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He holds the laptop like that on purpose, to make you cringe.
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What our future looks like to an outsider [Starts With A Bang]

"At the last dim horizon, we search among ghostly errors of observations for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. The urge is older than history. It is not satisfied and it will not be oppressed." -Edwin Hubble
It still boggles my mind that a scant 100 years ago, many of the greatest astronomers and physicists of the day still thought that the Milky Way was the only galaxy in the entire Universe. It wasn't until the 1920s that Edwin Hubble definitively showed that the great Andromeda Nebula was actually a separate galaxy from our own.

09-01-2008_Andromeda_3.jpeg

(Image credit: Rogelio Bernal Andreo.)

We now know that Andromeda is not only the closest large galaxy to the Milky Way, but it's also moving towards us. In fact, it's estimated that in the next few billion years, the Andromeda galaxy and our own Milky Way are going to merge together in a great galactic collision.

"What's that going to look like," you may wonder.

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(Image credit: Cumbrian Sky.)

Well to us, inside our galaxy, other than the constellations changing slightly more quickly than they do now, and the extra bursts of star formation and supernovae that accompany major galaxy mergers, we won't have anything all that out of the ordinary happen. The odds that even one of Andromeda's stars, for example, will come within Pluto's orbit of our Sun are something like one-in-ten-million.

But to someone outside our galaxy, if they had the ability to watch the collision for hundreds of millions of years, they would indeed see something spectacular.

heic0810ac.jpeg

(Image credit: Hubble Space Telescope, NASA, STScI and ESA.)

They would witness one of the Universe's great catastrophes: the merger of two roughly equal sized, large galaxies. Despite the fact that Andromeda is (slightly) larger than our own galaxy, we are significant enough that the great spiral structure in both galaxies is pretty much bound to be destroyed over the course of this cosmic trainwreck.

But rather than simply show you a succession of images that might represent what these two great galaxies will do, I can do you one better. Because what we've been able to do -- with our understanding of galaxies, gas, dust, and dark matter -- is to simulate in great detail what this collision is going to look like. And what we find, at many different steps along the way, is that there are interacting galaxies throughout the Universe that look an awful lot like what our simulations show. Have a look at this mind-boggling video, courtesy of New Scientist.

(Above video and below images credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team/STScI/AURA/A Evans/University of Virginia/NRAO/Stony Brook University/K Noll/J Westphal.)

Of course, I wouldn't simply leave you out there, on your own, without finding out all the information about these Hubble images of interacting galaxies, where they come from, and what they mean for us. Let's have a look at what we just saw!

hs-2008-16-ab-xlarge_web.jpeg

Interacting galaxy pair UGC 9618 shows two spiral galaxies at severe angles to one another in the very early stages of interaction. The two disks are still quite separate from one another, but both galaxies are extremely bright in the infrared, as the gravitational interaction between the two galaxies causes an extreme increase in star formation throughout the entire system. In fact, the star formation rate for each entire galaxy is comparable to that found in the most vigorous, active, giant star forming regions in the Milky Way.

And they haven't even collided yet.

heic0810ae.jpeg

But later on, the two disks will begin to merge with one another, creating a sight much like that of interacting galaxies Arp 148. Shocks tens of thousands of light years in size could easily cause matter to blow outwards, perhaps even creating a brief ring-shape, as Arp 148 has. Large, galactic-sized obscuring regions that will appear as dust lanes in visible light (but that will glow brightly in the infrared) will exist in great abundance, as the star formation rate will increase above anything currently seen in our galaxy.

And then the real fun begins.

hs-2008-16-ak-xlarge_web.jpeg

Because once that first pass-through of these two galaxies occurs, that spiral shape you know and love is ruined like a great galactic taffy-pull. Just like interacting galaxy ESO 77-14, a bridge of stars and gas will connect the galaxies, and the great dust lanes will be dead giveaways of just how distorted -- in three-dimensions, not just two -- these galaxies have become. Bright blue and red colors, evidence of hot young stars and ionized, star-forming regions, respectively, will both appear in abundance. While this particular pair of interacting galaxies is of slightly lower mass than the Milky Way and Andromeda, the physics largely remains unchanged.

And then, they head back towards each other once again.

hs-2008-16-cg-xlarge_web.jpeg

The huge arms will become even more extensive, curved, and warp, and may even U-turn back in on themselves, as they do for merging galaxy pair VV 705. Shown roughly mid-way through a merger, these flailing arms stretch more than twice the length of either original galaxy.

But despite the distortion and the chaos of the merging process, at the end of the day, gravity will have the final say.

hs-2008-16-au-xlarge_web.jpeg

As ESO 148-2 begins to show, the two cores will eventually merge together into one new core, the vast majority of the matter strewn about in the collision will settle down and recollapse back onto the new, even more massive object, and over time, this will likely settle into a giant elliptical galaxy.

And so, you might ask, where did all these great Hubble images of interacting galaxies come from? And where can you get more of them?

