April 9th, 2014
Harsh words were exchanged in yesterday's hearing between Attorney General Eric Holder, who can't seem to get to the bottom of anything he investigates, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, of Texas, who has tangled with Holder previously.
HOLDER: "Promise you to provide to you and your staff with --"
GOHMERT: "Sir, I've read you what your department promised, and it is inadequate. And I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our attorney general, but it is important we have proper oversight."
HOLDER: "You don't want to go there buddy. You don't want to go there."
GOHMERT: "I don't want to go there?"
GOHMERT: "About the contempt?"
HOLDER: "You should not assume that that is not a big deal to me. I think it was inappropriate and it was unjust. But never think that that was not a big deal to me. Don't ever think that."
GOHMERT: "Well, I'm just looking for evidence and normally we're known by our fruits. And there have no indications that it was a big deal because your department has still not been forthcoming in producing the documents that were the subject of the contempt."
From the IRS-Tea Party scandal and Fast and Furious, to the Benghazi scandal, Holder hasn't produced any meaningful success, as attorney general, unless being charged with contempt of Congress for withholding evidence....is counted as a badge of honor.
April 8th, 2014
By Barry Secrest
Many of us, who do extensive research behind the scenes, find it well beyond amusing when yet another photo is fed to the public by NASA, which incrementally adds to the non-public evidence indicating life on Mars.
But we find it most especially amusing when a particular photo virals throughout the web, as this one has, collecting obscene amounts of attention.
In the pic above, a light can clearly be seen, shining brightly for all to see, in the left third of the picture at slighly above mid-level, but what, exactly, does it mean? Could it simply be a flare of light glancing off a glassy rock? Perhaps a "cosmic ray" as some silly scientists have suggested?
Or is it yet another piece of slightly convincing evidence that something is afoot, which remains indeterminate?
The thing that most should remember is simply the fact that there are reams of collected indicators, from the various missions to Mars, which have gone largely unseen by the public and probably won't be seen for some time, at least not by and large.
However, from the evidence that many of us have seen that is difficult to reveal, the light shining above is about as significant as that lone coffee ground floating in your morning coffee. Oh, and the other thing to remember is the fact that the the public, at large, is kept permanantly behind the governmental authorities who preside over such things, by a measure of about 50 years, and that's on a good day.
However, the next multi-million dollar mission will be engineered to answer the question of what that bright, shiny thing might be, but only that and that alone. Anything else will have to be planned for the next multi-million dollar mission, and so on with the one after that, and the one after that....you get the picture.
April 8th, 2014
Refocus Notes: A rare planetary alignment on the 8th, followed by a full blood moon on a major Jewish holiday on April the 15th, of all days....could be an interesting month....
Mars will be exactly opposite the sun in the sky in a rare cosmic alignment set to take place Tuesday (April 8).
Called an opposition, this happens with Mars from Earth's perspective every 778 days, or 2 years, 1 month and 18 days. Think of Earth and Mars as two cars racing on circular tracks. Because Earth is closer to the sun, it travels faster, completing a circuit in 365 days. Mars is farther from the sun and takes longer, 687 days. By the time Mars has completed one circuit, Earth has a lot of catching up to do to get to a point between the Red Planet and the sun.
This is complicated by the fact that the two racetracks are not exact circles. As Johannes Kepler discovered in the 16th century, the planets follow slightly elliptical paths around the sun, sometimes closer to the Sun (perihelion), sometimes farther away (aphelion). [Best Night Sky Events of April 2014: Stargazing Sky Maps (Gallery)]
Some planets, like Venus and Earth, follow paths that are almost perfect circles. Other planets, likeMercury and Mars, follow more elliptical orbits, which are described as being more eccentric, or differing from a circle.
On the day of opposition, Mars, Earth and the sun fall on a straight line. Six days later, both planets will have moved a little along their orbits, but, because of the eccentricity of its orbit, Mars will be slightly closer to Earth than it was before.
If you look at the complete orbits of the four inner planets, you can see how Venus and Earth follow almost perfect circles centered on the sun. The orbits of Mercury and Mars are slightly askew.
If you look closely at Mars' orbit around the 4 o'clock point, you'll see a little tick mark, which indicates Mars' perihelion, the point when it's closest to the sun. If Earth is somewhere in the same quadrant, Mars will be much closer to Earth than it is right now, when it's on the far side of its orbit from perihelion.
