Thursday, January 31, 2008

When I was in Texas, they called me a Yankee....

Your Linguistic Profile:
70% General American English

15% Dixie

10% Yankee

0% Midwestern

0% Upper Midwestern

As you can see....

As you can probably tell, I got my monthly mailing from Foreign Policy, and prevailed myself of the free access for some interesting articles. The picture of the soldier reading "Arabic for Dummines" had me laughing, but then got me to thinking. Those books are good and I think we need to print them and have them in the hands of every soldier serving in the Middle East. We are lothed over there as it is. We can't go and continue to keep making a bad name for ourselves.

The snow keeps falling and the weather guessers are saying that we might get 5 to 7 inches now, with points south of St. Louis getting more. I am in that "more" area. I know Zfrog is getting snow and she is way south of me so she is probably getting slammed. I am SO glad I am not working to night!

I have gone through the Astronomy group and changed all my posts for MESSENGER so that everyone can access them if anyone is interested in the results. They had a pres conference yesterday and released a gob of pictures and a couple of three videos. All are posted at Astronomy group for those who are interested.

Well that's about all for now. Hope everyone is staying warm and keep thinking those good thoughts.

From Foreign Policy - 7 Questions: Planning for a Climate Catastrophe

Seven Questions: Planning for a Climate Catastrophe

Posted December 2007
How do you prepare for disaster when you can’t calculate the odds? With a key climate-change conference wrapping up this week in Bali, Indonesia, esteemed judge and public intellectual Richard Posner says we must confront the possibility of sudden, catastrophic global warming—even if scientists have no idea how likely such a scenario might be.

Game of chance: Nature’s course may be in God’s hands, but merely trusting to divine providence is probably not a winning risk-management strategy.

Foreign Policy: You’ve written a lot about the possibility of sudden, catastrophic warming of the planet. But as you’ve put it on your blog, “[N]o probability, high or low, can be assigned to such a catastrophe.” How, then, can policymakers, such as the people who are meeting in Bali this month to work on a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, assess the likelihood that climate change will be faster and more dramatic than previously thought?

Richard Posner: Actually, most decisions we make are not based on measurable probabilities. When you get married, you can’t estimate the probability of a divorce. You can look at the general statistics showing that half of all marriages end in divorce, but you can’t apply that to your particular situation. So, you go ahead and get married anyway. In other words, the fact that one can’t quantify the probability of a catastrophe is no reason to ignore it. We really should do something if we can afford to.

FP: So, you’re basically endorsing the precautionary principle?

RP: No. I wouldn’t embrace that because that’s looking at things a little too broadly. You don’t want to say that every time someone says there’s a risk of something, prudence requires you to act. The precautionary principle has become associated with European policies that are highly questionable. For example, Europeans are very concerned about genetically altered food. There doesn’t seem to be any danger in genetically altered food. Almost all the food we eat is genetically altered by selective breeding by farmers and hybridization of crops. We’ve experienced genetic alteration of food for several millennia without ill consequences. But when you look at climate, it’s a very different picture.

FP: How so?

RP: We have a long history of pretty abrupt climate changes. One I particularly focused on in my book occurred 12,000 years ago, a very dramatic warming. But there have been lesser things. There was a kind of mini-Ice Age in the Middle Ages. So, there’s a lot of built-in climate instability. Then when we start dumping huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, rapidly running up the concentration, we’re playing with fire because we’re adding a significant human component to the natural fluctuations of climate. The potential consequences are very extreme. So, I think it’s worth doing something, especially since we get a dividend. What do I mean by a dividend? The principal factor in human-caused carbon emissions is burning fossil fuels. And we have independent reasons for wanting to reduce our consumption of oil, obviously foreign-policy reasons and the instability of the world’s oil supply. So we’d get a dividend if we did something about carbon emissions in addition to reducing the likelihood of abrupt global warming.

FP: Large reinsurance companies such as Swiss Re have been among the most vocal advocates in favor of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and as we’ve seen in New Orleans, sudden catastrophes can have a devastating effect on local insurance industries. Could we see a broader collapse of the insurance industry as the world becomes more vulnerable to catastrophic storms and disasters due to climate change?

RP: A lot of decisions we make, we make under conditions of radical uncertainty; we can't estimate a probability. But insurance companies, in order to set a premium, have to be able to estimate a probability. If they suddenly discover that there are catastrophic risks, the probability of which can’t be quantified, they’re in a quandary. They don’t know what to charge. Reinsurance is a very interesting example because it’s in the nature of reinsurance that reinsurance companies are insuring the very, very low risks. A good analogy is primary and secondary coverage for homeowners. You could have a homeowner’s insurance policy for a million dollars but if you wanted to have more protection, you could buy another five million very cheap because the risk that someone will break his head on your stoop and sue you for a zillion dollars is very small, and so the premium is very small. But that kind of secondary coverage only works as long as the risks are really very small because the premiums are geared to very small risks. So, of course reinsurers are very concerned about global warming. And the reinsurance industry is essential to the insurance industry. If you didn’t have reinsurance, the insurance companies would be dealing with these long tails of risk on their own. So yes, these catastrophic risks do put insurance under a lot of pressure.

FP: How would you, as a policymaker, decide how many resources to allocate to stopping atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases at a certain level versus spending your resources on adaptation?

RP: That’s actually the simple part. The hard part is to determine what aggregate investment of resources to make because we don’t know the benefits. If you can’t estimate the probability of global warming, you can’t do a cost/benefit analysis. But once you’ve decided that the problem is serious, the question of what to do about it is, I think, a lot easier.

FP: Politicians tend to have what you call “foreshortened horizons” in your book. They don’t plan for low probability events that may happen way off in the future, such as catastrophic climate change. Is there any way to get around that problem?

RP: I don’t think you can. You have to have a disaster like a 9/11 or a tsunami or a Hurricane Katrina. Then people will pay attention to similar threats, but they won’t pay attention to dissimilar threats. So, in a funny way, if you say to people that global warming is a problem and it’s going to unfold gradually over the course of the century, then forget any effort to try and do anything. If you ask, “Could a politician put together a sellable program for dealing with global warming?” I think the answer probably is “no,” but I can imagine it being packaged in a way that would make it a little more plausible. But the politicians don’t talk about anything that is actually a national problem. We’re a nation of hypochondriacs preoccupied with healthcare and immigrants and so on but when it comes to what I think are fundamental problems, politicians don’t talk about them.

FP: What do you worry that scientists and policy analysts are not thinking about when it comes to climate change?

RP: I think the analysts do not give as much weight as I would to the risk of abrupt, catastrophic global warming. There’s more concern than there used to be. Since I wrote my book in 2004, most scientists have decided that the warming is occurring more quickly than they expected. They’ve been shocked by the rapidity of melting in the Arctic. Some people say that climate science is so complex and so indefinite that we really don’t know what difference it makes that we’re dumping all this stuff into the atmosphere. But the opposite inference to draw is that precisely because the climate scientists don’t have a good fix on climate, that increases the risk and that’s what we’ve been seeing. The scientists have been surprised by the rapidity of climate change and they could be surprised by a catastrophe.

