The Purple Pinup Guru Platform

When purple things are pulsating on your mind, I'm the one whose clock you want to clean. Aiding is Sparky, the Astral Plane Zen Pup Dog from his mountain stronghold on the Northernmost Island of the Happy Ninja Island chain, this blog will also act as a journal to my wacky antics at an entertainment company and the progress of my self published comic book, The Deposit Man which only appears when I damn well feel like it. Real Soon Now.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Sparky: Let's take a rest from guns -

Hidden planet discovered in old Hubble data

New strategy may allow researchers to uncover other distant alien worlds

Image: giant planet HR 8799b
NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
This is an artistic illustration of the giant planet HR 8799b. The planet was first discovered in 2007 at the Gemini North observatory.

View related photos

The search for extrasolar planets
Find out how scientists detect worlds orbiting alien stars.

updated 9:42 a.m. PT, Wed., April. 1, 2009

A new technique has uncovered an extrasolar planet hidden in Hubble Space Telescope images taken 11 years ago.

The new strategy may allow researchers to uncover other distant alien worlds potentially lurking in over a decade's worth of Hubble archival data.

The method was used to find an exoplanet that went undetected in Hubble images taken in 1998 with its Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer. Astronomers knew of the planet's existence from images taken with the Keck and Gemini North telescopes in 2007 and 2008, long after Hubble snapped its first picture of the system.

Image: Saturn and moons
Month in Space
See stunning views of rocket launches and outer-space wonders from March 2009.

The planet is estimated to be at least seven times the mass of Jupiter. It is the outermost of three massive planets known to orbit the dusty young star HR 8799, which is 130 light-years away from Earth. NICMOS could not see the other two planets because its coronagraphic spot — a device that blots out the glare of the star — blocked its viewof the two inner planets.

"We've shown that NICMOS is more powerful than previously thought for imaging planets," said the scientist who found the planet, David Lafreniere of the University of Toronto in Canada. "Our new image-processing technique efficiently subtracts the glare from a star that spills over the coronagraph's edge, allowing us to see planets that are one-tenth the brightness of what could be detected before with Hubble."

Taking the image of an exoplanet is not an easy task. Planets can be billions of times fainter than the star around which they orbit and are typically located at separations smaller than 1/2,000th the apparent size of the full moon, as seen from Earth, from their star. The planet recovered in the NICMOS data is about 100,000 times fainter than the star when viewed in the near-infrared spectrum.

Over the last two decades, scientists have spotted more than 300 extrasolar planets circling other stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

Lafreniere adapted an image reconstruction technique that was first developed for ground-based observatories.

Using the new technique, he recovered the planet in NICMOS observations taken 10 years before the Keck/Gemini discovery. The Hubble picture not only provides important confirmation of the planet's existence, it provides a longer baseline for demonstrating that the object is in an orbit about the star.

Image: Planet around alien star
NASA / ESA / STScI / Univ. of Toronto
This image shows the spot identified as a planet and tracks its movement. The star it orbits has been blotted out by Hubble's coronagraph mask.

"To get a good determination of the orbit we have to wait a very long time because the planet is moving so slowly (it has a 400-year period)," Lafreniere said. "The 10-year-old Hubble data take us that much closer to having a precise measure of the orbit."

Hubble is due to be serviced by a NASA shuttle crew in May for the fifth and final time. The shuttle Atlantis was rolled out for the mission on Tuesday and is due to launch May 12.

NICMOS's view provided new insights into the physical characteristics of the planet, too. This was possible because NICMOS works at near-infrared wavelengths that are severely blocked by Earth's atmosphere due to absorption by water vapor.

"The planet seems to be only partially cloud covered and we could be detecting the absorption of water vapor in the atmosphere," said team member Travis Barman of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. "Measuring the water absorption properties will tell us a great deal about the temperatures and pressures in the atmospheres, in addition to the cloud coverage."

The 10 most intriguing extrasolar planets
Here are the primeval worlds and shrinking planets discovered beyond our solar system.
With the success of this planet hunt, scientists hope they can find more extrasolar planets lurking in the enormous catalogue of images that Hubble has taken in its lifetime.

"During the past 10 years Hubble has been used to look at over 200 stars with coronagraphy, looking for planets and disks. We plan to go back and look at all of those archived images and see if anything can be detected that has gone undetected until now," said Christian Marois of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, Victoria, Canada.

If the team sees a companion object to a star in more than one NICMOS picture, and it appears to have moved along an orbit, follow-up observations will be made with ground-based telescopes. If researchers see something once but its brightness and separation from the star would be reasonable for a planet, they will also do follow-up observations with ground-based telescopes.

