New lakes on Titan

Titan, the largest moon of the planet Saturn, is a pretty wet place. But it's not wet with water. Titan is so cold that the moon even has lakes of liquid methane and even rains down methane. Observations by the Cassini spacecraft in 2004 and 2005 saw a lake of liquid methane form where there was none before. And given the presence of clouds, not made out of water but out of methane, it's reasonable to conclude that the lake was created by a downpour of liquid methane rain.

Changes in Titan's Lakes
Changes in Titan's Lakes

I must be really easy to impress, since the thought of rain on another world is kind of exciting, especially since it's not the kind of rain we're used to on our own planet. And there's enough rain on Titan to create an entire lake within a year. Perhaps in the far future when humans have colonized Titan, we might see vacationing people diving into the cold methane lakes ...

Cosmic wall of gas

NGC 604 is a star-forming region about 1500 light-years across at a distance of about 2.7 million light-years away from us. And the Chandra X-ray space telescope took images of the region to discover a wall of hot X-ray emitting gas dividing the region into two. In the left side of the image below, gas is heated up both by the stellar winds from young stars and the supernovas. But in the right side of the image, hot gas is heated up entirely by the stellar winds from 200 massive stars, implying that the current star formation on that side is much more recent, and the wall of gas between the two sides block much of the energy emitted by the supernovas from the left side.

It's just somehow fascinating to see how gas that is about as dense as outer space around our own planet, in other words pretty much a vacuum to us fragile humans, could have a major effect in cosmic terms. Despite how sparse such gas must be, having light-years worth of the stuff does have an impact.

NGC 604
NGC 604

Obama is president

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

Barack Obama is now officially the 44th president of the United States. Which also means that George Bush is no longer the 43rd president of the United States, which means an end to eight years of severe reality-denial syndrome at the highest levels of the executive branch of the United States government. Barack Obama may or may not end up being a great president, but all indications are that it's really unlikely that he would be anywhere near as terrible as his predecessor.

Barack Obama has his work cut out for him by George Bush, with an economy in shambles, an overstretched military engaged in two countries with no clear goals, and a government filled with incompetent appointees based on political alignment rather than competency. For someone who has taken more than two whole years for vacation out of his eight-year tenure, George Bush has managed to do enough to leave an incredible mess for his successor. President Obama may have to sacrifice much of his own vacation time because of it.

Have you seen a UFO?

Have you ever seen a UFO?

An unidentified flying object
An unidentified flying object

UFO is an abbreviation for "unidentified flying object", so anything you see in flying through the sky that you can't identify is technically a UFO. However, from the very beginning when Project Blue Book leader Edward Ruppelt presumably coined the term, it was associated with supposed extraterrestrials being seen visiting our planet. It is sort of ironic since it was meant to replace the term "flying saucers" for being too closely associated with extraterrestrial visitations, although there is also the additional factor that not all UFOs looked like saucers.

Given both meanings of "UFO" as an abbreviation for an unidentified flying object and as a sighting of an alien spacecraft, how should one answer when asked whether one has seen a UFO? If you have never noticed anything in the sky you couldn't identify, then the answer is an easy "no". But what if you did notice something in the sky you couldn't identify? And what if you're also a skeptic who doesn't leap to the conclusion that it's an alien spacecraft or something else just as fantastical?

Continue reading Have you seen a UFO?

Bush's not quite completely disastrous foreign policy

As proof that the Bush administration has not been the worst possible presidential administration conceivable, following the news concerning Iran, there are in fact countries around the world that are quite appreciative of President Bush. His foreign policy has not been a complete disaster (although arguably still quite a disaster), as Israel and Kosovo appreciate the support that they got from the Bush administration. The president also has an 80% approval rating in Africa, thanks to increased economic aid and his perceived role in reducing conflict within the continent.

While opinions from Israel and Kosovo are not really much of a surprise, the high regard that much of Africa has for the Bush administration is very much one. Regardless of whether the high regards are justified or not, this should be a reminder to myself that no matter how hard the Bush administration has tried to (unintentionally) portray itself as a cartoon evil, they're still a group of human beings who are capable of doing at least some things right. Then again, Bush's self-congratulatory and denial-filled final press conference as president makes me wonder that it's not for the lack of trying that the Bush administration is not pure cartoon evil ...