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Three years ago, back when Hubble turned 18 (!), it took 59 deep, high-resolution images of interacting galaxies, which are all freely available to download, thanks to the Hubble Heritage team!

And so even though we -- and all life on Earth -- won't be around to see it, we can still know what the future of our Milky Way holds. Even when, well, it's going to be less than 50% Milky Way! And that's what our future will look like to an outsider.

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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Do something

These debt ceiling negotiations are driving all of us crazy. But it might help to take some action. Here's one thing you can do tomorrow, sponsored by the Social Security Works group:

ACT NOW! Your voice needs to be heard.

Social Security faces an immediate threat from politicians in Washington. They want to:

Cut Social Security’s COLA to reduce the deficit. But Social Security doesn’t contribute a penny to the deficit.

Raid Social Security to give corporations a tax break, jeopardizing the Social Security benefits you and 54 million other Americans rely on. Corporations shouldn’t get another handout.

We can stop these cuts and this raiding of Social Security. Join thousands of Americans calling their U.S. Senators today to stop this outrage.

Call your Senators RIGHT NOW at 1-866-251-4044. Simply follow the prompts to connect to them. It only takes a minute.

Tell the person in the Senate office who answers the phone: I am a voter/constituent living in [your city and state]. I am calling to tell the Senator:
NO CUTS TO SOCIAL SECURITY!
NO CUTS TO SOCIAL SECURITY’S COLA!
NO SOCIAL SECURITY PAYROLL TAX HOLIDAY!

Call Today: 1-866-251-4044.

AFTER YOU CALL:

Spread the word through Facebook and Twitter.

Stay involved, the threat to Social Security continues. Please click to stay involved in the fight.


It can't hurt.

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More Misguided Budget-Cutting: WIC Nutrition Assistance [The Pump Handle]

Sharon Astyk at Casaubon's Book has a great post up about the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, or WIC, which is now on the budgetary chopping block. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that an appropriations bill approved by the House would result in WIC turning away 300,000 - 450,000 low-income women and children eligible for its assistance next year.

WIC serves groups that are at nutritional risk and at a stage when proper nutrition is especially important: children up to age five and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum. Beneficiaries get vouchers to purchase specific foods that provide important nutrients - iron-fortified cereal, fruits and vegetables, milk, canned fish, bread, etc. The program also provides nutrition education and breastfeeding promotion and support. Because WIC is a federal grant program that provides funds to state WIC agencies, there's some state-to-state variation in all of this.

Sharon discusses some of WIC's shortcomings but points out that the program has important benefits -- and that the right thing to do is improve the program, not cut its funding:

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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“Do you like gladiator movies, Joey?”

"Do you like gladiator movies, Joey?"

by digby




They can't help it. Remember this?

The analogy between the war on terror and the death struggle of ancient Greece with Persia has not been lost on some high administration officials either, especially Vice President Dick Cheney. (A White House spokesman declined to comment about the film.) In the months after 9/11, a classics scholar named Victor Davis Hanson wrote a series of powerful pieces for the National Review Online, later collected and published as a book, "An Autumn of War." Moved by Hanson's evocative essays, Cheney invited Hanson to dine with him and talk about the wars the Greeks waged against the Asian hordes, in defense of justice and reason, two and a half millennia ago.

And this?

The mind set reflected in the reviews of "300" suggest that the reviewers, with their apparent discomfort with the open expression of defiant aggression expressed in the movie, are too sophisticated to partake, even vicariously, in the Spartan heroics. It is unclear whether the pacifist left would ever fight, even to save themselves, let alone to save the civilization that they cannot imagine is under siege. If the sophisticates of Athens had refused to pick up the sword, they would have been dead or enslaved. Our modern day sophisticated Athenians of the MSM who refuse to wield their weapons, their pens and computers, in the service of Western Civilization, have already shown their willingness to live as slaves. After all, what did the Danish cartoon saga tell us except that the members of the elites in Academia, Hollywood, and the MSM are willing to offer up their free speech rights in obeisance to the barbarians at the gates.

"300" resonates because Americans have not yet shown themselves so willing to live as slaves as their "betters" in the effete elites.

They do love their gladiator movies.

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Adobe unleashes Flash Player 11 beta, now with 7.1 surround sound

Adobe unleashes Flash Player 11 Beta for Desktops, now with 7.1 surround sound
Another day, another beta. Adobe's latest beta release of its desktop Flash Player -- that's version 11 -- is now available for your downloading pleasure. This particular build brings with it Stage3D APIs, for "advanced" 2D and 3D rendering, 64-bit support, H.264 encoding, and 7.1 surround sound. We're just hoping number 11 won't bring all the flaws and subsequent fixes that have plagued previous versions. For more details, and to download the the latest beta, click the source link below.

Adobe unleashes Flash Player 11 beta, now with 7.1 surround sound originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 14 Jul 2011 18:32:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Making the hard choices (to cut spending only on the wrong people.)

Let that debt ceiling collapse on top of everyone. It's no biggie. Really.

