Web roundup, Part n

Web roundup, Part n

Web roundup, Part n

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 23 2008 12:36 PM

Web roundup, Part n

Just some odds and ends for a Friday...

1) I'll be doin' the live video chat thing again on Sunday at 3:00 Mountain time as usual. I'll have a post up an hour or two ahead of time with the embedded video player and all that.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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2) Years ago, when I worked on STIS (a Hubble camera that took pictures and spectra of objects), one of my colleagues -- actually, the head guy on the camera -- had the idea of trying to observe the unlit part of the Moon with the camera. That part is lit, softly, by reflected Earthlight. By breaking the light up into a spectrum, we could see if it were possible to detect things like oxygen in the reflected Earthlight, and therefore detecting oxygen in Earth's atmosphere, which itself is an indicator of life. It's an odd concept: observing the Moon to try to detect life on Earth. But it's a good test to see if there is a way to detect oxygen on planets orbiting other stars, and we think it would've worked. Sadly, the project didn't get accepted by the Hubble committee that approved such things. But Lee Billings has an article up on this topic at Seed magazine's site, extrapolating it to say that detect life on other worlds, we need to understand how they might detect us.

3) When I wrote the post last week about Presidential candidate John McCain's superstitions, I had originally written a passage about McCain's rumored VP candidates but decided to take it out. One of the rumors focused on Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and the inspiration for me to post the cat and mouse DOOMED picture. Why? Because he's a young-Earth creationist. He thinks ID should be taught in the classroom. And he has a lot of, uh, old-fashioned ideas on a whole passel of other topics, too. What's funny is I took that whole part out of the blog post because it was too speculative. But now others are talking about Jindal as well. Sigh. I was too conservative. Had I left that passage in, I would have seemed prescient. Oh well.

4) Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today has written an interesting article: Congress Considering Additional Shuttle Flight and More Science Funding. I hadn't heard this anywhere else, but she notes that Congress wants to add a Shuttle launch to the dwindling roster of flights to haul a very expensive and important scientific instrument to the International Space Station (imagine! Doing science on ISS!). I expect Mike Griffin to come out against it; he strikes me as not wanting to add any more flights to the schedule because it would be a massive pain, and change a ton of other procedures. Plus I don't think he likes it when Congress tries to dictate to him what he should do with the Agency he was tasked to direct. FWIW, my own rep, Mark Udall (D-CO), introduced the bill to the House.

5) Last week, it came to light that the head of the EPA changed his mind on a decision about emission standards after he met with the White House. I took this to mean more Bush Administration interference with science, but a blog I read asked an interesting question: for those of us who interpret this as more White House meddling, was it the interference that upset us, or the way the decision went? In other words, what if the Administration had talked him into even tougher standards? Would we have been upset then? It's still interference, but in the direction we want things to be.

And I thought, hmmm, I wouldn't be as upset, though I'd still suspect duplicity. But that's because this Administration has a long history of handling science not only poorly, but almost always acting against the best interest of how to do science. I wondered if maybe I was being too harsh, though, and perhaps prejudiced, but then my exact thoughts were pretty much shown to be true.

Sometimes I hate being right. It's a burden.