Author Archives: Reinhard Kargl

About Reinhard Kargl

Journalist and media professional currently based in Los Angeles, California. Focusing on science and technology.

17 Equations

How many of these do you remember from school? 😀

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Unmanned Aggressor Drones Could Simulate 5th Generation Fighter Jets

Blue Force Technologies

North Carolina-based Blue Force Technologies, a composite aerostructures maker and Boeing supplier, is proposing UAVs which can mimic “the electronic signature, performance and tactics of Chinese or Russian 5th generation J-20 or Su-50 fighters”, according to a recent article in Forbes.com.

Named “Fury”, the purpose of the firm’s design study is to provide a much cheaper training aid for aircrews practicing intercept maneuvers against the latest generation of Russian and Chinese fighter jets. To accomplish this, the Fury UAV will “look, act and smell” like the real thing – at least beyond visual range. The advantage, compared to conventional training against manned aircraft representing the enemy is much lower cost. Many of the Fury parts, including the jet engine, can be sourced from existing, commercial production lines and off-the-shelf parts.

Blue Force Technologies

While the advantages for training purposes are obvious, I believe this technology can easily be adapted for another purpose. If drones can be built to simulate enemy fighters to on-board radars, and ground or air based early warning systems, then such drones can also be configured to mimic an F-16, F-15, F-22 or F-35, for example. And this would make it possible to use these UAVs as decoys. They could be sent into contested airspace for the purpose of triggering the enemy’s air defense systems.

Once these UAVs are “lit up” by enemy radar and the adversary launches surface-to-air missiles, the locations of mobile radars and mobile missile launchers are much easier to detect. They can be immediately targeted before the enemy can reposition them. Even if such a counterattack is not successful, the enemy will at least have used up some of his surface-to-air missiles to shoot down relatively low-cost drones.

If the technology works and large-scale production can bring down the cost, the introduction of large numbers of such decoy drones into a contested airspace could thoroughly confuse and disrupt hostile air defenses. Concealed among many decoy drones, the “real items” would be ready to strike the enemy’s air defenses while they are distracted and triggered by the decoys.

This is an emerging defense technology worth keeping an eye on.

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What’s a Molotov Cocktail?

The term “Molotov cocktail” came from the Russian invasion of Finland in 1939. Finnish soldiers and civilians resisted the numerically far bigger, communist Red Army with home made fire grenades named after Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, Molotovin koktaili.

The term’s origin was a response to Russian propaganda. Molotov was claiming on Soviet state radio that bombing missions over Finland were actually airborne humanitarian food deliveries for their starving neighbors. This was, of course, a blatant lie.

Vyacheslav Molotov, 1945

The outraged Finnish population sarcastically dubbed the Soviet cluster bombs “Molotov bread baskets” in reference to Molotov’s propaganda broadcasts. And when they began using hand-held bottle firebombs to destroy Soviet tanks, they called them “a drink to go with his food parcels”.

When skillfully thrown against vulnerable points on vehicles (such as trucks, armored personnel carriers or tanks), the little fire grenades were surprisingly successful at the time. So successful indeed that the Finns commissioned the distillery company Oy Alkoholiliike Ab to manufacture Molotov cocktails industrially. It is said that the company made 450,000 of them.

A Finnish soldier with a Molotov cocktail in the 1939–1940 Winter War

Finland’s fierce resistance and the fighting spirit of its population succeeded in preserving the country’s independence. But it came at a cost of at least 70,000 Finnish lives and large territories, which were ceded to the Soviet Union during the peace negotiations.

Since then, the Molotov cocktail has been a weapon of choice in many conflicts involving civilians against an overwhelming force. For instance, during the Hungarian uprising against Soviet control in 1956, Molotov cocktails thrown by Hungarian street fighters destroyed as many as 400 tanks before the Soviet military crushed the rebellion. Similar fighting occurred in 1968, during the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning Soviet tank in Prague, 1968.

