Proba-3: seeing through shadow to view Sun’s corona
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ESA - European Space Agency patch.

22 August 2016

Every 18 months or so, scientists and sensation-seekers gather at set points on Earth’s surface, to await awe-inspiring solar eclipses. The Moon briefly blocks the Sun, revealing its mysterious outer atmosphere, the corona. Though what if researchers could induce such eclipses at will?

That’s the scientific vision behind ESA’s double-satellite Proba-3, the world’s first precision formation-flying mission, planned for launch in 2019.

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 Proba-3 formation flying satellites
An ‘occulter’ satellite will fly 150 m ahead of a second ‘coronagraph’ satellite, casting a precise shadow to reveal the ghostly tendrils of the solar corona, down to 1.2 solar radii, for hours on end.

“We have two scientific instruments aboard,” explains Damien Galano, Proba-3 Payload Manager. “The primary payload is ASPIICS, a coronagraph to observe the corona in visible light while the DARA radiometer on the occulter measures the total solar irradiance coming from the Sun – a scientific parameter about which there is still some uncertainty.

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Proba-3 revealing corona
“The corona is a million times fainter than the Sun itself, so the light from the solar disk needs to be blocked in order to see it. The coronagraph idea was conceived by astronomer Bernard Lyot in the 1930s – and since then has been developed and has been incorporated into both Earth-based and space telescopes.

“But because of the wave nature of light, even within the cone of shadow cast by the occulter, some light still spills around the occulter edges, a phenomenon called ‘diffraction’.

“To minimise this unwanted light, the coronagraph can be positioned closer to the occulter – and therefore deeper into the shadow cone. However the deeper it is, the more the solar corona will also be occulted by the occulter. 

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Coronagraph on single satellite
“Hence the advantage of a larger occulter and the maximum possible distance between the occulter and the coronagraph. Obviously a 150-m-long satellite is not a practical proposition, but our formation flying approach should provide us with equivalent performance.

“Furthermore, the ASPIICS coronagraph itself contains a smaller, secondary occulter disk, to cut down on diffracted light still further.

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Coronagraph across two satellites
“Precision is all – the aperture of the ASPIICS instrument measures 50 mm in diameter, and for corona observation performance it should remain as much as possible in the centre of the shadow, which is about 70 mm across at 150 m.

“So we’ll need to achieve millimetre-scale positioning control between the two spacecraft, effectively forming a single giant instrument across space.”

ASPIICS (Association of Spacecraft for Polarimetry and Imaging of the Corona of the Sun) is being developed for ESA by a consortium led by Centre Spatial de Liège in Belgium, made up of 15 companies and institutes from five ESA Member States.

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Diffraction of light
“Many of these companies are new to ESA, and they’ve proved to be very motivated and eager to show their capabilities,” remarks Damien. “We’ve produced various prototypes of instrument elements, and our first complete ‘structural and thermal model’ should be complete in the autumn, ahead of our end-of-year Critical Design Review.

“We’re also looking into various optical aspects, such as the best occulter edge shape to minimise diffraction.”

Proba-3: Dancing with the stars
There’s a lot of broader interest in this external occulter approach – especially for the imaging of Earth-like exoplanets, which would require the blocking out of their parent stars.

“It’s a similar challenge, the main difference being that the star in question is a point source of light rather than the extended source that our Sun is.

“So it could be that formation-flown external occulters become versatile scientific tools, opening many new vistas in astronomy.”


About Proba-3:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/P. Carril/D. Galeno/Thomas Bauer at Wellesley.

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“entrance” and female ambition

life is a succession of long and empty hours in need of filling. biology occupies some of them. culture is the irradiated mutant that emerged from the rest. culture isn’t necessarily interesting. culture, in fact, is often very boring. but it is something to do. it is a handy, prefab scaffolding for the bridge you have to build over the chasm that separates the beginning of your life and the end of it. it saves you the trauma of looking down.

i think of ambition not as a need for power or status, but as a form of insanity that renders this scaffolding invisible. ambition is sensitivity to boringness, and the compulsion to do something about it. it is the arrogance to defy entropy. ambition doesn’t necessitate unkindness, but it usually means forfeiting the comfort of easy, palliative things.

