Category Archives: Mad Science

Salton Sea – An Engineering Failure



Engineers can confidently do the wrong things, sometimes. We have a good grasp of what we are doing, but we aren’t gods or psychics. We hope to predict the effects of what we do…but…



I have a bit of a problem with my professional society, IEEE. They apparently have become tools of the anti-nuclear lobby. They pick up a “big story” about how nuclear is a failure and doomed about once a month. You have to understand that there are people counting on “green” dollars that they don’t want the nuclear industry taking from them.  They also seem to have collected a bevy of anti-nuclear activists who parade EE credentials as “scientists” when they are anything but. The IEEE timeline

There are other nay sayers:


Why nuclear power will never supply the world’s energy needs 
Is a clear example of the “scaling failure” art form. An example: Building a car in your garage would cost years and tens of thousands of dollars…so the world could never have sufficient cars for the whole population, as each car would require 3 months and 20 thousand dollars, there just aren’t enough man-hours or dollars available to make it work. Clearly a false conclusion from an example.

Here he takes 2 outliers, Chernobyl and Fukushima, and makes the case that these show the inherent weakness in doing large scale nuclear power. Clearly there are problems to be solved, or which have been solved since Chernobyl was built.

Overall, big truth. No, I cannot guarantee that no one will ever lose their life to nuclear energy. I shouldn’t have to. Nobody claims coal is death-free, we have miner accidents on an annual basis. How many miners should die for coal? Over 200 years of digging coal, and we still kill people. Oil? My granddad worked oil and it killed by the thousands. If you count the idiot wars in middle eastern countries, it is even more deadly today. Solar, Wind? Great! I am happy to do my part to reduce my load on the grid…but it is just a tax on the extremely wealthy. Poor people in the US can’t afford solar, much less other countries. Yes, China manufactures 1/2 the solar panels in the world today…and sells most of them to the US and Europe…where people can afford such things. In China they use gas and oil.  Heck, I think it is still leaded gas.

Fear of radiation is misplaced. It is less harmful than you imagine. Oh, a power plant has plenty of ways to kill you, I wouldn’t go near one without a radiation moniter…but worrying over a few millirem of Cesium is crazy. You eat processed sugar, for goodness sake, it is significantly more harmful.

Comet Elenin is not a brown dwarf

Hi there! I’m Hawk’s friend Stephanie Osborn, and I suppose which one of us is cuter depends upon your, ahem, preferences! I appreciate Hawk’s invitation to blog here about things that I find that are interesting, and thought I’d start off with this one.


Elenin is not a brown dwarf


Recently it has come to my attention that there is a significant stir regarding Comet Elenin; to wit, at least one gentleman claiming amateur astronomer status says it isn’t really a comet, it’s a brown dwarf “star.” It’s what’s causing all the flare activity on the Sun. And when it aligns with the Sun and Earth, the recent major earthquakes – Japan, New Zealand, Chile, and Haiti come to mind – occur, so it must not be a comet, but something larger. In other words, it must be the long rumored Planet X aka Nibiru coming in for its cycle of wreaking havoc on the inner solar system. His rationales can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi7wpEIGU0I


Here are some points to be remembered when considering the arguments that Comet Elenin is Planet X, a brown dwarf.



  • A brown dwarf is not a star, it’s a failed star – it does not have enough mass to initiate fusion. It does, however, emit in infrared more energy than it absorbs, because of gravitational contraction – it’s big enough that it’s still trying to collapse tight enough to become a star. Some do say that Jupiter is a brown dwarf for the reason that it does indeed emit slightly more energy than it gets from the Sun; but it is considered at the lower limit for possible brown dwarf classification. It’s a naked-eye object, magnitude >6 (6 or 6.5 is generally considered the limit of naked-eye viewing); remember that. (Also remember that, in astronomical brightness observations, the SMALLER the number, the BRIGHTER the object. E.g., the Sun’s apparent magnitude is -26.74.)


  • Tectonic plates are not related to planetary movement, but are related to convection currents in the mantle – gravitational forces go as 1/r2 and planets are much too far away to affect tectonic movements. Believe me, I studied that in detail a couple of decades back, during the “Grand Alignment” of the planets, where all of the known planets were supposedly in roughly a straight line. The cat in your lap probably exerts more gravitational influence – or about as much, at least. In fact, at its approximate distance on Mar 15, by my calculations the Moon exerts ~30x the gravitational influence of our noted “brown dwarf,” if we assume it IS a brown dwarf, and it’s demonstrable that the Moon is not the cause of major quakes.


  • Stars have to be extremely close, as in nearly contact binaries, to affect each others’ photospheres – stars in passing will not cause flares unless it is a near-collision. Besides, the Sun is actually in a very VERY low period of activity, and all indications are that this IS the peak of this solar cycle, and it isn’t going to get anywhere close to peaks of recent cycles. [More about that in another post.]


  • Leonid Elenin is the discoverer, nomenclature is standard [C/2010 X1 (Elenin)] – there is nothing to not having this referred to as “Comet Elenin” in the technical literature. Harvard astronomy states, “While it is assumed by many that all comets are named for their discoverers, this is not strictly true. Some comets discovered long ago (1P/Halley, 2P/Encke, 27P/Crommelin) were named for astronomers who actually worked arduosly on their orbits to show that observations at different “apparitions” were one and the same comet.” Per IAU guidelines, “C/”=comet; “2010”=year of discovery; “X”=month of discovery in Roman numerals; “1”=1st discovery of the month; “(Elenin)”=surname of discoverer.