This is where we get the idea of "favorable" and "unfavorable" oppositions of Mars. When Earth passes Mars when Mars is close to perihelion, as it did in August 2003, we have a favorable opposition. When Earth passes Mars when it is close to aphelion, as it did in March 2012, we have a very unfavorable opposition. The opposition next week is slightly more favorable than two years ago, and oppositions will gradually get better until July 2018, when Mars will be close to perihelion and we get a very favorable opposition.
But how much difference does this make? In March 2012, Mars was 62.7 million miles (100.9 million kilometers) from Earth. On April 14, it will be 57.4 million miles (92.4 million km) away. But back in August 2003, it was only 34.6 million miles (55.8 million km) from Earth.
From a practical point of view, Mars appears as a very tiny object in most amateur telescopes, almost always a disappointment to a beginner looking at it. The detailed images you see online are almost always made by combining hundreds of individual frames by a process called stacking, which minimizes the "noise" caused by the turbulence in Earth's atmosphere.
To see that sort of detail at the eyepiece requires tremendous patience, waiting for the rare instants when the Earth's atmosphere steadies, allowing the fine detail to pop into view. At those instants of clarity, you will see Mars' polar cap and traces of its subtle differences in terrain.
Editor's note: If you take an amazing skywatching photo of Mars or any other night-sky view, and you'd like to share it for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at email@example.com.
This article was provided to Space.com bySimulation Curriculum, the leader in space science curriculum solutions and the makers of Starry Night and SkySafari. Follow Starry Night on Twitter@StarryNightEdu. Follow us @Spacedotcom,Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.
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April 7th, 2014
Editor's note: On The Move explores the world of future personal transport looking at the latest trends and tech innovations that shape global travel.
By Teo Kermeliotis, for CNN
(CNN) -- Ever since the early 1960s when we were glued to the animated sitcom "The Jetsons", whimsical visions of a futuristic space utopia filled our imaginations leaving people asking themselves: "Where's my flying car?"
Point taken, but perhaps now, as our childhood dreams move slowly closer to reality, we should also start pondering this: if a flying car was here today, in the real world and not in the realm of science fiction, would we feel comfortable controlling it safely while cruising thousands of feet up in the air? Would we possess the technical skills required to even get it off the ground, let alone land it without a scratch?
Before you dash to the door and sprint to your nearest pilot school to sign up for flight lessons, take a moment to meet Carl Dietrich, the chief executive and co-founder of aerospace companyTerrafugia.
Dietrich and his team are working to bring consumers closer to the prospect of a practical flying car, envisioning a vehicle that does not require its operator to be a trained pilot. Thus, Boston -based Terrafugia announced last May it had started working on the concept of TF-X, a four-seat, plug-in hybrid electric car that can do vertical take-offs and landings.
Who makes the calls?
Although not driverless, Dietrich says the TF-X could increase the level of so-called "human directed local autonomy," a term he describes as a "big fancy phrase" that essentially means that the vehicle's operator won't need to have the knowledge or skills of a pilot."They don't need to know those things because the computer is plugged in to a data network that automatically helps them plan the flight path, avoid other air traffic and air space restrictions, things of that nature," says Dietrich. He explains that operators would still have to make high-level, critical decisions, like determining whether it's safe to take off and land or approve the landing zone in advance.
"Anything that happens on the ground, the person is going to make a call," says Dietrich. "Once you're flying, the actual operation of all the flight control surfaces is going to be computer controlled because, frankly, the computer can do it better than a pilot."
Yet, if you have the vision that the semi-autonomous vehicle would help you escape annoying traffic jams by simply taking off the ground, you'd better think again...
April 7th, 2014
The House Ways and Means Committee will vote this week to formally ask the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges against former IRS employee Lois Lerner, an official at the center of Republican probes of the matter.
The committee will mark up a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday accusing Lerner of committing three crimes relating to the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status, a Republican staffer said.
The controversy erupted in May when Lerner admitted the agency given extra scrutiny to tea party groups - an acknowledgement that has cost a handful of agency employees their jobs, including its commissioner, and prompted a series of congressional investigations.
This action is separate of plans from House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa to hold a contempt vote against the former exempt organizations division head on Thursday.
Lerner has become the focus of congressional efforts to investigate what happened at the IRS, with Republicans accusing her of sharing private taxpayer data and obsessing over the Citizens United Supreme Court case.
The letter to Holder will contain confidential taxpayer information so the markup will be held in private with only Ways and Means members present. Democrats will be able to offer amendments.
If lawmakers pass the letter out of committee, it will fall on the Department of Justice to select if it would pursue criminal charges. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment.