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Cassini Sees Saturn and Moons in Holiday Dress (warning big pics)

The characteristic hexagonal shape of Saturn's northern jet stream, somewhat yellow here, is visible. At the pole lies a Saturnian version of a high-speed hurricane, eye and all.

This holiday season, feast your eyes on images of Saturn and two of its most fascinating moons, Titan and Enceladus, in a care package from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. All three bodies are dressed and dazzling in this special package assembled by Cassini's imaging team.

The new images are available online at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov, http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://ciclops.org .

"During this, our 10th holiday season at Saturn, we hope that these images from Cassini remind everyone the world over of the significance of our discoveries in exploring such a remote and beautiful planetary system," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader, based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. "Happy holidays from all of us on Cassini."

Two views of Enceladus are included in the package and highlight the many fissures, fractures and ridges that decorate the icy moon's surface. Enceladus is a white, glittering snowball of a moon, now famous for the nearly 100 geysers that are spread across its south polar region and spout tiny icy particles into space. Most of these particles fall back to the surface as snow. Some small fraction escapes the gravity of Enceladus and makes its way into orbit around Saturn, forming the planet's extensive and diffuse E ring. Because scientists believe these geysers are directly connected to a subsurface, salty, organic-rich, liquid-water reservoir, Enceladus is home to one of the most accessible extraterrestrial habitable zones in the solar system.





Utah A.G. spokesman: Counties who deny same-sex marriages are breaking law

By Matthew Piper | The Salt Lake Tribune

A spokesman for the Utah Attorney General’s Office says that while his office isn’t advising county clerks at this time, the law now provides that they must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby "has put out his ruling that anyone who denies a marriage license is in contempt of the court and in contempt of the law," said Ryan Bruckman on Tuesday. "According to that, everyone should be [issuing licenses]."

Meanwhile, the Cache County Clerk’s office on Tuesday became the latest in Utah to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Two couples were married as of 9:35 a.m. Tuesday, according to a clerk’s office worker. The office will be open until noon today, and the worker did not know if they will issue licenses to couples still in line at that time.



What's Driving Chaotic Dismantling of Canada's Science Libraries?

By Andrew Nikiforuk, 23 Dec 2013, TheTyee.ca

Scientists say the closure of some of the world's finest fishery, ocean and environmental libraries by the Harper government has been so chaotic that irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital built by Canadian taxpayers for future generations has been lost forever.

Many collections such as the Maurice Lamontagne Institute Library in Mont-Joli, Québec ended up in dumpsters while others such as Winnipeg's historic Freshwater Institute library were scavenged by citizens, scientists and local environmental consultants. Others were burned or went to landfills, say scientists.

Furthermore, the government is falsely claiming that vital content is being retained by extensively digitizing material from nine regional libraries that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) whittled down to two.

"The Department has claimed that all useful information from the closed libraries is available in digital form. This is simply not true. Much of the material is lost forever," reports one DFO scientist who requested not to be named.


7 Reasons the TSA Sucks (A Security Expert's Perspective)

By Robert Evans, Rafi Sela

or a bunch of people in snappy uniforms patting down crotches, the TSA is remarkably unpopular. Nobody likes going through security at the airport, but you probably figured most of it had a point. All those hours spent in line with other shoeless travelers are a necessary precursor to safe flying. It's annoying, but at least it wards off terrorism.

That's all bullshit. The TSA couldn't protect you from a 6-year-old with a water balloon. What are my qualifications for saying that? My name is Rafi Sela, and I was the head of security for the world's safest airport. Here's what your country does wrong.

(If only we could go back to the uber-safe days of the Wild West, where the biggest annual gun death toll in any town was five people. Read The De-Textbook and never let Clint Eastwood trick you again.)

#7. The TSA Is Supposed to Regulate Itself

I went to meet with Joe Lieberman back when he was the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security. Lieberman asked me to write a one-page letter to Congress and the Senate outlining America's major problems with airport security. I told him the biggest issue was that the TSA is a regulatory agency and a security agency. They essentially make their own rules. No one else -- not the FBI, not the CIA, not anyone but a loose-cannon New York cop -- gets to do that.