Three Republican lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill urging the White House to prioritize who gets paid first if Washington fails to raise the debt ceiling by the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Obama administration.
[...]
The task of determining what is a luxury and what is an essential payment is a difficult one. The bill introduced Wednesday by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, sets two top-tier priorities -- the proposal would mandate the government take care of its debt payments and military salaries before anything else.

"There's money that comes in, there's revenue that comes in. ... And of that, we want to make sure that we keep our promises," King said. "We pay our military first because they're the ones that protect the security and the liberty of the American people. ... Their lives are on the line."

That makes sense to me. What else do Republicans really care about but war and bond holders?

Actually, they assume Social Security payments will go out. And Medicare. And Medicaid and well ...

"We're just calling on the president to assume the role of CEO and prioritize accordingly," Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) said at a press conference on the issue. Participants repeatedly accused Obama of trying to "scare seniors" by suggesting Social Security payments might be suspended in the wake of a default crisis.

One reporter shouted a question as to whether things like, say, keeping criminals in federal prisons or securing the border might also be added to the list.

"They're all priorities," Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). "As our colleagues here have said, we need to keep our promises and the money is there to do that."

But where will the immediate 44% cut in overall spending needed to avoid default come from instead? Michele Bachmann, who has gone so far as to demand the debt ceiling never be raised, dodged questions on the issue Wednesday by simply repeating her assertion that Social Security and troop pay be left sacrosanct.

Asked by TPM about what areas might need to be cut offset their proposed guarantees, Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY) offered a similar response, repeating that Social Security, Medicare, military pay, and veterans' benefits should all be off limits. Pressed to name any savings -- furloughing federal employees, shutting down various agencies -- that might be preferable, she said her focus was only on calling out Obama's threats.

"We're not targeting any of those things," she said. "We're not scheming on the House side to somehow have a menu of things that are going to happen when the inevitable denouement occurs."

I think they really believe that the government has a bunch of thousand dollar bills in a vault that they can put in envelopes and mail out to the most deserving creditors. And then they can call up one of those credit bureaus and ask them to work out a repayment deal at 50 cents on the dollar for the rest. After all, the government is just like an average American household.

If you want to decide for yourself what should be paid, click here for an interactive tool that let's you decide which debts the government should honor. It's exciting fun for the whole family!

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Roller Slide Physics Simulated [Uncertain Principles]

I really ought to be doing other things, but this roller slide business kept nagging at me, and I eventually realized I could mock up a crude simulation of the results. This led to the production of this graph:

roller_slide_sim.png

This looks pretty similar to the Tracker Video data from the previous post, which I'll reproduce below the fold, along with an explanation of the math that went into the model:

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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Page: growth on Google+ has been great, over one billion items shared

Page: growth on Google+ has been great, over 1 billion items shared
Wondering why Google+ ran out of disk space? Looks like it might be a casualty of growth: in today's earnings call, Google CEO Larry Page revealed that since its launch, more than ten million people have joined Google+, sharing some one billion items every day. Those numbers not big enough for you? Then chew on this: that little +1 button? It gets clicked 2.3 billion times per day in its own right. It's still a far cry from the 750 million users actively addicted to Facebook, but still, that's a heck of a start.

Page: growth on Google+ has been great, over one billion items shared originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 14 Jul 2011 17:19:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Presidential Politics in Sacramento

For the 2008 elections, a confluence of events caused legislators and the governor to support an early presidential primary in California.  There was the whole "California as an ATM" and wanting to get our say, which I guess was part of it.  And, you know, there was also the initiative to change the legislative term limits.

That measure failed, but the February election is still officially on the books.  For a number of reasons, that could be a progressive nightmare.  Few Democrats would show up, but it would still be a full statewide vote, with all the initiatives associated with that.  It would yield one of the most skewed electorates in recent memory. Oh, and it cost the state at least $10 million to throw that party.

So, now AB 80 (Fong) aims to eliminate that expense:

Californians won't choose their 2012 presidential nominees until June under legislation that's heading to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.

Assembly Bill 80, by Democratic Assemblyman Paul Fong, would move the presidential primary from February of next year to June, consolidating it with the statewide primary election. The bill was approved by the state Senate on a vote of 34-3.(SacBee)

That 34-3 vote at least indicates that an extra election and the extra expense just wasn't palatable politically for some of the Republicans as well.  At the same time, the Governor will soon have on his desk a measure to basically make the electoral college a quaint annoyance:

California would give all its electoral votes to the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes nationwide under legislation that was sent Thursday to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Assembly Bill 459 cleared its final legislative hurdle by passing the Assembly, 51-12, with little Republican support.(SacBee)

Basically, the bill would enter us into a compact so that all of our electoral votes would go to the popular vote winner, but only if a majority of the electoral votes sign on to the compact.  Even if Jerry were to sign the bill, another 142 electoral votes worth of states would have to sign on.  However, this might just be slow motion electoral reform we are watching.


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