Richard Posner is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the author of Catastrophe: Risk and Response (New York: Oxford University Press USA, 2004).

From Foreigh Policy - The 10 Commandments of Punditry.

The 10 Commandments of Punditry

Mon, 01/14/2008 - 5:00pm.

FP obtained the following top-secret document outlining 10 iron-clad rules that the best pundits must follow in order to have fruitful careers and multiply their earnings.

After a long internal debate, we decided to share this vital—but possibly dangerous—information with you, our loyal readers. Enjoy.

The foreign-policy scholar was searching for inspiration. He walked on high, to the TV Studio of Knowledge. And the Lord of all Pundits revealed himself in a flash of klieg lights. And it was said unto him, “Follow these Ten Commandments and you and your think tank shall forever be a People of Pundits close to my heart.”

  1. Thou shalt be the Expert, on Everything. If the press asks you for comment, always bless them with your “expertise and analysis.” It does not matter if the issue is Iraq, Darfur, trade, or bird flu—your knowledge is infinite and your opinion final. Never refer the reporter to a researcher who has actually studied the issue for years. Remember, you are the Alpha and the Omega, because you, holy of holies, have been on TV (plus, if you don’t know what to say, you can always lift ideas from the executive summaries of their journal articles).
  2. Thou shalt not waste “time in the field.” Your 10 minutes chatting with the taxi driver on the way from your four-star hotel to the first-class lounge at the airport is enough to provide unique insight into what “the street is thinking.” The same goes for that night you spent in a hotel inside the Green Zone. You are Dr. Livingston back from the wilds, Achilles back from the front lines of war. Upon your return, write an op-ed, hold a press conference, and go on the talk-show circuit. These are far more worthwhile activities.
  3. Thou shalt be Non-Partisanly Partisan. Learn the code words and the tax code. If your organization is “Progressive” or “Conservative,” it can toe the party line but still technically be “nonpartisan” and thus not have to pay taxes.
  4. Thou shalt be neutral, but not always. Normally, a pundit must present him or herself as a “nonpartisan, disinterested analyst,” who “cares only about the facts.” But the Middle East is the exception to this rule. You must pick a side: Red Sox or Yankees, Sharks or Jets, Zionists or anti-Semites. Your side is always right and the other side is always wrong, and evil to boot. Plus, if anyone disagrees with you, they are most obviously a bigot and/or a terrorist.
  5. Thou shalt not commit the sin of Footnotes. If you want to go primetime, you must wisely invest your energies in writing 700-word op-eds and jetting between press appearances, not the humdrum of actual book research. However, you need not waste the opportunity to make manna out of all that public exposure. Slap those op-eds together into a book, so that you have something to flog in your bio line.
  6. Thou shalt not misuse the title of “former.” The three months that you were principal deputy under assistant secretary in the waning days of the Harding administration give you a knowledge that is supreme. It must be cited upon all occasions. Your data may be years outdated and your title may start with “former” because you were fired for incompetence and indicted for corruption, but this matters not to a Pundit; the TV host will never introduce that part of your resume to the audience.
  7. Thou shalt remember the past day, by keeping it forgotten. There are no consequences for being wrong as a pundit. Call for an invasion and it turns out not to be a “cakewalk?” You never said it. Advise a political candidate who was indicted for prostitution or, even worse, lost the election? Never met the guy.
  8. Thou shalt be who you need to be. A good pundit must be a chameleon, able to test the winds and portray him or herself according to the circumstances of the time. If a war is popular, you are a supporter. If it starts to go bad, you have “always been a critic from the start.” If you must present yourself as a regional expert, don’t worry about speaking the language or even having been to the country in question. The only requirement is keeping a straight face and a not-too-shiny forehead for the TV cameras.
  9. Thou shalt not commit the sin of Common Sense. The press loves contrarian ideas, even if they have no basis in fact or even a lick of common sense. So, when the news cycle is slow, go ahead and toss that half-baked proposal out there in op-ed form, as if it reflected real research or analysis. It is not like there are any consequences (That is, unless a policymaker actually implements it. If so, see Commandment 7 and deny you ever wrote it).
  10. Honor thy Funder. The funder giveth and can taketh away. The funder is not paying you to break new analytic ground; they are paying you to validate their own ideas and preconceptions. Work backwards. Their conclusions come first, then your “research” explains why. If donors ever get upset, name something after them. They like that.

The scholar thanked the Lord “for having me on today.” And it was good. And he spread the 10 Commandments of Punditry to all the think tanks of the Earth.

The scholar works at a think tank in Washington, D.C. and is a sinner of the first order.

From Foreign Policy - Downloading: Punishable by death?

Downloading: Punishable by death?

Wed, 01/23/2008 - 4:54pm.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Someone please explain to me how this is supposed to be justice. A 23-year-old journalism student named Sayad Parwez Kambaksh supposedly goes online, finds an interesting paper, and prints it out. He supposedly brings it to class at Balkh University, discusses it with a teacher and some fellow students. The paper gets copied and distributed. Some students find it objectionable; they say it is offensive and that it insults Islam. They complain to the government.

Kambaksh is arrested in October and put in jail. He says he had nothing to do with the paper. His case goes to trial, but he has no lawyer. In fact, his family is not even aware that he's put on trial. A panel of three judges decides that he should be put to death because the paper he supposedly distributed "humiliates Islam." The Afghan Independent Journalists' Association reports that any paper in question may have downloaded from an Iranian blog, which contained articles questioning the origins of the Koran, among other controversial things.

Now, his case goes to the first of two appeal courts. But Fazel Wahab, the chief judge in the province where the trial took place, says that only President Hamid Karzai can pardon the student, since Kambaksh supposedly confessed to having violated tenets of Islam. Incidentally, Wahab has never read the paper (to be fair, he was also not on the panel that convicted Kambaksh).

Kambaksh isn't the only Afghan journalist who's gotten into trouble with the law. Ghows Zalmai was also arrested three months ago, charged with distributing a translation of the Koran that clerics did not accept. Religious scholars have also called for him to be put to death.

At any rate, all of this raises the question: Why did the U.S. go into Afghanistan and topple the Taliban, only to have it be replaced with a system like this? So far, no comment from Karzai, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. But he'd better step up.

As an afterthought, I thought that I'd put my own two cents in. This is the nation that our President said in his State of the Union address and I quote:

In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies, and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al Qaeda is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope.

So much for that new hope. If I live in a country where I can't express my opinion and the courts are run by the churches, then something is very wrong.

From Foreign Policy - Is "Canadian" the new n-word?

Is "Canadian" the new n-word?

Mon, 01/28/2008 - 2:22pm.

When you hear the word "Canadian," what's the first thing that comes to mind? Someone who is hockey-crazed? Someone who says "eh" at the end of every sentence? Someone who is, dare I say it, nice?

How about someone who is black?