Lieberman and a colleague of his named John Mica pushed an "opt-out" program for airports in the Aviation and Security Act. The problem was, the TSA needed to write standards and regulations for this program, and they just weren't doing it. So I went to Kip Hawley, head of the TSA, and said, "Look -- my company and I helped write the regulations for the Israeli Security Agency at Ben Gurion Airport. Let us help you."

And he said, "Ah no no no, we've got this all covered. It's just a matter of time."

I said, "Bullshit. You don't know shit about airport security."

Fast forward to today. After years of delay, the TSA is finally almost ready to start processing all those pending opt-out requests. After only a dozen years.

Read more: http://www.cracked.com/blog/7-reasons-tsa-sucks-a-security-experts-perspective/

Scientists to Image Black Hole by Turning Earth into Giant Camera

by Allison Meier

The problem with trying to take a picture of a black hole is that it consumes everything, even the light around it. Now, a team of scientists is working to make the first image of a black hole by using telescopes around the world to look at its shadowy edge.

Called BlackHoleCam, the project recently received a Synergy Grant from the European Research Council for €14 million (a little over $19 million). In a statement, Heino Falcke, a radio astronomy professor at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands and one of the three BlackHoleCam principal investigators, explained:

While most astrophysicists believe black holes exist, nobody has actually ever seen one. The technology is now advanced enough that we can actually image black holes and check if they truly exist as predicted: If there is no event horizon, there are no black holes.

The event horizon is that edge where everything turns to nothing (although, based on the hallucinatory events of the 1997 sci-fi horror film of the same name, you REALLY don’t want to see what’s out there). The theory is that there’s a supermassive black hole right at the center of our beloved Milky Way galaxy, and this is the one the BlackHoleCam is aiming to “photograph.” It’s not quite a photograph in the traditional sense — one hurdle being, of course, that photographs are all about capturing light, and black holes are sort of the least photogenic things in our universe in that regard. The image would rely on a whole team of telescopes around the world (including the fancy new ALMA observatory in Chile), with their data synthesized by supercomputers. Or, as Space.com writes in their coverage: “This method can, in effect, create a virtual telescope the size of the entire Earth.” Awesome!



First Exomoon Possibly Glimpsed

By Clara Moskowitz

Exoplanets are almost old hat to astronomers, who by now have found more than 1,000 such worlds beyond the solar system. The next frontier is exomoons—moons orbiting alien planets—which are much smaller, fainter and harder to find. Now astronomers say they may have found an oddball system of a planet and a moon floating free in the galaxy rather than orbiting a star.

The system showed up in a study using micro lensing, which looks for the bending of starlight due to the gravitational pull of an unseen object between a star and Earth. In this case the massive object might well be a planet and a moon. But the signal is not very clear, the researchers acknowledge, and could instead represent a dim star and a lightweight planet. “An alternate star-plus-planet model fits the data almost as well” as the planet-plus-moon explanation, the scientists reported in a paper that was posted this week on the preprint site arXiv. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.

"I was excited by this paper," says astronomer Jean Schneider of the Paris Observatory, who was not involved in the research. Exomoons have "become fashionable these days," he adds, and are one of his personal "holy grails." Schneider wrote a paper in 1999 on how to detect exomoons using an alternative method, called transiting. (The transit technique looks for the dimming of a star's light caused when a planet or moon passes in front of the star from Earth's perspective).

Now that astronomers know planets are common in the galaxy, exomoons, too, are likely to abound, scientists say. Yet they are exceedingly hard to find, due to their diminutive size and lack of brightness. The authors of the new paper, led by David Bennett of the University of Notre Dame, note that micro lensing is promising because it can detect moons beyond the close-in satellites that transit searches are best equipped to find. Regardless of whether the new system turns out to include a moon, "these results indicate the potential of micro lensing to detect exomoons," the authors wrote.