entrance (2012) is a very successful horror movie about this act of forfeit. it’s about the fear that noticing and renouncing boringness is inherently monstrous. it’s about the time you realized you no longer had anything in common with your closest childhood friend, and couldn’t help feeling that this made you somehow evil.

the first part of the movie is a slow burn, in which suziey’s listless existence becomes suffused with small moments of menace and dread: a sound of footfalls in her house, a missing dog. it’s clear, however, that her unhappiness stems as much from her own inertia as these individually dismissible incidents. she decides to move. the second part is her going-away party, in which her stalker brutally murders every guest except for suziey. instead, he corners her on the apartment’s deck, and lovingly turns her to face the view of the starry, promising sky. if the first part of the movie is a metaphor for the slow realization that you hate your life, the second part is a metaphor for the fear that changing the status quo means destroying something you used to be.

what makes entrance work is its shockingly good compression of actually normal, actually boring life. it’s difficult to depict boringness without the depiction being boring itself. the movie is plainly shot, with about the visual refinement of a 15-year-old’s flip-phone skateboarding video. but its editing is quietly impeccable. it oversells nothing, and moves quickly from one scene to the next. it nails normality exactly and without judgment or cleverness. it doesn’t make a point of saying that normality is bad, as so much persecuted, self-indulgent art about ennui does. it simply lets you recognize it.

suziey is every girl i’ve ever met who is not stupid, but not remarkable at any specific thing either. she works at a coffee shop and dresses in a half-hearted ‘cool girl’ way and has emotion invested in her dog and doesn’t really do anything else. her life fills the time. her social interactions consist mostly of phatic and insipid conversation. the reflex attention that she and her friends pay to their attractiveness—hair, makeup—has a beautiful air of patheticness. it is temporary, unimaginative, imitation purpose. suziey goes on a date and the scene has similar tone, she and the man both performing seduction in a squirmingly perfunctory manner. the going-away party at the end is every social gathering that i’ve left early out of uncomfortable, depressive boredom, feeling broken and doomed for not enjoying it.

what makes this movie more about female* ambition than ambition generally is the role that men play in it. a man on the street calls after suziey, and she ignores him. at the party, a guest catches her alone and awkwardly laments that they didn’t get to know each other better. these scenes are brief and executed with a light, apolitical touch. no threat ever comes to fruition. the man on the street stops following suziey after a few steps. the guest understands that he’s been declined, and ends the conversation. but each scene contains a perfect millisecond of fear where you wonder if something will indeed happen.

men in entrance, in other words, are responsible for an ambient feeling of menace. and it is a man that kills the dinner guests. if we accept the killer as a metaphor for the destructive nature of ambition (’destructive,’ again, mostly in the sense of giving something up) then it is significant to me that he is so other from suziey. he is a separate person, and he is a man. this isn’t a jekyll and hyde or werewolf situation, where a protagonist physically transforms into a primitive version of themselves that was lurking deep within. suziey kills no one. in metaphorical terms, we could say that she doesn’t want to take responsibility for finding her boring life boring. that’s the kind of thing that men do. it’s men that are destructive. if she dared to not be passive it would be tantamount to violence, and deserve punishment. something would go disastrously wrong. i would interpret the movie as being about men enforcing female passivity, except for the way the movie ends. the killer doesn’t kill her, he does a perversion of freeing her.

(is this interpretation accurate? i don’t know. but i do find it interesting that the word ‘entrance’ has two different meanings: the verb that suggests bewitchment (to entrance), and the noun that suggests ingress (an entrance). it evokes both the sleeping state before personal transformation, and the liminal state of choosing to transform.)

*i use female loosely. ambition in people that experience men as menacing would be more accurate.

along with his irradiated immune system, ju//nkrat also has weak, damaged lungs from years of exposure to explosives and smoke. this means that chest colds are a real problem for him. not only does he get them often, but the accompanying coughs are hellish and long-lived. a fit can easily overtake him and can be violent enough to make him gag.


Flow photochemistry, inspired by: Jonathan P. Knowles, Luke D. Elliott and Kevin I. Booker-Milburn;  Beilstein J. Org. Chem. 2012, 8, 2025–2052.

It may look a bit weird, but it’s quite simple. At left there are two pumps what is used to circulate the reaction mixture between the flask at the middle and the UV lamp at the right. 

