Reinventing the Global Economy

I watched a new thought-provoking documentary last night, Going Circular, about the need to reinvent our local and global economic systems to eliminate waste and save our planet’s resources.

Mother Nature has had a 4-billion-year head start in figuring out how to build a sustainable ecosystem where nothing is wasted and we have much to learn from her.

Little or nothing should be going into the landfill. As much as possible should be recycled, reused, and repurposed. Everything possible should be manufactured so that it can be repaired and upgraded, rather than thrown away and replaced with something completely new.

This is especially important considering that world population is nearing 8 billion and much of the world is rapidly adopting the wasteful lifestyle of the United States and other developed nations. We need to rapidly pivot to a more sustainable economic system or risk catastrophic damage to the global ecosystem and unimaginable human suffering. With so many people, we face the very real possibility of trashing the world’s environment in a single generation.

I don’t know how you accomplish the needed changes fast enough without strong and competent involvement and regulation by the world’s governments. Sure, we can have reasoned debates about the exact roles that governments will play, but all parties should be onboard with the common goal that tax money should be spent wisely and that government should run efficiently. This is no time for “small government” but it is time for better government.

Excessive military spending across the world is tying up valuable resources that could be used to help transform our economies and save the planet. The United States is one of the worst offenders. “With an annual defense budget of $733 billion, the U.S. spends more than three times what China does and 12 times as much as Russia.”1

To end this short article on a hopeful note, think how satisfying it would be both personally and collectively if much of our labor force had jobs directly involved with reducing waste, reusing materials, producing products that last as long as possible, and repairing and upgrading products rather than seeing them thrown away.

Watch the film, please. Though Going Circular is currently only available through Curiosity Stream, which is a subscription service, hopefully it will be more generally available soon. I’d like to see this documentary aired on PBS.

1The Week, November 19, 2021, p. 13

An Almost-Total Partial Lunar Eclipse

Tonight, half of the world—including the U.S.—will be treated to a partial lunar eclipse that is so deep that it is almost total. At mid-eclipse, which occurs at 3:02:56 a.m. CST, only about 45 arcseconds of the Moon’s south-southeastern limb (as seen in the sky) will extend beyond the Earth’s umbral shadow into the penumbral shadow. This is extraordinary. Tonight’s eclipse will be the longest partial lunar eclipse since February 18, 1440, and a partial lunar eclipse this long won’t occur again until February 8, 2669.

Here is the time for each important event during the eclipse, given in Central Standard Time, and—allowing for time zone corrections—the same everywhere the eclipse is visible, plus local circumstances for Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

Time (CST)EventAltitude
12:02:09 a.m.Penumbral Eclipse Begins65˚
1:18:43 a.m.Partial Eclipse Begins58˚
3:02:56 a.m.Greatest Eclipse42˚
4:47:07 a.m.Partial Eclipse Ends24˚
5:19:03 a.m.Astronomical Twilight Begins18˚
5:52:45 a.m.Nautical Twilight Begins12˚
6:03:44 a.m.Penumbral Eclipse Ends10˚
Partial Lunar Eclipse of Friday, November 19, 2021

The Moon is in the constellation Taurus for this eclipse, and you’ll enjoy seeing the Pleiades star cluster nearby become increasingly visible as the eclipse progresses towards maximum. Enjoy!

Animation courtesy of Shadow & Substance
https://www.shadowandsubstance.com

DNA Genealogy

DNA sequencing is revolutionizing the study of human origins and prehistory, but also genealogy.

The number of ancestors you have at each preceding generation is given by 2n, where n = 1, 2, 3, and so on (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.). The total number of ancestors you have back to any preceding generation is given by 2n+1 – 2. The number of ancestors for the first seven generations is shown in the following table.

GenerationnGeneration AncestorsCumulative Ancestors
Parents122
Grandparents246
Great-Grandparents3814
2G-Grandparents41630
3G-Grandparents53262
4G-Grandparents664126
5G-Grandparents7128254

It is natural to wonder, is there a point at which you don’t receive any distinguishable1 DNA from an ancestor? As an example, looking at your 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, what are the chances that any one of them contributed no DNA to you? The answer is about 0.5%. You would expect, on average, that 128×0.005 = 0.64 ancestors at this generation has contributed nothing to your DNA. In other words, either 127 or 128 of your 5G-grandparents contributed to your DNA. As we go even further back in time, the number of ancestors at each preceding generation that did not contribute to your DNA rapidly increases, as shown in the following table.

GenerationnGeneration AncestorsLikelihood of inherited DNA
Parents12100%
Grandparents24100%
G-Grandparents38100%
2G-Grandparents416100%
3G-Grandparents532100%
4G-Grandparents66499.99%
5G-Grandparents712899.5%
6G-Grandparents825696%
7G-Grandparents951284%
8G-Grandparents10102464%

So you can see that of your 1,024 G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G-grandparents, you will not have received any DNA from about 1024×0.36 = 369 of them.

Another question you might have relates to cousins. What is the probability that you and a cousin share DNA? That is shown in the following table.

RelationshipLikelihood of a DNA Match
Sibling100%
1st Cousin100%
2nd Cousin100%
3rd Cousin98%
4th Cousin71%
5th Cousin32%
6th Cousin11%
7th Cousin3.2%

As you can see, beyond your 3rd cousins, there’s a reasonably good chance you have no distinguishable DNA in common.