Now, naturally there are plenty of black Canadians. There are black Canadians who like hockey, say "eh", and are nice. But this blog post isn't really about black Canadians or white Canadians or any kind of Canadian at all. It's about certain people in the United States who have appropriated the word "Canadian" as code for someone who is black.

Earlier this month, an e-mail that had been circulating since 2003, written by a Houston assistant district attorney Mike Trent, resurfaced. The e-mail was short, only about 100 words, and was sent to the entire office. It started out by praising a junior prosecutor for a job well done. Then the message continued:

He overcame a subversively good defense by Matt Hennessey that had some Canadians on the jury feeling sorry for the defendant and forced them to do the right thing."

If you're wondering why Canadians were on a Texas jury when only U.S. citizens are allowed to serve, well, there weren't any. Other members of the D.A.'s office who got the memo were wondering the same thing themselves. They looked at an online database of racial slurs and found that "Canadian" was a term used to mask more openly racist terms. Trent claims that he was unaware of the meaning, overheard someone saying that there were Canadians on the jury, took that literally, and just repeated it in his e-mail.

There is just so much wrong with this situation on so many levels that I don't even know where to begin. So, you be the judge.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reminder - MESSENGER Hi-Resolution Photos and Videos

For those interested, High Resolution versions of the photos featured in the blogs on MESSENGER are available in the Photo section under "MESSENGER Mercury 1 Flyby." All photos and grpahics featured in the Blogs are up to date. I have not posted very high resolution versions of the graphics which were featured in the press conference. Those wishing to get those graphics are welcome to access them at the MESSENGER website at and go to the News Room.

Apparently there is no video of the press conference itself, which was featured on the NASA Channel. They may rerun it there, but I have no idea as I am not a regular viewer of the channel itself.

MESSENGER photos will, in all likelihood, continue to be posted to the MESSENGER website. As they are posted, the photo section will continue to be updated with the new photos as well as updated on the blog.

Thank you all for the wonderful comments concerning the MESSENGER posts.

Mercury's Violent History

Louise Prockter, Instrument Scientist for the Mercury Dual Imaging System
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Image 5.1 - 5.5

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MESSENGER Timeline M1 V0
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Mercury’s Violent History

This image of Mercury’s surface was acquired during MESSENGER’s first flyby of the planet on January 14, 2008, through the lens of the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC), part of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS). The image was acquired when MDIS was 11,588 km (7,200 miles) from Mercury’s surface.

Several processes have acted to sculpt Mercury’s surface over time, and evidence of them is abundant in this image. This scene shows at least five different events in Mercury’s surface history. The large crater to the lower left of the image measures ~230 km (143 miles) in diameter and has a prominent crater, about 85 km (53 miles) across, nestled inside it, south of its center. Both of these craters were subsequently filled with a material that appears to have been emplaced in a relatively fluid form, as evidenced by the fact that the material “embays” or onlaps the ejecta blanket surrounding the rim of the smaller crater. The larger crater is filled almost to its rim with this smooth plains material, which is thought to be of volcanic origin. Subsequent to the plains emplacement was the formation of the linear feature trending southwest to northeast across the lower half of the scene. This feature is a lobate scarp, similar to many others found on Mercury’s surface, and thought to originate when compressional stresses crumpled the surface. The last major episode in the history of this region is the impact that formed the large crater at the top of the image. The formation of this crater resulted in impact-derived material, known as ejecta, being thrown out radially for large distances. Some of this ejecta formed chains of “secondary” craters as it impacted back onto the surface; some of these secondary craters are visible atop the lobate scarp.

By careful examination of the relationships among features within images such as these, Mercury’s surface history can be teased out, enabling us to better understand the evolution of this planet and other terrestrial worlds.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury - Double Ring Crater

Double Ring Crater

This scene was imaged by MESSENGER’s Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) on the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) during the spacecraft’s flyby of Mercury on January 14, 2008. The scene is part of a mosaic that covers a portion of the hemisphere not viewed by Mariner 10 during any of its three flybys (1974-1975). The surface of Mercury is revealed at a resolution of about 250 meters/pixel (about 820 feet/pixel). For this image, the Sun is illuminating the scene from the top and north is to the left.

The outer diameter of the large double ring crater at the center of the scene is about 260 km (about 160 miles). The crater appears to be filled with smooth plains material that may be volcanic in nature. Multiple chains of smaller secondary craters are also seen extending radially outward from the double ring crater. Double or multiple rings form in craters with very large diameters, often referred to as impact basins. On Mercury, double ring basins begin to form when the crater diameter exceeds about 200 km (about 125 miles); at such an onset diameter the inner rings are typically low, partial, or discontinuous. The transition diameter at which craters begin to form rings is not the same on all bodies and, although it depends primarily on the surface gravity of the planet or moon, the transition diameter can also reveal important information about the physical characteristics of surface materials. Studying impact craters, such as this one, in the more than 1200 images returned from this flyby will provide clues to the physical properties of Mercury’s surface and its geological history.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury - The Great Caloris Basin on Mercury

The Great Caloris Basin on Mercury

This image shows details of the Caloris basin, one of the largest impact basins in the solar system. Caloris was discovered in 1974 from the Mariner 10 images, but when Mariner 10 flew by Mercury, only the eastern half of the basin was in daylight. During its first flyby of Mercury, on January 14, 2008, the MESSENGER spacecraft was able to snap the first high-resolution images of the western half of the basin. This image is a compilation of pictures from the Mariner 10 mission (right portion of the image) and images from MESSENGER's Narrow Angle Camera (NAC), part of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (left portion of the image).

When Mariner 10 imaged the Caloris basin, the lighting conditions were very different from those experienced by MESSENGER, as is evidenced by the visible seam created when images from both missions are mosaicked together. Despite the different lighting conditions, the MESSENGER images show that the Caloris basin is even larger than previously believed. On the basis of images from Mariner 10, the rim of the Caloris structure was estimated at about 1300 km (about 800 miles) in diameter, shown as a yellow dotted line in this image. MESSENGER's images, which allow the entire Caloris basin to be seen at high-resolution for the first time, indicate that the basin rim, shown as a blue dotted line in the image, is actually closer to 1550 kilometers (about 960 miles) in diameter. Understanding the formation of this giant basin will provide insight into the early history of major impacts in the inner Solar System, with implications not just for Mercury, but for all the planets, including Earth.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/Brown University

Mercury - Topographic Close-up

Topographic Close-up

A close-up of the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) profile of Mercury acquired during MESSENGER’s first Mercury flyby on January 14, 2008. Comparison with an Arecibo radar image mosaic (bottom) provided by Harmon and co-workers shows that the two largest depressions are adjacent impact craters. The craters have rim-to-rim diameters of 107 km (left) and 122 km (right). The root mean square roughness of the floor the larger crater is ~35 m. The vertical exaggeration in the figure is 35:1.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Cornell University/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury Surface Spectra