The flask in the middle is used as a “reference point” where analytical samples could be removed from the reaction mixture and it is also used to monitor the temperature of the reaction. The UV lamp at the right side is held in an ice bath and only a little contact time is allowed for the reaction mixture flow under the UV light. The short irradiation time is used to prevent overheating and the decomposition of the reactants. 

Important note that never-ever look in a strong UV source, I photographed the pictures with proper UV shielding.  

Electric Indigo & Irradiation - Phytoplankton (+Video) (Temp-Records)

TEMP~Records boss Irradiation and Electric Indigo collaborate on this eerie, playful minimal track ‘Phytoplankton’. In the remixes, Rossella unravels a brilliant uneasy dubbed-out mood, Dasha Rush packs a punchy bass-driven version and Jennifer Cardini dreams up a sweeter, floatier rework. Very nice package!

Album and single tracks now available for download (MP3 / 320 kb/s)

New Polymeric Material Developed at UC San Diego Has Potential for Use in Non-Invasive Surgical Procedures

Previously inaccessible target sites may be reached for diagnosis and treatment using this material

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have developed what they believe to be the first polymeric material that is sensitive to biologically benign levels of near infrared (NRI) irradiation, enabling the material to disassemble in a highly controlled fashion. The study represents a significant milestone in the area of light-sensitive material for non-invasive medical and biological applications.  Their work is published on line this week in the journal Macromolecules.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the only polymeric material specifically designed to break down in to small fragments in response to very low levels of NIR irradiation,” said Adah Almutairi, PhD, assistant professor at the UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and director of the Laboratory of Bioresponsive Materials at UC San Diego. “The material was also shown to be well-tolerated in cells before and after irradiation.  We think there is great potential for use in human patients, allowing previously inaccessible targets sites to be reached for both treatment and diagnosis.”

More here

Yesterday in ecotoxicology class we watched this documentary called The Most Contaminated Spot on the Planet. The whole thing is on youtube in parts, and I highly recommend anyone reading this to watch it.

It’s about the Mayak nuclear plant near Chelyabinsk, Soviet Union (very close to Iran, where my parents are from) and its extensive and ongoing radioctive dumping and explosions.

Not a lot of people know about Chelyabinsk, and the people (very poor) stricken with radioactive poisoning, leukemia, birth defects, cancers, etc. were never told what the source of their sicknesses were because the Soviet government kept everything classified.

To appease the residents of the affected villages, the government handed out Geiger counters (pictured above) which the residents use to measure their food before they eat it.  If it’s 20 Curies and below, they cat eat it.

The people who are affected the worst are the third generation descendants of the first wave of people who were contaminated in the 50’s when the Mayak nuclear plant was dumping waste into the Techa River, where children go swimming in and people catch fish.  Today, they are children and adolescents and by far have the worst symptoms of radiation poisoning.

To add to the hopelessness of these people, they can’t leave the area (which is still to this day contaminated with 100 Curies of radiation in some parts) for several reasons.  First, why should they have to move, when they are tied to this area by culture and history?  Second, they are already irradiated, so moving to a “clean” area will not elongate their lives or improve their health. And last, they are simply too poor to move elsewhere.  Thus, they are stuck there.

Very few people know about Chelyabinsk, and the ones that do and have a desire to aid are restricted by the fact that anyone not from that area cannot tolerate the amount of radiation there, whereas residents have tolerance up to 40 years, which is the average life span.

Anyway, I thought I’d share what I learned in class, since nuclear meltdown is being mentioned in the news regarding Japan and the tragic events that have unfolded in the past few days.

Personally I’m not scared, since it’s not a question of whether or not the radioactive plumes will reach the North American continent, but rather it’s a question of when and how much.  I’m just very sad.


Researchers at the University of Wisconsin performed studies on cats to determine if the myelin sheath of nerves can regenerate. They fed cats a diet of irradiated foods for 3 to 4 months to damage the cats nerves and this resulted in classic multiple sclerosis symptoms of paralysis, loss of vision, and loss of mobility.

Presumably the researchers knew to feed irradiatated foods to cats to produce MS symptoms from the news from Australia where 16 cats were euthanized after eating irradiated cat foods. The Australian Quarantine Inspection Services (AQIS) announced that irradiated cat foods would no longer be acceptable for import but that irradiated dog foods must be labeled Must not be fed to cats. Evidently the AQIS have no good intent for the dogs of Australia or they are just extremely thick in the head.

