BAN #45: Chinese Moon, a talk in PA, and Brown’s Green law

September 17, 2018 Issue #45


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Pic o’ the Letter

A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it

This news came during June, and somehow I missed it: A small Chinese lunar satellite is returning pretty cool images from the orbit of the Moon, including this lovely shot of our home planet with the Moon in the foreground:

[Credit:  China National Space Administration]

The satellite, called Longjiang-2 (Longjiang-1 was launched with it as well but lost on orbit), is small: It’s 50 x 50 x 40 centimeters in size (like a few pizza boxes stacked up) and has a mass of just 47 kilograms. It has an optical camera (developed by students!) and a radio astronomy package as well. That’s amazing.

It’s on a highly elliptical orbit around the Moon, and was launched in conjunction with a relay satellite that will be used to support the December launch of the Chang’e-4 lunar lander, which is also equipped with a rover. The landing site is on the Moons far side, which never faces Earth, so a relay sat is necessary to get signals back.

I may have missed this earlier, but I’ll have my eyes open for Chang’e-4. That should be a very, very cool mission. 

Upcoming Appearances/Shameless Self-Promotion

Where I’ll be doing things you can watch and listen to or read about

I’m pretty happy about this one: I’m giving a convocation speech at Lawrence University on January 17, 2019. I’ll be talking about “Strange New Worlds”, exoplanets we’re finding by the thousands, and using them to a simple yet profound question: Is Earth special?

I’m more excited than usual because my old friend from grad school Meg Pickett teaches astronomy there, and it was via her urgings to TPTB that I was invited. So this’ll be fun. Also, I gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley back in 2013 (which is like 5 km away) and I really liked visiting that area. So if you live in the Appleton area, mark your calendar!

Is it hot in here, or is it just anthropogenic global warming?

Climate change is real, y’all

This is pretty interesting and quite cool: California governor Jerry Brown just signed a bill into law stating that the state must be powered 100% by clean energy by 2045! And as nice as that is, he also issued an executive order mandating the state be carbon neutral by that same date.

These are two different but related things. Energy production is only part of what contributes to greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. For example, cement production is a big contributor to these gases. Brown’s order would have to offset that production.

It’s an ambitious goal, certainly. The law provides for benchmarks along the way; California should be at 50% green energy production by 2025 and 60% by 2030.

Is this doable? Maaaaaybe. It’s not an easily achievable goal, but the thing is, technologically I think it’s possible. It’s like going to the Moon; in 1961, when Kennedy made his famous speech, Alan Shepard had made the country’s first suborbital flight just weeks earlier. We look back at Kennedy’s speech now as incredibly inspirational, but at the time it was just short of fantasy to claim we could send humans to the Moon and bring them back again. Yet we did it less than 9 years later. 

Global warming is in many ways a bigger threat than the Soviet Union ever was. I’m glad Governor Brown has signed this pledge into law, I love that it will be an inspiration for other states to do the same, and I love that it’s a finger in the eye to climate change deniers who are so desperately trying to save a doomed industry.

Et alia

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