They Had To Demolish This Town After The Roads Were Paved With Dioxin


On this day in 1982, the government informed the residents of Times Beach, Missouri that they would have to evacuate. The town had paved its own roads with dioxin, among the most toxic cancer-causing substances made by man.P

So what kind of town was Times Beach, and how did it end up paving its roads in dioxin?P

In an article published today, History explains that Times Beach was a small community that sprung up on a newspaper promotion in 1925 offering cheap land on the banks of the Meramec River with the purchase of a subscription to the St. Louis Times-Ledger. The town never quite blossomed as it was promised, but it ended up with over 2,000 residents.P

In 1972, the town didn't have the funds to properly pave their dusty dirt roads, so they struck up a deal with local waste hauler Russell Bliss to glue the dust to the ground with motor oil at a cost of six cents a gallon.P



The Prophet

On December 18, 2012, the set of Fox & Friends was both festive and somber. Festive because it was the Christmas season. The three hosts, two men in dark suits flanking a woman in a blue dress, sat on a mustard-colored couch in front of a cheery seasonal backdrop: a lit-up tree, silver-painted twigs, mounds of tinsel, blue and red swatches of fabric, and, here and there, multicolored towers of blown glass with tapering points that made them look surprisingly like minarets. Somber because a terrible thing had happened just four days earlier, in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. All three hosts looked sad, but the woman, Gretchen Carlson, looked the saddest.

The shot of the three hosts occupied most of the right three quarters of the screen. A guest was joining them by satellite from another location, and a shot of his head and shoulders occupied most of the rest of the screen. This was his third appearance on the program in the last few months. He wore a dark blazer and a button-down shirt with blue stripes. He was middle-aged and handsome in an old-fashioned way, with tanned skin and thick hair parted on the right. The banner below the video feeds read, HOPE IS NOT LOST: NEUROSURGEON SAYS HEAVEN IS REAL.

"Dr. Alexander," Carlson said, "if people don't know your story, you, you were ill, you were in a coma, you left this earth for a week, you were in heaven, and then you wrote about your experiences there, and you were told that you were supposed to come back to the earth."

She paused. She looked into the camera and then looked up toward the studio ceiling and rocked slightly forward.

"As people are grappling with the horrible nature of this tragedy," she said, her voice cracking, her lower lip trembling, "will these children forget, when they are in heaven, what happened to them?"


Brooklyn Has an Artisanal Porridge Shop Now


What do the hipsters in Brooklyn eat when not dining in total silence? Artisanal, gluten-free, non-GMO gruel at a pop-up shop. Fucked in Park Slope discovers the Brooklyn Porridge Co. — whose name sounds like it comes straight from the Brooklyn Brooklyn Company Company business idea generator — describes itself as specializing in "porridge made from a variety of ancient, global, and gluten-free grains." A bowl of porridge (with two free toppings) starts at seven dollars. Groovy.

Customers can order from a menu of pre-designed, mostly savory porridge bowls like the Truffled Heart with shaved parmesan, artichoke hearts, and white truffle oil and the Portobello & Pesto which includes roasted red pepper, caramelized onion, grilled portobello, and basil pesto. For the more adventurous, there's a "design your own bowl" option where porridges made from velvet amaranth or creamy grits can be blended with add-ins like maple-bourbon ham, chia seeds, and salted dark chocolate. Don't feel like porridge? There's also a menu of dairy-free, gluten-free "Belgian Waffletwists," a trademarked name for sandwiches built on Belgian waffles.

The high-end gruel shop joins other Brooklyn specialty shops like an artisanal mayonnaise shop which opened back in 2011. Micro-focused dining is also something of a trend right now in New York City, with restaurants like the potato-focused Potatopia, the 24-hour biscuit purveyors Empire Biscuit, and the improbable chicken nugget-focused Nugget Spot all opening in the past few months.



Tuesday Toon Roundup!








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