NASA's recently-launched Kepler mission will also be hunting for extrasolar planets in our home galaxy, though it will be looking for ones that are Earth-sized.

© 2009 More from

Hey Guru! There's coon in the park near your new home. We've them here too!
Click magnifying glass buttons to adjust zoom and arrows to navigate.

Note: click here to return to the enlarged image.

Click image to enlarge...
Western Rivers® Calls

Western Rivers® has the Call for you!

6 1/2" x 2 3/4" Calls. Easy-to-hold ergonomic design makes for a comfy grip. Each caller features five field-tested, push-button calls for quick change patterns to bring your prey in. Has one-finger volume adjustment, too. Please check all state and federal game laws before use. Operates on 3 AAA batteries (not included).

Coon Call:

  • Features Kitten Coon Puppies, Kitten Coon, Raccon Sow, Raccoon Squall (adult) and Raccoon Squall (young) calls.

State Size, as available in the Shopping Cart below. Order ONLINE Now!

Western Rivers® Coon Hunter Call

Compare at $30.00

WAS $797


Sparky: What the fuck? Motor City? I have family that once had an huge carpet empire in Detroit. It failed as the heirs to it just screwed up. Now there's this news story. Saw this first on the Whitechapel's forums. Then so-called Libertarian Republicans picked it up and ran with it:

“ ... Now, it's like something out of a Mad Max movie. Yet the nation has chosen to follow its lead into the abyss of liberal nihilism we know as moonbattery.
America's progressive future on display in Detroit. ...

I knowed some hard times But a man's got to know how to get hisself through them hard times. Part of that is eating right. ”
- Glemie Dean Beasley, Detroit
Boing-Boing reposted this with links intact.

Glemie Dean Beasley, urban raccoon hunter

Glemie Dean Beasley, 69, hunts raccoons in Detroit and sells their pelts and meat. My old journalism school pal Charlie LeDuff profiles Beasley in today's Detroit News. All of Charlie's work is fantastic. From the feature (click image for full photo by Max Ortiz):
RacooonnnnmeeeeBeasley, a 69-year-old retired truck driver who modestly refers to himself as the Coon Man, supplements his Social Security check with the sale of raccoon carcasses that go for as much $12 and can serve up to four. The pelts, too, are good for coats and hats and fetch up to $10 a hide.

While economic times are tough across Michigan as its people slog through a difficult and protracted deindustrialization, Beasley remains upbeat.

Where one man sees a vacant lot, Beasley sees a buffet...

He procures the coons with the help of the hound dogs who chase the animal up a tree, where Beasley harvests them with a .22 caliber rifle. A true outdoorsman, Beasley refuses to disclose his hunting grounds.

"This city is going back to the wild," he says. "That's bad for people but that's good for me. I can catch wild rabbit and pheasant and coon in my backyard."
"To urban hunter, next meal is scampering by" (Thanks, Gabe Adiv!)

Here is the actual story - Travels with Charlie:

To urban hunter, next meal is scampering by
Detroit retiree, 69, supplements his income by living off the land
Detroit - When selecting the best raccoon carcass for the special holiday roast, both the connoisseur and the curious should remember this simple guideline: Look for the paw.

"The paw is old school," says Glemie Dean Beasley, a Detroit raccoon hunter and meat salesman. "It lets the customers know it's not a cat or dog."

Beasley, a 69-year-old retired truck driver who modestly refers to himself as the Coon Man, supplements his Social Security check with the sale of raccoon carcasses that go for as much $12 and can serve up to four. The pelts, too, are good for coats and hats and fetch up to $10 a hide.

While economic times are tough across Michigan as its people slog through a difficult and protracted deindustrialization, Beasley remains upbeat.

Where one man sees a vacant lot, Beasley sees a buffet.

"Starvation is cheap," he says as he prepares an afternoon lunch of barbecue coon and red pop at his west side home.

His little Cape Cod is an urban Appalachia of coon dogs and funny smells. The interior paint has the faded sepia tones of an old man's teeth; the wallpaper is as flaky and dry as an old woman's hand.

Beasley peers out his living room window. A sushi cooking show plays on the television. The neighborhood outside is a wreck of ruined houses and weedy lots.

"Today people got no skill and things is getting worse," he laments. "What people gonna do? They gonna eat each other up is what they gonna do."

A licensed hunter and furrier, Beasley says he hunts coons and rabbit and squirrel for a clientele who hail mainly from the South, where the wild critters are considered something of a delicacy.