Mercury Surface Spectra

This plot shows the relative spectral reflectance as a function of wavelength at the two locations indicated on the previous graphic. The visible and infrared portions of the spectra are shown for the two nearby areas, one including ejected material from a bright, relatively young crater and the other from surrounding plains. The two spectra have been shifted vertically to match at 850 nm (in the near-infrared). Differences between the two spectra, most notable in the infrared, are indicative of differences in the mineral abundances in these two regions.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Seeking Information on Mercury’s Mineralogy

Seeking Information on Mercury’s Mineralogy

This plot shows the ground track of observations made by the Visible and Infrared Spectrograph (VIRS) component of the Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS). The ground track is projected onto a MESSENGER image of the portion of the planet seen in high-resolution by MESSENGER for the first time.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury’s Hydrogen Tail

Mercury’s Hydrogen Tail

This plot shows Lyman-alpha emission at 121.6 nm associated with neutral hydrogen in the near vicinity of Mercury. This is the first detection of hydrogen tail emission at Mercury and the first time that neutral hydrogen and sodium atoms have been observed in the tail simultaneously. This emission is about 100 times less intense than the sodium emission. As with the sodium emission, discovering the true spatial distribution requires more analysis. The similar asymmetries in hydrogen, derived from the solar wind, and the much heavier sodium nonetheless suggest that solar-wind interactions with Mercury’s magnetosphere have played a strong role in supplying tail material at the time of MESSENGER’s flyby.

Observing the Lyman alpha emission line, deep in the ultraviolet, is possible only from space. Such hydrogen emissions were also observed by Mariner 10 but only on the subsolar limb.

Calcium was detected in the near-Mercury exosphere by MESSENGER and has also been observed telescopically from Earth. Other species are expected to be seen in Mercury’s exosphere as well, but the orbital phase of the mission offers better opportunities to observe them.

Credit: NASA/University of Colorado/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury’s Internal Magnetic field

Mercury’s Internal Magnetic field

This depiction of a simulated Mercury magnetosphere shows representations of the distortions of the planetary magnetic field lines (blue) by the solar wind. Mariner 10 data showed the first evidence for a magnetic field at Mercury, an unexpected result. The equatorial pass of MESSENGER during quiet solar conditions provided better data than were available from Mariner 10.

MESSENGER saw an internal magnetic field that is well described by the field from a dipole nearly aligned with the planet’s spin axis (dipole tilt ~ 10°). This geometry is similar to that observed by Mariner 10 during its first flyby. The field strength is weaker by about one third than that detected by Mariner 10 during its third (and last) flyby, owing primarily to the difference in trajectories (Mariner 10 flow directly over the magnetic pole where the field strength is greatest). When corrected for our best estimate for the external field, the MESSENGER observations and the two Mariner 10 passes are consistent with very similar solutions for the mean planetary magnetic dipole. The dipolar field is consistent with an active electrical dynamo in which the magnetic field is produced by electrical currents flowing in an outer core of molten metal. The observations do not yet allow us to identify whether a small secular variation may have occurred, determine higher order structure in the field, or assess whether crustal magnetic signatures may be present at other longitudes. A combination of the next two flybys and the orbital phase of MESSENGER’s mission will be required to sort out all of these possible effects.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

For those Ann Coulter fans out there

Things that make you go Bleeach!

Now you just know I had to post this one....

Chemtrails anyone? From Foreign Policy

Battlefield Earth

By Jamais Cascio

Posted January 2008
It may sound like science fiction, but it’s only a matter of time before the world’s militaries learn to wield the planet itself as a weapon.


Preventing global warming from becoming a planetary catastrophe may take something even more drastic than renewable energy, superefficient urban design, and global carbon taxes. Such innovations remain critical, and yet disruptions to the Earth’s climate could overwhelm these relatively slow, incremental changes in how we live. As reports of faster-than-expected climate changes mount, a growing number of experts worry that we might ultimately be forced to try something quite radical: geoengineering.

Geoengineering involves humans making intentional, large-scale modifications to the Earth’s geophysical systems in order to change the environment. These can include sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide in the oceans, changing the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface, and pumping particles into the stratosphere to block a fraction of incoming sunlight. Many of these proposals mimic natural events, so we know that—in principle—they can work, although there is insufficient understanding of their potential side effects. Unsurprisingly, geoengineering is highly controversial, and even proponents view it as a “Hail Mary” pass, to be considered only after all other options have failed.

But geoengineering presents more than just an environmental question. It also presents a geopolitical dilemma. With processes of this magnitude and degree of uncertainty, countries would inevitably argue over control, costs, and liability for mistakes. More troubling, however, is the possibility that states may decide to use geoengineering efforts and technologies as weapons. Two factors make this a danger we dismiss at our peril: the unequal impact of climate changes, and the ability of small states and even nonstate actors to attempt geoengineering.

For a variety of political and natural reasons, global warming affects some countries differently than others. Fragile economies and weak infrastructures tend to worsen the results of climate disruptions, a problem exemplified by Bangladesh’s vulnerability to monsoons, accelerating desertification in northern China, and, most visibly, Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans. At the same time, warming and altered rainfall patterns may—temporarily—improve conditions for countries in extreme latitudes, increasing harvests in Canada and Russia for a few years. Similarly, intentional changes meant to fight global warming would also have differential results.

At the same time, the resources required for geoengineering projects can vary dramatically. A start-up company called Climos and the government of India have each begun to prepare tests of “ocean iron fertilization” to boost oceanic phytoplankton blooms, in order to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, at a cost of just a few million dollars. At the other end of the spectrum, projects like the injection of megatons of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere to simulate the effects of a volcano would easily cost in the tens of billions of dollars—still within the means of most developed countries.

It’s this combination of differential impact and relatively low cost that makes international disputes over geoengineering almost inevitable. Even if there is broad consensus that geoengineering is too risky, research into environmental modification will happen simply out of self-preservation—nobody wants to fall behind. Moreover, it’s not hard to imagine some international actors seeing geoengineering as something other than solely a way of avoiding environmental disaster.

It wouldn’t be the first time states looked at the environment as a weapon. In the early 1970s, the Pentagon’s Project Popeye attempted to use cloud seeding to increase the strength of monsoons and bog down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In 1996, a group of Air Force and Army officers working with the Air Force 2025 program produced a document titled “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025” (it never went anywhere). The Soviet Union reputedly had similar projects underway. But although the idea of a geoengineering arms race may superficially parallel this line of thinking, it’s actually a very different concept. Unlike “weather warfare,” geoengineering would be subtle and long term, more a strategic project than a tactical weapon; moreover, unlike weather control, we know it can work, since we’ve been unintentionally changing the climate for decades.

The offensive use of geoengineering could take a variety of forms. Overproductive algae blooms can actually sterilize large stretches of ocean over time, effectively destroying fisheries and local ecosystems. Sulfur dioxide carries health risks when it cycles out of the stratosphere. One proposal would pull cooler water from the deep oceans to the surface in an explicit attempt to shift the trajectories of hurricanes. Some actors might even deploy counter-geoengineering projects to slow or alter the effects of other efforts.