In essence, a Molotov cocktail is a primitive incendiary weapon. It consists of a breakable glass bottle filled with a flammable liquid. A fuse of some sort is attached to the outside and lit before throwing the bottle, which shatters upon impact and spreads the flammable liquid. Various kinds of liquids, fuses and added chemicals have been used, and there are some versions that produce the ignition by a chemical reaction rather than by manually lighting a fuse.

How effective these devices still are against modern military vehicles is highly questionable. Over time, military vehicles have been hardened against this sort of attack. Vulnerable points (such as tires, the cogs on which tank tracks run, air intakes and radiators) have been improved, and there are often fire suppression systems on board. And an effective counter tactic is for convoys to move very rapidly. At the same time, the delivery of a Molotov cocktail (usually by direct throwing from very close range, or by dropping from buildings, bridges or other structures) subjects the combatant to great risk. As in any form of combat, the risk-benefit assessment is very tricky and comes down to probabilities.

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Who Discovered Jupiter’s Moons?

Usually, Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei [1564 to 1642] gets the credit for discovering the largest four moons of Jupiter – a most controversial scientific sensation at the time.

But not so fast! As usual, the truth is a little more nuanced.

Today happens to be the birthday of the German astronomer Simon Mayr [1573 to 1624 or 1625], better known under his Latin name, Simon Marius. In Mundus lovialis, his book from 1614, Marius describes Jupiter and claims that he discovered four moons in 1611. According to his claims, he would have made his discovery about a month earlier than Galileo Galilei.

Of course, Galileo was a famous celebrity and well known among Europe’s intellectuals and clergy. He appears to have been unimpressed by Marius and swiftly accused him of plagiarism, causing Marius’ reputation to suffer greatly.

It took 289 years to exonerate Marius. In 1903, a scientific jury in the Netherlands examined the evidence extensively. Its findings, published in 1907 were: Marius discovered the moons independently, but he did not start keeping notes until 29 December, 29, 1609 on the Julian calendar. This date corresponds to January 8, 1610 on the Gregorian calendar used by Galileo and falls on the day after the famous letter in which Galileo first described the moons. Moreover, Marius’ description of the moons’ orbits is superior to Gelileo’s.

So who was really first? We’ll never know for sure, simply because there is no record of the date on which Marius made his initial observation. We only know when he recorded it, and when Galileo recorded his own observation.

It may seem ironic that the names under which the “Galilean” moons are known today are those given to them by Marius: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. (Galileo had named them after one of Europes most powerful and wealthiest families at the time, “the Medici Stars”).

So what can we learn from this story?

  1. Keep good notes.
  2. Know what calendar to use.
  3. It helps to be famous.
Engraving in Mundus Iovialis anno MDCIX Detectus Ope Perspicilli Belgici, 1614. Image: Houghton Library, Harvard University

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Physical Exercise Reducing Inflammation

Highly interesting articles in the journal Science. Last week it reported on how exercise destroys senescent cells in mature adults. This week it reports how this process prolongs youthful health. (Science 16 July, 2021, pg. 281 ff).

Cellular senescence is a phenomenon characterized by the cessation of cell division. In experiments conducted during the early 1960s, Leonard Hayflick and Paul Moorhead observed that normal human fetal fibroblasts in culture reach a maximum of approximately 50 cell population doublings before becoming senescent.

Cell senescence has been attributed to prevention of carcinogenesis, and more recently, aging, development, and tissue repair. Such cells play a role in the aging phenotype, in aging-associated diseases, and in frailty and sarcopenia. In addition, senescent astrocytes and microglia contribute to neurodegeneration.

Senescent cell load and the secretome increase as we age. This drives inflammation, tissue damage, further infection, inflammation-related pathology, and death.

The removal of senescent cells through physical activity such as physical work and exercise appears to reduce inflammation to below the “young” threshold, allowing disease resolution and survival.

So there’s much truth to what Helen Hayes reportedly said: “If you rest, you rust”.

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Letter From Governor Ronald Reagan to Charles M. Schulz, Dated July 30, 1970

The strip Reagan was commenting on. (It was published on July 20, 1970).

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Jezero Crater

2020-02-18. Syrtis Major Quadrangle, Mars. 18.38°N 77.58°E / 18.38; 77.58.

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