DNA Tests

The usual DNA test that most folks get is an autosomal DNA test. It is that test that we are referring to in the sections above.

There are two other DNA tests you might want to consider. The Y-DNA test and the mtDNA test, which allow you to trace your patrilineal (father) and matrilineal (mother) lines, respectively.

Y-DNA Tests

A Y-DNA test looks at the Y-chromosome, which only men have. The Y-chromosome is passed down from father to son generation after generation virtually unchanged. So if you are male and took the Y-DNA test, and another male also took the Y-DNA test, if they matched you would know that you are both descended from the same common ancestor along male lines, whether it could be proved by records or not. I’ll use myself as an example.

I have been able to trace my male line ancestors back to my 7G-grandfather.

AncestorRelationship
Andreas Oesper (?-1721)7G-Grandfather
Andreas Oesper (1709-1776)6G-Grandfather
Zacharias Oesper (1744-1792)5G-Grandfather
Johann Georg Oesper (1780-?)4G-Grandfather
Johann Peter Oesper (1817-1890)3G-Grandfather
Ernst William Oesper I (1846-1918)2G-Grandfather
Ernst William Oesper II (1874-1951)Great-Grandfather
Ernst William Oesper III (1904-1976)Grandfather
Ernst William Oesper IV (1928-1997)Father
David Oesper (1956-)Self

Any male that descended along the male line from any of these ancestors (or unknown earlier generations) would have a Y-DNA match with me. They probably also have the surname Oesper, but not necessarily for a variety of reasons.

Though we haven’t both taken a Y-DNA test, my 2nd cousin once removed Pete Oesper and I would have matching Y-chromosomes. Pete is descended along the male line from my great-great-grandfather Ernst William Oesper I.

mtDNA Tests

A mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test looks at the mitochondria, which both males and females have. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from a mother to her children generation after generation virtually unchanged. So if you and another person took a mtDNA test, if they matched you would know that you are both descended from the same female ancestor along mother-lines, whether it could be proved by records or not. I’ll again use myself as an example.

I have been able to trace my female line ancestors only back to my great-grandmother, or perhaps my great-great-grandmother, but all we have for her is a first name and perhaps not even that.

AncestorRelationship
Mary? (?-?)2G-Grandmother
Katherine Curtin (1855-1931)Great-Grandmother
Sarah Geneva Smith (1896-1992)Grandmother
Carla Mary Pieroni (1929-1985)Mother
David Oesper (1956-)Self

My great-grandmother Katherine Curtin and her brother and sister were orphaned at a young age in New York City. We know that her parents immigrated from Ireland, but nothing more for certain. If I were to take a mtDNA test and could find someone in Ireland who is a mtDNA match, they would likely have descended along the female line from the same female ancestor as me, presumably my great-great-great grandmother, or her mother, grandmother, etc. See how it works?

1 All humans have about 99.5% identical DNA. The half percent that differs between us is what we might call traceable or distinguishable DNA. When you see the term DNA in this article, we are always referring to the portion of the human genome that is distinguishable between individuals, present and past.

References

What is genetic inheritance?
https://www.ancestry.com/cs/dna-help/matches/inheritance
Accessed: November 17, 2021

Y-DNA, mtDNA, and Autosomal DNA Tests
https://support.ancestry.com/s/article/Y-DNA-mtDNA-and-Autosomal-DNA-Tests?language=en_US
Accessed: November 17, 2021

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank Paul Martsching for emails he sent to me that I utilized in the writing of this article. I alone am responsible for any errors or inaccuracies herein, so please let me know if you find anything in need of correction.

Great Courses, Great Episodes

The Great Courses offers a number of excellent courses on DVD (also streaming and audio only). Here are my favorite episodes. (Note: This is a work in progress and more entries will be added in the future.)

Course No. 153
Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition – Richard Wolfson
Lecture 8 – Uncommon Sense—Stretching Time
“Why does the simple statement of relativity—that the laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion—lead directly to absurd-seeming situations that violate our commonsense notions of space and time?”
Lecture 9 – Muons and Time-Traveling Twins
“As a dramatic example of what relativity implies, you will consider a thought experiment involving a pair of twins, one of whom goes on a journey to the stars and returns to Earth younger than her sister!”
Lecture 12 – What about E=mc2 and is Everything Relative?
“Shortly after publishing his 1905 paper on special relativity, Einstein realized that his theory required a fundamental equivalence between mass and energy, which he expressed in the equation E=mc2. Among other things, this famous formula means that the energy contained in a single raisin could power a large city for an entire day.”
Lecture 16 – Into the Heart of Matter
“With this lecture, you turn from relativity to explore the universe at the smallest scales. By the early 1900s, Ernest Rutherford and colleagues showed that atoms consist of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons whirling around it. But Rutherford’s model could not explain all the observed phenomena.”
Lecture 19 – Quantum Uncertainty—Farewell to Determinism
“Quantization places severe limits on our ability to observe nature at the atomic scale because it implies that the act of observation disturbs that which is being observed. The result is Werner Heisenberg’s famous Uncertainty Principle. What exactly does this principle say, and what are the philosophical implications?”
Lecture 21 – Quantum Weirdness and Schrödinger’s Cat
“Wave-particle duality gives rise to strange phenomena, some of which are explored in Schrödinger’s famous ‘cat in the box’ example. Philosophical debate on Schrödinger’s cat still rages.”