The subtle, long-term aspects of geoengineering could make it appealing. Because the overt purpose of geoengineering would be to fight global warming, and because complex climate systems would make it hard to definitively blame a given project for harmful outcomes elsewhere, offensive uses would likely be hard to detect with certainty. And, in a world where nuclear deterrence remains strong but the value of conventional military force has come under question, states will look for alternative, unexpected ways of boosting their strategic power relative to competitors.

Despite the global impact of geoengineering, the differential climate patterns and the resilience of local technological, economic, and social infrastructures guarantees that some states will fare better than others. Much as Cold War nuclear strategists could argue about “winning” a nuclear war by having more survivors, advocates of a Global Warming War might see the United States, Western Europe, or Russia as better able to “ride out” climate disruption and manipulation than, say, China or the countries of the Middle East. It’s a new version of “thinking the unthinkable.”

Smart policies could lessen these risks. The 1977 Environmental Modification Convention, produced by the United Nations in response to Project Popeye, prohibits the use of engineered weather or environmental changes for military purposes; signatory countries may wish to look at ways of monitoring and enforcing this treaty. Outright banning of geoengineering research is highly unlikely, as it offers a last-ditch hope for staving off climate disaster. Instead, putting research into the hands of transparent, international bodies could reduce the temptation to “weaponize” geoengineering; internationalization could also help to spread the liability and costs, reducing one potential source of tension.

The best strategy to avoid the possible offensive use of geoengineering techniques, however, is twofold: First, embrace the social, economic, and technological changes necessary to avoid climate disaster before it’s too late; and second, expand the global environmental sensor and satellite networks allowing us to monitor ecosystem changes—and manipulation. This strategy may not reduce the temptation to look at geoengineering as an offensive capacity, but it would ensure that experiments and prototype efforts couldn’t readily be hidden under the cover of fighting climate change. We know all too well that the international contest for power will continue even in the face of a growing global threat. It would be a tragedy if, in seeking to avoid environmental catastrophe, we inadvertently enabled a new quest for geopolitical advantage. The risks of turning the Earth itself into a weapon are far too great.

Jamais Cascio is an environmental futurist and a fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. He blogs at Open the Future.

From Foreign Policy: How to Steal An Election Without Breaking a Sweat.

The List: How to Steal an Election Without Breaking a Sweat

Posted January 2008
From Abuja to Islamabad, autocratic regimes have become adept at manipulating “free and fair elections” to stay in power. Here’s how they do it—and how to stop them.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Control the process

How it’s done: It’s much easier to steal an election when there are fewer checks on executive power and no legal framework for resolving disputes. When the laws are vague, election commissions are often powerless to confront a powerful central leader. “When you have a partial constitution that doesn’t lay out the details of election law properly, that’s a problem,” says Chris Hennemeyer, director of African programs at the election-monitoring group IFES, adding, “It’s a tried-and-true technique to stack the electoral commission with your cronies.”

Real-world example: Kenya’s constitution invests an enormous amount of power in the executive branch. This allowed President Mwai Kibaki to create a vast system of patronage throughout the government based largely on tribal ties. The head of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, Samuel Kivuitu, has recently admitted that he was pressured by the president’s office to announce results before he could verify their authenticity.

How to stop it: An independent judicial branch that is capable of arbitrating electoral disputes without partisan pressure is a must. It also helps if polls are managed by independent election commissions rather than interior ministries.


Manipulate the media

How it’s done:In countries with little or no independent media outlets, opportunities are rife for leaders to use state-controlled media to broadcast propaganda or discredit the opposition. Crackdowns on independent media are also common in the run-up to elections.

Real-world example: In the months leading up to the recent presidential election in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government shut down Imedi TV, an opposition-friendly television station founded by one of the president’s rivals and managed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Footage of Saakashvili’s campaign appearances dominated news programs on state television. The incumbent went on to win handily in an election deemed fair by international observers.

How to stop it: The proliferation of Internet news sources and text messaging can make it harder to control the flow of information, a fact exploited by Ukrainian bloggers during that country’s “Orange Revolution.” However, as bloggers critical of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak learned this year, they are not immune to government crackdowns or jail time. There are low-tech solutions as well. Since World War II, the U.S. government’s Voice of America service has provided relatively unbiased information to citizens without access to free media.


Keep out the observers

How it’s done: In close elections, a popular technique is to identify which polling stations are likely to be swing votes and replace trained election officials with government loyalists at the last minute. If the official staff can be kept quiet for long enough, the deception won’t be discovered by the opposition until it’s too late. Another common technique is to threaten, blackmail, or discredit domestic election observers, or simply deny them access to polling stations, to give government loyalists space to do their work.

Real-world example: During the 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections, judges at individual polling stations made seemingly arbitrary decisions about whether to allow outside monitoring. The result? Some stations were monitored and some were not. Monitors were beaten by police in one southern city, and eight were arrested and released elsewhere. Those who were granted access recorded a litany of violations.

How to stop it: Observers from international organizations are harder to remove and less susceptible to threats from local law enforcement personnel. However, it is often impossible to bring in sufficient numbers of foreign staff to monitor every polling place, and even foreign observers often have trouble getting the access they need.


Misreport results

How it’s done: It’s not a slam dunk to cheat on the count at polling stations, since they are often monitored by international observers or civil-society groups. Unfortunately, official results are generally tabulated by officials at centralized locations away from public scrutiny, making deliberate miscounting all too easy. Another popular technique is to tabulate results from “ghost” voting stations, says Pat Merloe, director of electoral programs at the National Democratic Institute. This type of fraud can be risky. The public usually notices when officially reported results vastly differ from polling conducted prior to elections.

Real-world example: Nadia Diuk, senior director for Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), relays a tale from Azerbaijan’s 2000 elections: “The light went out in the room where the counting was to take place, and the flashlights of the observers just caught sight of a bundle of ballots sailing through the air to land on the counting table.”

How to stop it: In one innovative scheme, Kosovar democracy activists monitored polling places during assembly elections last November and used mobile phones to text unofficial results to a central server, creating a tally that could be compared to officially released results. As it turned out, the tally was within half a percent of the election commission’s own numbers.


Foster incompetence and chaos

How it’s done: “Arguably, Africa’s foremost election thieves have been the Nigerians, world famous for their 419 scams and oil-induced corruption,” says Dave Peterson, also at NED. The trick is to create so much chaos that nobody can say for sure who really won.

Real-world example: Nigeria’s 2007 national and state elections take the chaos prize. Ballots arrived late to polling stations, if at all, or were printed with missing or incorrect information. Polling places and procedures were changed at the last minute. With security lax, reports were rampant of militants harassing voters and youth gangs breaking into polling places and making off with ballot boxes. “One couldn’t say the government controlled the process as much as it simply sabotaged it,” Peterson says.

How to stop it: The best way to stop it, says Peterson, is once again to establish and fund a “genuinely independent electoral commission” that is responsible for ensuring that the process flows smoothly.


