This afternoon we experienced a rare thunderstorm in Los Angeles. Only some drops of rain in my area, but some nice thunder and lightning. Here is a snapshot of the thundercloud remnants, as seen from my desk just before sunset.
Archive for September, 2011
Last weekend I was part of a group making a visit to the Mount Palomar Observatory.
When I was in school (voraciously sucking up astronomy books), Mount Palomar seemed to me like a place of magic and wonder. From its opening in 1949, and until 1992/93, the giant 5.1 m (200 inch) Hale Telescope was the largest and most important telescope in the world. (Actually, there was a larger Soviet telescope of a later design, but it is often omitted because it never functioned quite well).
The compound on the Southern California mountaintop also encompasses several smaller telescopes. Together, they account for most of the groundbreaking discoveries in the entire history of astronomy.
Here are some pictures. (Click to enlarge).
The Russian Soyuz launch system is now also operating from the European space launch facilities in French Guyana. To the Russians, this location offers a number of advantages.
Located close to the equator, the ESA spaceport can make better use of the Earth’s rotational speed, which is higher at the equator and translates into fuel savings (or performance gains). Secondly, Russia’s main launch sites were built during Soviet times and are now located outside of Russia. (As a result, Russia has been pressured into paying high rent for its continued use of the facilities). And finally, western lawmakers have been lobbied to impose export restrictions on the number of Western satellites shipped for launching from Soviet successor states and China. Although these restrictions and tariffs have been somewhat relaxed lately, commercial launches from the ESA spaceport might avoid the issue altogether.
What ESA and Arianespace stand to gain from the agreement with Russia is not completely clear to me. Certainly, Soyuz will compete against Europe’s Ariane 5 in some aspects. On the other hand, there can be no question that more competition and the removal of artificial trade barriers will be good for spaceflight in general. Perhaps the market will grow so fast that in the end, everyone gets to benefit.
Here is a fascinating time lapse video showing how the Soyuz system works. (It is very different to Western systems).
For a larger version of this video, click this link.
I have a fascination with hidden, forgotten and deserted places. Sometimes, one can find them even in the busiest of places. Here is a picture of an abandoned railroad track in the middle of Los Angeles. I accidentally found this site by following some stray cats in a park. Not far from this place are residences, freeways and traffic jams.
One of my American heroes, Benjamin Franklin was a keen (and occasionally obsessive) chess player. He even wrote about the game and its implications. Franklin published the following essay in 1786 (drawing on material from earlier drafts of 1732, Philadelphia and 1779, London).
The Morals Of Chess
The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions, for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess, then, we may learn:
1st: Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action, for it is continually occurring to the player, “If I move this Piece, what will be the advantage or disadvantage of my new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to support it, and to defend myself from his attacks?”
2nd: Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action, the relation of the several Pieces, their situations, and the dangers they are repeatedly exposed to, the several possibilities of their aiding each other, the probabilities that the adversary may make this or that move, and attack this or that Piece, and what different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its consequences against him.
3rd: Caution, not to make our moves too hastily. This habit is best acquired by observing strictly the laws of the game, such as, if you touch a piece you must move it somewhere, and if you set it down, you must let it stand.