This week in science: diamond in the rough
Later this year, New Horizons will get some passing shots of a mysterious class of distant ice-balls and it hurtles past Ultima Thule on its way to the cosmic background. But in this week, an ambitious Japanese effort called Hayabusa 2 closed in on a much nearer icy rock and it has some pretty damn nifty rover technology onboard:
[It] also will deploy a lander called MASCOT that is so clever it makes me smile. It's a rectangular box less than a third of a meter across and has a mass of 10 kilograms. On the surface of Ryugu, though, that mass translates to it weighing about as much as a big drop of water on Earth! It has an offset weight in it that, when moved, will use its torque to launch the lander on a series of shallow hops so that it can move around the surface! Whoa. It also has two other rovers called MINERVA-II which use a similar method to move around the surface.
The best images yet of the small object, dubbed Ryugu, show it to resemble a partially cut celestial diamond in shape and with a ridge of material partly encircling the equator that’s similar in some ways to that seen on one of Saturn’s tinier moons by Cassini. The JAXA spacecraft will edge ever closer over the next few weeks until it settles in about 10-15 miles away and begins its long, multifaceted mission.
A grad student experiment that was originally to last only a year has come to an end, along with the most famous non-human extant primate of our time, over 40 years later:
Koko, the gorilla who mastered sign language and showed the world what great apes can do, has died. «Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,» the release said. «She was beloved and will be deeply missed.»
There is no prior science policy or environmental objectives that Trump and his minions can’t sell, grift, and/or screw up:
Trump’s list of seven ocean policy priorities … calls for federal agencies to coordinate on providing “economic, security, and environmental benefits for present and future generations of Americans,” and then highlights the need to “promote the lawful use of the ocean by agencies, including [the] United States Armed Forces.” It also says the government should work to “facilitate the economic growth of coastal communities and promote ocean industries,” ...
Speaking of Trumpy-isms, the Space Force garnered considerable fun in cyberspace this week: On Thursday morning, #SpaceForceRecruitmentSlogans became the top trending Twitter topic in the U.S., with thousands of Americans using the hashtag to make suggestions or comment on Trump’s new idea. A large portion of the posts poked fun at some of the president’s most infamous catchphrases.
Be skeptical of public science “debates,” for a lot of reasons, and our friends at SciAm name a few:
But second, and maybe more importantly: once you put facts about the world up for debate, you’ve already lost. Science isn’t a popularity contest; if it were, I’d definitely vote to eliminate quantum mechanics, set π to 1, and put radium back in toothpaste. I really, really don’t want sea levels to rise, rainfall patterns to shift, and heat waves to intensify. Climate change is definitely not my first choice. But physics and chemistry don’t care what I, or anyone else, wants.