Nine Rings, Seven, Three, One … None?…also, Far Out, Man…

Time to catch up on some Solar System news!

Saturn is the gateway drug for an addiction to the night sky.

Alas, in a mere 300 million years from now, it maybe less of an astronomy evangelist than it is now, assuming that our lineage has left any descendent species to kvell at the cosmos:

Saturn’s icy rings are among the most iconic features in the solar system. But they’re raining so much water onto the planet…they could rain themselves nearly out of existence, leaving Saturn startlingly ringless.

“What we’re seeing is something on the order of about a ton and a half per second,” said James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., who reports the conclusions Monday in the journal Icarus. [links in the original]

This is, to be sure, a first estimate, and it is one made in the face of substantial unknowns:

Assuming a constant rate of ring rain — which Dr. Spilker said is a substantial unknown — the team calculated that Saturn’s rings could mostly shed themselves into oblivion within 300 million years.

“It’s not out of the question,I would say, that the rings might degrade on this kind of time scale,” said Jeff Cuzzi of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., who was not involved in the research.

But, he added, “it doesn’t mean that if you come back, there would just be nothing there.” The rate at which the rings might waste away depends not only on how much material is still in the rings, but on other physical forces, Saturn’s shifting seasons and the way in which ring material is replenished.

There is some evidence pointing towards a yet more swift destruction of the rings, but the basic message is that beauty is ephemeral, no matter where you look.

In other news, the outer solar system is growing ever more crowded, and some of those who study it may be showing their age, or at least the timing of the acquisition of their formative vocabulary:

A newly discovered object is the most-distant body ever observed in the solar system — and the first object ever found orbiting at more than 100 times the distance from Earth to the sun…

Formally, this new solar companion has a very prim an proper name:

…Its provisional designation from the International Astronomical Union is 2018 VG18.

The new dwarf planet is distant enough that very little is known about it besides its existence.

“All that we currently know about 2018 VG18 is its extreme distance from the sun, its approximate diameter, and its color,” David Tholen, a researcher at the University of Hawaii and part of the discovery team, said in a statement. “Because 2018 VG18 is so distant, it orbits very slowly, likely taking more than 1,000 years to take one trip around the Sun.”

It’s a blank canvas, in other words, on which its observers allowed memories of perhaps well-misspent youths to play:

The discovery team nicknamed the object “Farout”…

…which is appropriate, given the borderlands location in which it abides:

Farout is 120 astronomical units (AU) from the sun — one AU is the distance between Earth and the sun, which is about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers). The object is more than 3.5 times the current distance between Pluto and the sun (34 AU), and it outpaces the previous farthest-known solar system object, the dwarf planet Eris, which is currently about 96 AU from the sun. NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft recently entered interstellar space at about 120 AU, leaving the sun’s “sphere of influence” called the heliopause, where bodies experience the solar wind.

I can think of some American political actors for whom this would make an ideal vacation destination.  As the saying goes…I’ve got a little list.

Anyway, despite the best efforts of our Republican friends and the MAGAt apocaplyse, humankind, and the US government, are capable of some great things, as above. There are days when I cling to that thought.

Open thread, y’all.

Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute, Saturn eclipse mosaic2013

Aokokoro Mandelbrot set image number 8, 2009 — going for the feeling, ya know?

Open Thread: A Prayer for All Times…

Ever find yourself missing the feeling of communal optimism?…

Late Night Happy Fantasies Open Thread: To the MOON, and BEYOND!

If you have a spare billion lying around, why *not* make a bet that in five years (or ten, whenever, ya skeptic) you’ll be in a position to be the very first space tourist? And if you can afford that bet, why not bring your own hand-picked entourage of professional artists to write up your adventures? Like Marco Polo, but without the nasty medieval bits!…

SpaceX said Monday night that it would send Yusaku Maezawa, a billionaire entrepreneur from Japan, on a trip around the moon in 2023 aboard the company’s yet-to-be-built rocket. And Maezawa won’t be flying alone. Joining him will be six to eight artists, chosen from a pool of painters, photographers, musicians, film directors, fashion designers, and architects from around the world.

“Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the moon,” Maezawa said. “This is my lifelong dream.”…

Maezawa and his fellow passengers will fly on the BFR, a massive launch vehicle capable of carrying several passengers, which SpaceX hopes will someday carry people to Mars. (Some SpaceX officials refer to the BFR as the Big Falcon Rocket; Musk has sometimes switched out Falcon with an expletive.) The BFR, which Musk first described in 2016, is still under development…

Maezawa is the founder of Zozotown, Japan’s largest online fashion mall. His net worth is $2.9 billion, according to Forbes. He is an avid art collector, and in 2016 he spent $80 million on paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Pablo Picasso, two artists he cited as inspirations during Monday’s event.

Maezawa declined to say how much the BFR ride will cost him, but Musk added, “It’s going to be free for the artists.”…

Would’ve been a happier event, at least for Zozotown’s publicity department, if the SpaceX CEO hadn’t just been cited in a defamation case on the very same day. But that coincidence did lead to one of the best PopeHat openers ever…

Repub Grifters Gonna Grift… To Infinity, and Beyond!

Should’ve known there was more to Lord Smallgloves’ sudden emotional investment in SPACE! FARCE! than selling a few branded tchotches. Per the LA Times:

The concept had been pushed unsuccessfully since 2016 by a small group of current and former government officials, some with deep financial ties to the aerospace industry, who see creation of the sixth military service as a surefire way to hike Pentagon spending on satellite and other space systems.

Still, when Trump abruptly embraced the idea at Miramar — and began promoting it to wild applause at other rallies — a moribund notion opposed by much of the Pentagon hierarchy and senior members of the Senate became a real possibility.

A few days after the San Diego speech, Trump took a phone call at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida from Rep. Mike D. Rogers, an Alabama Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces. He had been promoting the space force to Trump and his advisors for months.

“This is something we have to do,” Rogers said he told Trump. “It’s a national security imperative.”

“I’m all in,” Trump replied, according to Rogers. “We are going to have a space force.”…

Last summer, Rogers and Cooper inserted an amendment in the annual defense policy bill to create a separate service they called the space corps. It would be part of the Air Force, just as the Marine Corps is technically in the Navy.

But Rogers worried that putting it in the Air Force might not fly. The Air Force is dominated by fliers more interested in warplanes than in outer space, he noted in a speech last year, explaining Air Force opposition to a separate service…

Rogers, who was first elected to Congress by a razor-thin margin in 2002, has solidified control of his rural district, with a campaign war chest swelled with money from the aerospace industry. Defense industry firms have contributed $395,000 to his campaign committee and leadership PAC since 2017, becoming by far his largest industry donor, according to Open Secrets, a campaign spending database.
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Late Night Mockery Open Thread: SPACE. FARCE.

I was pleased that, on its national segment Thursday evening, ABC News made it clear that Trump’s new! improved! separate but equal! (yes, he said that) Space Force was (a) impossible without an act of Congress; and (b) intended, for the moment, to sell logo-branded gear to Trump supporters. Can’t stop the Grifter-in-Chief from fleecing his deplorables, but at least we stop pretending it’s anything but a short-term distraction…

WARNING: If you don’t ‘get’ this last one, here is the Urban Dictionary definition you need. For the sake of your nightmares, do *not* google the word itself!