Course No. 759
Great Masters: Robert and Clara Schumann-Their Lives and Music – Robert Greenberg
Lecture 8 – Madness
“In Düsseldorf, Robert was inspired to write the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, along with trios, sonatas, orchestral works, and pieces for chorus and voice and piano. Robert and Clara also met Johannes Brahms there; he became a lifelong friend and source of strength for Clara. In 1854, Robert attempted to drown himself in the Rhine and was taken to an asylum. He died there two years later. Clara managed to sustain the family through her concerts but was dealt even more pain by the early deaths of several of her children.”

Course No. 1257
Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time – Sean Carroll
Lecture 10 – Playing with Entropy
“Sharpen your understanding of entropy by examining different macroscopic systems and asking, which has higher entropy and which has lower entropy? Also evaluate James Clerk Maxwell’s famous thought experiment about a demon who seemingly defies the principle that entropy always increases.”
Lecture 15 – The Perception of Time
“Turn to the way humans perceive time, which can vary greatly from clock time. In particular, focus on experiments that shed light on our time sense. For example, tests show that even though we think we perceive the present moment, we actually live 80 milliseconds in the past.”
Lecture 16 – Memory and Consciousness
“Remembering the past and projecting into the future are crucial for human consciousness, as shown by cases where these faculties are impaired. Investigate what happens in the brain when we remember, exploring different kinds of memory and the phenomena of false memories and false forgetting.”
Lecture 20 – Black Hole Entropy
“Stephen Hawking showed that black holes emit radiation and therefore have entropy. Since the entropy in the universe today is overwhelmingly in the form of black holes and there were no black holes in the early universe, entropy must have been much lower in the deep past.”
Lecture 21 – Evolution of the Universe
“Follow the history of the universe from just after the big bang to the far future, when the universe will consist of virtually empty space at maximum entropy. Learn what is well founded and what is less certain about this picture of a universe winding down.”

Course No. 1360
Introduction to Astrophysics – Joshua Winn
Lecture 5 – Newton’s Hardest Problem
“Continue your exploration of motion by discovering the law of gravity just as Newton might have—by analyzing Kepler’s laws with the aid of calculus (which Newton invented for the purpose). Look at a graphical method for understanding orbits, and consider the conservation laws of angular momentum and energy in light of Emmy Noether’s theory that links conservation laws and symmetry.”
Lecture 10 – Optical Telescopes
“Consider the problem of gleaning information from the severely limited number of optical photons originating from astronomical sources. Our eyes can only do it so well, and telescopes have several major advantages: increased light-gathering power, greater sensitivity of telescopic cameras and sensors such as charge-coupled devices (CCDs), and enhanced angular and spectral resolution.”
Lecture 11 – Radio and X-Ray Telescopes
“Non-visible wavelengths compose by far the largest part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Even so, many astronomers assumed there was nothing to see in these bands. The invention of radio and X-ray telescopes proved them spectacularly wrong. Examine the challenges of detecting and focusing radio and X-ray light, and the dazzling astronomical phenomena that radiate in these wavelengths.”
Lecture 12 – The Message in a Spectrum
“Starting with the spectrum of sunlight, notice that thin dark lines are present at certain wavelengths. These absorption lines reveal the composition and temperature of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, and similar lines characterize other stars. More diffuse phenomena such as nebulae produce bright emission lines against a dark spectrum. Probe the quantum and thermodynamic events implied by these clues.”
Lecture 13 – The Properties of Stars
“Take stock of the wide range of stellar luminosities, temperatures, masses, and radii using spectra and other data. In the process, construct the celebrated Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, with its main sequence of stars in the prime of life, including the Sun. Note that two out of three stars have companions. Investigate the orbital dynamics of these binary systems.”
Lecture 16 – Simple Stellar Models
“Learn how stars work by delving into stellar structure, using the Sun as a model. Relying on several physical principles and sticking to order-of-magnitude calculations, determine the pressure and temperature at the center of the Sun, and the time it takes for energy generated in the interior to reach the surface, which amounts to thousands of years. Apply your conclusions to other stars.”
Lecture 17 – White Dwarfs
“Discover the fate of solar mass stars after they exhaust their nuclear fuel. The galaxies are teeming with these dim “white dwarfs” that pack the mass of the Sun into a sphere roughly the size of Earth. Venture into quantum theory to understand what keeps these exotic stars from collapsing into black holes, and learn about the Chandrasekhar limit, which determines a white dwarf’s maximum mass.”
Lecture 18 – When Stars Grow Old
“Trace stellar evolution from two points of view. First, dive into a protostar and witness events unfold as the star begins to contract and fuse hydrogen. Exhausting that, it fuses heavier elements and eventually collapses into a white dwarf—or something even denser. Next, view this story from the outside, seeing how stellar evolution looks to observers studying stars with telescopes.”
Lecture 19 – Supernovas and Neutron Stars
“Look inside a star that weighs several solar masses to chart its demise after fusing all possible nuclear fuel. Such stars end in a gigantic explosion called a supernova, blowing off outer material and producing a super-compact neutron star, a billion times denser than a white dwarf. Study the rapid spin of neutron stars and the energy they send beaming across the cosmos.”
Lecture 20 – Gravitational Waves
“Investigate the physics of gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein and long thought to be undetectable. It took one of the most violent events in the universe—colliding black holes—to generate gravitational waves that could be picked up by an experiment called LIGO on Earth, a billion light years away. This remarkable achievement won LIGO scientists the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.”

