Well here we are again in social isolation lockdown, which seems to be easing up some, but we have been mostly reduced to reading journals and not doing much night sky observing, but did sign up for the Vstar course from AAVSO, which hopefully will get me out doing some actual light curve measurements shortly.
The sun is still in its quiet phase and not much going on there, so don't plan on taking a look at that. At least, you can go about your daily business knowing that this humble servant has been keeping an eye on the sun just in case something were to happen!
|Nope, nothing happening on our quiet sun (Source: SOHO smart phone app)
This week's edition of Nature has an interesting article on measuring a star's vibrational patterns and how that tells us more about the internal structure of the star. This topic, called asteroseismology, mentioned first in this blog in the November 22, 2015 post, allows external measurements of the star's vibrations to be used to measure the internal structure. In this image you can see examples of the vibrations, caused by internal pressure variations, which show up on the surface of the star, show the surface moving toward and away from the observer.
|Stellar oscillations generate changes in brightness which can be measured (Source: J Benko, et al, Nature, 14 May 2020)
For those of you following the successful landing of Hayabusa2 on the asteroid, Ryugu, the May 8, 2020 edition of Science describes some of the findings. Remember that Hayabusa2 was launched in December 2014 and arrived at Ryugu in June 2018. The article is a little too technical for my tastes but the photo taken of the surface is quite interesting. Studying asteroids is a way to find out more about the original material that planets are made from before the processes on planets, such as being completely molten at one time, altered the material.You can see the asteroid seems to be a big rubble pile. It will be really neat when the spacecraft returns a sample back to Earth. Check out the article if you are interested further in the details.
|Asteroid Ryugu surface photos taken by Hayabusa2 (Source: T. Morota, et al, Science, 8 May 2020)
Anther article was on how the biome in our gut can make chemicals that affect our minds. Hmm, I know that being in lockdown and eating more and drinking more has expanded my gut and expanded its influence on my mind! The article goes on to say how the study of the compounds that the biome bacteria make can be used to identify other other brain drugs. Hmm, I seem to be more in a hurry to receive these brain drugs and choose to indulge in more "comfort" food, like pizza, which is helping increase the size of the microbiome at a very speedy rate!
|Meet the Psychobiome (Source: E. Pennisi, Science, 8 May 2020)
Another article was of special significance to this old big oil energy engineer was on synthetic photosynthesis. We are learning to make a transition away from burning fossil fuels, while at the same time recognizing how the use of low cost fossil fuels has helped enable billions of people to rise out of poverty and enjoy abundant energy. Unfortunately, now we have to make a transition to mitigate the effects on the world climate. To that end, much research is ongoing to deliver carbon neutral fuels and products by mimicking the photosynthetic process used by plants to fix CO2. Here in this article, one example of a cyclic process that takes in solar energy and reduces CO2 to CO, which can then be used to make other products and even function as an energy storage technology. Now there are many processes in development, not many of which can yet be scaled up, but it is interesting to see all of the work going on. So, just look at how complex this process is! I don't understand it myself, but it is beautiful. For more details check out the article.
|Adapting principles of photosynthesis to artificial ways of fixing CO2 (Source: T. Miller, et al, Science, 8 May 2020)
Another interesting article covered how how mosquitoes navigate in and around objects and not collide with them. The discovered method was that sound waves are affected by boundary conditions near objects and this this interaction with the boundary is used by the mosquitoes. It works day or night and seems to operate passively, not actively like some forms of sonar. Measuring the sound pressure waves and associated algorithms have now been incorporated in miniature drones to implement obstacle collision avoidance.
|Adopting mosquitoes' collision avoidance behavior into drones (Source: J. Young & M. Garratt, Science, 8 May 2020)
Another interesting article discussed one approach of using contact tracing of pandemic populations in order to find and identify person who have become infected. This tracing and testing approach is an effective way of breaking the exponential growth of the disease. The technique outlined here is one using an app on cell phones that collects identifying information about everyone who comes in close contact. Then if one person later on finds out that they are actually infected, then the database of all close contacts can be searched and other people who came in close contact with the infected person can then also take action like entering self quarantine.
Something like this technique is apparently being used in China, which has a more authoritarian government. It could be used in other countries too, but the worries about loss of privacy are more of a concern here. Anyway, it does show how modern day smart phones can be used to limit the spread of disease.
|Quantifying SARS-CoV-2 transmission with digital contact tracing (Source: L Ferretti, et al, Science 8 May 2020)
This book review, by Stepan Jerabeck, in the same May 8 issue of Science, also caught my attention. As if we are not overwhelmed enough by concern about the pandemic, the author the book, "The Precipice" lets us in on all of the other existential risks we face. We have previously already discussed the coming big earthquake here in California. So, if you still have some free time, who doesn't at this point in time, then get a copy of this book if you want to go over more of the gory details. Hey, by the way, it is only $2.99 for your Kindle from Amazon!
|Amazon offers the Kindle version of "The Precipice" by Toby Ord for $2.99 (Source: Amazon.com)
There were many other interesting articles in the magazine and if you are interested in more details then just check out the issue. In other space related news, this image of the roadblock on Texas Highway 4, shows what visitors might expect as they converge on Boca Chica to watch the upcoming test hop of maybe, SN4? Yeah, there is only one road into the beach, and that one road goes right passed the SpaceX fabrication area and the launch area, so, it is often roadblocked off during any testing or launch. Hmm, maybe for our next visit, after the pandemic winds down, is just to stay and watch the launch from South Padre Island, with all of its hotels and restaurants.
|Yep, that vehicle blocking the road to SpaceX launch site means business (Source: @BocaChicaMary)
|Professor Thomas Lipo, U. of Wisconsin, Madison (Source: Linkedin obituary)
Ok, enough sadness (and gratitude), we should go way back to the beginning of the pandemic and consider a fanciful look into its origins. Articles abound about it staring in a wet food market or escaping, accidentally, from a laboratory studying the virus. I now find the laboratory escape much more plausible after considering the exploits of our very own, Astronomer Assistant, Willow. So, with apologies to Willow, see if you don't also accept this alternate history provided by former associate, Tom. Thanks, Tom!
|How all of the pandemic events began? (Source: Facebook post by Tom)
Until next time, here from our burrow, stay safe, but it's time to recover more of our freedom,