Teachable Moments and Synthesis

Easy-going Rocky Planet Orbiting Sun-like Star Seeks Same

NASA is preparing for another launch, on Thursday, March 5. The Kepler spacecraft will be the first to look for Earth-like planets: particularly “rocky planets that orbit sun-like stars in a warm zone where liquid water could be maintained on the surface,” NASA reports.

Kepler will spend 3.5 years watching one area of space for Earth-like objects. While this may seem like a long time to watch one patch of space, there are over 100,000 stars that resemble the Sun, and therefore may have an Earth-like planet orbiting it.

The launch will take place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Fl. The Cape area is best known for being a launch site and for the town’s high divorce rate. Its area code was changed to “321” and, while most say this is in reference to the number of launches from the station, it could also be a reference to how long it takes before a spouse walks out the door and heads for greener pastures.

Taurus XL OCO  Sleeps With the Fishes and We Pay for the Hit

The Taurus XL Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) satellite, launched Feb. 24 in the last hours of a dark Moon, died an untimely death when it crashed into the Antarctic shortly after its scheduled morning launch in California.

From Eric Lanson’s OCO blog, hours before the launch: “Just to make this blog entry worthwhile, let me post a [great picture] of the Taurus XL launch vehicle with protective covers off. OCO is inside the fairing waiting for the ride to begin.” Image courtesy of NASA KSC/Analex and Orbital Sciences Corporation.
The chart for the launch featured a tight Mars-Nessus conjunction in Aquarius, suggesting the theme of self-sabotage that works at several levels. One interpretation of that theme was that the satellite’s technology would act against itself. According to preliminary reports, this is what happened. Too much weight on the rocket prevented it from reaching orbit, and a protective cover over the satellite that should have peeled off, didn’t.

This is NASA’s first launch with the Taurus XL, and it represents an expensive failure. The $278 million project was nine years in development and the engineering team spoke of its “bitter disappointment” over the loss.

Given the tremendous cost, a rebuild of the satellite any time soon is unlikely. Now, potentially groundbreaking data on global warming and carbon dioxide will have to come from other satellites, like Japan’s recently launched Gosat.

NASA’s plans to launch a second satellite to measure carbon soot and aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere may be delayed until engineers discover why the Taurus XL launch failed. Glory, the satellite due to launch in June, will use the same Taurus XL rocket. However, engineers will first take a second look at the Taurus technology. “Our goal will be to find a root cause for the problem. And we won’t fly Glory until we have that data known to us,” said NASA launch director Chuck Dovale. Today, NASA faces a serious public relations and funding challenge: how to get the American public (and Congress) to support funding for science and space exploration during a deepening recession.

Contrary to the success of the 1960s Apollo missions, over the past two decades NASA’s public reputation has been tarnished by spectacular failures. These days, satellite launches and CO2 emission data are unlikely to become a reason to celebrate among lower- and middle-class Americans.

Taylor Dinerman makes this case in a Feb. 9 essay of The Space Review.

The American public must be convinced that innovation, quality research and engineering are the only way we are going to make a sustainable recovery from this recession. Indeed, history has shown us the nations that embrace high standards of science and technology are the ones that boast the best economies.

The primary sabotage may not be circuit board Diode A failing to connect with Diode B, but rather about how NASA fails to connect with the public. NASA’s task in the near future will be to teach us why their work is worth our investment.

Getting Down and Dirty With Placodermi

A class of prehistoric fish, which has been extinct since the end of the Devonian Period more than 380 million years ago, has recently grabbed the attention of scientists, who have called the animal a sexual trailblazer.

Sketch of Austrophyllolepis, a type of placoderm, one of the original fornicators. Illustration by J. Long.

Placoderms — armor-plated fish — were once considered noteworthy because they were among the first creatures on Earth with a jaw. Now they’re recognized for another first: scientists are saying placoderms in Western Australia were the first creatures that were fertilized within their mothers. “It was (previously) thought that such ancient fish would show a more primitive type of reproduction, with sperm and eggs combining externally in the water, as still happens with many modern fish.”