Course No. 1456
Discrete Mathematics – Arthur T. Benjamin
Lecture 8 – Linear Recurrences and Fibonacci Numbers
“Investigate some interesting properties of Fibonacci numbers, which are defined using the concept of linear recurrence. In the 13th century, the Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, called Fibonacci, used this sequence to solve a problem of idealized reproduction in rabbits.”
Lecture 15 – Open Secrets—Public Key Cryptography
“The idea behind public key cryptography sounds impossible: The key for encoding a secret message is publicized for all to know, yet only the recipient can reverse the procedure. Learn how this approach, widely used over the Internet, relies on Euler’s theorem in number theory.”
Lecture 16 – The Birth of Graph Theory
“This lecture introduces the last major section of the course, graph theory, covering the basic definitions, notations, and theorems. The first theorem of graph theory is yet another contribution by Euler, and you see how it applies to the popular puzzle of drawing a given shape without lifting the pencil or retracing any edge.”
Lecture 18 – Social Networks and Stable Marriages
“Apply graph theory to social networks, investigating such issues as the handshake theorem, Ramsey’s theorem, and the stable marriage theorem, which proves that in any equal collection of eligible men and women, at least one pairing exists for each person so that no extramarital affairs will take place.”
Lecture 20 – Weighted Graphs and Minimum Spanning Trees
“When you call someone on a cell phone, you can think of yourself as a leaf on a giant ‘tree’—a connected graph with no cycles. Trees have a very simple yet powerful structure that make them useful for organizing all sorts of information.”
Lecture 22 – Coloring Graphs and Maps
“According to the four-color theorem, any map can be colored in such a way that no adjacent regions are assigned the same color and, at most, four colors suffice. Learn how this problem went unsolved for centuries and has only been proved recently with computer assistance.”

Course No. 1495
Introduction to Number Theory – Edward B. Burger
Lecture 12 – The RSA Encryption Scheme
“We continue our consideration of cryptography and examine how Fermat’s 350-year-old theorem about primes applies to the modern technological world, as seen in modern banking and credit card encryption.”
Lecture 22 – Writing Real Numbers as Continued Fractions
“Real numbers are often expressed as endless decimals. Here we study an algorithm for writing real numbers as an intriguing repeated fraction-within-a-fraction expansion. Along the way, we encounter new insights about the hidden structure within the real numbers.”
Lecture 24 – A Journey’s End and the Journey Ahead
“In this final lecture, we take a step back to view the entire panorama of number theory and celebrate some of the synergistic moments when seemingly unrelated ideas came together to tell a unified story of number.”

Course No. 1830
Cosmology: The History and Nature of Our Universe – Mark Whittle
Lecture 3 – Overall Cosmic Properties

“The universe is lumpy at the scale of galaxies and galaxy clusters. But at larger scales it seems to be smooth and similar in all directions. This property of homogeneity and isotropy is called the cosmological principle.”
Lecture 4 – The Stuff of the Universe
“The most familiar constituents of the universe are atomic matter and light. Neutrinos make up another component. But by far the bulk of the universe—96%—is dark energy and dark matter. The relative amounts of these constituents have changed as the universe has expanded.”
Lecture 6 – Measuring Distances
“Astronomers use a ‘distance ladder’ of overlapping techniques to determine distances in the universe. Triangulation works for nearby stars. For progressively farther objects, observers use pulsating stars, the rotation of galaxies, and a special class of supernova explosions.”
Lecture 8 – Distances, Appearances, and Horizons
“Defining distances in cosmology is tricky, since an object’s distance continually increases with cosmic expansion. There are three important distances to consider: the emission distance, when the light set out; the current distance, when the light arrives; and the distance the light has traveled.”
Lecture 10 – Cosmic Geometry – Triangles in the Sky
“Einstein’s theory of gravity suggests that space could be positively or negatively curved, so that giant billion-light-year triangles might have angles that don’t add up to 180°. This lecture discusses the success at measuring the curvature of the universe in 1998.”
Lecture 11 – Cosmic Expansion – Keeping Track of Energy
“Has the universe’s rate of expansion always been the same? You answer this question by applying Newton’s law of gravity to an expanding sphere of matter, finding that the expansion was faster in the past and slows down over time.”
Lecture 12 – Cosmic Acceleration – Falling Outward
“You investigate why the three great eras of cosmic history—radiation, matter, and dark energy—have three characteristic kinds of expansion. These are rapid deceleration, modest deceleration, and exponential acceleration. The last is propelled by dark energy, which makes the universe fall outward.”
Lecture 13 – The Cosmic Microwave Background
“By looking sufficiently far away, and hence back in time, we can witness the ‘flash’ from the big bang itself. This arrives from all directions as a feeble glow of microwave radiation called the cosmic microwave background (CMB), discovered by chance in 1964.”
Lecture 22 – The Galaxy Web – A Relic of Primordial Sound
“A simulated intergalactic trip shows you the three-dimensional distribution of galaxies in our region of the universe. On the largest scale, galaxies form a weblike pattern that matches the peaks and troughs of the primordial sound in the early universe.”
Lecture 24 – Understanding Element Abundances
“The theory of atom genesis in the interiors of stars is confirmed by the proportions of each element throughout the cosmos. The relative abundances hardly vary from place to place, so that gold isn’t rare just on earth, it’s rare everywhere.”
Lecture 27 – Physics at Ultrahigh Temperatures
“This lecture begins your investigation of the universe during its first second, which is an immense tract of time in nature. To understand what happened, you need to know how nature behaves at ultrahigh energy and density. Fortunately, the physics is much simpler than you might think.”
Lecture 29 – Back to the GUT – Matter and Forces Emerge
“You venture into the bizarre world of the opening nanosecond. There are two primary themes: the birth of matter and the birth of forces. Near one nanosecond, the universe was filled with a dense broth of the most elementary particles. As temperatures dropped, particles began to form.”
Lecture 30 – Puzzling Problems Remain
“Although the standard big bang theory was amazingly successful, it couldn’t explain several fundamental properties of the universe: Its geometry is Euclidean, it’s smooth on the largest scales, and it was born slightly lumpy on smaller scales. The theory of cosmic inflation offers a comprehensive solution.”
Lecture 31 – Inflation Provides the Solution
“This lecture shows how the early universe might enter a brief phase of exponentially accelerating expansion, or inflation, providing a mechanism to launch the standard hot big bang universe. This picture also solves the flatness, horizon, and monopole problems that plagued the standard big-bang theory.”
Lecture 33 – Inflation’s Stunning Creativity
“All the matter and energy in stars and galaxies is exactly balanced by all the negative energy stored in the gravitational fields between the galaxies. Inflation is the mechanism that takes nothing and makes a universe—not just our universe, but potentially many.”
Lecture 34 – Fine Tuning and Anthropic Arguments
“Why does the universe have the properties it does and not some different set of laws? One approach is to see the laws as inevitable if life ever evolves to ask such questions. This position is called the anthropic argument, and its validity is hotly debated.”

