Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 and Beyond: New Uncertainties & New Horizons (oh, and my NYE Weekend)

Last month's Winter Solstice -- Dec. 21, 2010 -- lunar eclipse shown in a time lapse set of images during which the setting Moon is eclipsed by the Earth's shadow as seen from a hillside on Tenerife in the Canary Islands with an unidentified town below. This was the Dec. 29, 2010 APOD.



This is a lengthy, varied, and not particularly unified themed entry divided into three major parts.

The first part is political in nature, but the pictures in it include New Year's Eve 2011 celebratory ones from a half dozen major cities around the world that I found online.

The second part is more personal about my New Year's Eve weekend and doings and includes some pictures I took.

The third part is related wholly to the New Horizons mission to Pluto / Charon and the Kuiper Belt and the status of Pluto as a dwarf planet.


The fountains at the Washington Harbour -- yes, spelled the British "u" way -- in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., on a showery, gray, cool afternoon, 1:29PM, Jan. 2, 2011.


Part I: 2011: New Uncertainties

Well, here we it is January 2, 2011 -- the 2nd day of 2011 -- and it is with some apprehension I am facing a new year.

I return to work on a regular Monday tomorrow -- with a company that is in a strange and uneasy state of flux and uncertainty.

Long story short, I would not be totally shocked if in the next few months I were abruptly let go. In a similar way, at this point, I will be a pleasantly surprised if I'm still with the company 11 months hence after Thanksgiving and heading into the Christmas 2011 / New Years 2012 holiday season.

New Year's Eve 2011 at the midnight hour, Times Square, New York City.


I'm wondering at what point I should actively start looking for another job -- the dream one being a safe Federal civil servant one, except that is highly unlikely these days.

Now if I lost the job abruptly in, say, the next few months, I probably would just leave D.C. rather quickly and go live with my dad.

I simply could not live here in the same way that I did for the previous several years, including at that quasi-criminal Japanese turkey farm / intellectual sweat shop operation in Bethesda and go back to living on $14 per day while $1000/hour corporate lawyers bulldoze their way across the world and the Universe.

New Year's Eve 2011 at the midnight hour, London.


As for my dad, a year hence, I believe, he ill be living at / near the Delaware seashore, his 18 year sojourn across Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina following his early retirement and departure from the State of New Jersey finally at an end.

He is planning to move away from Flagler Beach, Fla., by the spring. At least that's the current plan.


The year ahead also promises to be screwed up as the GOP finally gets real power to pass legislation (at least in one chamber of Congress and to otherwise cause real mischief) now that the Tea Baggers, the fundamentalist crazies, and otherwise clueless segment of the electorate were conveniently whipped up into a FreedomWorks-facilitated frenzy ("bribed tools of reactionary intrigue" to quote Karl Marx again) to get the oligarchical corporate fascists back into power.

And don't expect President No'bama to do anything except cave in and quickly surrender (talking in a weirdly pleased way about being "shellacked" and how he was all wrong) -- all while yelling petulantly at his Democratic base -- since he apparently needs to please the GOP more than anything else.

Maybe he'll even bring Larry Summers to "smooth things over" with the Wall Street mega-billion dollar crooks and con artists.


New Year's Eve 2011 at the midnight hour, Paris.


I expect the Tea Bagger GOP faction in the House to force a Federal Gov't shut down once the Treasury Dept. hits up against its debt borrowing limit. This will go on only until the real business of America -- Big Business -- finally steps in and says "enough" to the House GOP leadership.

New Year's Eve 2011 at the midnight hour, Times Square, Hong Kong.


And, of course, the whole rightwing corporate foundation-funded think tank and media machinery and The Washington WhorePost opinion elite will approve whatever the Military - Industrial - Surveillance - Banking - Financial - Entertainment Complex demands in the name of "Free Trade" and "freedom."

New Year's Eve 2011 at the midnight hour, Rio de Janeiro.


And the Empire will continue (again to borrow an Isaac Asimov phrase) continue its long, majestic fall. And I will continue to live here in its weird and self-parodying Capital City.

Speaking of empires rising and falling ...

New Year's Eve 2011 at the midnight hour, Moscow, with a fireworks display in the snowy air behind the iconic St. Basil's Cathedral.


Part II: New Year's Eve 2011

But this entry is not primarily about politics or what may / may not happen in 2011.

Yours truly at the Chevy Chase Pavilion, Friendship Heights, Washington, D.C., 9:57PM, Dec. 31, 2010.


The New Year's weekend has been an OK one -- not too bad. I went (as I mentioned in my previous entry I would) to Rockville to my co-worker friend D's house, and then to dinner in Rockville town square with him, his wife, and 2-1/2 year old son. Later, I met K. in Friendship Heights and we went to the Cheesecake Factory for a drink at the bar.