Resort to the crude stuff

How it’s done: “My old boss once said, ‘Only amateurs steal an election on election day,’” says Hennemeyer. Controlling the process itself is generally far more effective and difficult to prevent than blatantly stealing an election at the polling-station level. But if all else fails, some governments are still not above using such tried-and-true methods as intimidating voters and prospective candidates.

Real-world example: A favorite tactic in Egypt is to deploy riot police in strategic polling locations to keep out voters for the opposition Muslim Brotherhood—while state employees arrive in buses and are ushered in en masse. In 2005, a bloody showdown in the streets of Alexandria between government-backed thugs wielding machetes and Brotherhood supporters seeking to cast their votes became international news, embarrassing the regime.

How to stop it: Thankfully, this type of blatant election-stealing is less common than it used to be in many parts of the world. This is due less to governments’ becoming more honest than to increased vigilance by citizens’ groups and the media. Hennemeyer describes the changes he has seen in Africa: “While there were some horrible elections in Africa [in 2007], there were some pretty good ones too. It’s almost as if there’s a new generation of people who have woken up to the fact the Africans have been robbed of their political rights since independence.”

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The Shameful State of the Union.....

Links and forum to comment on this and other columns at:
http://www.multinat ionalmonitor. org/editorsblog

The Shameful State of the Union
By Robert Weissman
January 29, 2008

Here's one thing everyone should be able to agree upon from George
Bush's State of the Union address: "We have unfinished business before

Apart from that, it's a little difficult to credit much of what he said.

"So long as we continue to trust the people, our nation will prosper,
our liberty will be secure, and the state of our Union will remain
strong," he concluded.

But the state of our Union is anything but strong. Consider these

1. The United States is spending more than $700 billion a year on the

The 2008 appropriations bills include $506.9 billion for the Department
of Defense and the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of
Energy, plus an additional $189.4 billion for military operations in
Iraq and Afghanistan. [1]

Other military funding is located in the Department of Homeland Security
and other agencies.

Congress has approved nearly $700 billion to fight the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq. This is the appropriated amount. It doesn't
include costs to society -- loss of life, injuries, etc. The amount
spent on war-fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq now exceeds the
inflation-adjusted amount spent on the Vietnam War. [2]

The United States accounts for roughly half of the world's military
expenditures. [3]

Depending on how you count, more than half of all discretionary federal
spending is now directed to the military. [4]

2. Wealth is concentrating in the United States at a startling rate.

So startling, in fact, it is very hard to get your head around the
statistics. Notes Sam Pizzigati of the invaluable online newsletter Too
Much: In 2004, the richest 1 percent in the United States held over $2.5
trillion more in net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

The concentration of wealth and income reflects a major shift over the
last three decades in how the United States shares its earnings. In
1976, the top 1 percent of the population received 8.83 percent of
national income. In 2005, they grabbed 21.93 percent. [5]

3. Compensation for CEOs and Wall Street financiers is out of control

The average CEO from a Fortune 500 company now makes 364 times an
average worker’s pay, reports the Institute of Policy Studies. This is
up from a 40-to-1 ratio in 1980. [6]

But the managers of businesses that make things and deliver
non-financial services aren't making the truly big money these days. In
the hyper-financialized economy, it's the finance guys who are getting
truly rich.

And they're getting rich despite the huge losses being wracked up on
Wall Street. Bonuses for those toiling on Wall Street totaled $33.2
billion in 2007, down just 2 percent, according to New York state
comptroller' s office. Overall compensation and benefits at seven of the
Street's biggest firms totaled $122 billion, up 10 percent since 2006 --
even though net overall revenue for these firms fell 6 percent. [7]

But even the traditional investment banks can't match the outrageous
compensation captured by private equity and hedge fund managers, a few
of whom manage to pull in more than $1 billion in a single year. Thanks
to a tax loophole, these characters pay income tax at a rate less than
half of what a dentist making $200,000 a year pays.

4. Corporations are capturing more of the nation's wealth.

Corporate profits amounted to 8 percent of GDP over the last decade,
Business Week reports, up from 6.5 percent in the early 1990s. [8]

5. The housing bubble and the subprime mortgage meltdown are driving
millions of families from their homes.

The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that 2.2 million subprime
home loans made in recent years have already failed or will end in
foreclosure. Homeowners will lose $164 billion from these foreclosures,
the Center projects. [9] Overall losses from deflated housing values may
top $2 trillion. One in five subprime mortgages originated during the
past two years is likely to end in foreclosure.

6. The racial wealth divide remains a chasm with little prospect of
being bridged -- and is likely growing worse.

At the rate the wealth divide closed between 1982 and 2004, it would
take 594 more years for African Americans to achieve parity with whites,
according to United for a Fair Economy. But the subprime debacle is
hitting minority communities disproportionately hard, causing what
United for a Fair Economy believes may be the worst deprivation of
people of color's wealth in modern U.S. history. [10]

7. Women continue to be paid far less than men.

The ratio of the annual averages of women’s and men’s median weekly
earnings was 80.8 for full-time workers in 2006, according to the
Institute for Women's Policy Research. Progress in closing the gender
wage gap has slowed considerably since 1990. The gender wage ratio for
annual earnings increased by 11.4 percentage points from 1980 to 1990,
but added only 5.4 percentage points over the next 15 years. [11]

8. More than one in six children live in poverty.

Is there a worse indictment of the richest society in history? The
official U.S. poverty rate was 12.3 percent for 2006. The rate for
children was 17.4 percent. The official poverty line is absurdly low. As
defined by the Office of Management and Budget the average poverty
threshold for a family of four in 2006 was $20,614. For an individual,
it was $10,294. [12]

9. More than 45 million people in the United States do not have health

According to the Census Bureau, 47 million were uninsured in 2006, 15.8
percent of the population. [13]

10. The U.S. trade deficit is more than 5 percent of the gross domestic

The 2006 U.S. trade deficit totaled $763.6 billion. [14] The trade
deficit will eventually have to be balanced -- sooner than later, it now
seems. As the dollar continues to swoon, expect to see inflation and
higher interest rates over the medium term. The real standard of living,
in economic terms, will decline as a result.

11. U.S. fuel efficiency is worse now than it was two decades ago.

The average fuel economy of today’s U.S. car and truck fleet is 25.3
miles per gallon, reports the Union of Concerned Scientists, lower than
the 25.9 mpg fleet average in 1987. Regulatory standards have not
changed (though a modest increase is mandated by the energy bill passed
in 2007), and more SUVs and light truck are on the road. [15]

12. The nation's infrastructure is crumbling.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $1.6 trillion is
needed over a five-year period to bring the nation's infrastructure to
good condition. [16]

13. More than two million people in the United States are locked in

What a colossal waste of human talent. 2,258,983 prisoners were held in
Federal or State prisons or in local jails, at the end of 2006, an
increase of 2.9 percent from 2005. The prison population has grown 3.4
percent annually since 1995. African-American males are imprisoned at a
rate 6.5 times higher than white males, Latino males almost 3 times
higher than whites. [17]

Most of these conditions are worse now than at the start of the Bush
administration, many dramatically worse. But they have their roots in a
bipartisan policy approach over the last three decades, favoring
deregulation, handover of government assets to corporations
(privatization) , corporate globalization, hyper-financializat ion,
lunatic military expenditures, tax cuts for the rich and a slashed
social safety net.

