout the 20th century the revolution spread through steel, chemicals, petroleum, automobiles, and beyond. Oil rose in importance but coal remained a vital source of power.

Unfortunately, coal is dangerous to life and health. While its benefits are shared across the nation, impacts are local. Mining districts are permanently blighted and scarred, and miners are sickened and injured. We’ve made a deal with the devil in some ways, but who wants to return to a feudal agrarian world? Not me.

Natural gas is replacing coal to fuel power plants because it’s cheaper. While there are also issues around gas production, it’s better than coal. Renewable energy is also surging. There may always be some coal used as a chemical – in certain steel production for example – but bringing back coal is like bringing back film or horseshoes.

Mining towns bore the brunt of coal’s problems and they bear the brunt of  coal’s demise. And not just lost wages. Working hard as part of a team, developing skills, admiring and being admired by your friends – all good for the soul despite the hazards, and lost to many coal miners. Due to the nature of mining, these displaced miners often live in remote rural areas where finding new jobs, new homes, and new communities is hard.

Can technology save coal? Can it burn “clean,” can workers be protected, and can landscapes be reclaimed? Probably, but no one wants to pay for it.

President Trump recently touted a ‘brand-new coal mine, where they’re going to take out clean coal — meaning, they’re taking out coal, [and] they’re going to clean it,’ referring to a Corsa Coal Corporation mine that is projected to open in 2018.

What does that mean? Rock and soil are washed out of coal at the mine, but “clean coal” usually means contaminants and carbon are captured at the power plant stack and sequestered somehow, locked safely away from our environment.

Politicians get away with fuzzy words because “clean coal” has no universal definition. But there are a handful of technologies under development that generally fit the phrase.

  • Grabbing CO2 from flue gas to use elsewhere or inject underground – that’s one idea.
  • Reacting CO2 with some other waste chemical like hydrogen sulfide to make a stable compound – there’s that.
  • Converting coal into “syngas” removes nasty contaminants for later disposal and cleaner burning – also possible.
  • More at livescience

All these technologies use costly equipment and you may need to burn thirty percent more coal to power the “cleaning.” None of them compete economically with natural gas or, increasingly, renewable energy.

Even politicians who make speeches about clean coal quietly propose to reduce the funding to develop these technologies – and government funding is necessary because “clean coal” isn’t ready to go yet and private companies don’t see it as profitable.

The insanity of politics aside, real problems exist for real people. What will happen to ex-miners, sons and daughters who expected to work in and around mines, and their dying towns? We could provide pensions, pay for schooling, and move people away for less money than “clean coal” would cost. If this were China that might happen. It would take a dictator to accomplish because culture is very hard and slow to change. We can deal with bodies easily enough, but what about spirits?

Science may provide an answer, but through psychology rather than chemistry.

Going to Amazon today? Click over there now on my link.

This is the Strange Value of the Best Fossil Poo #dinosaurs #fossils #science #evolution #poetry #poem

fossilized poo - resource for science

This legendary fossilized feces specimen is named “Precious”

Brontosaurus is amazing,
And likewise is T Rex,
But what about the beetles
That hold food chains erect?
Fin rays and fish scales
And bits of parasites,
The ins and outs of ecosystems
Found in coprolites.

Ancient relationships
That underlain the world
Of millions of years ago,
Their secrets are unfurled.

Toe – mography
Without destroying fossils
Enables us to see

Deep into the past
Of ecology,
To reconstruct
just who ate whom
On life’s ancient tree.

by Kate Rauner

Thanks to, and read more on wikipedia. More poo poetry here 😀

Turkeys Tell the Tale #history #archeology #nativeamericans

Turkeys were kept by Native AmericansYou may have heard that ancient North American people of Southwest Puebloan cultures, such as found at Mesa Verde, disappeared, but actually they moved and assimilated into other cultures. New evidence of where they went comes from a surprising source: turkeys.

Native American people had long kept turkeys and when they moved the turkeys traveled with them.

Severe drought in 1277, coupled with resource depletion and social upheaval, is thought to have triggered a massive migration… ‘What we found was good evidence of a substantial influx of turkeys into the northern Rio Grande region that had the same genetic composition as turkeys from the Mesa Verde region.’

Scientists extracted mitochondrial DNA from turkey bones found at various historical sites to track these ancient people. The trails people leave behind them can be surprising.

Thanks to