Yours Truly riding the Metrorail Red Line (car 2004) from Rockville to Friendship Heights, 8:02PM, Dec. 31, 2010.


The towering, festive-looking Christmas tree in the old food court of the Chevy Chase Pavilion mall, Friendship Heights, Washington, D.C., 8:12PM, Dec. 31, 2010.


K. and Hippo gave me a present -- a new hippo to add to my pod/bloat.

This is Dust Hippo meeting Harvey (top), Flippo (left) and Little Aurora (right).

Dust Hippo -- so named because he sort of looks like a dust bunny and in fact is SMALLER than many of the dust bunnies in my apartment -- is too small to be on my bed.

As you can see, there is quite a difference in size between Harvey and Flippo on the one hand and Dust Hippo on the other.


As for New Year's Eve, I was actually by myself at the midnight hour itself, but then I went to Oliver's place nearby on Ontario Rd., NW, and then I went to Cobalt for a little while between 3AM and 4AM (it was open an extra hour).

The precise moment of midnight showing the ball dropping at Times Square in New York City -- only the dazzlingly illuminated word "Toshiba" is visible -- as seen in a TV screen shot I took with my crummy cellphone camera. I was watching NBC's "New Year's Eve with Carson Daly" at the magic moment since it is kind of painful to watch / listen to Dick Clark these days, New Year's Eve cultural fixture though he undeniably is.


Yesterday, New Year's Day 2011, I had dinner with LP and Kristof at Meiwah. The food and company was good, but the staff oddly aggressive. Later, I went to Windows with LP, Kristof, and J.

Today, I went to the Sunday brunch at Tony & Joe's at the Washington Harbour area in Georgetown with my Cobalt friend S. I had two mimosas and I'm so tired right now.

Here was the table where S. and I were seated at Tony & Joe's in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., 2:32PM, Jan. 2, 2011.


I'm home doing two loads of laundry while writing this entry. I need to be in bed relatively early tonight and I want to be at work by 9AM on the dot, not 914AM tomorrow.

In America, your value as a human being and life itself rises and falls on such matters.


Part III: 2011 - 2015: New Horizons

OK, the remainder of this entry is dedicated to my sudden interest from last week in the New Horizons space probe to Pluto / Charon and the Kuiper Belt. I am repeating what I posted on my Arcturus blog for any of you who peek over there occasionally, except I've updated the images with the AU distances to be correct for today, Jan. 2, 2011.

An artist's rendition of New Horizons as it passes Pluto and Charon (along with Hydra and Nix) in mid-July 2015. Photo credit here.


So my latest object of fixated interest is the New Horizons space probe and its mission to DWARF PLANET Pluto and its moons Charon, Hydra, and Nix and thence into the mysterious Kuiper Belt at the farthest edges of the Solar System.

New Horizons being readied in a special servicing facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla., ahead of its launch on Jan. 19, 2006.


Here are links to the NASA New Horizons mission Web site and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) New Horizons Web site.

New Horizon's high gain antenna is attached at the JHU APL in Laurel, Md., on April 13, 2005.



Here the 1,050-pound New Horizons probe is launched into space on a pillar of fire aboard an Atlas V rocket at 2PM EST on January 19, 2006 (almost five years go) from Complex 41 at the Kennedy Space Center / Cape Canaveral, Florida, Planet Earth on the start of its 3 billion+ mile journey to Pluto -- and thence into the infinite beyond.

Go, New Horizons ... Seek and find, little wanderer through God's limitless Creation ... as you will.

You join your fellow wanderers ... Pioneers, Voyagers, Messengers, Mariners, and all others ... you are now the eyes, ears, senses, hopes, and yearning quest for knowledge of your Earth-bound creators.


Traveling at approx. 16 kilometers (10 miles) per second with respect to the Sun, the little New Horizons probe will -- assuming and hoping that everything goes according to plan -- traverse a distance of 33.05 Astronomical Units (AU) in just under 9.5 years.

1 AU = the average Earth - Sun distance, defined as 149,597,870.7 km or 92,955,807.27 miles but usually rounded to 149.6 million km / 93 million miles. Thus, New Horizons is traveling just over 3 billion miles to Pluto.

New Horizons full trajectory as seen from "overhead". Pluto is actually tilted significantly with respect to the plane of the ecliptic -- precisely because it is a Kuiper Belt object. The AU numbers are valid as of Jan. 2, 2011.


The 16 km/sec is one of the fastest human made objects ever (just behind Voyager I and the Helios probes), thanks in part to a mighty gravity boost from mighty Jupiter, which is passed in Jan. 2007, capturing a stunning image of a cryo-volcanic eruption on the Jovian moon of Io.

New Horizons full trajectory as seen from a "side view" -- showing how much Pluto is tipped at an angle with respect to the plane of the ecliptic. The AU numbers are valid as of Jan. 2, 2011.