In 2005, an expedition led by John Long of Museum Victoria to the Gogo Formation of Western Australia resulted in the discovery of fossilized remains of “a partially ossified skeleton of a juvenile (placoderm) and the mineralised umbilical cord” within the tail section of a female. The discovery proved the ancient fish fertilized its young internally.

Thinking sex news is great, but why should we mammals give a damn? “It shifts how we think about how reproduction evolved. You’re a jawed vertebrate and I’m a jawed vertebrate, so this is our own history,” Zerina Johanson, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, told Reuters.

In other sex news, the oldest penis in the world was recently found in the UK, and it doesn’t belong to David Attenborough…




Weekly Horoscope for Friday, February 27, 2009, #755 – By ERIC FRANCIS

Aries (March 20-April 19)
Keep your cool if you feel antagonized by a friend. You’re likely to overreact, and that would not help anything or anyone. It may be that someone has waited for weeks or months to resolve something that needed to be taken care of ages ago, and you have a right to be annoyed. Make your statements clear and do your best not to be judgmental. Remember, you are right and you don’t have to prove that point in order for it to be true. You only need to stand your ground and keep the communication clear. If you suspect that the influence of a third party is involved, it’s probably a good idea not to say anything. Deal directly, one on one.

Taurus (April 19- May 20)
This week will have its ups and downs for you professionally, and you may not know who to believe when the time comes to believe anyone. It would help if you trust your own motives, and not use others as a reflecting pond to help you determine whether you are talented or legitimate. At the moment, you are unusually impressionable, and your beliefs about yourself are approximately the consistency of wet clay. Those beliefs need to come from you. We are all accustomed to looking at the world for feedback, but with rare exceptions, that feedback is superficial and off point. Mainly it does not address that the source of your confidence, if it is to be authentic, must originate from an inner source. It’s there — you just have to find it.

Gemini (May 20- June 21)
Beliefs get too much credibility. Generally, they lack any association with facts, and they are used as guidelines to collect specific facts that support a point of view. I suggest you be leery every time you or someone else says the word “believe” this week. In particular, question yourself. Beliefs are generally attached to an agenda. That agenda may involve maintaining a narrow viewpoint or an attempt not to threaten others. Aspects over the next several days seem designed to shake up your perception of the world, to provide some contrast between what is true and what is not, and to compel you to take a wider point of view. I suggest you let them do precisely that.

Cancer (June 21- July 22)
You will need to stand your ground this week, though you want to be mindful when you are being rigid. Flexibility is essential, and too often it is considered a weakness. So how exactly would you stand your ground and also be flexible? The most important ground in the known universe is awareness. That is the first and often only boundary that we need. Second, make an effort to ensure that you and the people you are talking to or doing business with agree on the basic facts of any situation. If the facts change, the prior agreement will serve as documentation. Finally, there is a spiritual issue, and that involves identifying what, for everyone you speak with, is their bottom line. Know your own bottom line, that is, the one most important thing you are working for — and you will have a basis of perception.

Leo (July 22- Aug. 23)
People are keeping you on your toes, and you are lucky to get a night’s sleep lately. We live in times wherein we are expected to run our lives with the cool efficiency of a computer. It is difficult to do this and still maintain any sense of creativity, spontaneity or authenticity. Difficult, but you can do it. Many factors suggest you need to be receptive and respond in the moment to what is right in front of you, but there is an instinctual factor that you are being called to work with. Someone appears to be saying one thing and you seem to be feeling something else. If you think like a machine, the facts will add up one way. If you both think and feel, they will add up another way. If this happens, I suggest you point it out.