Course No. 1866
The Remarkable Science of Ancient Astronomy – Bradley E. Schaefer
Lecture 10 – Origins of Western Constellations
“The human propensity for pattern recognition and storytelling has led every culture to invent constellations. Trace the birth of the star groups known in the West, many of which originated in ancient Mesopotamia. At least one constellation is almost certainly more than 14,000 years old and may be humanity’s oldest surviving creative work.”

Course No. 1878
Radio Astronomy: Observing the Invisible Universe – Felix J. Lockman
Lecture 5 – Radio Telescopes and How They Work
“Radio telescopes are so large because radio waves contain such a small amount of energy. For example, the signal from a standard cell phone measured one kilometer away is five million billion times stronger than the radio signals received from a bright quasar. Learn how each of these fascinating instruments is designed to meet a specific scientific goal—accounting for their wide variation in form and size.”
Lecture 7 – Tour of the Green Bank Observatory
“The Green Bank Observatory is located within the 13,000-acre National Radio Quiet Zone straddling the border of Virginia and West Virginia. Come tour this fascinating facility where astronomers discovered radiation belts around Jupiter, the black hole at the center of our galaxy, and the first known interstellar organic molecule, and began the search for extra-terrestrial life.”
Lecture 8 – Tour of the Green Bank Telescope
“At 17 million pounds, and with more than 2,000 surface panels that can be repositioned in real time, this telescope is one of the largest moveable, land-based objects ever built. The dish could contain two side-by-side football fields, but when its panels are brought into focus, the surface has errors no larger than the thickness of a business card. Welcome to this rare insider’s view.”
Lecture 9 – Hydrogen and the Structure of Galaxies
“Using the laws of physics and electromagnetic radiation, astronomers can ‘weigh’ a galaxy by studying the distribution of its rotating hydrogen. But when they do this, it soon becomes clear something is very wrong: A huge proportion of the galaxy’s mass has simply gone missing. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of dark matter, which we now believe accounts for a whopping 90 percent of our own Milky Way.”
Lecture 10 – Pulsars: Clocks in Space
“In the mid-1960s, astronomers discovered signals with predictable periodicity but no known source. In case these signals indicated extraterrestrial life, they were initially labeled LGM, Little Green Men. But research revealed the source of the pulsing radiation to be neutron stars. Learn how a star with a diameter of only a few kilometers and a mass similar to that of our Sun can spin around hundreds of times per second.”
Lecture 11 – Pulsars and Gravity
“A pulsar’s spin begins with its birth in a supernova and can be altered by transfer of mass from a companion star. Learn how pulsars, these precise interstellar clocks, are used to confirm Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves by observations of a double-neutron-star system, and how we pull the pulsar signal out of the noise.”
Lecture 12 – Pulsars and the 300-Foot Telescope
“Humans constantly use radio transmission these days, for everything from military communications to garage-door openers. How can scientists determine which signals come from Earth and which come from space? Learn how the 300-foot telescope, located in two radio quiet zones, was built quickly and cheaply. It ended up studying pulsars and hydrogen in distant galaxies, and made the case for dark matter.”
Lecture 16 – Radio Stars and Early Interferometers
“When radio astronomers discovered a sky full of small radio sources of unknown origin, they built telescopes using multiple antennas to try to understand them. Learn how and why interferometers were developed and how they have helped astronomers study quasars—those massively bright, star-like objects that scientists now know only occur in galaxies whose gas is falling into a supermassive black hole.”
Lecture 18 – Active Galactic Nuclei and the VLA
“The need for a new generation of radio interferometers to untangle extragalactic radio sources led to the development of the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico. With its twenty-seven radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration, it gives both high sensitivity and high angular resolution. The VLA provided a deeper and clearer look at galaxies than ever before, and the results were astonishing.”
Lecture 19 – A Telescope as Big as the Earth
“Learn how astronomers use very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) with telescopes thousands of miles apart to essentially create a radio telescope as big as the Earth. With VLBI, scientists not only look deep into galactic centers, study cosmic radio sources, and weigh black holes, but also more accurately tell time, study plate tectonics, and more—right here on planet Earth.”
Lecture 20 – Galaxies and Their Gas
“In visible light, scientists had described galaxies as ‘island universes’. But since the advent of radio astronomy, we’ve seen galaxies connected by streams of neutral hydrogen, interacting with and ripping the gases from each other. Now astronomers have come to understand that these strong environmental interactions are not a secondary feature—they are key to a galaxy’s basic structure and appearance.”
Lecture 21 – Interstellar Molecular Clouds
“In the late 1960s, interstellar ammonia and water vapor were detected. Soon came formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and the discovery of giant molecular clouds where we now know stars and planets are formed. With improvements in radio astronomy technology, today’s scientists can watch the process of star formation in other systems. The initial results are stunning.”
Lecture 22 – Star Formation and ALMA
“With an array of 66 radio antennas located in the high Chilean desert above much of the earth’s atmosphere, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is a radio telescope tuned to the higher frequencies of radio waves. Designed to examine some of the most distant and ancient galaxies ever seen, ALMA has not only revealed new stars in the making, but planetary systems as well.”
Lecture 23 – Interstellar Chemistry and Life
“Interstellar clouds favor formation of carbon-based molecules over any other kind—not at all what statistical models predicted. In fact, interstellar clouds contain a profusion of chemicals similar to those that occur naturally on Earth. If planets are formed in this rich soup of organic molecules, is it possible life does not have to start from scratch on each planet?”
Lecture 24 – The Future of Radio Astronomy
“Learn about the newest radio telescopes and the exhilarating questions they plan to address: Did life begin in space? What is dark matter? And a new question that has just arisen in the past few years: What are fast radio bursts? No matter how powerful these new telescopes are, radio astronomers will continue pushing the limits to tell us more and more about the universe that is our home.”