New Horizons recently -- on or about Oct. 16, 2010 -- crossed the halfway point to Pluto. It now has (as of Jan. 2, 2011) 13.31 AU to travel to Pluto. This drops by 0.01 AU (930,000 miles) about every 30 hours. You can even watch the countdown clock.

The instruments aboard New Horizons. More info here. I love the "Ralph" and "Alice" names (in honor of "The Honeymooners" TV show). It shows that astronomers and engineers have senses of humor.


Pluto or Bust ...

After traversing that 3 billion mile gulf, New Horizons is set to have its closest approach -- within 10,000 kilometers or 6,200 miles -- of Pluto on July 14, 2015.

Artist's rendition of the dark and frigid reaches of the Solar System where Pluto and Charon are gravitationally locked in their eternal rotation about a common external barycenter so that the two never appear to move in the other's sky.

Another artist's rendition of the surface of Pluto -- the Sun a mere dazzling point of cold white light in the indescribable blackness at the edge of interstellar space itself -- with Charon looming eternally on the horizon.

Pluto at three different phases as mapped out by the Hubble Space Telescope with a "best fit" colorization.


The Pluto Files ...

I really hope the New Horizons probe makes it and nothing goes wrong. If anything, it should be relatively "safe" out there in the vast emptiness of space.

There is a concern that the mission has somehow been undermined following the IAU's 2006 "downgrade" of Pluto -- a true Kuiper Belt object -- to a "dwarf planet" and reclassification as one of many "trans-Neptunian objects." That concern is wholly unfounded.

But if you are interested in that surprisingly contentious and emotional debate, watch
"The Pluto Files" on the PBS Nova series.

Pluto is one of the largest of the "Trans-Neputunian Objects" (TNOs) Kuiper Belt objects (dwarf planets) as shown in this image with comparison to Earth.

"Trans-Neptunian" means they are on average beyond the orbit of Neptune. Pluto is one of the largest and closest in TNO's -- and it has an interesting relationship with Neptune as it periodically comes "inside" of its orbit, raising the worry that the two will someday collide.

In truth, the two likely never can collide.

Not only is Pluto's orbit highly inclined (17 degrees) to the plane of the ecliptic (in which Neptune orbits with the other regular planets) but Pluto and Neptune are in a stable 2:3 orbital resonance.

This means Pluto orbits the Sun twice for every three times Neptune does, so that a collision -- which could only occur when Pluto is at one of its ascending or descending nodes (i.e., where it crosses the ecliptic "rising" or "falling") -- is impossible as long as that configuration remains.

That's good because that would be one helluva collision.

Oh, yes, any TNO in such a 3:2 resonance makes that object by definition a "plutino."

At left are the plutinos -- necessarily including Pluto's moon of Charon.

And Pluto also defines the "plutoid" -- a trans-Neptunian dwarf planet (i.e. one that is spherical in shape). A plutoid and a plutino need not be the same thing but it is in the case of Pluto and Charon. (I'm not sure about Pluto's other tiny moons, Hydra and Nix.)

Got it?

Neptune has actually always been my favorite planet -- well, after Earth. I love that blue color. Plus I was born in Neptune, New Jersey (!).

Neptune as seen by Voyager II, Aug. 20, 1989.

The original Pluto Fast Flyby / Pluto - Kuiper Express planned mission was nixed by NASA in 2000 for budgetary reasons but New Horizons is more or less the resurrected version of that mission.


I will in a subsequent entry about the edge(s) of the Solar System -- including he termination shock versus the heliopause versus the bow shock, as well as the revised view of the heliosphere, but I'll save that for another entry.


OK, back here on Earth, I think that's all for now.

I finished my laundry but I'll fold it later. I will go to Coablt for a few drinks. My next planned entry will not be until Wed. or Thursday.

Those Sterling LWX [blanks] had the NERVE to put that unmentionable four-letter word in the forecast for Thursday night.

I refuse to even touch that (see entries from last week).

Peace in the New Year.



krzysztof said...

About planetary collisions etc. As I understand there exists strong evidence that the solar system is in fact chaotic.

For example, this study
argues that there is evidence of chaos in the outer solar system on time scales ranging from 2 million years to 230 million years. In other words, predictability, while very strong (in milions of years as opposed to days as it is for the weather) IS limited.

Your wording actually accounts for that uncertainty: impossible as long as that configuration remains

Regulus said...

I've heard about that outer Solar System chaotic behavior idea before -- but had not seen the ORIGINAL PEER-REVIEWED study, so thank you. You KNOW how much I depend on peer-reviewed studies for all my sourcing ...

Seriously, though, thank you for the link.

When are you moving? Are you around for a drink tomorrow evening? I would like to go to Lindy's again, but I know you aren't keen on it.

krzysztof said...

Lindy's is not what it used to be when it had Eric U and Stan M aet al in it:-)

I'd really MUCH rather go to Cobalt.