Though the flesh is not USDA inspected, if it is thoroughly cooked, there is small chance of contracting rabies from the meat, and distemper and Parvo cannot be passed onto humans, experts say.

Doing for yourself, eating what's natural, that was Creation's intention, Beasley believes. He says he learned that growing up in Three Creeks, Ark.

"Coon or rabbit. God put them there to eat. When men get hold of animals he blows them up and then he blows up. Fill 'em so full of chemicals and steroids it ruins the people. It makes them sick. Like the pigs on the farm. They's 3 months old and weighing 400 pounds. They's all blowed up. And the chil'ren who eat it, they's all blowed up. Don't make no sense."

Hunting is prohibited within Detroit city limits and Beasley insists he does not do so. Still, he says that life in the city has gone so retrograde that he could easily feed himself with the wildlife in his backyard, which abuts an old cement factory.

He procures the coons with the help of the hound dogs who chase the animal up a tree, where Beasley harvests them with a .22 caliber rifle. A true outdoorsman, Beasley refuses to disclose his hunting grounds.

"This city is going back to the wild," he says. "That's bad for people but that's good for me. I can catch wild rabbit and pheasant and coon in my backyard."

Detroit was once home to nearly 2 million people but has shrunk to a population of perhaps less than 900,000. It is estimated that a city the size of San Francisco could fit neatly within its empty lots. As nature abhors a vacuum, wildlife has moved in.

A beaver was spotted recently in the Detroit River. Wild fox skulk the 15th hole at the Palmer Park golf course. There is bald eagle, hawk and falcon that roam the city skies. Wild Turkeys roam the grasses. A coyote was snared two years ago roaming the Federal Court House downtown. And Beasley keeps a gaze of skinned coon in the freezer.

With the beast fresh from the oven, Beasley invites a guest to lunch.

He believes coon meat tastes something like mutton or pork, but to the uneducated pallet, it has the aroma and texture of opossum.

While Beasley preps his coon with simple vinegar brine and spices, there are 100 ways to cook a coon.

There is roast coon with sweet potato, sausage and corn bread stuffing; raccoon cobbler and roast marinated raccoon with liver and onion. It is this reporter's opinion that the best sauce for coon may very well be hunger.

The story of Glemie Dean Beasley plays like a country song. The son of a sharecropper, Beasley left school at 13 to pick cotton. He came to Detroit in 1958. His woman left him in 1970 for a man he calls Slick Willy.

Someone stole his pickup truck and then someone killed his best dog.

"I knowed some hard times," Beasley says. "But a man's got to know how to get hisself through them hard times. Part of that is eating right."

Allergies bite ...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sparky: Still camping

What lies in store for the Mars rovers?

Pair still trundling along the Martian surface en route to next destinations

Image: A digital model of the Opportunity rover
A digital model of the Opportunity rover was added to a real image of the inside of Endurance Crater on Mars taken earlier by Opportunity itself. The size of the six-wheeled robot was scaled to the size of the tracks that the Opportunity rover actually created.

Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Cornell, JPL, NASA

By Andrea Thompson
updated 10:36 a.m. PT, Mon., March. 30, 2009

Their 90-day warranty expired awhile ago, but NASA's twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are still trundling along the Martian surface en route to their next destinations more than five years after landing on the red planet. But just how long they can keep going is anyone's guess — it could be three days, or it could be three years.

"We have no way of knowing what the future holds for the rovers at this point," said Mars Exploration Rover Mission principal investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University. "The mission could easily end tomorrow, but the miracle could continue."

That miracle began with the January 2004 landings of the two rovers. Spirit got to Mars first, touching down at Gusev Crater on Jan. 3. A few weeks later, Opportunity bounced to a stop in the vast plains of Meridiani Planum on the other side of the planet.

Mars double-take
An interactive in-depth look at NASA's twin rovers

The road has been a bumpy one — sometimes literally — with stuck wheels, broken wiring and Spirit's one bum wheel periodically hampering the mission.

But even with those hiccups, the past five years (that's 20 times the planned lifetimes of the rovers) have yielded many insights into the planet's past and present and taught mission controllers numerous lessons about running a mission from millions of miles away.

Rover lessons
Among the many remarkable discoveries the rovers have made are the clues that show the planet has not always been as cold and dry as it is at present — at one time, it was warm and wet enough to support life.

More than 1,200 sols (or Martian days) into the mission, Spirit analyzed a patch of dirt and found it was rich in silica, which provided some of the strongest evidence yet that the Martian surface was once wet.

Opportunity found salty areas in Merdiani Planum that have garnered many watery theories to explain how they go there.

