Failure of the bailout

The $700 billion bailout bill was supposed to save the economy from collapsing into ruin. While I had a bad vibe from the bailout bill because of the huge debt it incurs on the federal government and what it could incur, not to mention the moral hazards, it now seems that it isn't even accomplishing what it's supposed to be doing.

One of the things the bailout bill was supposed to do was to prevent large financial institutions from collapsing and taking some wealth from everyone with them. But the much more important and relevant function was to get them to make loans and investments again so that corporations in other industries can get the day-to-day capital they need to maintain their businesses. If this latter goal isn't achieved, then there isn't really much point to the financial bailout bill.

But it's failing miserably. Not only do we hear all the grumblings that the required loans aren't being made and the credit markets are still largely frozen, but we also have a vivid example of its failure with the attempted automaker bailout. If it was working, why are the automakers asking the government for loans? They should be asking the banks! Either the bailout bill is failing miserably to achieve its most important goal, or the automakers know that they can't pull the wool over the banks' eyes so they are trying to pull it over the public's.

X-rays from comets

Comet passing the Orion Nebula as seen by Swift
Comet passing the Orion Nebula as seen by Swift

Comets are cold and icy objects that go around our Sun, usually with very little energy to do much of anything. So I was very surprised to hear that the gamma-ray space observatory Swift detected X-rays from comets. X-rays can only emitted in high-energy processes, so how could something as unenergetic as a comet produce them? It was even more surprising to me when I learned that X-rays from comets were already discovered in 1996 by ROSAT.

It turns out that it's not the comets themselves that are the source of the energy. It's actually the Sun that's the source of all the energy, just like for almost everything else in the Solar System. The Sun emits a solar wind made out of very high-energy particles, and when such a particle hits a comet, it can strip an electron from an atom that is part of the comet. A high-energy photon, i.e. an X-ray, can be emitted in this process.

This happens to be the same process that generates energetic neutral atoms at the boundaries of the heliosphere, which are what IBEX observes to learn about the boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space.

Gays destroying families

Kissing Penguins

Via NPR Science Friday on Twitter: a gay penguin couple stole eggs from straight couples in a zoo, replacing the eggs with rocks so the theft wouldn't be noticed right away. That's what certain people must have meant when they claim that gay marriage would destroy family life. Gay couples will steal all of the straight couples' children, and in humans but unlike penguins, straight couples would be too dumb to notice that their children have been replaced by baby dolls!