Benefits of coffee

I recently bemoaned the political correctness of the science community in regards to its lynch mob mentality.  One of the things I cited was the over-reaction and sheer hysteria over drinking coffee when I was a kid.  It would give you cancer.  Now, we’re getting this:

Can Coffee Protect Against Common Cancers?

Two New Studies Show Coffee Guards Against Liver and Colon Cancer.

I think science in general needs to study ALL the angles before making rash statements.  Especially when there’s political pressure applied.  I’d hate to think what I’d feel like right now if I had given up coffee in 1981 and now had colon cancer.

Turning the Switch on, update

A couple of weeks ago I was lamenting the apparent loss of information from the Huygens probe on Titan.  Well lo and behold, we get this today:

Radio Telescopes Salvage Titan Wind Data, Huygens Scientists Say

U.S. and European researchers are lauding the effectiveness of a network of ground-based telescopes that has apparently salvaged a wind experiment feared lost during a mission to the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

Astronomers were able to use a global group of radio telescopes and a simple signal tone bleated by Europe’s Huygens probe during its Jan. 14 Titan landing to determine the moon’s wind characteristics.

That is pretty dang cool.  I’d still like to see more pictures than what we apparently got.  Titan’s a pretty funky place apparently.

Aurora Borealis Comes in View…..

This is what someone in Quebec ( Jean Chiasson ) has been enjoying since September.  Even with all the solar activity, we’ve gotten nothing here.  They have some incredible aurora pics there.  Definitely worth the visit.

And yeah, that’s a gratuitous Flock of Seagulls reference:


Turn the switch on

This is just precious:

Idaho Professor Laments Forgotten Titan Experiment

David Atkinson spent 18 years designing an experiment for the unmanned space mission to Saturn. Now some pieces of it are lost in space. Someone forgot to turn on the instrument Atkinson needed to measure the winds on Saturn’s largest moon.

“The story is actually fairly gruesome,” the University of Idaho scientist said in an e-mail from Germany, the headquarters of the European Space Agency. “It was human error – the command to turn the instrument on was forgotten.”

The probe was to transmit data on two channels, A and B, Atkinson said. His Doppler wind experiment was to use Channel A, a very stable frequency.

But the order to activate the receiver, or oscillator, for Channel A was never sent, so the entire mission operated through Channel B, which is less stable, Atkinson said……..

That’s right.  They forgot to turn it on.  In the eight years Huygens/Cassini was in route, no one made a checklist of what all needed to be done when it got there.  NASA is examining what went wrong.  I think it’s simple.  Find who was responsible for Channel A and fire them.

Wonder whatever happened to the guy who forgot to convert metric to feet on the lost Mars mission?

Visiting Titan

Richard Branson’s newest adventure is commercializing space travel.  Right on the heels of that breakthrough, we now have:

Scientists piecing together data from Europe’s Huygens probe to Saturn’s moon Titan described the hazy satellite today as an environment in which a frequent rain of liquid methane falls through a thick smog onto hills made of water ice.

Now, that sounds a LOT more exciting than Mars.  I mean, a trip to the Mojave Desert would be a lot more exciting.

Those really are rivers running into an “ocean”.  Sounding really cool so far.  But, there are obvious downsides:

  1. Little sunlight penetrates the dense hydrocarbon atmosphere. ( I really really like lots of sunshine ).
  2. Surface temperatures on Titan were measured at -290 degrees Fahrenheit. ( I really, really like lots of sunshine for that reason. )
  3. It had rained liquid methane recently before Huygens arrival. ( You can run a car on liquid methane. )

“We can now dream seriously of sending rovers to Titan,” said  Huygens project manager Jean-Pierre Lebreton of the European Space Agency (ESA). “All we need is the money.”

Did I mention Richard Branson?  Actually, I’ve got another idea.  Let’s put some loose ends together and this is what you get:

  1. The world is facing a renewable energy crisis before too long.

  2. NASA needs money to send rovers to Titan. ( See above )

  3. SpaceshipOne is wanting commercial business.

Put it all together, and you get this natural conclusion:

Sell the rights to methane on Titan to Branson/SpaceShipTwo, let them build freighters to bring it back and they can become filthy bazillionaires while the world weens itself of dependence on Earth’s limited resources.  I mean think about it in a realistic way, it’s raining gasoline on Titan.

