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.

Twin Suns of Different Mothers

HIP 56948 (HD 101364)—an 8.7 magnitude star in Draco—is more like our Sun than any other star yet discovered. It is 194 light years away and located at α2000 = 11h 40m 28s and δ2000 = +69° 00′ 31″, near Gianfar (λ Draconis) and the Draco-Ursa Major border, above the Big Dipper’s bowl.

Solar twin HIP 56948 (circled) in Draco near Gianfar

With the exception of lithium, the elemental abundances are identical to that found in the Sun, within the observational uncertainties. As expected, lithium is severely depleted in HIP 56948, but not as much as in the Sun. This is to be expected for a solar twin about 1 Gyr younger than the Sun.

The temperature, luminosity, mass, and rotation of HIP 56948 almost exactly match that of the Sun. For example, HIP 56948 is only 17 ± 7 K hotter than the Sun, and its mass is 1.02 ± 0.02 M. Given all these similarities, it appears its most recently determined (1993) spectral type of G5 is incorrect. Or is it the spectral type of our Sun that is wrong (G2V)? Actually, it is quite difficult to make measurements of our Sun “as a star” because it is so incredibly close and bright.

HIP 56948 harbors no giant planets or “hot Jupiters” within or interior to its habitable zone, so there remains the enticing possibility that it may host a planetary system similar to our own, though no planets have yet been detected.

Incidentally, the next time you’ve got a good view of the Head of Draco and the “box” of Cepheus, cast your eyes toward a point halfway between the two. You’re looking towards where the rotational axis of the Sun points north. Like HIP 56948, it’s in Draco.

North Solar Pole in relation to HIP 56948

“The remarkable solar twin HIP 56948: a prime target in the quest
for other Earths”
J. Meléndez, et. al., A&A 543, A29 (2012)