Course No. 3130
Origin of Civilization – Scott MacEachern
Lecture 36 – Great Zimbabwe and Its Successors
“Few archaeological sites have been subjected to the degree of abuse and misrepresentation sustained by Great Zimbabwe in southeastern Africa. Nevertheless, this lecture unpacks the intriguing history of this urban center and the insights it can provide into the development of the elite.”

Course No. 7210
The Symphony – Robert Greenberg
Lecture 24 – Dmitri Shostakovich and His Tenth Symphony

“Dmitri Shostakovich was used and abused by the Soviet powers during much of his life. Somehow, he survived—even as his Tenth Symphony made dangerously implicit criticisms of the Soviet government.”

Course No. 7270
The Concerto – Robert Greenberg
Lecture 13 – Tchaikovsky
“Excoriated by colleagues and critics alike, Tchaikovsky’s concerti ultimately triumphed to become cornerstones of the repertoire. This lecture explores his Piano Concerto no. 1 in B flat Minor, op. 23; Piano Concerto no. 2 in G Major, op. 44; and Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 35, arguably his single greatest work and one of the greatest concerti of the 19th century.”
Lecture 14 – Brahms and the Symphonic Concerto
“Johannes Brahms’s compositional style is a synthesis of the clear and concise musical forms and genres of the Classical and Baroque eras, and the melodic, harmonic, and expressive palette of the Romantic era in which he lived. This lecture examines in depth his monumental Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat Major, op. 83.”

Course No. 30110
England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles – Michael Shelden
Lecture 8 – The Englishness of A Hard Day’s Night
“In summer 1964, the cinematic Beatles vehicle A Hard Day’s Night broke almost every rule in Hollywood at the time. Professor Shelden reveals what lies underneath the film’s surface charm and musical numbers: an overall attitude of irreverence and defiance in the face of authority, and a challenge for audiences to think for themselves.”
Lecture 12 – Hello, Goodbye: The End of the 1960s
“In their last years together, all four of the Beatles seemed headed in new directions as they grew up—and apart. Nevertheless, witness how these final years brought a range of sounds, including protest songs, mystic melodies, anthems of friendship, and an iconic double album called simply, The Beatles, but better known as the ‘White Album.'”

Mariner 9

Fifty years ago this day, Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. Mariner 9 arrived at Mars after a 167-day flight on November 14, 1971. When it arrived, a global dust storm was raging on the planet, so it had to wait out the storm before any useful pictures could be taken. During its orbital tour of duty, Mariner 9 returned 54 gigabits of information to eager scientists on Earth, including 7,329 images of the red planet and its moons.

Mariner 9 was powered by 14,742 solar cells on four solar panels. The solar panels generated 500W of power while the spacecraft orbited Mars. A 20 amp-hour nickel cadmium battery stored the energy produced by the solar panels. The onboard computer had just 2K of memory (long before the days of “bloatware”), and an onboard digital reel-to-reel tape recorder was used to store data for later radio broadcast back to Earth.

