BAN #129: Another pinpointed FRB, More Trump lies, Space:1999 box set

July 8, 2019 Issue #129

[Saturn image credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute / Gordan Ugarkovic]

Subscribers burst longer than a millisecond.

Space news

Space is big. That’s why we call it “space”

On the blog, I recently wrote about a big breakthrough for astronomers: The location of a one-off fast radio burst (FRB) was traced back to its source. FRBs have been a mystery since the first was seen in 2007 (looking at data from 2001); powerful bursts of broadband radio waves that last for a fraction of a millisecond or so.

This new one, FRB 180924, was pinpointed using an innovative technique (read the post for more info), and was the first one ever seen like this.

Amazingly, just days after that was announced, another team using a different observatory, but a very similar method, announced they too had caught an FRB and were able to nail its location in the sky! They used the Deep Synoptic Array 10 (DSA 10), a ten-dish radio antenna array in California. They scanned the skies looking for FRBs, and once found the data were written to disk in near real time, allowing astronomers to combine the data from the ten ‘scopes to figure out where the burst came from.

[The location of the sky of FRB 190523 (left), zoomed in using the Keck observatory (middle), shows a galaxy (upper part of ellipse) that is the likely host. The radio pulse from DSA 10 is shown on the right. Note how fast it was ( <1 ms). Credit: Caltech/OVRO/V. Ravi]

In this case, the burst, called FRB 190523, came from a galaxy about 4 billion light years away. It’s massive galaxy, like the Milky Way. That’s important, because the first FRB ever located (a repeater) came from a dwarf galaxy, which tend to create stars at much higher rates than bigger galaxies. FRBs were thought to be some kind of very young neutron star, and those are formed when massive stars explode. Massive stars don’t live long, so you need lots of ongoing star formation to make young neutron stars. The fact that two non-repeating FRBs apparently come from big galaxies means that first one found may be a fluke.

Or it may not be! We have a total of three of these things located with any confidence, out of dozens seen. FRBs are going off constantly somewhere in the Universe (extrapolating from the ones we’ve seen), so my hope is that, like with gamma-ray bursts, once we figure out how to locate them we’ll be able to do it a lot more often. The more of these we find, the more likely it is we’ll figure out what the heck they are. They’re very powerful, so it’s a good thing to understand them.


As Dave Barry said, “Poli” = many and “tics” = blood-sucking parasites

I am still scratching my head over the behavior of the journalistic media when it comes to Trump. I have to think they simply don’t understand the situation they’re in, and still tend to think of him as an interesting (and clickbaity) problem to mull over out loud, as opposed to what he actually is: a wildly erratic serial liar who will do and say anything to further his agenda.

Given the overwhelming onslaught of his criminal/impeachable/borderline (if not well over the line) treasonous actions, a specific example can be illuminating. Media Maters for America’s Editor-at-Large Parker Malloy takes on just such a narrow slice of Trump, analyzing how the media swallowed whole his nonsense about being a friend of the LGBTQ+ community, when all evidence — I mean, all of it — shows that to be laughably untrue.

Give that a read, and keep in mind how easy it is for the GOP to bamboozle the press… and also keep in mind that the clock is relentlessly ticking toward November 3, 2020. Remember too that social media like Twitter represents only a fraction of the US population, and no matter how woke people seem the majority of people out there still get their info from extremely questionable sources.

I also suggest signing up for Ms. Malloy’s newsletter, also hosted here on Substack. It’s an eye-opener.

I recommend

Something I think you’ll like

I am a nerd of a certain age, and I grew up watching scifi from the 60s and 70s. When I was a teen, my favorite was Space:1999, a groovy show about the Moon getting blasted out of Earth orbit and wandering the Universe with 300 people in a moonbase on it.

I know how that sounds, but I loved the show so much I recently rewatched the series (two season), and a lot of it is quite good. A lot of it is also excruciatingly bad, but perhaps nostalgia on my part mitigated that somewhat.

I can’t say if the show would garner any new fans watching it today, but if you have a fond recollection of Captain Koenig, Dr. Russell, Professor Bergman, and Maya, then do I have good news for you: Both seasons are now available in a boxed BluRay set (note: affiliate link).

If you’re a fan I know you’ve already clicked that link, and if you’re not, well, 80 bucks is a fair bit to lay down for a show that you’ve never seen — but you should know the Eagles are among the best scifi spaceships ever designed.

Anyway, if you need more info, then you can listen to me talking Space:1999 with Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry Anderson, who created the show (along with Thunderbirds, U.F.O., and many more).  That was a really fun interview. I don’t get to just sit around and talk about my favorite scifi much (everyone wants to hear me about black holes and exoplanets and real stuff, dangit), so I quite enjoyed that chat.

And if you’ve never seen the show, give it a try, and wind up liking it… good on ya! If you don’t, that’s OK too. We all have our nostalgia, and it’s not one size fits all. Just geek out on what you love, and if you want, gently share it with others if they’re receptive. We’ll still all be friends in our shared Universe of universes.

Tip o’ the commlock to my friend Mike Okuda for tweeting about this.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Bennu the wee asteroid is still spitting rocks into space, and hopefully we’ll soon know better why. See Wednesday’s post. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin]

Monday July 1, 2019: Astronomers trace a mysterious radio burst to its source… 3.6 billion light years away!

Tuesday July 2, 2019:  Exoplanet news: TESS finds a wee world orbiting a wee nearby star

Wednesday July 3, 2019: Bennu: The moody face of a rubble pile asteroid… that's spitting rocks in space.

Thursday July 4, 2019: The Universe does fireworks way better. Meet Eta Carinae.

Friday July 5, 2019: A Block of Orion

Et alia

You can email me at (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!