After changing the diet of the damaged cats back to regular cat foods most but not all of the myelin nerve sheath returned to normal and the conclusion was that nerves could repair themselves over time.

The FDA in America has been steadily approving irradiated foods for humans but no long term studies of ill effect are done to prove safety. The longest study done so far lasted 15 weeks. Irradiated foods are not radioactive but irradiation acts by breaking down the DNA of germs to kill them. This also breaks down the DNA of foodstuffs that are irradiated and this mutates the DNA of the foods you eat. It is the new chemical compounds formed in irradiated foods and the mutated DNA in foodstuffs that worry many scientists that we are creating Frankenfoods by irradiation which are totally changed and alien foodstuffs for human consumption The long term effects on humans are totally unknown but much of the worldwide populations are now unwelcome human test subjects for the the human safety experiments of major food companies.

Critics of irradiated foods state that spoiled foods can be masked by irradiation and resold as good foodstuffs. And very deadly bacterial toxins such as botulism that might already be present in the foods are not harmed by irradiation but the bacteria are killed leaving no way to know the foodstuff was tainted with the botulism bacteria that normally bloat canned goods when contaminated. And critics say that irradiation is totally unnecessary in today’s food handling system and could lead to much lower quality food handling practices industrywide.

Currently the USA allows irradiated foods of fresh tropical fruits from Hawaii and Florida, ground meat products and dehydrated spices. And potatoes and wheat flour has been irradiated since the 1960s. Foods are suppose to be labeled in the supermarket if irradiated with a Radura symbol at the point of sale and labeled Treated by radiation. But if you eat out in restaurants no labeling is required.

The FDA is proposing new regulations to allow no labeling of some irradiated foods. And the FDA is proposing the change in labeling of irradiated foods to say electronically pasteurized or cold pasteurized as a less frightening description of the process. I like the new proposed FDA labeling. It has a nice ring of truth to it doesn’t it and doesn’t even mention ionizing radiation and DNA altering mutates in irradiated foodstuffs. I just feel so relieved that FDA relabeling of irradiated foods makes them safe and healthy again for the general public.

Perhaps the FDA, Irradiation, Food, and Pet food executives and their families should be required to participate in a good faith long-term study to determine the safety of irradiated foodstuffs for the general public and the world. They could eat their regular diet which has been irradiated and see what they and their families develop into in the future. Then I would be OK with chowing down on the current Frankenfoods that the FDA has declared safe for human consumption. It would also be interesting to note the divorce rates of these executives just prior to the studies onset.

Food irradiation of pet foods is totally unnecessary as pets have an much higher stomach acid content to kill germs they consume in their foods. All wild animals develop stronger immune systems than domestic pets because of their natural raw diets in the wild. The poor quality of pet foods that lack sea foods and fish meals and rely on meat flavored cereal grains for bulk are dangerously lowering the immune systems of domestic pets which leave them open for many infections. The solution is not irradiation of pet foods but the correction of cheap and most all pet foods with seafood byproducts and possibly some additional minerals such as selenium and small amounts of kelp.

One more item of note. I should apologize to the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service as they soon relented and no longer require pet foods to be irradiated nor do they allow irradiated pet foods inside their country. Our own FDA has approved all pet foods in the USA for irradiation. So look for the green Radura symbol on your favorite pet food packaging at your grocery store near you. Bon appetit Fido and Kitty. And enjoy your next meal at the restaurant near you in the USA. It may be a new and improved Frankenfood of truly unknown wonders and future delights.– J.E. Ante

Irradiating food to keep it safe

Food manufacturers use three types of irradiation to reduce pathogens, destroy insects, and delay spoilage of imported fruits and vegetables, ground beef, oysters and spices. Gamma-ray technology is more commonly used than electron-beam and X-rays for food products. Here’s how food is typically irradiated before it is shipped and distributed.

Read related article.


True dedication right here…we’re working through a typhoon!

Already took all of our samples over to the HIMAC facility where we will be irradiating tonight,. Only concern now is not blowing away or getting soaking wet on our way over there. Not too hopeful for the either…

Going to nap now as we will be up in a few hours for the rest of the night. More updates tomorrow hopefully!