Mariner 9’s mission to Mars ended on October 27, 1972 when it ran out of nitrogen gas for the attitude control jets. Mariner 9 remains in orbit around Mars, and is expected to burn up in the Martian atmosphere no sooner than the year 2022.

Broken Eyeglass Case – Again

I have yet to find a hard shell eyeglass case with a hinge that doesn’t fail in short order.

No matter how careful you are with opening and closing the case, with daily use the hinge of every hard shell eyeglass case I have ever used will suddenly fail after less than a year of use, and the eyeglass case will no longer stay closed.

Why doesn’t anyone make a spring-loaded eyeglass case hinge that lasts?

If it is impossible to manufacture a durable spring-loaded hinge, then perhaps a magnetic closure should also be added to the case.

Seth Barnes Nicholson

American astronomer Seth Barnes Nicholson was born 130 years ago this day in Springfield, Illinois on November 12, 1891. He attended Drake University in Des Moines from 1908-1912, receiving a B.S. degree in physics (with an astronomy emphasis) in 1912. At Drake, Nicholson was inspired to pursue a career in astronomy by Prof. D. W. Morehouse (then astronomy professor and later president of Drake University). He went on to obtain a Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of California in 1915.

Even though Nicholson died in 1963, he held the distinction until the year 2000 of discovering more moons of Jupiter than anyone since Galileo. Both men discovered four satellites each. Their record has now been surpassed. Graduate student Scott Sheppard and his colleagues at the University of Hawaii discovered 10 new moons of Jupiter in 2000 using an 88-inch telescope and a sensitive CCD camera atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Jupiter is now known to harbor 79 moons.

While at Drake, undergraduates Seth Nicholson and his wife-to-be Alma Stotts calculated the orbit of an asteroid discovered by Joel Metcalf in 1909. In those days before electronic computers, the privilege of naming an asteroid usually went not to the discoverer but to the person calculating its orbit! So, in 1911, the asteroid became known as 694 Ekard—which is “Drake” spelled backwards. One wonders why they didn’t choose the name Drake, because not until 2001 was an asteroid given that name. 9022 Drake was discovered in 1988 by Carolyn & Eugene Shoemaker and it is named after Michael J. Drake (1946-2011). Discovered just a year later—though numbered earlier (requires an accurate orbit)—and receiving a name only in 2015, asteroid 4772 Frankdrake is named after SETI pioneer Frank Drake (1930-).

Double Star Discovery: TYC 724-273-1

On 20 Oct 2021 UT, I observed the star TYC 724-273-1 in the constellation Orion being covered up by the asteroid 444 Gyptis. The star disappeared at 5:31:53.856 UT and reappeared at 5:32:10.506, a duration of 16.65 seconds.

The published apparent visual magnitude of this star is 11.5 and the published apparent visual magnitude of 444 Gyptis at the time of the event is 12.5.

The combined magnitude (mc) of star + asteroid just before (and after) the occultation event is given by

m_{c}=m_{o}-2.5\log_{10}\left (10^{0.4(m_{o}-m_{*})}+1  \right )

where mo is the magnitude of the asteroid
     and m* is the magnitude of the star

This gives us a combined magnitude of 11.14 just before the occultation.

While the asteroid is covering up the star, you should only see the asteroid, so the magnitude should decrease from 11.14 to 12.5, a magnitude drop of 1.36 magnitudes.

Much to my surprise, I observed a magnitude drop of only 0.54.

Is it possible that 444 Gyptis only covered up one component of a previously undiscovered double star? That idea is bolstered by the fact that the event occurred 14.8 seconds earlier than predicted, a full 3.7σ early.

Entertaining the double-star idea, our task is to determine the magnitudes of the two blended stars and which one got covered up. Let us call the magnitudes of the two components m*1 and m*2, with m*1 being the component that got covered. We already know that m*1 + m*2 must equal m* = 11.5. We also know that the observed magnitude drop of the m*1 plus the unobserved magnitude drop that the m*2 star would have had must equal the expected magnitude drop of 1.36. This gives us enough information to calculate m*1 and m*2 individually.

m_{*1} = -\log_{10}\left (10^{-\left (m_{c}+\Delta m_{obs}  \right )/2.5}-10^{-0.4m_{o}}  \right )/0.4

m_{*2} = -\log_{10}\left (10^{-\left (m_{*}/2.5\right )}-10^{-0.4m_{*1}}  \right )/0.4

where mo is the magnitude of the asteroid
     and m* is the magnitude of the star
     and mc is the magnitude of the star + asteroid
     and m*1 is the magnitude of the occulted star component
     and m*2 is the magnitude of the unocculted star component
     and Δmobs is the observed magnitude drop

This gives us a magnitude of 12.36 for the occulted component and 12.15 for the unocculted component. Thus we can see that I observed the fainter component of the double star being occulted by asteroid 444 Gyptis.

