Space & astronomy day:

  • McMoon. This is a fun story about how NASA photographed the surface of the moon prior to the moon landings. They needed high-resolution images of the surface so that they could avoid trying to land in a deep crater or a boulder field. In the mid-1960s, they sent a series of re-purposed spy satellites to orbit the moon and take photographs. The photos had stunning clarity — way better than a typical modern digital camera — and allowed the astronauts and mission planners to select safe places to land. When the photographs were released to the public, they had to be "de-resolutioned" to prevent revealing just how good those early spy satellites were. The original data was stored on magnetic tapes, and extracting the images from those old tapes was a major engineering effort in itself.
  • The next telescopes. There is heated competition between groups of scientists to design, fund, and build the next generation of mega-telescopes. The new designs are so big and expensive that we — we being the people of planet Earth — can afford to build only two or three of these behemoths. The technology and engineering needed to build these things will be amazing. And, as I've said before, the things we will learn with these machines will be equally amazing.
  • Peggy Whitson retires. Peggy Whitson grew up in Iowa and is the American record-holder for total time in space.
  • Jeff Bezos has big plans for the moon. As always, Bezos is thinking long-term. He is making plans for a "Moon City", which will become the first step in transferring much of Earth's heavy industry to the moon. I'm guessing that there are plans for an Amazon fulfillment center, too.
  • Space Force. There is new episode of the Trump Comedy Show. Now he wants to make another branch of the military, the Space Force, which will presumably consist of legions of starship troopers. No one seems to know quite what it all means. The Huffington Post has collected some tweets with speculation. I am beginning to think that President Trump might be a re-incarnation of some Greek playwrights, or possibly even Shakespeare. His ability to provide a daily mix comedy and tragedy is truly fascinating.
  • Perihelic opposition. Mars is making its periodic (T ≈ 15 years.) closest approach to Earth soon, and it should make for cool views over the next couple of months. Mars will be "up all night" and will be brighter than Venus. With Mars so close, it might be an opportune time to launch an attack with our new Space Force.
  • Lastly, summer solistice occurs early in the morning on June 21. Celebrate by gathering up some rocks to make a replica of Stonehenge. And then party like a pagan.

Drowning in plastic.

It is now a well-reported story — the world is awash in plastic trash. Since everyone is becoming more aware, it is time to start moving the needle and trying to reverse the trends before we are all up to our eyeballs in cast-away plastic cups and straws. The linked National Geographic article gives a good overview of the scale of the problem. (The cover photo from the print issue is iconic.)

Here are a couple of companion links: Fast facts about plastic pollution and where does it all come from? Here in the Midwest, there probably isn't too much we can do to cut down on trash in the oceans. But we can set a good example. Some people have taken trash reduction to new extremes.

Finally, we still have a ways to go. At the moment, it is becoming more difficult to recycle plastic in the U.S. Why is it, that in this country with such vast intellectual, technological, and economic resources, we can't find reasonable solutions to straight-forward problems?

Where disaster strikes — again and again.

Certain areas in the U.S. contribute disproportionately to the money doled out by taxpayers to clean up after disasters. The last line in the article hits it: "Only in the United States do relief programs and subsidized insurance make it attractive for people to move toward disaster-prone areas."

Reboot your WiFi.

Once again, our household appliances are being used against us.

Don't dew it.

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