Hey Volokh guys, do I have to patent that as a concept?

Editor’s Update, 5/16/2017:  More than a decade after writing this, nothing has landed on Titan.  For that matter, nothing substantial has landed anywhere in the solar system while we’ve talked ourselves to death about getting man to Mars even though at this point, we can’t even put a man in orbit.  We’re back to 1960 again realistically.

Sustainable Oil redux

A while back I did a piece on sustainable oil.  Apparently the topic is making the rounds.

Thomas Gold was not your typical radical. Far from being a mad scientist, he was a brilliant professor of astronomy at Cornell University, but he succeeded in driving many others mad with theories that flew in the face of conventional wisdom…..

Now, a couple of decades after Gold first suggested that hydrocarbons are formed deep underground by geological processes and not just below the surface by biological decay, there is increasing evidence that he may have been on to something.

…..Gold argued that all hydrocarbons are formed in the intense pressure and high heat near the Earth’s mantle, around 100 miles under the ground. If he was right, it means the finite limits of the resources that power our cities and our factories and our vehicles have been vastly overstated.

Here’s the “current event” part:

And the evidence so far suggests that methane, at least, can be produced independent of biological materials.

How’s this for a suggestion:

One photo released Tuesday showed a large body of liquid – possibly liquid methane – jutting into what appeared to be rough, frozen terrain, with the probe appearing to be just meters (yards) from the shoreline.

That article from is talking about liquid methane on Titan, a moon of Saturn.  Needless to say, at this point, we are not aware of any biological materials on Titan.  Furthermore:

“If it’s not a sea, it appears to be a lake of tar-like material,” said John Zarnecky, principal investigator for the Huygens’ Surface Science Package, which is taking data from the surface of Titan.

On Titan, with no known biological material, there is tar and methane, the precursors to usable oil.

I think Gold may be on to something.


Blazars are pretty cool things.  Basically what makes them cool is they can travel very, very, very fast.

Nothing we know of zips along more quickly than light. Einstein, nearly 100 years ago, said it’s not possible. For us, the speed limit makes strange sense: Go faster than light, and you could return before you’ve left, become your own grandpa, or other perform other leaps of cosmic logic.

Fast forward a century. Astronomers are now measuring stuff — material, matter, things — that moves at so close to the speed of light you might think it’d make Einstein a bit nervous. His theory of relativity appears not to be endangered by the blazing speeds, though.

Among thee speed demons of the universe are Jupiter-sized blobs of hot gas embedded in streams of material ejected from hyperactive galaxies known as blazars. Last week at a meeting here of the American Astronomical Society, scientists announced they had measured blobs in blazar jets screaming through space at 99.9 percent of light-speed.

Now, this is the closest thing to travelling at the speed of light I have ever heard of.  The problem with Einstein’s theory is that you can’t travel at, or faster than, the speed of light.  The problem with intergalactic travel is that even if you were travelling at the speed of light, it would take four years to get to Alpha Centauri.  Now, according to the story I’ve read, blazars travelling at that speed are being ejected from black holes.  Problem presented with that is we don’t have any black holes handy to use here on Earth.  And, the bottom line is that although these things are travelling super, super, super fast, they still don’t violate Einstein’s theory.  So, the limit for mass is still slightly under the speed of light.  If Einstein is correct, there is no way to observe something travelling faster than the speed of light, and therefore it is still impossible for man to re-create the circumstances.  It would be cool to prove you can travel faster than the speed of light.  That would allow us to ponder travelling to far away galaxies.  But, it’s not going to happen in my lifetime, or my son’s. As cool as blazars are, they still follow the basic laws of physics.

Exploring Titan

The image appears to show ravines that could have been carved by the liquid hydrocarbons thought to cover much of Titan’s surface. The ravines, stubby drainage-like channels, appeared to funnel toward what appeared to be a shoreline, researchers said during their initial reactions to the image. “If it’s not a sea, it appears to be a lake of tar-like material,” said John Zarnecky, principal investigator for the Huygens’ Surface Science Package, which is taking data from the surface of Titan.

This is very cool!

October 10, 2006 update: This isn’t new, but it’s still extremely cool. It’s a montage of pics from the Huygens’ landing to show what it would have looked like during the landing. Very cool. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen from space!