Finally, we can do an extra check to make sure that the magnitudes of the two star components plus the asteroid equals the combined magnitude of 11.14 we expected right before the occultation occurred.

m_{c}=-2.5\log_{10}\left (10^{-0.4m_{*1}}+10^{-0.4m_{*2}}+10^{-0.4m_{o}}  \right )

Here’s a little SAS program I wrote to do the calculations.

data magdrop;
   format mstar mastr mcomb pdelm odelm mstr1 mstr2 mtot 5.2;
   mstar = 11.5;
   mastr = 12.5;
   odelm = 0.54;
   x = 0.4*(mastr - mstar);
   mcomb = mastr - 2.5*log10(10**x + 1);
   pdelm = mastr - mcomb;
   mstr1 = log10(10**((mcomb+odelm)/-2.5) - 10**(-0.4*mastr))/-0.4;
   mstr2 = log10(10**(mstar/-2.5) - 10**(-0.4*mstr1))/-0.4;
   mtot = -2.5*log10(10**(-0.4*mstr1)+10**(-0.4*mstr2)+10**(-0.4*mastr));
   file print;
   put 'Published Magnitude of Occulted Star = ' mstar;
   put 'Magnitude of Asteroid = ' mastr;
   put 'Combined Magnitude Right Before Occultation = ' mcomb;
   put 'Predicted Magnitude Drop = ' pdelm;
   put 'Observed Magnitude Drop = ' odelm;
   put 'Magnitude of Star Component Occulted = ' mstr1;
   put 'Magnitude of Star Component Not Occulted = ' mstr2;
   put 'Total Magnitude of Both Star Components + Asteroid = ' mtot;
run;

Published Magnitude of Occulted Star = 11.50                                                      
Magnitude of Asteroid = 12.50                                                                     
Combined Magnitude Right Before Occultation = 11.14                                               
Predicted Magnitude Drop = 1.36                                                                   
Observed Magnitude Drop = 0.54                                                                    
Magnitude of Star Component Occulted = 12.36                                                      
Magnitude of Star Component Not Occulted = 12.15                                                  
Total Magnitude of Both Star Components + Asteroid = 11.14

Clear and Present Danger

I’m far from a conservative and if you want to put a label on me it would be “progressive humanist” but I highly recommend you watch this 17-minute interview with conservative Max Boot by Walter Isaacson on Amanpour & Company from yesterday:

Donald Trump, his enablers, sycophants, and truculent supporters, are a clear and present danger to the United States. In their support of demagogue Trump, almost half of the people in this country (the almost-half that counts) have clearly demonstrated that they would unwittingly vote to elect someone far more dangerous as long as he or she pushes all the right emotional buttons.

As Mark Twain once said, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Almost as disturbing is the insouciant multitude who do not vote. About 33% of eligible voters did not participate in the 2020 presidential election.

Progressives like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are recent examples in a long line of politicians and scholars who offer bold new solutions to seemingly intractable problems—certainly worthy of reasoned consideration and discussion—but at least since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the right-wing attack machine has vilified progressives as “communists” or worse. A large segment of our population has been lied to for so long that they now accept these untruths as fact.


In light of the many serious problems that beset us and a political landscape utterly incapable of addressing any of them, I am seriously reconsidering my encore career during these semi-retirement years. I had always assumed that I would spend most of my time and energy continuing what I did in my spare time during my full-time-employment years: providing observational astronomy programs for the public, teaching astronomy classes, and writing about astronomy. As much as I love astronomy, I am beginning to realize that focusing almost exclusively on astronomy is not the best use of my time and energy, given the various existential crises we all face at this moment in human history. I need to be an active participant in the solutions to these problems rather than yet another distracted bystander.

How many of you have reached your retirement years and found—unexpectedly—that the hobbies and avocations that sustained you throughout your working years are not what you want to focus on now?


Most of my adult life, I’ve wanted to live somewhere where the night sky is not compromised by light pollution—especially in retirement. But the election of Trump in 2016, his almost-reelection in 2020, and the continuing “Stop the Steal” movement has been a game-changer for me. Despite my desires, the reality is that almost all of the rural areas in this country are dominated by Trump-supporters. I currently live in a semi-rural community in Wisconsin where 24% more voted for Biden than voted for Trump in the 2020 election. And, even here, we are still being besieged by Trump flags, Trump-Pence signs, and hand-written yard signs with angry missives. During the worst of the pandemic, some businesses here (including at least one restaurant) defied the statewide mask mandate with no consequences, the Republican-controlled state legislature has gerrymandered their way to an unassailable majority in a state with an electorate that is close to 50-50 between the two parties, and the 2020 election results continue to be litigated and investigated. I’m done with this place. From here on out, I’m not going to live anywhere where Biden had less than a 24% lead over Trump in the 2020 election. In searching for that place, I have found the following tool from the New York Times to be quite helpful.

Now, I want to live somewhere with lots of progressives and real opportunities to collaborate and help facilitate meaningful change that will benefit all people. That will no longer be a rural area. Elections have consequences.

Speed Warning Function

Why don’t all our cars have a speed warning function? On the highway, I usually try to maintain a speed between the speed limit and five miles per hour over (never more than that), and I’d like to have a button on my steering wheel that I can push (like cruise control) at any particular speed so that if that speed is exceeded, I get a soft audible “beep” every few seconds until my speed has fallen below the set point.

And, like cruise control (which I never use anymore for safety reasons), you would be able to change the set point as often as you like while driving.

Having this speed warning function would improve safety because you’d be less likely to inadvertently drive too fast, and you wouldn’t have to take your eyes off the road as often to look at the speedometer.

I can’t understand why this isn’t standard equipment on all motor vehicles.