If the United States is to see "real change" -- and actually strengthen
the state of the Union -- there will have to be a reversal of these

[1] Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation,

http://www.armscont rolcenter. org/policy/ securityspending /articles/ analysis_ c110_conf_ 1585/

[2] Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation,

http://www.armscont rolcenter. org/policy/ securityspending /articles/ analysis_ c110_s_2764_ war_bridge/

[3] SIPRI Yearbook 2007, Stockholm International Peace Research
Institute, http://yearbook2007

[4] War Resisters League, http://www.warresis piechart. htm

[5] Too Much, http://www.cipa- toomuch/inequali ty.html

[6] Executive Excess 2007, Institute for Policy Studies,
http://www.ips- #84

[7] Tomoeh Murakami Tse and Renae Merle, The Bonuses Keep Coming, The
Washington Post, January 29, 2008,

http://www.washingt wp-dyn/content/ article/2008/ 01/28/AR20080128 02561.html

[8] Michael Mandel, How Real Was the Prosperity, Business Week, January
23 2008, magazine/ content/08_ 05/b406900001669 1.htm?chan= magazine+ channel_special+ report%3A+ market+reckoning

[9] Center for Responsible Lending, Losing Ground: Foreclosures in the
Subprime Market and Their Cost to Homeowners,

http://www.responsi blelending. org/issues/ mortgage/ research/ page.jsp? itemID=31217189

[10] Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008, United for a Fair Economy,

http://www.fairecon racial_wealth_ divide/foreclose d_state_of_ the_dream_ 2008_0

[11] Institute for Women's Policy Research, The Gender Wage Ratio:
Women's And Men's Earnings, http://www.iwpr. org/index. cfm

[12] http://www.census. gov/hhes/ www/poverty/ poverty06/ tables06. html

[13] http://www.census. gov/hhes/ www/hlthins/ hlthin06/ hlth06asc. html

[14] http://www.census. gov/foreign- trade/statistics /highlights/ annual.html

[15] Union of Concerned Scientists, Fuel Economy Basics,

http://www.ucsusa. org/clean_ vehicles/ fuel_economy/ questions- and-answers- on-fuel-economy. html

[16] American Society of Civil Engineers, Report Card for America's
Infrastructure, http://www.asce. org/reportcard/ 2005/index. cfm

[17] US DOJ, Office of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics
http://www.ojp. bjs/prisons. htm

Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational
Monitor, <http://www.multinat ionalmonitor. org> and director of Essential
Action <http://www.essentia>.

(c) Robert Weissman

This article is posted at:
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Mercury Shows Its True Colors

Mercury Shows Its True Colors

Release Date: January 30, 2008

MESSENGER's Wide Angle Camera (WAC), part of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), is equipped with 11 narrow-band color filters. As the spacecraft receded from Mercury after making its closest approach on January 14, 2008, the WAC recorded a 3x3 mosaic covering part of the planet not previously seen by spacecraft. The color image shown here was generated by combining the mosaics taken through the WAC filters that transmit light at wavelengths of 1000 nanometers (infrared), 700 nanometers (far red), and 430 nanometers (violet). These three images were placed in the red, green, and blue channels, respectively, to create the visualization presented here. The human eye is sensitive only across the wavelength range from about 400 to 700 nanometers. Creating a false-color image in this way accentuates color differences on Mercury's surface that cannot be seen in black-and-white (single-color) images.

Color differences on Mercury are subtle, but they reveal important information about the nature of the planet's surface material. A number of bright spots with a bluish tinge are visible in this image. These are relatively recent impact craters. Some of the bright craters have bright streaks (called "rays" by planetary scientists) emanating from them. Bright features such as these are caused by the presence of freshly crushed rock material that was excavated and deposited during the highly energetic collision of a meteoroid with Mercury to form an impact crater. The large circular light-colored area in the upper right of the image is the interior of the Caloris basin. Mariner 10 viewed only the eastern (right) portion of this enormous impact basin, under lighting conditions that emphasized shadows and elevation differences rather than brightness and color differences. MESSENGER has revealed that Caloris is filled with smooth plains that are brighter than the surrounding terrain, hinting at a compositional contrast between these geologic units. The interior of Caloris also harbors several unusual dark-rimmed craters, which are visible in this image. The MESSENGER science team is working with the 11-color images in order to gain a better understanding of what minerals are present in these rocks of Mercury's crust.

The diameter of Mercury is about 4880 kilometers (3030 miles). The image spatial resolution is about 2.5 kilometers per pixel (1.6 miles/pixel). The WAC departure mosaic sequence was executed by the spacecraft from approximately 19:45 to 19:56 UTC on January 14, 2008, when the spacecraft was moving from a distance of roughly 12,800 to 16,700 km (7954 to 10377 miles) from the surface of Mercury.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

“The Spider” – Radial Troughs within Caloris

“The Spider” – Radial Troughs within Caloris

Release Date:
January 30, 2008

The Narrow Angle Camera of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) on the MESSENGER spacecraft obtained high-resolution images of the floor of the Caloris basin on January 14, 2008. Near the center of the basin, an area unseen by Mariner 10, this remarkable feature – nicknamed “the spider” by the science team – was revealed. A set of troughs radiates outward in a geometry unlike anything seen by Mariner 10. The radial troughs are interpreted to be the result of extension (breaking apart) of the floor materials that filled the Caloris basin after its formation. Other troughs near the center form a polygonal pattern. This type of polygonal pattern of troughs is also seen along the interior margin of the Caloris basin. An impact crater about 40 km (~25 miles) in diameter appears to be centered on “the spider.” The straight-line segments of the crater walls may have been influenced by preexisting extensional troughs, but some of the troughs may have formed at the time that the crater was excavated.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

First Laser Altimetry for Mercury

First Laser Altimetry for Mercury

Release Date: January 30, 2008

At top center is the first laser altimeter profile of Mercury’s topography, taken by MESSENGER’s Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) instrument during the spacecraft’s flyby of Mercury on January 14, 2008. At bottom center is the MLA ground projected onto a mosaic of radar images obtained by Harmon and others at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The interval during which MESSENGER was sufficiently close to the planet to be within measurement range of the MLA was when the spacecraft was on the night side, so there are no corresponding images of this region acquired by MESSENGER during this flyby; this region was also unseen by Mariner 10. The length of the profile is about 3200 km (about 2000 miles), and the dynamic range in elevation across the profile is about 5 km (about 3 miles). The profile sampled numerous craters and basins. The vertical exaggeration in the figure is 105:1.