  • A brown dwarf would be ~10x Jupiter’s mass, with a corresponding (but not necessarily perfectly linear) increase in size. It is also past halfway from Jupiter’s orbit to Mars’ –  it’s CLOSER THAN Jupiter! If the albedo is comparable to Jupiter, it would long since be visible to the naked eye already! Remember, Jupiter is smaller than the average brown dwarf, and farther away – but IT’S A NAKED-EYE OBJECT!


  • Pictures of Elenin by reputable and outside sources depict a faint comet (~14th mag – big number, so dim) with a tail. If it were a brown dwarf, when it was at Jupiter’s distance, it would be much brighter than Jupiter (>>6th mag) and would not have a tail. This object is following the standard light curve for an incoming comet, not the light curve that would be expected of a massive gas giant planet. Absolute magnitude runs as the log of the object’s diameter, and 2x the log of its geometric albedo, so brightness is affected about as much by size as by reflectivity.

                 H= -5(logD + 2logA – 3.124) where H=absolute mag, D=diameter, A=albedo



  • With all due respect, the proponent of this theory is looking at the alignments in two dimensions, not 3D, and there is a considerable MISalignment when it is looked at in 3D because Comet Elenin’s orbit is NOT in the ecliptic plane. Furthermore virtually all views in his video are relative to the ecliptic, and the comet is not in the ecliptic – this therefore cannot tell you anything about true alignments.
  • The farther out you back the animation view (as is done in the video), the less accurate your “alignments” become because of the resolution of the imagery (“jammed together” is the operative phrase – it APPEARS jammed together when it is not). At 6AU radius, the resolution of the imagery is far too poor to be able to tell accurately if there are any true alignments.
  • In a radio appearance, he also presupposed his premise to prove his premise – the “dwarf star” causes the quakes and the quakes prove it’s a brown dwarf. This is completely circular logic.
  • 0.381AU is so close that if it WERE a brown dwarf, the Earth (AND Venus, Mars, etc.) would be tidally pulled out of orbit – no mere quakes or axis flipping – and axial flips are magnetic, not rotational anyway.
  • Planets don’t leave debris along their orbits – only comets, because of the dirty ice composition. The ice sublimates and leaves behind the dirt. Now, if it really were a large brown dwarf, it would in turn pull in a barrage of comets from the Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud, neither of which we are seeing.
  • You cannot tell if the Earth’s orbit truly intersects Elenin’s orbit by only looking at it from above – you must look at it from all angles. My viewpoints indicate that Elenin, since it is not in the plane of the ecliptic, may not intersect Earth’s orbit at all.
  • NASA/JPL is not telling us anything about “these events” because there is nothing to tell. Comet Elenin has no bearing upon the earthquakes or the Sun’s activity.

Okay, if it were a brown dwarf, it would look like a mighty bright planet – but it doesn’t. What DOES it look like?



From Sky and Telescope, Dec 24, 2010: “It doesn’t look like much now — just a tiny, 19th-magnitude smudge tucked away in southwestern Virgo — but a newly discovered comet could become something special 10 months from now.


“Aleksei Sergeyev / Artyom Novichonok Comet Elenin (C/2010 X1) made its debut on December 10th when Leonid Elenin, an observer in Lyubertsy, Russia, remotely acquired four 4-minute-long images using an 18-inch (45-cm) telescope at the ISON-NM observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. Follow-up images by Aleksei Sergeyev and Artyom Novichonok at Maidanak Observatory in Uzbekistan revealed more about the new find: it had a teardrop-shaped, very diffuse coma just 6 arcseconds across and a tiny tail.”


From Spaceobs.org blog, Mar 12, 2011: “Many of the readers of this blog have already seen the latest images of comet C/2010 X1. On them, the tail of the comet extends all of 1 minute of arc. Is the comet’s tail actually small or is it simply an optical illusion? For my calculations I used Gustavo Muler’s picture which he obtained March 7. Unfortunately before opposition of the comet, we were not able to get an image with any large telescopes – the camera on the two-meter Faulkes Telescope North (FTN), went off-line.


“As such, we’ll return to the image we have. On approach to opposition, when the comet, Earth, and Sun are lined up (that is, the C-S-E angle is close to 180°), the comet’s tail is practically hidden from view for the Earthly observer, as the tails of the comet are pointed away from the Sun. At the time the image was taken, we saw the tail at an angle of 2.75°! [NOTE: The full Moon is only 0.50° across.] Taking the length of the projection of the tail as one minute of arc, and solving the triangle, we see the actual length of the tail has already exceeded 900,000 km! Although, in fact, the tail has to be still bigger, as Gustavo used a 30-cm telescope, knowing that if he had photographed the comet with a two-meter telescope, we would have seen fainter fragments of the comet’s tail.



“If, on March 7, we had been able to see the comet’s tail in profile, its length on the image would have been in excess of 10 arc minutes. Right now, the comet is approaching opposition, and we have a good chance of getting images of the comet’s coma. Maybe we can also do that on large telescopes.”


I do hope this provides convincing evidence that we may have a very pretty comet to look at around the turn of the year – but we do NOT have impending disaster.

Novelist signing out – for now.
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com