These scientific findings aren't the only useful information to come out of the mission.

"Spirit and Opportunity helped invent a whole new discipline — robotic field science," Squyres said. "They've taught us how to organize a team of scientists and engineers to operate robotic rovers on a distant planet. We all had to learn to work together effectively year after year to squeeze the most possible science from the rovers."

Team members learned many of the perils of maneuvering a wheeled robot from hundreds of millions of miles away.

"We now know how to negotiate sand dunes and piles of rocks," Squyres said, "and perhaps more importantly, how to avoid them."

That experience will help with future missions, such as the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory, currently slated to launch in 2011.

The snags hit along the sustained mission have left the rovers with some bruises. Spirit, for example, has been driving backwards since one of its wheels jammed in 2006, and a broken electrical wire has reduced the movement capabilities of Opportunity's robotic arm.

Spirit also had a glitch earlier this year that caused it to not report in to mission controllers as planned, but eventually the rover resumed normal behavior. Spirit was on its way to its next target, von Braun, a cap-rock about 800 feet (250 meters away).

Opportunity has fared a little better; it's been "the lucky vehicle since Day 1," Squyres said. However, the rover did recently adjust its course to get around obstacles while working its way toward its next destination, Endeavor Crater, some 7 miles (12 kilometers) away.

On the horizon
Endeavor will be the largest crater that Opportunity has yet investigated; it is about 12 miles (20 km) in diameter and hundreds of meters deep.

"Endeavor is an intriguing target because the rocks close to it look different from the ones surrounding the other craters Opportunity has visited," said deputy principal investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. "Part of Endeavor crater's rim is sticking up — Mars' ancient bedrock exposed — and rocks nearby may be suggestive of acidic lakes on Mars' surface billions of years ago."

The trip won't come without its costs though.

"We'll have to double the odometer reading on a five-year-old vehicle to get there," Squyres said. "And it will take at least two years to reach it."

Opportunity can manage about 300 feet (100 meters) of traveling on an average day.

"It'll be a long march across the plains, but it will be well worth it," Squyres said. "The deeper the crater, the older the history of Mars we can look at."

Spirit won't have quite as long a trip as its target is a bit closer, but the journey will still take a few months. Spirit's mechanical issues make its trip a little trickier.

"Spirit is the more challenging rover to operate," Squyres said. "There's not as much wind at its location to clean the solar arrays, and that affects the vehicle's power."

Luckily, Spirit recently got a power boost when some Martian winds wiped some of the dust off its solar panels.

"Also, Spirit has to travel more challenging terrain," Squyres added. "The rocks and loose sand at Spirit's location are treacherous. Of course, to top if all off, Spirit is driving backwards."

But the trip to von Braun and its subsequent target, a feature dubbed Goddard, will be worth it.

"Home Plate, where Spirit spent the winter, is a volcanic structure eroded down so we can see the layers," Arvidson said. "And we think von Braun and the neighboring Goddard structure may be made of the same stuff."

The rocks that Spirit has checked out show evidence of "water-charged explosive volcanism," Arvidson said. "Such areas could once have supported life."

Predicting the end
Even with the periodic glitches and mechanical issues encountered so far, the rovers have stood up to the test.

"It's like a good old car that keeps on running," Arvidson said.

And while mission controllers are aware of the limitations of the rovers, it's almost impossible to predict when the rovers might stop for good.

"They're so far out of warranty it's hard to predict," Arvidson said.

The most vulnerable parts of the rovers are any parts that move, Arvidson told The rovers are also exposed to large swings in temperature throughout the day that stress their systems.

Though the rovers will be checking out rocks and other features on the way to their primary targets, the team will also likely minimize the movement of certain rover parts needed to investigate the Martian environment, Arvidson said.

"We want to save those capabilities for the really juicy targets," he said.

Many mechanical issues can be worked around too, as Spirit is currently doing with its broken wheel.

"We've got an enormous amount of functional redundancy built into these vehicles," Squyres told in an email. "So a lot can go wrong and still allow us to do good science."

Predicting how fast different mechanical systems will wear out is difficult though, and of course that's not the only limiting factor.

"If nothing mechanical stops us, then sooner or later the capacity of the batteries will degrade to the point where they no longer can hold enough charge," Squyres said. "But we don't know how long that will take either."

If the rovers get to the point where their roving days are over, they could still operate for a time as a weather station, something like Viking 1 did when its primary mission was finished, Arvidson said.

"If we lose mobility completely, then yes, we can poke around at the place where we stop," Squyres said. "But if the scenery isn't changing, sooner or later you reach a point of diminishing returns."