At top left is a photograph of the MLA flight unit.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Cornell University/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

MESSENGER Mission News - 30 January 2008

MESSENGER Mission News
January 30, 2008

Surprises Stream back from Mercury's MESSENGER

After a journey of more than 2.2 billion miles and three and a half years, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft made its first flyby of Mercury just after 2 PM Eastern Standard Time on January 14, 2008. All seven scientific instruments worked flawlessly, producing a stream of surprises that is amazing and delighting the science team. The 1,213 images conclusively show that the planet is a lot less like the Moon than many previously thought, with features unique to this innermost world. The puzzling magnetosphere appears to be very different from what Mariner 10 discovered and first sampled almost 34 years ago.

“This flyby allowed us to see a part of the planet never before viewed by spacecraft, and our little craft has returned a gold mine of exciting data,” stated Sean Solomon, Principal Investigator and the Director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “From the perspectives of spacecraft performance and maneuver accuracy, this encounter was near-perfect, and we are delighted that all of the science data are now on the ground. The science team appreciates that this mission required a complex flight trajectory and a spacecraft that can withstand the intense thermal environment near the Sun. Without the hundreds of engineers and technicians at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and all of the partner organizations who designed, assembled, tested, and now operate the spacecraft, we would not have been able to make any of the scientific observations now in hand.”

“MESSENGER has shown that Mercury is even more different from the Moon than we’d thought,” said Science Team Co-Investigator James Head, professor at Brown University and chair of the mission’s Geology Discipline Group. The tiny spacecraft discovered a unique feature that the scientists dubbed, “The Spider.” This type of formation has never been seen on Mercury before, and nothing like it has been observed on the Moon. It is in the middle of the Caloris basin and consists of over a hundred narrow, flat-floored troughs (called graben) radiating from a complex central region. “The Spider” has a crater near its center, but whether that crater is related to the original formation or came later is not clear at this time.

Unlike the Moon, Mercury also has huge cliffs or scarps, structures snaking up to hundreds of miles across the planet’s face, tracing patterns of fault activity from early in Mercury’s—and the solar system’s—history. The high density and small size of Mercury combine to provide a surface gravity about 38% that of Earth and almost exactly the same as that of Mars, which is some 40% larger than Mercury in diameter (2.7 times Mercury’s volume). Because gravity is stronger on Mercury than on the Moon, impact craters appear very different from lunar craters; material ejected during impact on Mercury falls closer to the rim and many more secondary crater chains are present.

“We have seen new craters along the terminator on the side of the planet viewed by Mariner 10 where the illumination of the MESSENGER images revealed very subtle features. Technological advances that have been incorporated in MESSENGER are effectively revealing an entirely new planet from what we saw over 30 years ago,” said Science Team Co-Investigator Robert Strom, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona and the only member of both the MESSENGER and Mariner 10 science teams.

Now that MESSENGER has shown scientists the full extent of the Caloris basin, its diameter has been revised upward from the Mariner 10 estimate of 800 miles to perhaps as large as 960 miles (about 1550 kilometers) from rim crest to rim crest. The plains inside the Caloris basin are distinctive and have a higher reflectance —-albedo—-than the exterior plains, the opposite characteristics from many lunar impact basins such as the Imbrium basin on the Moon, yet another new mystery for Mercury. This finding could be the result of several processes—-when the basin was formed by a large impact, deeper material may have been excavated that contributed to impact melt now preserved on the basin floor; alternatively, the basin interior may have been volcanically resurfaced by magma produced deep in Mercury’s crust or mantle subsequent to the impact. The science team is eagerly exploring the possibilities.

“MESSENGER found that Mercury’s intrinsic magnetic field is almost identical to what it was 30 years ago. After correcting for the contribution from the solar wind interaction, the mean dipole has the same intensity to within a few percent and has the same slight tilt. The search is now on for structure in the internal field to identify its source,” said Brian Anderson, the Magnetometer (MAG) instrument scientist.

Magnetic fields like Earth’s, and their resultant magnetospheres, are generated by electrical dynamos operating deep in the planet in a liquid metallic outer core. Of the four terrestrial planets, only Mercury and Earth—the smallest and largest—exhibit such a structure. The magnetic field stands off the solar wind from the Sun, in effect producing a protective bubble around Earth that, with the Earth’s thick atmosphere, shields the surface of our planet from sporadic energetic particles from the Sun and the more constant and more energetic cosmic rays from farther out in the galaxy. Earth’s magnetic field does not stay the same; it moves around and the poles periodically flip, over geologic ages, changing the exposure of the surface to these dangerous particles. Similar variations are expected for Mercury’s field, but the nature of its field-producing dynamo and the times between the corresponding changes are unknown at this time.

The next two flybys and the yearlong orbital phase will shed more light on this surprise. Mercury’s global magnetic field has been a particular puzzle to scientists. The planet’s small size should have resulted in the cooling and solidification of a liquid core long ago, quenching any dynamo activity. How this small world continues to maintain a magnetic field has been a major conundrum to planetary scientists. Solving this puzzle will help understand the history of Earth’s magnetic field and why there are no modern global magnetic fields at Venus and Mars.

Ultraviolet emissions detected by the Ultraviolet and Visible Spectrometer (UVVS) segment of the Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS) clearly showed sodium, calcium, and hydrogen in Mercury’s exosphere (an atmosphere that is so thin that atoms comprising it rarely, if ever, collide).There is an abundance of sodium in an exospheric “tail” extending in an approximately antisunward direction from the planet by over 25,000 miles (40,000 km). During the MESSENGER flyby, there was a strong north-south asymmetry in the density of both sodium and hydrogen in Mercury’s tail, perhaps a signature of the dynamic state at the time of the interaction of the solar wind with Mercury’s magnetosphere and surface.

The suite of instruments that measured, for the first time, the elemental and mineralogical composition of Mercury’s surface include the X-Ray Spectrometer (XRS), the Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer (GRNS), and the Visible and Infrared Spectrograph VIRS) portion of MASCS. They all operated as planned. Despite the fast flyby, the GRNS acquired observations vital to the interpretation of measurements that will be made during the orbital phase. XRS relies on the Sun’s X-ray output to produce fluorescence in Mercury’s surface elements, so the increase in solar activity when MESSENGER nears and enters the orbital phase of the mission will improve the resolution of the XRS for elemental remote sensing. Detailed analysis of spectra from VIRS, along with the color images, has just begun to provide insight into the mineralogical makeup of surface materials along the spacecraft’s ground track.

The Mercury Laser Altimeter also worked flawlessly, providing a topographic profile of craters and other geological features along the spacecraft’s flight path at all altitudes less than about 930 miles (1500 km) on the night side of the planet. Precise tracking and signal acquisition following the occultation of the spacecraft by the planet, in the minutes just prior to closest approach, enabled the acquisition of new information on the long-wavelength variations in the planet’s gravitational field. In turn, these results will shed light on the size of Mercury’s dense metallic core.

“But,” says Project Scientist Ralph McNutt of APL, “we should keep this treasure trove of data in perspective. With two flybys yet to come and an intensive orbital mission to follow, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’”

The Carnegie Institution ( has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of the Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and after flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury will start a yearlong study of its target planet in March 2011. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, leads the mission as principal investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.

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