Virgo (Aug. 23- Sep. 22)
The concept ‘mental’ is described by three signs of the zodiac: your own, Gemini and Aquarius. Gemini describes, elaborates and reveals options. Aquarius tends to invent. Virgo analyzes and strives to make repairs. You are now in an environment where all three of these things are happening. Your role is not limited to an archetype or a personality style. You have a talent to morph into whatever you are called upon to do. Remember, though, that Virgo has a special commitment to healing. That healing must begin with yourself but it extends beyond yourself. Like all people equipped with a human ego, you can get caught in ideas or modes of thought that are purely self-serving. If you notice that happening, gently step out of that pattern.

Libra (Sep. 22 – Oct. 23)
I have suggested a few times that what most people think of as creativity is not a neat process. Generally you see a potter’s showroom, not the workroom. An artist may begin a painting six times before embarking on the version that you see. Good writing often needs to be dismantled and put back together several times before it makes sense and actually moves people to thought. Think of yourself as a creative project, and as a work in progress. Remember that everything you are doing is an idea in motion, and will likely need revision in the near future. The creative process is one long endeavor in not getting stuck in the past, but while maintaining a thread of continuity.

Scorpio (Oct. 23- Nov. 22)
Many people consider Scorpio to be the most psychological sign of the zodiac. I suspect this will hold true over the coming week or so, and if so, I suggest you be aware of one particular issue. Why do so many people feel that their effectiveness is compromised? Is it because they have failed in the past, or because they never tried? This is an epidemic; look around at the people you know, and the people you meet on the street, and notice how many of them have given up. Some have given up in the guise of trying; others have given up in the guise of overwork or over-commitment; yet others in despair. You are walking the line between a sense of confidence and failure. I would remind you that the core part of you is very much alive, in tune with your goal, and determined to succeed.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 22)
You may not know what to think, and you may be concerned that the harder you try, the more likely it is you will fail. There is a value often ascribed to Sagittarius that this sign runs on luck. The great wheel of the zodiac suggests that it’s the karma of Sagittarius to apply slow, diligent effort over a long period of time. Under this model, growth comes in gradual, though visible stages. At the moment I suggest that you leave nothing to luck, to hope or to a promise made in the past. I would remind you that this is a time in your life when your reputation is being established. The impressions you make now will last for years or even decades. Make sure that you’re clear with the people whose respect you value, and whose opinions will determine your success.

Capricorn (Dec. 22- Jan. 20)
Let’s apply the theory of the Golden Flaw to your financial picture. This is my theory of Chiron, developed with the help of astro-maestro Robert Hand. There is a situation in your money life (it could be in anything from your spending patterns to your accounting system) that is showing signs of trouble. If you identify and address that problem, you will flourish financially; if you ignore it, you may experience a kind of collapse. This is to say, that which you identify as a problem is actually a resource, indeed, the most potent resource you have. Like all things of value, it is likely to deteriorate or turn to a liability if you ignore it. Pay attention and take action; thus spake Chiron.

Aquarius (Jan. 20- Feb. 19)
The astrology rippling through your sign is nothing short of a miracle, unless of course you are straining under the influx of energy. Mercury rushing through is having this effect of making you feel like a different person every day, but the thing to remember is that you are not; you are you. I suggest you equate the sense of movement with psychic mobility rather than an identity crisis. Allow that mobility to give you freedom: for example, from the notion that you have to format your life in some way in order for it to work. There is danger in trying to organize the present or plan the future, that danger being that you might miss both. With Mercury so prominent in your chart now, focus on your senses, and you will not miss anything.

Pisces (Feb. 19- March 20)
This is the year of your life that you will defy every prejudice about Pisces, particularly the one about how passive you’re supposed to be. Historically that passivity has indeed been a problem, whether in obvious or subtle ways. Yet there are conditioning factors both inside your awareness, and outside your awareness, that are calling you to maximize your potential. If you find yourself acting in ways that seem unusual to you, whether it’s getting up early or working all night; whether it’s shifting your diet or adjusting your mental patterns so that you purge any trace of negativity from your language, encourage yourself directly, and make sure you carefully notice the many rewards of progress, one of which is, of course, progress itself.

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