© 2009 More from
Sparky -we camp
Scientists study Mars’ ‘most habitable zone’

Phoenix Lander may have plopped down on a microbe-friendly location

Image: NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander’s solar panel and the lander’s Robotic Arm
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

By Leonard David
updated 12:48 p.m. PT, Mon., March. 30, 2009

WOODLANDS, Texas - Evidence is building that NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander plopped down on a microbe-friendly location.

The Phoenix probe, which descended to the Red Planet's surface last May, was designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian arctic's ice-rich soil. It did not pack instruments designed to find life. To date, there is no firm evidence that Mars ever hosted biology.

But researchers say the landing site has or had the ingredients necessary to support life as we know it.

Recently, scientists revealed controversial evidence of liquid water at the landing site. Water is a key to life.

Now four papers are under review for scientific publication, detailing four major discoveries from the mission, said Peter Smith, the Phoenix mission's principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Smith and other Phoenix scientists provided a review of what the spacecraft uncovered on the Red Planet at last week's 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held here.

Microbial metabolism
Carol Stoker, a researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center — and a Phoenix science team co-investigator — noted that one goal of the Phoenix sampling at its Northern Plains landing site was to determine whether this environment may have been habitable for life at some time in its history.

Stoker said that, given our current understanding of life, the potential for habitability in a specific time and space takes in three factors:

  • The presence of liquid water.
  • The presence of a biologically available energy source.
  • The presence of the chemical building blocks of life in a biologically available form.

In addition to these factors, temperature and water activity must be high enough to support growth.

A major Phoenix find in its digging into and gulping quantities of Martian soil was identifying perchlorate salt at its landing locale. Perchlorate and chlorate are compounds used for microbial metabolism — energy sources relied on by numerous species of microbes here on Earth, Stoker said.

At last week's meeting, Stoker rolled out a "habitability index" — an approach akin to the Drake equation to evaluate the probability of life in the universe.

As a general conclusion, Stoker valued the Phoenix landing site as having a higher potential for life detection than any site previously visited on Mars. Moreover, the icy material that was sampled might periodically be capable of sustaining modern biological activity.

Delving into the Phoenix data, while admittedly still a work in progress, Stoker said it provides key information about the potential habitability of a Red Planet environment ... and the data suggest that habitable conditions have occurred in modern times. That belief, she said, cries out for rovers and the ability to drill down into Mars.

"What you see is that Phoenix comes down as a clear winner — a much, much higher habitability index than any of the other sites," Stoker told conference attendees. "The Phoenix landing site is the most habitable zone of any location we have ever visited on Mars."

Crucial factors
Phoenix results have shown that no chemicals detrimental to all microbe life were found at its landing spot, said Tufts University researcher Suzanne Young, one of the scientists on a team working with the output from Phoenix's wet-chemistry laboratory. The lab is part of the suite of tools called the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA for short.

Several, but not all, of the crucial factors for bio-habitability were found by the Mars lander's wet-chemistry laboratory. Some factors could not be measured by the Phoenix, Young explained. The data from the full Phoenix mission point to no true negative, she said, so further missions would be necessary to complete the picture of habitability, and possibly life, on Mars.

"We have lots of microbes out there that can do things ... eat rock and release from it stuff that they need" — a process, Young added, that creates a viable energy system for other microbes.

The environment at the Phoenix site was pretty gentle, Young said. "We didn't find anything excessively toxic that's going to do bad things."

In terms of a habitability checklist, "we've got bunches of checkmarks in really good places," Young explained. "I think Phoenix really did expand the possibility for serious consideration of looking for past and maybe even present life on Mars ... but it's still a work in progress," she said.

Need to go back
For now, the Phoenix Mars Lander mission is over.

As the craft's available solar power declined with the approaching Martian winter, the mission was declared finished — maybe, anyway — on Nov. 2 when controllers on Earth were unable to re-contact the robot.

"We will try to get it back in October, but the chances are poor," Smith said. "However, it is known as the Phoenix mission, and we do have a chance. We may be back," he added.

Young agreed that a repeat landing by a spacecraft near the northern polar region is warranted.

"There are things we couldn't do. There are things we didn't do," she said. "There are things that serendipity could have delivered to us and didn't. But we have not found any impossibilities ... we've not found anything that's a no. And we have added a lot to the possibility — and so more missions are needed. We need to go deeper ... we need to go back."

© 2009 More from

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Sparky Mobile. Which he wants as a turbo diesel hybrid STAT!
That said - Why didn't Detroit sell our government 15B$ of cars instead of taking a paltry handout?